You gotta love this beat…especially when it involves reporting the wedding of a priest in a small town — in this case, the marriage of Fr. Gumersindo Meiriño to María “Goli” Benetti in Gobernador Virasoro, Argentina. As can be seen from the photo below, the December 22, 2006 ceremony was front page news in the local tabloid El Lector where it was hailed as “La Nupcia del Año” (“Wedding of the Year”). If you care to register and view the actual news accounts in Spanish, they can be found here in PDF format. A somewhat confusing pastiche of the news stories in HTML format is available at Corrientes Noticias. A good summary of the story in Spanish also appears at Misiones Online.
Fr. Gumersindo is a priest and theologian from the Orense Diocese in Spain who came in 2001 to do missionary work in the Diocese of Santo Tomé in Argentina. The diocese claims he was there under contract — a contract that was rescinded in early December when Fr. Gumer’s intention to get married became known. Fr. Gumer says he signed no contract and that he was working simply under a verbal agreement with the local bishop, Francisco Polti Santillán.
Fr. Gumer’s priestly faculties were suspended on December 4th. El Lector, which has published a regular column by Fr. Gumersindo, points out “Esta suspensión le cabe a Gumersindo dentro de la Diócesis de Santo Tomé, lo cual indica que , si él quiere puede celebrar misa en la Diócesis de Posadas o en cualquier otra.” So he’s suspended in Santo Tomé? No problema. Just move over to Posadas and keep on ministering! That may not be so easy, but Fr. Gumer has indicated that he hopes that he and his wife will be able to resume their pastoral and evangelical work in some way.
Gumer met María when she came as a lay missionary from Buenos Aires. They were evangelizing, giving seminars, and working on a radio program together. They also collaborated on a book about Christian Reiki therapy (Maria is a Reiki master). Gumer says that Bishop Polti knew and approved of this work as well as the comfort the two were providing to the sick and the dying in their mission area.
Gumer says he never thought he would leave the priesthood when he met María but, he adds, “the Lord’s ways are not our ways.” He made inquiries into seeking dispensation from his vows but decided not to wait since he was advised it might take years. He states that he does not believe it would influence his case since he got married in a civil ceremony. “I’m fully aware that a step is lacking under church law. I’m also fully aware that under God’s law, the first [commandment] is to love God above all else and one’s neighbor as oneself. We made the decision to get married based on Love.”
Fr. Gumer says that he and María have received a lot of support for their decision from parishioners — especially young people. The Diocese of Santo Tomé has been less supportive. A letter was sent to the parishes in that diocese not only indicating his suspension, but also warning that anyone who attended Gumersindo and María’s wedding would be commiting a mortal sin and would not be in condition to receive communion.
And it is this last threat that most drew the ire of several priests who wrote in to El Lector in support of Gumer and María. From Italy, one “Padre Luis” writes: “Why are those who attend a civil wedding in a state of sin?…I thought love came from God and if two people love each other and decide to make a civil pact, aren’t they within God’s law?” He goes on to write about priests and bishops who have children out of wedlock and says, “I would like to ask the parishioners who listen to the word and receive the sacraments from these priests. Are they in a state of sin? How many such priests are there in the Church?” And he concludes, “Thank you, Gumer and María for showing us that love exists.”
To which I can only add “Amen” and, on behalf of CITI, “felicitaciones y bendiciones en su matrimonio” — congratulations and blessings on your marriage — from your brothers and sisters here in the U.S.
P.S.: Fr. Gumer continues to publish a regular spiritual column “Noticias de Gumer” in El Lector. The columns that are available online are quite lovely and, if you can read Spanish, worth a look.