Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Wish List for the Synod on the Family

The 2015 Bishops' Synod on the Family is finally upon us and so I would like to offer my personal wish list on the direction I hope the Church's teachings on marriage and the family will take. The standard here is "achievable", not perfection.

1. De-linking marriage, sex, and procreation

By allowing menopausal women to marry, the Church is already acknowledging that marriage has purposes beyond mere procreation. By permitting and instructing couples in natural family planning, the Church recognizes that sex does not necessarily have to be linked to making babies -- a change from religions that consider women to be unclean during their menstrual cycles and advise men to abstain from sex with them at those times,conveniently the times when they are also least likely to conceive. The time has come to de-link these three items. What are some of the implications?

a) Childless couples: Despite Pope Francis' laments about modern couples who selfishly refuse to have children, many couples choose to have fewer or no children for good reasons. Some of those reasons include when pregnancy or childbirth could endanger the wife's health, not wishing to pass on a negative genetic trait, not being financially or emotionally able to assume the burden of child-rearing (and having children when a couple is not ready can stretch a marriage to the breaking point as well as lead to spouse and child abuse), or simply forgoing the pleasures of family life to devote time to service such as missionary work. Such couples should be able to get married in the Catholic Church without having to lie about their intentions with respect to starting a family.

b) Marriage and Impotence: Canon Law 1084.1 is unequivocal: "1. Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature." And yet this impotence is usually due to illness or disability. Think of a severely wounded veteran who comes home with the dream of marrying his girlfriend and then is told by his parish priest that this is quite impossible. Church teaching needs to change to recognize that the couple themselves are the authors of the sacrament of marriage and that if, after due counseling and discernment, the couple still wish to marry, they should be allowed to do so even if there will be no sex or children. Impotence should not be an impediment to marriage, nor should it nullify it, unless it has not been fully disclosed to the partner.

c) Birth control: If every act of sexual intercourse does not have to be open to procreation, it follows that couples should be allowed to use any available family planning method that is not abortifacient. At the very least, the following methods should be permissible in addition to NFP and abstinence: all barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragms, spermicidal creams, vasectomy and sterilization. The Church's teaching on children needs to move from constant openness to life, to responsible parenthood. Families should be encouraged to have the number of children they want and can provide for, not "as many as God gives them." And couples should be able to choose from an array of tools to help them achieve this.

2. Homosexuality

Yesterday, we were treated to the spectacle of a Polish priest and theologian who was the assistant secretary of the International Theological Commission of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Fr. Krzysztof Charamsa, coming out in an Italian newspaper with his Spanish partner, Eduardo. At a later press conference, Charamsa used a stronger word to describe their relationship -- "fidanzato", which can be boyfriend or fiance. Fr. Charamsa, who was ordained in 1997, was promptly terminated from all his duties at the Vatican -- both his position at the CDF and his teaching positions at two universities, the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and the Pontifical Gregorian University. His fate as a priest is in the hands of the Bishop of the Diocese of Pelplin in Poland, Msgr. Ryszard Kasyna, who immediately issued a canonical admonition to Charamsa "to return to the way of Christ's priesthood" and asking "all priests and the faithful to pray for this intention." In effect, Fr. Charamsa is being treated exactly like a heterosexual priest who has admitted publicly to violating his celibacy vow, with an additional reference to his public opposition to Church teaching on homosexuality.

This unfortunate blurring of two separate issues -- the Church's position on homosexuality and its celibacy rule -- will detract from Fr. Charamsa's message. It would have been far more effective for him to have either come all the way out and resigned from the priesthood as heterosexual priests in similar situations have done so as not to be leading a double life, or to have simply stated (without the boyfriend in tow) that as a gay priest and theologian, he would like to suggest some changes in the Church's teaching on homosexuality. I contrast this with recently deceased Fr. John McNeill who wrote his landmark book The Church and the Homosexual in 1976, publicly acknowledging his own sexual orientation yet being discrete about his personal life. The book was written over a decade after McNeill met the man he would eventually marry, Charles Chiarelli. McNeill was instrumental in the founding of DignityUSA and was able to continue to minister as a priest, even though a year after the book's publication, the CDF forbade him from speaking or writing anymore on the topic. Ten years later he was expelled from the Jesuits after Pope Benedict XVI's crackdown on gays in the priesthood. After his expulsion from the Jesuits, McNeill wrote several more books on gay theology. Fr. Charasma, on the other hand, has never used his academic credentials or position to offer a theological defense of homosexuals in the Church.

