The bishop of Oporto caused an international outcry last month after appearing to deny the Virgin Birth.
Bishop Manuel Linda appeared alongside progressive priest Fr Anselmo Borges in an article published just before Christmas by online newspaper Observador. In it, the two were asked about several issues, such as whether Jesus really was born on December 25 and in Bethlehem. At one point the article claimed that both the priest and the bishop agree that Mary did not remain perpetually a virgin.
However, in his only direct quotation on the subject in the article, the bishop talked specifically about the anatomical aspect of Mary’s virginity, saying this was not what mattered. “We should not speak of the physical virginity of Mary,” he said, adding that women who were not virgins could, in fact, be “more virginal, in the sense of giving themselves completely to God”.
Fr Anselmo, on the other hand, is quoted as saying that “Jesus was conceived by Mary and Joseph, just like any other child”.
The remarks were reported in outlets across the world, from Poland to the United States. Portugal, of course, is noted for its Marian devotion. The shrine of Fatima is just two hours’ drive away from Oporto.
The furore led Bishop Manuel Linda to say during Christmas Mass that “naturally there would not have been Christmas without the Virgin Mary, she who, according to the faith of the Church – which is also my own – is proclaimed to be a ‘virgin before, during and after childbirth’ ”.
The newspaper later amended the article and published a new one, signed by the original journalist but also by a colleague who specialises in religion and the executive director, which thoroughly explained the Church’s position and why a bishop – or any Catholic for that matter – who held that Mary was not a virgin would be expressing a heretical opinion, and therefore incur automatic excommunication. The newspaper apologised for the confusion.
The bishop, meanwhile, said: “What I meant to say is that, besides the merely biological fact, this girl, Mary, gives herself entirely to God, and places her sights and her existence in God. She is the one who is in no way soiled by anything impure. That is why her virginity is not only physical, although that cannot be excluded.”
Fr Anselmo Borges, who belongs to a Portuguese missionary society and regularly writes and comments in mainstream media outlets, was also asked to clarify his position and stood by his words, as quoted in the original article.
Manuel Linda was made an auxiliary bishop in 2009 and named as bishop of the armed forces in 2013. Last March he took over Oporto, which is Portugal’s most populous diocese and has nearly two million Catholics.