Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Synod on the Family -- Putting the brakes on Francis' reforms

by Juan José Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
October 27, 2014

Francis' reforms seem to have shipwrecked or, at least, gotten stuck at the Synod held in Rome October 5 to 19, which brought together about 200 bishops from all over the world to reflect on conception, the Catholic Church's attitude and pastoral practice on different sexual orientations, different models of family and other questions linked to it. Many of us, in and out of the Catholic Church, were hoping for a change of mentality, orientation and course on a theme that has been characterized by positions anchored in the past without any openness to the changes that have occurred in society in recent decades. But we were also aware of the obstacles that would get in the way and the risk that a stalemate would occur.

The first obstacle was the protagonists of the Synod themselves -- the bishops. What contributions could people make who aren't specialists on the subject and don't follow closely the specialized studies in the various disciplines that deal with the phenomenon of the family in all its complexity? People who, moreover, have renounced starting a family to devote themselves exclusively to the service of the Church. It's true that experts and married couples were invited, but with hardly any influence in the discussions and without a vote when it came time to approve the final proposals.

The second was the heritage of previous popes. Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI stayed rigidly settled in the traditional paradigm of the family and doctrine on sexuality and condemned family models that didn't fit the conservative image of "Christian" marriage. Paul VI, who was beatified last Sunday by Francis, condemned contraceptive methods in 1968 in the encyclical Humanae vitae, in clear opposition to the orientation of Vatican II which supported responsible parenthood and against the majority of the commission of scientists and theologians who were advising him and who supported the use of those methods to put into practice the conciliar principle of the aforementioned responsible parenthood. The encyclical caused one of the most serious ruptures between critical theologians and Christian movements and the Vatican and generated an atmosphere of profound malaise within the Church, which led to an attitude of justified collective disobedience of the papal guidelines both in theory and in practice.

In the apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio John Paul II already warned about the most worrisome signs on the subject the recent Synod discussed, among which he cited "the spread of divorce and of recourse to a new union, even on the part of the faithful; the acceptance of purely civil marriage in contradiction to the vocation of the baptized to 'be married in the Lord', the celebration of the marriage sacrament without living faith, but for other motives; the rejection of the moral norms that guide and promote the human and Christian exercise of sexuality in marriage."

Cardinal Ratzinger, as president of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, addressed a very harsh letter in 1986 to the North American [sic] bishops in which he stated that the specific inclination of homosexual people, although not a sin in itself, was however a somewhat powerful tendency towards intrinsically evil behavior from the moral point of view. For that reason, the inclination itself should be considered objectively disordered. The document was a reaction against those of us who believed -- and still believe -- that opposing homosexual activity and their lifestyle is a form of unjust discrimination, and he dared to assert, denying the evidence, that the Church's attitude towards homosexuality didn't involve any discrimination at all but was seeking to defend the freedom and dignity of the individual.

Consistent with this approach, Ratzinger asked the bishops not to include in any pastoral program organizations of homosexual people without first making it clear that all homosexual activity is immoral, ordered them to withdraw all support for organizations that would try to subvert the teaching of the Catholic Church on this matter, prohibited the use of "Church property" as venues for activities of homosexual groups, and urged them to defend the value of marriage in the face of legislation supporting the demands of homosexual groups.

Around that time [sic], the Roman Congregation for Catholic Education published the Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, forbidding homosexuals from entering the seminary and attaining the priesthood. A ban that continues today to the letter.

It wasn't easy in the Synod to break away from this tendency to exclude homosexual people and divorced and remarried Catholics since many of the Synod fathers were educated -- or rather instructed -- in it.

A third obstacle was the creation, from the beginning of the preparation for the Synod, of an "opposition front" to any change led by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, President of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who was  appointed by Benedict XVI to maintain orthodoxy and avoid any deviation in doctrinal and moral matters. He rushed to write a book on the family, recalling traditional doctrine, which he considers unmovable, and he signed a document with other cardinals against the reforms Francis tried to introduce on that subject.

But it wasn't all inertia, obstacles, and problems. There were also signs of openness. It was Pope Francis himself who, soon after being elected, propitiated a new atmosphere and opened the debate about the Church's attitude towards homosexuals and the access of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments. In the Synod itself, a climate of freedom reigned and the participants could express themselves without any type of restriction regarding the expression of their ideas. This atmosphere was favored by Francis who attended the sessions in an attitude of listening and without interfering in the discussions.

Already during the return flight from Brazil in July 2013, when asked on the plane about his attitude towards homosexuals, he responded in this manner: "If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?...No one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society."

On a different occasion, he suggested the possibility of reviewing the current ban on access for divorced people who have remarried and adopting a less excluding attitude than the current one. There were cardinals who moved in the direction of the Pope and showed a more open and positive attitude towards change, including Cardinal Kasper who, in response to the Cardinals who signed the conservative document, said that "Catholic truth is not a closed system" and supported the access of divorced and remarried people to the Eucharist, while imposing very strict conditions:

"A divorced and remarried person: 1. if he repents of his failure in the first marriage, 2. if he has clarified the obligations of the first marriage, if it is definitively ruled out that he could turn back, 3. if he cannot abandon without further harm the responsibilities taken on with the new civil marriage, 4. if however he is doing the best he can to live out the possibilities of the second marriage on the basis of the faith and to raise his children in the faith, 5. if he has a desire for the sacraments as a source of strength in his situation, should we or can we deny him, after a period of time in a new direction, of "metanoia," the sacrament of penance and then of communion?"

His answer is yes, but with important nuances and details: "This possible way would not be a general solution. It is not the wide road of the masses, but rather the narrow path of what is probably the smaller segment of the divorced and remarried, those sincerely interested in the sacraments. Should not the worst be avoided precisely here? (that is the loss of the children with the loss of a whole second generation)...A civil marriage like the one described with clear criteria should be distinguished from other forms of irregular cohabitation such as secret marriages, common law marriages, especially fornication, the so-called wild marriages. Life isn't just black and white. In fact, there are many nuances."

