Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Activating political identity": An interview with Teresa Forcades (II)

By Cristianisme i Justícia
April 9, 2014

Interview by Xavier Casanovas, Oscar Mateos, Santi Torres and Nani Vall-llossera.

Power is no longer in the hands of the conventional actors (the nation-state or the political parties) but something ethereal like "the markets", for example. Although political majorities can be generated, what's the margin to regain political space and power?

Certainly, real power isn't in the representatives of the people but neither is power something ethereal. Since the time that capitalism has been without a counter-power at the global level, three thousand international, bilateral, and multilateral treaties have been signed under the auspices of the WTO. Capitalism hyperregulates, strictly regulates but does so based on very specific interests that are contrary to the public interest. This situation causes a multinational to be able to sue a democratic government when the parliament legislates against the interests of the multinational. That's the main problem now. It's not an ethereal problem but one of political will. Without wanting to simplify it: we have an elephant in the room, and don't want to see the elephant. Well, first we ought to tackle the elephant, and when we've expelled it, keep an eye out so that new baby elephants don't grow too much. Currently treaties are being adopted globally that allow certain corporations have greater influence than the democratic powers of some countries.

In the case of Europe, you have some treaties that cancel or limit the decisionmaking powers of the parliaments, and moreover we have a Treaty of Lisbon that plays the role of "constitution" without having been voted on by the people and that in practice, limits what a parliament can do. So we have a subversion of democracy that's not ethereal but factual, with names. I would like to speak very clearly and explain the need to cancel all these treaties: there can be no agreement above a democratic decision. There can be no treaty that has more weight than the decisions of a parliament. This is nothing new and has been the object of political and economic analysis by economists such as Stiglitz as well as ours, like Arcadi Oliveres. But the political will doesn't exist because there's economic dependency of the political representatives with respect to these powers that be and the financing of the parties has a lot to do with this.

You often speak of capitalism as a "giant with feet of clay". What does that metaphor mean?

Yes, it's a metaphor drawn from the Bible (Dn. 2:31-35). When you look at it from below, its height, the gold, its power...you get dizzy, but when you look at its feet you realize it stands on clay. This situation can't be explained without talking about a certain amount of cultural alienation and repressive force. The same situation has been repeated throughout history. Authors such as Seneca, Cicero...philosophers, thinkers, people gifted with great intellectual substance criticized the idea of deification of the emperor, but most of the population passively accepted this fact that today seems absurd to us. In the human mind of intelligent people there are often mechanisms that block action for justice, because that which should be removed exercises reverential awe over them. We don't have that awe of our politicians today. So to whom do we pay that reverence? I think, just as Marxist analysis of alienation has denounced it, we have this awe or this respect (what Marx called "fetichism") for money and the economic system -- the economic system is untouchable. And who said that? Who made that economic system? We made it, didn't we? Then, if we're the ones who made it and we like it, let's keep it, but if we don't like it, of course we have to change it! Without thinking twice.

Liberation philosopher Enrique Dussel in his work Las metáforas teológicas de Karl Marx ("The theological metaphors of Karl Marx) states that Marx recovers the concept of "fetish" from the Bible, specifically from the Old Testament prophets. A fetish is something made by human hands (the word "fetish" comes from the Latin facere), something "made" that, forgetting that it's our product, we put on a pedestal, worship it, and let it require human sacrifices from us. No, don't do that! If you want to kneel down, do it before the living God who gives you life and who will never ask human sacrifices from you, but not before a fetish that's the fruit of your hands. Well, that criticism, which is the prophets' criticism, Marx states is what we ourselves have done with money and the capitalist economic system. Something we have made ourselves, we have put on a pedestal, we have knelt down and we're allowing it to demand human sacrifices of us. In Spain, we've changed the Constitution overnight without any kind of referendum to worship the fetish -- we've decreed that the debt and economic convergence criteria are above social necessities. A topsy-turvy world. The good news is that the economic system is "something built by human hands" and, therefore, if we overcome the fetishist dynamic, we would realize that it depends on us and not the reverse. The economic system can and should be changed when it excludes and harms the majority of the population.

To do this, you stress in your writings "regaining political identity." What is that?

From the beginning of history as we know it until now, all social change seeking greater social justice has been change from below. It's logical. If you have a system of social inequality with people below and people on top, why would those on top want to change anything? There might be individual cases of change of heart -- it happens sometimes -- people from a privileged environment who realize that "this doesn't work," but to become political agents of change, the people "from the top" must join agents acting from below. Rather than "regaining", I prefer to talk about "activating," because you can only regain what you've previously lost and you can never lose political identity -- it's intrinsic to the individual, it's what you are. Nor can anyone grant it to you but it's part of your being as a person, and for me it's linked more with the fact of "being in the image of God" than with citizenship. That's how I see it, but each one can say it in their own words, and speak of "individual dignity," for example. Except that through a mechanism of alienation, my political identity can remain inactive and so I stop being aware that I have it. Hence the importance of activating that identity, and that's what one notices happening in our country -- a process of activating political identity. The powers that be are realizing it and not taking long to respond. They're never still.

