Sunday, May 1, 2016

Women's Ordinations - March-April 2016

March 5, 2016 - Sarasota, FL

On March 5th, Janet Blakeley was ordained a Roman Catholic woman priest in Sarasota, FL. The ceremony took place at St. Andrew United Church of Christ and the presider was ARCWP Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan. Rev. Blakeley has a Master's degree in Clinical/Pastoral Counseling from Emmanuel College in Boston. In addition, she has graduate courses in Scripture and Theology from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, Lay Ministry Training Institute, Boston, Andover-Newton Seminary, Boston College and Boston University. She has spent a lifetime in various ministries – church musician, parochial school administrator, parish adult education leader, volunteer in Haiti and spiritual director. Blakeley and her partner, Rev. Sally Brochu, have co-presided regularly at Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community (MMOJ) in Sarasota where they now live. Rev. Brochu was ordained to the priesthood in May of last year.

April 10, 2016 - Sartell, MN

On April 10th, Ruth Lindstedt was ordained a Roman Catholic woman priest by RCWP Bishop Nancy Meyer. The ordination ceremony took place at the First United Methodist Church in Sartell, MN. Rev. Lindstedt has been a member of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle community in St. Cloud. She received her Master's in Divinity from St. John's University in 2015 and shortly thereafter was ordained an RCWP deacon. Prior to joining the RCWP movement, Lindstedt worked for 40 years as a professional nurse and administrator in home care and hospice settings. She told the St. Cloud Times that she views the Church's opposition to women's ordination as a contradiction to its teaching on justice. "When the church talks about welcoming the marginalized, and this whole thing on justice, I'm sorry I just can't take it seriously, folks," she said.


April 16, 2016 - Albany, NY

On April 16th, Jim Marsh and Kim Panaro were ordained as priests within the ARCWP movement by ARCWP Presiding Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan. The ordination took place at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Albany. A graduate of Siena College, Rev. Marsh trained with the Franciscan friars. After leaving seminary formation, he served his local church communities as lector, Eucharistic minister, religious educator, parish counselor, and working with youth and seniors. A gay man, Rev. Marsh established a DIGNITY Chapter in the Capital District region of New York and created an interfaith Eucharist table where all were welcome, including GLBTS. His work in establishing support services for AIDS victims and families was recognized by then Governor Mario Cuomo.

Rev. Panaro has an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies from the College of St. Rose and a Master's in Social Work from SUNY Albany. She has served as a school social worker for many years. She has worked for the Bethlehem Central School District and for the Episcopal Diocese of Albany's Episcopal Counseling Service. Of her vocation, Rev. Panaro says, "I always knew I had a calling in the church...We don’t need to wait for permission to do what God calls us to be. As a woman priest, I feel my ordination is to be a witness for Catholics who don’t feel comfortable in the church anymore." Both new ARCWP priests are members of The Upper Room Inclusive Catholic Community (click on each event in "Calendar" for time and place of services) where they will continue to serve.

April 16, 2016 - Windsor, Ontario

On April 16th, Sydney Condray was ordained a Roman Catholic woman deacon by ARCWP Bishop Michele Birch-Conery at Cardinal Place Chapel in Windsor, ON, Canada. Ms. Condray holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toledo. She has been a professed lay Carmelite for 50 years and, as such, she would meet monthly with a group to explore the spirituality and traditions of the Order of Carmelites. She has worked as a General Activities Therapist at Northwest Ohio Developmental Center. She is the author of O Gracious One: 150 Psalm-Inspired Prayers (Twenty-Third Publications, 2005) and Assembled in Christ: 44 Liturgies with Lay Presiders (Twenty-Third Publications, 1993). In 1987, she received an "Outstanding University Woman" award from the University of Toledo's University Women's Commission.


April 23, 2016 - Morristown, NJ

On April 23rd, Sharon Dickinson, Jacqueline M. Clarys and Claire Gareau were ordained as Roman Catholic women priests by RCWP Bishop Andrea Johnson. Jackie Clarys is a member of the Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community in Maryland and holds master's degrees in Music in Vocal Performance and Literature from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY and in Theology from the Ecumenical Institute of Theology, St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD. After a music career with the U.S. Army, Rev. Clarys now serves as a Chaplain Intern through the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. Claire Gareau is a member of the Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community in New Jersey, and Sharon Dickinson is a member of the Spirit of Life Community in Weston, MA.

