by Maria Martinez (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Rio Tercero: This year's Valentine's Day will be a memorable one for the Vitalis. Adrian (43), who left the priesthood 14 years ago to marry Alejandra (41), showed her the dispensation letter he had received several days earlier from the Vatican that day.
They have been waiting almost ten years for this paper which will now allow them to get married in the Church. They will be able to do it now, accompanied by their two sons, Bruno (13) and Renzo (10).
The Pope doesn't sign dispensations frequently. In this case, it strips the former priest of the obligation of celibacy and reduces him to lay status. For the Church, the lay person is a Christian who performs his religious mission outside of the priestly area.
Dispensation is the formal process through which a priest regularizes his situation in the Church after his separation.
Vitali, like many others who have resigned from the priesthood, really remains a priest, since ordination is considered a "character sacrament" which, like baptism and confirmation, is never lost.
However, he is suspended from priestly ministry.
The Vitalis admit that the dispensation came late. "It's extemporaneous", says Adrian, and although he acknowledges that he had thought about rejecting it, he says he changed his mind after listening to his wife.
"It didn't add or take away anything from me. But for her, it's a way of vindicating our love as a couple," he remarks.
The love story. Alejandra says the love story surprised them while he was a priest in the Villa El Libertador neighborhood in Cordoba, and she was an active youth collaborator in the Church in tasks he performed in villas and jails.
"In that same church that at that moment judged me, criticized me, looked at me badly, I want to claim that we still love each other and that we are a family. I want to receive the sacrament of marriage, and moreover I don't feel represented by all the men who lead the Catholic Church, who, as men, are fallible, who make mistakes," she notes.
Alejandra states that she knows of former priests who were compelled to "marry in silence and in small chapels".
In the papal dispensation they showed, which seems a bit impersonal, they are asked, for example, to celebrate the wedding "cautiously and without pomp."
Adrian wonders "what the pomp would be." And his wife notes: "I don't know whether it will be with pomp or on a shoestring. I want everybody to see me happy and to no longer feel expelled from that church."
Why talk about it? Adrian admits the reason he is making this situation public: "I'm trying to inform the people of God that these things happen, things that nobody explains and generally nobody knows about. We aren't seeking anything else. I think it's news because there hasn't been room to tell it, nobody was aware, the Church doesn't inform the faithful."
While she's hurrying to prepare the mate, Alejandra adds: "Marriage is frustrating for the priest who leaves the priesthood. It's like a dark story, all boxed up. That's why I imagine a fiesta now with lots of people and with the happiness we couldn't experience before."
In the dispensation, other impositions on Adrian are that, on being suspended from the priesthood, "he won't be able to be a lector in the Church, or distribute the Eucharist, or lead or give theological classes in Catholic institutes."
Opening the debate. A chapter is closed for this couple with the arrival of the paper from the Vatican. But Alejandra implores that a more open debate be held so that the Church will discuss issues related to celibacy, in addition to its role in social policy.
Adrian states that the Federación Latinoamericana de Sacerdotes Católicos Casados [Latin American Federation of Catholic Married Priests] has 150,000 members in this situation. “Most of them don't ask for dispensation," he adds.
As an example, he cites the married priests' group in Cordoba, of which he is a member, in which only three of the almost 60 members have solicited it. "And I got it," he adds.
"I asked for it five years after leaving the priesthood. They make you feel like you're in exile. For all of us, there's a distancing from the Church. Most don't ask for it, because there's not a pastoral policy of accompanying those who leave the priestly role, either emotionally or in work-related matters."