Tuesday, March 21, 2023

French bishop suspends priest due to marry Holy Spirit 'incarnation'

Antoine Coelho, the priest who was suspended after announcing his marriage  to a woman | France | Catholic Church | World

The French diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, currently under Vatican scrutiny for welcoming controversial religious groups, has suspended a priest and shut down his lay Catholic association after he revealed plans to marry a woman he said was “the incarnation” of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Antoine Coelho, a former Legionaries of Christ priest in his 40s who founded the “Holy Spirit House” association in 2017, had confirmed to the diocese “his intention to marry and found a family” with the 26-year-old Spanish woman, according to a diocesan statement.

“For these doctrinal and moral reasons, Fr Antoine Coelho was suspended and he is prohibited from exercising the priesthood,” the statement said.

Media reports said his suspension decree barred him from leaving the diocese and specifically stopped him from performing exorcisms.

Before founding Holy Spirit House to train fellow charismatics, he did two years of training in charism exercise and healing prayer with the English charismatic Catholic community Cor et Lumen Christi. 

Fréjus-Toulon Bishop Dominique Rey, the first prelate from the charismatic Emmanuel Community, has met members of the small community and offered them spiritual accompaniment.

Fr Coelho has said he received a baptism of the Holy Spirit in 2010 and joined Fréjus-Toulon diocese in 2013. La Croix described him as “willingly mystical…with sometimes barely intelligible homilies”.

Two archbishops ended a three-week apostolic visitation to the diocese on 10 March and will draw up a report on “the realities experienced and the difficulties encountered in the diocese” on the French Riviera.

Last year, the Vatican suspended ordinations there after a fact-finding visit by its metropolitan, the Archbishop of Marseille Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, to probe reports the diocese had been too open to new ecclesial groups and too lax in accepting seminarians. 

Under Bishop Rey, the diocese was known for its unusually high number of vocations. Complaints about abuse in some groups and lax seminary training have multiplied in recent years.

In January, Fr Coelho told Alfa & Omega, a Madrid Catholic weekly, that “we are in a new era in which we must live our faith in a different way … we are called to live in a much more loving relationship with God, as husband to wife.”

It said last week that Bishop Rey had notified Spanish bishops about Fr Coelho’s suspension because Holy Spirit House had some Spanish members and the priest “had a relatively large number of followers in Spain”.