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SAN RAFAEL, Argentina (ChurchMilitant.com) - An Argentine bishop has pulled the plug on his flourishing diocesan seminary.
In a recent televised interview, Bp. Eduardo María Taussig of San Rafael dashed the hopes of his flock, saying that a recent conversation with Pope Francis has led to the immediate closure of the diocesan school of theology, Santa María Madre de Dios (Mother of God).
When asked why the seminary — one of South America's most successful — had been shuttered, Taussig refused to answer, maintaining his pattern of silence about the cause of the closure.
Tensions in the diocese began to grow shortly after churches were shuttered in March owing to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In July, Taussig announced that Holy Communion could be received only in the hand. Pious San Rafael Catholics saw this as unacceptable — a violation of Vatican norms as well as a bow to the government, which is dominated by the pro-abortion Peronist Party. Echoing the laity, the seminarians of San Rafael begged the bishop to allow reception of the Eucharist on the tongue, as was customary throughout the diocese. When the seminary rector joined his seminarians in petition, Taussig dismissed him.
In the wake of growing consternation over his Communion order, Taussig announced that diocesan clergy would face canonical sanctions should they distribute the Eucharist on the tongue.
On July 27, the bishop issued a statement that he would close Mother of God at the end of 2020, "following precise instructions issued by the Holy See."
Taussig gave no reasons for the "painful" closure, but said it was "necessary." A diocesan spokesman, meanwhile, told the media that the seminary was being shut down because the majority of San Rafael clergy had refused to distribute Communion in the hand.
Asked about the controversy in an Aug. 7 interview, the bishop claimed, "I don't have motives. The Holy See, through the prefect [Cdl. Beniamino Stella of the Congregation for the Clergy], communicates a decision to me so that as bishop I can say: 'Roma locuta, causa finita.' When Rome has spoken, the discussion is at an end."
On Aug. 27, the mothers of 30 San Rafael seminarians published an open letter in a local newspaper calling on Pope Francis to intervene.
"Like the Cananean woman of the gospel, we dare to beg you, in the name of your earthly mother and your Mother in Heaven, to intervene and suspend the closure of the seminary," the women wrote. "Just thinking about where they [the seminarians] will go, how they will be dispersed in the community, how this beautiful spiritual family that is ours, is causing unspeakable grief."
Reportedly, Francis — a fellow Argentine — made no answer.
In September, Argentine newspaper La Prensa published a story suggesting that Taussig aimed to catechize his flock according to "the new ecclesial winds" emanating from Rome. According to the report, the bishop told Mother of God seminarians: "In my years here, I have not been able to change the thinking; from the oldest priest all the way to the last seminarian, they all think alike. There is no alternative but to close the seminary."
Days later, as Taussig was preparing to leave for Rome for a meeting with Pope Francis, diocesan spokesman Fr. Jose Antonio Alvarez confirmed that the seminary would likely close.
During his recent media appearance, Taussig portrayed the closure as a dutiful stepping stone for the San Rafael diocese.
"We are in the Church, which is a mystery of faith, and we follow the suggestions and directives established by the Holy Father and his advisors," he said. "Therefore, with filial devotion, we take this step and this road forward."
Taussig is conceding that the future of the seminarians of Santa María Madre de Dios is in doubt. Late last month he warned that other Argentine seminaries may not be able to receive them — apparently contradicting earlier assurances.
In 2021, he said, the seminarians "will live for a year with their families and parish, confirming their vocation, but their reassignment to other seminaries will not be immediate."
The bishop described the situation as "a trial for all of us, especially the seminarians," adding, "for that reason we must accompany them in prayer."
Speaking to Church Militant this week, pro-life Argentine journalist Juan Carlos Monedero said he asked Fr. Alvarez why Taussig is sending Santa María Madre de Dios students home, after earlier indicating they would be transferred to other seminaries.
After Alvarez refused to grant an interview, Monedero replied that he would have to report that the diocese refused to answer his questions. Alvarez responded by telling the journalist that he should do as his "conscience dictates."
As chancery insiders keep quiet about the controversy, the faithful of San Rafael are making their voices heard. On the same day as Taussig's televised interview, hundreds of Catholics drove to the diocesan chancery to protest the seminary's closure.
Demanding Taussig's resignation, demonstrators affixed signs condemning the bishop to the walls of the building.
At the entrance, a sign read: "Closed because of treason." Another, featuring photos of Taussig and Pope Francis, declared: "God will call you to account!" Other signs read: "Bishop felon," "We are orphans without a pastor," "Wolf in sheep's clothing," and "You don't represent us!"
One sign demanded that an apostolic visitator be sent to the diocese — a frequent demand on the part of laity in San Rafael who demand an explanation for the closure. Among the protesters were children, many of whom rang the doorbell or banged on the windows of the chancery, demanding to be heard as the horns of the assembled vehicles blared.
An influential blog on Spanish Catholic website InfoVaticana has suggested that one possible motive for Taussig's closure of Santa María Madre de Dios is the potential for advancement up the ecclesial ladder. According to the blog, some of the bishop's colleagues believe he will be rewarded by the Vatican for shutting down a seminary generally considered to be conservative. The blog theorized that Taussig will be promoted to archbishop of La Plata, a city near Buenos Aires, in gratitude for ensuring the end of Santa María Madre de Dios — something his progressive predecessors were unable to achieve.
If Taussig is awarded La Plata, he would replace Abp. Víctor Manuel "Tucho" Fernández — Pope Francis' first episcopal appointment.
Fernández gained fame in 1995 with the publication of his book, Heal Me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing. In spite of the controversy over the work, in 2009 Francis — then archbishop of Buenos Aires — nominated Fernández to head the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. Though the appointment was opposed by many in the papal Curia, Fernández assumed the post in 2011.
Fernández was installed as archbishop of La Plata in June 2018, replacing retiring archbishop Héctor Rubén Aguer, a well-known pro-life advocate whom Francis ordered to leave the diocese immediately after his resignation.
According to the InfoVaticana post, Fernández is now on track to preside over the archdiocese of Buenos Aires. He would replace the current archbishop, Cdl. Marco Aurelio Poli, who was consecrated to the cardinalate by Pope Francis in 2013. Poli reportedly is poised to be named to the Curia before the pontiff's 84th birthday Dec. 17.
The diocese of San Rafael is home to more than 200,000 Catholics, among them 70 priests — many of whom are graduates of Santa María Madre de Dios. Before its closure, the school was home to 39 seminarians in various stages of formation. Since its founding in 1984, the seminary has produced some 150 priests, who have gone on to serve in Argentina, Cuba, Italy, Spain and the United States. Of those, only one has left the priesthood.