Friday, June 26, 2015

The Forbidden Mass

By Mónica García Peralta (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Prensa
June 14, 2015

Forty years ago, on an earthen floor and between adobe walls, the Misa Campesina Nicaragüense [Nicaraguan Peasant Mass] rang out for the first time. The Church and the government thought it heretical, blasphemous, and dangerous. Both banned it. Now Carlos Mejía Godoy, its author, will ask Pope Francis to lift that veto.

And there they all were. A white haired and bushy bearded priest officiated the Mass. The peasants anchored their boats and pangas around the island. The mazurkas rhythms echoed, Nica sound, sound of bulls, the “miskitu” and five musicians sang at the beginning of the rite: "Vos sos el Dios de los pobres/ El Dios humano y sencillo/ El Dios que sufre en la calle/ El Dios del rostro curtido..." ["You're the God of the poor / The human and simple God / The God who suffers in the street / The God of weathered face ..."]

A small plane was flying over the shingled church, but inside the Misa Campesina didn't stop. It was a Sunday during Holy Week, says poet and sculptor Ernesto Cardenal. In 1974 or 1975, vaguely recalls Carlos Mejia Godoy, its composer and singer, with the musical group Los de Palacagüina. "Spies from the Somoza government also came and the plane was still there, threatening us from the air, almost about to fall on us," remembers Ernesto Cardenal, the former priest who was also an adviser with his brother Fernando Cardenal in the creation of verses for this Mass.

Many people came that day, says Cardenal, from different places, but especially from San Carlos, "especially the young people." "All the guys were there. The future combatants who would later take the San Carlos barracks: Felipe Peña, Alejandro Guevara, Laureano Mairena, Elvis Chavarría."

Mejía Godoy finished shaping the refrains on that piece of earth on the waters of Gran Lago. "Solentiname was the little laboratory where we were putting together that brainteaser. That's where the Misa Campesina was sung for the first time."

The Nicaraguan Bishops Conference, presided in those days by Monseñor Manuel Salazar y Espinoza, reacted against the songs. On November 9, 1976, it decreed "the non-approval of the Misa Campesina because it is not considered liturgical song" as the Church published in a communique, according to the study Canto Popular de Nicaragua by Francisco “Pancho” Cedeño that is soon to be published, says Roberto Sánchez, the book's editor.

The great "sin" of the Misa Campesina was the boldness that Carlos Mejía Godoy wrote into the lyrics, in Cardenal's opinion. "It seemed heretical," he says, because it put God as a worker in the street. "A God who sweats, a God who is Christ the Worker. And that is Christ himself, it's the Biblical Jesus. It seems like outlandishness or blasphemy but no, it's talking about God himself incarnated in man," explains the poet, who at that time wrote an explanatory document for the Bishops Conference defending the texts. No answer ever came.

Even so, the ban remained. Carlos Mejia Godoy recalls that the Vatican itself issued a veto and the state also forbade it. According to Ernesto Cardenal, Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo also forbade it. "And it's still prohibited today," he reiterates. And although these conflicts did not stop the spread of the songs that sounded later in Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, Spain, the United States and many other countries, this year, Carlos Mejia, on the 40th anniversary of its creation, is going to ask Pope Francis for an audience so that the Misa Campesina Nicaragüense can resound again under the church atria.


In those days, Carlos Mejía Godoy was already a thirty-year-old. He had already recorded two albums -- Cantos a Flor de Pueblo and La Calle de en Medio. He had studied three years to be a priest in the National Seminary. And he had become disenchanted with Christianity because of the "monastic" training in which he had been taught since childhood.

The Spanish priest José de la Jara, his music teacher in seminary, urged him to participate in the creation of a Nicaraguan popular Mass on leaving the seminary. "In those days, national Masses were being written everywhere. There was a Salvadoran one, a Honduran one, and Father de la Jara created the Nicaraguan one," comments Ernesto Cardenal. Mejía Godoy wasn't involved in that Mass because "in conscience I still wasn't clear about my position as a Christian," he explains. "I just told him a little later, never imagining that it would really be so."

The Misa Popular Nicaragüense began to be sung in all the Nicaraguan churches in 1968, historian Roberto Sánchez points out. "Father de la Jara had left his role as a teacher to found San Pablo Apóstol parish in Colonia 14 de Septiembre and they put out a record with those songs that had the Mass on one side and on the other side, Ernesto Cardenal's psalms sung by William Agudelo," says the historian.

"He (Father José de la Jara) gave birth to the Nicaraguan people's churches and that's the experience on which I worked, later," says Godoy, who saw a potential movement to fight for the poor, which originated in the eastern neighborhoods of Managua "and so yes I became enthusiastic; that Mass served as a parameter for me and I started planning something different, a little deeper."

"That was the main antecedent of the Misa Campesina Nicaragüense. The Misa Popular was traditional, but still pointed to the identity of Nicaragua," explains Wilmor López, journalist and cultural researcher, who believes that was the base on which Carlos Mejia began the composition and arrangement of 11 songs intended to accompany the church liturgy of Nicaragua.

"The difference with the Misa Popular was perhaps in its musical rhythms and its song lyrics. The latter incorporated the instruments and rhythms of mazurkas, sounds of bulls, a Nica sound, songs with the harmony of Miskito songs and new creations, like the meditation song, known as "Canto de los Pájaros" ["Song of the Birds"], by Pablo Martinez Téllez of León," López says. But the unexpected leap of this creation "was taking the living word of the gospel in the mouth of peasants and workers," says Mejia Godoy, who was given the task of gathering -- tape recorder in hand from the four corners of the country for more than a year -- what people understood from the gospel.

"When you say 'Christ have mercy, Christ take pity on us', what are you thinking?," Mejía Godoy would ask people. He says that thus, with that curiosity, he went to the ministry in the north, where pastor Gregorio Smutko, affectionately known as "Goyito", assigned him to Anselmo Nixon, a seminarian in the area so he would sing the Miskitu Lawana, an anonymous hymn of the Moravian Church. "Because I didn't want the Mass to just be from the Pacific but I wanted it to be from all of Nicaragua, the guy came to Managua to sing it, as I wanted it to be, in the original language," says the songwriter, who also went to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, to later come to a stop in Solentiname.

The most important thing about this Mass, says Carlos Mejía, is that it not only contains the rhythms that were already sounding from end to end in Nicaragua, but also the words. "Those of the workers, those of the peasant. It's slang, escaliche [Nicaraguan urban slang], words derived from Nahuatl. It's the fruits, the birds, the flowers. Nicaragua is alive there."


That small plane that was flying very low over the church of Solentiname the first day that this mass was sung on that archipelago, was only a warning. Those who attended the celebration heard a huge noise, but the harassment would go beyond a document issued by the Bishops Conference and that noise against the music would be heard many other times.

A large opening Mass was planned that would be attended by over a thousand people and would be in Managua. They chose to celebrate it in Plaza de los Cabros in the Open Tres neighborhood, now Ciudad Sandino, but the celebration hadn't started when the National Guard made a massive eviction. "At rifle butt, with shots and tear gas they kicked everyone out. Carlos Mejia himself was put in a military vehicle," recounts Roberto Sánchez. All because of different lyrics -- "Lyrics that called to liberation and Somoza wasn't going to allow those expressions, anything that smacked of freedom clashed with the dictatorship and the Misa Campesina is a liberation song," says the historian.