April 23, 2016 - Manchester, NH

On April 23rd, Kim Turcotte was ordained an ARCWP woman deacon by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Manchester. Ms. Turcotte lives in Epping and is studying theology-pastoral ministry. She has devoted her life to mothering an adopted son with many medical issues. "Now with my son almost grown, I will advocate for the church that Jesus intended and serve the people of God," says Turcotte. "Being the mother of a child with disabilities, I am called to serve those at the margins."

April 30, 2016 - Fresno, CA

On April 30th, Donnieau Snyder became the third African American woman to be ordained as a Roman Catholic woman priest. The first was the late Rev. Alta Jacko of Chicago, IL, and, in January 2016, Renée (Ronnie) Dubignon was ordained in Altamonte Springs, FL, by ARCWP Bishop Bridget Mary Mehan. Snyder and fellow RCWP priest Donna Marie Shaw were ordained by RCWP Bishop Merlene Olivia Doko in a ceremony at Trinity Lutheran Church in Fresno. Rev. Snyder is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of children and adolescents, and Donna Shaw is a nurse from Illinois, currently living in California, who also has a Bachelor of Religious Studies from Global Ministries University.


Speaking to the Fresno Bee about the upcoming ordination, Rev. Snyder said that she neither feared nor accepted the almost certain excommunication from the institutional Roman Catholic Church. "As a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, not having been truly welcomed in all ways, shapes and forms, in worship and community, it's hard to accept the concept of 'you're no longer included.' How can I be excluded if I was truly never included? Have I ever truly accepted excommunication? No,I feel I am more a part of the Catholic Church than I ever have growing up, because I get to really practice the primacy of my conscience."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Theologian Ivone Gebara talks about the new apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia"

By João Vitor Santos (English translation by Rebel Girl)
IHU On-Line (em português)
April 17, 2016

Philosopher and theologian Ivone Gebara doesn't hide her disappointment with the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia: "I had naively hoped that it would be addressed first to Catholic families, especially those who want to be, as far as possible, within a practice of following the papal guidelines."

Ivone highlights both the difficulty of absorption of the writings for the laity and the need for mediating action by the clergy. "The poor who want to understand something of the document won't be able do so directly, but always through the interpretive mediation of bishops, priests, deacons, etc.," she points out.

In the following interview, granted by e-mail to IHU On-Line, Ivone develops a critique of the way the exhortation expresses the conservative, hierarchical, and male Church thinking about families and their multiple configuration possibilities. "Once again, the Church appears as being first a celibate male hierarchy, a hierarchy that isn't constituted as a family according to the model indicated, but that criticizes behavior and defines life guidelines as if it were a master of the complex intricacies of human love," she analyzes.

Ivone Gebara is a philosopher, woman religious and theologian. She taught for almost 17 years at the Theological Institute of Recife - ITER. She has devoted herself to writing and giving courses and lectures in various countries in the world on feminist hermeneutics, new ethical and anthropological frameworks, and the philosophical and theological foundations of religious discourse. Among her most recently published works are Compartilhar os pães e os peixes. O cristianismo, a teologia e teologia feminista ("Sharing the loaves and fishes: Christianity, theology and feminist theology" -- 2008), O que é Cristianismo ("What Christianity is" -- 2008), O que é Teologia Feminista ("What feminist theology is" -- 2007), As águas do meu poço. Reflexões sobre experiências de liberdade ("The waters of my well: Reflections on experiences of freedom" -- 2005), among others.

Check out the interview.

IHU On-Line - To whom is the exhortation directed? How do you explain the addressee problem?

Ivone Gebara - The direction of the exhortation is clear, though it deals with the family and Christian marriage. It addresses, in hierarchical order, the bishops, priests and deacons. It follows the same style of the letters, encyclicals and exhortations of previous popes. However, due to the subject, I had naively hoped that it would be addressed first to Catholic families, especially those who want to be, as far as possible, within a practice of following the papal guidelines.

The fact that Pope Francis, wanting to be so close to poor people and reiterating various times that we need to go to the streets, listen to the poor, embrace their cause, has once again written or signed a document that is so vast and so inaccessible to the poor as well as to the common people, astounds me. This means that the poor who want to understand something of the document won't be able do so directly, but always through the interpretive mediation of bishops, priests, deacons, etc. We're faced anew with the problem of subtlety of religious powers and their ability to keep minds and hearts submissive to their claims, considered 'truths' according to God or according to the Bible.

