Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Teresa Forcades denounces the Church's "connivance with power, structural misogyny, and clericalism"

by C. Doody/Agencias (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
April 18, 2017

"The connivance with power, structural misogyny, and clericalism." These are the three evils that afflict the Church today, according to theologian, Benedictine nun, and medical doctor Teresa Forcades in a new book. The three are contrary to the Gospel and she is demanding that the hierarchy acknowledge and confront them now, "with the due diligence and consistency" that the people of God are demanding.

Forcades, who requested exclaustration until August 2018 to devote herself to Catalan politics, has just published the book Els reptes del Papa Francesc ("The challenges of Pope Francis",Viena Ed., 2017 -- in Catalan), in which she describes and comments on the challenges the pontiff will have to face to achieve the renewal and modernization of the Church.

"The challenges that the Church is facing at the present moment include, among others, the manipulation of the human factor in democratic societies and religious persecution in the non-democratic ones," the nun, a supporter of fundamental reform of Church doctrine on matters such as women's participation, abortion, and church hierarchy, states in her book.

"This book deals with the necessary church renewal," states Forcades, who denounces what she deems to be "serious inconsistencies," "internal and unjust inconsistencies."

According to the author, the book is a "tribute" to those who are struggling within the Church for its reform.

"Internal criticism, in and out of the Church, has never been an easy task," the nun, who isn't wearing a habit now, acknowledges.

For Forcades, "after the openness and accelerated aggiornamento ('updating') that the 2nd Vatican Council (1962-1965) represented for a Church that had practically rejected modernity and turned its back on it, we've experienced almost half a century of resistance to the Council, of reinterpretation of its basic insights, conservatism, increasing centralism and institutional control, and putting on the brakes."

"The Latin American liberation theologians, men and women, are the ones who have suffered most from the consequences of this involution and are those who have contributed most to overcoming the connivance with power and who've stood up for a true 'Church of the poor'," Forcades argues.

"We women, and women religious in particular, are the ones who have suffered most directly from misogyny and we are fighting against it. And all of us faithful are suffering directly from the clericalism and there are also organized groups of laypeople and priests working to overcome it," she asserts.

The book is structured in three parts and a conclusion. The first part offers a brief panorama of the current situation in the Roman Catholic Church and the expectations opened by Pope Francis. The second exposes Forcades' theoretical assumptions when addressing Church renewal. And the third analyzes the most active renewal movements within the Church today.

Among the groups the nun analyzes are the movement of Catholic women ordained as priests, the married priests' one, the group of divorced people within the Church, the Christian LGBTQ movements, and those that oppose the Vatican II reforms.

According to the Benedictine nun, the election of Pope Francis in 2013 opened a period of great expectations in which many Christian trusted that there would be a change of focus within the Catholic Church and that he would address the "conflict between doctrine and life experience that many Christians are suffering in the flesh."

"But it doesn't seem like this process is going to be as quick as many hoped it would be," she points out.

Forcades warns, however, that "the renewal of the Church, like that of society, has always been initiated from below, and in that sense there are many movements today that are seeking an answer in the Catholic Church to issues that challenge them very directly, because they put their spiritual experience and their personal lives in conflict."

Priestly celibacy, contraception and abortion, women's ordination, the Church's attitude towards divorced Catholics, its stance with respect to homosexual Catholics and the institution's attitude towards victims in pedophilia cases that have taken place in religious schools, are some of the challenges Forcades mentions.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ann Hidalgo on Liberation Liturgies

On April 13, 2017, Ann Hidalgo, a librarian at the Claremont School of Theology, gave the Emerging Scholars Lecture at Vanderbilt Divinity School on the theme "Estamos Aquí/We are Here: Denouncing Colonialist, Racist, and Sexist Theology Liturgically." Hidalgo combined her graduate degrees and interest in Theology and Musicology to discuss Mass settings and other forms of liturgical expression that have evolved in the Latin American liberation theology context. Her talk focused on the Misa Campesina Nicaragüense, the Misa Popular Salvadoreña (by Guillermo Cuéllar), the Rito de la Primavera: 21 de septiembre developed by the Chilean feminist theology group Con-spirando whose work Hidalgo had been studying for a chapter to be titled "A Transformative Journey of Ecofeminism: The Work of the Con-spirando Collective" in an upcoming book Ecofeminism in Dialogue, and the two Mass settings written by Brazilian bishop Pedro Casaldáliga, the Missa da Terra Sem Males (lyrics co-author Pedro Tierra / music by Martín Coplas) and the Missa dos Quilombos (lyrics co-author Pedro Tierra / music by Milton Nascimento).

 Ann Hidalgo is also author of "¡Ponte a nuestro lado! Be on our side! The Challenge of the Central American Liberation Theology Masses" published in Cláudio Carvalhaes's 2015 book Liturgy in Postcolonial Perspectives: Only One Is Holy. She also is part of the editorial team for Perspectivas, the journal of the Hispanic Theological Initiative, and Horizontes Decoloniales, a trilingual journal focusing on global political and religious discourses. Here is the video of Hidalgo's lecture:

Some links:

Monday, April 17, 2017

Consuelo Vélez: "The situation of women in the Church still hurts me, even with Francis"

by José Manuel Vidal (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
March 19, 2017

Consuelo Vélez defines herself as a Colombian theologian interested in contributing, as a layperson and a woman, a faith involvement with the reality we are experiencing, to energize a more and more inclusive, committed and solidary Church. A defender of women's rights, their situation in the Church hurts her, even with Francis, and she asks for their "full recognition."

We talked with her during the 1st Ibero-American Conference of Theology which was held in Boston approximately one month ago. In her brilliant lecture (see video below), she talked about the challenges of theology and exclusion. About geographical and existential peripheries.

Consuelo, how long have you been a professional theologian?

I did my doctorate in Brazil from '96 to '99 so since '99. It was the definitive platform for me to feel that I could write, speak, communicate, and teach. But since '87 I had already been teaching in the Faculty of Theology of Javeriana University. First, in the Theology courses that are given to the different students of other tracks there are at the University. Then, in what was called the Religious Studies track, where there were more women religious and lay people. And I used to give the odd class in the Faculty of Theology itself.

