Monday, September 22, 2014

Interview with Maria José Arana, RSCJ, winner of Premio Alandar 2014

By Pepa Moleón (English translation by Rebel Girl)
No. 310, September 2014

There are pioneer women who open the way for things to be possible. One of them is Maria José Arana, a religious of the Sacred Heart who received the Premio Alandar last June, chosen unanimously by the journal's staff. We wanted to interview her to bring her career closer to our readers. A PhD in Theology with a degree in Sociology from the University of Deusto, she has been fighting within the Church for the equality and recognition of women for decades. She is presently a professor at the Facultad de Teología in Vitoria and in the Instituto de Teología y Pastoral in Bilbao.

How far along is feminist theology in the rest of the world and in Spain in particular?

Feminist theology has done a great deal of research and deepening; it has a spirit, methodology and sensitivity that are original and enriching for theology in general. Its way of doing, acknowledged or not, has greatly influenced the "theological task." In the international arena, Elisabeth Johnson is a good example of rethinking key aspects of the great theological themes from a feminist perspective.

Feminist theology is diverse. I don't identify in the same way with some streams as I do with others, but they're there. In the records and publications of the 2011 Congress in Salamanca of the European Society of Women in Theological Research (ESWTR), where I also had the honor of delivering a lecture, we can see a variety of currents and approaches.

In Spain, we have ATE (Asociación de Teólogas Españolas -- "Association of Spanish women theologians"), EFETA (Escuela Feminista de Teología de Andalucía -- "Feminist School of Theology of Andalucia, but which mainly covers Spain and Latin America), the "Mujeres y Teología" ("Women and Theology") reflection groups...These are places where we can follow the currents and the situation of feminist theology, especially in Spain.

You were responsible for a parish in Vizcaya. How was that pastoral experience, speaking personally and communally?

Yes, I was "pastor" or "the one in charge of the parish" with the duties of a pastor, as Bishop Luis María Larrea, who appointed me, used to say. I was there nine years. I was also a teacher in the town.

My experience was very good. I was very happy in the town of Aranzazu; the people received my services very well in both fields. We did a lot of of things and it was lovely. But I have to tell the truth -- at the pastoral, and particularly the sacramental level, I felt like a "glorified sacristan" but, in the end, a "sacristan"...because you can't administer the sacraments (just baptism and permission for the priests to perform marriages), you have to depend on the priest next door for a lot of things...and you feel bad when, having a priestly vocation as well, it all remains a sort of incomplete substitute...

The Pope made some statements in June about celibacy. What do you think of them and how might they be linked to the outstanding issue of the ordination of women in the Catholic church?

I'm not against optional celibacy, but I am against placing a priority on that issue above the question of women in the Church and, specifically, women in the priesthood, not only because by solving the lack of priests, they would no longer be concerned about having women in those and other matters. It goes deeper.

The debt that the hierarchical Church has with us is far more urgent and scandalous and it touches on the essence of the Church itself which, like any other human group, needs both male and female in its institutions.

The Pope says that the celibacy issue "isn't dogma," but neither is the issue of women in the diaconate or the priesthood!...however, they approach it -- when they approach it -- with an absolute lack of solid arguments, serious studies, a clear current and future perspective! The women's issue has evolved enormously in civil society and the Church has lagged behind.

You've worked intensively in ecumenical forums. What steps should we take in the Catholic Church to move forward in that sphere without rhetoric?

The Forum of European Christian Women and the European Society of Women in Theological Research have been for me -- and go on being -- exceptional places of encounter and work for the exchange of experiences, ideas, and concerted action. Also we have been able to relate with each other and exchange impressions with those responsible in the various denominations and realize, in practice, the differences between them ...

The dialogue with the Catholic Church in general hasn't moved beyond a certain formal politeness, tinged with indifference ... although there have been exceptions, such as [the late] Cardinal Martini (very rare), Cardinal Kasper, and few more ... As long as there isn't a clear ecumenical awareness in the hierarchy, it will be hard to move forward.

Your life has been extensively and intensively committed to Jesus and his Good News. Have you ever faltered? Has anything in your Church experience been particularly painful?

Look, I have two things going for me: the first is that I've always thought it was a very long-term job; I've never expected immediate results. And the second is my optimistic temperament. This and a realistic view of social change in history and, more specifically, in the history of feminism, have helped me not to "perish in the attempt."

However, obviously the Church's blindness, as well as its sluggishness and inertia with respect to women irritate and pain me! I feel they're in clear contradiction with the Gospel. That hurts!

I think we have to continue moving forward. It's important that history record that in the second half of the 20th century and -- may it be thus -- the first quarter of the 21st century, women's groups and collectives worked for justice, equality, gospel consistency...and that they did so without losing hope, despite many difficulties. It's important that this be recorded so that the situation of women and of the whole Church might improve and be a benchmark for the future.

In this broad and intense life, who has or have been your reference points, teachers, witnesses?

I belong to a religious order, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, obviously, I was trained there, I've worked there and I've received what I am from many sisters, present and past; I've received a lot of spirit, training, aid, and friendship.

But in this task we are talking about, the previously mentioned groups have been important to me: the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women, the Society of European Women Theologians, the Foro de Estudios sobre la Mujer ("Forum for Women's Studies" - FEM), EFETA (Escuela Feminista de Teología de Andalucía), Women's Ordination Worldwide, Mujeres y Teología (sporadically) ...I've been very involved in all of them. It's been a blast!

Group work has shaped me a lot and I've been able to accomplish so much precisely because we did it that way. Community and group work and coexistence matter to me and bring me a great deal. Anyway, my work and friendship with Pilar Bellosillo who, together with Mary Salas, was the inspiration and soul of FEM, have been a privilege for me. I give heartfelt thanks to both of them for all we have been able to accomplish together and all I have received from them, which has been a lot. Ruth Epting, Swiss Protestant pastor and promoter of Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women -- she's still alive -- is a great friend and true master, full of spiritual strength, wisdom and experience. I've gotten so much from her! To all -- those I've cited and those I've not been able to mention here -- to all, a very, very deep thanks.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Listening to women...for a change

The Diocese of Killaloe, Ireland, is a very typical one and not in crisis...yet. It has around 100 priests to staff its 56 parishes but more than half of them are over 66 years old and vocations are declining. Given this panorama, Bishop Kieran O'Reilly (photo) decided pro-actively to introduce a permanent deacon program, a proposal he presented via a pastoral letter to his flock in August 2014. Permanent deacons are married, ordained, and, unlike lay people, they are allowed to read the gospel, give homilies, and perform weddings and baptisms. They may not celebrate the Eucharist or hear confessions. And...they must be male, according to current canon law.

