Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Don't ask, don't tell: Spanish court upholds firing of married priest

This article is a summary (with commentary) in English of a Spanish article in El Pais, June 20, 2007, with additional materials from other news sources. Photo of Fr. Fernandez and his family courtesy of MOCEOP.

A constitutional tribunal in Spain has upheld the 1996 dismissal of a married priest from his position as religion and morals teacher in a Catholic institute in Murcia. The tribunal, which earlier this year also sided with the Church on the dismissal of another teacher for living with a man to whom she was not married, reiterated that it would not intervene in "intra-church" disputes.

This case has some curious aspects, however. First, it highlights the ridiculously long time it takes for the Church to rule on requests for dispensation. Fr. José Antonio Fernández, who was ordained in 1961, requested dispensation from his celibacy vows in 1984. The dispensation was not granted until 1997 -- 13 years later! In the meantime, Fr. Fernández married his wife in a civil ceremony and the couple went on to have five children.

The second REALLY interesting aspect of this case is that although Fr. Fernández had been married since 1985 and without having received a formal dispensation from Rome, his teaching contract was first granted in 1991-92 and renewed until 1996-97 even though his request for dispensation and his marital status were known to the diocese. It was only after a photo of Fr. Fernández and his family appeared in the local newspaper, La Verdad , on 11 November, 1996 in conjunction with an article about MOCEOP -- the optional celibacy movement in which Fr. Fernández is an activist, that the Cartagena Diocese fired Fr. Fernández for his participation in the optional celibacy movement, for making his situation "public and notorious" and "out of respect for the sensibilities of many parents who would be upset." The diocese added that "laicized priests are not permitted to teach classes in Catholic religion and morals except in very rare cases."

Oh, puhleeze... This case is not about whether a married priest is fit to teach Catholic high school students about morals. It's very much about the freedom of speech and association of people who work for Catholic institutions and the Church's desire not to be embarrassed by its employees publicly giving witness to its dysfunctional policies. And it has "HYPOCRISY" written all over it because Fr. Fernández would probably still be teaching today, had he not chosen to stand up for his family and his beliefs.

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