When I came back with the doctorate, many more doors were opened. In fact, I was named director of the Theology track, which was a total novelty, because I was a woman and a layperson.

Were you one of the first women theologians?

Yes, I was one of the first women theologians with "a doctorate in Theology" (maybe the 4th or 5th, I don't remember well.) What I was was the first woman director of the Theology track at Javeriana University. That was in the year 2000 until 2008. Nine years have passed and they just named another woman; she would be the second.

Why are there so few women theologians?

I don't think it's easy to study theology because, for a woman, then there's no clear field of work. In the faculties -- church or public -- traditionally priests are preferred in principle. And if the faculties are those of religious orders, priests from those orders are preferred.

There are also many women's religious orders, however those women don't have many theology outlets.

No, because traditionally, just as happens in Rome, nuns in Colombia would study Religious Studies in the afternoon. And in the morning one studied Theology, addressed to those who were going into the priesthood.

There's always been the odd nun and some laywomen, although very few. The Faculty of Theology has always been for the priests instead. It's not that the doors were closed but let's say that the primary interest in the life of the women religious was not being theologians but responding to their schools, their hospitals, their social works...

Studying Theology, which implies studying Philosophy first, is too much for the plans of religious communities. It's intended that the nuns have some theological training, and hence they do it in the Religious Studies track.

But also, underneath all this, there's something more structural.

When I was track director, I tried to motivate -- but I think I failed -- the women's religious orders to think about what the difference is between studying Religious Studies and Theology. That there shouldn't be this difference between the two disciplines and that they, who were devoted to evangelizing, should study Theology.

But there was a fundamental problem: women religious were not given as much time to study as the men, to study their Theology. The nuns were already doing enough with studying Religious Studies because in the morning they had to work in the school and in the afternoon they went to study. And at night, taking hours away from sleep, they did their homework.

I used to ask them why they couldn't be like the men who come to study in the morning, do their homework in the afternoon, and on the weekends maybe they do some apostolate. They answered that they didn't because they didn't want to live comfortably like the men. That life had to be of devotion, of service, etc. Something which is laudable but is also questionable.

I believe if you don't understand that studies are also an apostolate and a service to evangelization to do it well, horizons are cut back. And I think that behind it is also the image of the self-sacrificing woman who must give of herself until the last breath. And that if you don't say that, it seems like you're going against the Gospel, or women, or the role of generosity and self-giving that should characterize women.

But I think that while taking care that our lives be ones of devotion, following and faithfulness, we women have the right, like men, to have time to study and form ourselves, to work at being theologians.

I have to acknowledge that there are some nuns in Colombia who've studied Theology, like Carmiña Navia, Marta Inés Restrepo, some Dominicans...

They're minimal.

No, there aren't many.

And a sort of window-dressing? That is, structurally men have been there forever. And the nuns, well, they're nuns and they're devoted to service.

Really, when I was studying Theology, some professors would make fun even of the nuns who studied Religious Studies. Some priest, who taught that discipline, treated them poorly. It was contempt. Not from all but some, yes.

Yesterday you shook up the 1st Ibero-American Conference a bit with your theses on women. Does the situation of women in the Church, even with Francis, still hurt you?

Yes, I think for the Pope, at the moment, women's concerns are not his and, sometimes what he says is worse than what he doesn't say. Because improving women's situation isn't him saying, "Look, since the Virgin Mary is a women, you all stay calm." Or, "I'm now going to name more women for X commission or the other..."

That might happen and has to happen but the question is more fundamental: How do we free the Church (and the Pope has said this) from clericalism? To which should be added: and reach the full recognition of women's role in the heart of the Church.

At this event itself yesterday they were saying,"But look, we've invited ten women..." Like they were doing us a favor. It's already a lot, they made way for ten women...And I don't know if there are ten of us but let's say there are.

These phrases are the ones that have to go. The responsibility is to see what we'll do to enrich ourselves with different voices. And those distinct voices are those of women, of laypeople (men and women) and they're those of the poor. In this conference, I was thinking yesterday, we're talking a lot about the poor but we haven't invited them to hear from them first-hand.

Theology must be listening to the poor, talking with them and living with them. We were saying all that yesterday: how do we change the structures so that they're a little more open to those experiences. Then everyone, in their pastoral work, might possibly be very close to and friends with the poor. But there are doubts one has about what we do to change this mentality.

Until women's right to go up to the altar is granted, will you always be in second place? Is that the big goal? Or what is it?

No, I don't think it's the goal or the end point, although it might possibly pass through there. But I'm not interested at the moment in fighting or not fighting over this point.

For me the important thing is freeing ourselves from this clerical mentality and this link between ministerial priesthood and total authority, at all levels, in theological teaching and in Magisterial teaching, that is totally united. The word of laypeople, men and women, doesn't have authority. I think it should be recognized and that it doesn't necessarily come together with the priesthood.

That then we would get there, yes. But now it's not my primary fight because I don't want to contribute to clericalism although I would like there to be much more participation.

When I was track director, I wrote: "Let's hope this 'first woman director' stuff ends soon. But I finished my directorship in 2008 and we're in 2017. Nine years passed before a woman was named again. It's a lot. Not just in this track director position, but as director of postgraduate studies or anything else, because at the Faculty we have different positions...Nine years without another woman being in these decision-making spheres.

And why? Well because always, if there's a clergyman and a clergyman from the order, it seems he's more important. And I'm not talking about women here but men too.

But now, we women are a small step behind laymen because for better or for worse we're in a patriarchal society. And in a patriarchal society, men still have the word of authority while women still have the word of: "Oh, what a lovely contribution! How wonderful that you're giving us this feminine touch!" There's a little something there that never changes in the mentality.

And in the current mentality, that gap is a tremendous anti-testimony. The Church is one of the few institutions where there's still real practical and theoretical discrimination.

I believe it's an anti-testimony, that's why yesterday I talked about the law of positive quotas [affirmative action law]. And some always protest when I do because they think it's discrimination.

But it's positive discrimination.

It's positive discrimination and I think it should be a provisional law. While these laws are not taken into account, we aren't going to achieve equity. If I were the director of the Faculty or of some church body, I would try to give testimony. I would actively seek to, at least, to give testimony that the thing is more shared, that there are men and women at all levels.

