Madrid cardinal ousts biscuit priests

The Spanish Church is in uproar over the closure by Cardinal Antonio Rouca Varela of a Madrid parish run by three priests who celebrate Mass wearing plain clothes and with biscuits for children instead of the traditional communion wafer.

However, the Guardian reports Spain's Catholic hierarchy was faced with a rebellion among some of its own clergy as leftwing priests in one of Madrid's poorest neighbourhoods defied a ban on them celebrating Easter mass.

Hundreds of worshippers packed into the parish church of San Carlos Borromeo after the three priests there refused to bow to an order from their archbishop closing the parish down.

More worshippers spilled on to the streets of the traditionally working-class district as the priests, followers of liberation theology, defied a threat from the church to punish them if they continued to celebrate Mass as they have done for almost three decades.

"The church hierarchy does not want churches for the poor," said parishioner Maria Martinez before the Easter Mass began with guitar music.

Placards reading "Solidarity with the parish of San Carlos Borromeo" and "The hierarchy can close premises but not a church" were hung outside the small one-roomed strip-lit church.

The so-called "red church" of Entrevias has become a cause celebre in Spain since Madrid's archbishop, Antonio Rouco Varela, announced its closure a week ago. While the closure was explained as an attempt to reduce the number of parishes in Madrid by merging some, it has been taken as a direct attack on the priests and their forthright stance against church customs and the Vatican's hierarchy.

The priests, famous for conducting services in street clothes, were told to hand over the keys to the parish church and stop celebrating Mass.

They could, however, continue to carry out their work with the neighbourhood's poor, with former prisoners, drug addicts and the 180 homeless people who use the church as their registered address.

"We are not going to separate our social work and help for the destitute from our way of celebrating liturgy," said Enrique de Castro, one of the priests.

But Expatica reports that he also said: "We are open to dialogue with the archbishop but this does not mean we are going to give in."

The Catholic theologian, Juan Jose Tamayo called on the archbishop of Madrid to "give some ground" over the decision to close the parish.

The Church Association of Galicia said they would also back the three "red priests".

The three priests, all over 60 years old, belong to the tradition of "worker priests" or "red priests" who emerged under the dictatorship of Franco. One of the three, Pepe Diaz, said he had first rebelled against the church hierarchy when it was supporting Franco.

"We did things our own way then, and did not bother with the ecclesiastical powers or follow religious tradition," he said.

"There were clandestine meetings of all kinds, especially about social and political matters. That was what they disliked about us back then. Of course, even then we were celebrating Mass dressed in ordinary clothes."

Closure of "red" church splits Spanish Catholics (Expatica, 10/4/07)
Madrid's rebel priests defy church to mark Easter (Guardian, 9/4/07)

11 Apr 2007