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Spanish bishop allowed to marry continues his episcopal ministry

Xavier Novell Gomà, had received special permission from Pope Francis to marry Silvia Caballol, a novelist, at Easter
Xavier Novell Gomà, who received special permission from Pope Francis to marry Silvia Caballol at Easter in the 17th-century church of Santa Maria de la Guàrdia at Sagàs in SPAIN'S Catalonia region, is pictured with his wife in an undated photo.

Xavier Novell Gomà, who received special permission from Pope Francis to marry Silvia Caballol at Easter in the 17th-century church of Santa Maria de la Guàrdia at Sagàs in SPAIN'S Catalonia region, is pictured with his wife in an undated photo. (Photo: Instagram/silviacaballol)

Published: April 10, 2024 05:49 AM GMT
Updated: April 10, 2024 05:53 AM GMT

A Spanish bishop who was allowed by the pope to marry in the church after resigning over an affair he had with an adult fiction novelist remains a Catholic bishop "spiritually," according to his former diocese.

"Since he's renounced his canonical mission, he's no longer a serving bishop -- but his episcopal ministry continues," explained Msgr. Marc Majà i Guiu, vicar general of Spain's Solsona Diocese.

"The papal dispensation given for his sacramental marriage shouldn't be seen as a major canonical innovation," he said. "But it was certainly highly unusual."

The priest was commenting on the case of Xavier Novell Gomà, who received special permission from Pope Francis to marry Silvia Caballol at Easter in the 17th-century church of Santa Maria de la Guàrdia at Sagàs in Catalonia.

In an April 8 OSV News interview, he said Solsona's Catholic curia now had no formal ties with its former chief pastor, but needed to clarify his status because of the shock and dismay caused by his August 2021 resignation among local Catholics.

"Spiritually, he remains a priest and bishop, even if he rejects this -- but from a canonical viewpoint, he's given up his episcopal functions," the vicar general told OSV News.

"Although the situation was very grave for Solsona Catholics when he first quit, it's no longer a cause of drama," he said. "Most locals have received news of his sacramental marriage as just another step in the story."

Ordained in 1997 after studying at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, then-Father Novell was named bishop of Solsona by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. At age 41, he was Spain's youngest diocesan bishop. He combined public support for Catalan independence with a rigorous defense of Catholic doctrine on abortion, LGBT rights and other issues.

In August 2021, the Solsona Diocese confirmed the pope had accepted Novell's resignation "for strictly personal reasons," under Canon 401.2 of the Code of Canon Law, which allows episcopal resignations "because of ill health or some other grave cause."

Spanish media reported the bishop had moved to the Catalan town of Manresa to cohabit with 38-year-old Caballol, a sexologist and mother of three who previously resided in Morocco with an Arab partner. Caballol had again become pregnant, this time by Novell, after attending the bishop's summer confirmation class.

The couple were married in a November 2021 civil ceremony in Caballol's Súria hometown, near Barcelona, and their twin girls were born in April 2022.

The Spanish bishops' conference confirmed in December 2021 Bishop Novell had incurred a "latae sententiae" suspension from sacramental and teaching functions for attempting marriage under Canon 1394, which under Subsection 2 also threatens "dismissal from the clerical state" if an offending prelate "continues to give scandal".

In an April 1 social media post, however, Caballol said she had now married Novell in the church "thanks to the mercy of the Holy Father," making Easter Monday "a day to be reborn like flowers, bud forth like trees and be resurrected."

She added that her husband was still a bishop, but claimed the two had been able to "regulate our canonical situation, get married as we wanted and receive Communion again."

"I was surprised by the great human and spiritual quality of Pope Francis -- it's been a long road," said the writer, who published pictures of herself in a white bridal gown kissing the former bishop.

"I don't believe darkness is what our love and the church deserve, and I don't think the cover-up accompanying my husband's resignation was good. I'm sorry for everyone who thinks it should have been kept secret, but I can't continue acting like I don't think or feel."

In an April 8 OSV News interview, the chief editor of Spain's online Catholic Religión-Digital news agency, which broke news of Bishop Novell's affair in 2021, said the cleric had been long known for his closeness to Pope Francis, who had met him with Caballol on Palm Sunday, March 24, and "taken account of a personal situation."

He added that Novell's case had been "particularly complex," but said Spanish Catholics were "more understanding of sexual relations than some might pretend."

"Novell was able to explain his situation to Francis close up, face to face, without intermediaries -- and the pope is a man who worries about the small things, not just the wider repercussions of such a decision," the editor, Jesús Bastante Liébana, told OSV News.

"He was a son asking his father for help, and his father gave this help, that's all. The church continues to move forward, and we should wish luck to the couple and their daughters."

Bishop Francisco Simón Conesa Ferrer, who succeeded Novell in January 2022 as head of the Solsona Diocese, created in 1593, said in an Easter message he felt "pain and hurt" at the current lack of priests across its 170 parishes.

In an April 3 commentary, Radio Catalunya said, while celebrating his own marriage, Novell should apologize for "denying love and marriage to so many people by embodying the darkest, moralistic, side of religion."

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