But even though, in fact, people are becoming active, the question is how to channel that. There's a malaise, an activation, but due to the crisis in intermediaries like the political parties and the big unions sometimes it has no outlet and goes no further. What tools do we have to give an outlet for this activation of the political person?

First it must be said that there are parties that are channels for this political activation towards a rupture. In Catalonia we have the case of the CUP (Candidaturas de Unidad Popular -- Popular Unity Candidacies). There are also small and not so small unions like Telefónica's COBAS union [telecommunication workers union of Spain], that are waging their struggle in an exemplary manner. There's movement. It's like the prophet Elijah when he says "I'm alone, I'm the only one who hasn't worshiped the gods of Baal," but when he gets active he meets seven thousand more who have remained faithful who help him make the revolution (see 1 Kings 19:14 vs. 1 Kings 19:18). Thus there are already people here who have been working a while and working well. I've seen the channeling through Procés Constituent not just as a movement in which I'm involved but as a kind of plan that can work.

I think Procés Constituent is a good tool that can be generalized to other contexts. It's a plan that instead of wanting to form a macro-structure or a political party that would seek to perpetuate itself in power, seeks to make possible a strategic alliance of rupture between very diverse social movements, already existing parties and individuals and collectives who up until now haven't felt called to political involvement. That alliances should be as broad as possible because if it isn't broad, it won't be able to have a majority. In our case, the political situation and Catalonia's desire for political independence have also been instrumental. That desire also allowed us to introduce the deepest and broadest possible discussion about the conditions of coexistence and political organization.

Therefore it can't be extrapolated to other parts of Spain.

In the rest of Spain, it must become specific to each place. You have to channel an existing malaise towards a viable political strategy. How? There's not one formula for everyone. We have to know where we are. In the Basque Country it will be different than in Andalusia or Galicia or Madrid.

In Catalonia we should take advantage of this momentum of struggle for independence, which on the other hand is a classic momentum. When there's an increase in social malaise, then that deviates towards nationalist demands. This has happened throughout history, and the most recent case we have is the German reunification. Tired of years of Communist regime, hearing them talk about "the people" without the real people having a voice or vote, the people of East Germany went into the street crying "Wir sind das folk" ("We are the people") and not the Politburo. Faced with this wave of demands that had the potential to create a real social state in East Germany, faced with the threat this meant towards the sleeping conscience and alienation of the capitalist part, Helmut Kohl was sufficiently skillful to steer this "Wir sind das folk" towards "Wir sind ein folk" ("we are one people"). Thus it was said that East Germany's cry was for reunification. And so a new argument began -- let's privatize everything because what matters is that "we go back to being all together." And here the price to pay was the privatization of all public properties in East Germany that after having been managed by a central committee had begun to be self-managed in an alternative way. Everything was interrupted to achieve that "finally we Germans can get back together again, heal our historical wounds, our secular humiliation, etc..."

Something like that could happen in Catalonia. There are people who are for independence and strengthening nationalism, leaving the social issue for later, but we, on the other hand, support strengthening a constitutional process that works clearly for a new economic, political, and social order. We can't allow the national issue and the social issue to be separated.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"The institutional Church shouldn't advertise itself": An interview with Teresa Forcades (I)

By Cristianisme i Justícia
April 2, 2014

Interview by Xavier Casanovas, Oscar Mateos, Santi Torres and Nani Vall-llossera.

Procés Constituent (Constituent Process) is one of various movements and platforms that have emerged in recent years in Spain, following the enormous upheaval that marked the 15M Movement and the so-called Spanish Revolution. It has a membership of about 50,000 people and dozens of local assemblies and sector working groups. Among its demands is the opening of a constitutional process in Catalonia that would culminate in the replacement of the current economic, institutional, and political model. Perhaps what causes surprise and breaks stereotypes the most is that one of its promoters wears the Benedictine habit and continually strews multiple biblical and theological references in her meetings and speeches. She is Teresa Forcades, a Benedictine nun from the Monastery of Sant Benet de Montserrat, who was characterized in an extensive report that the BBC devoted to her as intellectual, leftist, separatist, revolutionary and anti-capitalist. Teresa also has PhDs in Public Health from the University of Barcelona and Theology from the Faculty of Theology of Catalonia. Restless and searching, she currently combines her dedication to politics and Procés with teaching at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Humboldt in Berlin. She wrote for Cristianisme i Justícia Los crímenes de las grandes compañías farmaceúticas ("Crimes and Abuses of the Pharmaceutical Industry" -- no. 141, 2006). We have come to her to ask about her commitment and her view of the current political times.

