Letter to the editor: a terrible situation in Ciudad del Este

We received this letter addressed to the Bishop of Ciudad del Este and we share it here with everyone.

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Monsignor Guillermo Steckling, we come to you as caring and worried children, saddened by the situation through which our beloved diocese is living.  There have been certain changes which, far from advancing our pastoral practices, are making them retreat very rapidly. Our main concerns are the possible closure of our Seminario Mayor San José, as well as some of the changes taking place at several parishes of the diocese where priest of questionable morals have been assigned.

On the question of the Seminario Mayor San José, we recall that upon assuming responsibility from his predecessor in 2004 Msgr. Rogelio Livieres —our † Bishop of happy memory for his many saintly works— decided to create that seminary because the challenges were indeed great because he only had seventy priests (both diocesan and religious), while the number of souls to be tended to vastly outstripped those means.

The future was not very promising either, because the diocese scarcely had some ten to twelve seminarians who, at the time, were undergoing formation at the Seminario Nacional. The problem, however, was not only the quantity but also the quality of priests.

In relation to the Seminario Nacional, there is a report, signed on March 4th of 2008, by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, the Vatican’s Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, addressed to Monsignor Ignacio Gogorza, President of Paraguay’s Conference of Bishops, in which objections are clearly raised concerning «some aspects that require special consideration as well as the appropriate action in order to overcome current deficiencies.»

 We would like to mention, Monsignor Streckling, some of the report’s objections.

Although the document, in its measured curial style, stresses in the beginning «the patent interest of the Bishops of Paraguay in the formation of the candidates» to the priesthood, it later attacks «the habitual lack of honesty of the seminarians on matters related to sexuality, which in many cases is encouraged by the poor example of priests who exhibit habits, and visit places, which are contrary to the atmosphere proper for a minister of Christ; practices which must be corrected with patience and charity, but also with firmness.»(Priest who frequent unseemly places, such as houses of ill repute).

This high ranking dignitary from Rome also points out that «there is a very real problem with liberation theology which, hidden under an interest for things social and political, permeates the academic mentality of the seminarians as well as that of the diocesan priests and religious.» In order to remedy this ideological confusion, «which could not be classified as a secondary matter,» the Cardinal refers his audience to an official document concerning the social teachings of the Church, published by the Congregation under his care, which is obligatory reading for anyone who directs a seminary.

He concludes by summarizing that “It is necessary to counteract decisively the tendency to reduce the importance of earnestness and effort in study,” because “a good intellectual formation of future priests is the best guarantee of good evangelization.”

This report was seen as confirmation of the fears which Msgn. Livieres had at the time, and we had to agree with him that, in all truth, a seminary in our diocese was a necessity. It was thus that we became committed to the institution which has produced such good priest.

He was, however the object, of many attacks by Paraguay’s Bishiops Conference, the same entity which now insists on closing the seminary, disregarding what is provided for in the Directorio para los Obispos [Guidebook for Bishops] and the Code of Canon Law. These documents stress very clearly that a diocesan Bishop must have his own seminary where he can form his clerics, the priest who are his helpers.

Msgn. Steckling, with all the due respect that you deserve as pastor of this particular Church, we ask you to reconsider your stance concerning the seminary in our diocese, because the damage caused by the lack of priests among the faithful is very great and grave. We would like our seminary to remain open and, as the documents cited above suggest, that you may also have your own institutions for priest formation.

We only desire that our diocese continues to have this greatest of blessing and we will commit our support to your administration.

We are also concerned about the sudden changes that have been taking place in some of the parishes that make up our grand diocese. On the situation concerning the Espiritu Santo parish: ever since members of the Society of Saint John communities took over the church, there have been accelerating changes that have resulted in many benefits and advantages for the faithful because the priests and seminarians who live in the church have been working tirelessly, exactly as our Mother Church has asked them to. More than one hundred people confess daily at this parish, the faithful can always count on priest to hear their confession, offer spiritual direction, give advice and offer various activities that gather children, youths and adults, always inviting them to participate in such a way as to promote an active community of parishioners.

The beauty of the liturgy supported by the incomparable icons as the ones we have here, which have been declared a cultural heritage of Paraguay, help us understand the history of salvation through its lines and colors. Where there is no worship there is no culture and this shrine, in which we have received so many gifts and benefits from our Beloved Father and which has witnessed many conversions, has also been host to several works of great significance for the citizenry, thus contributing to the spiritual an cultural enrichment of the inhabitants of the area as well as of other parts of the country. Within its walls we had Mozart’s Requiem for three consecutive years, the Baroque Festival of Alto Parana, and other events in which renowned orchestras from neighboring countries participated; we have had, as well, the continued patronage of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Asuncion, the Espiritu Santo Choir and the Children’s Choir of the San Esteban School. We would like all of these cultural works, which do nothing more that help us enrich ourselves spiritually, to continue.

The seminarians of the Priestly Community of Saint John work with the parish’s special projects. They assist in the catechism for children during Mass and with the faithful; they assist with youths through Youth Pastoring; they assist in door to door missions every year; they visit the sick of the area; they offer communion to communicants at each Mass, and they help to perform the office in the best way possible. These are the reasons why it is important for all of us that the seminarians remain in the Espiritu Santo parish; it is thanks to them that we can have good liturgy, a good choir, good youth activities and good missions.

The same is true at the parish of Ciudad de Santa Rita, where the Comunidad Misionera de Jesús was removed, after having done excellent pastoral work, and replaced with a pastor who is completely oriented towards liberation theology.

We want our parishes, and therefore our diocese, to continue growing in numbers through people truly converted to Christ, committed to their Church and to a common walk towards sanctity. We must continue to walk the path of life moving forward, not standing still or going backwards; on the contrary, we should reach each sick person and assist with the last rights, we should be able to hear confessions from all the faithful who come forward, we should be able to baptize all the children that come to us because of all the priests and seminarians, we should be able to, in short, to save all the souls that God sends our way and thus save also ourselves.

All of this will be possible if we redouble our efforts related to the seminary, working for new vocations, ordaining new priests according to the will of Christ’s Heart, admitting new deacons into new communities and into new movements, as well as helping the existing ones by giving them spiritual assistance.

We, the lay petitioners, request that you, Msgn. Steckling, review all the decisions that you have made concerning our diocese; that you really take a careful look at the good work of all these good priests in their parishes. That you look, for example, at the enormous progress Fr. Jorge made at the parish of Santa Rita, work that he now obediently abandons, leaving the faithful there in anguish, for they are used to good liturgy, confession and all the activities this cleric carried out there. We are not opposed to changes, but we are exceedingly surprised that those changes take place in parishes that were on the right path. The priest that are doing well should be helped to do better and supported, not transfered leaving their work unfinished.

We ask you to read and listen to our petition, that you analyze it and that you consider it, and that you agree with it. In the meantime, we will pray to God our Father that He enlightens you through the Holy Spirit and that you make the right decisions commanded by God.

A group of faithful from Ciudad del Este.

Translation by Enrique Treviño. Original post

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