Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Too many deacons in Chiapas?

Who knew that you could have too many deacons? I always thought we appreciated all men and women who wanted to serve the church more deeply in whatever capacity but, based on the latest account in the Mexican newspaper Vanguardia, it does not appear that the Vatican shares this view.

What did the diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas do to incur the wrath of Rome? Well, they ordained too many married men as permanent deacons -- to be precise, 339 deacons, or three times as many permanent deacons as in the diocese of Mexico City which has a population 800% larger than Chiapas. Most of these men, who had been working as lay catechists, were ordained under the previous bishop, Samuel Ruiz, who was operating under the assumption that the Church would soon accept a married priesthood.

The population of Chiapas is basically indigenous and celibacy is generally not an accepted concept in indigenous communities. In fact, the Vatican was also distressed that the diocese only has 80 priests (45 diocesans and 35 religious). It should also be mentioned that Bishop Ruiz was well-respected for his commitment to and understanding of his people and their culture. In 2000, he received the Simon Bolivar International Prize from UNESCO for his labor on their behalf.

But what really caught the Vatican's attention, according to the letter Cardinal Arinze wrote, was a provision (No. 58) in the Diocese's Pastoral Plan drafted in 2004 by the current bishop, Felipe Arizmendi, and his associates. This provision said: "escuchar con atención y discernir la solicitud de algunas comunidades para que diáconos indígenas casados puedan ser admitidos a la ordenación sacerdotal, previa formación conveniente, dispuestos a asumir la decisión de la Santa Sede."

Now, for those who don't speak Spanish, all this really says is that the diocese is commiting itself to listen to some communities that have appealed for the ordination of married indigenous deacons to the priesthood, with proper formation and based on a final decision of the Holy See. However, this clause and the Diocesan Directory for the Permanent Diaconate were deemed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to contain "serious doctrinal and pastoral ambiguities" and the diocese was ordered to remove provision 58 from its plan until rewritten and to stop diaconal ordinations.

Responding to the news reports which were based on the Vatican's Notitiae, Bishop Arizmendi said that provision 58 had been amended and that they had never pushed for the ordination of married men. However, while Arizmendi stated that he felt celibacy was good for priests in the Latin American Church, " no podemos dejar de escuchar las voces que se oyen en sentido contrario, no sólo entre nosotros, sino en la Iglesia universal." ("we cannot stop listening to voices on the opposite side, not only among us [i.e. in his diocese] but in the universal Church.")

Reading between the lines: This is not the last the Vatican will hear from the hermanos y hermanas in Chiapas on ordaining married deacons to the priesthood. As we would say : "Es lógico."

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