‘Don’t we have a place in the Church?’: Read pope’s response to Argentine priest on seminary’s closure

CNA Staff   By CNA Staff

 

Pope Francis reads during the Vespers service on July 28, 2022, at the Cathedral Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec in Québec, Canada. / Vatican Media

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 30, 2022 / 16:48 pm (CNA).

Earlier this year an Argentine priest struggling to understand the Vatican’s controversial closure of one of the country’s top seminaries wrote to Pope Francis seeking answers.

The priest, maintaining his fidelity and that of his brother priests to the Second Vatican Council, as well as their devotion to the sacraments, the spiritual life, and the sick, inquired whether a literal reading of Vatican II meant the presbyterate was overly rigid.

“Is this rigidity bad? Is it ideology? Don’t we have a place in the Church today?” he asked.

Pope Francis wrote him back.

“In your letter you point out to me that they have taken the Second Vatican Council literally and immediately afterwards you ask me if rigidity is bad,” the pope wrote.

“Dear son, rigidity is not a gift from God, meekness yes, kindness yes, benevolence yes, forgiveness yes, but rigidity no!”

The frank exchange — spelled out in letters obtained by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency — sheds new light on the Vatican’s controversial closure of Holy Mother of God Seminary in November 2020, and the resulting tension that still plagues the Argentine Diocese of San Rafael.

The seminary controversy

The San Rafael seminary, located in the province of Mendoza, was one of the most successful in Argentina and all of Latin America, with many vocations.

It figured prominently in tensions that developed in mid-2020 between some priests and faithful of the diocese and its bishop at the time, Eduardo María Taussig.

Among the sources of conflict was Taussig’s announcement in June 2020, tied to the restart of public worship suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that Communion could only be received standing and in the hand, and not on the mouth and on the knees.

Protests Nov. 1 in San Rafael, Argentina. . Andrea Greco
Protests Nov. 1 in San Rafael, Argentina. . Andrea Greco

A decree issued by the Holy See mandated the seminary’s closure in November of 2020. The Congregation for the Clergy informed Taussig this was due to trouble maintaining a seminary rector — having had seven in the past 15 years.

The seminary’s closure sparked public protests and Rosary rallies outside the bishop’s residence, as well as caravans of cars through other cities in the diocese.

Pope Francis accepted Taussig’s resignation on Feb. 5, 2022, about a year and a half after the decision to close the seminary.

The priest’s letter

Father Ramiro Sáenz, a priest from Our Lady of the Rosary Church in the San Rafael Diocese, originally sent a letter to Pope Francis dated April 17, 2022, telling him about the sufferings of the local Catholic community and asking him questions.

“As you know, we have lived through very hard times and with many misunderstandings. We are a part of the Church of Christ that has been entrusted to you. We love Christ, we love the Blessed Virgin, we love the Church that you preside over,” Sáenz wrote.

“We confess, we do missions, we preach retreats, we have several chapels for perpetual adoration (in almost all parishes they used to worship all night on Holy Thursday), we pray the Divine Office and the Rosary daily, we meditate, we read the great masters of spiritual life, we care for the sick and those most in need, almost all of us have risked our lives caring for COVID patients,” he continued.

“We are not perfect but we want to work for Christ and his Church. Your Holiness, please believe in our good will,” he wrote.

“Almost all of us have been formed without breaking fractures with the Second Vatican (Council). We have taken the Decree on Priestly Training and the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests [which relate to priestly formation] literally. Is this rigidity bad? Is it ideology? Don’t we have a place in the Church today?”

Sáenz went on to refer to an image — the polyhedron — that Pope Francis has used, beginning when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, when speaking about belonging in a global society.

The polyhedron allows each geometrical side to have its own particular and unique shape, even if the entire shape is around one center, as opposed to a sphere wherein the entire perimeter is equidistant to and surrounds the center in the same way.

“Isn’t there a little face for us in the polyhedron?” Sáenz asked the pope.

“We had a diocese fruitful in priests and apostolic works. Don’t let it stagnate. Today the world needs us more than ever. Through the wounds of Christ, I commend our Diocese, its priests, and its faithful to you,” the priest’s letter concluded.”

Pope Francis’ response

Pope Francis responded in a letter dated July 9, 2022.

“I appreciate your trust and your sincerity. I know you are going through a difficult time; believe me, it is for me too. I am sure that there are many who do not stop working selflessly for the People of God, bringing consolation and peace through the sacraments and the Word,” the pope wrote.

“In your letter you point out to me that they have taken the Second Vatican Council literally and immediately afterwards you ask me if rigidity is bad. I must tell you that it is one thing to walk in the law of the Lord, as the psalm invites us to pray (“Happy is the man who walks in the law of the Lord”) and quite another is rigidity,” the Holy Father observed.

“Dear son, rigidity is not a gift from God; meekness yes; kindness yes; benevolence yes; forgiveness yes; but rigidity no! Because as you yourself intuit, rigidity is the prelude to the ideology that does so much harm and that led the rigid of Jesus’ time to condemn him for putting mercy above the law,” Pope Francis wrote.

