Monday, November 10, 2008

Church removes priest who had been married for 20 years

From the Diário da Manhã (11/8/08) comes the story of a priest who exemplifies the rebellious type profiled in Federico Bollettin's article (see previous post). And the context is Brazil, a country which has one of the worst priest shortages in the world, where Catholics are flocking in droves to the evangelical churches, and where, according to a recent statement by Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha of Mariana, Brazil to the bishops' synod on the Bible, "approximately 70 percent of all church communities in Brazil are deprived of the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist.” That's the context; here's the main story and a follow-up reaction from Fr. Osiel (as translated into English by Rebel Girl):

Osiel Luiz dos Santos has been married since 1987 and is the father of five children. Nothing unusual, except for the fact that he is an ordained priest. This Friday, more than 20 years after the marriage, the Archdiocese of Goiânia announced Osiel's removal from the priesthood in a document that officially bans him from performing any ritual on behalf of the Catholic Church.

The decision by the Archdiocese happened after long proceedings before the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, a sort of Federal Supreme Court of the Church. Before the decision, at least a dozen letters had been sent to Osiel's residence. Even so, he decided not to attend the hearings. "I don't believe that the Archdiocese decides. The priest and the people do," Osiel said to the Diário da Manhã.

In a note released yesterday, the Archdiocese announced that the official sentence of removal would be sent to all the churches, parishes and communities in Goiânia. The decision will be read in public for three consecutive Sundays and posted on the walls as a warning. Through an advisor, the Archdiocese announced that the sole intention of the act is to inform everyone that Osiel has no authority granted by the Church.

Optional Celibacy

In addition to "disregarding the decision of the Archdiocese", Osiel advocates radical ideas for the Catholic Church. The first is optional celibacy. The reason for this is simple: to know the situation of the faithful so as to advise them more wisely. "I believe that my daily work, my experience with my wife, make me more able than any priest who lives in celibacy, away from society."

The second is women's ordination. "The nuns maintain the Church today and they don't have the prominence they deserve." His wife, Maria de Castro Cledna Santos, is also an inspiration in proposing such a revolution. "If we had optional celibacy, she could help me in leading the community. She helps me so much today!"

Cledna herself told DM that she met Osiel when he was still a priest. But she says they only married when the priest asked to be removed from the Archdiocese. "He left that parish one day and we got married the next day." The priest noted that the time had come to talk with then bishop Dom Washington Cruz, who advised him to send a letter to Rome. "I said I was not going to disaffiliate myself; I said that it wasn't Rome that made me a priest, but God."

Although he continued to celebrate Mass, marriages and baptisms after his own wedding, he says he never did so within a church. "If someone invites me to go to their home, anywhere, I will do it with the utmost pleasure." For baptisms and weddings, the ex-priest recommends that the faithful get a "legitimate" representative from the Church itself. "I think they should talk to a priest. But there are so many people who tell me that they have been mistreated by the Church and they ask me to perform their wedding", he says.

And reporter Sebastian Montalvão secured this follow-up interview with Fr. Osiel for UOL News on November 10, 2008:

Married priest says a woman "leaves a man much more holy"

Celibacy, mandatory in the Catholic Church, became the subject of controversy in Goiânia. On one side is the priest, Osiel Luiz dos Santos, who has continued to celebrate routinely even though he's been married for 20 years. On the other is the Church Ecclesiastical Tribunal which has determined that the preaching is illegal. The Archdiocese also released a note to all churches stating the obligation to display the communiqué on the bulletin board of the church for three months and read it at every Mass for three consecutive Sundays.

"I understand that celibacy is more an economic than a religious requirement. A woman does not contaminate a man. Quite the contrary. She leaves the man much more holy, much stronger," the priest avers in a simple room of a house located in Parque Amazônia, a lower middle-class neighborhood in Goiânia.

In 20 years, he believes he has performed about 400 weddings and hundreds of baptisms. The ceremonies are held in cottages, homes, and other sites. According to the Church, all the ceremonies held during that period are not valid. According to the priest, they are. "The sacrament is not from the Church. It is from Our Lord Jesus Christ. And the one who hires me is not looking for a title. He is looking for a blessing."

The news of the exposure of his condition vis-a-vis the Church does not scare the priest who, in addition to performing weddings and baptisms, maintains some of the typical traditions of Catholic leaders. When he received this reporter from UOL, he was wearing a simple long sleeve shirt, but with a Roman collar. "I'm not afraid. Because I don't think I'm doing anything wrong. What I'm doing is honest. I don't trick anybody," the 62-year old priest emphasized.

At the end of the 1980s, he headed a parish in the capital. But he ended up falling in love with Cledna María de Castro, who was 19 years old at the time. "I didn't lie; I didn't deceive. I went to the archbishop, told him my situation, gave myself up to the Church. He told me he would support me and asked me to send a letter of renunciation to the Pope. I refused to do so because I believe that marriage does not invalidate the priesthood," he points out. Five children came out of the marriage.

Despite the situation, he defends celibacy but in a more democratic way. "I have fought over 20 years for optional celibacy. It would be a solution for many of the scandals that exist today in the Church. Because of this burden, many priests maintain hidden relationships, sometimes with children. When the Church knows, it makes things worse. Either they transfer to another city, or they are isolated elsewhere," he says.

Despite his new ideas about celibacy, Osiel has very traditional views when it comes to homosexuality. "I am not prepared today to celebrate a homosexual union, for example. Maybe some day I'll mature on that point, but in my mind that practice goes against the natural law of God."

About the existence of homosexual priests, he even admits that they can be ordained but emphasizes that in those cases celibacy would be an alternative. "I'm against a relationship between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. I think we can have a gay priest but in that case it is necessary for him to be celibate," he says and turns to criticizing priests who use force and the power of the Church in extreme cases, like pedophilia. "For me, this is a disease. You need treatment."

Calmly and measuring his words, he admits to having suffered a lot over the past decades but assures that what he sees as pressure from the Church will not change his way of working. He even has weddings scheduled for this month.

"I am not surprised. I could not celebrate my last Mass because they wanted to stone my wife. But what some do not understand is that the sacrament is not from the Church; it is from Jesus Christ." And he made a point of saying that it was not that the Church dismissed him. "What they are saying is shameful. I resigned from the Church. But I disconnected myself from the Church, not from Our Lord."

Footnote: For those who are concerned about the practical aspects and implications of this case, the Archdiocese of Goiânia estimates that Fr. Osiel has performed about 400 marriages and hundreds of baptisms since his own wedding and it states that all of these marriages will be annulled.

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