So what is my wish list for the Synod on this issue?

a) Striking pejorative and unscientific language about homosexuals from Church teaching documents. CIC 2357: "tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity." CIC 2358: "This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial" and similar language. These words are both unkind and untrue. Healthy homosexuals do not experience their orientation as a "trial." What IS a trial is having to deal with the Church's blatant homophobia.

b) Distinguish between civil/legal marriage and sacramental marriage and quit interfering in the struggle of homosexuals for marriage equality. Pope Francis laid out this reality when he addressed the bishops attending the World Meeting of Families. "Until recently, we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive. This is no longer the case," the pope said. He goes on to deplore this but then cautions the bishops against saying that "it was all better back then" and "the world is falling apart and if things go on this way, who knows where we will end up?." Instead he reminds them that their duty is "to seek out, to accompany, to lift up, to bind up the wounds of our time. To look at things realistically, with the eyes of one who feels called to action, to pastoral conversion. The world today demands this pastoral conversion on our part. 'It is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded' (Evangelii Gaudium, 23)."

c) Finally, the Church needs to stop discriminating against LGBTQ lay employees in hiring and promotion. Bottom line: If a heterosexual person isn't fired for getting married, a homosexual employee should not be fired either. Fordham University in New York demonstrated the correct response this summer when Dr. J. Patrick Hornbeck II, chairman of the university's Theology Department, married his partner, Patrick Anthony Bergquist, at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, where the latter is a youth minister. Fordham briefly reiterated the Church's opposition to same-sex marriage, wished the couple blessings and said that Hornbeck "like all University employees, students and alumni, is entitled to human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation."

Many other people have fielded proposals in areas like Holy Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and what to do about cohabiting couples, and some of those proposals have already found their way into the Instrumentum Laboris so I will not got into these matters here. I simply pray that the bishops remember Pope Francis' urging to build a Church that is as loving and inclusive as possible so that all our families might have a place at the table.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

José María Castillo: "A percentage of the Curia is acting secretly against Francis"

By Jesús Bastante (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
September 17, 2015

José María Castillo, a theologian, friend and collaborator of RD, always comes to Madrid at this time to participate in the Juan XXIII Congress of Theology. Today he comes to present La religión de Jesús (Desclée), and we will take advantage of this to talk about the misuse of religion which the current pope is facing. What is striking about Francis is that he is changing the categorical "no" to the sympathetic "come." But as José María Castillo says, "not everything the Pope says is dogma of faith." His power is limited by the Gospel. And that is precisely what he wants to return to -- to the freedom and joy of Jesus.

Are you excited about this new congress?

Of course. I was one of the founders, of those who proposed these congresses that have been held for thirty-five years nonstop. A theology congress that has lasted all those years is, I would say, a unique case, I don't know. It isn't frequent. This knowledge environment is unique and has remained true to the orientation it has had from the outset.

This year it has a very current theme. It's about religion and violence. Lately we've been seeing how, misusing the name of God or Allah, there are people who are killing tens of thousands of people, many of whom are coming as refugees to the doors of Europe. This brings with it a different challenge that I don't know how we're facing it.

It's a viewpoint that's important to highlight -- there are many people who aren't aware that the root of the whole huge problem we're having with refugees and people who have to live under extreme circumstances -- it's costing the lives of many of them -- losing their nationality, all rights, all legality and dignity...-- is religion. The misuse of religion. But it's that religion, as it's thought out and practiced in many cases, lends itself precisely to this type of violence.

There has been violence in religions of all times and institutions...

One way or another, since each one of them was born. Religion was born as a way of salvation, hope, a future, of understanding among people and between people and God...But at the same time, it was born as an institution of violence and confrontation that has been the source of untold conflicts that should never be repeated.

Before continuing with these issues, we will introduce your new book, which is introduced with the beautiful image on its cover. La religión de Jesús is your commentary on the daily Gospel of the C cycle, the one that begins in Advent of this year, published as usual by Desclée but with many new features. It's a bigger book, with text that is more accessible to the elderly and with more extensive comments ...

Yes. Responding precisely to the demand of many people who had difficulty handling the pocket book that had been published for seven years -- I've now been doing the commentaries for eight years -- two cycles and, next year, will be three...-- we've been putting it out. Many people were asking for a larger, more easily readable model, and that is what we have tried to do this year, the publisher making a remarkable sacrifice.

Our friend Manuel Guerrero, a magnificent editor.

Magnificent, yes.

In La religión de Jesús there are texts to read every day. To reflect and comment upon. What appears just before the introduction is extremely striking for what is happening right now -- you dedicate the book to Pope Francis, with "gratitude and admiration for the good you are doing to the Church and the world through your fidelity to the Gospel." Why did you decide to dedicate the book to the Pope?

Because I think it's a reality we agree on, not just Catholics but the vast majority of citizens worldwide, that this man, because of a number of specific circumstances, is a person who is representing a determining innovative style that isn't going to turn back.

