BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (ChurchMilitant.com) - Speculation is mounting that the embattled bishop Eduardo María Taussig of Argentina will soon resign, following a threat to dismiss several priests and a controversy over closing a diocesan seminary in the Andean province of Mendoza.
In July, Bp. Taussig of San Rafael diocese announced that the Eucharist would be distributed only by hand instead of on the tongue, which had long been the custom in the diocese. This was in keeping with civil authorities' COVID-19 restrictions. This prompted a reaction from priests, seminarians and laity, who begged him to reconsider and allow the option of distribution on the tongue as was customary.
Instead, Taussig grew apparently more adamant, even telling laity that they had been incorrectly catechized about reception of Holy Communion. Some Catholics in San Rafael feared that Taussig's decree was an inadmissible intromission of civil government in Church affairs. Late in July, Taussig then announced the closing of his diocesan seminary.
The El Caminante-Wanderer blog, which is written by an influential Argentine Catholic, speculates that Taussig seeks to do the Pope's bidding with the seminary in exchange for another posting.
Bishop Taussig announced that he had received "precise instructions from the Holy See" to shutter the Santa María Madre de Dios seminary. The exact source of the "precise instructions" has not yet been revealed, but many speculate that they came directly from Pope Francis. Bishop Taussig gave no reasons for the "painful" closure but said it is "necessary."
A diocesan spokesman told the media that the seminary was being closed because the majority of San Rafael's clergy had refused to distribute Communion in the hand. Laypeople had prayed on their knees outside the seminary for the lifting of the order.
There are reportedly some 40 seminarians now in formation, of whom 12 are deacons expecting ordination to the priesthood this year. This is a number greater than found in the other 31 seminaries in Argentina.
Some seminarians are reportedly considering transfers to seminaries outside of Argentina. According to Church Militant sources, seminarians said they faced sanctions from Taussig should they seek to receive the Eucharist on the tongue in accordance with tradition and Church teachings. Despite their misgivings over the decree, the seminarians obeyed.
Taussig was consecrated bishop of San Rafael in 2004 by Cdl. Jorge Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis.
The Argentine conference of bishops has issued a statement saying that the bishops "accompany" Taussig's decision as "obedient and respectful of the communion of the universal Church and the common good of the Church. In forming priests, the bishop should be able to rely on the help of priests who are animated by the Gospels, who utterly and unreservedly adhere to the Magisterium of the Church, principally the contents of Vatican II."
According to the bishops, "That demands a clear awareness of the Church's current expectations — that they faithfully adhere to the requirements indicated by the priestly formation plan (Ratio Fundamentalis), in a climate of loyalty to the shepherd of the diocese and a careful responsibility of the young men in their charge."
On July 31, Taussig issued a canonical admonition to three priests who allegedly distributed the Eucharist in communicants' hands, which had first been covered with a linen cloth.
Denouncing the effort to preserve any stray particles of the sacred species, Taussig wrote:
Who are you — or us if the bishop does not intervene — to change the disposition made by the Argentine bishops' conference and other bishops around the world, or holy popes who re-established this modality of receiving Communion over the last 50 years? (St. Paul VI for other region as of the 1960s and St. John Paul II for Argentina in the 1990s).
Failure to obey, Taussig warned, could mean that the three priests may face removal of their ministerial faculties.
According to Church Militant sources, seminarians said that they faced Taussig's sanctions should they seek to receive the Eucharist on the tongue in accordance with tradition and Church teachings. Despite their misgivings over the decree, the seminarians obeyed.
Archbishop Emeritus Héctor Aguer — who is counted as among the most orthodox of Argentine bishops — sent a letter to Taussig at the end of July in which he blamed his colleague for the crisis. Now made public, the letter read: "I deeply regret what has happened in San Rafael because of a very serious error of yours: the decree on how to receive Communion. I gave you my opinion the two times you called me on the phone."
Archbishop Aguer wrote on InfoCatólica that "some pastors of the Church" had determined that the Eucharist should be received only in the hand. While admitting that caution is "reasonable," Aguer said that there may be even much more risk of contagion by that means rather than by reception by mouth.
Since Argentines have been asked repeatedly to wash their hands, Aguer wrote, the article said, "It occurs to me that, in fact, perhaps one or the other could be done with equal care and without danger." Aguer stated that he fears that the faithful will see a decree such as Taussig's as an "excessive imposition" on the part of civil authorities in Church affairs.
Joining Aguer in chastising Taussig was Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican diplomat who has also severely criticized Pope Francis over the latter's dealings with disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Several members of the clergy and laity of San Rafael told Church Militant that they fear retribution for themselves or other members of the clergy who were once trained at the San Rafael seminary. One mother of several priests said that even though her sons are far away from San Rafael, she fears that retribution will be meted out to them should she speak out. In an open letter in Diario San Rafael, two laymen expressed their disagreement with Taussig over the decree on Holy Communion, arguing that a communicant's desire to receive the sacrament on the tongue is no reason for refusal.
Priests and laity of San Rafael have joined local media in noting that there have long been differences of opinion over the seminary that predate the bishop's order to distribute Communion only by hand. While priests and seminarians who have been trained at Santa Maria Madre de Dios (St. Mary Mother of God) Seminary contend that their formation adheres to the traditions of the Church and canon law, their critics contend that they are "ultraconservative" or even "fascists," according to Los Andes newspaper. The seminary, for example, has not been noted for fostering the so-called Liberation Theology, nor other modernizing philosophies or theologies.
Pro-life Dr. Miguel Soler, who has raised over 400 abandoned children in a school and shelter he and his wife founded, told Church Militant that he agrees with other faithful Catholics in the Andean province. He said, "Bishop Taussig should heed the gospel and proclaim the Word through the ordination of good priests." He added, "By closing the seminary," he warned, "the bishop is like a father abandoning his children."
Father Luis Ricardo Costaguta of the diocese of Alicante, Spain, issued a video expressing his consternation, comparing the closing of the seminary to communist China's persecution of Catholics and Christians.
"I simply don't understand why it is being closed," the Argentine priest said, adding that he is grateful for the formation he received at the seminary. He said that he cannot understand how the bishop can label the priests and laity of his diocese as "disobedient."
The seminary was founded in 1984 by Bp. Leon Kruk, who presided over San Rafael from 1973 until his death in 1991. From the beginning, the seminary was noted for having some 40 seminarians. Facing opposition from his brother bishops, however, Bp. Kruk was forced to accept a visit from an apostolic visitor: a Vatican official to investigate the controversy.
Controversy over what priests and seminarians have called basic Thomistic formation for the priesthood continued, however. In the leftist press, Bp. Kruk has been accused by the leftist press of "fascist" tendencies and associations with Argentina's military government of the 1970s and 80s. However, even Pope Francis, who as Fr. Jorge Bergoglio, S.J. was provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina at the time, has also been accused of indifference or even complicity in the disappearance and murder of political dissidents and priests.
Many Argentine Catholics are concerned by what they see as a decline in the number of vocations to the priesthood. In 1999, for example, there were 1,500 seminarians nationwide; by 2014, that number had dropped to just 600.