The day after that thwarted premiere, the Mass was already being sung in the four corners of the country, says Mejia Godoy, that this "was a vast wave of spirituality and love for Nicaragua." Sanchez says it was the music itself that won the people's love and imposed itself over Church measures. "It became popular religiosity, even when it couldn't be celebrated in any church officially."

The judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of Managua, Julio Arana, recalls the situation very differently with regard to the Misa Campesina. According to him, there was just one conflict in the eastern neighborhoods of Managua, in a chapel where "some people wanted the Misa Campesina to be sung every Sunday at all the Masses." In some years it was allowed to be sung, said the priest, and this served to attract people to an experience of the Eucharist "as something folkloric, but you must understand that the songs of Carlos Mejia Godoy's Mass were responding to a reality of the times, a specific political situation and in the context of liberation theology. But the Church has never forbidden singing the Misa Campesina. There is no document that expressly forbids it," says Arana.

Yet according to the memories of those involved, only some "progressive" priests allowed this Mass. Today parts of it are sung in some churches, but there are sectors that still don't allow it, says Sanchez. "I think if Carlos Mejia Godoy wants to make that request to Pope Francis, it's his right. I think the Vatican is going to say that you have to go to the commission of the Bishops Conference and in this case, the liturgical commission so that any kind of theological errors that these songs might contain is evaluated," Father Arana says, for his part.


Carlos Mejía Godoy is the main author, but other musicians also collaborated. Here is the structure and the contributions made:

Entrance hymn: compilations by Carlos Mejía in the Popular Sound Workshops.

Kyrie: is a Greek word meaning mercy. The song is a Segovian mazurka with Jinotegan music from La Perra Renca.

Gloria: contains the sound of bulls known as La Mama Ramona, the music was played by the popular band of Diriá under Professor Teodoro Ríos.

Credo: was composed with parts of the testimonies that were given after the gospel [at Masses] officiated by Ernesto Cardenal and were a sort of dialogue with the peasants.

Offertory: has parts of a Segovian mazurca -- La Chancha Flaca.

Miskitu Lawana: is an anonymous song from the Moravian Church; it was interpreted by Anselmo Nixon.

Meditation song: known as "El Canto de los Pájaros" ["Song of the Birds"], it is a creation of Carlos Martínez Téllez, El Guadalupano.

The Sanctus: the music is a version taken from the musicians called Los Soñadores de Saraguasca, from the Tomatoya district in Jinotega.

Closing hymn: it was the last song to be composed in the popular sound workshops.


The Misa Campesina was evaluated by Nicaraguan and foreign theologians from different religious denominations, among them Catholics, Evangelicals, and Baptists.

Carlos Mejía Godoy, according to Julio Arana, followed the structure proposed in the Roman Missal after the Second Vatican Council.

It has been translated into six languages and is still sung in many parts of the world.

Father Arana defines this composition as "something that was not contrary, but they aren't strictly liturgical songs."

  • Full text of the Misa Campesina Nicaragüense and other Central American folk Masses. (PDF)

Secret wounds

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
June 28, 2015

Mark 5:21-43

We don't know her name. She's an unimportant woman, lost in the midst of the crowd that is following Jesus. She doesn't dare speak to him like Jairo, the head of the synagogue, who managed to get Jesus to go to his house. She could never have that luck.

Nobody knows that she's a woman marked by a secret illness. The masters of the Law have taught her to see herself as an "impure" woman while she has bleeding. She has spent many years looking for a healer but no one has been able to cure her. Where will she be able to find the health she needs to live with dignity?

Many people among us are going through similar experiences. Humiliated by secret wounds that nobody knows about, without the strength to confide in anyone about their "illness", they are seeking help, peace, and consolation without knowing where to find it. They feel guilty when often they are just victims.

Good people who feel unworthy to come forward to received Christ during Communion, pious Christians who have been suffering in an unhealthy way because they were taught to see everything related to sex as dirty, degrading and sinful, believers who, at the end of their life, don't know how to break the chain of supposedly sacrilegious confessions and communions...Will they never be able to know peace?

According to the story, the sick woman "heard about Jesus" and sensed that this was someone who could extract the "impurity" from her body and from her entire life. Jesus doesn't talk about worthiness or unworthiness. His message speaks of love. His being radiates a healing force.

The woman looks for her own way to meet Jesus. She doesn't feel strong enough to look him in the eye -- she approaches from behind. She's ashamed to tell him about her illness -- she will act silently. She can't touch him physically -- she will just touch his cloak. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter one bit. To be clean, that great trust in Jesus is enough.

He says so himself. This woman must not be ashamed before anyone. What she has done isn't bad. It's an act of faith. Jesus has his ways for curing secret wounds and tells those who seek him: "Daughter, son, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and health."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Integral Ecology: The big news of Laudato Si': A special interview with Leonardo Boff

by Patricia Fachin and João Vitor Santos (English translation by Rebel Girl)
IHU On-Line
June 18, 2015

The concept of integral ecology is "the focal point of the theoretical and practical construction of Laudato Si'. I fear that it might not be understood by the great majority,  mentally colonized just by the anthropocentric discourse of environmentalism, dominant in the media and unfortunately in the official discourse of governments and international institutions like the UN. As the new paradigm suggests, we all form a large and complex whole," says the theologian and writer.

"The vision of integral ecology is systemic; it integrates everything into one great whole in which we move and have our being. The Pope makes this relationship connection of all with all derive from a theological fact. The Trinitarian God is essentially an eternal simultaneous relationship between the three divine persons. If the Triune God is relationship, then everything in the universe is also relationship," says Leonardo Boff when analyzing, in an interview with IHU On-Line via email, Pope Francis' encyclical letter Laudato Si' about the care of the common home, published this morning, 6-18-2015.

According to the theologian, for Pope Francis, "the North American motto -- one world - one empire -- isn't valid. But one world and one common project."

Leonardo Boff points out that the "Pope is using the methodology that he himself explicitly included in the Aparecida document -- see, judge, act and celebrate. This method has the advantage of always starting from below, from the specific realities, from the real challenges, not from doctrines from which deductions are made, usually abstract and not very incisive when referred to the issues raised."

And he remembers a phrase of St. Thomas Aquinas: "Error in the knowledge of the world can lead us to error in the knowledge of God. The sciences in their way serve the Lord of all things..."

"The value of this encyclical," he continues, "isn't measured only by what it proposes, but by the teaching of the other bishops around the world. This is also a novelty of this pontificate, so innovative and surprising in many respects."

He concludes by recalling "Chesterton's humorous phrase: we're all in the same boat, and we're all seasick. Not everybody. Certainly not Pope Francis."

Leonardo Boff is a theologian, philosopher, and author of a huge body of work on environmental themes. Of that work, we would cite Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor ["Ecologia: grito da Terra, grito dos pobres"], recently republished.

Check out the interview.

IHU On-Line - What's novel about the encyclical Laudato Si'?