Because there are women who are prepared, even in Theology, aren't there?

Yes. In our Faculty we're a small group, and in other Colombia faculties too. We're not many. Many women don't study Theology because there isn't a field of work, given that it's still a field reserved for men. Imagine how expensive it is -- because at the Javeriana University it's very expensive -- to then not have an outlet; it makes it hard for you to choose.

They've tried. The University has its aid and scholarship programs, and some women have been favored. The faculty doesn't discriminate when paying for the doctorate for women or men when we're professors. In that case no discrimination exists. That must be acknowledged. But let's say that another kind of scholarship that exists in this world is reserved for clerics. So to do a post-graduate in Theology -- you either have a lot of time and money or you don't do it.

This aid is also reserved for religious orders.

The religious orders, as I said before, do finance it sometimes, but then they don't give the nuns time to devote themselves to the Faculty because they always have things to attend to in their apostolates.

Are we paying for this dynamic? Are we paying for the fact of preaching outside what we aren't achieving within, in this specific case, with women?

I think so. You have to recognize that since the whole society is patriarchal, the people of God experience the same syndrome without realizing it. Only people like your daughters appreciate it, for example. Some young people remark about it.

In Spain, it's very common that there are "zipper" lists in the parties, woman-man-woman-man. There is positive discrimination.

In my country, it may be that some political parties are trying it. But let's say that we can say that among the people of God, in the Church, that doesn't exist. That's why it's still normal, for example, in the Eucharist, that faced with a woman minister of Communion and another male one, the people go to the man. And if there's a clergyman, they go to the clergyman.

As for the students, I think we're gaining more influence and they're beginning to esteem us more, and value us. In this sense, I'm in a time of harvest. There's now a student community that values you. But it hasn't been easy.

It's not that it's perfect and things are going super well. The fact of being a woman means they demand more from you, they criticize you more, and they're more capable of rebutting you strongly. There are students who wouldn't say the same thing to a priest professor as to a woman professor. That still exists. But at the Faculty, I think there's now a tradition of respect, even though the mentality is still a bit chauvinist.

Does this meeting show that Hispanics are now in style, including in the United States, and that somehow, they're beginning to show themselves at the theological level too?

I know that here, in Boston specifically, with this school of Theology and catechism, much importance has been given to Hispanics and publicizing Theology among them. But it's a first approach; I wouldn't say it's in style.

Mutual effort has been made so that the work that's been done here is publicized and that effort to connect with other realities now is a first step. A step in that we're getting to know one another.

In your opinion, are Hispanics still marginalized and undervalued in the United States, ecclesiastically?

I can't start talking about that reality because I don't know it.

Does Trump scare you?

Well, yes. It seems to me that the statements he's made from the beginning are to be feared because they come from a selfish rather than an open attitude. They're more about personal identity than about concern for the future of the world and the poorest.

He scares me, without knowing the dynamics of the United States from within but with no room for doubt. The messages, from my point of view, dismiss a greater humanism of collaboration between countries and a collaboration for the least. All these are realities that frighten me.

Is he likely to make us cry, and make Latin America, which is what they use to call "the backyard", cry?

Yes, it's possible. But as this world is so strange, one can't predict what will happen. Sometimes, in what seems like a winter that's going to end badly, suddenly something new arises, like when the Berlin Wall fell, like when we were talking about an ecclesial winter in the Church and suddenly spring emerges...And in politics, I hope that if this gentleman hardens certain measures, we countries that have been dependent on the United States, will be able to look away.

For example, if there's a United States colony in Latin America, it's Colombia. On account of the drug trafficking and armed conflict, we've been dependent on the United States to help us. An aid that's ambiguous, because it's aid in weapons that we buy from them. Now we're in a different time in Colombia, and hopefully this thing that seems frightening to us now, causes something else to spring up that surprises us.

On the other hand, the current political dynamic in Latin America specifically seems to be a return to more liberal regimes or governments.

That's the tragedy we're experiencing that one just can't understand.

The efforts for alternative governments to neoliberalism, from my point of view with a thousand faults but also with a lot of good things, aren't valued.

I'm talking about policies; I'm not talking about individuals. Because I see that people confuse the individual with the political programs. They tell you, "I don't like such and such a person as president..." But they don't say, "I don't like this or that policy."

They don't criticize the policy, or they criticize it when it affects the upper classes. So they don't value all those policies that have favored the poorest.

We are in this reality that in different ways, making alternative plans has been tried and there is resistance. That's the colonized mentality -- we're not even capable of positively assessing the efforts that have been made to counter this extreme neoliberalism. I think those countries have tried to value what is national, put in  measures to ensure that the internal is vindicated.

Something that not even the Church hierarchy itself has valued in many of those countries.

Yes, so it is. I'm not going to talk about the other countries because I'm Colombian. I'm going to refer to the peace process that is being carried out in Colombia, although it's not precisely what we were talking about.

Part of the Church supports it and still does. But at a crucial moment, such as the plebiscite, the Church, under apparent neutrality, didn't collaborate positively for it to come out ahead. And when we lost the plebiscite then the Church spoke and said that the plebiscite didn't have gender ideology...Gender ideology was one of the reasons why it lost. But not the only one. The Church said it afterwards, not before.

The question is why many times the Church as an institution, under the layer of neutrality, really supports what we traditionally call the right-wing side, keeping the status quo. Why isn't it able to risk valuing the positive things of what we call the left, change, transformation?

And this when the Vatican itself and the Pope himself are still involved in that process.

Yes, of course. And I think that the Colombian Bishops Conference, especially the president, has been a positive player in this peace process. The Church has designated a representative, Father Darío Echevarría, and many bishops have participated actively in peacebuilding and in the talks.

But even though there's been a presence, it isn't the forceful presence one would hope for the kind of realities we're experiencing. On the other hand, to demonstrate against gender ideology, they're there. Even -- and it's very amusing -- a photo came out in the newspaper of a bishop and the crowd that flooded the streets to protest. And so one doesn't understand why such a photo doesn't come out of some hierarchs with all the people to support the peace process, or to stand up for the rights of the poorest.

But yes there are voices in the Colombian hierarchical institutional Church too that have been engaged in the peace process.