I see you're very convinced that there will be no going back in the history of the papacy ...

Yes, because I think that what is distinctive about this pope, in my view, is precisely his persistent will, his insistence on the issue of being faithful to the Gospel. Not just preaching it but, first, living it. As for the most recent popes, with this he is innovating surprisingly, managing to interest some, excite others, and making quite a few angry too.

We haven't met here to tell endless stories, but it's true that this man has embarked on a path that at first sight isn't doctrinal (though in the background, there is very deep thought), and this is new: he touches their hearts at first sight and everyone touches him. He's a man who is close to the people, simple, humble and with a remarkable sensitivity to all human suffering. I would say he is a man distinguished by a striking humaneness.

It reminds me of the passage about the Samaritan woman, in which Jesus is more concerned about accompanying her, welcoming her, being at her side ... (like when he is understanding to the adulteress), than condemning her. We come from a Church institution in which the dogma has been prohibition. With this Pope, it seems that what is on the agenda is caring -- we are changing the "no" to "come".

Indeed. So I think it's important to emphasize that this is not merely a matter of spirituality, although neither is it merely ethical. There is a far more profound theological vision than some can imagine and, synthesizing it in a few words, I think it comes down to two ways of understanding our relationship with God -- a relationship of submission, or understanding it as a relationship of sensitivity to all that is human suffering.

Subjugation and submission are what religions have always preached, but obviously sensitivity to human suffering is what Jesus taught. Jesus put sensitivity to human pain ahead of compliance with the law or the Torah of Judaism then (and now).

There are two ways to understand God, religion, spirituality, ethics and life, evident in the famous parable of the Prodigal Son. That father had two sons. One understood that the good relationship with the father was obeying him and doing what he said every day. But what the parable suggests is that the link be sensitivity -- sensitivity between father and son. Clearly, the one who looks bad at the end of the parable isn't the disgraced one, but the obedient one. Because he ends up being the one who complains that after working from dawn to dusk, he hasn't been given even a young goat to go snack on with friends.

But the father's emotion imagining the return of the son...

Of course, it's this: When the prodigal one comes with his speech prepared to ask for mercy, the father doesn't even let him speak. He doesn't ask why he got into that. Nothing at all. All he does is hug him, cover him with kisses, dress him again in luxury and organize a great feast for him, even with live music, because there weren't any CDs then.

There is mostly admiration for the Pope, but also a minority that is more like the older brother who blames the father who cares more about those outside, the one who is returning, not about the one who never betrayed him and has always complied with the rules. Is there much opposition to the Pope from within?

More than many people imagine. It's not that I'm a connoisseur of the intimacies of the Vatican, but you don't have to be deaf or blind either in this life -- it's known that there is a percentage that exceeds 50% of people of the Curia that one way or another, for one reason or another, without saying so openly, act covertly against him. A book was published recently that explains it. They have doubts about the Pope.

The group of eleven cardinals, among them Rouco...

Sure, that they question certain measures he's taken is an open secret. We know the names of people, attempts to manipulate ... I repeat: behind it are two ways of understanding God. Those who relate to a God of power through submission, tell themselves that, as they represent God in this world, they too can and should require submission.

...although, following their own thesis, they should submit to the supreme leader of the Catholic Church. Those who believe in obedience believe in the top that they have to obey ...

They grab onto an easy argument -- I'm the one who understands loyalty to God, that is, what I say is what matters, because, ultimately, no one has seen God, as the Gospel of John says . The one who revealed God, ultimately, was Jesus. Therefore, it's not so much about reproducing a representation of God, but following the way that Jesus developed. For this reason, in this book, which has many limitations, the stress is on what I'm saying: We find God by doing what Jesus did. Jesus was disobedient to religion; he came into conflict with it so seriously that the moment came when religion said, "this guy's incompatible with us." And therefore he was killed.

Right. You say there's a strong percentage of the Curia against him, yet at the same time you're convinced that Francis' reforms can't be reversed. Will he be able to overcome these difficulties and impose his way of understanding the Church and the Gospel in today's world?

Right now the Pope has the weaknesses and limitations of any human being. He's going to grow old, he'll get sick and, when his time comes, he'll die as we all perish. This is unquestionable. But the Pope has a special ability: to be attuned to world public opinion. That has created a connection that, for the one who comes after him, will be hard to make disappear if he wants to strike out on a different path.

They also said that in John XXIII's time and, although it's obvious that many things changed, in the end the Church later went back to looking somewhat like the one before the Council.