Therein lies the flaw. Bishop O'Reilly's pastoral letter detailed the role he envisioned for the future deacons -- not only the sacramental activities but also charity and social justice ministry, sacramental preparation and religious education. Many of those functions are already being performed by lay people in Killaloe -- mainly lay women, to be specific -- women who would not be eligible to apply for the diaconate positions.

Those women swiftly and forcefully let their bishop know that his proposed permanent diaconate plan would not be welcome because they could not be included and they encouraged him to try to find a more equitable solution. As one of the lay women activists, Kathleen McDonald, who is involved with catechesis, retreat facilitation, as well as in parish and diocesan pastoral councils, told the Irish Examiner: "We were offended that the Church in Killaloe was not going ahead with any alternative to a diaconate that could involve women as women do most of the lay work on the ground around the diocese." "In 2014 is it appropriate that they bring in another male only ministry? What impression does it give of the Church?," McDonald asked.

Bishop O'Reilly expressed surprise at the negative reaction to his proposal but was sympathetic to the women's feelings. "I was a little bit surprised by the manner in which the discussion took a very negative approach and went very far away from what my intentions were and people second guessing me on a different level altogether which did really surprise me." He added that, as the diaconate is presently constituted, "I was not in a position to be able to offer it to those who have felt very hurt and who felt over the last couple of weeks that they are excluded. May I say from the very beginning that it was never my intention."

What happened next is almost unheard of in the Catholic Church. The bishop took the women's concerns to heart and put his proposal on hold. Last Sunday, he issued a statement to be read at all the masses: "In the light of the conversations held over the past weeks and in the interest of allowing the further implementation of the Pastoral Plan I will not now proceed with the introduction of the Permanent Diaconate at this time in the diocese....I believe that the level of engagement shown by the recent dialogue has brought to the surface a sign of the energy and commitment of many people in our church. I encourage this dialogue to continue as I believe it will bring great benefits to the Church in the Diocese and the mission entrusted to all of us by Jesus Christ."

The women welcomed their bishop's decision. Another activist, Martina Meskell, told Clare People the women are not radicals or feminists. "We do not want any negativity or divisiveness over this," she said, adding that they just wanted the pastoral plan implemented to include everyone irrespective of gender. "We really welcome Bishop Kieran's decision to put this on hold and acknowledge his commitment to dialogue."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Not detracting from the goodness of God

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
September 21, 2014

Matthew 20:1-16

Throughout his prophetic career, Jesus stressed again and again his experience of God as "an unfathomable mystery of goodness" that smashes all our precalculations. His message is so revolutionary that, after twenty centuries, there are still Christians who dare not take it seriously.

To spread his experience of this good God to everyone, Jesus compares His actions to the surprising behavior of the lord of a vineyard. Up to five times he goes in person to hire laborers for his vineyard. He doesn't seem too concerned about their work output. What he wants is that no laborer be without work one more day.

For that very reason at the end of the day, he doesn't pay them according to the work done by each group. Although their work has been very uneven, he gives them all "one denarius" -- simply, what a peasant family from Galilee needed each day to be able to live.

When the spokesman for the first group protests because he has treated the last the same as them, that they worked more than anyone else, the lord of the vineyard answers with these admirable words: "Are you envious because I am good?". Are you going to stop me with your petty calculations from being good to those who need their bread to eat?

What is Jesus suggesting? Is it that God doesn't act according to the justice and equality criteria that we use? Might it be true that God, rather than measuring individual merit as we would do, always seeks to respond from his unfathomable Goodness to our radical need for salvation?

I confess that I feel immense sorrow when I meet good people who imagine a God devoted to carefully noting the sins and merits of human beings, to someday give back to each one exactly according to what he deserves. Is it possible to imagine a more inhumane being than someone who has dedicated themselves to that for all eternity?

Believing in a God who is an unconditional Friend could be the most liberating experience one could imagine, the most vigorous strength to live or die. In contrast, living facing a vigilante and menacing God could become a person's most dangerous and destructive neurosis.

We must learn not to confuse God with our narrow petty schemes. We must not detract from His unfathomable Goodness by mixing the authentic traits that come from Jesus with features of an avenging God taken from the Old Testament. Before the good God revealed in Jesus, there is only room for trust.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Liberation Theology in Salvador Allende's Chile

By Reflexión y Liberación (English translation by Rebel Girl)
September 14, 2014

The Great Hall of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile was the solemn surroundings where the long awaited book by Yves Carrier, Teología práctica de liberación en el Chile de Salvador Allende ["Practical liberation theology in Salvador Allende's Chile"], Ceibo Ediciones, was presented.

In a room overflowing with more than 400 attendees, FEUC president Naschla Aburman acted as emcee and moderator, expressing thanks for the crowded audience and particularly the presence of Mrs. Ángela Jeria, mother of President Michelle Bachelet, as well as the rector of the University of Chile, Don Ennio Vivaldi.

The event began with the distinguished human rights advocate, attorney Fabiola Letelier del Solar who, in the name of the editorial board of the journal Reflexión y Liberación, expressed joy at seeing concluded this cherished initiative which had been suggested to us by missionary Guy Boulanger, OMI and follows the editorial line our publication has had for 25 years, based on the Gospel, social justice, Vatican II and liberation theology.

Mónica Echeverría and priests José Aldunate and Mariano Puga were in charge of the book's presentation.

Writer, professor, actress and playwright Mónica Echeverría began by indicating that her husband, Fernando Castillo Velasco, should have been in her place, since, as the former rector of the Catholic university, he was a leader and ideologue in university reform in the late 1970s, someone who embraced the cause and consequences of liberation theology in his life.