Is the peace process irreversible? Is it going to culminate? Do you have hope that it will set once and for all?

I have hope, but here, we do have to have that historical patience, and assume in advance that many failures are going to happen along the way.

And if we talk about the media, they're selling us that everything bad that's happening now in the country is because of the guerrillas, the dissidents, and the failures in the peace processes.

But the good thing is that the guerrillas are arriving and the people are receiving them. That you can see buds of hope. And this doesn't happen through the larger media. We have the problem that there aren't any media that go with what's positive but they magnify the negative. The path, therefore, is arduous and difficult. It's having to assume many failures...

But I think that it is irreversible. And I'm betting that, even having to overcome many difficulties that are going to present, it will continue forward. Now we're hoping that talks will begin with the other guerrilla group, with the ELN, which I don't know if they started yesterday, February 7th.

Let's hope so. May God hear you. Thank you very much.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Due to the Catholic priest shortage, women stand at the altar in Portuguese churches

By Agence France Presse (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Nación
April 11, 2017

In some villages of southwest Portugal, the Catholic priest shortage had led several women, simple believers, to celebrate the Sunday encounter themselves to facilitate the religious life of these communities that are aging but open to change.

In the tiny church of Carrapatelo, a village of fifty houses set on a hill that looks out over the vineyards of the Reguengos de Monsaraz region, Claudia Rocha (photo), dressed in black with sneakers, addresses a dozen faithful, mostly older women.

While her leather jacket and smartphone are waiting for her in the first pew, the 31-year-old woman easily handles this "Sunday assembly in the absence of a priest."

After the prayers and the liturgical songs, she herself comments on the biblical readings of the day as any other priest would do.

At the end of the ceremony, she distributes communion like at Mass, the only difference being that the hosts she is giving out have been consecrated earlier by a priest and she doesn't drink the wine that represents the blood of Christ.

"If I weren't here today, this church would be closed. It matters little whether it's a woman, a deacon, or a priest. What counts is having someone who belongs to the community and keeps the ties with the priest, including when he's not there," she explains to AFP.

She's a divorced social worker without children. She is part of the group of 16 laypeople -- eight women and eight men -- chosen by Father Manuel José Marques to help him keep a regular church presence in the seven parishes he's in charge of.

"It might seem strange and new, but we haven't invented anything. This is a tool the Church has provided for a long time, for the cases where it's absolutely necessary," the 57-year-old priest points out.

In fact, other countries have such celebrations without an ordained minister, such as Germany, France, Switzerland or the United States, due to the lack of Catholic priests.

They first appeared in the 80's, but the Vatican and numerous clerics refuse to encourage them for fear of a trivialization of the Mass.

Father Manuel José, for his part, doesn't look at them askance. In Reguengos de Monsaraz, a place in the Alentejo region near the Spanish border, these kinds of Sunday assemblies, which have been celebrated for more than a decade, are necessary.

The faithful, between 24 and 65 years old, who help him voluntarily, "are people who have experience of faith and the encounter with Jesus, and they know how to talk about it," he says, specifying that "no distinction" is made between men and women.

Reliance on laywomen exists in other rural areas of Portugal, a country of ten million inhabitants of whom 88% are Catholic, according to Church estimates, and one that only has some 3,500 priests for 4,400 parishes.

Last August, Pope Francis created a study commission about the role of women deacons in the dawn of Christianity. And while he denied having "opened the way to women deacons," his initiative is perceived as a potentially historic gesture of openness on the role of women within the Church.

"It's a very delicate matter, but we made it simple. In this little village, we've taken the lead over the Vatican," says Claudia Rocha on leaving the church.

Showing a progressive spirit, Father Manuel José thinks "women would be very good priests and deacons." However he warns, "it's not the opinion of one priest or ten that makes theology." The parishioners, for their part, approve of the presence of a woman in the pulpit. "In the beginning we found it strange: 'A woman saying Mass?' But then we got used to it," explains Angélica Vital, a 78-year-old retired worker.

"And if priests are lacking, I think they should be able to get married...they're men just like the rest," she states with a mischievous smile.

Holy Week: Fear of the Gospel

by José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Teología Sin Censura Blog
April 9, 2017

One of the things that is clearest in the stories of the Lord's passion, of which the Church reminds us in these Holy Week days, is the fear of the Gospel. Yes, Jesus' life scares us. Because, after all, what does not admit any doubt is that this way of living -- if the gospels are the true recollection of what happened there -- led Jesus to end his days having to accept the most repugnant destiny a society can adjudicate: the fate of a executed criminal (G. Theissen).

Jesus' death was not a "religious sacrifice." Moreover, it can be asserted that Jesus' death, as told in the gospels, was opposed to what one might understand, in that culture, by a holy sacrifice. Any religious sacrifice, at that time, had to fulfill two conditions: it had to take place in the temple (in the sacred) and it had to be done in compliance with the norms of a religious ritual. Neither of these two conditions was met in the death of Jesus.

Moreover, Jesus was crucified not between two "thieves" but between two "lestaí", a Greek word we know was used to designate not just "bandits" (Mk 11:17 par; Jn 28:40) but also "political rebels" (Mk 15:27 par) as F. Josephus warns (H.W. Kuhn, X. Alegre). That's why it's understood that in his final and decisive hour Jesus was betrayed and abandoned by everyone -- the people, the disciples, the apostles ... The latter, as a religious, had the feelings of Jesus himself. And we know that his strongest sentiment was the awareness of being abandoned even by God (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34). Jesus' life happened in a way that ended like this: alone, helpless, abandoned.

What does all this tell us? Holy Week tells us, in the biblical texts we read these days, that Jesus came to put into question the reality in which we live. The violent, cruel reality, in which "the law of the strongest" is imposed against "the law of all the weak."

We know that Paul of Tarsus interpreted the mythical story of Adam's sin as the source and explanation of Jesus' death to redeem us from our sins (Rom 5:12-14; 2 Cor 5:12-14). It's the interpretation of preachers, who focus our attention on the salvation from heaven. That's good. But it has the danger of diverting our attention from the tragic reality we are experiencing. The reality of the violence suffered by the "nobodies", the corruption of those who rule and, above all, the silence of those who know these things and keep quiet so as not to lose their power, ranks and privileges.

