The announcement of the closure of the Santa Maria Madre de Dios Seminary in the diocese of San Rafael, in the Argentinian province of Mendoza, has evoked a reaction astonishment many diocesan faithful and priests.
The decision to close the seminary at the end of the academic year was taken by the Congregation for the Clergy, whose prefect is Cardinal Beniamino Stella, and communicated to the Argentine bishops in July. Starting in December, 40 seminarians will have to continue their training in other Argentinian seminaries.
Almost 80% of the priests in the diocese do not understand this decision, and have written to the Executive Commission of the Argentine Bishops’ Conference to ask for an explanation of the reasons for this brutal decision.
For several weeks, after the authorization of the resumption of religious celebrations in times of epidemic, the decision to distribute communion exclusively in the hand has aroused great controversy among the faithful. The situation took an unexpected turn with the resignation of the rector of the seminary, Fr. Alejandro Ciarrocchi, some open letters and public stances, including a massive demonstration in front of the seminary, which resulted in the protesters being sued by the justice department for violating the regulations established by the provincial government regarding the pandemic.
Faced with the protests, Bishop Eduardo Maria Taussig, Bishop of San Rafael, contented himself with declaring to the Argentinian media that the decision had been made “by the Holy See” and not by the diocese. But critics of the Roman decision place the blame on the bishop, and recall that since the founding of the Seminary of Santa Maria Madre de Dios, around 150 priests have been ordained. The diocese has one priest for every 2,300 inhabitants, half of them minister in other dioceses (with three parishes served in Cuba), there are 40 seminarians and more than 30 graduate teachers. Among the priests ordained in the last fifteen years, only one has left the ministry. “Isn’t this significant data?” 70 priests wrote in the local daily Diario San Rafael.
The question of communion in the hand seems to be the outward sign of a deeper crisis. The real problem would seem to be that the seminary would not fully adhere to Second Vatican Council and the Ratio Fundamentalis, the official Roman program for the training of future priests. According to Fr. Antonio Alvarez, spokesman for the diocese of San Rafael, the closure decision was indeed made by the Holy See, which wants “the seminarians to be moved to be freed from this [traditional] influence and properly trained to the priesthood [according to the new conciliar norms].”
The tree is judged by its fruits: wherever conciliar norms are applied, seminaries are empty. Under these conditions, the reluctance of the seminarians and their teachers seem more than legitimate. They understand that, in fact, conciliar is synonymous with suicidal. As a reminder, there were only 57 priestly ordinations for the 27 dioceses of Germany in 2020; and only 55 in 2019. In the years 1960-1970, there were more than 300 per year.