The first question is obligatory. What has led a contemplative nun to political commitment and to leading a democratic radical protest movement like Procés Constituent?

I read the gospels for the first time at 15, and around that same time a Jesuit lent me my first theology book, Jesus Christ Liberator by Leonardo Boff. In my family and environment, little about Christianity had been explained to me. There was no animosity but the view was that it was an outdated structure of no interest. And, on the other hand, I suddenly found myself with people who were committed not only in theory but in practice, to tending to the poor, to those who were suffering the most. So the experience of God was presented to me not as something abstract, but identified with the relationship you have with the most vulnerable people in your community. Without implying that to serve the Gospel one has to be active in a party, for me it's obvious that the political dimension is an essential component of how I've understood the Gospel from the beginning. That said, my current political commitment stems from a proposal certain people from the social movements made to me to put my credibility at the service of a project for a peaceful and democratic rupture. After discerning with my community, I got in.

At the level of Christian communities, religious ones, and the institutional Church, the assistance aspect, especially at times of crisis, seems obvious. How do we regain or stir up the more clearly political aspect?

Under current circumstances, I wouldn't encourage anyone to get into politics, unless it's to promote a rupture. I don't think the intuition of Christians who would rather "give a pack of rice" than "tie themselves to a political party" is so bad, since the current framework aborts any attempt to change, however good and laudable your intentions may be. That's why from movements like Procés Constituent we are pushing a program of rupture -- we need to dismantle the current system and organize so that the necessary conditions for a dignified exercise of political action are achieved.

On the other hand, the Church at the hierarchical level -- and especially in the case of Spain -- is making policy, lots of policies...

But what policy? A policy of collusion with power and protecting the interests of the institutional Church itself, a policy of defending ideological interests that I believe are not gospel ones. The institutional Church shouldn't be protecting itself, it shouldn't advertise itself, it shouldn't be self-referential but must always be energized by the mission, and the mission is the kerygma -- proclaiming the Good News to the poor.

In fact, that theme is key in Pope Francis' recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelium Gaudium. Could this new pontificate help the recovery of the political dimension of faith?

In a review I did of the Exhortation, I said that this pope is moving from dogma to kerygma. That doesn't mean he's forgetting the dogma, but that instead of thinking of faith formulations that encapsulate the message, he's focusing on the proclamation of the Good News. Kerygma comes from kerysso, and we find it in Luke 4 where they give Jesus the Isaiah reading in the synagogue and it says, "The Spirit of God rests upon me because I have come to proclaim Good News to the poor and proclaim liberty to the captives." This "proclaim" is kerysso, so kerygma is the focus of the Gospel. The Pope is doing nothing but moving from dogma to kerygma and from magisterium to mystagogy -- how to help, how to seduce, how to invite people to have their eyes open to the transcendent dimension in personal and community life.

So might we speak of a certain inevitability of the political dimension for believers?

Yes, in this sense of a link with poverty, of understanding that the heart itself of a God who is love cannot fail to be present where suffering is greatest. It's our job therefore to be concerned and find ways to organize ourselves collectively to protect the weak -- that should be the basis of the law. I who have an anarchist streak would prefer for everyone to do what they want. When? Always! Up to what limit? No limits! But reality is different, and when this liberty without law is the rule, abuse of power starts to appear. I'll try to explain it briefly...

Go ahead. We have time...

The ideal of human life seems to be that we would all have the same qualities, but that's precisely the capitalist ideal -- only when we have the same can we be the same. I don't believe that's the Christian ideal. The parable of the talents that still disconcerts us today explains that the Lord of the vineyard gives 10 to one, 5 to another, and 1 to the third one. We start out badly and we sense it will end badly. But the presupposition of the parable is that the fact of beginning with 10, 5, and 1 is intrinsic to God's plan, because what it means to love is demonstrated and experienced when there's this power differential, or rather when, being that there's this power differential, the relationship isn't one of abuse of power. It's exactly what God does with us -- being able to invade and trample on you, I retreat and give you space. That's fabulous. If that isn't love, then what is? That's the Jewish Kabbalists' notion of tsimtsum that Simone Weil and others wrote about in the 20th century, the act of creation as an act of retraction, like an act of saying "so that you can be, I'll make room for you." Or the Christian concept of perichoresis with respect to the Trinity -- giving space. When you leave a person space, that's loving that person. You give them air and if someone does that with you, it's because they love you.

