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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (ChurchMilitant.com) — Seventy priests of San Rafael province in Argentina have released a letter in which they question their bishop's decision to close the diocesan seminary.
After noting that relations with him had been good overall, they reminded Bp. Eduardo María Taussig that as recently as March 2020 he had praised them and the seminary.
According to the document, after ordaining several deacons, Bp. Taussig proclaimed that the seminary "had reached its splendor," while also lauding the formators there. The letter also said that the bishop noted that he had had no trouble over liturgies celebrated in diocese prior to the current impasse.
On July 27, Bp. Taussig released a statement that he was closing the diocesan Santa María Madre de Dios seminary at the end of 2020 "following precise instructions issued by the Holy See."
A diocesan spokesman later confirmed that the order came from the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, which ostensibly would have acted on Pope Francis' behalf, "due to the undisciplined reaction of a good part of the clergy of the diocese."
Dated Aug. 4, the letter from the priests recalled that Bp. Taussig had praised them in the past. Undersigned by approximately 80% of the priests of the diocese, the letter said that since its founding in 1984, the seminary had ordained some 150 priests. Half of these have been assigned to other dioceses in Argentina and three mission parishes in Cuba. According to the letter, there is one priest for every 2,300 faithful in San Rafael. The missive noted that over the last 15 years, only one priest has requested leave to abandon his ministry; it asked: "Isn't that significant data?"
Referring to Bp. Taussig's demand last month that the Eucharist should be distributed only in the hand, even though Church teachings allow that the faithful may elect to receive either in the hand or directly in the mouth, the priests wrote that they are "surprised" by the bishop's "sanitary measure."
"While the whole country is suffering the effects of the pandemic and the Church is attending many needs, was it the right time for such a measure," they wrote. They asserted that in the last 100 days, San Rafael diocese had not had one case of COVID-19. Also, they wrote that any attempts by the priests to seek dialogue with the bishop over finding other solutions have been rejected. The letter also noted that the two forms of distributing the Eucharist had been practiced heretofore "without drama."
Noting that the Argentine Conference of Bishops had merely recommended the distribution of the Eucharist rather than requiring it, the priests wrote that their response to Bishop Taussig's decree has not been an "act of disobedience but of fidelity and obedience to the universal norms of the Church."
Even while the decree regarding Holy Communion greatly disturbed them, the priests wrote that what has greatly aggrieved them is the shuttering of the diocesan seminary. "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?"
In response, the priests wrote that there has never been a conflict in the seminary over the eternal teachings of the Church and the Second Vatican Council. "If anything has defined us, it has been our adherence to the 2,000 years of the Magisterium," they wrote, and:
we have felt completely identified with Pope Benedict's precise definition of the hermeneutic of continuity rather than the double fracture (that everything begins or ends with Vatican II). We have always adhered to the practical directives of the successive "Ratio fundamentalis" (universal directives for priestly formation) that have been expressed by the seminary since its foundation in its internal regulations and approved by successive bishops.
The letter said that numerous bishops understand and support the priest of San Rafael, having continued to ask for priests from its seminary. Noting the great commotion among the faithful, which has included prayer vigils by hundreds in front of the seminary, the letter said: "It would have been better to the Church to have charitably corrected their [the priests'] failings in private" rather than sowing suspicion about them and the seminary. As a coda, the letter noted that a Cuban bishop recently asked Pope Francis for more priests from San Rafael, telling the Holy Father, "Taussig already has enough."
According to Church Militant sources in Argentina, the priests of San Rafael have not yet asked to see "the precise instructions from the Holy See" that Bp. Taussig's spokesman cited, which authorized the seminary's closing. However, two laymen from neighboring Neuquen province have issued a public letter to the bishop asking him for a copy of the Vatican missive.
A priest who was ordained at the San Rafael seminary joined several lay people in a YouTube video in which they expressed their solidarity with the seminary.
Father Luis Ricardo Costaguta, who currently serves a parish in Spain, said that he will never forget the guidance he received from his formators and spiritual directors. "Thanks to you, we have become priests of Jesus Christ. I expect no action on our part should ever besmirch the formation we received," he said.
Father Costaguta was joined by Dr. Andrea Greco de Álvarez, who has been a strong defender of the seminary. On the video, she said that it currently has 46 seminarians, as opposed to others that have none. "This shows the fidelity of the diocese of San Rafael; the fertility of this diocese is the best proof of a firm and fruitful faith, as opposed to others where no one is willing to embrace the priesthood."
Another woman on the video praised the diocesan seminarians, whom she said weekly visit the sick and incarcerated, and are also personally engaged in providing catechism to adults and children, spiritual direction and job training.
Bishop Taussig has threatened to take away the faculties of three priests of his diocese after accusing them of disobedience regarding his decree on Holy Communion.