By Jesús Castro (English translation by Rebel Girl)
August 17, 2009
"I am Veremundo Carrillo, I have been a Catholic priest for forty years and have been married for twenty years to Rosario Reveles, with whom I have two children."
"My name is Flor de María Sandoval Vázquez, a doctor by profession, I am the daughter of Eulalio Sandoval Trejo and María Vázquez Sosa; he is a priest and she was the mother superior of a convent."
Luis Miguel Sánchez: "Yes, I am a priest, I live here in Saltillo, but I am from Acuña, I have had my wife since 2000 and I am happy with my three children, two boys and a girl."
They, like over 100,000 cases in the world (3 thousand in Mexico according to the International Federation of Married Priests), dream that one day the Roman Curia will agree to optional celibacy for priests.
But now, in this 2009 that Pope Benedict XVI has consecrated and dedicated as the Year of the Priest, Rome's interest in its ministers does not appear so genuine. The Vatican has closed the door to dialogue with those who would open the debate on priests being able to marry or married laymen being able to receive Holy Orders.
"That is not going to change, celibacy is a gift of the Church, a gift from God," says Christopher Pierre, the apostolic nuncio, refusing to go deeper into the subject. Raúl Vera himself, the bishop of Saltillo, sustains in an interview: "That (celibacy) is not up for discussion in the Church at all."
Nonetheless, Vera, Mario Mullo, president of the Latin American Federation of Married Priests, and Veremundo Carrillo, all agree that the first apostles had wives and children and that up to the 16th century it was a very common situation.
That has been proven historically. There have been popes whose sons were popes, saints whose sons were popes, saints whose sons were priests, bishops, cardinals, archbishops, and even kings.
Then "if it doesn't say in any part of the Bible that Jesus required or obliged priests to be celibate, why does the Church demand that they be?" -- it's the voice of Mario Mullo, but also the root of a debate that has not been listened to by the Church for centuries.
WOMEN ARE NOT A SIN
He looks like a priest -- you an see it in his walk -- his speech is like a constant homily. It was easy to identify Veremundo Carrillo in the Instituto Zacatecano de Cultura. He had barely opened his lips when he revealed what could not be concealed: "Yes, I am the priest." We had not asked him anything, but he already knew we had guessed.
A dark jacket over a polo shirt and dress pants give him the appearance that he surely acquired in seminary, and maintains today, half a century later.
"But I am no longer in the ministry, I have been married since 1982," he confesses as if he were going to come out with a story worthy of Almodóvar.
"I always liked women" -- that was one of the first sentences that from him, a gentleman of almost seventy, sounded strange. He uses glasses, but the movement of his eyebrows and his shining eyes show a natural gallantry that he says he always had with women.
So, why did you become a priest?, we asked him.
"From the moment I entered seminary, at that age, I began to see the implications of celibacy. Of course I felt a great attraction to women and to one in particular. And, well, I renounced that -- I don't think that even the girl I liked realized that I was renouncing her. I saw that this was one of the requirements and I decided to accept celibacy -- God would help me now, I said."
I was 12 years old. The rest of his stay in the Zacatecas Seminary and then in Montezuma, New Mexico, United States, was a struggle against this natural instinct, that the formation directors in the Seminary characterized as sinful.
Jean Meyer, in his book Celibato sacerdotal ("Priestly Celibacy") cites on several occasions how Rome condemned sexual practices including between spouses:
"Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for the desire to have descendants that will bless your name forever" (Tobit 8:7) is the Biblical text on which the Church even today bases its indication in Canon Law that coitus should have procreation as its main goal.
The author notes that from the 1st to the 10th century, even priests were required to "abstain from having sexual relations with their wives on the day in which they would be celebrating the Eucharist."
"Nothing more contrary to what the Bible itself says," Mario Muller, president of the Latin American Federation of Married Priests observes, and he quotes from the book of Genesis: "It is not good for the man to be alone...and [he] unites with his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."
I AM GOING TO GET MARRIED
But Veremundo's priestly vocation was genuine. "It was the most beautiful phase of my life, I do not regret my priestly vocation, I was completely sure I wanted to be a priest," he says.
He was ordained a priest and because of his intellectual gifts, they sent him to study in Salamanca, Spain, from which he returned a doctor in Greco-Roman Classical Philology, also steeped in liberation theology and partaking of the principles of the Cuban Revolution. It was 1968.
He worked close to the poor and with the peasants. In the University of Zacatecas, where he gave classes, he identified with the masters of the left -- even his own bishop came to accuse him of being a Marxist. "You are not able to distinguish between the Christian motivation of the Cross and an atheistic one. It doesn't bother me that I walk with atheists, many of them are better than you," Veremundo answered.
But that was not all that his return to Mexico awakened in him. "I asked God, with that phrase in the Bible that says 'where your treasure is, there will your heart be'."
And where was your heart?
"Well, in women."
Then, being pastor of Jerez and after ten years in the ministry, he realized he could no longer go on carrying that cross. He made a decision: to seek a girlfriend, leave the priesthood, and then get married.
"I am offering my resignation as a priest, I am going to get married," he told the bishop. The prelate, it seems, already learned in how to solve these problems, answered him: "If you want, I'll move you to a better place," but Veremundo didn't accept.
Over the years, Rosario, who became his wife, remembers a similar case. "Once a priest who also left the ministry told us that he said that to the same bishop -- 'but it's that I already have children and a woman' -- and the bishop answered: 'Well, have them, but don't let it be seen, and we will help you to support them.'"
