Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Muy Muy Pitiful

The most entertaining part about reading news stories from Central American sources is that they will present interviews exactly as given, warts and all. Here is a translation of a pretty pathetic interview with Fr. José Lázaro Portillo Mejía, a Salvadoran priest who fathered two children on the side back when he was serving as pastor in Muy Muy parish, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Seems like his bishop in the Diocese of Santa Ana, El Salvador, where he has been serving more recently as pastor of San Francisco Javier in Ahuachapán, only found out about it after the mother of the two children ages 6 and 9, Silvia del Socorro López González, successfully sued the priest for child support.

According to the article in the Nicaraguan newspaper, La Prensa (7/15/2009), the bishop of Matagalpa, Msgr. Jorge Solórzano Pérez, said he had been told by the bishop of Santa Ana, Msgr. Romeo Tovar Astorga, that Fr. Portillo Mejía had left the priesthood and would also be leaving El Salvador and going to work in the United States as a lay person. Portillo Mejía refused to talk to La Prensa, but then gave the following
interview to Víctor Hugo Dueñas from the Salvadoran newspaper Diario El Mundo who caught up with him still in his parish assignment there:

Originally from the city of San Miguel, José Lázaro Portillo Mejía says that he "always wanted to be a priest." Twenty-two years ago he was ordained at the hand of the current Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chávez.

On January 2, 2007, Portillo was designated the priest responsible for San Francisco Menéndez parish, Ahuachapán, located more than 125 kilometers from San Salvador.

He had come from Costa Rica, where he had been sent after a couple of years in Muy Muy (Nicaragua) where he had become the father of a family, although still wearing the collar.

His case definitely reawakened the thorny and occasionally acrid debate over the Catholic celibacy [requirement], loyalty and frankness to members of the religious community, and the double standard of society.

From his church in Ahuachapán, Portillo answers Diario El Mundo on these controversial subjects.

Father, two children in Nicaragua have been attributed to you and you are also involved in a legal process around some land you left them...

...Let's talk over there because this is very delicate

[The tape recorder is turned off and the priest invites me to enter a building under construction, an annex to the parish. The conversation starts up again]

Father, I was telling you about a publication...

[The pastor interrupts] Do you know what this means? It's going to end my career...

That is not the intention, I'm just coming for an opinion...

But who granted you [information] about this?

Your story is published, with details about the female catechist, the places where you were. It's on the Internet...

On the Internet?

Yes, and I'm looking to get away from that. To find out your version on what has been published...

[The priest signalled to turn off the tape recorder, because some parishioners were less that 1 1/2 meters away. When they left, the conversation began again.]

Two children have been attributed to you, nine and six years old...

[Interrupts] No, look, I would ask that we not do this because it is affecting not only me but the whole church. Me, yes it's true, I had those relationships, but I have responsibly left all the assets in the hands of other people. What is happening is that she (Silvia del Socorro López, the mother of the children) has misused them (the assets), her husband is trying to take them away from them and the thing is that the children's grandfather is doing everything possible so that he doesn't ruin them...I don't have anything to do with it anymore. I left properties, understand me?

Yes, I understand this part, but the point is that you procreated while you were a priest...

Not that, not that...it's such a delicate subject...

That's why I came here...

But you are finished with me. But you know what the press is like...

I have come to get a version...

It would be better to address my superiors, the bishop, and let him dispose.

[The tape recorder is turned off again because the parishioners have come back and now they are looking on with curiosity. The priest tells them that he will speak with them shortly.]

Father, one of the precepts of your church is celibacy. What happened with that?

It's a problem of humans. A situation where one, sometimes without wanting to, gets into these situations.

How long have you kept up this relationship?

It was an occasional thing.

There are two children. One nine and the other six. That's a long lapse of time between the two...

I left for them what I already told you.

I'm not referring to possessions but rather, how are you in the face of the community?

I repeat: It is an occasional situation.

Was she a catechist?

No, she was a parishioner.

What about the historical Catholic precept of celibacy and your service to God?

Failed, right?

I understand that in Nicaragua they are aware of this because you acknowledged the paternity but what is your situation as a priest?

Well, I'll tell you, I didn't have any charges there. Nothing really.

But you revealed a lot of what happened.

It was, I repeat, an occasional situation.

And you have now revealed to the Church leaders here what happened.

My superior knows about it, yes, he knows.


The bishop.

The one responsible for Vicariate 2 or the Vicar General?

Only the bishop, but I would ask you that we -- we have to -- reach a mutual agreement. Yes it's true, I am responsible for all this situation, but it isn't necessary for me to lose all the work I perform, because then my whole human and ministerial situation would be over.

And did you think about that before? The consequences...

Well, one doesn't analyze it.

It's like the sequel to a decision that has been made?

The effect is that there are two children and ...I don't think we should publish this. This happened over there and now is another reality in my life.

[The priest pauses for a few seconds]

I know what the press means, you know it. What point of conciliation we have in this.

You are telling me that you didn't talk about it with your hierarchy here, at least not most of them. What do you think that your community thinks?

Well, it would cost me. They would no longer accept me.

Your sermon today just alluded to this, to a pastor who commits mistakes, faults, who has sins. Did you intuit that this would happen?

No, the subject was already there.

A coincidence?

Yes...We are made of flesh, right?

[Once the formal conversation had ended some parishioners had gathered outside of the church to try and find out what was going on. The priest went up to the altar where some babies were waiting to be baptized.

Before (during an almost two hour long Mass) Father Portillo gave the host to 92 members of the Church, sang the "Our Father", and led the prayer of the Holy Creed: "por mi culpa, por mi culpa, por mi gran culpa..."
[Translator's note: This reporter didn't recognize that those words are from the Confiteor, not the Credo].]

Photo: Fr. Portillo and his children (faces blanked out to protect their identity as minors)

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