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Later in the letter, the Holy Father wrote that “of course, in the Church of Jesus, which is the same yesterday, today and always, we all have a place, EVERYONE! That is why rigidity is not possible, because it closes the doors to ‘everyone’ and only keeps them ajar for the ‘perfect ones.’”

“I am sure that in your heart as a good shepherd there is also room for everyone. I take your words: ‘Today the world needs us more than ever.’ I am counting on you,” Pope Francis wrote, concluding by asking the priest to pray for him, as is the pope’s custom in his writings and speeches.

In December 2021, just over a year after the seminary closed, the Diocese of San Rafael reported that 12 seminarians were sent to seminaries in four other dioceses. The diocese did not disclose how many seminarians left priestly formation due to the controversy.

This story was originally reported by Walter Sanchez Silva and published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


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9 Comments

  1. When seen with the eyes of faith, mercy, and compassion, diversity is said to be present in sheep. Good shepherds understand their sheep.

  2. A clear testament in the exchange between Father Ramiro Sáenz and Pope Francis that the pontiff’s objection to rigidity has nothing at all to do with reverence, witness to Christ, the good fruit of a holy tree. Rather that rigidity is inimical to faithful witness to Christ because rigidity, as reproached by him, disallows heterodoxy. Polyhedron analogy or not the game in reality is the only one the pontiff favors.
    That the pontiff agrees, perhaps behind the closure of Argentina’s most successful seminary when vocations are becoming a rarity elsewhere, also has obvious ramifications as to where the captain of the ship wishes to guide the Synod. Faith is our refuge and our salvation.

    • Faith, indeed, is at issue. Insofar as a resurrected Christ, it’s the Mystical Body in the world that requires resurrection from the death of secular impropriety. A great, coherent message on life giving faith recently came, not from Rome, Paris, Chicago, rather from Trondheim.
      “Ignatius of Antioch calls the Eucharist phármakon athanasías, the medicine of immortality. Before sin is taken away, it must be assumed and endured. Like Jesus on the cross. A penitential path with her axis in the Eucharist is necessary for the Church. It is necessary to give fulfillment to what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, as said by the apostle Paul” (Bishop Erik Varden Trondheim Norway in Sandro Magister).

  3. Sad? Yes.

    Surprising? No.

    “In December 2021, just over a year after the seminary closed, the Diocese of San Rafael reported that 12 seminarians were sent to seminaries in 4 other dioceses. The Diocese did NOT (em) disclose how many seminarians left priestly formation due to the controversy.” How sad.

    Next week there will be a 2nd collection – the annual ‘Peter’s Pence’ collection – at our Church.

  4. San Rafael seminary was a soup of right wing nationalists and ultra conservative Catholics. I know because I am originally from Argentina, and I was in a Seminary too (not in San Rafael). Many of them align with very extreme political, social and religious ideas. Many seminarians were actually from other parts of the country (some even expelled from other seminaries) coming to San Rafael where they found like minded right wingers. It happened before in Argentina in the seminary of Paraná. The old bishops died and the new popes sent new bishops with the Vatican II mentality and that is when the clash happened. San Rafael had to be shut down regadles of how pious or devout they were.

    • Thank you for this report. Having a first-hand account is truly invaluable. No doubt, you can’t get too deeply into the particulars, because these right-wingers might track you down. Allow me, then, to read between the lines a little. For one thing, I’ll bet these trogs remained adamant in their rejection of sodomy.

      Please keep us posted if you have any more to reveal. Maybe there are a few tales to be told about the former cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires.

    • “ the Vatican II mentality”

      And what exactly is that?

      “ Many of them align with very extreme political, social and religious ideas.”

      And what exactly are those?

      “ San Rafael had to be shut down regadles of how pious or devout they were.”

      Why?

  5. We read editorially that: “The polyhedron allows each geometrical side to have its own particular and unique shape, even if the entire shape is around one center…”

    Do all polyhedrons really have a center? Take polyhedral and irregular crystals, for example…

    Will the German “synodal way” continue to crystalize a different (polygonal surface of) sexual morality than, say, the adjacent French or the Spanish, or any synod centered on the inborn natural law and (therefore) the un-mutilated Catechism?

    And, will the 2023 Synod on Synodality simply find synthesizing/elastic words of unity for this overall deformity?

  6. Francis constantly reveals himself to possess an understanding of Christianity little different than a typically misinformed adolescent who abuses language to satisfy an emotional need to convince himself that his cynicism represents the irrefutable perfection of wisdom.
    How long does a heart, mind, and soul need to exist within the surroundings of Catholicism, especially at the highest levels, without figuring out that mercy and law are not and can never be at odds, and were not even at odds in the familiar Gospel story of the Samaritan. Ritual law and moral law are not the same thing. A mind that persistently refuses to make this day and night distinction does not do so because it does not want to do so. That mind is the mind of a coward, which desires to live perpetually with a dishonest escape mechanism to trivialize the uncompromisable, absolute, “rigid” obligations of moral law. It was a “rigid” moral law to which the Samaritan responded in rendering aid while temporarily suspending his commitment to his conventions. When I once rendered first aid to a party injured during an auto accident while on my way to a late “last chance” Sunday Mass, I committed no sin by ultimately missing Mass that Sunday. There must be sins involved in a constant pigheaded refusal to not make these distinctions.

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