Leonardo Boff - The absolute novelty is that the encyclical assumes the new contemporary paradigm under which everything forms a great whole with all interconnected realities, influencing each other. This moves it beyond the fragmentation of knowledge and gives great coherence and unity to the text. Not even the UN has produced a text of this nature.

IHU On-Line - What is the logical structure of Laudato Si'? What theories is the Pope defending in this encyclical and what is its main argument?

Leonardo Boff - The Pope is using the methodology that he himself explicitly included in the Aparecida document -- see, judge, act and celebrate. This method has the advantage of always starting from below, from the specific realities, from the real challenges, not from doctrines from which deductions are made, usually abstract and not very incisive when referred to the issues raised. The method requires us to look at incorporating the more certain data from the scientists and compose the actual framework of the most relevant issues.

In the judging, two movements are in process -- a scientific-analytical one and the other, theological. In this, the Pope was masterful -- he unmasks the illusory explanations of a certain type of intrasystemic science, where its ideological nature appears, usually for the benefit of the market and the dominant groups who consider social and ecological contradictions to be externalities that don't enter into business calculations. It is at this point that the impasse of the current situation and its inability to provide any solution except more of the same, is revealed.

The theological judging part is easier because there you're dealing with categories already known to theology. Even in that part, he makes the necessary corrections to the reductionism that has been done in the interpretation of the position of human beings within creation -- not as dominators, but as caregivers and guardians of the inheritance received from God. He explores the positive biblical times linked to creation and offers beautifully Jesus' example in relation to nature, birds, flowers, fields, harvests, at various moments.

In the act part, he draws from global governmental policies since the problem is global. For him, the North American motto -- one world - one empire -- isn't valid. But one world and one common project. He emphasizes small steps that come from below but bring seeds of the new.

In the celebrate part, he expands about ecological conversion and spirituality. This isn't derived so much from doctrine, but from the messages and inspiration that spiritual paths present for a proper relationship to creation, rather than to nature. The Pope's pedagogy is noteworthy -- he never gives prominence to the dark aspect of reality but emphasizes the human capacity to overcome difficulties and find beneficent solutions. In all issues, the poor are present, and he associates the cry of the earth with the cry of the poor, something that is emphasized a lot in Latin American thought.

IHU On-Line - What are the main theological concepts of Laudato Si' and how do they relate to Pope Francis' theology in general?

Leonardo Boff - The main theological concept is not looking so much at nature but at creation. It points to the Creator and is the expression of an act of love. He cites the beautiful phrase of the Book of Wisdom that "God is the sovereign lover of life." (11:26) Then, the concept of incarnation through which the Son didn't simply assume human nature, but the matter of the world and the world itself, referring to Teilhard de Chardin who developed this cosmic vision. He inserts Christ in the mystery of creation, citing the epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians.

The resurrection is the transfiguration of the whole universe. He sees the world not as something to be solved, but to be admired and praised. The Triune God is eternal relationship, so all things are His resonance and are always related.

IHU On-Line - What worldview is the Pope, in a way, opposing? And what worldview does he suggest to readers of Laudato Si'?

Leonardo Boff - Consistent with his integral ecology, he sees the world as orders open to each other, all interconnected, which implies an evolutionary view of the universe, without saying the name and getting into that issue. He does highlight the uniqueness of the human being, bearer of signs of divinity with an ethical mission to take responsibility for creation. He sees the world as a common home, suggesting a sense of acquaintanceship.

He draws inspiration from Saint Francis to recall the brotherhood between men and women, of all beings, also brother sun, sister moon, brother river and all other beings. Here his poetic-mystical flight takes off. The Pope's vision is always positive and he tries to rescue whatever good there is. But he's strict in criticizing the assaults we have inflicted on the common home, the millions of poor who have been neglected, and he is against the consumer culture. He proposes shared sobriety.

IHU On-Line - In the part that talks about the "human roots of the ecological crisis," the Pope mentions that the crisis is a consequence of modern anthropocentrism, also drawing attention to the dangers of relativism. What do you think of the thesis that the cause of the ecological crisis is based on a human crisis?

Leonardo Boff - For the Pope, the root of the ecological crisis lies in technocracy. He distinguishes it from techno-science that has brought us so many benefits. But it degenerated into technocracy, a kind of technical dictatorship claiming to solve all environmental problems. He rightly criticizes this view because it isolates beings that have always been interlinked. By dissociating them, you can produce more harm than good. In this context, he addresses anthropocentrism since technocracy is human beings' weapon of domination over others and over nature.

It starts from the illusion that things are only ordered to human use, forgetting that every being has an intrinsic value, praises God in its own way and brings a particular message, as it is unique in the universe.

Anthropocentrism separates the human being from nature. He doesn't feel part of it and puts himself over it as a form of domination, breaking the universal brotherhood. That's why simple environmentalism is always anthropocentric, because it only looks at the human being -- his well-being -- and not the common good of all the other beings, inhabitants of the common home.

IHU On-Line - How does the degradation of the planet interface with the excluded - the poor, the elderly, the victims of the financialization of life, always cited so much in Francis' speeches? How does the Pope establish a connection between human degradation and that of the planet?

Leonardo Boff - In his integral ecology, he is looking at all the interconnected facts and phenomena. Hurting the Earth is hurting the human being who is also Earth, as the Pope says, citing Genesis. Productivist and consumerist greed produces two types of injustice -- one ecological, degrading ecosystems, and the other social, throwing millions of people into poverty and destitution. The Pope denounces this causal connection. So he proposes a paradigm shift in the relationship between all, which is more benevolent to nature and more just to humans and all other beings that inhabit the common home.

IHU On-Line - What is the concept of integral ecology, proposed by the Pope in Laudato Si'?

Leonardo Boff - This seems to me the main point of his theoretical and practical construct on ecology. I fear that it might not be understood by the great majority, mentally colonized only by the anthropocentric discourse of environmentalism, dominant in the media and unfortunately in the official discourse of governments and international institutions like the UN. As the new paradigm suggests, we all form a large and complex whole. There is a network of relationships that run through all beings, connect and reconnect all orders. The Pope repeats like a refrain that everything is related, that all beings, even the smallest, are involved in bonds of connection. Nothing exists out of relationship.

This implies understanding that economics has to do with politics, education with ethics, ethics with science. All related things help each other to exist, subsist and persist in this world. This view is absolutely new in the discourse of the Magisterium, still hostage to the old paradigm that separated, dichotomized, atomized and divided reality into compartments. Because of this distorted view, every problem had its specific solution, without realizing that its impact on other parts could be harmful.

The vision of integral ecology is systemic; it integrates everything into one great whole in which we move and have our being. The Pope makes this relationship connection of all with all derive from a theological fact. The Trinitarian God is essentially an eternal simultaneous relationship between the three divine persons. If the Triune God is relationship, then everything in the universe is also relationship.

IHU On-Line - The text of the encyclical also brings ideas from the laity. How are the ideas of science present in the encyclical? What is Francis' intention in this move of listening to science?

Leonardo Boff - Pope Francis respects and listens to the sciences because they bring him the real ecological state of the world. We need to hear what they have to say. Without their contribution, the Church would have a narrow view and ineffective practice. The secular world is what cultivates scientific knowledge in particular. They should help the Christian community define the best approaches. A phrase of St. Thomas Aquinas is worth remembering here: Error in the knowledge of the world can lead us to error in the knowledge of God. Everything is related. The sciences in their way serve the Lord of all things.