It's legitimate to have this fear, because there is no doubt that there have been ups and downs and setbacks in the history of the papacy. But the truth is that, it seems to me, it should be clear that a theology of religious power has not yet been done deep down in the Church. A theology of power remains to be done. We speak of authority, power, terms from Roman law and the High Middle Ages.

I think at this moment it's very important to note that the Pope doesn't have the power to do whatever he likes. Moreover, we talk about papal infallibility as the dogmatic definition of Vatican Council I was formulated -- his power is the same that the Church has; it's not his imposed on the Church. Refining this to the end is what's complicated.

Taking into account, too, the historical circumstances in which that infallibility was raised: there were conflicts with the Italian State (loss of territories, etc) ...

For example, when Pius XII defined the Assumption, which is the last dogmatic definition by the Church...

...truthfully there are very few irrevocable dogmas.

There are people who think that everything the Catechism says is a dogma of faith, but no. We have to instruct ourselves a bit; we speak without knowing what we're talking about. So I want to emphasize an issue that seems to me primordial. The government of the Church is linked to two things that can not be touched -- first and foremost to the Gospel, therefore the Church has no authority to act against it.

But there have been centuries-old rules in force in the Church for a very long time that have gone against an honest interpretation of the Gospel...

Obviously: its social interpretation. Therefore, the Church has no power to act against the Gospel. Not even for good. Interpretations that are a de facto nullification of things that were very clear in the Gospel, can not be made. Not even a bishop or the Pope can make them.

Second, the government of the Church is linked to the dogmas of faith and the Pope can not act against them. So his power has conditions, but all that is not Gospel or dogma of faith clearly can be modified by the Pope. We will get down to specific examples.

Divorced and remarried people: What does it say in the Gospel?

There's nothing about that, because what's in chapter 19 of Matthew about "what God has joined together, let no man put asunder," Jesus says it to answer the problem between the rabbinical schools of that time, that were arguing about the text of Deuteronomy 24, verse one, where the unilateral right of a man to divorce his wife is raised. Jesus corrects this -- that for whatever reason, loosely, a man could divorce a woman. He's responding to that specifically! Because literature of that time said things of this caliber: if someone comes home and sees that the woman has burned the meal, he can divorce her. These were the sayings of the schools of that time and Jesus answers "no" to that. He argues for ending men's unilateral privileges, for men and women to have the same ones. Making the text say more than that is manipulating it.

Because of the petition to the Pope to address the issue of divorced and remarried people, you wrote an article talking about how the discipline of the Church has turned with respect to this rule -- the first Christian communities didn't have it, then the Pope and now an exhortation or a synod could change a situation that has been in place six or seven centuries, almost like a dogma of faith when manipulating the words of Jesus himself. How will the Pope be able to do that?

It's not hard. First, by studying the matter thoroughly and making clear the limits that this gospel text has. Respecting the different opinions of experts; if there were to be discussions between them, it's that the issue isn't so clear. But, in any case, he has the power to decide. Since it wouldn't be something binding on all of us, he could decide the answer. "This isn't against the faith or against the Gospel, so I can choose to modify it."

There is no dogma of faith about the family in the Church. There are doctrines that have been taught since the Council of Florence, of Trent ... but only doctrines. It turns out that everything in the Council of Trent, according to the analysis of the minutes of its seventh session, on the sacraments, are doctrines but not dogmas of faith. Because Trent had a prior principle, a defining point -- to rule only on issues that weren't being debated among Catholics. The Council met to refute Luther, not for internal debates.

I'm insisting that the limits are the Gospel and the dogma of faith; in everything other than that, the Pope must respond to the needs of the people. Which now are having more priests, that there be equality between men and women, solving the problem of divorced people, of homosexuals ... People in society and in the Church need all that. I think the pope will rule on all these issues when he sees that things are ripe. As pope, he can do it and it's his duty if he sees that the time has come.

What is clear is that the first phase of the synod, the extraordinary assembly, led to talking about all the issues freely. These issues were put on the table as never happened before in the history of the Church and the pope promoted that by asking participants to speak with absolute freedom. The faithful were even able to know the votes each point of the synod got. It's amazing. In addition to the synod that will begin soon, there's another important current event: the Year of Mercy that starts on December 8th. What do you expect from the Synod and the Year of Mercy?

At the Synod there's going to be a scattering of views like an open spectrum from the extreme right to the extreme left, and what I hope is that they dialogue. The pope will listen and everything will be recorded. The pope will then decide; it won't be in October.

Later, in the post-synodal exhortation, might be where there's a response ...

There will be pressure. In these matters, particularly on marriage, there are not only religious and faith issues at stake, but also political ones because people on the political right have opinions on these issues that don't coincide with the left, but are on the opposite end. There's interference between religion, religious power and political power affecting society.