The methodology itself that was followed in preparation for the Synod allowed us to harbor hope for change. The Vatican sent a survey to all Christians about the issues that would be addressed by the episcopal assembly to know the opinions of the different Catholic communities in the world on the subject. Most of the answers were in favor of more openness and bringing the doctrine on the family up to date in accordance with the changes that have happened in recent decades.

But this atmosphere of openness was soon met with the retort of Cardinal Muller who appealed to dogmatic and legal arguments to oppose even the possibility of discussing the subject: "If the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful, and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible."

It's true that in the Synod there have been important changes in the analysis of the situation of the family and the criticism of its ills, in the attitudes and the language used. Proposal 8 does a good analysis of the most serious situations families are going through today: discrimination against women and growing gender violence towards them, too often within the family, sexual abuse of boys and girls, penalization of motherhood instead of considering it a value, genital mutilation in some cultures, the negative effects of war, terrorism and organized crime on families, the growing phenomenon of street children in the big cities and their suburbs.

The attitude towards civil marriages and cohabiting couples is more understanding and welcoming since, it says, positive elements should be found in them, and in the attitude towards homosexuals. It shows the need to welcome people in difficult situations such as divorce and find new pastoral paths for wounded families, not based on "single solutions."

But on the fundamental issues, there has been no change whatsoever. Two examples. Proposal 52 describes the two tendencies of the Synod fathers on the possibility -- only the possibility -- that divorced and remarried couples be able to have access to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist -- the one that favors keeping the current prohibition rules in force, and the one that supports allowing access to the sacraments, but with many restrictions -- not in a generalized manner but in a few special situations and under very specific conditions. Moreover, the eventual access to the sacraments should be preceded by a "penitential journey" under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop. Even with all these restrictions, that proposal was rejected by 74 of the Synod fathers and failed to reach a two-thirds majority.

Another example is Proposal 55 on homosexuals. It supports the need for a respectful welcome and non-discriminating treatment towards them but it is blunt in its rejection of gay marriage, even to the point of excluding them from God's plan on the family and marriage. Nevertheless, the proposal was rejected by 62 Synod fathers and also failed to reach a two-thirds majority.

To stop the logical pessimistic feeling the Synod has left in those who had hoped the openness would be real now, it has been stated, as a consolation, that this Synod is not the last word and one must wait for the one in October 2015 which will develop definitive conclusions on the family. I ask: Will the panorama then change and will unfettered access of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation without bias or caveats and the recognition of homosexual marriage be granted as is done in the Anglican Church, or will they go back to using the ambiguous "yes, but no" expressions so characteristic of ecclesiastical language? Or will the response be left ad kalendas graecas?

Will they go on thinking in legal categories or go along with the rhythm of life and tend to the real problems of the family? Will the answers be sought through appealing to the Code of Canon Law or through dialogical reasoning? Will those who are deemed sinners for having begun a new common life project and started a new family continue to be driven out from the Church community and from the Eucharist which, according to Vatican II, is the center of Christian life?

Will the different sexual identities -- gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals -- that in fact exist among Christians as they do in society, be respected and acknowledged in the Catholic Church? Will the official Church walk at the pace of society and be sensitive, as John XXIII asked, to the signs of the times, among which is the explicit recognition of different models of family, or will it once again miss the train of history?

And one final thought on a realistic note. I think that deeming the access of divorced and remarried people and homosexual couples to the Eucharist a problem only exists in the minds of the hierarchs, not in practice. And denying such access is in the Code of Canon Law, not in the life of the Christian communities. Many Christian communities worldwide (parishes, grassroots communities, couples' groups, etc.) don't even raise the issue. Divorced and remarried Christians and gay couples are welcomed unreservedly in those communities to which they belong and they participate in the sacraments like the rest of the believers. And they do it quite naturally, without any guilt complex, without consulting or asking permission from the clergy and bishops or wondering whether they're acting according to the discipline of the Church, without undergoing any "penitential journey." They've already had enough and continue to have penance in their lives without adding yet more.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Believing in love

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
October 26, 2014

Matthew 22:34-40

The Christian religion is a religious system that's hard to understand for quite a few and, especially, a fabric of laws too complicated to live out correctly before God. Don't we Christians need to focus our attention much more on caring for what's essential in the Christian experience above all?

The gospels have recorded Jesus' response to some Pharisees who asked him what the main commandment of the Law was. This is how Jesus summed up the essential: the first is "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind", the second is "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Jesus' statement is clear. Love is everything. What matters in life is loving. That's the foundation of everything. The first thing is to live with God and others in a spirit of love. We are not to get lost in incidental secondary things, forgetting what's essential. Everything else springs from love. Without love, all remains perverted.

When talking about God's love, Jesus isn't thinking about the feelings or emotions that might flow from our hearts, nor is he inviting us to multiply our prayers. To love the Lord our God with all our heart is to acknowledge God as the ultimate Source of our existence, awaken in ourselves a complete adherence to His will, and respond with unconditional faith to His universal love as Father of all. That's why Jesus adds a second commandment. It isn't possible to love God and live with one's back turned to His sons and daughters. A religion that preaches love of God and neglects those who are suffering is a big lie. The only really humane stance before anyone we meet in our journey is to love them and seek their good as we would wish for ourselves.

All this language may seem too old, too tired, and not very effective. However, today too, the main problem in the world is lack of love which is dehumanizing, one after another, the efforts and struggles to build a more humane coexistence.

A few years ago, the French thinker Jean Onimus wrote, "Christianity is still in its beginnings; we've only been working at it two thousand years. The dough is heavy and centuries of maturing will be needed before charity ferments it." We followers of Jesus are not to neglect our responsibility. The world needs living witnesses who help future generations believe in love since the future isn't hopeful for human beings if they lose faith in love.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Embodying dissent: An interview with Beatriz Preciado and Teresa Forcades

By Andrea Valdés (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Estado Mental
June 2014

Before this interview, Teresa Forcades (Barcelona, 1966) and Beatriz Preciado (Burgos, 1970) didn't know one another personally. If we put them in touch, it's because they are, in their respective contexts, an "anomaly", a word they contest, for cramping a heteronormative, patriarchal and racist system.

