By Juan Lara
VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI received on Monday in the Vatican the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who handed him a letter asking for the abolition of priestly celibacy and the admission of women to the priesthood.
After an audience lasting 25 minutes, Morales with the aid of an interpreter announced the delivery of the letter in the pontiff’s private library.
In the note, Morales described himself as a “member of the Catholic Church” and after reflecting “on the lessons of Our Lord Jesus Christ about love, justice, equality and devotion to our fellow man,” he decided to “very respectfully propose to the pope the need to overcome the crisis in the church, which, as you said, is wounded and sinful.”
“To do that it is essential to democratize and humanize its clerical structure. Democratize it so that the same religious rights are acknowledged for all God’s sons and daughters and allowing women to have the same opportunities as men to fully exercise the priesthood,” he wrote.
Morales added in the missive that the church “must not deny a fundamental part of our nature as human beings and must abolish (priestly) celibacy.”
“In the same way and with much decisiveness we must protect our children from those who take advantage of the trust that a priest inspires to abuse them. Those guilty of such atrocities not only commit sins but also crimes,” he said.
Morales said he was convinced that the pope will consider “with wisdom” his proposals, with which he “humbly seeks to help heal the church’s wounds.”
The Bolivian ambassador to the Holy See, Carlos de la Riva, said Morales stressed that in Bolivia there are numerous priests and nuns who make the sacrifice of “working themselves to death on behalf of the peasants.”
Uniting him with the pope, he said, is their “enormous agreement” on defending the environment and immigrants.
“During the discussion there was a fruitful exchange of opinions on the current international and regional situation, and the need to promote greater social awareness about caring for the environment,” the Vatican said in a statement after Morales’ talks with the pope and several of his top aides.
The communique added that the pope and Morales analyzed “some aspects of the situation in Bolivia, in particular the collaboration of church and state on matters of education, health and social policies in defense of the rights of the most vulnerable.”
Morales invited the pope to visit Bolivia and presented him with a white alpaca scarf and two small wooden figures of peasants from the Bolivian altiplano. EFE