And economic power. This week the pope, ahead of the synod, has opened a door that we don't know what it will yield -- he's changed twenty-one articles of the Code of Canon Law for the purpose of expediting annulments and making them free, which implies touching the other great power -- the economic one that's unfortunately so important.

A journalist from a national newspaper explained very well how he's in favor of the pope precisely because he's done away with this economic matter specifically in the case of marriages. The journalist said he knew exactly what he had to put in an envelope and secretly give the judge who would make the decision.

For the Year of Mercy, the pope has settled a series of questions, among them the possibility that all priests absolve from the "sin" of abortion whoever is repentant and wants to confess. Many people of the pure Church have jumped on him. Why?

Simply because that is one of the important principles for the right to salve its conscience: the fight in defense of life. That defense falls silent, however, when every year millions of children die in poor countries whom right-wing people refuse to help.

The photo of the child needed to appear for those who said they wouldn't welcome a single refugee ...

... And Merkel accepting them. Although people on the right, as is well known in Hungary and Poland, remain opposed in many places. They have to hide that some way -- so they exaggerate on the issue of abortion. But it's that the defense of life doesn't end with delivery. Life doesn't end with the birth of the child. Let's be fair: the life of a human being lasts their whole life and you have to ask yourself what's the median age in the countries of Europe and North America and what is it in the south. Just ask a poor person from Africa. It's that we can't fix that, right? We would have to fix it together, among other things by reorganizing and rethinking the whole power of financial capital, international economic agreements, arms manufacturing, the permissibility of  war, the reorganization of so many things they don't want to sink their teeth into.

Here in Spain you're one of Pope Francis' defenders and we know that he knows.

I don't like to talk about those things, but yes.

We recommend to readers that they buy and read La religión de Jesús by José María Castillo. The Pope's been saying practically every day that we should have a Gospel in our pocket and read it. These texts help us to know who Jesus was and why those of us who want to live according to the Gospel are called Christians. Many thanks for everything, José María. And to Desclée for so magnificently editing La religión de Jesús. Comentario al Evangelio diario del Ciclo C.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

They're friends, not adversaries

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
September 27, 2015

Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48

Despite Jesus' efforts to teach them to live like him, at the service of the Kingdom of God, making people's lives more humane, dignified, and happy, the disciples don't quite understand the Spirit that animates him, his great love for the neediest and the deep orientation of his life.

Mark's story is very illuminating. The disciples inform Jesus of a fact that has bothered them a lot. They've seen an unknown person "driving out demons." He's acting "in the name of Jesus" and along the same lines -- he's devoting himself to freeing people from the evil that keeps them from living humanely and in peace. However, the disciples don't like his liberating work. They don't think about the joy of those who are cured by that man. His actions seem to them an intrusion that must be cut short.

They express their reaction to Jesus: "We wanted to prevent him because he isn't one of us." That stranger shouldn't go on healing because he isn't a member of the group. They don't care about people's health but about their group's prestige. They are trying to monopolize Jesus' saving action -- nobody should heal in his name unless they join the group.

Jesus rebukes his disciples' attitude and stands on a radically different logic. He sees things a different way. The first and most important thing isn't the growth of that small group but that God's salvation come to every human being, even through people who don't belong to the group -- "whoever is not against us is for us." Whoever makes Jesus' healing and liberating power present in the world, is for his group.

Jesus rejects the sectarian and exclusionary stance of his disciples who are only thinking about their growth and prestige, and he adopts an open and inclusive attitude where the first thing is to free human beings from that which destroys them and makes them miserable. This is the Spirit that must always animate his true followers.

Outside of the Catholic Church, there are countless men and women in the world who are doing good and are working for more dignity, fairness, and freedom for humankind. Jesus' Spirit is alive in them. We must see them as friends and allies, never as adversaries. They are not against us since they are for human beings, as Jesus was.

Three new Roman Catholic women bishops ordained

In an intimate ceremony at the buccolic Quaker Pendle Hill retreat center, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) ordained three new women bishops to assist the growing women's ordination movement. The three newly ordained women will join ARCWP Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan. They are:

  • Mary Eileen Collingwood of Hudson, OH, who has served for over 40 years in church ministry. Bishop Collingwood has an MA in Theology from St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology. Prior to her involvement with ARCWP, Bishop Collingwood served as Director of Religious Education, Coordinator for Marriage Preparation, Pastoral Associate, Director of the Diocesan Pro-Life Office and on various boards and councils. She was ordained a priest in Brecksville, Ohio on May 24, 2014.

