Subject: Aristide resigning his priesthood?

Date: Sat, 19 Nov 1994
Comments of Bob Corbett

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch of yesterday, Nov. 17, 1994 reports that President Aristide is considering or planning to resign his priestly status. The article says in part:

"The Vatican, long at odds with the populist priest, pressured Aristide to resign, a church source said Wednesday. Two government officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed Aristide's intentions.
"There was no immediate comment from Aristide or specific reason given for his departure."

Why is Aristide Resigning His Priesthood?

I'm really not sure, so this post is as much a question as an analysis. The Vatican strongly opposes religious holding political office, so it is likely that the pressure is coming from that source. But, what has Aristide to gain in following their bidding? I'm just not sure. Perhaps he does not want the Vatican to excommunicate him. Perhaps even in Haiti where he is dearly loved, he fears that an excommunicated status would harm him among the practicing Catholics? I'm not sure, what are any of your thinking?

When he was in the U.S. Aristide was flirting with becoming an Episcopal priest, but he gave up that idea.

Below is an article I posted on Oct. 7, 1994. It too, sheds some light on his status as a priest.

Bob Corbett

Today, Friday Oct. 7, the Catholic News Service released a story on Aristide's status. There has been some confusion about this on this newsgroup, so I will summarize and quote from this article in the hopes of straightening out the confusions.

Aristide "officially remains a priest, although he cannot currently practice his ministry."

The essential point is this. In order for a priest to practice as a priest he must have the permission of the local bishop. There are two ways of getting this. The first is that the priest, as a individual, asks the bishop and receives permission. The second is that the priest be a member of a religious order, which, as an order, has the permission of the bishop.

Aristide had his permission to practice as a priest because he was a member of the Salesian order in Haiti.

"Father Aristide ... was expelled from his Salesian order in 1988. At the time, the Salesians said the priest's political activities were an 'incitement to hatred and violence' and out of line with his role as a clergyman."

Father Luc Van Looy, a Salesian official in Rome, provided this explanation on Sept. 20 of this year.

"He said Father Aristide was, in effect, suspended from active ministry when he was expelled from the Salesians because he has not been incardinated -- accepted by a bishop -- in a diocese and has not joined any other religious order. If he were to find a bishop willing to incardinate him, Father Aristide could practice his ministry.

"However, he added, he did not think Father Aristide had ever tried to be incardinated anywhere."

Aristide admitted in a 1992 interview that he had explored the possibility of becoming an Episcopal priest in Long Island, but he had never left Catholicism or become an Episcopalian.

"In 1986, after former President Jean-Claude Duvalier fled the country, the Salesians asked Father Aristide to stop making political statements. Youths of his St. John Bosco Parish protested the order's demands.
"In 1987, Father Aristide's superiors tried to transfer him out of his parish, but withdrew their directive after eight of his supporters held a hunger strike at the church."

(I might add at this point that at the end of that hunger strike the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Ligonde, was forced to publicly announce that Aristide would be re-instated at St. Jean Bosco. The archbishop is not a Salesian, and was one of the bishops named by Francois Duvalier, and is to this day a strong Duvalierist.)

"In September 1988, Father Aristide's parish church was attacked and burned by armed men believed to be members of a former Haitian secret police force. Twelve people were killed and about 70 others injured in the attack, but parishioners protected Father Aristide, which allowed him to escape.
"Within a month, the Salesians announced they were transfersing Father Aristide to Canada. However, thousands of Haitians -- including many of the slum dwellers where he served -- protested the move.
"Father Aristide refused to leave, and in December the Salesians announced his expulsion. They said: "His political commitment involved 'incitement to hatred and violence' and 'the glorification of class struggle, in direct opposition to the teaching of the Church.

So please note:

  1. He was not defrocked or unfrocked by Rome. He was expelled by his order which left him as an independent priest needing incardination of a bishop to practice as a priest.
  2. Were he to get incardination anywhere in the world, he could immediately practice as a priest. While the Vatican is certainly involved in the politics of his plight, it is not involved in the legality of his status to practice as a priest.

This story from which I drew this material was printed in THE ST. LOUIS REVIEW, the Roman Catholic newspaper of the diocese of St. Louis, Oct. 7, 1994, page. 9 in a story BI-lined Catholic News Service, Washington DC.

Bob Corbett
Webster University


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