Sunday, May 21, 2017

Jorge Costadoat SJ: "The situation of women in the Church is an injustice, a loss and a sin"

by José Manuel Vidal (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
May 6, 2017

The prestigious Chilean Jesuit theologian, Jorge Costadoat, joins intellectual depth with a clear critical and prophetic denunciation capacity. On this last note, he denounces that the situation of women in the Church is "an injustice, a loss and a sin." He also believes that, in the long run, we could move towards a "non-clerical Christianity." that the future of Theology is "in the theology of the signs of the times," while recognizing the immense reformist work of Pope Francis.

Father Jorge Costadoat is in Spain to present the book titled Francisco: palabra profética y misión. Homilías, discursos y testimonios ["Francis: Prophetic Word and Mission, Homilies, Speeches and Testimonies"] edited by Reflexión y Liberación journal, by Religión Digital and by Mensajeros de la Paz, where it has a chapter, because it is a choral book written by many people. And with the speeches of the Pope. A book of support for Francis, above all.

Welcome, Father Jorge.

Many thanks.

What's your personal situation at the moment? Are you the director of the Larraín Center?

No. I was for 12 years. And towards the end of last year I left that position and Fredi Parra, who was formerly the dean of the School of Theology at the Catholic University in Chile, took it. Now I work as a researcher at the center.

A researcher of that center?

Yes, I'm still under contract with the Catholic University, devoted full-time to research, and in particular I do research at the Manuel Larraín Theological Center.

In your case, the new winds of Pope Francis aren't noticeable?

Not at all.

You were retaliated against, forced a bit to leave the canonical mission by Cardinal Ezzati, during times in which Pope Francis was already there. That is, we aren't talking about the old regime.

No, this new Pope thing didn't matter at all. Not even my being a Jesuit.

Did that hurt you?

Very much, yes. The truth is that I had a yellow card. I had been having difficulties for a while, first, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That ended some 12 years ago. And then Ezzati, three years before what happened two years ago, had warned me that I was at the point of a second yellow one. I was never clear what the problem was. It was a very vague answer and to this day I don't know exactly what the problem was.

They showed you the yellow [card], not the red one -- you're still a Jesuit, working at the university.

I never had any problem with the Society of Jesus. The problem was the University. One belongs to the Catholic University as a theologian to the extent one has the bishop's trust. It's the bishop who gives you the canonical mission.

Because Catholic University belongs to the Archdiocese of Santiago.

Exactly. So when the bishop summons me and tells me he's not giving me the canonical mission, I thought they were going to simply throw me out. And that's what happened. It became disgraceful that the reason why I was thrown out of the university was that I taught with a lot of freedom. Saying that to a university professor...It happened in a situation of very great university change in Chile, which particularly affected private universities.

The rector of the University and the higher council put pressure on the bishop, such that I wasn't thrown out and they left me as a researcher.

I remember that the faculty cloister mobilized. Practically everyone in favor of you.

Yes, I had very great support from the professors.

You put some distance between you. You went to Rome for a few months.

No, that was earlier. I was in Rome five months doing a sabbatical semester. I came back in January and in March they threw me out.

I see you're taking it peacefully. Calmly.

Look, my thing isn't belonging to or having a career in the Theology School. My thing is Theology and no one has kept me from that. I'm doing it with pleasure, more and more concentrated on research. They are important subjects for Latin America. I'm working with a team in the Manuel Larraín Center. We've won public competitions for doing research.

Is there public money for theological research?

Yes. You always have to enter through a competition. There's a national competition for researchers -- it's called Fondecyt, and in it there's philosophy, sociology, etc. There isn't Theology in particular but there are other disciplines, i.e., you can apply. We entered there, we won a competition and we just accomplished it with Carlos Schickendantz who's my colleague.

He's another Argentinian-Chilean theologian.

He's Argentinian. A diocesan who's been living in Chile many years now. And he's also under a full-time contract for research. He's the director of our collection.

What are you researching specifically?

The Theology of the signs of the times.

Very interesting.

For us (I'm saying it a bit exaggeratedly), it's the future of Theology.

The future?

Yes, and I'm going to make another exaggeration: all the other theologies are ancillary to the Theology of the signs of the times. It's an exaggeration but what's happening? It's that our intuition is that one has to think basically about what God is saying today, in the present.