One thing that worries many Christians is consistency in political mediation. For example, I might feel close to some rupturist parties but on the other hand, their positions on certain issues, their way of expressing themselves, violence, anticlericalism, or aversion to religion in society...stall or retract the willingness to get involved. In sum, I want to get involved but there's no party or mediation in which one can be consistent.

Well, here we get into the subject of realism. So either we put together something new in which we feel completely comfortable -- which is difficult -- or we support the lesser evil, a concept that's also present in church social doctrine and teaching. The lesser evil not as ideal but as a way of getting out of paralysis and inertia. This happens too in couples and in religious communities. You enter a community and can spend years asking yourself how, instead of proclaiming the gospel, we're focusing on little domestic arguments. Until one day you become aware of the commandment that's engraved on your ring -- "Love one another as I have loved you", Jesus' commandment. And you find out that you've come here to learn to love, and that you can do this even under adverse circumstances. We have come to bear witness to love in real circumstances, not in ideal circumstances.

But in this realism, can't we end up giving up too many things?

It's something that's easy to understand. My mind thinks "to be able to begin, I need A, B, C but since I don't have them, I'll wait," but you can spend your whole life like that. On the other hand, the gospel inspires something new -- although you don't have A, or B, or C, you can do it, in fact you can even do it from the Cross, without having anything or stripped of everything. In fact, we Christians say and believe that on the cross, Jesus performed the most important act and he didn't have anything.

I should run the risk of making mistakes, because it's getting wet that I make mistakes. Even if you have no guarantee, go ahead! Also, what does it mean to have guarantees? We must face increasingly the radical nature of human freedom. We must learn to make decisions constantly, and we don't make them in an ideal world but in the real world, where the things that are possible are not the ones you would like. You are the one who chooses -- getting involved and making changes within those conditions, or waiting forever.

There's also the issue of freedom of conscience and opinion, especially when, like you, one belongs to a religious order.

Every time they ask me about any subject, be it abortion, women in the Church, etc., I try to say what I think. I can't say what I don't believe. It's impossible. Whether I have the truth is another issue, and in fact, I never say I have the truth, because stating that would be ridiculous. But no one -- not the Church or Procés Constituent -- can force me to say something I don't believe. That was the argument with my bishop. He acknowledged that "obviously, I can't make you say something you don't believe." What the Church can do is force me to shut up. That hasn't happened yet but if it happens, I'll see what I'll do because my words aren't so essential for the world either! Making me be quiet I could accept, but making me say something I don't believe? No way. It's very obvious, but that's how it is. Without intellectual integrity, the gospel message can't move forward and the Church should be very aware of that and be the greatest defender of that personal integrity and freedom.

It's hard to hear this kind of freedom spoken about in our context.

Personal freedom is the only possible locus theologicus. Without freedom, God can't create anything. And notice that I'm not just talking about freedom of choice since that still isn't freedom. It's the Augustinian issue of free will -- I can choose between right and left and therefore I'm already free. No! To be free I must be able to choose -- it's obvious -- but the fact that you can choose is still not freedom. Freedom is choosing well. And what does choosing well mean? Choosing without fear. I have the ability to choose -- I can choose to do something or not do it -- but sometimes I choose not to do it because I'm afraid. So I exercise my power of choice, but I'm not being free. Or I can choose between two things and I choose one to look good. I'm exercising my power of choice but I'm not being free. I'm only free when I choose well. Deuteronomy explains it very clearly: You can choose life or death. To live loving is to choose life. If instead you choose to live hating, you die and kill. The existential tessitura of the individual is this. Freedom is real, but you are not a being created without an image -- you are made in the image of God that is foundational. If you go against goodness, you go against yourself. If you violate another's freedom, you die...You are only free when you act out of love, because you only stop acting out of love when you're afraid.

Fear grips us...

One is only fulfilled when one acts fearlessly. In fact, I think everyone has experienced it at some time -- when you aren't afraid, what you do is an act of love. We only stop doing acts of love towards whomever because of fear -- fear of being ridiculed, fear of losing a privilege, fear that they'll hurt us, fear of wasting time, big fears and sometimes small fears too. But the only reason we stop doing acts of love always and constantly is fear, and therefore, how can those acts be free? What we do out of fear are always acts of slavery -- the only free act is the act of love, which everyone makes concrete in their way. When you act freely, you accomplish an act of love, and that is precisely being free.

Finally, let's come back again to Pope Francis. [Spanish theologian Fr. José Ignacio] González Faus is always recommending that we tone down the papal euphoria.