The much-vaunted personal and collective responsibility is reduced to words or rhetoric without significant efficacy in life. Also, once again, the Church appears as being first a celibate male hierarchy, a hierarchy that isn't constituted as a family according to the model indicated, but that criticizes behavior and defines life guidelines as if it were a master of the complex intricacies of human love. A malaise invades readers who were expecting simpler and more direct reflections that could help in the contemporary formation of consciences, respect for differences and collective responsibility.

IHU On-Line - Isn't the title of the exhortation an invitation to love?

Ivone Gebara - The beautiful title of the exhortation "The Joy of Love", more than an invitation to love, is an invitation to thinking from the daily life of our relationships. We know that while there is joy in love, the title seems to hide the sorrows of love -- the annoyances, the many frustrations, the inevitable disagreements, breaches of trust, the human cruelty manifested in everyday life. In the end, hidden through a powerful and subtle 'paternal' attitude, the subjugation of the faithful to an idealized world that is not ours, a world where the spiritual powers tend to mask the complex mixture of our lives.

The worst in all this is the justification of the guidelines and interpretations given through what they understand by "power of God", not hesitating to subordinate consciences to their "opinions" often identified also with freedom. There is an ambiguity that runs through the whole document, especially in the use of imagined concepts such as the "quiet acquisition" of the community of the faithful or as evident in the experience of many. There is also a kind of defense of the Church hierarchy that appears as the side that knows and is right in the complex history of the world today. It's a side that doesn't speak like consumerist advertising or like the great of this world, nor like those who slide along paths that seem contrary to the order established by God. The bishops reassume their magisterial role even on subjects that seem to escape their competence.

IHU On-Line - At first glance, could this document be an inspiration to change in the local churches?

Ivone Gebara - The document is difficult and monotonous reading. The structure of the document and the allusion to the Synod Fathers confuse the reader who wonders if the ideas even come from Pope Francis or whether he felt compelled to express some ideas that were discussed at the Synod on the Family. In addition, there are several current issues of our world that are considered very generally and the treatment given them appears like an easy solution, often depending on individual will and following the Church's teachings.

Issues such as poverty, lack of employment, housing and health conditions, family violence, massive emigration that make family life difficult, are addressed often amid biblical and theological trappings and ecclesiastical document citations. Such a process, far from clarifying it, obscures the problem and doesn't give it the proper value in the current context of our history. The document, full of citations justifying the traditional stances of the Catholic hierarchy, doesn't allow readers to have a more comprehensive view of the issues or even the possible new developments addressed in the Synod.

I don't think this exhortation can change a lot in the practice of religious hierarchies in relation to the concrete life of the faithful. Similarly there are no major changes in the document either in form or in content, to respond to the new challenges that we are experiencing. So I'm not sure that the document can help, unless through the methodology of inviting people to think differently about the challenges that life presents today.

IHU On-Line - How does the mediation of the Bible seem in the document?

Ivone Gebara - It's astonishing to note that the use of the Bible as the first foundation of the positions taken by the Church government in relation to the family appears to ignore the work of many scholars of the documents considered "sacred." A pre-critical interpretive reading is captured in the exhortation, idealizing and concording the narratives, ignoring the efforts not only of the historical-critical interpretations, but of the many hermeneutic and materialist, popular, feminist and postcolonial readings of Scripture. We often have the impression of the presence of "the Bible is right," a pastoral method used especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries by fundamentalist groups.

Moreover, a disconnect is often noted between the traditional meaning of the document and the use Pope Francis makes of it. For example, in paragraph 23, he justifies the importance of human labor (Genesis 2:15) talking about it as a divine command and ignoring other allusions to work as punishment for Adam and Eve's disobedience. In other words, the documents and interpretations are often removed from their literary context and used to justify naive positions on the human family. In the same vein, he uses the family of Nazareth as an icon for all Christian families, idealizing it even when he's talking about the suffering endured by Mary and Joseph because of the persecution of Herod and the flight into Egypt.

From this idealization, he affirms the Church's teaching on marriage and the family founded on the indissolubility of the marital bond. And along this line he naively affirms the ability of each family to face the vicissitudes of life and history (paragraph 66) based on the maintenance of the sacramental bonds and consideration of the family of Nazareth as the icon of the Christian family. This kind of simplistic approach, in fact, hides the power to control that the institution, especially the prelates, want to have over the lives of the faithful. It covers up and mutes the reality of human relationships, the difficulty of current times, and the new ways of living and conceiving human relations. What's more, he reasons by always contrasting an ideal world "willed by God" to the real world of everyday relationships marked by our multiple passions and weaknesses. He values a kind of definitive vision of marriage and the family at the expense of the ability we have to begin new ties, without the latter therefore being frivolous or seeking only selfish satisfaction.