Traditionally, theology has been concerned with the revelation of God in the past and how this revelation has been transmitted in the tradition of the Church by the magisterium and by theologians. And that is perfect, it's a theological collection that serves us today, but that fundamentally serves as a basis for how God is acting now. The God who spoke in the past, continues to speak in the present and we feel that what we have to interpret, fundamentally, is something in the present. The great events of history.

A new theological current?

This started with Gaudium et spes, a document structured on the basis that the Church responds to the great events of the era. In Gaudium et spes what's detected as the great sign of the times is the great transformations -- and accelerated transformations -- that are occurring.

This theology comes especially from Schillebeeckx, Congar... All those people who remained in the Council and who are the breeding ground for Latin American liberation theology. They're the ones who generated the trunk to which we, at a certain historical distance, are linked.

We aren't doing the theology of those years, 40 - 50 years have passed since then. There are other themes. We have focused especially on methodological matters and some signs in particular. Right now the subject of women's theology is emerging as very important. A very important subject with much future in the Church. A central theme. In fact, Virginia Azcuy also has a contract with the Manuel Larraín Center.

What?

The theologian. The one who formed Teologanda, an extraordinary feminist theology movement in Latin America. And it also covers Iberoamerican theology. We're working together. They're subjects that weren't there explicitly at the beginning of liberation theology, that were developed later.

And the whole ecological subject that wasn't a theme 40 years ago and is now. That is to say, other subjects have emerged that require a liberationist faith stance and here we are. The migrant theme too, for example.

Migrants, refugees, that is, the new signs of the times.

Exactly.

The book in which you're involved -- what's the fundamental purpose of a book such as this that contains homilies, speeches, testimonies and a series of commentaries made by different authors?

I have the impression that the Pope, to a certain degree, is quite alone. He has resonated enormously with the people of God and also with others who aren't Christian. Among the laity, in the Church in general. But something is happening, like his thoughts, his actions aren't getting through the bishops or have gotten through with much difficulty.

There are many people who have the feeling that a great pope is leaving us, and a pope who has hit the nail on the head on Latin American theology and the Church, which is the option for the poor.

Is he leaving without us taking advantage of him?

Exactly. And he could die and another pope come who isn't going to give us the signs that Francis is giving. This pope already is, in a certain sense, out of the ordinary -- along the lines of the Latin American Church, of what he's been in his 50-year trajectory, there's no one who has been successful like him.

However, in his time he didn't consider himself to be a liberation theologian; he had his reservations about the Marxist versions there were in those days. But he's linked to the Argentinian theology of the people, which can also be considered a liberation theology in some respects.

The interesting thing is that today the liberation theologians are all exultant with this pope, because deep down he's responding very well to what that current is, that as for the rest, Marxism is not essential in it.

I know the Latin American theologians. It was, in some of them. They even flirted with Marxism because there weren't many alternatives forty years ago for social change, beyond that. But it wasn't essential. What was essential, and still is, is the recourse to social sciences. Because if you want to auscultate reality, the events of the era, to influence that reality through theological mediation, you also need the mediation of the social sciences because otherwise, it's going to be something very homemade.

The Pope has put the option for the poor label in the center again.

This is the great mystical and theological discovery, I think, of the Latin American church. Notice that in the four Latin American Episcopal Conferences, the preferential option for the poor is stated and endorsed as something central to which the Church has to respond. It's quite interesting because it's what's happened in the Latin American postconciliar period. That is to say, the Church is understood as a regional church starting from an integrating main focus that is the preferential option for the poor. And that is in the four Conferences with a remarkable importance; it has permeated throughout the Church in Latin America.

And this remained frozen at a certain time.

In practice, one could say so. But the Conferences proclaimed it, including the Santo Domingo Conference which was a conference in which the Vatican intervened. A grotesque intervention, by the way. Even so, in that Conference there's an endorsement of the option for the poor.

Theoretical endorsement, you mean. But afterwards, in the episcopacy and in ministry, it was toned down.

Exactly.

And now what the Pope's doing, I imagine, is recovering this.

Of course, something has emerged from the ashes that responds to a central insight of the Latin American Church.

Could there be a turning back? Is this spring which we are experiencing reversible in a later pontificate?

In the history of the Church, that isn't new. It's hard to think there's going to be a Pope like this one -- daring, who speaks off the cuff. Parla a braccio, as the Italians would say.

It's rolled up.

Yes, and he speaks without fear of making a mistake. Something completely new. Consequently, if the Pope speaks and makes a mistake, the rest of us can do the same. And there's no drama. The Pope can be infallible when he speaks solemnly and the other times he can be fallible.