I agree. That's my opinion too. Change comes from the bottom to the top, and that's how it will happen in the Church too. Someone will say, but what about John XXIII? Well, John XXIII allied himself with a great multitude that for years had been working for those changes to take place -- the nouvelle theologie people, the liturgical reform ones, the biblical reform ones...Throughout the whole 20th century, there were theologians and non-theologians, Catholic Action activists, groups, movements...who were working hard and against the tide to update the very outdated "old regime" Church structures. And in the end, after all this grassroots movement, it's true, there was a pope who agreed with them. But the power came from below.

However, does this grassroots movement currently exist? It seems rather that it's the Pope who's going against the tide...

There have been and are a growing series of grassroots movements that have created the conditions for this reform to be possible, after years of involution since Vatican II. The agent of change is in the grassroots. You can't trust in reform from above. For example, on the subject of women which is key for me. I've already heard the Pope say "no" to the women cardinals proposal, a decision I thought he would make since there aren't any theological arguments against it or any previous papal statements as in the case of priestly ordination. He had a petition on his table from European theologians which I also signed. In the past, there have been lay cardinals, because the cardinalate isn't joined to ordination. I thought that on this point a possibility of change, a possibility of access to a decisionmaking position in Catholic Church governance that wasn't linked to ordination, might open up.

But maybe the grassroots weren't prepared for those changes either?

Yes, it's true. In my community there are many sisters who can't hear talk of women's ordination. There's a lot of historical inertia, but we should go on taking steps to change those sensibilities. It's what we're trying to put into practice as well in the Procés Constituent -- if the base says no, it will be no, and there's a need to continue to work so that in the future change might be possible...

But something is moving however...

It's obvious the language has changed -- we'll see...I'm also very pleased with the synodal survey on the family since it puts on the table problems that up to now the bishops have preferred to deny. Now they have to know how many people in their diocese are in irregular unions and if there are children of homosexual couples who are asking to be baptized. A bishop should know all this, because the fact of knowing it in itself may put some bishops in touch with a reality that they had preferred to ignore. However, I would emphasize the issue of euphoria...It happens at the political level too. It happened with Chávez -- now we have the leader! But it's not in a change of leaders that deep change plays out, but in claiming a political role, a personal role, empowerment...That's the only thing that's revolutionary in the long haul. The other is changing one structure for another, one leader for another, and that doesn't help anything. We should, then, be careful about papolatry.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nothing could stop him

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
April 13, 2014

Matthew 26:14-27:66

The execution of John the Baptist was not something casual. According to a widespread belief among the Jewish people, the fate that awaits the prophet is misunderstanding, rejection and, in many cases, death. Jesus probably counted on the possibility of a violent end very early on. Jesus was not a suicide nor was he seeking martyrdom. He never wanted suffering for himself or for anyone. He dedicated his life to fighting it in disease, injustice, marginalization and hopelessness. He was committed to "seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness" -- that more decent and happier world for all that his Father sought.

If he accepted persecution and martyrdom, it was because of faithfulness to this plan of God who doesn't want to see His sons and daughters suffer. Therefore, he doesn't run towards death, but neither does he hold back. He doesn't flee before the threats, nor does he modify or soften his message.

It would have been easy for him to avoid execution. He would just have to shut up and not insist on what could be irritating in the temple or the palace of the Roman prefect. He didn't do it. He followed his path. He would rather be executed than betray his conscience and be unfaithful to the plan of God, his Father.

He learned to live in a climate of uncertainty, conflicts and accusations. Day by day he reaffirmed his mission and continued proclaiming his message clearly. He dared to spread it not only in the far removed villages of Galilee, but in the dangerous environment of the temple. Nothing stopped him.

He will die faithful to the God in whom he has always trusted. He will continue to welcome everyone, including sinners and undesirables. If they end up rejecting him, he will die as an "excluded person" but with his death he will confirm what his whole life has been -- total trust in a God who doesn't reject or exclude anyone from His forgiveness.

He will go on seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, identifying with the poorest and most despised. If some day he is executed and tortured on the cross, reserved for slaves, he will die like the poorest and most despised one, but through his death he will seal forever his faith in a God who wants the salvation of human beings from all that enslaves them.

We followers of Jesus discover the ultimate Mystery of reality, incarnated in his love and extreme commitment to human beings. In the love of this crucified man is God himself, identified with all who suffer, crying out against every injustice and forgiving the executioners of all time. One can believe or not believe in this God, but it's not possible to make fun of Him. We Christians trust in Him. Nothing will stop His efforts to save His children.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sacrament or publicity stunt?

