Father Andrés García Torres, a priest in the town of Fuenlabrada, just outside Madrid, is ready to "go all the way to Rome" to prove that the Catholic Church treated him abusively over an alleged gay relationship. Despite having been removed from his post "for pastoral motives," according to bishops, García Torres took charge of a rebel mass on Thursday at the parish of San Fernando de Fátima, where attendance was much higher than usual in a show of popular support for the embattled clergyman.
Church officials deny that they forced García Torres to undergo a psychological analysis and therapy. Yet the letter they sent him on November 11 of last year literally reads: "We decree the following cautionary measures without any delay" followed by a list of points, the fourth of which consists of "designating a psychiatric expert to conduct a direct appraisal of the priest, turn in a report and [recommend] the appropriate therapy for this case."
Besides psychiatric therapy, the priest was "temporarily removed from the exercise of all presbyteral duties" and banned from living in Fuenlabrada "to avoid any scandal." These sanctions, the letter states, are due to "highly irregular actions" on the part of García Torres. The priest says that at a meeting with the Bishop of Getafe on January 24, he was told that these "irregular actions" referred to a homosexual relationship with a seminary student named Yannick Delgado.
In a telephone conversation with EL PAÍS, a bishopric spokesman said he was "not aware" that Delgado was ever a seminarian. Delgado, a 28-year-old from Cuba, says he studied at the Getafe Seminary between 2006 and 2007. In a short email message sent to this newspaper, the bishopric said that the priest's version of events "does not conform to reality."
At the meeting, according to the clergyman, officials produced a photograph showing him and Delgado without shirts, holding each other's shoulders. "It was really hot and we weren't wearing t-shirts. What kind of puritanism is this? This is the 21st century!" says García Torres, who denies (as does Delgado) that their relationship ever went beyond friendship. He says nobody but themselves had a copy of that picture, and wonders how it came to the bishop's hands.
"It was in my computer, I didn't even upload it to Facebook," says Delgado.
The priest went to see the psychiatrist, who allegedly interrogated him "in a denigrating manner."
"He asked me whether my parents had raped me as a child, or if I'd seen them have sexual intercourse," he says. Among other things, the doctor prescribed an HIV test. García Torres says that he does not yet know what form the proposed therapy is to take, nor has he seen the psychiatrist's report.
Although in principle García Torres was planning to follow orders and stay away from his parish and town (he was going to turn in the church keys on Wednesday), he changed his mind when he saw the show of support from his parishioners.
"I come every week from Moraleja de Enmedio [10 kilometers away from Fuenlabrada] because he is a wonderful human being," said one churchgoer, Estrella Guerrero, standing in front of the church.
This kind of display encouraged the priest to stay his ground. At 11.30am on Thursday, García Torres oversaw a rebel mass that was attended by many churchgoers and many media outlets.
"I'm very nervous, but I am filled with joy at seeing the church so full of people," said Father Andrés, who for now still remains at the helm of his modest parish 22 kilometers south of the capital. This summer, however, he plans to get away from the strain of dealing with what he considers manifestly unfair treatment.
"I'm going to a monastery in the United States to spend my two months of summer vacation there with my parents." Rome is not Father Andrés' destination, then, for now at least.