Bishop Clemente Isnard launches a book in which he defends ideas such as the end of celibacy and the ordination of women
By Rodrigo Cardoso (translation from the Portuguese by Phoebe)
July 3, 2008
In the introduction of Reflexões de um bispo sobre as instituições eclesiásticas atuais (“Reflections of a bishop on the ecclesiastical institutions today”), Dom Clemente Isnard says that all apostolic Roman Catholics should bring their modest collaboration for the good of the Church. Without fear and without hesitation. This is what he does in the recently launched work, despite opposition. The bishop emeritus of Nova Friburgo (RJ) says that he has been under pressure from the Brazilian National Bishops’ Conference (CNBB) not to publish the book and had one contract with a (Catholic) publisher cancelled, but decided to move forward. A representative of the generation of bishops who led the CNBB in the 70s and 80s, Dom Clemente has been historically associated with the progressive wing of the church, which advocates the reading of the Gospel in the light of social issues and was neutralized by the Vatican beginning with the pontificate of John Paul II. Without fear and enjoying the freedom of retirement, the religious leader defends his bold positions in an interview with Istoé.
Istoé – Do you think the celibacy of priests should be mandatory?
Dom Clemente - Priestly celibacy is not part of the essence of the Catholic priesthood. In the Eastern Catholic Church, also united to Rome, many priests are married. Priests should be able to unite in marriage.
Istoé – How long have you been advocating this idea?
Dom Clemente - During my episcopate, two priests asked for dispensation from celibacy. I facilitated this as much as possible, but with deep regret, because the priests were very good. One of them, because he had received dispensation and married, did not celebrate Mass but he did perform other priestly functions. I allowed him to do baptisms and marriages, but could not allow the celebration of the Mass and hearing confessions. My successor (Dom Alano Maria Penna) cut all of this out.
Istoé - In your case, how do you see celibacy?
Dom Clemente - I am a monk and celibacy is essential for the monk. I have never had any doubts about my celibacy.
Istoé – Why do you think that it is a good idea for the Church for women to have the right to celebrate Mass?
Dom Clemente - There are many canonical rulings in the Church that exclude women from certain duties. [Women] [p]residing in base communities celebrating the Mass, for example, would be one solution for the lack of clergy.
Istoé – How do you evaluate the current Brazilian episcopate?
Dom Clemente - The required number of bishops brought a certain decline, exacerbated by the criteria of the conservative Roman Curia, which makes the appointments. For the Vatican, directing a docile episcopate -- one which follows all the guidelines – is more comfortable.
Istoé - Benedict XVI seeks to strengthen doctrine, not allowing changes, even if it means losing believers. What is the impact of that stand?
Dom Clemente - The evil is not "reinforcing the doctrine." The evil is letting onself become paralyzed.
Istoé – You received pressure not to publish the book. How did that happen?
Dom Clemente - I received a letter from the bishops of Eastern Region I (of the CNBB), signed by all, asking that I not publish the book. I understand that the Apostolic Nuncio prohibited the Provincial of Paulists from publishing the book through the Paulist publishing house. They then broke the contract they had made earlier.
Istoé - Why only now -- emeritus and 91 years old -- have you decided to bring together all these controversial views?
Dom Clemente – Because I have only now developed what is necessary to propose such controversial views. Dom Hélder Câmara, for example, wrote that he converted at 56 years of age.
Phoebe's footnote: I truly love these old guys -- the late Abbé Pierre, Cardinal Carlos M. Martini, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, and now Dom Clemente! It's a shame that we don't get similar insight and compassion from the younger generation in the hierarchy.