He's said it himself. People will have to understand that when he makes a mistake, he's trying to communicate.

It's a whole catharsis for what we're accustomed to.

When the Pope was infallible on everything, the rest of us would have to keep quiet. There wasn't any dissidence. Everything was monitored, punished.

There are matters that aren't on the agenda that was put on the Pope, and the Pope has come out with them. He's been asked to reform the curia and is into it. But he came out with the option for the poor, and this has been, in my opinion, the most important thing. Because, a pope isn't there to make policy and although he has to do it, it's secondary. Here, the important thing is that the Pope proclaims the Gospel, and does it.

This means breaking eggs -- breaking, because the Gospel cost Jesus his life. The normal thing for a Christian would be to talk freely; because of that itself, he has problems. If a Christian doesn't have problems in an unjust world, what's it about?

But the cycles of the Church aren't usually so short either. We've come from a cycle of involution and the logical thing would be to think that another John XXIII and Paul VI cycle is being repeated.

The interesting thing would be if the trend settled in. But in a Church that's 2000 years old, that requires a lot of time.

Because the trend, in your opinion, is seeping into the people. That's obvious.

Yes, but I don't know if it's seeping in at a high level, in the hierarchy. I have serious doubts.

Into the clergy, you're saying, in the higher and lower clergy.

Yes. In the Church, the bishops and priests. I don't know if priestly formation today is permeable to any type of ministry. I doubt it.

Why is it so hard for them to leave the old inertia? Leave the palaces, for example. In Spain, all the bishops live in palaces (with a few exceptions) and the Pope, from the start, leaves his palace and goes to Santa Marta.

In Latin America they don't live in palaces. The bishops have very discrete lives, even humble and poor ones. It's what I've seen and that's very good. The issue is the relationship the priest establishes with others. I think there's a fundamental problem here. I have the impression that the priesthood and the understanding of the priesthood have not assimilated the great criteria of the Council.

The big criterion is that baptism is the great sacrament that makes us all equal as brothers and sisters. One might view that there's a priestly ministry that's at the service of the people of God. This would obligate a different way of relating, one of equality, of fraternity and exchange. Everyone responsible for the Church and each one in their respect.

But if you have a priestly formation where they tell you you're representing Jesus Christ and you have to teach -- and obviously that the others have to learn -- in those terms, it's very hard for the priest to learn anything from anyone. He knows it, and that's what the seminaries, the libraries are for and for him to study as much as possible and the next day, he's going to relate to everyone else in those terms.

Clericalism, bureaucracy -- what the Pope has denounced so much.

Fatal.

Changing that is very complicated. And if that doesn't change, this institution, which in the end is very clericalized, doesn't change either. Or does it?

Yes, of course, tremendously. So much that, I say, exaggerating: Is there anything worse that a lay priest? Precisely because we haven't had a sufficiently adult laity.

Mature.

Mature, adult, that says what it thinks. That believes new things. Everyone's waiting for what comes from above, from the bishops, from the priests. Because the ways of relating, in many cases, aren't adequate. Everything depends a lot on the creativity or permission of the clergy.

I think we should all got to a more fraternal model of Church, where the priest would really be a brother on the way, with everyone's creativity, creating a new Church. In new versions.

With new ministries too.

Yes. New things can be invented.

A married priesthood, for example. Why not allow it?

Clearly so.

Will the priesthood of women take longer?

It will take longer, but I don't think there are any theological reasons with enough weight to prevent it. And I think this situation of women in the Church is the greatest challenge of all.

Because it's a countersign of the times.

Totally. Here you have a case of the signs of the times and the importance of listening to the voice of God in history. How can it be that women don't participate in any important Church decision made at a high level? Of course they say later that the women in the chapels are the mothers; that's all true. But that women don't participate in a synod on the family and vote...

They brought the voices of some women to the synod and listened to them. But they don't participate in the decisions. No young women understand that nowadays. We men don't even understand it.

There isn't any global institution now that doesn't have women. I don't know if the International Olympic Committee [Translator's note: The IOC has women on its Executive Board] ...But in everything else, it seems like a big countersign.

In the book, you address the subject "From introverted spirituality to missionary extrovertedness". Explain this to us a bit.

The title contains a play on words. This Pope has proposed an interesting and tremendously evangelical ecclesiology. And it's that the Church is for proclaiming the Gospel. For proclaiming it to others and not always for ourselves. Normally, our problem is that the generation that understands us no longer understands us, that's our own.