The beauty, the fervor, the devotion of our sacred liturgies and our confraternities remind us of the passion of the Lord. But do they call into question the harsh reality that so many millions of human beings are living? Do they remind us of the life that led Jesus to his final failure? Or do they distract us with devotions, aesthetics and traditions that use the "memoria passionis" -- the "dangerous memory" of Jesus -- to have a good time in good conscience?

Friday, March 24, 2017

María Clara Bingemer: "This pope's theology isn't made in the sacristy, but gets down to the streets"

by José Manuel Vidal (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
March 20, 2017

"If women leave the Church, the Church will fall to pieces. We're the ones who support the Church." Brazilian theologian Maria Clara Bingemer has demonstrated beyond a doubt the truth of this statement of hers with her own professional career, from her chair at the Pontifical University of Rio de Janeiro and other positions at several North American universities. She spoke to RD during the 1st Ibero-American Conference of Theology in Boston about how she sees Francis' papacy as a committed theologian and woman.

We are at Boston College with Maria Clara Bingemer, who will participate in the First Ibero-American Conference of Theology. What do you expect from the meeting?

A lot, because it's been a long time since there's been a meeting of this size seeking, precisely during the pontificate of Pope Francis, the questions that he has raised and brought back. Pope Francis has again put the Latin America Church in the spotlight.

And it's an opportunity to dialogue with the historians who experienced the whole genesis of Medellín, of liberation theology, of the option for the poor ... All that painful process that happened, of difficulties with the Vatican. And it's an opportunity to have them together with Europeans and people from the north who are in tune with this theology. And the young, who are the hope of the future.

Are you trying with this, in some way, to help the Pope with his reforms?

Certainly it's a way of making everything that Francis is proposing go further and be amplified. Of spreading it in the Church.

And there's an important point that I hope we'll be able at least to start addressing here. There's a lot of work ahead, first of English-Spanish text translation, because the people of the English-speaking world, if the text isn't in English, they don't read it, and don't even know it exists.

Very good theologians, Latin American and even Spanish ones, aren't even cited. I know because I spent a lot of time in American universities looking for their works and I didn't find them because they weren't translated into English. The great thing that made liberation theology enter the United States was that Orbis translated an entire corpus into English. So I think we have to do this work, both in the north and in the south.

From a woman like Dorothy Day, who is in the process of canonization and who was the pioneer of what could be liberation theology in North America, there isn't even one of her works translated into Spanish or Portuguese. It's totally unknown. [Translator's Note: Actually Sal Terrae/Loyola has published a couple of Day's titles in Spanish, including La Larga Soledad (The Long Loneliness, 2000) and Panes y Peces (Loaves and Fishes, 2002)] We did a symposium on her at our university and the book has just come out [Fé, justiça e paz: o testemunho de Dorothy Day by Maria Clara Bingemer and Paulo Fernando Carneiro de Andrade, PUC-Rio and Paulinas, 2016]. And people marveled and didn't understand how they knew nothing of her.

The book, are you thinking of translating it into Spanish?

Her texts are what should be translated into Spanish, because Brazilians read it perfectly. I don't know if it happens the other way around.

We manage too.

That, on the one hand. On the other hand, we have to learn to make more agile publications. Blogs, short texts, interviews, videos of people who are thinking, because sometimes that gets there faster.

But for that, theologians are very reticent. You want to qualify everything; you run away from the headlines. The media is scary to many. I'm not generalizing, of course.

It's the result of the thirty years we lived under censorship and under surveillance. Everything a theologian might say can be used against them. You might lose your chair. But today is a different time.

Do you now notice that different time, this freedom?

Yes, I notice it. And I'm from the most conservative diocese in Brazil.

Which one?

Rio de Janeiro, which had Dom Eugenio Sales. You had to watch every whisper, because otherwise it might be interpreted as heresy. I made a video that the Paulines asked me for about the Holy Trinity and I had to go and talk with the auxiliary bishop. He said, "Why don't you talk about the Ingénito ["Unbegotten One"]?" I told him, "That's not language for a video." I thought, "People are going to believe it's a remedy."

I don't know, I tended to say the Father, not the Ingénito, because to speak in those terms ..., they were like crazy things. And of course, there was also a lot of self-censorship.

From Sales you went to Scherer.

Yes, Eusebio was more open. But today the air feels freer. It can no longer be said that the Pope is against it. You can cite it abundantly.

Has there been a change of tone?

Yes. Although I believe there are sectors in the Church that don't give much importance to what the Pope says. They continue in the previous pontificates. Precisely for this reason we must work to make this pontificate accessible.

Get in the dream car coming from Rome. But a lot of the hierarchy isn't getting in that car.

Yes. And they don't fight him; they just ignore him. There are some, not many, for whom the news was hard to swallow. And the four cardinals who fought openly.

Now we are looking at the University to hire new professors in the department. And admitting lay teachers is very difficult. When we remind them of what Pope Francis says, they don't listen to us much.

That is, there's old inertia that's hard to overcome.

Yes. But I think there's mobility on the whole. And people are becoming aware of the path Latin America made that was cut halfway along.

That is, Latin America is in fashion. Theology from the south, the Pope of the south.

Yes, it's in the forefront. And the good thing I'm seeing is that this pope's theology isn't made in the sacristy, but gets down to the streets. He talks about other subjects, his writings, Laudato si', Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia, are streetwise, as we say. They aren't made in a closed office, with five high up men legislating on the sexual relations of couples, which is absurd. You feel a different spirit. And I think we have responsibility towards this new situation. Not only to not let it die, but to make it grow.

You know the United States well. You've given classes here.

I've been here many times in the last ten years.

Hispanics, at the church level, how are they in the United States?

They're almost a majority numerically. But there are fairly conservative bastions, Hispanic ones as well. On the other hand, there is a large mass that fills the churches and is thirsting for ministry, for spirituality. And I think everything that is being organized here in Boston, in Chicago and elsewhere --Spanish-language theology courses -- is helping a lot for those Hispanics to become more active players in the church setting.

But this still isn't reflected at the hierarchy level, at future levels?

Not yet, but it will end up being so because there will be more Hispanic bishops, and more African-American bishops. We are in difficult times in the United States too.