IHU On-Line - And does this theology in the document present new challenges?

Ivone Gebara - A more accurate analysis would be needed to capture the different theologies present in the document. However, a quick view allows me just to say that the theology of the exhortation takes up the same tradition of the Church expressed by previous pontiffs, especially since the Second Vatican Council . In addressing the different problems experienced by families, it gives primacy to charity and mercy before judgment. This seems to me a good thing. However, the theological parameters of the document are limited almost exclusively to the Church's Magisterium sources with particular reference to the documents of the last two popes.

IHU On-Line - Also at the beginning of the exhortation, in paragraphs 54, 55 and 56, the Pope reflects on "women" and criticizes the so-called "ideology of gender." How do we understand that in the current social context?

Ivone Gebara - Paragraph 54 begins by affirming the rights "of woman" and the importance of her participation in the public sphere. At first glance this affirmation might be commendable, but it isn't without many problems and difficulties. Again it begins by the abstract "woman," as if the multiplicity of women's faces would become a problem. In fact, talking about women in the plural, as feminism does, is an obstacle to the abstract and monolithic thinking of the hierarchy that often works on concepts distant from actual historical experiences.

When talking about "rights," the exhortation seems to exempt Christianity from the responsibility of having kept women inferior to men up to the present day through its theology/ideology. Moreover, it seems to hide and silence what the many claims of women's groups in many parts of the world reveal about the complicity of the Catholic hierarchy in maintaining the lack of women's rights.

Along this line, the paragraph continues talking about "forms of feminism that we can not consider appropriate*," but doesn't clarify the forms of feminism that seem appropriate to them. What would they be? Where are they? What do they ask of the government of the Church? The exhortation again ignores the worldwide historical efforts of different groups of women in achieving rights and respect for their dignity at the various social, political and cultural levels. It ignores or omits historical struggles such as the universal suffrage one that are still present today in many countries.

In paragraph 56, the crucial issue of gender appears as a challenge to be considered. According to the document, it is stated that "an ideology of gender" "denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family."

What is meant by "reciprocity in nature?" What we actually know is non-reciprocity in nature. However, we know something of historical reciprocity. This is an arduous acquisition of some groups that recognize the rights of their peers and seek to affirm them in social and family relationships. Moreover, in criticizing the "ideology of gender," the document talks about foreseeing a society without gender differences ... What would be foreseeing a society without gender differences? What do the writers or writer mean by this? Is it a matter of rights, of ethics?

I confess the confusion and absolute lack of clarity that this paragraph causes in any more critical reader. Precisely so-called gender theory and not "the ideology of gender" with all the limits admitted by feminist theorists is a statement against the absolutism of a culture that denies differences and makes us go into and submit ourselves to the world of "male" norms pre-established as "nature" and the divine order. It makes us go into behavior models and identity content defaults, blaming ourselves if we don't fit into them. The notion of "nature" proposed by the document is a stunning oversimplification. He seems to believe in a kind of already made natural human being, directly born from the hands of God and in the image of how they (the writers of the document) conceive him.

However, the belief in this kind of ordinary materialism coming from a anthropomorphized God leads them to say, in the same paragraph 56, that the ideology of gender doesn't allow us to "protect our humanity,... accepting it and respecting it as it was created." Once again, what do these statements mean?

Concepts like theory and ideology, natural and unnatural, cultural constructs, rules and symbolic codes, plural identities are not reflected on from our contemporaneity. Monolithic identities appear as the work of divine creation from which we can not escape. This appears to provide a solid foundation of 'truth' and respond to the insecurities, including identity ones, of today's world.

In the exhortation, there is a fixist anthropology that determines what men are and what women are sustained by a gender hierarchy and by often compulsory heterosexuality turned into "nature." So we are invited to be understanding and tolerant of those who are different, to help them in their needs and understand their limits. But surely they don't enjoy the status of being an ideal family model. They can not be a historical expression of the icon of the holy family of Nazareth.

We find in the exhortation some negative criticism of the notion of gender, but not a serious questioning from which we are invited to reflect about and, above all, to love each other based on our differences. Deep down we only know the differences, the diversity ... We only exist as diverse and interdependent life ... Unity is really a construct along the lines of interdependence and the inevitable conflicts present in our family life or in society and, therefore, in relation to all that exists.