IHU On-Line - Critics of Francis' text are claiming that the Pope wasn't neutral in his remarks on the subject. He was only listening to those who believe in the effects of global warming and not the aspect of science that is more skeptical of this view. How do you see Francis' stance?

Leonardo Boff - The Pope is simply telling us to look at the reality that is around us. Here we observe the devastation of the common home, the abuse of nature and especially the most vulnerable. We don't need a lot of science to realize that such inequities are the result of irresponsible human activity. We have so assaulted the Earth that it has lost its sustainability. To replace what we take from it in a year, it needs a year of work. Pope Francis didn't argue with the dissenting opinion, because today it has already been discredited by the scientific community and is refuted by the facts themselves, which are the extreme events that are occurring in all parts of the planet.

IHU On-Line - The encyclical cites excerpts from the encyclicals of Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, on ecology and other subjects, such as economics and inequality. How do the previous encyclicals relate to and dialogue with Francis' encyclical?

Leonardo Boff - The pronouncements of the previous Popes have never gotten to the key systemic point of the problem, which is that our way of inhabiting the common home is bringing countless discomforts to us and to our common home. But he does it to honor his predecessors. However, you can't overlook the fact of the Pope valuing the contributions of numerous national and continental conferences, from the most powerful such as the USA, to the simplest, such as Paraguay or Patagonia. The exercise of collegiality that the Pope says he wants to revive, is shown here.

I would say that the value of this encyclical isn't measured only by what it proposes, but by the teaching of the other bishops around the world. This is also a novelty of this pontificate, so innovative and surprising in many respects.

IHU On-Line - Francis himself points out that dealing with the subject of ecology is nothing new in his papacy. However, how does this expression by Bergoglio differ from the previous popes?

Leonardo Boff - Previous popes addressed ecology promptly. Now it is systematically within a bold new systems approach under the new paradigm, building, for almost a century now, from the life and Earth sciences, from the new cosmology, quantum physics and the new biology. In this, the Pope is absolutely innovative.

IHU On-Line - Some theologians have called attention to the fact that the encyclical doesn't refer to the great Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism. In your opinion, why wasn't this issue contemplated in Francis' encyclical?

Leonardo Boff - I think it's a void in the encyclical, because it's addressed to all humankind and he would have done well if he had honored Eastern wisdom, so rich in ecological perspectives. I don't know the reasons. But I believe he was reserving it for when he revisits the issue in the context of interfaith dialogue.

IHU On-Line - Is there a special intent in the fact that the Pope published the encyclical six months prior to the COP-21 in Paris? How does the document put the debate on the environment back on the public agenda?

Leonardo Boff - The encyclical is providential, especially as to the systemic method and in the span of integral ecology that has always been missing in these official meetings, some of which I myself have participated in. They don't have the slightest concept of a global vision, as if they hadn't yet discovered the Earth, only pieces of it, where national interests are rooted that always prevail over universal ones. If they don't seriously take an integral ecology view, the meetings will result in failure as has happened so far. All are flying blind and don't know where they're going. They just want to preserve their national interests and forget the global ones. Chesterton's humorous phrase applies: we're all in the same boat, and we're all seasick. Not everybody. Certainly not Pope Francis.

IHU On-Line - How do you think the text of the apostolic document should echo beyond the Vatican walls, in the Church throughout the world? And outside the Church, what should the impact be?

Leonardo Boff - I suppose that the impact will be huge because of the breadth of the approach and especially the new (for most) integral ecology perspective, valid for the entire planet, for its inhabitants, human or not. This time we don't have a Noah's ark, which included only a few. This time we must all save ourselves.

IHU On-Line - What kind of suggestions did you send to the Pope during the period when he was writing the encyclical? Which of these contributions were incorporated into the text?

Leonardo Boff - This question causes me embarrassment. The Pope has his body of experts and he consulted many people. The encyclical is his and not the collaborators'. With regard to Pope Francis' request, I sent through the Argentine ambassador to the Vatican -- otherwise there's the risk that it doesn't get there -- various materials and books, as I'd already been working intensely for 30 years on this integral ecology issue (I did a DVD for popular use on the four ecologies, where the last was integral ecology) and had especially delved into the subject of caring, of the common home, ethics and spirituality. Whether the Pope made use of these materials or not is not for me to say. I did my part as a simple useless servant, as the gospel says.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

French Bishops' Statement and Message on Migrants for June 21, 2015

English translation of the statement and message by Rebel Girl.

Statement of the Permanent Council

Paris, Wednesday, June 17, 2015.

As the presence of migrants is creating growing tensions on the Italian border, at Calais, and Paris too, and with the coming of World Refugee Day on June 20th, the Permanent Council of the Bishops' Conference of France is launching a challenge on this issue that affects us all. At the same time, Msgr. Laurent Dognin, Msgr. Jacques Blaquart and Msgr. Renauld de Dinechin are addressing Catholics in France in the message: "Love therefore the immigrant, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt." (Dt. 10:19).

Migrants: We are all affected

With ever-increasing intensity, the painful issue of migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East is being addressed to us.

For many reasons, often very tragic -- wars, poverty, climate disruption -- many are forced to leave their country where they can no longer live.

Many Catholics are already involved with their foreign brethren through hosting them, supporting them, and being concerned to give them decent living conditions.

We welcome this commitment and urge all Catholics in France to change their perspective, become close, overcome their prejudices and fears, and dare meeting.

It's not possible for us to withdraw into ourselves and ignore the misery of so many men, women and children around the world who seek only to live in dignity.

As did Pope Francis, we declare our "shame" in the face of what is happening in the Mediterranean as well as at Calais.

We must realize that this will unfortunately continue to worsen and that the whole national community, all of society is affected.

We urge our leaders to intensify international cooperation to meet the challenges. Europe must especially take responsibility and call its constituent countries to offer a real answer.

The dignity of human beings is at stake.

Msgr. Georges PONTIER, Archbishop of Marseille, president of the CEF
Msgr. Pierre-Marie CARRÉ, Archbishop of Montpellier, vice-president of the CEF
Msgr. Pascal DELANNOY, Bishop of Saint-Denis, vice-president of the CEF
Cardinal André VINGT-TROIS, Archbishop of Paris
Msgr. Jean-Claude BOULANGER, Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux
Msgr. François FONLUPT, Bishop of Rodez
Msgr. Hubert HERBRETEAU, Bishop of Agen
Msgr. Jean-Paul JAMES, Bishop of Nantes
Msgr. Stanislas LALANNE, Bishop of Pontoise
Msgr. Benoit RIVIÈRE, Bishop of Autun, Chalon and Mâcon

Message for Sunday, June 21, 2015

"Love therefore the immigrant, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt." (Dt. 10:19)

For a change of outlook on migrants ... The recent dramas of migrants adrift in the Mediterranean and Andaman Sea have once again solicited our emotion and compassion. Men, women and children take extreme risks at sea in search of a safe haven, while traffickers and sometimes state authorities or armed forces behave with an inhumanity we thought was gone. Listening to the media disseminating scenes of horror throughout the world...