Especially with Trump. What does Trump's coming into power mean for the Church in general and for the Church in the United States?

It's very complicated, because many bishops supported him when he declared himself pro-life. It's easy to say "I'm pro-life" when really I don't think it matters much to him. Here they're obsessed with things like abortion and they think that Hillary, since she's a feminist, was pro-abortion. I don't think she is. She has the view of Catholics for Choice. These things that are very American. And it seems to me, at least, that she is a better prepared, better qualified person.

That man, I don't understand how he managed to get so many votes. It's because of money issues. Talking with some Americans, for example the electrician, very American, very middle class, he told me he was going to vote for Trump. "But why?," I asked him. "Well, because I'm fed up with paying so many taxes, and the illegal immigrants don't pay them...," things like that. All because of money.

The Pope could become the other great world leader who might counterbalance this man.

He already is. He's a person who has input on all sides. He got the United States and Cuba back to talking. In the Middle East, he is listened to a lot. And in Europe. I think he's the positive figure, the positive leader in the world.

And can they slow him down?

No. That is, he has to know that he is going to get to a certain point. What they won't let him do, perhaps, is go further. But many things he can do. And his voice can be heard. And it is, in fact, because he speaks in various forums. He's not limited to the Church and talking about salvation and the Eucharist. He talks about that too, but he also talks about society, about the dictatorship of money, about poverty, about the excluded, about ecology.

Laudato Si' I think has been an influential element because the document is so good that it's respected by everyone. I read an interview with Edgar Morin, who's a French thinker, and he said it was the newest and most marvelous thing he'd seen.

But Trump's not that way.

But I don't know if Trump is going to become a world leader. He's president of the United States, and has that power. Obama was a leader. Trump is like George Bush, a fool who's sitting in the White House.

Are we going to a Star Wars scenario? The man of light and the man of darkness?

Yes, the two standards. A little like the two standards of St. Ignatius. He's a scary guy, who can shout, make edicts, and make life difficult for many people. Who's bringing suffering to the migrants, certainly.

About immigration, are the people now mobilizing against Trump?

It seemed that there was informal talk about that, but now, at the airports, I was impressed by how they checked the bags of those from the Middle East, of all those who seemed to be coming from Muslim countries.

We were greeted in Boston by a gentleman with a banner saying "Muslim = terrorist".

You see? In Europe it happens a bit too, but not so blatantly. In France, there's a lot of opposition to Arabs. I think the most.

Should the Latin American Church take a stand in CELAM, in its joint institutions, to fight against this?

I think it should be much more involved in the issue of migrants. I'm now gong back to Brazil, and on November 20th, I'll be in Rome with my husband, who works with the Scalabrinians, and they are doing a migration forum. A large forum, with many sessions. It's a congregation dedicated to that.

I think the issue of migration is one of the key issues today. I think we are living in a world with a new geography and there are people, even Trump, who are wanting to go back to ancient geography. This could harm many things that have been done, for example, the whole dream of the united Europe. This could ruin everything. Dividing again, changing the currencies ... It was a huge advance; Latin America was to have done something similar with Mercosur.

The "great homeland" the Pope talks about.

Sure. And this implies a new geography and a new vision of what the border is. We have just had a symposium in Rome, with the University of Notre Dame here, the University of Perugia, the French one and ours in Rio on "The Stranger," the challenge of the migrant. It seems very important to me.

That's why the Pope stresses this theme over and over again. It's one of his causes.

He deals with the issue of migrants himself. It shows how important it is to him.

We aren't so aware of that. In Latin America we don't have as serious a problem as in the United States or in Europe. It's a tragedy.

I saw something interesting on Facebook. There was a photo of an embryo on one side and on the other a girl with a life jacket, as if she were drowning. The question was whether one life counted and the other didn't. It's about human lives.

This dynamic that both lives count has been turned over at the church level. Up to now, the embryo was assessed greater.

But we're in the process of change. It's already on everyone's mind. The process is taking place.

Do you think that the process opened by Francis is going to set in? Does it have time to set in?

I trust a lot. First, that God will give him health for at least a few years. In this situation you need a couple more consistories to guarantee the succession a little. He doesn't have the number of electors yet.

But on the other hand, his election was something so surprising that I don't think we have the right to doubt the Holy Spirit. I must confess that when they announced his name, I didn't know about his history in Argentina, sometimes not very positive, that they were talking about. But later, when he greeted us with his impeccable theology, and gave the blessing, he conquered the whole world. I met him in Buenos Aires and he was very serious. He didn't smile. And now, he's joy walking.

His face changed.

It changed completely.

Does he think he has a special mission?

I think he had consolation without a precedent cause there, like a good Jesuit, he went ahead and that is what gives him strength. Because imagine everything, all the work, all the brickbats this man must have every day.

And at 80 years old, too.

He's not a boy.

In Spain, there are many bishops and many priests who when you tell them to get on board, say "No, we're old, we're tired ..." And I always tell them, "Hey, the Pope is older than you and he's pulling the cart in an exemplary way."

Of course. He's awesome. When he was in Brazil on Youth Day, wow, it was a total success. Without security, with the window open, strolling quietly, drinking coffee with the Pentescostals and with umbandistas ...

In the middle of the favelas.

He's street savvy.

The Church in Brazil seems to follow him more. It was already on the road, wasn't it?

Yes. we have the best episcopacy in the world. There are 400 bishops. There were 300 in the era of John Paul II. There was a moderate majority, a small conservative group, and a very active, very strong and very prophetic group of progressives. And they set the tone. And the moderate majority followed it. The bishops were living life to the fullest. Everything the Bishops' Conference said was news. John Paul II undid it. He had 26 years to do so by naming, observing those from the movements in secret. Then it began to change.

Is it reverting back again?

Yes, but to reverse something of so many years, where the last of that generation are dying now -- Dom Luciano has died, Dom Pablo Evaristo ... Dom Angélico is still alive, but he's old now. I don't know how many Focolare members were named. Even, for example, the cardinal responsible for the dicastery of Religious Life, is a Brazilian. He's a Focolare member. What's he doing there? Why did they put him there?

Francis confirmed him. Maybe he's an easy man to work with, I don't know, but the appointment comes from before, it comes from Benedict. John Paul II kindled the movements. Religious life, he put to the side. I think that had a lot of influence on the configuration.