Progressive Catholics all over the world fell in love with this picture of an elderly Argentine priest, Fr. Carlos Varas, baptizing little Umma Azul, the daughter of a married lesbian couple, Soledad Ortiz and Karina Villarroel, in the grandiose setting of the Cordoba Cathedral, a moment the two then sealed with a subversive kiss. Moreover, the use of the cathedral for the baptism had been approved by the Archbishop himself, Mons. Carlos Ñañez.

Serious Catholics, however, should read more deeply and take this event with a huge grain of salt. Ortiz and Villarroel are far from the most suitable poster children for gay Catholic families. First, Villaroel, a police sergeant, has candidly admitted to various media outlets that she and the baby's biological mother, Ortiz, a hairdresser, are "not practicing Catholics." Despite this, she claims that having their child baptized is important to them. But baptism is not about making a statement; it's a commitment on the part of the parents and godparents to raise that child in the Catholic faith. We can only hope that down the line we will be seeing Umma Azul's First Communion and her Confirmation, and that her parents will find a parish where they feel comfortable and attend Mass regularly.

This baptism became front page news primarily because the couple chose Argentina's president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to be the girl's godmother. And, again, they were explicit that they chose the president to show their gratitude to her for promoting the country's marriage equality law. They had hoped that Fernández herself would attend the baptism but instead the president sent her naval aide-de-camp, Claudia Fenocchio, to represent her at the event. But godparents are to be chosen because they are Catholics in good standing who can help the parents raise the child in the faith, not for political or material reasons. An additional unnamed couple who are friends of the couple also served as godparents after the archbishop told the priest to instruct the couple to find someone who would realistically aid in their child's religious education. Another red flag.

The baptism was immediately hyped worldwide with gay Catholic support groups such as New Ways Ministry claiming to see the influence of Pope Francis' more pastoral approach to homosexuals in the Archbishop's decision. These groups need to step back and hold their applause. This is the same Archbishop Ñañez who, in 2010, initiated the process that ended in 2013 with Fr. Nicolas Alessio's formal dismissal from the clerical state. Fr. Alessio's crime? Publicly supporting marriage equality while the Catholic Church in Argentina was aggressively campaigning against it.

And Fr. Alessio, interviewed by Telam, takes a much less rosy view of this baptism/publicity stunt. "First of all, I want to clarify that the archbishop (Carlos Ñañez) didn't 'authorize' this baptism, because it's a sacrament that's denied to no one. It's not some benevolent act." Mons. Ñañez said the same thing in remarks to the Catholic news agency, AICA, in which he lamented the media's exploitation of the event and stressed that the case of the little girl was "like that of any other person seeking baptism. The girl is the one who will be receiving baptism. It's her right."

Alessio said that the baptism "did not mean any change whatsoever on the part of the Church, but it's a proselytizing gesture to regain believers, but the underlying issue hasn't changed. It's just a change in strategy." He also added that this is not the first case of the child of a same-sex couple being baptized since he himself had performed two such baptisms, although without the high visibility. So while it's tempting to look at this cute couple and their sweet little daughter receiving her first sacrament and think it means change has come, real equality in the Roman Catholic Church is still a long way off.

For the record, Archbishop Ñañez also denied rumors that he had given authorization for the couple to be confirmed in the Church, much less married, as some media accounts have suggested the couple's next demand might be. He said he did not talk to them personally but that they "came here and, without speaking to me, and with precise instructions were sent on their way to a parish where they had to meet the necessary requirements for baptismal preparation. Her mother and the elected godparents. That's all."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Iglesia Descalza takes a break...

Starting tomorrow, we will be going on vacation out of the country and taking a break until April 7th. God bless all readers. When we return -- sneak preview -- a translation of theologian Consuelo Velez's perspective on "Evangelii Gaudium"...

Fr. John Shea repeats call for explanation of Church's opposition to women's ordination

Back in 2012, Fr. John Shea, O.S.A., an Augustinian priest and theologian, wrote an open letter to Boston Archbishop Sean Cardinal O'Malley, detailing his crusade for women's ordination and asking the archbishop simply to provide an explanation of the Church's position on the issue. In his letter, which was published in the Boston College student newspaper, The Heights, Fr. Shea explained how he began calling regularly for a discussion of the topic at provincial chapter meetings of his order in 1986. In 2010, Shea, who was ordained in 1967, says he "wrote to Father Robert Prevost, O.S.A. in Rome, the Prior General of the Augustinian Order, asking 'that I be officially recognized as stepping aside from the public exercise of priesthood until women are ordained as priests in our church.'" Receiving no satisfactory response, Shea wrote to Archbishop O'Malley, his Provincial, the Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College where he was teaching and his department chairman, informing them that he "was stepping aside from active ministry as a priest until women are ordained."