  • Michele Birch-Conery of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, was ordained a deacon in Passau, Germany in 2004 and a priest on July 25, 2005 on the St. Lawrence Seaway. A retired professor of English Literature and Women's Studies with a focus on Women and Religion, she lived and ministered on Vancouver Island with outreach to the LGBTQ Dignity Vancouver community. In 2013, Bishop Birch-Conery moved to Windsor where she collaborates with priest Barbara Billey and their Heart of Compassion Faith Communities in Ontario and Michigan.

  • Olga Lucia Alvarez Benjumea of Colombia, was educated by the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation. Bishop Alvarez did USEMI missionary work with indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and was one of the secretaries assigned to the CELAM general conference in Medellin in 1968. Her formation has included religious studies, pastoral ministry, catechesis, liberation theology, and an emphasis on popular reading of the Bible. She was ordained a priest in Sarasota, Florida on December 11, 2010. She accompanies several communities and works with women ex-convicts and ASFADDES (Association of Families of the Disappeared). She is author of several books and articles in biblical-theological reflection and is a member of the Collective of Ecumenical Bible Scholars (CEDEMI). Bishop Alvarez is also author of the Evangelizadoras de los Apóstoles blog.

The ceremony was attended by many fellow women priests both from ARCWP and the rival Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) group, as well as a smattering of laypeople. Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan was the primary celebrant but she was assisted by retired RCWP Bishop Dana Reynolds and a male bishop, Bernard Callahan from the Ecumenical Catholic Ordinariate.

In her homily, Bishop Meehan pointed out the significance of the women priests' movement. "We are crossing over from a top-down, clerical model of church to a community, circular model that calls forth the gifts of all of its members. The institutional Church teaches that the Priest must be in Personae Christi, in the image of Christ. As women priests preside at the table of worship, we are visible reminders that women are full equals and all the baptized are created in the image of Christ." She said that since the original Danube Seven -- some of whom were present at this ceremony -- were ordained, the movement has grown to 215 members and serves 75 women-led communities. Meehan boasted that "in 2014, I ordained 22 deacons and priests, and now half way through 2015, I have ordained 19. In October, 3 ARCWP bishops will ordain 3 priests and a deacon on 3 different weekends in 3 cities Detroit, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque. There is," she concluded, "no shortage in vocations."

The ordination of Colombia's first woman bishop was perhaps the most historically significant one of the day, but also the most bittersweet. Conspicuously absent was Rev. Judy Lee from The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community of Fort Myers, Florida. Rev. Lee (photo above with now Bishop Alvarez at an earlier ordination ceremony), who is bilingual, mentored the Colombian women priests extensively at the beginning but later broke rank with ARCWP and joined RCWP. The only Afro-Colombian woman priest, Marina Teresa Sánchez Mejía, also went with RCWP. The rest have stayed with ARCWP and one priest, who goes by the catacomb name "Luz Galilea", participated in this ordination, doing the second reading in Spanish and later joining ARCWP Deacon Silvia Brandon-Perez in singing "Gracias a la Vida."

At the end of her homily, Bishop Meehan had some words for Pope Francis. She noted that "since women comprise half of the membership of the world and of the church, we firmly believe that gender equality needs to be a top priority in Francis' justice agenda." And she added, "We call on Pope Francis to affirm women priests as beloved members of the church and to lift all excommunications and punishments against women priests and our supporters. We also call on Francis to affirm the primacy of conscience for all Catholics including gays, lesbians, transgender, divorced and remarried, women priests and our supporters. By these actions, Pope Francis can open the way to deep healing in the Catholic Church of today and for the future."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

WOW 2015: What it was...and what it wasn't

I am not going to spend a lot of time on details about the Women's Ordination Worldwide gathering in Philadelphia last weekend around the theme "Gender, Gospel, and Global Justice." The National Catholic Reporter was there and has provided glowing gavel to gavel coverage of the meeting in a special WOW2015 section. Instead, I'm going to offer some general observations...and a more critical perspective.

1. The WOW Conference was an excellent opportunity to hear some of the big North American and European names in feminist theology -- Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Mary Hunt, Tina Beattie, Teresa Forcades, among others. Each of these women offered eloquent, well-researched presentations on their designated topics. However, voices from the southern hemisphere were essentially absent. Indian theologian Astrid Lobo Gajiwala offered one general session on the Church's gender policy in her country, a session scheduled early on the last day and thus not well attended. Some representatives of Mexico's Catolicas por el Derecho a Decidir did a workshop on that group's efforts on behalf of a change in the Church's teaching on reproductive rights. But the major Latin American and African women's theological voices were conspicuously absent. "Worldwide" it was not.

