Ecuadorian episcopate expresses support for Archbishop in conflict with “activist” priests

.- The Bishops Conference of Ecuador has released a statement expressing full support for Archbishop Raul Vela of Quito, who is engaged in a conflict with two parish priests who have declared themselves to be “followers of liberation theology.”

The conflict began at the beginning of May at the parish of Santa Maria del Inti, which located in a southern Quito neighborhood known as “Lucha de los Pobres” (“Struggle of the Poor”).

Two priests of Spanish origin at the parish, Father Luis Molina, 58, and Father Miguel Angel Olmedo, 38, both from the Diocese of Jerez in Spain, opened a self-sufficient school, completely independent from the parish and the Archdiocese of Quito.

Together with the “non-denominational” school, the priests began to carry out pastoral work centered exclusively on social justice, ignoring the sacramental life of the parish, including the Mass.

Responding to the numerous irregularities, Archbishop Vela named a new pastor for the parish and requested the Spanish priests return to their dioceses.  Fathers Molina and Olmeda responded by mobilizing their followers against the archbishop’s request.

In their statement, the bishops of Ecuador note, “We are aware of the problem that has developed at the parish of Santa Maria del Inti” and they underscore that “in a Diocese, the Bishop is responsible for starting, taking away and guiding the pastoral work of priests, religious and laity for the carrying out of the mission entrusted by Christ.”

The bishops also note that the presence of the two Spanish priests is in violation of Canon Law, as “there is no agreement between the Archbishop of Quito and the Bishop of Jerez (Spain), on whom the two priests depend and to whom a request has been sent that they return to their Diocese.”

The bishops lamented as well the fact that the two priests reject “the Ecuadorian expressions of popular piety: novenas, carols, devotion to the saints as examples of Christian life,” and they criticize both priests for “neglecting the Sunday Mass, whose unrenounceable and universal value was emphasized recently by Pope Benedict XVI.”

“With funds from a Spanish non-governmental organization, the priests have founded a school,” the bishops note, but “we do not understand why two priests have decided that no religious instruction, not to mention catechesis, can be given at this school, despite the fact that it functions as the parish rectory.”

“In this context the injuries against the Archbishop of Quito and his collaborators do not cease from displeasing us.  We support his effort to bring a solution to the problem, especially for the benefit of the poor.”

“Just as in any other human endeavor, external impositions in the field of religion are not acceptable, much less when accompanied by attitudes that lead to confrontation,” the statement concludes.

Known to their followers as simply “Jose” and “Miguel,” the priests have rallied their supporters in opposition to the changes by Archbishop Vela.  “They are putting liberation theology into practice in order to give us a voice and a place in society without class distinctions,” said Marcia Toca, member of the Parish Council.

However, Msgr. Vicente Eguiguren, spokesman of the Diocese of Quito, noted that certain types “liberation theology have been condemned by the Church, those that substitute the role of Jesus Christ by making men the saviors and liberators.”

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