BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (ChurchMilitant.com) - Bishop Eduardo María Taussig of the diocese of San Rafael (Argentina) explained in a video why he closed the diocesan Holy Mary Mother of God seminary, admitting that it is "a very painful issue for everyone and for me too."
Posted on YouTube Aug. 7, Bp. Taussig said that the closure came when "here in the diocese a problem was raised over the issue of Communion, particularly in the hand, and that had an impact on the seminary."
In reference to the decree he published in July announcing the closure, which came after "precise instructions" from the Holy See, he said on the video, "The decision took me by surprise, but it is a directive that comes directly from the Holy See."
The closure was made in consultation with Cdl. Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy in the Vatican. It is presumed that Pope Francis was aware. It was Cdl. Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, who consecrated Taussig in 2004.
The diocese of San Rafael is one of two dioceses in the Andean province of Mendoza. The other see lies in the provincial capital, the city of Mendoza.
Taussig said that the diocesan seminarians "have the least responsibility in everything that has happened," citing as evidence their assurances of obedience and fidelity in a July 30 letter that they signed.
The bishop's announcement of the closure was followed by widespread concern on the part of lay Catholics, who reacted by holding vigils outside the seminary and the diocesan offices. This served to pique concerns on the part of laity, following the bishop's previous directive in July that Holy Communion would be distributed only in the hand for the duration of the pandemic.
Recently, Taussig threatened three priests with dismissal over whether they were adhering to his directive.
In the video, Taussig said, "In March, the bishops of [the Argentine Conference of Bishops] asked all the people of God to take Communion in hand," adding that the seminary began doing so on June 28.
He said that he advised diocesan seminary rector Fr. Alejandro Miguel Ciarrocchi and the rector of the nearby IVE [Institute of the Incarnate Word] seminary about the bishops' decision. While the superior of IVE complied, Taussig said, Fr. Ciarrocchi resigned, reportedly because he disagreed with the bishops' directive. He was replaced by a new rector who will be in charge until it closes.
According to Taussig's decree to close the seminary, Ciarrocchi resigned in the midst of several months of disobedience "on the part of an important sector of the clergy, most of them former students of the diocesan seminary, and some of them teachers or significant references for seminarians," which caused "a serious scandal within and outside the seminary and the diocese."
Regarding the controversy, which has been noticed by secular media, the bishop said, "Of course, it is very painful for everyone; I am aware of the pain of the seminarians, their families, my clergy and the bishop. It is the greatest pain I have had as a bishop in these 15 years. But every crisis is an opportunity. We will correct this, and we will see that our future priests have the best formation."
Seventy priests of the diocese, many of whom were formed at the diocesan seminary, recently signed an open letter asking Taussig to keep it open. Representing some 80% of the diocesan clergy, the Aug. 4 letter recalled that Taussig had praised them in the past. It noted that the seminary has ordained some 150 priests, of whom half serve elsewhere in Argentina, while others serve three mission parishes in Cuba.
Since its founding in 1984, only one priest has requested leave from ministry. "Isn't that significant data?" the priests' letter asked.
Regarding the closure, the aggrieved priests asked: "What are the reasons that made their way to Rome? Why has there not been a process of inquiry and dialogue? On what concrete facts are the public's doubts raised about the evangelical spirit [of the seminary], or of its adherence to the Magisterium or Vatican II?"
On the video, Taussig claimed:
I don't have the motives. The Holy See, through the prefect [Cdl. Stella], communicates a decision to me and in the face of that I, as bishop, indicate that when Rome has spoken, the discussion was over. We bishops make a promise of fidelity and obedience to the Holy Father. They look with another perspective, with another experience from around the world, what has happened in other places and they make this decision at this moment.
The bishop did not rule out that the seminary may reopen, saying, "In the future, the seminary may be reopened, of course. I don't know if it will be with me or with my successor. These processes take time."
Taussig explained that receiving Holy Communion either in the mouth or in the hand is approved by the Church [a fact reaffirmed by Vatican communications]. That some in the diocese believe it a sacrilege to receive the Eucharist in the hand, he said, is an issue that will have to be addressed through catechesis.
The bishop recalled that churches were closed by government order at the beginning of the pandemic, even at Easter. He said that when the Mendoza provincial government allowed the reopening of churches for worship, he and the bishop of Mendoza acceded to the government directives by agreeing to Communion in the hand.
"The right [to receive Communion in the mouth] was not abolished, but it was regulated as the political authorities did with the right to free movement in the face of the pandemic crisis. Did they take away our right to free movement? No, it was regulated. The same thing happens with Communion," Taussig said.
On balance, the bishop said, this was necessary for Mass to be celebrated in the diocese. "Until the pandemic is at an end, you can receive in this way. No one is forced to receive Communion. Whoever does not want to receive Communion in this way makes spiritual Communion, period."
Taussig said that priests who disagree have recourse to canon law procedures. As to the reasons for distributing Communion in the hand, he said: "We want to take care of everyone's life, and it is just to take all the precautions we can to prevent possible contagion."
While he said he once advocated receiving Communion by mouth, he said debate was at an end in the 1990s when Pope John Paul II approved it.
During the pandemic and when Communion is available only by mouth, Taussig said, "let's do it like martyrs, with their heroism, ready to give our lives for our King and if we have to go, let it be with that heroism that leads us to charity."
Once it is over, he said, worshippers may receive the Eucharist as they prefer. He said, "I have promoted receiving Communion on the knees and in the mouth in the diocese; for that reason, there are kneelers in all the parishes."
Taussig said, finally, "One of my responsibilities as bishop is that the norms are followed. I have to give an account to God on the day I die and now to the Holy Father [Pope Francis]."