At a time of huge imbalances, where the government doesn't hide its alliance with the market and the crises feel like biblical plagues, their political dissidence is striking because it's physical as well as intellectual dissidence and they practice it within the system. Teresa Forcades specialized in internal medicine at the State University of New York. After studying theology at Harvard University, she entered the Sant Benet Monastery. Once she had her doctorates in Public Health (University of Barcelona) and Theology (Facultad de Teología de Catalunya), she went off to Berlin to study and give classes at Humboldt University. Beatriz Preciado, on the other hand, studied modern philosophy and gender theory at the New School for Social Research in New York and then got a doctorate in the Theory of Architecture from Princeton University. Until recently, he was teaching at Paris 8 University and starting next term, he will be teaching at New York University.

So much cum laude hasn't stopped them from being the object of many attacks. It's what comes with talking about dildos and vaccinations, pornography and abortion, Hugh Hefner and Hugo Chavez, without getting married to anyone. But behind these statements, there is research. While Teresa Forcades incorporates the concept of subjectivity from contemporary anthropology (Lacan, Žižek, Butler ...), updating the theological notion of the individual, Preciado, with contrasexuality and criticism of what she (or he) calls the "pharmacopornographic regime," invites us to explore other lifestyles that evade the current system and its main claim. Namely: that male and female are the only two natural, and therefore possible, states. From the two bodies of work, a political issue with huge potential for change is unleashed, hence we wanted to put them in dialogue with each other.

After a long exchange of emails, we attended the inauguration of the Queer Theology School which took place at Francesca Bonnemaison in Barcelona at Teresa Forcades' invitation. In Catalonia, she has great media presence. She became known in 2009 with a video in which she attacked the pharmaceutical industry and, although she has written several books (La Trinitat, avui, La teología feminista en la Historia), most remember her for her critical attitude towards the Church and, more recently, for her civic call for the right to choose a model of government, a project she is steering with Arcadi Oliveres. Beatriz Preciado is better known abroad than in Spain. His books, Manifiesto contrasexual, Testo Yonqui ("Testo Junkie") and Pornotopía, have been translated into English, French, German, even Turkish, and are part of university curricula today. In Catalonia, from the MACBA Independent Studies Programme that he directs, Preciado has made "radical pedagogy" a form of political activism.

ANDREA VALDÉS: We know you have a complicated agenda. What led you to accept this proposal?

TERESA FORCADES: I'd never met Beatriz personally but a couple of years ago in a course on queer theology I gave in Berlin with Ulrike Auga, we used Manifiesto contrasexual to encourage the students to think about this new way of looking at the human and identities, the limitations in those identities and opening them, which is something I'm working on from theological anthropology.

BEATRIZ PRECIADO: About four years ago I heard her speak for the first time and then tuned into the revolutionary energy of her work. Despite the distance, there were times when I said to myself that in another life, had I been a nun or rather a priest, I could have been Teresa Forcades. Then I was interested in her criticism of the pharmaceutical industry, which is something that's at the core of my work. I found it very interesting that coming from such different worlds and working on the regimes of sexual, racial and gender domination that promote hegemonic arguments (of the Catholic Church, the scientific or economic establishment), such a genuine connection came about.

VALDÉS: Teresa, you once said that on reading the Gospels in adolescence, you felt you had been cheated of 15 years of your life because you hadn't found them earlier. Your approach to religion seems incidental and friendly. Beatriz, on the other hand, mentions a really suffocating Catholic milieu. Were the situations in Catalonia and Burgos so different in the 70s?

FORCADES: I think that in Catalonia, in the seventies, there were also very suffocating spheres in the religious environment. I don't doubt it, although I discovered them later because if I had known then, well, who knows?...

VALDÉS: You would have thought twice?

FORCADES: Yes, yes ... or three times. It is also true that the announced end of the Franco regime and the idea of a society that would finally get up to date after so many years of waiting coincided in Spain with the aggiornamento of Vatican II, which meant entering into dialogue with modernity. It's true that the modernity thing lasted only a few years... (laughs). In 1966, when it seemed we were entering alleged postmodernism, the church goes and gets into a dialogue with modernity. Great timing! In any case, after a long wait, in which all you could see was opium, a great wave of people was generated who were willing to question many things and keep what is essential. That is, the assertion of the inalienable liberty of human beings, their constitutive relatedness and, above all, the idea of social justice. I went to a parish that was in Montjuïc and, although I don't come from a wealthy family, it was that context that made me discover the world of immigration and the working class. Christianity, freedom and social justice, to me, are inseparable.

PRECIADO: In my case it was almost the opposite -- an imposition. My family was very Catholic, with a tremendously dogmatic view of religion despite the fact that, for example, my grandmother was Catholic and anarchist, thus there were already "cracks" in my environment. But, for me, religion was the dominant way of thinking in the city of Burgos, and it was a way of thought related to military culture, to political repression. That is, I couldn't see Catholic discourse as a liberating discourse in any way. Although when I was little, one of the things I wanted to be was a priest. When I was studying with the nuns, when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said "a priest". And they said: "No, by God, Beatriz, it's 'a nun', 'nun'..." And I said, "Not a nun, because nuns are quiet, they clean and make pastries, and I want to talk." I remember that in school there was very overt tension because I never experienced my sexuality as pathological or as a sin. I wanted to either be a priest or marry Marta. It was clear that my use of my body and life choices could not be included within the dominant language of Catholicism.

VALDÉS: But you ended up studying with the Jesuits.

PRECIADO: It's a bit of a strange story. My father didn't want me to study Philosophy. He wanted me to do Pharmacy, Law...a decent job. Since he wasn't going to pay for my studies, I entered a young philosophers' contest in Burgos and won first prize, which was studying in a Catholic university. Between Opus Dei and the Jesuits, I chose the Jesuits in Comillas. And it's true that I still have a very tight relationship with some of them like Juan Masiá, from whom I learned a great deal. After Ignacio Ellacuría and liberation theology, we would study Marx. It was economic theory that came almost directly from the gospel! Impressive. That allowed us to make a very detailed exegesis of his books. We read them like one reads the Bible. It was quite an experience, but of course, the possibility of interpretation stopped where it stopped. I was with Foucault's History of Sexuality, Derrida's deconstruction, feminism then, and wanted to explain my own dissent through a different language. As I went to United States to study Contemporary Philosophy and Gender Theory, everything changed. Staying in Spain, maybe I would have ended up in Montserrat, but I felt something that took me beyond myself, like a kind of utopian arm. Something that grabs you and says, "Come on, you can't stand idly by with what there is. You have to do something!"