In her presentation, she went back to the 1970s, recalling that the Church was beginning to experience a deep crisis as a result of its lack of openness to the world. She indicated the origins of that crisis in the assimilation of imperial power which was the sad heritage of Constantine's conversion to the Church. She pointed out the pageantry and the distorted image of a punishing God as "means of manipulation to make the poor submit." She stressed that there were historical voices who denounced such abuses, until the appearance of Marx eventually snatched the poor from the Church, who, she said, became agents of history. She highlighted significant Christians figures like Yves Congar, Teilhard de Chardin, Jacques Maritain, Manuel Larraín, Saint Alberto Hurtado and Clotario Blest, stressing that "they were beacons of hope for the poor." Following the historical tour, she continued with the good Pope John XXIII, highlighting his refusal to be bourgeois.

In that context, she presented Yves Carrier's book as a testimony to that liberating Church that seeks to serve the poor, noting that Chile was chosen to live out that experiment, specifically in Chuquicamata. She recalled a phrase of the late Dutch priest [Jan] Caminada that contains the spirit of this initiative: "We must not be divided in the struggle but walk together."

She criticized the silence and persecution imposed by Pope John Paul II on liberation theology and ended by highlighting the figure of Pope Francis as a great sign of hope for the Church and all humankind.

She was followed by José Aldunate who was applauded repeatedly. It was surprising to note his clarity and firmness, that at 97, he is testimony to evangelical passion. He gave his entire address standing.

Pepe spoke as a leader in Caminada's experiment, indicating that the goal of that adventure was seeking answers to basic questions such as: "What will become of the human race? What is the Church doing about the situation of the poor? How can the Church be modernized? How do we get it out of its buildings and worship services? How do we get it out into the street?"

Anecdotally, he said that Caminada was strict, severe, and that only Mariano Puga, with a joke or a gesture, was able to master him. He shared that Caminada, upon returning from a long mission in Indochina, came to his country, Holland, and found it tied to the past and found a Church trapped in a doctrinairism that wasn't attune to the present and was suspicious of all Socialism. He became persuaded that the way was praxis, since reality was above doctrine. He devised a strategy and came to Chile to test his hypothesis. That was how "we formed a group of Chileans and foreigners, among them Mariano, Rafael Maroto, and myself. It was a group that relinquished its bourgeois status."

The method had several steps: getting away from doctrinalism, insertion into the real world, acting out a new basic praxis, and dialoging with the bishops. He shared freely that "that was the most difficult. That dialogue had serious problems. Many bishops were afraid. We told them the Church had to make policy. We wanted to make God's dream come true: a united, egalitarian and fraternal community. That calls for policy, praxis aimed at the reality of the country." He serenely shared private details such as when "the bishops told us they didn't want us in Chile. The bishops rejected us." And he talked about how "the bishop of Calama, Don Juan Luis Ysern stood up for us until, finally, it was Pinochet with the coup who settled everything, throwing Caminada and his whole gang out. Only us five Chileans remained: Rafael Maroto, José Correa, Mariano, Chavo Fuster and me." And he said: "A branch could blossom. We five Chileans Got organized and formed a little group named EMO ("equipo misionero obrero" -- "worker missionary team"). Then we were 40 and then, 70. We continued to practice Caminada's method. We were able to fulfill Caminada's dream. Maroto was a shopkeeper, Pepe Correa a carpenter, Mariano a painter, and I worked in construction. We managed to open the Church to the left. So the distance between us and the Communists and Socialists came to an end, and there were no longer mutual insults but fraternal collaboration."

Pepe acknowledged joyfully, "We achieved something, moved forward. There was still fire under the ashes so that a Church committed to change in the world could emerge, committed to God's dream -- being a united, solidary and fraternal society."

With those words, Pepe ended his presentation, followed by a lengthy and warm ovation.

When Mariano Puga's turn came, he began by sharing his feelings: "I am coming to a unique point in my life, my history, my Church, my people." He read two Gospel passages -- with Luke, he proclaimed the text where Jesus makes the book of Isaiah his own: "...he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor..." (Lk 4:18-21) and the text from the Book of Acts where Luke describes the life of the early Christian communities: "...[they] were united, shared what they had, sold their goods and property and then distributed the money among all according to their needs...and they were esteemed by all..." (Acts 2:42-47).

With the reading of the Gospel, the assembly welcomed with respect and sanctity the emotion of Mariano, who took the floor again with the force of a prophet saying, "this is letter of introduction of the people's Church," and he added, "the greatest scandal is that the poor, the excluded, the marginalized don't feel at home in their Church. They don't feel that their hopes, their martyrdom resonates. There's an estrangement between the Church of Jesus and the Catholic Church." And, with emotion, he added: "This is our challenge, for those of us who think we are faithful to Jesus of Nazareth. That is impossible without being faithful to the poor, to their struggles and hopes." He shared that "what was most valuable about Calama was this: creating a new humanity in God's style, inseparable from the poor and the excluded."

Coming back to the present, he stated that "we are in a historic moment, with Pope Francis who says 'I want a poor Church for the poor' and invites Gustavo Gutierrez to dinner" -- and spontaneous applause broke out that filled the Great Hall of the PUC.

Then Mariano stated sorrowfully that "admiring without imitating is hypocrisy." And he added, "calling myself a disciple of Jesus, being a member of a Church that makes the hopes and anguish of the people its own -- which is its dogmatic constitution. We belonged to that mafia of the Holy Spirit that works in the heart of humanity. In that experiment there was room for priests, colleagues and workers."

Then Mariano returned to the story, saying that on August 15, 1973, the bishop of Calama told that group that the bishops didn't want them and he asked them to stop and leave. Mariano went to Santiago, and he said that on September 11, 1973 he got together with Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, Sergio Contreras Navia, José Manuel Santos Ascarza and Carlos González Cruchaga, who expressed their support for the Calama experiment, at which statement the assembly erupted in applause full of gratitude that inundated the Great Hall of the Pontifical Catholic University, a testimony of gratitude towards those dear bishops and this beloved Church.

