New protests over closure of seminary in Argentina

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

Demonstrators this weekend protested the Vatican-ordered closure of Mary Mother of God Seminary in San Rafael, Argentina.

Protestors gathered Saturday and Sunday outside the diocesan offices, in San Martín Plaza and in front of the city's cathedral. The protestors prayed the rosary and held signs calling for the diocesan seminary not to be closed.

Signs held by the demonstrators included messages such as "We're not confused, we're outraged," "Enough of the threats, Bishop"; "For the sake of our seminarians, explain the real reason,"  "We ask for an Apostolic Commissioner," and "Holy Father, give us back the seminary and the seminarians."

Car caravans with similar messages also drove through the city, ending at the diocesan offices.

San Rafael's Bishop Eduardo Taussig announced in July that the diocesan Mary Mother of God Seminary would be closed by the end of 2020, by order of the Vatican, and that the seminarians would be relocated to other Argentine seminaries.

In August, the bishop said that the Congregation for the Clergy informed him that because the seminary had trouble maintaining a rector--having had seven in the past 15 years--it did not seem worth it to keep the seminary open.

That announcement came amid escalating tensions in the diocese between the bishop and a group of lay Catholics and priests, which began in mid-June, when Taussig announced that Holy Communion in the diocese could only be received standing and in the hand, not directly on the tongue while kneeling, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bishop's directive, consistent with norms announced in other dioceses in the region, may have also created tensions within the diocesan seminary itself.

A large number of the priests in San Rafael have not complied with directives regarding the distribution of communion in the hand, among them many former students of the seminary, which has been perceived by some to be behind the priests' reluctance to require communion in the hand, the bishop said.

This refusal to comply had caused "serious scandal inside and outside the seminary and diocese," said Taussig.

Taussig said that reception of the Eucharist in the hand or on the tongue are both equally accepted by the Church.

Speaking to TVA El Nevado on July 27, Fr. José Antonio Álvarez, spokesman for the Diocese of San Rafael, said that "due to the undisciplined reaction of a good part of the clergy of the diocese at this time, this diocese does not have the possibility of putting together a formation team in conformity with the discipline of the Church."

On August 20, Mgr. Taussig announced that he would impose canonical sanctions on priests who persisted in disobedience by giving Communion on the tongue and not in the hand.

After meeting with Pope Francis in late October, Taussig said that the Vatican's decision to close the seminary "was not up for discussion" and will take effect later this year.

Catholics have repeatedly spoken out against the closure of the seminary, calling for caravans, prayer and demonstrations outside the San Rafael diocesan headquarters.

In response to protests last month, Taussig published a letter October 30, asking Catholics not to "come together for these anonymous gatherings," as "they aggravate the situation and may harm the seminarians themselves more, whom we all want to care for."

The bishop called previous demonstrations "acts of rebellion and contention." Messages stuck to walls and doors included a sign calling for the bishop to resign, another called him a traitor.

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Taussig said that the demonstrations "first of all harm the seminary itself. The laity who put up insulting posters, who brought their children along and allowed them to pound on the windows and doors, who harm the unity of the Church and scandalize its members (and non-members looking on with surprise from the outside), are seen as 'fruits of the seminary'. Because they reflect, at least indirectly, the formation received from those who have also graduated from the seminary. The announced caravans will also be judged in the same way."

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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