VALDÉS: What you're calling the "utopian arm", would that be equivalent to Teresa's "calling"?

FORCADES: The vocation to being a nun is one thing, but what Beatriz is talking about is related to something broader. I'm not "me and me" but I'm "me and more." And that something more also tells me things, and I feel it challenges me directly...

PRECIADO: Obviously, but it's a challenge of history. With Walter Benjamin, for example, you learn that history has been written by the winners and, even though you're on the side of the vanquished, on the margins of that history, something says to you: "Come, you too can rewrite it since you can handle that argument." This might sound absurd but it makes me happy and even brings me close to those people who feel "called" except that, in my case, the call isn't transcendental. It's the need to collectively reconstruct history from the losers' point of view.

VALDÉS: I can understand that need, but relating it to the transcendental is harder for me. Teresa, are you sure?

FORCADES: Before reading the gospels, at 13 or 14, when I looked at the world I already felt a challenge, in a generic way. Later, with the first confirmation, at Sacred Heart they would say very enthusiastically, "that girl will become a nun," but I didn't feel like that at all. It even bothered me to hear it. It's true that later I studied medicine, but that being open to something beyond yourself was just one part. When I stayed at Sant Benet to study, I experienced something different, and the only name I can give it is that God was calling me. I know it can sound strange now; it was also strange for me when I experienced it...but all I can testify to is that what I experienced was something new for me that isn't confused in any case with what I felt yesterday or a few months ago.


VALDÉS: Teresa, you've commented that during the novitiate there was a transformation. You've talked about growing pale, losing weight, crying. Beatriz, meanwhile, mentions sleep disturbances, a change in sweating and other side effects from administering Testogel to himself. While one made a vow of chastity, the other multiplied his sexual appetite with a shot of hormones. To change things, is it necessary to go to this extreme, to make a break with "normalcy"?

PRECIADO: I suppose Teresa experiences it starting from theology. I experience it based on philosophy which, for me, is a discipline not of the individual body but of the collective one. When I decide to administer testosterone to myself, I don't do it as an individual whim because I'm given to that, but because I know this has specific social and political repercussions in a given historical and political context. What we might understand as "normality" is a set of specific disciplines, of normative uses of the body. For me, philosophy implies a break with those diciplines of body normalization and, if you will, the invention of a counterdiscipline.

VALDÉS: There's a sentence in which you say it very clearly: "I don't take testosterone to transform myself into a man or even to transexualize my body, but to betray what society has wanted to make of me."

PRECIADO: Precisely. Now, when I'm traveling around the world and I see the communities in different places, I realize there's a cosmopolitan queer diaspora that speaks a very similar language. They're people who share dissenting body practices and subjectification because the body isn't just the physical body. That's a fiction of medicine...The body is political subjectivity; there's no separation. It goes beyond the flesh. It's a political and cultural archive, or what I call a "somatheque" -- living political fiction. What I was getting to, and by getting into a conversation with Teresa, when I meet all these people -- transgendered, transsexual, queer -- I think we're like the early Christians, but in the context of global capitalism. Who would give a shilling for those crazy people? Imagine what the Roman Empire was then and suddenly a gang appears talking about some guy who appeared thereabouts talking about the resurrection, etc. and the possibility of tearing down all the legal and business practices that shaped that regime. What they were doing was inventing a practice of alternative subjectification. They chose to subjectify themselves not according to Roman ritual but starting from a language that even dissented with the Jewish religion. And there were only 14. Tremendous! By this I mean that I don't believe there are better or worse practices, but that it is absolutely necessary that we be able to collectively invent dissident or alternative responses to normalized subjectification, otherwise we are lost. And if, moreover, we are able to establish connections with "the other side" (which for me are the ancestors, history, the planet...) it would be great, because it would no longer be a leakage point but a tear in that sprawling net that is world capitalism.

FORCADES: For me, the body thing is less deliberate. My change didn't come from wanting to experiment with it, but as a consequence of a decision. Let's say that with the "calling" a possibility opened up for me where I was clear from the beginning that here I was to say yes or no, because however much of a calling there is, this does not imply a destiny. I knew that when saying yes, I would have to give up a number of satisfactions, of possibilities ... things that affected my identity and understanding. So a question opened up that's still there, but it's different now because at first everything was unknown to me. This question is reopened every time I fall in love. Although there is a very negative discourse about sexuality in Catholicism, I don't experience it in a stable manner. It's not something that has closed but a constant challenge. It's also true that seeing the older nuns of the monastery as attractive women helped me a lot. Had it not been so, then perhaps I would not have fulfilled my vocation. At 90 or 100, they have a sense of humor and an inner freedom I think are fantastic. And finally, I liked the idea that since the 13th century there has been a tradition of women living in community. It's not an ideal coexistence, we have our problems, like everywhere, but that continuity impresses me and I thought maybe it could be part of it. Nor did I have to decide on the first day. In fact, they made it hard for me. I remember that, once the pallor phase was over, the novice mistress asked me, "Teresa, do you you see yourself painting pottery ten years from now?". I said no. She replied, "Well that's what we do."

VALDÉS: But something happened. Now there's a web page and you've even begun classes on queer theology.

FORCADES: I answered that there were two possibilities here: either God would change me -- He made us dynamic for a reason -- and in ten years I would be delighted to be painting pottery, or God would change you. In which case, we could still do something more than pottery.

VALDÉS: What nerve! (laughter)

FORCADES: Yes, that's how it was. The mistress told me that from a logical perspective I was right, those two possibilities existed, but that I should remember that they had been painting for 1,500 years. Since pottery made my back hurt, they finally let me devote myself to more intellectual issues...And here we are.

PRECIADO: Recalling that, it's interesting to note the eccentric position of women who haven't entered into the social rites of heterosexual production. They are unused biopolitical uteruses...