So the presentations concluded. Then there was an opportunity to share testimonies, beginning with that of Karina Delfino, president of Socialist youth. Don Ennio Vivaldi, rector of the University of Chile, followed, and in brief words, called for spiritual revival and recovering the great ideals, recalling times when citizens were mobilized for big social projects. He did this by highlighting the political figure of Salvador Allende. The last testimony was given by Jacques Chonchol, former minister of agriculture under Salvador Allende, who masterfully gave a synthesis of the history and evolution of the Mapuche conflict.

The presentation ended with a song to pay tribute to Pepe Aldunate and Mónica Echeverría's birthdays, followed by a simple reception where there was a chance to socialize with the numerous attendees, as well as with many men and women committed to the many liberating causes of the Chilean and Latin American people.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Women's presence in the Church: rhetoric without significant changes

By Patricia Fachin (English translation by Rebel Girl)
IHU-Unisinos/Adital (Português/Español)
September 10, 2014

"The achievements of feminism are manifested daily in public policies in favor of women, political fruits of their own struggles, and in a thousand and one activities in which respect for women is guaranteed," the theologian says.

The feminist theology adopted by Ivone Gebara comes from approaching "people's suffering and questions without having a tidy doctrinal response" and "the real life situations where people find themselves." This is how the Catholic theologian, from the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady (Canoneses of St. Augustine), in the interview below, talks about her approach to feminism and how she "came to notice" how her "way of doing theology did not include the sufferings and dreams of women. " Therefore, it was necessary to conceive a feminist theology.

For Ivone, "there's a big difference between doing feminist theology and doing the traditional theology affirmed as the current theology of the Church." According to her, despite the "common statement" "God is God", reflecting the "thought of many people", there are "multiple meanings of the word 'God'." She explains: "Even when we say there is only one God, that statement is experienced in different ways. In the different Christian traditions and in the lives of common people, the word 'God', even though everyone uses it, doesn't mean the same thing for everybody because each person experiences this Great Mystery in his or her way. In that sense one could say that each one does his own theology even though we belong to the same Church. We all want to experience love but each one experiences it in his own way and according to his history and interpretation." Likewise, the Catholic theologian points out a distinction between feminist theology and the official theology of the Church. "Feminist theology stems from observing the complicity of a certain kind of Christianity with the oppression and domination of women, even within the Church...Therefore the God of feminist women who are seeking to liberate themselves from many forms of historical oppression doesn't have the same legalistic and controlling image as in other theologies," she explains.

In the interview below, granted to IHU On-Line via e-mail, the theologian also comments on the situation of the North American religious sisters who belong to LCWR and who are being evaluated by the Vatican. For her, "the situation of the North American women religious is an example of the current conflict between a part of the Catholic hierarchy and intelligent women, with excellent educational backgrounds and performance in various social environments."

Along the same line, she asserts that "existing feminist theologians were never the focus of Pope Francis' interest or that of others." In that sense, she mentions, the fact that Pope Francis doesn't allude "to the feminist movement that has had and has one of the most significant expressions in Latin America in Argentina" is seen as strange.

"In this stance, the pope has created some confusion in the news reports, especially when he states the need to rethink women's presence in the Church, their vocation and things of that sort, which is more rhetoric than positions that reveal significant changes. Clearly the omnipresent patriarchal tradition and bureaucratic machine of the Vatican as well as the local churches don't facilitate institutional changes for women. But they're moving ahead in spite of everything, claiming their freedom to exist and express their needs and their dreams," she concludes.

Ivone Gebara will be honored with the title of Doctor Honoris Causa by Faculdades EST for her contribution to the theological debate and training in the Brazilian and Latin American context, during Faculdades EST's 2nd International Congress, which will take place September 8 to 12. The title will be awarded on Wednesday, September 10th,at 19h, in São Leopoldo, RS [see video below].

Ivone Gebara holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Catholic University of São Paulo and in Religious Studies from the Université Catholique du Louvain, Belgium. She taught for 17 years at the Theological Institute of Recife - ITER, until its dissolution, decreed by the Vatican in 1989.

Check out the interview.

IHU On-Line: How did your career in the Church begin and when did you start to be interested in feminist ideas and advocate for a feminist position in the Church?

Ivone Gebara: It isn't the first time you've asked me this question. Probably, I'll repeat myself in the answer on the one hand, but on the other hand, each answer is a response given in a different time.

I like to say that several events contributed to my embracing feminism. In the late 1970s, because of work in alternative training in which I took part with other professors at the Institute of Theology of Recife, I came to realize how much my way of doing theology did not include the sufferings and dreams of women. Painfully, a woman awoke me to the fact that my examples always referred to the lives of men, and even though I'm a woman, I was unaware of the real lives of women, especially the poor. I say 'painfully' because I was used to doing situation analyses and had difficulty accepting the fact that I was not including the lives of women workers, peasants, and domestics in a special way in my approach. I managed to enter a conversion process and become open to a world that was mine, but that I hadn't seen or prioritized. I began to recover my personal history, that of women in my family, my coworkers, and to realize that my analytic tools were based on male keys, especially since they portrayed situations of male protagonism. Often they were also abstract and theoretical analyses.

Another path was the reading of books by Western European and American women theologians. I was impressed by their denunciation of the patriarchal world and its violent consequences for women's lives. I didn't used to use the expression "patriarchal world" or any of the others ones common to the feminism of that era. I gradually learned a new language that really was more of a new analytic tool for understanding physical and symbolic violence towards women. I began to sense and reflect on the differences, on what is public and private, on the use of images of God, on symbolism in religion. A new world was unfolding.

Latin American interaction

In those days, other women in Latin America also agreed about the complex problem of oppression of women in the churches, and we were able to get organized and participate in international meetings where we shared ideas and perceptions. This greatly expanded my feminist horizons.

I think that a decisive event in my life was meeting "Catholics for the Right to Choose" in Uruguay. That happened in early 1980. Their approach to the sexual oppression of women and their struggle for the decriminalization and legalization of abortion opened another window in my mind.

I remember a secular feminist who once asked me what I, as a theologian, had to say about the sexual violence experienced by women. What did I have to say about rape and abortion? How did my theology modify the misogynistic and sexist thinking of the Catholic Church? I confess that at the time I felt confused and didn't know what to answer. I realized immediately that once again the theology I had learned and taught lacked a radical transformation, an anthropological revolution, other references. Liberation theology had already taught me a lot. But a new step needed to be taken.