However, there are for the Synod Fathers or for the Pope, as it appears in the document, foundational categories of sex and gender raised to natural truths established by God. But what happens when different social groups live out other relationships, other beliefs based on their bodies? The Church hierarchy should condemn them and invite them to normalization according to the parameters it establishes. Wouldn't this be an attempt doomed to ineffectiveness? Wouldn't it be a way to discredit the institution and the services it can still offer? In the exhortation we can perceive the presence of tolerance toward people considered victims, but at the same time an intransigence toward theories and philosophies that would shake the foundations of Catholic philosophical idealism so strongly present in the document.

IHU On-Line - To what extent could the exhortation help families in today's world?

Ivone Gebara - I have doubts, many doubts about documents that aren't based on the authority of life with its precariousness and its contradictions. Being based on life isn't just taking a few examples drawn from here or there to support our preconceived ideas, to justify what we think. Being based on life is to recover other ways of inspiration that the Bible and Tradition can offer us, less normative ways, more realistic and poetic at the same time.

For example, the beauty and plasticity of that story in Genesis 2, one of the biblical myths of human creation from earthen humus mixed with divine breath that could be read as a poem about the human mystery, always a mixture of clay, earth and creative breath. Of course, I'm using biblical documents, documents of our tradition, but I'm not giving them unquestionable authority over us ... Being based on life is evoking senses, memories, analogies, as if we wanted to ask people to do the same based on their lives ... as if we wanted to invite them to recover pieces of their lives and learn from them as Paulo Freire used to do in his adult literacy method. Recover diverse and fundamental words and experiences that awaken in us new tenderness and new possibilities to feel good about simply being human.

Therefore it's necessary that every Christian community write its documents, its policies, its present goals ... You have to shift the Magisterium to the people and allow them to write their letters about their lives and how they are being lived. Universal or universalizing knowledge, despite its importance, doesn't always help small groups to grow inside and out. It's true that in a globalized world we need some global analysis, but we need, above all, to learn from the locality, to make analyzes based on our own experiences, creating the tradition of thinking about our lives, valuing our history and our knowledge.

IHU On-Line - Would you like to add anything else?

Ivone Gebara - I would like to end this conversation by saying that I believe in the good will of Pope Francis, recognize the value of many of his initiatives, and admire his efforts in the introduction of behaviors and attitudes indicating ethical and gospel options for our time. But I also notice in him, as in many of us, the "nostalgia of perfect origins." And that nostalgia is ambiguous and leads us to want a more or less perfect present in view of a future or perfect life end.

What I'm saying sounds complicated but it's quite simple. Limiting myself to the proposed life present in Christianity, we believe that we come as a perfect being from God and we will "be perfect in that God" after this life. There is a semi-obscure idea of perfection that inhabits us and makes us seek the perfect man, the perfect woman, the perfect family, the perfect community, as if the ideal of life were the realization of some projected perfection that we don't know what it is.

I believe that, although we have many sorts of dreams, we're living in a time when life in its different expressions and dimensions appears to us as a mixed reality. And this mixture expresses greatness and smallness, beauty and ugliness, kindness and cruelty, belief and disbelief in different doses and diverse perceptions present in human beings and in all that exists.

Therefore, far from destroying our humanity and diversity, many current theories have helped us to believe that we are more than the definitions, measurements and classifications we make of ourselves. We can't forget that this diversity can also be found in the Bible, for example, in many documents that speak of God. The Latter One  appears with an immense diversity of faces ... S/he's a potter, has an artist's hands, has a uterus, breasts, sadness, anger, is a father, is a hen who gathers her chicks, is a champion of the oppressed, is a warrior, is a chastiser, is an avenger, slow to anger, full of love and mercy, a gentle breeze ... As paragraph 313 of the exhortation says, love "takes on different hues ...".

This plasticity of images and symbols  reflects the effervescence and mixture of life well, this intense movement of diversity and difference that constitutes us. Therefore, we are called to love our neighbor, the fallen one on the road, the smelly, the different, and not just those who think the same or like the same things. Maybe we should try to be artists more, inventors of ourselves, poets able to play with words, to share the bread, fish and fruits of the renewed daily dance. Get out of the rigidity of the same, the fixed structures of documents, slogans and masterful theses ... Get away from advice in view of unknown or imagined perfection ... Realize that there is more goodness than we imagine and much, much beauty that can not be contained in the old wineskins of our theologies.

