Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Vatican own goal

I'm not much of a Vatican watcher, but I was taken by a news article today about retired Paraguayan Bishop Ferdinando Lugo, who is being warned of possible sanctions - suspension from exercising priestly ministry, because he is being proposed as a possible candidate in the country's next Presidential elections. While he was exercising episcopal office, he became a renowned champion of the country's poor.
Paraguay is among the low-middle income countries of the world, and most of its wealth is in the hands of a small percentage of its population. Its president has just been jailed for fraud and corruption.
The Vatican thinks clergy should stay out of politics, and this makes sense, since it is possible to abuse the status and position of trust that a priest holds, and be caught up in party politics, for one group and against another, in a destructive rather than a reconciling way.
To become, if it happens to him, an elected head of state puts him in a position that symbolises unity of all people in a country, whether they agree with each other or not. You can't do that and be known as a public representative of the Roman Church. As if Bishop Ferdinando didn't know that.
No sooner than his candidature was announced, he resigned from the exercise of his ministry as a retired priest (bishop), to make this point clear. If he has support and is elected, it'll be due to his track record as an advocate of the poor over many years. Separated from the exercise priestly functions, (though not from its commitments), he remains what he always was anyway, a baptized lay person, a member of the people of God, seeking to serve others and his country - in his old age!
Somebody reading the news-feeds in Vatican City seems to have over-reacted with this public warning, making an ecclesiastical media farce out of an apostolic act of witness through service. But then, communications between Rome and Latin America seem to have suffered from an awful lot of static on the line
for decades. The Holy Spirit is supposed to lead the church into all truth, but does it always follow?

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