Challenges such as these were growing throughout my life and teaching me to approach people's suffering and questions without having a tidy doctrinal response. This is one theological method I call feminist, though not exclusively, since it starts from the real situations in which people find themselves, considers individuals more important than laws, rules or doctrine. We are invited to experience life before thinking about it. We are invited to listen without giving immediate answers. We are invited to seek together the way out for many difficult and complex life situations.

This methodology based on our lives becomes critical of predetermined hierarchical positions and therefore is not well accepted by the leadership of the churches. The fact of affirming the need for women to choose and decide their lives despite our limitations, generates inevitable conflicts up to the present day.

IHU On-Line: Are you following the situation of the North American nuns in LCWR who are being evaluated by the Vatican for not following Church doctrine? If so, how do you view their actions in the US?

Ivone Gebara: The situation of American women religious is an example of the current conflict between the Catholic hierarchy and intelligent women, with excellent educational backgrounds and performance in various social environments. It is these women who make up LCWR . The Catholic hierarchy has a hard time accepting the self-determination of these women religious who are aware, really, that they don't need the approval of a priest or bishop to live out the love and justice to which they feel called. They don't need to ask permission to read, study, help groups or invite people to their meetings according to the will of a bishop. They dared assume their right to be citizens and are being punished for it. In the Roman Catholic Church, women -- and nuns in particular -- don't have full citizenship. I have followed, to the extent possible, the complex process that these women religious are going through and they have my full support.

I'm struck by the fact that Pope Francis has not taken a more open position towards them. Two years ago, Cardinal Müller criticized them and accused them of promoting radical feminist issues. This accusation continues today, even if different words are being used. The Church leadership fears being accused of misogyny and they defend themselves, but their behavior is more than misogynist. Unfortunately they cling to an incredible biologism and the concept of anatomy as destiny. They've deduced from the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was male, arguments for the exclusion of women. And along this line, they give more importance to the priestly role which Jesus wasn't part of, at the expense of a more ethical understanding of Christianity where many inclusive aspects could be accentuated. Jesus was not of the priestly elite of Israel. Rather, he criticized it and distanced himself from it. Jesus lived a life close to men, women, children, Jews and strangers. With them, he preached the kingdom of God throughout his life through concrete actions that change people's lives. That earned him misunderstanding, abuse and crucifixion.

IHU On-Line: What differentiates feminist theology from theology, or what aspects does feminist theology add to theology, since God is God and this isn't an argument about gender even though we refer to God the Father?

Ivone Gebara: There's a big difference between doing feminist theology and doing the traditional theology affirmed as the current theology of the Church. The first thing I want to comment on is the common statement "God is God" that is present in this question and that reflects the thinking of many people. I would call attention to the fact of the multiple meanings of the word "God." Even when we say there is only one God, that statement is experienced in different ways. In the different Christian traditions and the lives of ordinary people, the word "God," although everyone uses it, doesn't mean the same thing to everyone because each person experiences the Great Mystery in their own way. In that sense, one can say each one does his own theology, though we belong to the same Church. We all want to experience love, but each one experiences it in his own way and according to his history and interpretation. To take examples from the Gospels, the theology of a woman suffering from an issue of blood is not the same as that of the Pharisee who enters the Temple and affirms that he is righteous. The theology of the Inquisition is not the same as the Human Rights one advocated today by many people.

Traditional theology vs. feminist theology

Along these lines, I want to distinguish feminist theology from the official theology of the Church. Feminist theology stems from observing the complicity of a certain kind of Christianity with the oppression and domination of women, including within the Church. It stems from the awareness that women are only formally "subjects with rights." It is born of the realization that oppression means thinking of women as having been created subordinate to men, and even when we're talking about "being complementary", it often means subordinate. We can't forget the myth of Adam and Eve created from one of his ribs. This all leads to the formulation of doctrines and interpretations that reinforce certain stereotypes that give men decision-making power even over our lives.

All feminist theologies stemming from patriarchal structures that are still very present among us are trying to propose personal and collective changes that can actually have an impact on the collective or life in society. The changes are slow, but in each situation it's necessary to review what we're wanting. Therefore, the God of feminist women seeking to liberate themselves from many forms of historical oppression doesn't have the same legalistic and controlling image as in other theologies. The very struggle of many women's groups justifies the existence of feminist theologies and their relevance, albeit as a minority, these days.

IHU On-Line: How do you assess the progress in debate about gender, considering that the initial discussions dealt particularly with women, but later moved to the defense of LGBT rights, also talking about transgender and even, more recently, a third gender? Moreover, Germany has created a third gender category for parents to register their children as "male", "female" or "undefined." Where is this discussion is taking us?

Ivone Gebara: This isn't the place to explain how the gender concept became an analytic tool of feminism. It's a long story. In general, when you used to talk about gender, you were thinking of the existence of only two genders: male and female. Other human experiences such as those of bisexuals, transgendered people and those of undetermined gender didn't come up. Some European and American physicians faced the reality of babies born with undetermined biological gender. You needed to wait a while until the parents, or even the child, would choose the gender through surgery or other treatments. Families and also birth records were affected by this unexpected reality. That's why countries like Germany introduced the "undetermined" sex option to allow the necessary time for an eventual decision.

Clearly, we are making progress on the issue as we discover new aspects of complex human sexuality that can't be reduced to a binary -- "either/or" -- scheme. But with the advances come new identity problems, new situations, new challenges. It's all part of the human condition and life in society that invites us every day to try to understand each other anew. And in this understanding, to adjust our language, our feelings, our political stances, and social laws.

IHU On-Line - Does feminism still have something to say these days?

Ivone Gebara: From what I've discussed above, my answer is yes, although I must agree that the form and the challenges of feminism are different nowadays. Often feminist struggles do not appear related to the early tradition of feminism. I'm referring especially to the new generations of women who are fighting for their rights. We saw, for example, the reaction of women to the serial rapes by a famous doctor in São Paulo, now in prison. Those who denounced him didn't actually call themselves feminists but they were aware of the dignity of their lives as women. In many universities, groups have been denouncing rape which, before, was considered something common that always ended with impunity. Today, at various universities, women are more clear-headed and are coming forward to denounce the perpetrators.

