Rentapriest Blog covered the case of Jose Antonio Fernandez back on June 20, 2007. The story — and the struggle — continue....
La Cadena SER has had access to a letter presented by the Bishops Conference in the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It is the first time that the Spanish Church goes to Europe to defend its power to dismiss teachers for "moral standards".
The Court, whose decision will set precedence, will decide on the case of Jose Antonio Fernandez, a former priest who was dismissed by the Diocese of Cartagena for attending a meeting of the optional celibacy movement (MOCEOP). Jose Antonio Fernandez had been hired six years earlier by the diocese when he was already married and had five children.
The letter, to which Cadena SER has had access, is signed by the Secretary General of the Bishops Conference, Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, and it reflects the "direct interest" of the church hierarchy in this proceeding because, as it states, it is the Church's role to recruit teachers of religion and establish the moral criteria to determine the suitability of these teachers to teach the subject. The bishops also refer to the independence and freedom of the Catholic Church in the matter and the non-interference of the state in the regulation of its internal affairs.
The case is the culmination of a legal battle initiated by José Antonio Fernández in 1988 when the Diocese of Cartagena fired him from his post as professor at an institute in Mula (Murcia). He had been teaching for over six years there. The diocese, as well as the center faculty and all students were aware of his condition as an ex-priest who is married with five children. However, his attendance at a meeting of MOCEOP, as a member of the general public, was what led to his dismissal. After losing the case before the constitutional court, Fernandez is now exhausting the judicial avenue by asking for redress from the European Court of Human Rights. Speaking to Cadena SER, he asserts that that he is only asking for justice and an acknowledgement that his dismissal was invalid. He also condemns the hypocrisy of the church hierarchy because when he was hired they knew his status as a married ex-priest.
The Strasbourg ruling will set precedent and take full effect in Spain, which, in the case of a resolution favorable to the plaintiff, would be critical to the many claims of invalid dismissal presented by teachers of religion in Spain.