*Translator's note: The Vatican English version of Amoris Laetitia mistranslates the original Spanish "inadecuada" as "inadequate" when "inappropriate" would be a better translation, given the context.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A prayer for women's priesthood

This prayer for women priests and the sketch below, were produced by a Benedictine nun at the Monasterio de Sant Benet in Catalonia, Spain, Sr. Montserrat Unterlöhner (photo), and were originally published in Catalan on Sr. Teresa Forcades y Vila's Facebook page earlier this month. I have translated the prayer into English. -- RG

"Bon Déu, font de llibertat que ens mostres el camí de l'amor incondicional sense límits, concedeix-nos el do de reconèixer, acceptar i estimar el sacerdoci femení.

Beneeix l'Església Catòlica fent possible ben aviat l'ordenació de les dones, de tal manera que posin tots els seus dons i la seva riquesa espiritual i humana al servei de la Comunitat.

Concedeix-nos que el magisteri de l'Església permeti que les dones puguin proclamar i predicar la Paraula de Déu des de l'ambó i puguin partir i repartir el pa de l'Eucaristia i administrar els sagraments que convingui.

Que la joia, la pau i la fidelitat de l'amor de Crist envers les dones ens ajudin a escoltar, acollir i exposar sense por allò que l'Esperit inspiri avui en els nostres cors,tot animant, especialment a les dones, a escoltar la pròpia vocació i ser capaces d'assumir amb generositat una nova responsabilitat dins de l'Església en bé de tothom. Ho demanem per Crist Senyor nostre. Amén."

"Good God, source of freedom who shows us the path of unconditional love without limits, grant us the gift to recognize, accept and value women's priesthood.

Grant that the Magisterium of the Church allow women to preach and proclaim the Word of God from the ambo and that they be able to break and share the bread of the Eucharist and administer the appropriate sacraments.

Bless the Catholic Church that it may soon make women's ordination possible, that they might put all their gifts and their human and spiritual wealth at the service of the Community.

That the joy, peace and faithfulness of Christ's love towards women help us listen to, welcome and fearlessly express what the Spirit inspires in our hearts today, encouraging all, especially women, to listen to their own vocation and be able to generously assume new responsibility within the Church for the good of everyone. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen."

Jose Arregi: To lesbians, gays, transsexuals and bisexuals

By Jose Arregi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Atrio
March 22, 2016

Friends: Thank you for inviting me to your annual encounter of LGTB Christian Believers at the Franciscan Shrine of Santa María de Regla in Chipiona (Cadiz). A very beautiful place of peace caressed by the Atlantic ocean, rocked day and night by the murmur of its waves. Thanks to the Franciscans for their effusive fraternal embrace and, above all, for welcoming you each year with the freedom and blessing of Francis of Assisi to his brother Leo, a blessing present in every corner of the sanctuary: "The Lord bless and keep you..." Yes, may Life bless you.

God, or Life, doesn't bless you despite being gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, but for being what you are. Bless your lives for being as you are, for your bodies as they are -- the body never lies --, for your sexual orientation, for your gender identity. "Thank you because you made us in all colors," reads the motto of your encounter. So be it. Let everyone rejoice in what they are. Let them give thanks for the own unique color of their lives, like the blue of Chipiona's sky, the green of its waters, the yellow of its beach, all the colors of the rainbow.

Jesus doesn't welcome us "with mercy," as it says in the gospels that he welcomed "publicans and sinners" and ate with them, as some good theologians recall with the best of intentions when they talk about you or talk to you, unknowingly admitting or unintentionally insinuating that, because of your condition, you need a look of indulgence, to be treated with pity. As though you were bearing a problem, a disease, or blame.

The Church doesn't owe you understanding or mercy, but recognition. Let it recognize what you are as good, as good as being a blond in a land of brunettes. And it's not enough to say as Pope Francis did when they asked him about homosexuals, "If they're like that, who am I to judge them?". It's good, it's already a lot, but imagine if a journalist had asked him, "Pope Francis, what do you think of a heterosexual couple?" Do you think the pope would have answered, "If life has made them that way, I am not the one to judge them"? Let the Catholic Church move from treating you with mercy to treating you with respect, and from respecting you tolerantly to really recognizing you. The problem is theirs. The problem is ours.

You bear the terrible stigma of millenia of sexist culture, of negation of culture, of contempt for the other, of mistreatment of life, of simple ignorance...You're still shouldering the anathema of the church institution, because of pure lack of knowledge, because of hardness of mind or maybe of heart too. Religions in general -- from the Eastern traditions to the great monotheistic faiths -- have a cultural and spiritual revolution pending that would lead them to be deeply reconciled with the body, sex, pleasure. At the root of homophobia is found precisely a problem with the body, sex, and pleasure. And don't forget that the most aggressive homophobia is almost always a response to one's own badly experienced homosexuality; psychology and sociology (church sociology in particular) corroborate that.

