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San José archbishop resigns … and stays on

It’s the type of resignation that doesn’t always result in stepping down from the job, at least not right away.

According to Article 401 of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law, all bishops are required to tender their resignation to Rome when they turn 75.

Archbishop of San José Hugo Barrantes reached that milestone this past Saturday. The day before, he followed the protocol of passing on his letter of resignation to Pope Benedict XVI through the Nunciature, the apostolic mission of the Holy See, essentially the Vatican embassy in Costa Rica, in the Rohrmoser district on San José’s west side.

“We are requested to submit our resignation at age 75,” Barrantes told The Tico Times. “Whether it is accepted or not is ultimately up to the Pope.”

Bishops frequently stay on for a time past that retirement age, Barrantes explained. Indeed, that was the case with his predecessor, Román Arrieta, who turned 75 in 1999, but did not end his service until 2002.

Barrantes was elevated to the post at that time, becoming the sixth leader of the Archdiocese of San José (TT, Oct. 18, 2002). He had served since 1998 as bishop in the then-newly created diocese of the Pacific port city of Puntarenas.

The early portion of Barrantes’ church résumé reads like a litany of communities in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone. Following his ordination in 1961 – he will mark his 50th anniversary in the priesthood this December – he served as a parish priest in his hometown of San Isidro de El General, as well as Buenos Aires, San Vito, San Marcos de Tarrazú and San Pablo de León Cortés.

Whenever the moment comes to step down, the veteran prelate feels assured that he is leaving behind a church in reasonably good health, with large numbers of the faithful who attend mass each week, and continue to marry within the church and baptize their children there.

“As a people, Costa Ricans remain faithful to their Catholic roots,” he explained.

Numbers are decreasing, though, Barrantes cautioned, and the situation concerns him. He cited polls showing a healthy 58 percent of Costa Ricans who identified as regular churchgoers in 1991. By 2009, however, that number had dropped to 46 percent.

Barrantes contrasts Costa Rica with countries such as Guatemala, where the church has lost huge numbers of members to evangelical Protestant denominations, the fastest growing segment of the Christian population there.

“In Costa Rica, we’re not losing members to other Christian groups,” Barrantes explained. “We’re simply losing them to indifference.”

Costa Ricans have not reached the same level of disinterest seen in Europe and North America, says the archbishop. A phenomenon known as “Cafeteria Catholicism” exists in the United States, describing members who pick and choose principles of the church they wish to believe, ignoring the rest.

“Yet growing secularization has become an issue in Costa Rica too,” Barrantes said.

The archbishop mentioned polling figures suggesting that some 13 percent of Costa Rica’s Catholic population is at odds with church teachings that forbid divorce, contraception and abortion.

Although Barrantes has taken on far larger responsibilities than the day-to-day work of a parish priest, he has been a regular visitor to Sunday masses in churches around the metropolitan area during his nine-year tenure. (The archdiocese encompasses the capital and its immediate suburbs, but extends north in the Central Valley to Heredia and west to Escazú, Santa Ana and Ciudad Colón.) It’s a taking-the-pulse aspect of the job he enjoys and plans to continue in his retirement when that moment comes.

Barrantes also cites attracting new members to church vocations as an issue that will await his successor.

“Quite frankly, we have a graying priesthood,” he said.

Clerical posts are well served for now, he explained – it’s a boast that many countries cannot make – but the training of a new generation of parish priests to move up in the ranks is always a concern. Barrantes looks forward to taking a more active role in the training of priests during his retirement.

“Hiking and reading,” said the archbishop, describing two of his favorite leisure activities, when discussing plans for his eventual retirement and a move back home to San Isidro de El General.

“And some resting too,” he added.


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