Now new good bishops are beginning to appear in the Church in Brazil. And open ones. I think that we're in a good times. But you need time. Let's hope Francis stays another five years or so. It would be ideal so he can name more cardinals.

And that someone along the same lines succeeds him.

Of course. Because all this is a political game. Gustavo Gutiérrez used to say that if John Paul had retired, being very sick, Martini would have been pope. And he would have been very different. When he died, Martini was already very sick, he didn't accept. And it was Benedict. Poor man, he would go down in history because of his resignation. A great gesture, recognizing that he wasn't able to cope, that he couldn't do it anymore.

Does that justify him before history?

Quietly. An intelligent man.

Is the new trend that Pope Francis is setting irreversible? Is it impossible for it to be reversed, at least in the short term?

No. Nothing is impossible. The conservative footprint is still very much alive. Very lively and very active. It has a lot of power. Cardinal Burke, with his train ... That attracts some people. It even attracts young people. The young clergy are impressed sometimes. The young diocesan clergy love the trappings, the ornaments, the power. Most of our students are laypeople and in graduate school we have many young Protestants and they're excellent. They're married and have to support women and children. The young priests are ...

That is, that one of the solutions to this might be optional celibacy? Would it make them more human, more "real life"? Or not?

I think for diocesans that would be something to seriously consider. First, the Church needs it. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world. 70% of Brazilians don't have Eucharist on Sunday. Not because they don't want to, because there are no clergy. It depends entirely on the clergy to do the Eucharist. So there are women ministers with Celebrations of the Word, which the people consider Mass. They even say that they prefer the nun's Mass to that of the priest.

I think they could call the married priests back. Some would be delighted to return. There would be a way. I think Francis has thought about that.

How is that movement in Brazil? In Europe, they say that Francis told Cardinal Hummes, "Open ways in this territory. Go forward." Is anything being done in that sense?

There are various fronts. First, reinforcing the theme of permanent deacons, who can become priests. They have training and half of them are already married.

Another is allowing the relationships of the viri probati. Maybe first for some regions that need it the most. Not in the urban areas that have a lot of clergy.

The Brazilian Bishops Conference already brought that question to Aparecida. They took up the problem but not the solution. All the Christian churches allow married priesthood. Even the Orthodox and the Anglicans.

The subject of women in the Church interests you as a woman theologian, I suppose.

Poor women. Well, many people were angry with Francis when he said that women's ordination was very hard to do. I didn't get angry, first because it's true, John Paul II tied things up. There may be some canonical path, but it must be very difficult.

And second, because I don't think it should be a priority. I know that for many women this is a sore point. They know they can offer a service, sometimes much better than the priests. But I think there's a long road ahead.

He's done some things; he put some women in key posts, he included more women on the International Theological Commission. In April, I'm going to Rome to participate in a meeting of a group of women that's going to be a theology seminar to put into practice what Pope Francis says is lacking, a theology more from women. There was a first encounter and in this second one, the theme is "Tears."

He's also created the Commission on Women Deacons.

Of course.

Can this commission get anywhere? Or was it opened just to do something?

Sure it can. It was a specific gesture, we'll wait to see what comes out. The American who's there is a warrior, Phyllis Zagano. She wrote a book on the diaconate for women. She's very open and a fighter. She isn't there just as a figurehead. I think she's going to fight.

But aren't there some issues, such as this women's one we're talking about, that are so urgent that it's inevitable and inescapable to work on them? Facing the people. My 24 year-old daughters don't understand it.

I totally agree with you. But even among the laity, according to the mentality, it's macho. Machismo is a plague. It's something very ingrained. Especially in Latin culture. This has to be said in favor of the gringos. Women have won many things, for example, in the teaching bodies of the theology schools, there are many women. In important positions, as directors.

Once, the Jesuit provincial went to the Cardinal of Rio to propose my name as department director and it almost gave him a heart attack. What? A woman? It couldn't be.

The first time I went to speak at the Bishops' Conference about John Paul II's document Dominum et Vivificantem, Dom Luciano who adored me and was a friend of mine, when the nun who was organizing it said, "The one who's going to come is Doctor Maria Clara Bingemer," said, "But how, sister? To talk to the bishops about a pontifical document?" Then he embraced me and told me, "I believe it's a matter of getting into spaces, isn't it?"

But it's like a foreign body. They think women are beings from another galaxy, I think.

There's fear. The fear of Eve, always.

Fear-panic. Women who have a profile, scare them like crazy. And the criticisms begin: she's butch, she's not feminine ..., thus they're marginalized.

Not here. There's respect here. They have, in the theology schools, so-called tenure , which is stability. You can't throw them out because the bishop gets in a bad mood. And there are women who have stood out a lot. That, in the theological field; another thing is what happens in the parishes. Because this thing of not having access to the levels of coordination and power, really plays a role. Women are never at the altar.

In Europe, in the center, for example in the Cathedral in Amsterdam, they have a Eucharist every six months. There are many women who give homilies. In Europe, these things are starting to happen. In Germany. And here, the Americans invent anything. There are mixed churches.

But in the Catholic churches and the traditional Catholic parishes, I think there's still a long way to go. And I think it's a very urgent subject because women are fed up with always being subordinate, always in second place, always treated with condescension.

And the image we give at the social level.

Yes, which is horrible. This gives rise to something which I don't think is very positive. For example, women here are a bit bitter. You go to help them carry something and they say, "No, I can do it by myself." But it's a reaction just to reaffirm equality.

I'm more aligned with the feminism of difference. We are different, but because of this we have to be together, to enrich humanity. If women are out, humanity is impoverished. The Church remains a bastion of celibate males who understand nothing about certain life issues. And you have to legislate about everything.

And do you think that the institution will be able to get on that bandwagon that's going faster and faster?

Martini used to say that we were 200 years behind and I don't know now. Pope Francis is accelerating the process of adaptation and updating -- the aggiornamento -- but even so it seems to be going so slowly ...

It's going very slowly. For example, last semester I was on sabbatical here at Boston College and my research was on an atheist French thinker, an agnostic. Julia Kristeva. They call her a lot to speak at Notre Dame Cathedral about humanism.