2. The demographic of the conference was overwhelmingly female, white, older, and middle class. In many ways, WOW 2015 was the female mirror image of the male hierarchy we so love to criticize. After the conference, as I was chatting with the organizers, we took a guess and estimated that no more than 10% of the participants were male (ironically, men were regularly called upon to debug computers and sound systems for the women). The men were represented by one plenary session with Dr. Gary Macy on the history of women's ordination, and a panel of priests and former priests who have supported the women's ordination movement: Roy Bourgeois, Fr. Tony Flannery, Fr. Jack McClure, and Paul Collins. Fr. McClure's presence was a bit mysterious to many listeners since his input was so cautious, it was as if he were afraid to say anything on camera that might later get him in trouble. He needn't have bothered with subtlety since, after his conference participation, he was informed by the Archdiocese of San Francisco that his services would no longer be needed at Most Holy Redeemer where he had previously celebrated Mass.

Even fewer participants came from diverse racial backgrounds. Certainly the prohibitively expensive cost of the conference and housing were contributing factors, as well as air fares and the United States' unfortunate visa policies. I contrast this with the annual conferences of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII, the progressive Spanish theologians, where costs are kept low by leasing an inexpensive venue in Madrid and "no frills" programming, and where efforts are made to bring speakers from Africa and Latin America, the continents from which Spain draws most of its immigrant population.

Parenthetically, WOW 2015 might have enjoyed the presence of some of Colombia's growing women priests movement had the ordination of Colombia's first woman bishop, Rev. Olga Lucia Alvarez Benjumea, been held during the conference. Instead, the bishops' (three women will be ordained) ordination ceremony was deferred to a later date and a different venue. I believe this was a major strategic error on the part of both the WOW/WOC organizers and the ARCWP leadership. The ordination will now be held the same day as Pope Francis will be addressing Congress in Washington, DC. Guess where the media focus will be. And WOW 2015 participants have been deprived of the chance to witness this historic ordination unless they choose to return to the Philadelphia area for the ceremony. A small group of women's ordination activists is planning to bring attention to the cause tomorrow when the pope is meeting with the U.S. bishops.

3. In addition to a resounding critique of the sin of sexism in general and heterosexism in particular in the Roman Catholic Church, some effort was made to acknowledge other problems of gender justice. A broad panel on "Survivor Justice and Ending Violence Against Women" drew considerable attention and audience participation. We heard from Barbara Blaine, the founder of SNAP who is herself a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest, from Mari Steed, adopted as a child from Ireland's infamous Magdalene Laundries, Virginia Saldanha, an Indian theologian who spoke about the abuse of nuns in that country, and Dr. Shannen Dee Williams, an African American historian who presented her research into the discrimination suffered by African American women in religious life.

One point made by Dr. Williams deserves to be highlighted in view of the Pope's visit to our shores. She noted that while Pope Francis on his Latin American trip, apologized for the Church's historical role in the abuse and exploitation of native peoples on the continent, he has said nothing about the Church's involvement in the slave trade. Perhaps Pope Francis can rectify this discrepancy at some point during his visit here and also apologize for the Church's history of discrimination against people of color in the priesthood and religious life. We also need to hear the pope say publicly and clearly that he takes the allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation of women religious such as those raised by Saldanha at this conference and earlier this year by Congolese Sr. Rita Mboshu at the women's meeting in Rome very seriously, and that the Vatican will be taking steps to investigate these claims and deal with the abusers in its ranks. He has taken a commendable public stance against sex trafficking but the time has come for a more concerted effort to clean up our own home.

But it's not enough for the Pope to speak out. We need to apologize for our own silence and complicity too. What was missing at WOW 2015 was a strong public expression of indignation at what is happening to sisters in the Third World. We had plenty of outrage about the apostolic visitation and doctrinal assessment of LCWR but, when it comes to the sexual abuse of nuns in India and Africa, just silence. One participant even shrugged and told me that such actions were commonplace because clergy in "those countries" routinely violate their celibacy vows. I replied that we aren't talking about consensual sex here but the abuse of women who have given their lives and bodies to God.

Also missing was any sense of responsibility for the discriminatory treatment of African American women by religious orders. Many conference participants were women religious and yet nobody went up to the microphone and said, "I'm a member of [Congregation X] and I want to acknowledge and apologize for any discrimination by my order." The silence was deafening. We are happy to heap criticism on the male religious but not so happy when the blame lies squarely at our door.

In the end, WOW 2015 was an entertaining but largely academic exercise and a somewhat expensive celebration of the women's ordination movement. There were lovely liturgies showcasing women's spirituality and the gifts of the participating women priests. It was gratifying, in particular, to see so many of the first generation of women priests all together at one time and be able to thank them for their pioneering efforts. There was even cake for all.

However, at 40, we need to grow up and growing up means less self-celebration and more self-examination, less narcissism and more solidarity with those who can't afford expensive celebratory bashes. Another contrast: The Juan XXIII theologians, who are a bit younger than WOC, always use the collection at their closing liturgy for solidarity with an NGO doing work with the poor. WOW/WOC's collection went towards their own expenses.