Someday the Church will ask you for forgiveness for what it's still falsely maintaining in the name of God. And it will erase from the Catechism of the the Catholic Church, like other things, that absurd statement that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" and will abandon once and for all its favorite argument -- that the Bible and tradition have "always" taught it thus. It's historically false, since you have to look for and interpret a lot to find clear condemnations of homosexuality in the Bible; as far as the history of the Church, testimonies and documents about that, especially prior to the 14th century, homosexual practice was not only tolerated but was even blessed as a sacrament. But the argument that what the Bible and tradition say is absolute truth and must be maintained unchanged forever is, above all, theologically false. It justifies senseless opinions just because "it is written." Absurd. Don't the bishops read in the Bible, both in the Old and in the New Testament, that God prohibits eating pork, seafood, rabbit, and sausages? Don't they read in the Letter to Timothy that bishops are to be married? Really, they just read what they want to. They call their phobias and obsessions God.

But the Spirit is moving. The religions are moving, despite their scriptures and traditions. The Dalai Lama has moved. And many liberal rabbis. And many Anglican bishops. Will the Catholic bishops move? Will Pope Francis move on this issue too? Will they be reconciled to Life?

Homosexual friend, the angel of the Annunciation is saying to you as it did to Mary: Rejoice in being as you are, full of grace, a sacrament of love in your own beautiful and holy color. Love what you are and be what you want.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Listening only to Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
February 21, 2016

Luke 9:28-36

The scene is traditionally known as "the Transfiguration of Jesus." It's not possible to reconstruct with certainty the experience that gave birth to this astonishing story; we only know that the evangelists give it great importance, since, according to their tale, it's an experience that hints at part of Jesus' true identity.

At first, the story highlights the transformation of his face and, though Moses and Elijah come to talk with him -- perhaps as representatives of the law and the prophets respectively -- only the face of Jesus remains transfigured and glowing in the center of the scene.

Apparently, the disciples don't grasp the deep essence of what they are experiencing since Peter says to Jesus, "Master, how good it is here. We will make three tents -- one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He puts Jesus on the same plane and at the same level as the two major biblical characters. To each his tent. Jesus still doesn't occupy a central and absolute place in his heart.

God's voice will correct him, revealing the true identity of Jesus: "This is my Son, the Chosen One," the one who has the transfigured face. It should not be confused with those of Moses and Elijah, that are dimmed. "Listen to him." To no one else. His Word is the only decisive one. The other ones must lead us to him.

It is urgent to recover in the Church today the decisive importance that the experience of listening within the Christian communities to the story of Jesus recorded in the Gospels had in the beginning. These four writings are, for Christians, a unique work that we mustn't equate with the rest of the biblical books.

There is something that we can only find in them: Jesus' impact on the first ones who were drawn to him and followed him. The gospels aren't didactic books that lay out academic doctrine about Jesus. Nor are they biographies written to provide details about his historical background. They are "stories of conversion" that invite us to change, to following Jesus and to identification with his plan.

So they ask to be heard in a spirit of conversion. And in that attitude, they must be read, preached, thought through and kept in the heart of every believer and every community. A Christian community that knows how to listen every Sunday to the Gospel story of Jesus in a spirit of conversion, begins to change. The Church has no more vigorous potential for renewal than what is enclosed in those four small books.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Martha Zechmeister: "Francis is a typical Latin American patriarch, but open to learning"

by Cristina Fontenele (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Adital
February 12, 2016

Determined to see the world from a perspective outside of Europe, Austrian theologian Martha Zechmeister was first in Latin America in 1999, when she reports having experienced a "shock" in relation to the social context of El Salvador. In what she calls a "sabbatical year," Martha got to know the Latin American tradition, as well as Jon Sobrino [Jesuit priest and theologian], the story of Monseñor Oscar Romero [recently beatified by the Vatican] and Jesuit theologian and priest Ignacio Ellacuría. In an exclusive interview with Adital, the theologian explains the differences compared to the European context, revealing the conflict between theory and the practice of "seeking and finding God in all things," Ellacuría's watchword.