The 2012 open letter earned Shea a response, although probably not the one he wished. Boston College decided not to renew the contract of the theologian and pastoral care expert, who had been teaching there for nearly a decade. Shea says he has also received two canonical warnings from his Provincial for expressing his concerns about this issue. However, the author of Finding God Again: Spirituality for Adults (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005) remains undeterred in his quest for a credible theological explanation for the Church's exclusion of women from Holy Orders. Below is Fr. Shea's latest open letter to Cardinal O'Malley:

The Beginning of Lent, 2014

Dear Cardinal O'Malley,

I am writing to you and to all the ordinaries of the dioceses in the United States to ask you and your fellow bishops in your role as teachers to provide a clear and credible theological explanation of why women are not being ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. I write not to challenge the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on women's ordination. Rather, my concern is the theological explanation of this teaching-- theology being, as Anselm said, "faith seeking understanding."

Two years ago, I wrote to all of you with the same request. At that time, I was teaching in the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. The teaching on women's ordination was extremely important for many of the students--women, of course, but men as well--and a number of them were simply leaving the church because the theological explanation that was offered made no sense to them. Before my letter, I had already stepped aside from active ministry as a priest until women are ordained. After my letter, Jesuit-run Boston College terminated me as a professor. My provincial, with the urging of several archbishops, has given me two "canonical warnings" threatening me with being "punished with a just penalty" for voicing my concerns.

In case you are wondering who is writing to you, I am an Augustinian priest, solemnly professed for over 50 years. Before serving at Boston College (2003-2012), as Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Care and Counseling and Dual Degree Director (MA/MA and MA/MSW), I taught in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University (1981-2002). My areas of expertise are in pastoral care and counseling (Fellow, American Association of Pastoral Counselors) and the psychology of religious development (Ph.D., Psychology of Religion), areas that today would be considered practical theology. I also have graduate degrees in theology, philosophy, pastoral counseling, and social work.

I mention this background because as a practical theologian I too have questions about the theological explanation of why women are not ordained. In all of my study, in all of my training, in all of my counseling experience, and in all of my years of teaching I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are not fully able to provide pastoral care. Likewise, I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are deficient in religious development or maturity. From the perspective of practical theology-- a theology of the living church, a theology that takes experience seriously--I find absolutely nothing that does not support the ordination of women to priesthood.

It seems that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the document on the ordination of women that the Vatican and the bishops keep pointing to, is actually an historical explanation of the issue. It looks back at what it we think Jesus was doing in appointing the 12 Apostles. An historical explanation, however, raises a number of questions. Was commissioning the 12 a unique event? Did Jesus mean to ordain the way we understand ordination today? Was it the intent of Jesus to inaugurate ministry only males could carry out? Did he ever say this? Was Jesus only doing what he thought would work best in the patriarchal culture of his day? What was it about the religious role of the scribes and the Pharisees--all of whom were male--that so incensed Jesus? Was Jesus patriarchal? Did he see women as inferior to men? Did Jesus envision women in ministry? Finally, what about the history of ordination in the last two thousand years, an amazingly checkered history that clearly includes women?

The problem with historical explanations is that they suffer from an incomplete logic. They cannot complete the circle. On their own, they cannot say that "what was" also "had to be." On their own, they cannot say that this particular event must have this particular meaning. History necessarily involves interpretation. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, for example, gives a paradigmatic meaning to the commissioning of the 12 Apostles. Could not another perfectly logical interpretation of the meaning of that event be that a number of patriarchal men--then and now--were and are dead set against women having any authority over them?

If history is not a good proof, it does have many valid uses. A very brief look at the history of slavery, the history of racism/religious intolerance, and the history of women's inferiority in the church is helpful in challenging our tendencies to absolutize as well as in chastening some our hallowed self-evaluations. Each of these three issues is about what makes us equal and fully human. Each is the cause of incredible violence-- often in the name of God--violence that is beyond all telling.

  • Slavery--That men, women, and children would become slaves either by conquest, retribution, or inferiority was seen as something almost "natural." Strangely, Jesus and St. Paul did not seem to have had a lot of problems with it. For centuries the permissibility of slavery was seen as part of "the ordinary infallible teaching" of the church. Over time, however, and in conjunction with racism and religious intolerance, the thinking in the church changed dramatically. Now, the inherent evil of slavery is part of "the ordinary infallible teaching" of the church.

  • Racism/Religious Intolerance--Jews came to be seen as "perfidious" and were severely persecuted. Muslims were "infidels" and had crusades led against them by the popes. It is fair to say that for centuries the inferiority of Jews and Muslims was part of "the ordinary infallible teaching" of the church. Later, with the colonization of the Americas and then of Africa, the question was whether or not these native peoples were really human beings with souls like those of European males. It took a long time with immense suffering, but eventually the utter abhorrence of racism and religious intolerance became part of "the ordinary infallible teaching" of the church.