Let us remember...You were once exiles!

 Many voices have expressed outrage at these events. It is good that this is so. We address here the Catholics of our country to invite them to step back in the face of these recent events, to change their outlook on migrants, to take action as citizens towards the authorities of the European Union who will meet on June 25th and 26th short, not to be silent after legitimate emotion. By not letting emotions fall back down...

Let us remember...You were once exiles!

Migrants are not problems; they are men, women, children -- human beings. Migrants should not be seen primarily as a risk or a potential threat to national sovereignty. We must get out of an exclusively security or police view of the migration phenomenon. The social teaching of the Church is known. The human being must be at the center of our reflections. You can never exploit human beings. The sovereignty of a state is never absolute, for we must also take into account the wider common good that goes beyond any particular state. In challenging our states and European leaders ...

Let us remember...You were once exiles!

The issue must be defused -- France is a country of successful migrations. Everyone can find in their family history or in the history of migration signs of acceptance and successful integration. It's not about denying past or present difficulties. But basing ourselves on the success stories of migration to find what promotes acceptance, brotherhood, coexistence. Many fellow citizens have problems of unemployment, housing, exclusion, discrimination ... Migrants are not responsible for these social ills; they are victims, often more than other residents of the country. It's up to us to find ways of involving these migrants so that they can become part of the solution of our social ills. In celebrating the moments and methods of successful coexistence...

Let us remember...You were once exiles!

The number of migrants explodes when dealing with failed nations; there are hundreds of thousands, millions. Of these migrants from failed nations, France and the European Union welcome in only a small proportion. It's the neighbors of the failed nations that bear the brunt. It is the responsibility of the international community to help these "refugees" and restore the functioning of bankrupt nations.

The history of migration teaches us the importance of non-governmental players in the welcoming and support of migrants -- extended family, migrant associations, support groups, ethnic or national communities of belonging, religious communities, local authorities, local public services (school, work) ... We must take lessons from history for action today. By actively participating in the construction of a truly united world ...

Let us remember...You were once exiles!

It would be ideal obviously to promote cooperation between the society of origin and the host society, between migrant associations and the associations of origin ... we know the important role the various diasporas play in the world today, for the development and sometimes the survival of migrant communities of origin. By sharing the common wealth and multiplying partnerships with the most fragile...

Let us remember...You were once exiles!

We have not wanted to indicate miracle prescriptions for the management of migration. Because there are none. All exploitation of migrants is to be rejected; it is contrary to human rights, the foundations of our political order. It is contrary to the social teaching of the Church. The migrant is a human being first.

Let us remember...You were once exiles!

The generosity of the founding values of Europe can not ignore the fight against traffickers or the need for cooperation with countries of origin to promote the residents' stability.

We call for a change of perception on migrants ... and we suggest that on Sunday, June 21st, every community accompany its prayer with an act of welcoming, of sharing, fasting, a moment of silence, information. Let us remember...You were once exiles!

+ Laurent DOGNIN
Appointed Bishop of Quimper and Léon
Chairman of the Bishops Commission for the Universal Mission of the Church

+ Jacques BLAQUART
Bishop of Orléans
President of the Council for Solidarity

+ Renauld de DINECHIN
Auxiliary Bishop of Paris
Bishops Commission for the Universal Mission of the Church
Migrant Ministry

Ex. 23:9 : You are not to oppress the immigrant -- you know what his life is like because you too were immigrants in the land of Egypt. Dt. 10:19: Love therefore the immigrant, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why are we such cowards?

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
June 21, 2015

Mark 4:35-41

"Why are you so cowardly? Do you still have no faith?". These two questions that Jesus addresses to his disciples are not, for the evangelist Mark, an anecdote from the past. They are questions that Jesus' followers must hear in the midst of their crisis. Questions we are to ask today too: What is the root of our cowardice? Why are we we afraid of the future? Is it because we lack faith in Jesus?

The story is brief. Everything begins with Jesus' order: "Let us cross to the other side." The disciples know that on the other shore of Lake Tiberias is the pagan territory of the Decapolis. A different and strange country. A culture hostile to their religion and beliefs.

Suddenly a heavy storm -- a graphic metaphor for what is happening in the group of disciples -- comes up. The stormy wind, waves crashing against the boat, water beginning to invade everything, express the situation well: What can Jesus' followers do against the hostility of the pagan world? Not only is their mission in danger, but also the very survival of the group.

Awakened by his disciples, Jesus intervenes, the wind dies down, and a great calm comes over the lake. What is surprising is that the disciples "remain terrified." Before they were afraid of the storm. Now they seem to fear Jesus. But something crucial has occurred in them: They have turned to Jesus. They have experienced a saving force in him they didn't know. They begin to wonder about his identity. They begin to sense that anything is possible with him.

Christianity is now in the midst of a "strong storm" and fear is beginning to take hold of us. We dare not cross to the "other side". Modern culture is a strange and hostile country to us. The future frightens us. Creativity seems prohibited. Some believe it's safer to look back to move forward better.

Jesus could surprise us all. The Risen One has the power to inaugurate a new phase in the history of Christianity. We are only being asked to have faith. A faith that frees us from so much fear and cowardice and commits us to walk in Jesus' footsteps.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Magna Carta of Integral Ecology: Cry of the Earth - Cry of the Poor: An analysis of Pope Francis' encyclical

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Jornal do Brasil (em português)
June 18, 2015

Before any commentary, it is worth emphasizing some unique aspects of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si'.

It is the first time that a pope addresses the subject of ecology in the sense of integral ecology (so it goes beyond the environmental) so completely. Big surprise: he develops the theme within the new ecological paradigm, something that no official UN document has done to date. His argument is basic with the surest data from life and Earth science. He reads the data affectively (with sensitive or cordial intelligence) because he discerns that behind them are hidden human tragedy and much suffering of Mother Earth too. The current situation is grave but Pope Francis always finds reasons for hope and confidence that human beings can find workable solutions. He honors the popes who preceded him, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, quoting them frequently. And something absolutely new: his text is inscribed within collegiality as it is enriched by the contributions of dozens of bishops' conferences around the world ranging from the USA, to Germany, to Brazil, to Patagonia-Comahue to Paraguay. He welcomes the contributions of other thinkers such as Catholics Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Romano Guardini, Dante Alighieri,  his teacher -- Argentine Juan Carlos Scannone, the Protestant Paul Ricoeur, and the Sufi Muslim Ali al-Khawwas. Finally, its addressees are all human beings, for all are inhabitants of the same common home (a word used a lot by the pope) and suffer the same threats.

Pope Francis isn't writing as a Master or Doctor of the faith but as a zealous pastor who cares about the common home and all beings, not just humans, who live in it.

One element merits highlighting as it reveals Pope Francis' "forma mentis" (the way of organizing his thinking). This is attributable to the pastoral and theological experience of the Latin American churches that, in the light of the documents of the Latin American bishops (CELAM) from Medellin (1968), Puebla (1979) and Aparecida (2007), made an option for the poor against poverty and for liberation.

