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Spain's Gay Parish Priest

by Juan Pérez Cabral

FEBRUARY 2, 2002. José Mantero, the parish priest of the Andalusian town of Valverde del Camino has outed himself, in style. "I thank God for being gay," the intrepid priest told the Spanish gay magazine, Zero, which features him on its cover this month. He was "fed up," he said, with the silence and the guilt that surrounds gayness in the Catholic Church.

"God may be asking me to take this step," he said yesterday of his decision to make history as the first Spanish priest ever to publicly declare that he was gay. In a nationally broadcasted interview on the Cadena SER radio network, quickly picked up by the rest of the Spanish media, Mantero, 39, said that he had not outed himself "for psychological relief; I did it because I had to do it, because something like this could also answer a call from God saying: you have to face this."

"This kind of issue has to be defended from the inside. From the outside, it's impossible. And this struggle from the inside implies an essential factor: love for the institution," explains Mantero. "I'm neither rancorous nor some kind of pervert. To the contrary, I'm a regular guy. I adore the Church. And love must be belligerent."

Mantero also said that, "I wouldn't have done this at a time when my faith was weak. It's precisely because my faith is very strong, fresh, warm that I'm doing this. It's motivated by my faith: it's not just purely a matter of social conscience."

The parish priest, who admitted that he had not always remained celibate, added, "I'm fairly realistic, but I'd like this to be like a tiny germ, a tiny seed, so that one day we'd see homophobic statements disappear from the Church, we'd see this accepted as something absolutely natural; more than tolerable — natural."

Mantero realized he was gay when he was 12, but it was not until he was 30 or 31 and already a parish priest that he did something about it. "That was when I met someone who, well, I kind of fell in love with, and from that point on, a new, different, at times strange, and, of course, very fulfilling process began in my life," he told Cadena SER.

To add piquancy to the tale, Zero editor-in-chief, Carlos Alberto Biendicho, warned in the same radio program that if there were any churchy reprisals against the Andalusian parish priest, he'd reveal the names of three Spanish bishops with whom he, Biendicho, has had sex. In an added, ironical twist, Biendicho chairs the gay caucus of the conservative Popular Party of Prime Minister José María Aznar, whose relations with the Spanish gay community are, at the most, tepid.

To listen to the Mantero and Biendicho interviews on the Cadena SER radio network (Spanish only).

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