Monday, June 22, 2009

Fathers who are fathers

On Sunday (6/21/09), the Argentinian newspaper La Voz del Interior published this wonderful Fathers Day special about three priests who are -- or will soon be -- fathers. We have translated it into English.

Here are the stories of three priests who left the priesthood and sought refuge in the love of a woman and children. One of them is Victor Hugo Casas, the priest from Saturnino María Laspiur who two and a half months ago, at the end of Mass, spoke of his decision to leave the ministry. Another is Adrián Vitali, who rediscovered his sexuality at 30 years of age. And the third is Alberto Garione, who made an option for the poor and went to live in a poor community, but the yearning for fatherhood was stronger. All agree that it is difficult to embrace celibacy and all defend one maxim: loving a woman can never be a sin.

“I asked God for a sign and He sent me a daughter”

"The last two years were very difficult. At that time, I needed a sign. I asked “Tata” God: if it is the ministry, then let it be the ministry, but if not, that He send me a child. And God in His merciful love sent me a daughter, Catalina, who is on the way.”

Victor Hugo Casas (38) is speaking, the priest who surprised the faithful of Saturnino María Laspiur by announcing at the end of Mass that he would be leaving the priesthood. “I am leaving because I want to form a family like yours…”, he said emotionally.

That was barely two and a half months ago. “I met my wife, Mariana (36), while working in the communities where I was a priest. My love grew until recently I began to realize that the priesthood wasn’t for me, that I wanted to be a father, to have a family. This was growing stronger inside me and I could no longer keep it down. Our falling in love was something very natural,” he said.

Victor Hugo confesses that his decision to abandon the priesthood was precipitated when he knew he was going to be a father. “When I realized that we were expecting a child, this decision-making process was accelerated. However, it was something that I felt very anxious about inside," he says.

His resignation as a priest is now on its way to Rome and Victor will have to wait until he is 40 to be able to marry in the Catholic Church, a requirement under Canon Law for priests who ask for papal dispensation.

“Personally, my situation was unsustainable, the only thing I did was straighten out my situation, something that some don't bother to do”, he says.

Víctor Hugo and Mariana live in Villa Carlos Paz. He is resurrecting his titles of Philosophy professor and Construction technician to find a job. But for now that doesn’t seem to concern him. He seems to be immensely happy with his new life.

The issue of priestly celibacy, as one might predict, slips into the conversation. “During our formation as priests, celibacy was taught from a more spiritual and academic point of view, through encyclicals that raised the question. As far as experience, in real life, we faced it recently when we got out. Those of us who dated before entering seminary, we had more elements at the time of decision. But celibacy is heavy. In my case, as time went on something very important grew stronger in my heart: the love for a woman. And this is what we openly defend: loving a woman is not a sin. Love is not a sin.”

Víctor Hugo Casas was a priest for seven years, but he says that he felt God’s love and mercy more than ever when he decided to leave the ministry. “Now I am extremely anxious. My daughter will be born in two months. The reality of fatherhood is a miracle that has increased my faith.”

“The traditional form of the priesthood never touched me”

Alberto Garione (48) was a priest for 12 years. He says that his exit from the ministry was a long process. “I would say six years. I suffered a lot. I tried experiences that seized my life and gave it meaning. That is why I went to live in the poor communities. But I didn’t want to keep the other side down or hide it. I wanted to fill my life with meaning, through commitment. A search that went beyond being a couple or fatherhood,” he indicates.

Alberto continues to explain: “As time goes on, one also finds meaning in the priesthood, that never touched me in its traditional form. I continued to try, to struggle; without a doubt the social commitment, the option for the poor, for whom I had decided to be a priest and tried to find radical aspects that gave meaning to this commitment, helped me at that moment. But it was obvious that this was an irreversible process. Then, thinking over life, the issues of love and fatherhood linked inseparably, I said to myself: I have found what I am looking for. "

The now former priest says that at the end of the process he made a decision from the standpoint of fatherhood. “As 'fathers' our view of spirituality -- trying to give meaning to the institutional role of the priest -- is definitely associated with an authority figure, or in the best cases, that of provider. Never the idea of generating life, nurturing it, caring for it, accompanying it. And one continues to have the need to be a father, which one doesn’t reach through the ministry. Real fatherhood puts you in a different place”, he says.

Alberto Garione lives in Villa Allende with his family. He works in a dispensary in Córdoba. He asserts that he never had a crisis of faith, “but, yes, anger at the Catholic Church, to which I should say – he clarified – I am now reconciled. Now I am more aware of the historic processes of the institution. What happened was that at the time I felt like a victim. Instead, now I want to change things.”

“It was a whole issue accompanying my wife to her ultrasound”

“My exit from the priesthood was a process that began when I found my sexuality again at 30 years of age. Up until then, I had never had a relationship. I liked ‘girls’, but I was an uncouth jerk. I entered seminary at a very young age – 17 or 18 – and I was ordained at 27. Soon, about three years later, I began the relationship with the woman who is now my wife. And the truth is that I felt extraordinary, I celebrated the best Masses, I didn’t sleep at night. When she got pregnant, I thought my head would explode,” he says enthusiastically.

Adrián added that it was a whole issue accompanying his wife to get her first ultrasound. “I was at the clinic with my wife and we still hadn’t straightened out the situation. Then someone we knew from the neighborhood shows up and says: ‘What are you doing here, Father?’ I quickly answered: ‘Nothing, just keeping the lady company.’”

Vitali questions the celibacy that the Catholic Church imposes on its priests. “It would seem that celibacy has come to be more important than the Kingdom of God. Presentation, form have become more important and content has been lost. That is how the Church has lost its presence in the community,” he says.

However, he now experiences fatherhood as something transcendental, he feels that his children have made the concept of being a father real. “One is a father when one has given life. And, to state the obvious. For this to happen you need the feminine element. Fatherhood works with all the adjectives. It’s not about having life, but accompanying it, living it. Fatherhood is never just a personal thing, you always need the other. When one has just become a father, one receives oneself as a son. Now I understand what my parents felt when they gave me another coat,” he reflects.

“Now I really understand what the act of giving up a son means, like in the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. You have no idea until you have your own. This helped me understand that God would never ask this of me. I discovered a normal, fabulous God…If one is good to one’s children, how would God not be good to us?”, he says.

Obviously, Adrián’s eyes light up whenever he talks about his children: “I am very gratified – he explains –; the kids keep changing and we are the conservative ones who think they are still children. My oldest son is entering puberty and he is constantly changing…I love to play with my children, to make up stories.”

Vitali, who lives in Río Tercero with his family, tells an anecdote involving his youngest son, one that still stirs up his feelings of fatherhood. “On day, Renzo, my youngest son, asked me if life ended at death. I answered yes but he corrected me: 'No, daddy, life doesn’t end because you passed your life to me and then I will pass it to another. Life never dies.’ He gave me chills,” he said, moved.

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