The text and the tone of the encyclical are typical of Pope Francis and of the growing ecological culture. But I'm aware that many expressions and ways of speaking also go back to what has been thought and written about primarily in Latin America. The themes of "common home", of "Mother Earth", the "cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor", "caring", the "interdependence of all beings", "the intrinsic value of each being", "the poor and vulnerable", the "paradigm shift" of "the human being as Earth" that feels, thinks, loves and worships, "integral ecology" among others, are recurrent among us.

The encyclical's structure follows the methodological ritual used by our churches and for theological reflection linked to liberation practice, now assumed and consecrated by the Pope: see, judge, act, and celebrate.

First, he reveals his greatest source of inspiration: St. Francis of Assisi, whom he calls "the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology...[and] particularly concerned...for the poor and outcast." (no.10; 66).

And then he starts with the see: "What is happening to our common home" (nos.17-61). Says the Pope, "we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair." (no.61). In this part, he incorporates the most consistent data with reference to climate change (nos.20-22), the issue of water (nos.27-31), the erosion of biodiversity (nos.32-42), the deteriorating quality of life human and degradation of social life (nos.43-47), he denounces the high rate of inequality globally, affecting all areas of life (nos.48-52), the main victims being the poor (no. 48).

In this part, he uses a phrase that brings us back to a reflection made in Latin America: "Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor." (no.49). Immediately afterwards he adds: "the cries of sister Earth are united to the cries of the abandoned ones of this world" (no.53). This is absolutely consistent, since at the beginning he says "we are earth" (no. 2; cf. Gen. 2:7.), well in line with the great Argentinian indigenous singer and poet Atahualpa Yupanqui, "human beings are the Earth that walks, feels, thinks and loves."

He condemns proposals to internationalize the Amazon, which "only serve the economic interests of transnational corporations." (no.38) There is a very strong ethical statement: "[It is a] terrible injustice...[to] obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration." (no.36)

With sadness he acknowledges that "never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years." (no. 53) In the face of this human assault on Mother Earth that many scientists have denounced as the inauguration of a new geological era - the Anthropocene one, he laments the weakness of the powers of this world who, deluded, think that everything can continue as is as an alibi for keeping "their self-destructive vices" (no.59) as well as seemingly suicidal behavior. (no.55)

Prudently, he recognizes the diversity of opinions (nos. 60-61) and that "there is no one path to a solution." (no.60) Yet "the present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view, for we have stopped thinking about the goals of human activity" (no.61) and are lost in the construction of means for unlimited accumulation at the expense of ecological injustice (degradation of ecosystems) and social injustice (impoverishment of the people). Humankind has simply "disappointed God's expectation." (no.61)

The urgent challenge, then, is to "protect our common home" (no. 13), and for this we need, to quote Pope John Paul II, "a global ecological conversion" (no. 5), "a 'culture of care' which permeates all of society." (no. 231)

The seeing dimension having been accomplished, it's now time for the judging dimension. This judging is carried out in two aspects, one scientific and the other theological.

Let's look at the scientific one. The encyclical devotes the entire third chapter to the analysis of "the human roots of the ecological crisis." (nos.101-136) Here the Pope intends to analyze technoscience, without preconceptions, agreeing that it has brought "important means of improving the quality of human life." (no. 103) But this is not the problem. It has become independent, dominating the economy, politics and nature with an eye to the accumulation of material goods ( It starts from a mistaken assumption that there is an "infinite supply of the earth's goods" (no.106), when we know that we are already touching on the physical limits of the Earth and most of the goods and services are not renewable. Technoscience has become technocracy, a real dictatorship with its steely logic of domination over everything and everyone. (no.108)

The big illusion, now dominant, lies in the belief that all ecological problems can be solved with technoscience. This is a misleading endeavor because it implies "separat[ing] what is in reality interconnected." (no.111). In fact, "everything is connected" (no.117), "everything is interrelated" (no.120) -- a statement that permeates the entire text of the encyclical like a refrain, as it is a key concept of the new contemporary paradigm. The major limitation of technocracy is in fact "the fragmentation of knowledge" and "loss of appreciation for the whole" (no.110). The worst thing is that it "doesn't recognize the intrinsic value of other beings, and even denies any special value to humans beings." (no.118).

The intrinsic value of every being, however minuscule it may be, is permanently emphasized by the encyclical (no. 69), as it is by the Earth Charter. By denying that intrinsic value, we are keeping each creature from communicating its message and giving glory to God. (no. 33)

The largest deviation produced by technocracy is modern anthropocentrism. Its illusory assumption is that things only have value insofar as they are ordered to human use, forgetting that their existence has value in itself. (no.33) If it is true that everything is related, then "we human beings are united as brothers and sisters...[and] in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth." (no.92). How can we claim to dominate them and see them through the narrow perspective of domination by human beings?

All of these "ecological virtues" (no.88) are lost through the will to power and domination of others and of nature. We are experiencing an anguishing "loss of meaning of life and coexistence." (no.110) Several times, he quotes the Italian-German theologian Romano Guardini (1885-1968), one of the most read in the last century and who wrote a critical book against the pretensions of modernity. (no.83, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 1959)

The other aspect of judging is theological in nature. The encyclical reserves plenty of room for the "Gospel of Creation" (nos. 62-100). It begins by justifying the contribution of religions and Christianity since, being a global crisis, each body must, with its religious capital, contribute to the care of the earth (no.62). He doesn't stress doctrines but the wisdom present in the various spiritual paths. Christianity prefers to speak of creation rather than nature, because creation "has to do with God's loving plan" (no.76). More than once he quotes a beautiful text from the Book of Wisdom (21:24) where it says clearly that "creation is of the order of love" (no.77) and God emerges as "the Lord and lover of life." (Wis 11:26)

The text opens into an evolutionary view of the universe, without using the word, but making a circumlocution, referring to the universe "shaped by open and intercommunicating systems." (no.79). It uses the main texts linking the incarnate and risen Christ with the world and with the whole universe, making matter and the whole earth sacred (no.83) In this context, he cites P. Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955, no. 83 note 53) as a precursor of this cosmic vision.

The consequence of the fact of the Triune God being a relationship of divine Persons is that all things in relationship are echoes of the divine Trinity (no.240).

Citing the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church, he recognizes that sins against creation are sins against God. (no.7). Hence the urgency of a collective ecological conversion to rebuild the lost harmony.

The encyclical concludes this part, rightly: The analysis "has shown the need for a change of direction...[we need to] escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us." (no.163). This is not about reform, but, citing the Earth Charter, seeking "a new beginning." (no.207) The interdependence of all with all leads us to think of "one world with a common plan." (no.164)

Since reality has multiple aspects, all closely related, Pope Francis proposes an "integral ecology" that goes beyond the usual environmental ecology (no.137). It covers all fields -- the environmental, the economic, the social, the cultural, the spiritual -- and also everyday life. (nos. 147-148) He never forgets the poor who also evidence their form of human and social ecology, experiencing bonds of belonging and solidarity with one another. (no.149)

The third methodological step is to act. In this part, the encyclical sticks to the great themes of international, national and local policy. (nos.164-181). It emphasizes the interdependence of the social and educational with the ecological and sadly notes the constraints that the prevalence of technocracy brings, making changes that would slow the voracity of accumulation and consumption and could inaugurate something new, difficult. (no.141). It again takes up the topic of economics and politics that should serve the common good and create the conditions for potential human fulfillment (nos.189-198) It goes back to stressing the dialogue between science and religion, as has been suggested by the great biologist Edward O. Wilson (cf. the book The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, 2008). All religions should seek the protection of nature and the defense of the poor. (no.201)

Also within the act aspect, one challenge is education in order to create "ecological citizenship" (no.211) and a new lifestyle, based on caring, compassion, shared sobriety, the alliance between humanity and the environment, as both are inextricably linked and co-responsible for everything that exists and lives and for our common destiny (nos.203-208).