The Pope says, "That's to be seen; what's fundamental here is proclaiming to those who are far." The Church has to go out, the outgoing Church is the Church that goes out to proclaim to those who don't know the Gospel, to the alienated, to those who left and to those who've never been. And this should be the final goal.

When you put the target so far away, everything in between is ordered according to that goal. And it's a beginning of healing everything in between. Even those who might be very close to the center, we have to adjust to the fundamental. Here the center isn't the Pope or the Church, which would have to revolve around the Vatican and the Pope. No. The center is the Gospel, and that requires ordering things differently.

So, we've gone from a Church that's turned inward, even spiritually introverted, a chapel Church, to a Church that battles it out in the street with all the risks that holds. The Pope has said it, "I prefer a beat-up Church to a Church that's sick from being moldy."

This change in dynamics is taking time. It's already been four years and it seems like the gears are creaking.

Yes, you don't see much.

What might be needed so that we would see more? Because I imagine that there must be some bishops too who are persuaded that this is the trend we have to follow. That we have to get in this car because, in the end, we're facing a unique historic opportunity.

Basically, I'm waiting for all this creativity of the laity. The problem is that in the Church we're all a bit stunned. Sleepy. And if the laity doesn't also see some signs of change in the clergy and in the hierarchy, it isn't used to initiating new things.

There have always been exceptional people who open up opportunities with initiative, without asking anyone's permission. Perfect. There ought to be many more but they could also have more support. And I'm not seeing this. My judgment might be unfair; I'd have to go out and see how things are going.

But, apparently, there isn't much creativity. And it's not getting to those who've never been there. That's the ultimate parameter. When you're reaching those who are really far, you're hearing signs that the Gospel is coming.

And we have the clear example. Because Francis is reaching the alienated, the popular movements, atheists, agnostics..., everyone. He does know how to do it and is showing us the way. Why aren't we following him on this too?

I'm following him.

Here, Tarancón used to say that the bishops had cricks in their necks from looking to Rome so much. But now either they aren't looking or I don't know what's going on.

I don't know what's going on at the level of the Conferences. Because when a Conference is deadlocked, it's very hard to make decisions in one direction.

That is, you're trusting more that the Catholic grassroots will assume this trend?

It's what I'm hoping. I can't understand how the relationships are put together. Looking at the long, the very long term, what I think might happen is that Christianity might develop in a non-clerical version. A non-priestly/ministerial one.

There are so many changes happening in the world that what I believe and hope is that it be conjugated another way, with other religions, with other cultures. That something new comes out, a Christianity that would be less fearful and that would go out to meet others, without caring about what will result in the long run. I think that will be the healthiest. Which doesn't mean that clerical Christianity will cease to exist because it has a great resistance capacity. The danger is that it won't often represent the Gospel.

So there would be a co-existence of various types of Christianity as there is now too.

Maybe. But I'm hoping something new, airier, will come out, that responds to what the new generations need. Because Christ is living, it's a matter of faith. And if he's alive and acting through the spirit, he will go on and you have to trust in this. There will continue to be Christian expressions of another order, new ones.

Finally, it's always the return to the Gospel.

It's the fundamental thing.

But that personal, pastoral conversion is very hard for us...

I think it would be very interesting to go out to look where that's taking place. As the Lord says: the Gospel is like a mustard seed.

You have to go out to observe because there are things one finds when one is looking. And there are always shoots beginning to take flight. To gain importance. I believe a lot in this. Sometimes you don't see it. And you don't see it on television because the Pope has all the cameras.

It's true.

There might even be many priests and bishops who are starting novel things but they don't have cameras. And what isn't in the media, doesn't exist. It's obvious and it's something that the hierarchical Church is also taking a long time to understand and put into practice -- making visible the sorts of seeds there are now.

Is popular religiosity coming back, purified? How do you see it? Here we've just celebrated Holy Week on a big scale. The only young people who are signing on to this new popular religiosity trend are the guilds, the brotherhoods. The other young people are absent.

That might be different in different parts of the world. Here in Spain, popular festivities are very strong. And I understand that this hasn't been lost, although at the same time young people are participating less. In Latin America they're still strong. Very strong.

Religiosity in Latin America is still powerful. It has quite a bit of independence but at the same time it requires the timely service of the priest.

Just like here.

What may be happening are very big mutations. Juan Martín Velasco, in Spain, studied this phenomenon of mutations in religiosity, It's happening and with quite some independence from the Church, and it's not clear that it's diminishing. In fact, the statistics say that 50 years from now the number of Christians in the world will be more or less the same as now.