Today too, the trafficking in women and the exploitation of girls by national and international groups have received an alert response from NGOs, universities, governments and churches. This isn't called feminism but actually it has to do with feminist struggles past and present that helped raise awareness about various issues and affirmed the dignity of women. The achievements of feminism are manifested daily in public policies in favor of women, political fruits of their own struggles, and in a thousand and one activities in which respect for women is guaranteed

IHU On-Line: In general, how would you rate Francis' pontificate? Is there room for feminist theology in this pontificate?

Ivone Gebara: Generally and very quickly, it can be said that feminism and existing feminist theologies were never the focus of Pope Francis' interest, nor that of others. Of course my judgment is based on their public positions. It's strange that he has never alluded to the feminist movement that has had one of its most significant expressions in Latin America in Argentina. Likewise, he doesn't mention the existence of feminist theologians, either from Latin America or from other continents, when we know how much they have written, taught, and even been persecuted by the Catholic Church in the 20th and 21st centuries.

I don't think this silence is real ignorance of the facts, but a politico-ecclesiastical posture. Not speaking of someone or a worldwide movement, trying to ignore them, is not allowing them to appear in their historical strength. It's not giving them importance and not thinking of them as something that could bring any contribution to the Church. In this stance, the pope has created some confusion in the news reports, especially when he states the need to rethink women's presence in the Church, their vocation and things of that sort, which is more rhetoric than positions that reveal significant changes. Clearly the omnipresent patriarchal tradition and bureaucratic machine of the Vatican as well as the local churches don't facilitate institutional changes for women. But they're moving ahead in spite of everything, claiming their freedom to exist and express their needs and their dreams.

Ivone Gebara receiving her honorary doctorate (video)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Looking with faith on the Crucified One

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
September 14, 2014

John 3:13-17

The feast we Christians celebrate today is incomprehensible and even absurd for those who do not know the meaning of the Christian faith in the Crucified One. What meaning could a feast called "Exaltation of the Cross" have in a society that passionately seeks "comfort," convenience, and maximum well-being?

Many may wonder how it is possible to still continue exalting the cross today. Hasn't that morbid way of living, exalting pain and seeking suffering, been superseded forever? Must we go on nurturing a Christianity focused on the agony of Calvary and the wounds of the Crucified One?

Undoubtedly, those are very reasonable questions that need a clarifying response. When we Christians look on the Crucified One, we aren't exalting pain, torture and death but the love, closeness, and solidarity of God who wants to share our life and our death to the end.

It isn't suffering that saves us but the love of God that stands in solidarity with the sorrowful history of human beings. It isn't the blood that cleanses us of our sins, really, but the unfathomable love of God who welcomes us as His children. The crucifixion is the event in which His love is best revealed to us.

Discovering the grandeur of the Cross isn't attributing some sort of mysterious power or virtue to pain but confessing the saving power of God's love when, incarnated in Jesus, He goes forth to reconcile the world to Himself.

In those outstretched arms that can no longer embrace children and in those hands that can no longer caress lepers or bless the sick, we Christians "contemplate" God with His arms open to receive, embrace, and sustain our poor lives, broken by so much suffering.

In that face dimmed by death, in those eyes that can no longer look tenderly upon prostitutes, in that mouth that can no longer scream its outrage about the victims of so much abuse and injustice, in those lips that can no longer express His forgiveness to sinners, God is revealing His unfathomable love for humankind to us as in no other gesture.

Therefore, being faithful to the Crucified One is not seeking crosses and suffering but living like him with an attitude of devotion and solidarity, accepting, if necessary, crucifixion and the evils that might befall us as a result. This faithfulness to the Crucified One isn't a glorification of suffering [dolorista] but is hopeful. For a "crucified" life, lived in the same spirit of love with which Jesus lived, only resurrection awaits.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Democracy and human rights in the Church

By José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Teología Sin Censura blog
September 10, 2014

To raise, from the outset, the issue I am trying to explain, I will start by asking a question: What moral authority or what credibility can an institution (the Church) have to the people of our time that, as it is conceived and organized, can't be governed as a democracy, or subscribe to human rights and put them into practice? This question is more fascinating for us and makes us even more uncomfortable when we think (at least for a moment) that the Church claims to "evangelize", that is, "to convey the Gospel." But how is it going to attempt to convey "the most sublime" (the Gospel of Jesus) if it can't accomplish "the most elemental" (democracy and basic rights)?

Given the question I just asked, the starting point of my thinking is this: democracy in the governance of the Church, as well as the implementation of human rights in it are two very vital issues and so urgent that whether or not the Church can or cannot be true to its origins (i.e. the gospel) depends on the right solution being given to these two problems. Likewise, whether or not the Church regains much needed credibility and can fulfill its assigned mission in the world also depends on its faithfulness to democracy and human rights. I also think that the Church (as a whole) has not realized at all the paramount importance of what I have just pointed out.

And yet another observation that to me is crucial: In this speech, I'm going to say (I've already pointed them out) things that will be unpleasant for some. If I speak this way, it isn't out of resentment or alienation from the Church. Quite the opposite. I'm saying these things because the Church matters to me a lot and my affection for the Church is very strong. The Church we have, not the one I might have in my mind. Because I was born in that Church. I live in her. And in her I want to die. I owe my knowledge of Jesus and his Gospel to the Church. What happens is that I often see the gap and even the contradiction that so many people feel between the Church and the Gospel. In the face of this, I can't be silent. Therein lies the content and intent of what I'm going to say here.