FORCADES: And voluntarily, moreover. Yes, I admit that has potential.

PRECIADO: Precisely. There's potential that must be managed in a specific manner. In fact, nuns, prostitutes and lesbians are three very conspicuous positions and historically close, I would say. The deviation from the reproduction circuit of heterosexual capitalism leads to a curious labyrinth of nuns who are also lesbians, lesbians who become prostitutes, and prostitutes who end up becoming nuns. What happens is that I'm afraid the powers that be might try in some way to go back to managing this dissident female body. Perhaps the only way to resist is to do what you're doing -- be a dissident within the Church, just as I am within lesbianism.

FORCADES: And in academia.

PRECIADO: Of course. I'm also considered a dissident in that sphere.

FORCADES: In fact, I've experienced less freedom in the academic sphere and the hospital than in the monastery. Freedom in the sense of finding people who are able to take individual positions, outside the mainstream. In the end, for fear of the consequences, you end up censoring yourself and, in the university, that's sad.

PRECIADO: But, Teresa, beyond the monastery I imagine there's pressure from the ecclesiatical establishment not to say what you're saying.

FORCADES: Perhaps it will no longer be thus tomorrow but in my context, which is the monastery, there's diversity. We aren't a clan. Before publishing my letter against the criminalization of abortion, for example, I asked the community to discuss it, because there would be consequences for them too. More or less half of them told me they didn't support my position, and the other half, that they didn't understand it...The abbess told me, "I'm not sure whether I'm in the first group or the second but, in any case, we're all in favor of anyone being able to say what they think without fear, so go ahead." Then there's the Diocese of Barcelona which during my time in the monastery was divided into three. It's assumed that to diminish Montserrat's ecclesiastical power, it was awarded the belt of Sant Feliu del Llobregat, which is the most chastized area, which has ended up being a blessing. Rome is now more distant and, yes, they did send me a letter which I answered. I try to give my opinion without attacking anyone directly. The bishops don't matter to me. I'm more concerned about other things.


VALDÉS: Beatriz often speaks of the audiovisual industry and, specifically, pornography as a means of production and control of gender and sexuality, but maybe we should deal with the incarnation, which represents the moment in which the divine takes human form. That is, is embodied. Again, representation. I'll propose this phrase to start with: "I have no doubt that Christ was male, but I don't think we ought to wait for 'Crista' to come to save women, since everything I am as a woman is assumed in Christ, except sin." Teresa, what do you mean?

FORCADES: In my theological anthropology that question is key. Knowing whether there's a male human modality and a female human modality, and what "masculinity" and "femininity" mean in my understanding of anthropology and humanity. This "Crista" thing isn't mine, it's from Rosemary Radford Ruether but she bases it on patristic theology where this phrase is an axiom: "That which is not assumed in Christ is not redeemed."

PRECIADO: That would mean that women are not redeemed.

FORCADES: Right. And all the Christological discourse is like that. God is not alien to the human, but one possibility of the human. The fullness of the human is deification. Although there are interesting theories that point out that if Christ was born of Mary, he should be chromosomally XX, I don't question whether he was male because I don't care to and, in any case, if I did, we wouldn't gain anything either because if he had been a woman unbeknownst to us, what about men? They would be left out too.

PRECIADO: Unless you get away from dualism.

FORCADES: Precisely. It must be said that in Christianity, the duality discourse is modern. The classic one was even worse. It only recognizes one fullness of the human: males, which it matches with the figure of Jesus. In the Gospel of Mary from the third century, the female becomes male to enter heaven. She becomes virtuous, which comes from virility -- vir (man). Since the argument of unity through the male wasn't bearable, with John Paul II two paths of fullness are distinguished -- female and male -- but creating artificial dualities based on gender or identity isn't persuasive to me either. There has to be something more open. Although I think gender duality -- or sexual dimorphism, as Margaret Mead would say -- is not only cultural, but transcultural, it is only as an anthropological starting point, i.e. in childhood. Very succinctly: you have the figure of the mother and, with respect to her, you have the girl who identifies with her and the boy who breaks away from her. In my view, the error of patriarchal society is continuing this pattern, which is an infantile model, into adulthood. There has to be a caesura in adulthood, subjectivizing oneself according to a point of reference that is no longer the mother. It may be truth, goodness, a rock, or God, you choose, but not the mother, because then you're just reproducing this dichotomy but not developing as a person. I match the phrase in Galatians 3:28, "in Christ Jesus there is neither man nor woman" (in Greek, neither male nor female) with the conversation with Nicodemus, when it talks about being born again and he says, "How can an adult go back to his mother's womb?". To which Jesus replies, "No, no ... You must be born of water and the spirit." I understand that as adult subjectification.

VALDÉS: You're using a language between biblical and psychoanalytic.

FORCADES: Yes, I use some concepts from psychoanalysis because if I used the language of Maximus the Confessor, no one would understand me. Lacan, on the other hand, now sounds more...(laughter)

PRECIADO: It's fascinating to me that you're trying to feminize, or offer a possibility beyond the male one for the incarnation of Christ, although I can't say much about that because, to me, it depends on an exercise in faith and, as a general rule, I'm interested in the words of poets or philosophers, not prophets and politicians. I'm interested in words that can desecrate. Maybe that seems horrible to you but by "desecrate", as Agamben says, I mean taking language reserved for the use of the divine and bringing it to the mundane, so we can give meaning to this sphere that has been confiscated from us. In that sense I'm fascinated that you're making this do-it-yourself project of signs in the theology environment which has been an environment that for centuries has only been accessible to certain types of men.

FORCADES: We're forgetting the women mystics who never came to dominate the discourse but who are a very important exception. Even, if I may be allowed, in "mystic" there's a striking use of language. How is it that [men] are called theologians and [women] mystics? Since it was assumed that they couldn't think for themselves, [the women] made recourse to "God has told me...". In Saint Thomas there is also revelation but he makes it his own through his words.