There will be different combinations of religiosity. We aren't necessarily going to a more secular world. Or we'll go on being a two-sided character, that in some big areas we're religious and in others we're completely atheist.

But these two realities co-existing.

Yes. And Christianity should be an integrating principle of the person as a whole. The one who lives with realities that are antagonistic, sometimes doesn't work. That distance would have to shrink.

That breaks new ground and it's complicated.

And of course it demands a very great lucidity of Christian life and work. One needs to convert areas of life that aren't easy, starting with money.

There are so many very Christian and very rich people...We've had 2000 years for there to be a change in the matter. And even so, it's possible to be rich and Christian. A millionaire and a Christian. How is that possible in a world where there's so much destitution, so much hunger, so much war, so many migrant refugees? Jesus would say that something is wrong with that. And so forth, other areas.

On this, especially, there has been constant denunciation on the part of Pope Francis. Of this economy that kills, the discard economy.

The concentration of wealth in the world is hair-raising, that eight people can have as much wealth as 3 billion people. And moreover it's a trend that isn't stopping.

It seems like it's growing.

Rich people who are able to buy whole countries, what's up with that?

You're experiencing that situation in Chile too same as here, I imagine. It's globalized.

We too. There's great wealth that's concentrated. Inequality in Chile is great. Even though it has remained, for fifty years there haven't been great variations. Suddenly, the Gini index has gone down a bit, but the trend towards inequality has remained.

What improves the relationship is redistribution. Years ago, for example, in Chile, income inequality was 1 to 14. And by virtue of state redistribution it went down to 1 to 7. That's important, that there are taxes as a way to shrink the differences.

Are you in this dynamic of redistribution of wealth?

Yes.

And at the church level? It seems like your hierarchy has lost prestige.

It's lost a lot of prestige. The hierarchy, nowadays, according to statistics, is at an 18-20% prestige level. It's very low for what it's traditionally had. This basically has to do with the cases of abuse by priests of minors.

The famous Karadima case.

Abuse and cover-up. What the people can't bear is, there having been abuse, that that abuse wasn't denounced. And when it has been denounced, there hasn't been justice but it's been covered over.

There's been a lot of learning in this, but everything still isn't being done. I think there may have been problems of this type in the Church forever -- what was done, out of ignorance, was that if a priest abused a youth and a complaint arose, the superior would send him on a spiritual retreat to be converted or get him off to another city.

From here, they were sent to Latin America.

Clearly, it was thought that the person had committed a sin. But today science tells you it's a sin but it also might be a sickness that has no cure. Therefore, that priest ought to be removed from being a priest.

And, in any case, it's a crime you have to denounce.

Exactly. This learning is taking place, although it's hard. In Chile, protocols have been created in the schools, in churches, in different parts.

But this is being done by force because of the media pressure.

As has happened with all the important rights that have been established in the West. Behind every right there's a struggle. Women haven't come to acquire the dignity, the prestige they deserve in the 20th century except though the women who struggled to get it. And in the end they convinced us men ourselves.

In this the pressure, the media and the courts of justice have caused those responsible to bite the dust and realize that what happened, could not happen, and that this isn't only a sin, it's a crime. And crimes are to be denounced, however much it hurts. Because, although it's hard for a superior to have to bring an underling to the police, today he has to do so, if the case comes up. Before, it wasn't understood that way -- he was his spiritual son, he had to be protected...

Cardinal Castrillón, a Colombian, used to say that a bishop is a father. And a father never denounces his son.

That was the logic and it required sort of understanding. That logic doesn't work today. The paradigm has changed; there's learning in favor of the human being.

The logic and paradigm have also changed in relation to women, as you said earlier. And now you're adding a new dimension as if inviting a fight. Do women in the church have to fight to gain their recognition?

Certainly. It's a critical situation, the one of women in the Church. Disgraceful. And at this point, women count in their favor many men who are willing to support their greater participation in the decisions that would have to be taken at the highest level. It seems to us that it's an injustice, a loss and a sin. The situation of women in the Church today is not simply negligence. At this point, it's a sin.

The Commission on the Diaconate that Francis established, seems to point along those lines.

The Pope is opening opportunities and you have to understand that a 2000 year-old institution can't make changes overnight but he's not sitting idly. The Pope is beginning to make some changes in those directions and this study of the female diaconate is very important.

He's reproached for not going more rapidly because he also doesn't have much time left, or it's predictable that he doesn't too much time left. It's the law of life.