I remember her in Assisi.

She has some thoughts about motherhood that are the most lovely I've ever seen. And her symbol is the Virgin Mary. She says that the West lost the discourse about motherhood. That it must regain it. And Catholicism has a fantastic contribution with the Virgin Mary.

She gives a very lovely interpretation of Mariology, and very different, but very respectful, of faith. She is a representative of the secular world. Of the world without beliefs. And I'm afraid that we woman are also losing what is ours -- the power of women to be mothers. It's a power, although it's also a vulnerability.

And a privilege, of course.

Yes, the power to feed the child with one's own body. I've written a lot about this. It's a Eucharistic gesture. So, [a woman] can't celebrate it but she can be Eucharist.

That's where the Pope is aiming, I think.

He's hoping for that a bit. That women's theology not be so vindictive. That it not be a female version of machismo.

But in the end one has the impression that the institution always makes half-hearted attempts -- that this type of outcome, invariably, is to justify why they are not considered on equal terms.

Yes, it will take millennia to recover. In the early Church women had a more active role.

And -- this is also important -- there were women in the Church who are now beginning to be recovered, the mystics. Because you can't mess with mysticism. What are they going to do? Deny it? no.

Before it was a bit like there was just Teresa of Avila, but there are many more and contemporary ones.

For example, that Benedict XVI quoted Etty Hillesum in his last homilies as Pope, an agnostic Jew who had four hundred thousand lovers, and one day she fell in love with a psychologist and he told her, "I think you should pray." And henceforth she was a mystic. She went voluntarily to the concentration camp, she left two diaries and incredible letters. Everyone is studying her all over the world. She is an inspiration for Catholics, Christians of all shades, atheists, for everyone.

She was a very womanly woman, very aware of her body, of her sexuality. She had an abortion along the way. Imagine, during the war...

This abortion thing is a very delicate subject. Very serious. I'm against abortion. But as Ivone Gebara says, sometimes we start talking about abortion and not about the abortion society that pushes women, especially poor ones, to get abortions, because the men don't take responsibility, they abandon them. That was the root of her conversion, she suffered a lot. Because her boyfriend told her, "If you have this child, I'm leaving." She loved him a lot and she lost the child and the man. She thought she'd never get pregnant again, but then she had a daughter, and she converted. [Translator's Note: Although it's not indicated in the transcript, Dr. Bingemer seems to have switched back to talking about Dorothy Day here.]

In the end, I do see that you're an optimist, and that you have hope.

You have to have hope. If the women leave the Church, the Church will fall to pieces. We're the ones who support the Church. In the film about the life of Francis, you see the importance women had in his life. A Communist who was his boss when he worked as a chemist, then another who was a judge and who helped him get people out ...

His grandmother.

I think women are the pillars of the Church. And I hope that we become aware of the need for action and a more effective presence of women, because thus we'll go far.

Thank you very much, a pleasure.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Teresa the Rebel

By Elisabetta Muritti and Gloria Riva (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Repubblica (in Italiano)
March 9, 2017

Interview with Sister Teresa Forcades. The Benedictine theologian in her fifties, born in the more popular and "atheist" Barcelona, astonishes women by her nonconformist thinking.

There is a small revival of female vocations ...

"In Spain, we are seeing late vocations of educated and independent women. And vocations of teenagers who are entering the monastery right after high school. The two cases are to be distinguished clearly. The influence of charismatic personalities and movements (such as the Neocatechumenal one), who look on the secular world with superiority and make the Church (and its affiliates) the outpost of a moral crusade, might be weighing on the girls. In late vocations like mine (28 years old, in the monastery at 30) various reasons coexist, but there is no fear of the world. If anything, the search for a space of freedom, from which to help those who suffer most and fight against injustice."

The Vatican has led an apostolic visitation to investigate the orthodoxy of US nuns.

"The nuns of the LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) account for 80% of the 56 thousand US nuns. The way they responded to Cardinal Rodé's visitation was exemplary. They practiced "constructive resistance", that is instead ceding to or opposing it, they took the opportunity to deepen their understanding of themselves and of the Church, as well as the bonds that unite the different communities. This attitude, neither high-handed nor submissive, is the main theoretical contribution that many female orders already offer. And then there are specific contributions. For years, many sisters have been revising history and theology from the gender equality perspective. Elisabeth Johnson explores feminine imagery and language and the relationship between theology and ecology; Ivone Gebara is a liberation theologian, committed against injustice; Margaret Farley argues for a moral theology that separates sexuality from sin and guilt. Today a queer theology is crucial -- thinking about sexual diversity from the theological perspective and, from there, developing an anthropology that promotes the originality of each human being and his/her freedom. In the community perspective, it's not about strengthening capitalist individualism, but the solidarity that makes us happy. Yes, I have faith in this moment being experienced by the Church, not because I'm waiting for a solution from Pope Francis, but because I expect that he will give space to proposals that come from below, from the margins."

Pope Francis has limited the web in the monasteries.

"Recommending to contemplative women religious and not to contemplative male religious to restrict the use of social networks reflects a still prevailing sexist prejudice in the Roman Catholic Church. In my monastery, the fact has not provoked changes. We continue to use the social media and try as always to use it responsibly."

About Catholic feminist theology, what's on the horizon? Women priests? The reformulation of chastity and sexual identity?

"There is the awareness that the 'woman problem' has not yet been overcome in the Church or even in 21st century society. In Europe in 2015, women earned 16% less wages than men for equal work -- everything else proceeds from that. How do theology and ecclesial practices continue to contribute to the exploitation of women? Why is their exclusion from the liturgical representation and Church government still being justified?"

What do you think of the new sexism?

"Most of the women, particularly the young, feel themselves to be "women" and different from "men". This gender diversity feels attractive to them and they don't accept that men or society impose anything on them, like switching from a paid job to an unpaid one or dressing in a certain way. But, with the imposition eliminated, there are many women who leave work after the birth of their first child or dress sexy, even if it means annoying shoes and cosmetic surgery. I believe, however, that this patriarchal model is not the society that men impose on women, but the one that men and women build together when they do not have the courage to be queer, to each develop their own originality."

Will you return to the convent?

"The exclaustration permit will end in August 2018. It's my intention to respect it."