PRECIADO: Going back to the possibility of conceptual do-it-yourself projects, I'm saying that I can't say much about the incarnation of Christ. Now, with respect to anthropology I do distance myself. Where are the intersexuals, the transsexuals, the "others" in your theology? When you mention that in the Christian discourse of the first era, only masculinity was conceded to be a pure or essential form of incarnation, notice that this is consistent with the history of sexuality. We know that until the 17th century the notion of sexual difference as we know it didn't exist. Moreover, and with all due respect, I'm shocked that, having dual titles -- theological and medical -- you're working with the anthropology of sexual difference when we know it's anatomical and political fiction, and that if there's a place of epistemic violence, it's precisely in clinical prenatal diagnosis (boy/girl). I'm surprised that in your theology you've chosen to start from the male/female binary, which is a normative construct, rather than from the irreducible multiplicity of the body in all its variables, and if you will, to put it in your language, God could become incarnate in all of them.

FORCADES: Yes, for me that's the point of arrival. I mean, what I have to work on. Now, what's striking to me is the following: Where did that (male/female) dichotomizing that's being replicated over and over, come from? Where does gender violence and this idea of blaming women come from? -- I'm following Kristeva, here. Acknowledging the gender dichotomy from the start is the most powerful strategy I have to deactivate it later.

PRECIADO: But then the theology you're practicing can't be queer. If you're accepting Julia Kristeva, it doen't work...I would encourage you to not waste too much time trying to fit sexual difference into your incarnation language because we're experiencing a time of epistemic crisis, such as happened in the mid-17th century in which the verification apparatuses, that is the social and political regulatory systems we use to decide what's true and what's false -- which up to now has been what's male and what's female, are changing. There's more and more evidence, including in medical discourse they're saying that there are multiple morphological, genetic, and gonadal forms that go beyond the binary order. Fifty years from now perhaps we may have to accept the existence of four or five make the task of the incarnation of Christ more complicated for Teresa. Or not. Maybe it'll even be easier. For me, one of the problems of the Church is that it's working with an epistomology of patriarchal domination. I imagine that the main question is how to change this language into one of liberation and not domination, although I have a much more skeptical perspective on the history of theology. Lately I've been researching colonization and the involvement of theological arguments in that task, which supposedly was a task of evangelization. We know from Walter Mignolo and Aníbal Quijano that the secret agenda of that evangelical humanization was, to put it clearly, colonial exploitation. And I don't know, I understand your task and it's fascinating to me, but maybe I've given it up for lost in some sense. Although there are still underground theological arguments, which is what you're trying to recover...

FORCADES: That's it. In La teología feminista en la Historia ["Feminist Theology in History"] I presume that when there's a dominant discourse, there's another one that puts it into question, and in that sense feminist theology has existed since the beginning; it's not a 20th century invention. If it were, it wouldn't interest me. I'm thinking of Marie de Gournay, Van Schurman, and others. In fact, I always say that writing that book made me cry -- because if they already understood it in the 1st century, what are we doing with all this suffering twenty centuries later? -- and it also gave me much joy. What we need to do is provide continuity to this tradition which has progressed interruptedly.


VALDÉS: Coming back to the present, you have both been very critical of the capitalist system. What's your diagnosis?

PRECIADO: I think one of the utopian arms I mentioned earlier, and perhaps the most important one, is political ecology. I don't see how a contemporary theology couldn't wonder what we're doing today or what the plan of modernity is. And I'm with Foucault. Modernity has been a thanatopolitical project, in the sense that the only things we have used are techniques of death, and the concepts of normative sexual difference, normative heterosexuality, race production, the exploitation of the planet come in here...

FORCADES: I understand what you're saying and I'm also working in the ecology field. I'm looking at thinking of the world as a whole creation which is also the body of Christ but I should say that, for me, this is not the same as making humanity in its uniqueness disappear. I'm responsible for the tree; the tree is not responsible for me. That responsibility is very tied to our freedom. In that sense, caesura goes back to being essential to me.

PRECIADO: Of course the tree is responsible for you when it makes photosynthesis and transforms light and water into the oxygen you breathe! Before you were talking about the concept of relatedness, which for me is more powerful than voluntaristic freedom, because freedom is in understanding that there is no life apart from a set of relationships that go beyond the human.

FORCADES: Here we're now getting to my doctoral thesis which is a response to Karl Rahner. In the 60s, he came to say that we have to change the theological language of the Trinity. We can't call the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit a "person" because a person, in modern times, is an autonomous being which has nothing to do with those three. To which I replied, "No, no, what we have to do is question this notion of a person as an autonomous being who conceives of himself independently from his relatedness." If I seriously believe that being a person is being made in the image of God, I will take up my notion of God and based on it, question the notion of the modern person. For this, I'm drawing on St. Augustine: Esse in would be the dimension of distinctive irreducibility (personal freedom) and Esse ad, the relational dimension, and, in my theology, it's not that they complement each other, but that they're two aspects of the same reality. They are radically simultaneous, constitutive dimensions of the human, that cannot be divided into female (more relational or loving) and male (more free and independent).

PRECIADO: My notion of subjectivity, on the other hand, doesn't presuppose individual freedom. Either as origin or destination. As pretentious as it sounds, perhaps it would be easier for you to work with my notion than with yours. I start with a subject who is fundamentally vulnerable, relational, not virtuous at all. Historically, we have construed subjectivity as individual sovereignty based on necropolitics, on the politics of war and domination, claiming that only "man" could be an agent of history. But there is another philosophy, which is weaving networks so that vulnerable life can continue to exist, to be viable. And I think the part of mystical tradition you claim goes that way, and it doesn't specifically demand an autonomous heroic actor, but a relational agent, always dependent.

FORCADES: No -- yes, I understand your position -- but it's that I don't want to renounce that irreducibility. The problem, as I see it, is that not everyone in the world has access to that personal freedom which allows us to individualize ourselves, because our social structure always tends to generate "second class" citizens, be they women, blacks, etc...Also, it seems very suspicious to me that just when we all start to have access to that space -- the autonomous subject -- either it's no longer seen as something positive or it becomes an illusion.

VALDÉS: Oops! It looks like they're calling us...