Finally, the moment of celebrating. The celebration takes place in a context of "ecological conversion" (no.216) which implies an "ecological spirituality" (no.216). This derives not so much from theological doctrines but the motivation to which faith gives rise to take care of the common home and nourish "passionate concern for the protection of our world." (no.216) Such experience is first of all a mystique that mobilizes people to live in ecological balance, "within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God." (no.210). Here, "less is more" seems true and we can be happy with little.

In the sense of celebration, "rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise." (no.12).

The fresh fraternal spirit of St. Francis of Assisi permeates the entire text of the encyclical Laudato Si'. The current situation doesn't mean a predicted tragedy, but a challenge to take care of the common home and each other. In the text, there is lightness, poetry, and joy in the Spirit and unwavering hope that as great as the threat is, the opportunity to solve our ecological problems is greater still.

It ends poetically with the words "Beyond the sun," saying, "Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope." (no.244)

I am pleased to end with the final words of the Earth Charter that the pope himself cites (no.207): "Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A pontificate of novelty and resistance: Special interview with Tina Beattie

By Márcia Junges and Patricia Fachin (English translation by Rebel Girl)
IHU On-Line (em português)
June 6, 2015

"The Church must get real about motherhood, and that means getting real about the fact that, every day, 800 of the poorest women in the world die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, and thousands are injured," says the writer.

Francis' pontificate is a "novelty" because he "repeatedly stresses the priority of love in practice over abstract doctrines" and "constantly emphasizes a poor Church for the poor," says Tina Beattie in an interview with IHU On-Line via email. Despite the innovation inaugurated by the pope in the Church, it's obvious, she says, that "there are doctrinal teachings he can't change." Tina calls attention to the debate about "how far he can go, for example, regarding the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments, the inclusion of people in relationships with people of the same sex within the Church's understanding of the goodness of sexual love and marriage, the ordination of women (which he has said is now a closed matter)."

In the opinion of the theology professor at the University of Roehampton in London, "Francis continues to repeat some of the teachings of his predecessors in a way that shows a certain reluctance to fully embrace the insights and challenges of women theologians and feminists." Similarly, the Pope "has a very negative attitude towards gender theory, continuing to promote the concept of sexual 'complementarity' that has been widely criticized, and he occasionally makes jokes about women, which some find trite and bit paternalistic," she points out.

Despite her support for gender arguments, the theologian points out that the "idea of autonomy should be used with caution" because, as human beings, we are creatures who depend on one another. "The modern secular individualistic idea of autonomy is not really compatible with the Catholic understanding of co-dependent and relational creatures. That said, the Catholic tradition places great emphasis on the duty of every individual to follow his or her enlightened conscience, and that means there must be authority control when intimate matters of personal decision-making are concerned," she explains.

Tina Beattie is a theologian and specialist in ethics and feminism issues, a member of the board of the British Catholic review The Tablet. Aong other works, she is the author of Theology after Postmodernity: Divining the Void (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) and New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory (London and New York: Routledge, 2006).

Check out the interview.

IHU On-Line - What is the great novelty of Francis' papacy?

Tina Beattie - Pope Francis has moved beyond the somewhat authoritarian style of both his predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, to create a more welcoming and inclusive church, which focuses more on joy, forgiveness and Christ's mercy than on the application of strict rules and dogmas. He repeatedly stresses the priority of love in practice over abstract doctrines. This is a novelty, and the other is his constant emphasis on a poor Church for the poor. In an era of increasing economic divisions between rich and poor, many people welcome his willingness to be a strong voice to remind us of the importance of justice for the poor, the marginalized, the excluded and refugees, and his clear commitment not just to talk about it, but do it. This is a pope who embraces the simplicity of which he speaks, and that's inspiring.

IHU On-Line - What have been the main limitations of his papacy?

Tina Beattie - I think it's fair to say that the Church today is divided between those who accept the more informal and populist leadership style of Pope Francis, and those who pine for the more doctrinally and liturgically conservative style of Pope Benedict XVI. It's not correct to describe these distinctions as "liberal vs. conservative" or "progressives versus traditionalists", but certainly one of Pope Francis' challenges is dealing with these two polarized positions. And of course, there are doctrinal teachings that he can not change. There is much debate about how far he can go, for example, regarding the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments, the inclusion of people in relationships with people of the same sex within the Church's understanding of the goodness of sexual love and marriage, the ordination of women (which he has said is now a closed matter).

However, this is a pope who, in my opinion, truly believes and trusts in the Holy Spirit. It's God's Church, and by creating a more open and admittedly contested space for these things to be discussed, he is, I believe, allowing the Spirit to guide the Church. I don't think he feels any need to control this process, even though his role as pope is to ensure wise leadership and discernment. The word 'discernment' is the key to his papacy. As a Jesuit, that's the mark of his spirituality. He also speaks repeatedly of the primacy of time over space - you need to give time to the processes of human transformation, taking into account the limitations and the context of inevitable failures.

IHU On-Line - What advances have been made in these last two years regarding the participation of women in the Church?

Tina Beattie - Pope Francis has repeatedly called for women to play a more significant role in the Church, and there have been some changes. He increased the number of women on the International Theological Commission from two to five, and recently the first woman was appointed to take over as rector of a pontifical university - Sister Mary Melone at the Antonianum. The new Pontifical Commission for Child Protection, established by Pope Francis has several women members, including the respected British psychiatrist, Baroness Sheila Hollins [1] and the abuse survivor Marie Collins [2]. In the first months of this year there were a number of conferences and meetings organized by various institutions of the Vatican to discuss the role of women, and this is a sign that things are changing. That said, Pope Francis continues to repeat some of the teachings of his predecessors in a way that shows a reluctance to fully embrace the insights and challenges of women theologians and feminists.

For example, he has a very negative attitude towards gender theory, continuing to promote the concept of sexual 'complementarity' that has been widely criticized, and he occasionally makes jokes about women, which some find trite and bit paternalistic. He's a man of his time and his culture, but he's also willing to be open and learn, so we should accept his advice and recognize that human transformation takes time and we can't expect him to do and be aware of everything immediately.

IHU On-Line - To what extent do these modifications challenge and revise the patriarchal structure of the ecclesiastical institution? What are their limits?