It seems to be the Church's typical solution to avoid scandals, but what bishops like that really foment is what hundreds of married priests are fighting for, "that it be accepted that priests can have children and get married", "returning to the roots of the Church, when celibacy was not obligatory, because this question of obligation is just a discipline, the Church invented it," Mario Mullo opines.
Raúl Vera explains it thus: “Celibacy is imposed on them (priests) because it is a discipline of the Church, but it is also voluntary -- Jesus said clearly in the Gospel of St. Matthew that continence should be voluntary for the Kingdom of Heaven."
But other economic motives existed for this prohibition. Vera says that the clergy from the 4th century on assumed a mentality of feudal advantage: bishops with lands, clerics with princely ranks, priests whose objective was receiving economic compensation.
"Within that mentality, the issue of maintaining a family of course influenced the turn to priestly celibacy," Raúl Vera said.
Veremundo Carrillo knows this; he talks about it his way once he is in his house in the town of Guadalupe, Zacatecas, where he introduces us to his wife, 20 years younger than him. She, with wavy black hair, tells the other part of the story that marked her forever.
A story similar to those that Jean Meyer reveals in his book, when the Church from the Middle Ages on persecuted, jailed, and condemned priests who got married, who had children. Their women were accused of being sinners, provokers, almost demons.
Veremundo met his current wife in Jerez -- she was a parish secretary and taught catechism. Their relationship, before marriage, was never carnal -- they confess that they never kissed. But in 1981 they were already in love and after he separated from priestly ministry, they decided to get married. Then other problems came.
"I lost all my friends in the town. One day when I went up for communion they asked me if I would dare to take communion with that mouth. My best friend told me I could not longer come in to her house. We both went to our old friends, and they shut the door on us", Rosario says.
Flor de María Sandoval Vázquez's parents, Eulalio y María, endured the same thing. He was the priest-chaplain in the convent where his wife was Mother Superior. There, the priest and nun fell in love.
"Well, my mother left the convent in '81, more or less, because she was pregnant and she went to live in Torreón, my father continued to serve in Zacatecas, then my mother went to San Luis and my dad came to visit her each week," says the doctor, seated in the Carrillos' dining room.
They were rejected too, says Flor, "we had no contact with our blood family, they cast us aside. One of my dad's uncles who was also a priest said that we were the daughters of sin, and people spat on my mom in the streets."
Then both the Carrillos and the Sandovals found an association of priests who had resigned that was founded by the late married priest Antonio Quintanar. It was called “Presencia Nueva” ("New Presence") and it later affiliated with the Latin American Federation of Married Priests.
There they found company. Their children learned to view it as normal to say that their fathers were priests. "I told them at school, my dad is a priest, isn't yours?", Flor says.
Also from this trench they have been working to talk with the Catholic Church and present arguments about why they believe that priestly celibacy is now obsolete, archaic, and therefore should be optional.
WE ARE NOT A SCHISM
In spite of his appearance -- more like a good-natured bishop than the father of a family -- Veremundo in particular is not interested in going back to the ministry -- he says that his fight is so that others can take advantage of this possibility, not for himself.
"No, no", he said hurriedly.
Ever since he offered his last Mass in a little town in the Zacatecan mountains, when he announced that he was leaving the ministry, he has not consecrated a single host. Now he says it on the edge of tears: "I didn't cry that day; but now I want to, because the people said goodbye to me with so much affection and I have not forgotten that."
Rosario also speaks: "We are in the Church, there are those who did this in hiding, but not those in the association -- we don't want problems with the Church."
On some occasions, Veremundo says, he has given extreme unction, especially in extreme cases, such as an accident, since with that he is not incurring a violation of his "a divinis" suspension, since those cases are anticipated in Canon Law -- he even heard someone's confession once because it was also an urgent case.
With respect to this, Mario Mullo says: "On some occasions the Eucharist is valid in the family, in small groups, in extreme cases where there is no priest -- in short, they are cases anticipated by Canon Law, but it should not be done publicly, or in defiance of the hierarchy, we are not claiming to be a schism."
YES IT CAN BE DONE, BUT...
"So, the Church, the Pope can abolish the celibacy law for priests?" -- that is the last question we ask Veremundo.
"Of course, because when it did not exist, they created it, clearly they can undo it, they have to study it, propose it and do it, the Pope has that authority," answers the one who now is only called Father by his two sons, professional who would never, he says, be allowed to enter the seminary.
Armando Martínez confirms the fact. “The Pope himself has all the ability to make the change. He could do it with a Papal decision. He would not have to convene a council.
"Surely if such a thing were to happen it would come from a pastoral recommendation, from listening to his bishops, from calling on his cardinals for advice."
Raúl Vera agrees with him, but he sees as impossible that after Vatican II, a Pope would decide to call on the Church again to reflect on a subject that is, he says, "not up for discussion." The president of the Catholic lawyers also indicates that he is certain that the subject of optional celibacy is not on Benedict XVI's agenda.
Jean Mayer cites a conversation between Monsignor Samuel Ruiz and John Paul II, where he asked the Pope's permission to ordain married men in Chiapas, "the Pope answered literally, 'I can't make that decision, but I am not shelving the matter, I am leaving it to my successor.'"
For his part, Mario Mullo is hurt when he admits the impasse with the current Church. "I can't tell you either that celibacy is going to be abolished as long as this Pope lasts or another one comes in, but we will continue to raise consciousness and that will produce change someday. I am sure of that."