Love or politics? Catalan bishop’s resignation triggers speculation

Xavier Novell reported to have begun relationship with divorcee, unsettling Catholic Church

Xavier Novell presented his resignation as bishop of the town of Solsona in late August.  Screengrab: YouTube

Xavier Novell presented his resignation as bishop of the town of Solsona in late August. Screengrab: YouTube

 

The resignation of a Catalan bishop, known for supporting his region’s independence cause and who has reportedly started a relationship with a divorced woman, has triggered a storm of speculation over his reasons for stepping down.

Xavier Novell presented his resignation as bishop of the town of Solsona in late August. Father Novell was Spain’s then-youngest prelate, aged just 41, when he was appointed in 2010 and was widely seen as a rising star of the Catholic Church.

His sudden resignation has sent shockwaves through the institution and his parish, especially after the move was attributed to a reported love affair with Silvia Caballol, a divorced psychologist. She has self-published novels with a highly sexual and occult content.

“I have fallen in love with a woman, for the first time in my life and I want to do things the right way,” Fr Novell told a friend, according to Religión Digital, a Catholic news site. According to reports, the couple are living together in Manresa, 50km from Solsona.

Fr Novell had frequently been in the news previously, due to his outspoken support for Catalan independence and he was the only prelate who voted in a controversial 2017 referendum on secession. He also visited some of the nine independence leaders who were in jail for sedition before they were pardoned this summer.

“Bishop Novell has always been on the side of the political prisoners with words and, above all, deeds, making him one of the few exceptions in the Catalan Church hierarchy,” tweeted Josep Rull, one of the ex-prisoners, following the news of the resignation.

‘Strictly personal’

The bishopric of Solsona has said that the resignation was due to “strictly personal reasons”. A spokesperson told The Irish Times that Mr Novell had resigned only from his role as bishop and not from the Catholic Church.

However, his complicated backstory has fuelled conjecture that the relationship with Ms Caballol was not the reason for his departure. While some have speculated that he was under pressure from the church leadership because of his political views, Lucía Caram, a nun based in Manresa, said that he does “not have good mental health or emotional balance”.

She told Spanish television and other media that Padre Novell’s extreme conservative views, which included ejecting young women wearing miniskirts from his church, reflected increasingly erratic behaviour, describing him as “out of his mind”.

She also pointed out that the former bishop had taken part in so-called therapy sessions aimed at converting members of the LGBT community to heterosexuality. In a report, the Vatican has condemned such practices.