1. Starting point

The big problem we face here isn't the problem of specifying whether the Church can or can't be democratic, should or shouldn't be democratic. Of course. But there's a previous problem we haven't sunk our teeth into. I'm referring to the problem of the structure itself of religion. If we talk about the relationship between Church and democracy, between Church and rights, we get to a dead end if we haven't previously faced the problem of the relationship between the Church and religion. Why? Because religion -- as the religious event is known to us and apart from very few exceptions -- isn't just about the "relationship with God", but besides that, it is also a "mediated relationship." That is, religion is a relationship with God that takes place via (a "mediated" relationship) mediators associated with hierarchies involving a system of rituals, ranks and sacred powers, which involve dependence, obedience, submission and subordination to invisible superiors (cf. Walter Burkert, La creación de lo sagrado ["Creation of the Sacred"], Barcelona, Acantilado, 2009, 146). Hence "religious sentiment" is specifically the "feeling of reverence" and therefore "submission" (Jean Bottéro, La religión más antigua: Mesopotamia ["The oldest religion: Mesopotamia"], Madrid, Trotta, 2001, 59-65). Submission not only to God but also submission to the mediators, who act as "bridges" ["puentes"] ("pontiffs" - ["pontífices"]) between human beings and the Transcendent. Between "immanence" and "transcendence".

Now, to the extent that religion is accepted that way, lived and kept that way, it is simply contradictory and therefore impossible to establish a relationship that can be justified and implemented between religion and democracy, between religion and human rights. And so too, it is impossible to have a normal relationship between Church and democracy or Church and human rights. This contradiction is not usually "argued rationally" or discursively. But it is usually "experienced emotionally" by significant sectors of the population, especially in the more developed countries. Hence the frequent conflict that tends to occur between citizens and the religious hierarchies. Often, these conflicts tend to be explained, in the case of the hierarchs, by resorting to a loss of faith, moral relativism, the decline of morals ... And, in the case of citizens, the religious hierarchies are rejected for cultural, social, political and ethical reasons. In all that there may be, undoubtedly, some or a lot of truth. But none of that is the real reason for the eternal conflict between hierarchy and faithful, priests and laity.

And, when we dwell on these quarrels, inevitably we begin to lash out in the dark. Because, if we dwell on these discussions and those clashes, we're really all blind. Therefore, the strikes we give are striking out blind. Because the blind person, whether bishop, theologian, or lay person, if he stays on the superficial level and doesn't get to the heart of the matter, has no choice but to go through life blindly. At least, this is precisely what has occurred to me many times.

2. Freedom and equality

To speak properly about democracy and human rights one must start, logically, where the Universal Declaration begins: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." (Art. 1) Therefore, freedom and equality are the two basic foundations of democracy and the fundamental rights of human beings. So, where there is no equality and no freedom, there is no - nor can there be - democracy. Precisely because democracy is the system of government and coexistence that ends inequality and subjugation. Where there is inequality and subjugation, there can be no democracy.

Now, what is most opposite, radically contrary to the two principles I've just noted (freedom and equality) is religion. Because religion is hierarchy and obedience. Hierarchy and obedience to God, of course. But not just to God. Rather, hierarchy and obedience to God through the "mediators" who are essential in religion. And who are the ones who make up the constituent hierarchies of religion. Well now, hierarchy is the same as inequality (rank, honors, powers, categories...). And hierarchy is the same as submission of some (those who obey) to others (those who rule). Submission on dogmas, rituals, norms, traditions... Therefore, where there is religion there cannot be freedom, nor can there be equality. Which is not to say that where there is a relationship with God, there cannot be freedom, nor can there be equality. Relationship with God is one thing. Relationship with the religion of the sacred, with its hierarchies and resulting inequality and submission, is something else.

I will talk about this shortly. But first we need to clarify another important issue.

3. Equality and difference

Inequality is one thing and difference is something else. Difference is a fact. Equality is a right. It's a fact that men are different from women, white people are different from black people, etc. But that doesn't mean that men have rights women can't have. Or that white people have rights that black people can't have, etc. "Difference is a descriptive term." While "equality is a normative term" (Luigi Ferrajoli, Derechos y garantías. La ley del más débil ["Rights and Guarantees: the Law of the Weakest"], Madrid, Trotta, 2001, 79). Differences can never be "inequality factors" (op.cit., 79-80). Because when differences are set up as inequality, one moves from the scope of "facts" to the realm of "rights". Which leads to that, when one is different (for whatever reason), that "fact" becomes a "right" or a source of rights that are not available to others.

This shift from facts to rights is much more common than we think. It happens in politics, in the world of business and labor, in the field of science and knowledge, in society in general .... And a very special way it occurs -- and plays out -- in religion, particularly in the Church: men have rights that women don't, clergy have rights that lay people can't have, etc, etc. Which, for large sections of the population, is simply irritating. Especially in two areas of life to which we are almost all very sensitive. I mean everything to do with money and sex. That the Church is seen as a religion, is a fact. That this fact has become a source of rights, which are de facto privileges, is something that is visible to all. This is already, in itself, outrageous. But if the opacity of what is hidden is added to this, what the public is not informed about ... then the "outrageous" comes to be "irritating". No one knows exactly how much money the Church takes in. No one knows where that money comes from. No one knows what so much money is invested in. Nor how it is invested. It's true that there are bishops, priests, men and women religious who are exemplary and even heroic. But it's also true that, for example, the tax privileges of the Church are important. But, what does that mean? What consequences does it have? It's known that those benefits were -- at least in the years of the Zapatero government -- greater than the privileges the Church had during the time of Franco (Cf. Julio Jiménez Escobar, Los beneficios fiscales de la Iglesia Católica ["The tax benefits of the Catholic Church"], Bilbao, Desclée, 2002, 371). And as for the field of sex, suffice it to say that until the pontificate of John Paul II, the Vatican severely forbade anything related to child abuse from being known. From the time of Pius XII, I had heard of such abuses. As I also knew of the strict prohibitions imposed by Rome in this matter.

4. Jesus and religion

Because of everything I just said, the originality, genius and currency of the Gospel is even more striking. Because -- and I say it now -- the Gospel is not a religion (in the sense I just explained), nor can the Church be an institution that represents a religion.

I'll explain. We know that Jesus was persecuted, insulted, threatened, judged, condemned and executed by the hierarchical representatives and rulers of the temple religion, the religion of the sacred, the religion of the law and rites, the religion that threatened with punishments and condemnations. The men of religion, in Jesus' time, realized that what they represented and what Jesus represented were two incompatible things.