When the time came for concrete action, most of the 500 or so participants had begun their journey home, leaving around 50 or so to rally at the cathedral for women's ordination. Imagine if that action had taken place in the middle of the conference with full participation instead of as an afterthought...

Two attitudes very much of Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
September 20, 2015

Mark 9:30-37

Jesus' group is crossing through Galilee, on the road to Jerusalem. They do it quietly, without anyone knowing. Jesus wants to devote himself entirely to instructing his disciples. What he wants to burn into their hearts is very important -- his way isn't a path of glory, success and power. It's the opposite -- it leads to crucifixion and rejection, but will end in resurrection.

The disciples can't wrap their minds around what Jesus is saying. They're even afraid to ask him. They don't want to think about crucifixion. It doesn't fit into their plans or expectations. While Jesus is talking about surrender and the cross, they're talking about their ambitions -- Who will be the greatest in the group? Who will occupy the highest place? Who will get more honors?

Jesus "sits down." He wants to teach them something they are never to forget. He calls the Twelve, those who are most closely associated with his mission,and invites them to approach since he sees them very far from him. To follow in his footsteps and become like him, they have to learn two basic attitudes.

First attitude: "Anyone who wishes to be first, shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Jesus' disciples must renounce ambition, rank, honors, and vanity. In his group no one must claim to be above the others. On the contrary, he or she must occupy the last place, put themselves on the level of those who don't have power or boast of any rank. And, from there, be like Jesus -- "a servant of all."

The second attitude is so important that Jesus illustrates it with an endearing symbolic gesture. He places a child in the midst of the Twelve, in the center of the group, so that those ambitious men will forget honors and grandeur, and set their sights on the little ones, the weak, those most in need of advocacy and care. Then, he embraces him and tells them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me." Whoever receives a "little one" is receiving the "greatest one," Jesus. And whoever receives Jesus is receiving the Father who sent him.

A Church that welcomes the little and defenseless ones is teaching people to welcome God. A church that looks towards the big ones and is associated with the powerful of the earth is perverting the Good News of God announced by Jesus.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Teresa Forcades warns that the identity debate could make Rajoy win

EFE/La Vanguardia (English translation by Rebel Girl)
September 9, 2015

Benedictine nun, medical doctor, theologian and promoter of Procés Constituent, Teresa Forcades today warned that making the campaign just about the Catalan identity debate favors the interests of the PP [People's Party] "and could make (Mariano) Rajoy win in the general election."

Forcades requested from the Vatican temporary exclaustration from the monastery where she was living to stand for the Sept. 27 election, but could not do so in the end because Procés Constituent was divided between those who supported the candidacy of Catalunya Sí que es Po and the CUP [Popular Unity Candidacy] ones.

In an interview with EFE one day before the start of the election campaign in which she hasn't been able to participate, Forcades revealed that she will wait to see the political map that remains after the regional elections to decide about her future, "whether or not I return to the monastery," and her participation in politics, although she is still doing the same intellectual work as when she was living in community.

The nun has opined that "you can't substitute elections for a referendum" as Catalan President Artur Mas has done, and she thinks it's "bad news" that the Junts pel Sí candidacy has been formed, because "segregated slates would have allowed us not to forget what kind of country we want; that is a matter that can not be put off until later."

"Moreover, as happened during the Transition, the one who leads a process marks off the field where the game is played," said the nun, who has stated, "I don't trust the separatism of the CDC [Democratic Convergence of Catalonia]."

To Forcades, the ideal scenario in this election would have been to be able to choose between three models for the new country, "the CDC liberal one, ERC's [Republican Left of Catalonia] social democratic one and CUP's anti-capitalist one" and she has acknowledged that her intention when requesting exclaustration was to collaborate on a candidacy that "would unite the national and the social core concepts."

In this regard, she warned that she views the campaign as "poorly focused" because if it focuses on "the identity debate, it helps Rajoy win the general election" and she has announced that Procés Constituent would organize during the campaign debates to encourage talking about social issues.

Forcades, who on the 20th will give a lecture in Philadelphia (USA) on women's ordination and another on the 21st at Princeton University (USA) on the political situation in Spain and Catalonia, has opined that the Podemos circles in Catalonia, "that are neither anti-Catalan nor anti-separatist, have been able to mobilize many citizens."

The nun is also preparing, at the request of a foreign publisher, her first book in English, which has the working title "Freedom and love: A radical manifesto."

Among her tasks is also giving theology classes that she used to give at the monastery and now at the Centro Cultural Bonnemaisson in Barcelona.