Sunday, May 03, 2009

Celibacy Issue in Latin America - Pt 1: Ecuador

This article "Ellos desertaron por el celibato" ("They left because of celibacy") is from El Universo, 5/3/2009. The photo shows members of a married priests group in that country who continue to meet for their own spiritual growth and mutual support.

They could not withstand the temptation, and after serving the Church as priests for between 10 and 30 years, some 300 priests have left the priesthood, mostly for breaking the vow of celibacy.

Within an association founded in Quito in 1990, and which has groups in several provinces, they are trying to maintain their spiritual life. They miss the ministry, which is why one of their goals is to promote optional celibacy in the Catholic Church.

The subject is being reopened for debate after the paternity cases of former bishop and president of Paraguay Fernando Lugo.

In the country's seminaries, dozens of young men and adults follow a training process that lasts eight years, during which time they undergo rigorous studies and disciplinary rules to nurture that vocation from which many resign along the way.

Five thirty in the morning. In the vicinity of the Francis Xavier Major Seminary in Garaicoa, Guayaquil, neighbors are still sleeping. After the bells ring, the lights are turned on. Dozens of half asleep men stir -- one with a microphone offers up a prayer, and asks for vocations.

To keep sleep at bay, the sound of drums. Celibacy is taken on first as deacons and then as priests, says Father Gerson Mora, and the electric guitars of religious music accompany the dance with a broom of dozens of seminarians performing their chore -- cleaning the seminary.

They have 30 minutes for this task, another 15 for washing up. At 06:15 they should be ready in their chapels to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for 15 minutes, to which another 30 minutes of meditation is added.

When prayer ends at 07:05, Mass begins in the main chapel of the Seminary, which ends at 08:00, also the time at which breakfast is served. There are 30 minutes to serve oneself and wash up because classes begin at 08:30 and last until 12:30. Thus the morning passes and the day is similar until 22:30 when the lights go out. The drudgery creates a predicament for some, especially new candidates.

"It is the vocation that leads one to adapt to this life," said Father John Maruri, vice rector of the seminary. It is within the walls of this center that the vocation of future priests is nurtured. But not all get there, many drop out during the process that lasts eight years, some after just a few hours and others fold after decades and have to leave the priesthood after breaking the celibacy (being single) vow.

Indeed, failing to keep this vow was the reason why most priests left the Church and in the country [Ecuador] alone there are 300 former priests, according to the lAsociación Nacional de Yaguarcoca [National Association of Yaguarcoca], also called the Fraternidad de Sacerdotes Casados [Brotherhood of Married Priests], founded in 1990 with groups in several provinces, of which Pichincha leads with about 120 former religious. "In the world, we are more than one hundred thousand," says Mario Mullo, chairman of the group that promotes optional celibacy.

The subject has become controversial again after the paternity mess involving the former bishop and president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo -- it has become a matter of further discussion.

But the Church, with Pope Benedict XVI at the helm, has stressed several times the binding nature of chastity for priests.

But Mullo states that this restriction has not worked and those who break the celibacy vow are becoming more common. There are diocesan and religious, Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans, who leave the priesthood after 10 or 30 years. Some even hold positions in the chanceries of the curias, says the former priest, who after a decade as a diocesan left the priesthood to marry a young woman he met in the parish he was in charge of.

"We know of others who live in the parishes and lead a double life," said the former priest.

Patricio del Salto, a 52 year old former priest, who left the priesthood 12 years ago, says that during seminary training, most young people were for optional celibacy. "We had no other choice," he says, recalling the condition required for the priesthood.

"The vocation is unique, it is a calling from God and those who enter fully know what they are committing to," says Father Gerson Mora, vice rector of St. Leo the Great Seminary, in Cuenca, which trains about 23 young men.

However, among some religious in seminaries around the country, there is concern over the decline in vocations.

Pablo Pazos, one of those in charge of the San Luis Minor Seminary in Quito, confirmed the case of the school they had, which was closed two years ago because of the shortage of students, and which had already been closed on three occasions.

At the moment they are working with fifteen young people who come in the afternoon, who are inclined towards the priestly vocation, he said.

"Today there's no guarantee that someone born into the Catholic faith will die a Catholic," says Fernando Vega, a priest from Cuenca, who resigned from priestly ministry because of his participation in politics, and who considers it necessary to provide a better environment for training seminarians so that they have more contact with the world in which they will live as priests. "If they have such contact, they have a better opportunity to decide their vocation."

In the Francisco Xavier Seminary in Garaicoa, the 89 seminarians, especially the 34 new ones, say they are aware of this commitment and convinced, at least for now, about the vocation they feel.

Marco Salas, 18, a graduate of Unidad Espíritu Santo and the oldest of four children, said his life was a disaster before, because he spent it partying, was "pretty vague" in his studies, and had seven lovers, but three months ago he felt "the call from God."

He says he is convinced of his vocation. Others hope to clarify their doubts during the training time. "The temptation will always be present, but that is what prayer is for," says Father Maruri.

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