All this explains why Jesus took the side of "the last." And he confronted "the first". As he took the side of "the little ones" (the children) and confronted "the big ones" (the high priests). Just like he had conflicts with "the powerful" and befriended "the weak" (cf. Lk. 1:51-53). In other words, Jesus took sides with the victims of the politico-religious system that is based and remains on the foundation of holy hierarchies, sacred powers, honors that come from above, privileges that "God's" dignitaries are entitled to... Here we're getting to the bottom of it. Because, ultimately, we're touching on the only foundation that squares with the only one who can reasonably be called "God," the Father of goodness. That is, the Father who is good to all, to both the righteous and sinners, the "lost" and the "observant" (Lk. 15:11-32), and who - if He puts someone first - favors the Samaritan while proposing the priest as an example of what not to do (Lk. 10:30-35).

Hence, if we're talking about the Church, starting at the beginning, we have to say that Jesus did not found the Church. We know that the Church has its origin in Jesus (“... Ecclesiae... initium fecit”. Vat. II: LG 5). Nobody doubts that Jesus was a deeply religious man. But Jesus didn't found a religion. Jesus lives in such a way that his relationship with the temple, with the priests, the scribes and the Pharisees was such that the religious hierarchies realized that what they represented and what Jesus represented were two incompatible things. That's why the religious hierarchs condemned him to death (cf. Jn. 11:47-53). Now, the death on a cross of a criminal, executed as a subversive, wasn't nor could have been a religious ritual in those days. It was an act radically opposed to everything religion represented then. Moreover, according to the gospels, at his death, Jesus felt abandoned even by God (Mt. 27:45, Mk. 15:34, cf. Ps. 22:2). Of course, Jesus' death was a sacrifice. But it wasn't a "ritual" sacrifice. It was an "existential" sacrifice. On the cross, Jesus didn't offer a "religious ritual" (Heb. 9:12,25) but he offered "himself" (Heb. 7:27, 9:9-14), that is, he offered his own existence.

Decidedly, Jesus did not found a religion. Rather, what we can say is that he moved religion -- he took it out of "the sacred" and put it in "life", in correct ethical relationships with one another. So the only time the N.T. uses the word "religion" (threskeia) is to say that religion is "to care for orphans and widows in their affliction" (James 1:27). Just as when the N.T. urges Christians to implement the central act of religion, the "sacrifice" (thysia), it states that the sacrifices that "please God" are "to do good and to share what you have" (Heb. 13:16). The N.T. shifts religion in that it moves it from "the sacred" to "the secular", from rites to social relationships.

5. The Church and religion

It's a fact that in the great community of believers in Jesus, with the passing of time, two phenomena have occured which, viewed together, are very worrisome. Because both are very serious really. It's these two facts: 1) The Gospel, as a way of life and organizing principle for the Church, has been marginalized to the extent that exactly the opposite of what Jesus commanded or prohibited is being done quite naturally; 2) To the same extent that the Gospel is being marginalized, Religion -- the sacred, the rituals, the temples, the priests -- has been growing more powerful until coming to the situation we're in now: the Church is an institution that is more religious than evangelical. So people know that, when we're talking about Christianity and the Church, we're talking about "religion", we're not talking about the "Gospel." Because, for many citizens, the Church is as clearly religious as it is strictly anti-evangelical.

Now, as long as this state of affairs endures, confusion about the the Church, the Gospel, and religion will be constant. Moreover, while things continue this way, the Church will feel incapable of keeping alive the memory of Jesus. And what Jesus represents in the history of mankind.

Moreover, the Church, being not just a religion but also a state -- its relations with the other states, and the consequent presence of the Church in every country, will be subject to endless complications, ambiguous situations, countless contradictions, etc. Above all, the contradiction that the Church presents itself as the spokesperson of the Gospel of the poor, the weak, the same time as it presents itself as the bearer of a power that is above all the powers of this world. And it presents itself as a bearer of human rights, while having a theology and law that dare not speak of real effective equality between men and women, clergy and laity, etc, etc.

Let's say, clearly and fearlessly, that if the Church wants to exist in our time and not in pre-modernity, it must modify its theology and canon law. The Church, if it wishes to preach the Gospel, has to modify church law. As it has to modify the theology underlying such law.

6. Concluding proposals

1. Keep the papacy as the current bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, is trying to make it -- being basically the bishop of Rome. And acting as an appellate body for matters that cannot be resolved at the local level.

2. Regain the synodical government that was in effect in the Church of the first millennium. Such that it would be the synods (national and regional) that would appoint the government positions, look out for the faithfulness of the churches to the Gospel, and make decisions for the better government of the dioceses, parishes, and specific communities.

3. Renew and update the praxis of the sacraments. It's important to know that the canons of Session 7 of the Council of Trent on the sacraments are not dogmas of faith (José M. Castillo, Símbolos de libertad. Teología de los sacramentos ["Symbols of Freedom: Theology of the Sacraments"], Salamanca, Sígueme, 1981, 320-341). As such they can, and should, be modified to bring them up to date. That would be the task above all of the local synods, in which lay men and women ought to have a voice and decision-making capacity. Perhaps one the most crucial things would be "inculturating" the sacraments so that our "religious rituals" could be practices and experienced as "symbols of faith."

4. Finally, the Church must emphasize not only the duties of the faithful but also the rights of all citizens. Not just out of respect for those citizens, since respecting someone is defending that person's rights. But also because if it exaggerates duties over rights, that generates an "impoverished moral system" (J. Feinberg, “The Social Importance of Moral Rights”, in J.R. Tomberlin (ed.), Philosophical Perspectives 6. Ethics, 1992, p. 179). The Church has stressed too much, for example, the duty to silently and patiently bear the intemperate behavior and even the abuse that we men have often committed against women. And that, repeated for centuries, has been a determining factor in the forbearance and fear with which women have endured the violence of patriarchal and sexist society. Even resulting in many murders by "respectable" elders who suddenly kill their wives before committing suicide themselves. The moral sermonizing that women have endured during their tireless church attendance has fostered a culture of fear and silence, with the consequences we all know.

Translator's Note: This appears to be the prepared text of José María Castillo's remarks to the 34th Congreso de Teología given September 5, 2014 in Madrid. Castillo is vice-president of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII which sponsors this annual conference.