Yes. However, it's surprising all he's done.

You see the glass as half full, don't you?

Yes. It seems to me that he's done infinitely more than what is expected in little time. I would like him to have more backing. That other people would raise their voices and more bishops would row in the same direction.

In the situation of honoring divorced people who have remarried, I can't see why, if the synod has opened the possibility of it being a reality, the bishops of the world have been so shy to support Amoris Laetitia. It's clear that even when the document doesn't say it totally explicitely, it brings forth all the elements to come to that conclusion.

There have been some bishops who've had the courage to speak clearly, like the one from Malta, the German one. But there are so many more bishops who I don't know why they don't risk backing the Pope on this matter.

Including various cardinals, as we all know, the dubbia cardinals.

And it being about a central issue for the future of the Church. About understanding what the human reality is. It's not a question of mercy in the sense that I grant it...It's a matter of understanding the human phenomenon, what it means to be a couple today, to be a married couple, to form a family. With all the complications there can be.

I accompany a Christian base community in Santiago de Chile that started from a land takeover. Of very poor people.

In the working-class world, the Church is being slowly built up. In the end, the couples come to have a house, they form a family. But at the beginning, it starts from a young couple who have a boy or a little girl. Sometimes that relationship fails and another begins. He brings one child, she another, they have a third one.

That is, the family is built bit by bit and they never get to get married in the Church, or at all. They decide to get married when they have the house in which they're living together. And for that, 10, 15 or 25 years may pass. Are you not going to give communion to a family that's Christian because it's not in order? Because it's had a history?

If the Gospel isn't for these people, it's all wrong. It's an outgoing Church that puts itself in the situation of the one who is last, that wants to reach the last one. And if it doesn't reach that one, everything in between is questionable.

In the same dynamic would be the relationship of the Church with the gay world, with the LGBTI world, I'd imagine.

They're ongoing discoveries and behind which there always has to be a struggle. The struggle of homosexual persons is what has allowed the non-homosexual world to open its eyes, become sensitive, and see that there are other versions of sexuality. Other sexual conditions that aren't a sin. Here too, there are basic scientific facts.

At the beginning of the century homosexuality was thought to be a perversion. Then science says, "it's not a perversion, it's an illness." So the attitude changed. Then science says it's not an illness, that it's a condition, a possible version of human sexuality. Now we're saying that if it isn't a sin or an illness, if it's a sexual variant, we ought to treat it a different way.

Even so, you uphold it in your articles (on your Religión Digital blog and in other writings) and brickbats rain down on you for maintaining something that seems very common sense, very much of the Gospel.

Well, but brickbats are useful for us to advance. Let's put it that way.

In the end, you're optimistic and hopeful, aren't you?

Yes, but you have to go into battle. It's obvious. Things don't come out by themselves. It's not a matter of evolution. The one who is there for an evangelical cause has to risk that there will be no results. It's not the measure. If it went badly for the founder of Christianity, it has to go badly for the rest of us who want to open some way. Almost necessarily, Jon Sobrino and all those people would say.

Many thanks, Jorge. A pleasure. Let's go into battle and keep on rowing, ok?

Keep on rowing, very well. Delighted, and thanks to you.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ann Hidalgo on Liberation Liturgies

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

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



Some links:

Monday, April 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

Consuelo, how long have you been a professional theologian?

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

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

Were you one of the first women theologians?

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

Why are there so few women theologians?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They're minimal.

No, there aren't many.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it's positive discrimination.

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

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

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

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

This aid is also reserved for religious orders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Trump scare you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, April 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Week: Fear of the Gospel

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We manage too.

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

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

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

Do you now notice that different time, this freedom?

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

Which one?

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

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

From Sales you went to Scherer.

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

Has there been a change of tone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And can they slow him down?

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

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

But Trump's not that way.

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

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

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

About immigration, are the people now mobilizing against Trump?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The "great homeland" the Pope talks about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His face changed.

It changed completely.

Does he think he has a special mission?

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

And at 80 years old, too.

He's not a boy.

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

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

In the middle of the favelas.

He's street savvy.

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

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

Is it reverting back again?

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

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

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

And that someone along the same lines succeeds him.

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

Does that justify him before history?

Quietly. An intelligent man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He's also created the Commission on Women Deacons.

Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the image we give at the social level.

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

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

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

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

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

I remember her in Assisi.

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

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

And a privilege, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His grandmother.

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

Thank you very much, a pleasure.

You're welcome.