PRECIADO: I don't think we're so far apart, Teresa, but you're playing some cards against which the queer activist can't play. When I'm not paying attention, you bring out the Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ, God!.... (laughter). I don't have metaphysical cards to put on the table, simply the need to change the world by critically taking responsibility for our own history. My answer can't come from Theology because I don't believe anyone is going to come to save us. We need a different Earth policy and I don't think we can make it by putting the arrogant dominating myth of the human at the center again. We need to learn from the tree more than from God.

FORCADES: "I said to the almond tree, 'Speak to me of God,' and the almond tree blossomed."...

At this point, we left the room. Teresa Forcades had to inaugurate the Queer Theology School with Ulrike Augia and Lisa Isherwood. It must be said that being somewhat hoarse, she had to whisper during the interview such that her words took on the weak tone of the counterargument she makes so often. But make no mistake, in her next intervention, she took out a bottle of Condis black pepper. "They say it's good for the voice. I'll try a little and see what happens..." After that mini-performance that won over the audience, Forcades went on to update the parable of the Good Samaritan so that the assaulted one was a woman who had been raped and before whom neither women professors nor politicians stopped, but rather an immigrant prostitute. She agreed with Beatriz Preciado that the "excluded" have a lot of courage to share and they will do it. For a start, a sector has turned an insult ("queer") around to change it into a critical tool. And here we are, taking notes.

Translator's note: The use of masculine pronouns in this article when referring to Beatriz Preciado is not a mistake; it's what he prefers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

God's poor

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
October 19, 2014

Matthew 22:15-21

Behind Jesus' back, the Pharisees come to an agreement to prepare a critical trap for him. They don't come to meet him themselves. They send some disciples accompanied by some supporters of Herod Antipas. Perhaps there were a few powerful tax collectors for Rome among the latter.

The trap was well thought out: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" . If he answers negatively, they will be able to accuse him of rebellion against Rome. If he legitimizes the payment of tributes, he will be discredited among those poor peasants who are oppressed by the taxes and whom he loves and defends with all his strength.

Jesus' answer has been succinctly summarized over the centuries in these terms: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's." Few of Jesus' words have been quoted as much as these. And none, perhaps, have been more distorted and manipulated based on interests very alien to the Prophet, defender of the poor.

Jesus isn't thinking of God and Caesar in Rome as two powers that can each demand, in their own arena, their rights from their subjects. Like any faithful Jew, Jesus knows that to God "belongs the earth and all it holds, the world and all who dwell in it." (Psalm 24) What can belong to Caesar that doesn't belong to God? Are not the emperor's subjects sons and daughters of God?

Jesus doesn't dwell on the different stances facing Herodians, Sadduccees and Pharisees in that society regarding tribute to Rome and its significance -- if they carry the "tax money" in their pockets, let them fulfill their obligations. But he isn't at the service of the Roman Empire, rather, he is making way for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

So he reminds them of something no one has asked him: "Render unto God what is God's." That is, do not give to any "Caesar" what only belongs to God -- the lives of His sons and daughters. As he has told his followers so many times, the poor belong to God, the little ones are His favorites, the Kingdom of God belongs to them. No one is to abuse them.

One must not sacrifice people's lives, dignity, or happiness to any power. And, certainly, no power today has sacrificed more lives or caused more suffering, hunger and destruction than this "dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal" that the powerful of the Earth have managed to impose, according to Pope Francis. We can't remain passive and indifferent, silencing the voice of our conscience in religious practice.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Agenda Latinoamericana 2015: Human Rights - Introduction

By Pedro Casaldáliga and José María Vigil (English translation by Richard Renshaw)

Dom Pedro Casaldaliga and José María Vigil have published their introduction to the 2015 edition of the Agenda Latinoamericana, which addresses the issue of human rights. The current edition is available for purchase in hard copy and in multiple languages and previous editions are available free in electronic format on Servicios Koinonia. The Agenda also has a Facebook page.

Human Rights: A Pending (R)evolution

Perhaps, from the time when homo (man) and mulier (woman) became sapiens this Utopia began to be apprehended. However, for tens of thousands of years it was an impossible dream. For too long there was no other law than that of the jungle (or of the African savannah from which we came, the law of force, of a pyramidal and patriarchal society, in which the poor, slaves and others had to resign themselves to the cruel reality of having been born "inferior," without rights or citizenship. As humanity, we have been backward for too long in our own absence of awareness of dignity.

However, a mysterious dynamic that operates at a deeper dimension, the same one that drew us out of the African savannahs and from the bands of hunters-gatherers, allowed its Utopia to be sensed by prophetic spirits and visionary minds. These have touched the hearts of the poor, of utopian militants, of a struggling people... Successive historical evolutions gradually brought forth a new awareness of humanity. It took thousands of years to eradicate slavery. Certainly, many religions were complicit with that institution in stark contrast with their deepest Utopia. Less than three centuries have passed since various revolutions have given us the rights of "citizenship." We are no longer subjects, but rather human beings with full dignity, with the "right to have rights" (according to the formula that Hanna Arendt gave birth to with such suffering)... even though that citizenship is still quite limited, reserved to males, landowners, Whites....

Utopia has been recognized at the heart of humanity as a passionately humane society. It has stepped forward, lifting us up, leading us in the evolution of our own humanizing. New "generations of human rights" have appeared in the historic rhythm of the growth of our human consciousness. And we can well believe that there are other generations as well still to be uncovered. We have not yet arrived; we are journeying still and our journey is not ended.

But, today, what holds our attention is more the strategy for the application of rights already recognized. Filled with hope for other concrete applications of Utopia -- in alternative economic and political systems -- more than once in the past we thought that human rights was something already achieved, something perhaps "bourgeois" even, like the neo-liberal evolutions in which in fact those rights first saw light. The utopias that should be drawing out our commitment ought to be more advanced, more engaging. We can advance to the future utopia by many paths. There is not just one. Theory can trace a path and perhaps be brilliant in its conception. But practice is capricious -- even contradictory and chaotic -- and allows us to advance only where it permits, not where we put our energy as militants.

