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Vatican nixes bishop’s talk at married priests’ conference

NCR Staff

Under Vatican pressure, retired Canadian Bishop Remi De Roo has withdrawn as a featured speaker at an upcoming conference of the International Federation of Married Catholic Priests.

De Roo was scheduled to address a plenary session of the conference in late July. Organizers told NCR that plans for the appearance had been set since the fall of 1998.

De Roo, who stepped down as head of Canada’s Victoria diocese in February, built a reputation over 30-plus years in office as reform-minded and pastorally innovative. Ordained bishop in 1962, he attended all four sessions of Vatican II (NCR, Dec. 25, 1998).

An April 8 letter from the apostolic nuncio’s office in Canada informed De Roo that the Congregation of Bishops in Rome wanted him to pull out of the conference. A copy of the letter was obtained by NCR.

“The ‘partners’ of this congress include a number of organizations which are in open dissent to the teaching and discipline of the Catholic church,” it read.

“It appears that the mere presence of a Catholic bishop, let alone the fact that he is a featured speaker, would be a great source of possible scandal and confusion to the faithful. ... [I]t is the desire of the Holy See that you remove your name from the proposed speakers’ list and refrain from attending the aforementioned conference.”

The letter was signed by Msgr. Luigi Bonazzi, an official in the nunciature.

Three hundred church activists from 15 countries are expected to gather July 28-August 1 at Emory University in Atlanta for the conference, which will focus on human rights and reconciliation. CORPUS, a U.S. association that supports a married priesthood, is a cosponsor, as is the Canadian branch of CORPUS and a similar group from Mexico called Presencia Nueva.

Several Catholic reform groups are holding special caucuses during the conference, including the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, Call to Action, Catholics Speak Out and the Women’s Ordination Conference. More than 30 groups will take part in a simultaneous meeting sponsored by Catholic Organizations for Renewal.

“This is a very personal and private letter to the bishop,” Bonazzi said in response to a request for comment from NCR. “The letter is self-explanatory. I am not at liberty to add anything more.”

Pressed to identify which of the 30-plus groups connected to the conference the Holy See considers to be in open dissent, Bonazzi declined. “We are not saying all of the groups,” he said. “Do not force the letter to say what it does not say.”

“I was invited by the Holy See to inform Bishop De Roo,” Bonazzi said. “I put in the letter what I received.”

The Congregation for Bishops is headed by Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves of Brazil.

The Vatican intervention is “another example of the desperate and unrelenting resistance to the reforms of Vatican II,” said Anthony Padovano, a former president of CORPUS-USA and now vice president of the International Federation, a consortium of groups for married priests from around the world. Its headquarters is in the Netherlands.

“Our organization is committed to opening up a dialogue with the Vatican to address the worldwide shortage of priests in the Catholic church,” Padovano said in a May 17 news release, “and now it appears that the Holy See is afraid of allowing one of its bishops to address our concerns.”

De Roo was not available for comment as NCR went to press. Conference information is available on-line at www.corpus.org

National Catholic Reporter, May 21, 1999