Tina Beattie - It has often been observed that for the patriarchal structures and androcentric institutions to change, it's not enough to just include a few selected women. There must be a critical mass of women, for example, on pontifical commissions, in universities and other leadership positions. Women theologians should be involved in shaping the doctrine of the Church, and these should be women who represent the rich and vast diversity of life of Catholic women in different cultures and contexts. All this is possible without us radically challenging the teaching of the existing church. Sooner or later, however, the question of women's ordination will have to be discussed and open to a full and serious theological debate. When so many other churches are ordaining women, it's not possible for the Catholic Church to just keep on hoisting the drawbridge on this issue. Pope Francis wants the Church to spread the joy of the Gospel, for us to be evangelizers, for us to be "good news" for all the people of the world, especially the poor. But in today's world, an institution that continues to block women's sacramental representation of Christ on the altar doesn't seem like "good news." Christ took on human flesh in order to redeem humankind - it's his humanity, not his masculinity, which is the most significant in terms of redemption. For women today to hear this message, we need to see that women also represent Christ.

IHU On-Line - Why does the absence of women's influence manifest itself more clearly in relation to the Church's teachings on sexual and reproductive ethics than in any other place?

Tina Beattie - There are huge problems surrounding the Church's teaching in these areas, with respect to a failure to understand and reach out to women who have difficulty with dilemmas and heavy responsibilities in the areas of sexuality, reproduction and motherhood. The official church teachings and papal pronouncements still romanticize motherhood and don't take sufficiently seriously the challenges of maternal mortality, overpopulation and the need for women to have sexual and reproductive rights as an expression of our own ethical responsibility. Moreover, in a world where so many girls and women still lack any role or control over what happens to them sexually, it is ethically shocking to deny them access to safe contraception.

Abortion is a very complex issue, and I know very few Catholic women who embrace the pro-choice movement uncritically. The goal should be to prevent abortion -- in the words of Hillary Clinton, make it safe, legal and rare -- but the lives of unborn children aren't saved by making abortion illegal - it simply ensures that many women will die along with their aborted child. This is an extremely complex ethical dilemma, but women should talk to women about these issues. The idea of a hierarchy of celibate men proclaiming itself the final moral authority over women's bodies, on their sexuality and their reproductive capacity simply ensures that our daughters will move away from the Church en masse, because they realize that it's a ridiculous situation.

IHU On-Line - These days, what do the Church's exhortations and controls on sexuality, especially women's, mean?

Tina Beattie - Of course, there is a need for men and women to think together about what it means to express our sexuality in a responsible and loving way, and take full responsibility for the children we engender. I don't think many people would like the Church to stay silent on such issues. But there is also a strong element of control in some of the teachings on sexuality. In all cultures, the female reproductive system is of enormous importance and is always subject to high levels of control and supervision, but with the advent of women's rights and gender equality, this model no longer has any credibility. We need an ethical transformation.

IHU On-Line - To what extent do these Church policies on women's sexuality represent an obstacle to them achieving their autonomy as individuals?

Tina Beattie - The idea of autonomy should be used with caution. As human beings, we are relational creatures - dependent on one another and responsible for each other. The modern secular individualistic idea of autonomy is not really compatible with the Catholic understanding of co-dependent and relational creatures. That said, the Catholic tradition places great emphasis on the duty of every individual to follow his or her enlightened conscience, and that means there must be authority control when intimate matters of personal decision-making are concerned. The Church can teach, guide, inform and pray, but it should not coerce, force or intimidate, nor should it seek to use the law to enforce those fundamental moral principles of virtue of an individual nature.

IHU On-Line - Why do you say that Francis tends to romanticize motherhood? What does that mean in practical terms?

Tina Beattie - See above. The qualities of nurturing, caring and offering affection associated with motherhood should be the qualities of every Christian, and indeed, Pope Francis himself manifests these qualities to a large extent. But mothers are human, and as women, we often face great injustice, difficulties and injuries in relation to our mothering abilities. The Church must get real about motherhood, and that means getting real about the fact that, every day, 800 of the poorest women in the world die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, and thousands are injured. This is the equivalent of two jumbo jets falling every day, and yet official Church documents never mention this as a serious ethical challenge. And while it's impossible to assess accurately how many women die from unsafe abortions, the numbers are in the tens of thousands each year. These are complex challenges. They have to do with economic and social justice, not just with sexual ethics. The international community has made great strides in reducing maternal and child mortality over the last two decades, but the Church's anxiety about contraception and abortion shows that instead of leading such efforts, it has very often been an obstacle.

IHU On-Line - What is the nexus that links poverty and mortality among women? What is the Church's role in changing that scenario? How could Francis could intervene in that sense?

Tina Beattie - About 99% of maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia among the poorest women in the world. When a mother dies, it also has a devastating impact on her surviving children. Women's lives are blighted by infant mortality and of course, the inability to limit the number of children. However, there is abundant evidence that contraceptive campaigns aren't enough. When women are educated, and when infant mortality is reduced, population numbers begin to decline and women have fewer children. The Church is right about that, and has said so many times. This is important because even Western nations sometimes promote aggressive policies of population control that take away the rights and autonomy of poor communities and of women in particular. So in that respect, the Church could be a champion of poor women's rights. But for an educated woman to limit the number of children, she needs access to safe contraception. This is the stumbling block for the teachings of the Church.

IHU On-Line - In view of your critical stance on the Catholic Church, which do you remain tied to Catholicism, specifically?

Tina Beattie - Catholic faith tells us that the world is blessed by God, that we participate in God's being and the beauty of creation is a manifestation of divine grace. It offers a sacramental view of creation and our place in it, and its core doctrines of the Incarnation, redemption, Trinitarian love and solidarity with the poor are to me the formative beliefs around which my entire life and aspirations revolve. Why would I leave it just because of some temporary difficulties with moral teachings that very few people, after all, follow? The Catholic Church is a lasting human reality, and of course there are struggles, difficulties and differences as we are discern what that means in terms of time, history and a rapidly changing global culture. But it is precisely here where I want to put my efforts and my commitment.


[1] Sheila Hollins (1946): professor of psychiatry of learning disability at St George's University in London. In 2010, she received the title Baroness Hollins of Wimbledon in London Borough of Merton and Grenoside in county of South Yorkshire. She was president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists 2005-2008, succeeded by Dinesh Bhugra. She was also president of the British Medical Association and is currently president of the BMA Science Council. In 2014, Pope Francis named her member of the newly created Pontifical Commission for Child Protection. Check out more information on the topic on the IHU site. The pope completed the Commission for minors: eight women and ten lay people, available here. (IHU On-Line Note)

[2] Marie Collins: Irish woman who at 13 years old was sexually abused by a priest while she was an inpatient in a hospital. It was the first time she had been away from her family. Years later, she found out, after having been released, that the hospital discovered that the priest "was a specialist in abusing inpatient children" and that the Church's only "punishment" was transferring him to a parish. Today, she is part of the committee that advises the Vatican in the fight against child abuse in the Church. On the topic, check out the IHU site: "'Meeting in the Vatican on controversial Chilean bishop was very good,' says survivor of sexual abuse", available here; "'Whoever covers up sexual abuse should also be punished": Interview with Marie Collins, available here; "'I will make the voice of a woman abused by a priest heard,' says Marie Collins", available here. (IHU On-Line Note)

Translator's Note: All articles mentioned and hyperlinked in the footnotes are in Portuguese.