  • The Inferiority of Women--Women's inferiority was seen as "natural" by the cultures that cradled Christianity. In our history, this inferiority was generously reinforced by the teachings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. These two wonderful theologians-- arguably the two most influential in the West--not only questioned whether women had valid souls, but they outdid each other in describing women in the most vile and profoundly dehumanizing ways. No thinking in the church is more virulent and intractable than the patriarchal strain that so disrespects women. When the Vatican reasoned in the 1970s and 1980s that women could not be ordained because "they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus," it was affirming an "ordinary infallible teaching" with roots incredibly deep in the substrate of our church.

A theological explanation weighs any issue against the core of the Christian message. It obviously takes historical events and their interpretations into account, but the focus is on those understandings of the Christian faith so central that our Christian identity and the very meaning of the faith are at stake. In their ordinary infallible teaching that women cannot be ordained in the church because "they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus," the Vatican and the bishops were offering a muchneeded theological explanation of the issue. It was an explanation meant to complete the circle, an explanation meant to settle the question of women's ordination in terms of Christian identity.

Unfortunately, this teaching that "women are not fully in the likeness of Jesus"--qualifying, as it does, as a theological explanation --is utterly and demonstrably heretical. This teaching says that women are not fully redeemed by Jesus. This teaching says that women are not made whole by the saving favor of our God. This teaching says that the "catholic" church is only truly "catholic" for males. In time, many Vatican officials and bishops rejected the ordinary infallible teaching they had just affirmed. Now they say: "Of course, women are fully in the likeness of Jesus in the church." Respectful words to be sure, but are they real?

We revere Jesus as priest, as prophet, and as ruler. If "women are fully in the likeness of Jesus" in our church, they fully share in the priesthood of Jesus--but in fact women are completely excluded from the priesthood of Jesus. If "women are fully in the likeness of Jesus" in our church, they speak for God as Jesus did--but women are completely without voice in the church; as if they were children they cannot read the Gospel at the liturgy and are forbidden to preach the Word. If "women are fully in the likeness of Jesus" in our church, then they fully share in the formal authority of our church--but women, solely because they are women, are completely barred from church authority.

As a bishop, how long will you champion the inferiority of women in the church? How long will your teaching on women be an obvious and eye-popping contradiction? How long will your demeaning patriarchal stance violate women's human and religious equality in God's name?

Two more years have come and gone. The priests are voiceless. The academic theologians are nice and safe. The bishops make statements but do nothing that would be recognized as engaged teaching. The adults--desperate for something that respects their intelligence--leave the church in droves. How many serious people, young and old, have given up on ever finding a theological explanation of women barred from priesthood--an explanation not hopelessly patriarchal and sexist, not serving inequality and subservience, not aiding and abetting violence?

Again, it is the beginning of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, a time of for all of us in the church to be mindful of how we are in our caring and in our justice. Cardinal O'Malley, is providing a credible, non-heretical theological explanation of why women are not ordained in the church something you can do as part of your teaching responsibility as a bishop, as part of your caring and your justice?


John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sr. Teresa Forcades at Red Emma's

I was unable to attend this event but RCWP Janice Sevre-Duszynska did and filed this story with National Catholic Reporter. The photo of Sr. Teresa Forcades with Dr. Vicente Navarro, public health professor at Johns Hopkins University who introduced her, comes from Psalmboxkey's Blog which also covered the event and promises videoclips later.

The image that surfaces when Sr. Teresa Forcades speaks is evocative of spiraling energy, bubbling in spirit, and of being on the ground with the needs of the people of God.

Forcades -- a Benedictine nun, activist, feminist theologian and physician from Catalonia in Spain -- and Francis -- a Jesuit pope from Argentina -- share a kindred vision of empowering the poor through nonviolence. Both understand the relationship between capitalism and poverty. Francis has denounced the "idolatry of money" and implored world leaders to assure all people "dignified work, education and healthcare." In a way, Forcades takes it further by advocating that the state must be challenged from the bottom up. The people must be the agents of change.

"When I talk about church, we talk about how the Gospel inspired us. There are many kinds of church, and I identify with the people at the bottom, at the base. Many people have a hope that the Catholic church might change because of the pope, but if you look at history, change comes from bottom up, not from top down," Forcades said to a room overflowing with "local radical activists" invited to her March 18 talk at Baltimore's Red Emma's, a bookstore coffeehouse...

Full text of article in National Catholic Reporter.