By Gustavo Sarmiento (English translation by Rebel Girl)
"The Church has been growing apart from the community. It needs to change and hasn't renewed itself in a long time." That reflection was heard during the meeting of the Federación Latinoamericana de Curas Casados y sus Esposas ("Latin American Federation of Married Priests and Their Wives"), which opened on Wednesday with the participation of 30 representatives from six countries at the home of Clelia Luro de Podestá, widow of Monseñor Jerónimo Podestá, the former bishop of Avellaneda, who has been promoting the organization that today represents some 150,000 priests worldwide, although the Vatican only acknowledges 60,000.
During the meeting, which will end today, the couples analyzed the churches in the region, the economic, social, political and cultural movements, the relationship with each community, with the hierarchy and with the political sectors of each country.
One of the main demands was that the Vatican agree to optional celibacy, something that 75% of priests support, according to a survey commissioned four years ago by the Argentine Bishops' Conference. "Celibacy emerged in the 4th century, when marriage was common among priests. The Bible says nothing about it. On the contrary, Jesus chose married apostles," said Mario Mullo, the current president of the Federation, who is from Ecuador. João Tabares, from Brazil, thinks that "if priests marry, an economic factor comes in. It's easier for the Church to keep a priest with a minimum wage than his whole family. The Church's assets are safeguarded and not passed down. Originally, there was this platonic idea that the soul is the prisoner of the body, which is evil."
Father Lauro Macías, who came from Mexico with his partner, Tere, recalls that it "came to be decreed that priests who didn't leave their wives were jailed, and that the wives and children would be sold as slaves."
The Eastern rite Catholic Church allows marriage, but in the West, the heads of the Church have refused to discuss it. According to them, John Paul II said to one bishop who consulted him on the issue, "change the subject or our conversation ends here." Sebastián Cozar, from Chile, remarked: “We're asking for dialogue, like Vatican II talks about. We don't want confrontation and we're not doing this out of any resentment but out of love for the Church. The married priest is one more contribution to the Church."
According to the Federation's data, more than 60% of its communities are in favor of married priests, and don't consider marriage to be an impediment to vocation. For Mullo, "it's equally essential to conceive of a Church that's renewed, open to the world and to the social organizations."
Marriage is not the only thing that unites all the participants. The main thing is their commitment to their communities -- the fight for social justice and human rights, and the search for a gospel anchored in the barrios among the neediest classes, anchored in liberation theology. "upon leaving the ministry, many turned the page but others participated in parish and community activities, seeking a new church, which is what we need today," those present stated.
Lauro, father of three children, founded the second ecumenical church ever in a Mexican jail and he still celebrates the Eucharist at funerals of his friends or weddings at which the Catholic Church has refused to officiate. "I left the clerical state but not the priesthood," he explains. For Cozar, "the new church should have more community participation, more charity; it should be a church of freedom that doesn't impose, but should be open."