In this historic moment, no sort of social or economic revolution is within our grasp. But the Utopia of Human Rights is there, readily at hand, with all its various generations:" those already realized and those still to come. It is a Utopia that does not have theoretical enemies, that spills out its presence wherever you look. And everyone accepts it. There is no "bourgeois" Utopia. The rights of the first generation that proclaimed them were bourgeois. The "inhabitants of the burgs are its main defenders. But various subsequent generations of human rights lead to many other new developments of the Utopia of human dignity; every imaginable right can be derived from this fundamental dignity and is implied in it. A full and achieved realization of human rights, all of them, would be equivalent to an integral revolution: democratic, socialist, feminist, popular, ecological... It would be the "topia" [place] of Utopia, the fulfillment of all our desires. That is why a renewed social awareness of these rights and their implementation in the corresponding juridical-social framework is something more revolutionarily effective than many of the socio-political struggles in other fields.

Of course, we have to include everyone; all humanity and also the non-human that also have their rights: the rights of animals, plants, nature, the environment and Mother Earth. We need to take the human away from the center of "human" rights in order to center them rather on ecology, to develop them... A fully achieved revolution of human rights would be the sum of all the utopias for which we have been struggling historically. Speaking in a revolutionary context, human rights are a valid path and perhaps the short cut most available to us. Without forgetting about or undervaluing other struggles -- for they are all necessary! -- we do want to call attention to the fact that human rights are a struggle that opens the way for all the others and deserves special attention. The people who are writing the articles in this edition of the Agenda present aspects of that path that are really and truly partial revolutions, practical ones that can be achieved through our militancy.

"Every right ... for everyone," the Mexican Zapatistas said by way of an emblematic formulation of their total Utopia. As long as there are people whose human rights are not being met, we will feel, in this new evolutionary stage of our human consciousness, that we are also being neglected in our rights because "their rights" are also ours. "Their rights are ours." We have to demand those "rights that are both theirs and ours" as a duty as much as a right. This is an evolution already underway that we need to welcome, support and complete. And for our part, it is also a (r)evolution, that of human rights. We are not speaking of rights as understood in the 18th century, nor of those in the Declaration of 1948, but rather of that profound Utopia that transcends itself and is rediscovered, reinvented and (r)evolutionized by every generation.

The Agenda reminds us: this is our moment, the hour to change the world, a revolutionary moment to demand and to fully realize all our human rights: for everyone! Jesus himself would also do it in his Nazareth that is, at this point, globalized.

Friday, October 10, 2014


by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
October 12, 2014

Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus knew very well how much the peasants of Galilee enjoyed the weddings that were celebrated in the villages. Undoubtedly he himself had taken part in more than one. What experience could have been more joyful for those people than being invited to a wedding and being able to sit down with their neighbors to share a wedding banquet together?

This vivid childhood memory helped him at one point to communicate his experience of God in a new and surprising way. According to Jesus, God is preparing a final banquet for all His children since He wants to see all of them seated next to Him, enjoying a fully blissful life forever.

We could say that Jesus saw his whole life as one big invitation to a final feast in the name of God. So Jesus doesn't impose anything by force, he doesn't pressure anybody. He proclaims the Good News of God, arouses trust in the Father, fires up hope in their hearts. His invitation must reach everyone.

What has happened to this invitation from God? Who is announcing it? Who is hearing it? Where is this final feast spoken of in the Church? Satisfied with our well-being, deaf to everything but our immediate interests, it seems we no longer need God. Are we gradually becoming used to living without the need to nourish ultimate hope?

Jesus was a realist. He knew God's invitation could be rejected. The parable of the "wedding guests" talks about the different reactions of the guests. Some reject the invitation consciously and roundly: "They didn't want to go." Other responded with absolute indifference: "They ignored it." Their lands and their businesses mattered more to them.

But, according to the parable, God doesn't become discouraged. Above all, there will be a final feast. God's wish is that the banquet room be filled with guests. So one must go to the "crossroads" where so many wanderers without hope or a future, are walking. The Church must go on announcing with faith and joy God's invitation proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus.

Pope Francis is concerned about preaching that becomes obsessed with "the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed." (EG 35) The greatest danger according to him is that it will no longer be "the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have 'the fragrance of the Gospel'." (EG 39)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Can the poor receive communion?

By Jorge Costadoat, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Reflexión y Liberación
October 8, 2014

This question is hard. I know. Hard on the poor. It might be hurtful to them. But this question is not against them. They know that.

In my country, Chile, it's normal for the poor to form their families little by little. When life smiles on them, they come to have their own house and, if they're Catholics, they get married in the Church. There is nothing more wonderful than a religious marriage celebrated after making a long journey of great effort, with all the winds against you. The best of all worlds is having reached this point, having brought up your children and still having the strength to take on the grandchildren.

The working class family is a miracle. It consists of people who tend to come from very precarious human situations, have gotten ahead by overcoming great adversity and, if that weren't enough, bear the scorn for being poor. Society looks askance at them and blames them for their destitution! They do not live as they should.

She already had a child. She got pregnant at fifteen. He also had a child elsewhere. They fell in love and went off to live together in a room they could rent. But in a few months, life there became impossible for them. The child cried. The bathroom wasn't enough for everyone. In the refrigerator, they had a minimal space reserved for the baby bottle and nothing more. There were rumors of a land takeover. A political party offered them a share. They decided to run the risk because it was dangerous to try it. In the camp, a third child was born...of both of them. Together the four withstood the lack of water, the filth, the trips to the hospital, the bad environment...Thanks to the leaders and the assemblies, they fought for a house and got it. Getting married in the Church never crossed their minds. Civilly, yes. But they didn't want to do it until they could offer a fiesta in the place they would live forever. In the meantime, she arranged to leave the children with a neighbor and thus be able to be employed in a private home. He, a construction worker, was a real go-getter. He rarely lacked work. But to get to the job, he often had to take two buses, a trip that took him an hour and a half or two hours in all.

What piety is possible under these living conditions? A very deep one. I know. It's not a matter of talking about it. I would have to extend my remarks. I just want to make it known that the working class Christian communities are composed of people like these. They themselves are the ones who got land for the chapel, built it, and water the garden. These same people are responsible for the catechesis of their children. In these communities, at Sunday Mass, at the moment of Communion, no one is denied anything.

If the poor couldn't receive communion, the Church wouldn't be the Church.