A PhD in Theology, for more than 30 years Martha has been a religious of the Congregation of Jesus, an organization founded by Mary Ward. She is currently professor and director of the Masters in Latin American Theology program at the Central American University "José Simeón Cañas" (UCA) in El Salvador, being a specialist in political theology, theological anthropology and Ignatian spirituality.

A student of Johann Baptist Metz, one of the founders of political theology in Europe, Martha acknowledges that she was trained in a theological current that is very much in harmony with liberation theology. From the central perspective of Metz, who argues that, "for the Christian, there is no suffering that doesn't affect them," the Austrian woman stresses that this theological current helped her break away from self-sufficient European narcissism, and be open to experiences of suffering in Latin America too.

Assessing the context of women in the Church and in El Salvador, the theologian reveals her surprise at Pope Francis, "a typical Latin American patriarch," and she also reflects on the issue of abortion in the country and the context of violence that exists in Central America.

Adital: How do you assess the differences between the European and Latin American theological contexts, since you went to live in El Salvador?

Martha Zechmeister: From the theological current in which I was trained, there wasn't such a sudden change. I see a lot of harmony between the theology of Johann Baptist Metz and that of [Ignacio] Ellacuría. For example, Metz talks a great deal about the authority of those who suffer, how God speaks to us in situations of suffering and, from there, we should determine our praxis. And in that I see a lot of consonance with Ellacuría's theology. But of course the European ecclesial situation and the Salvadoran situation, and also the social and political ones, are very different. It doesn't mean that in Europe there are no poor people, that there are no marginalized people, but they are a minority. I participated in Vienna, in a movement that tried to include the homeless, but in Vienna that percentage is small, and one is left with the illusion that, with good will, this can be solved. Currently, however, a different situation is occuring with the arrival of thousands of Syrians. Everything then becomes complicated, which shows that in Europe the situation is changing too.

In El Salvador, I first had a big scare. I come from Ignatian spirituality and one of St. Ignatius' themes is "seek and find God in all things," which means that, in all reality, God is present. However, coming to El Salvador, I realized that my spirituality was a little naive, because it isn't hard to feel, to taste the presence of God, in the goodness of life, of nature, of friendship. It's important to learn to have that awareness of the wonder that is life, but coming to El Salvador, my first experience was in the center, when I ran into a big Third World city. In 1999, one felt the consequences of the civil war, many men maimed by the war, a lot of alcoholism.

Currently the situation hasn't improved, but it has changed -- prostitution, drugs, increased gang violence. For the first time I was exposed to a situation, pardon the rudeness, but before I had the impression that, with goodwill, we could humanize the world if we wanted to. And moved by that situation, I thought, "this world has no solution." And in that moment, I realized that that phrase -- "seek and find God in all things" -- is not cheap romanticism or cynicism. One must learn to find God even in situations that seem to deny Him.

For me, what has always been most important has been a sort of scream spirituality, because I realized that we can't see that reality and say "That's the way it is" without letting it affect us. I believe that prayer, in those circumstances, means screaming, "It can't be that way!". This is a deep, loud scream for God, "It can't go on like this!".

Adital: About the context of women in the Church, how do you assess the challenges and progress during Francis' papacy? And how is it being a woman theologian in El Salvador?

Martha: I think we're all happy that Pope Francis is as he is. Jon Sobrino has an expression that I like, that talks about "atheists as God intends." What does that mean? There are atheists who are atheists, but they are just -- for fighting for human dignity, for example. Applying those words another way, I always say that Francis is a patriarch as God intends. I think you can't hide that he is a typical Latin American patriarch.

On the flight back from World Youth Day in Brazil, I think an Italian reporter asked about the ordination of women. The Pope replied that that question isn't up for discussion and that there is already a definite answer. That didn't surprise me much because he is a patriarch. On another occasion, he said, "See, the Madonna, the Virgin, is much more important than the apostles." I don't know if he meant to talk about dignity of women within the Church, about a vocation for women to be an icon of the Virgin, but I was confused.

Recently I commented to a friend that, when they tell me I have to live like an apostle, like a disciple of Jesus, I know what to do. I always know I'll fail because it is too high a requirement, but I know where to take action. However, when they tell me that as a woman I have to live like an icon of the Madonna, of the Virgin, I don't know what to do.

Many of the Latin American patriarchy's categories are burdensome relative to women. I think that, because of bad conscience, because of machismo, an elevation of women soon comes too. But these two attitudes -- either machismo that tramples women or that lifts them up -- are two sides of the same coin, which is the inability to have an equal to equal relationship, to be comrades in the same struggle.

In my view, the Church has a long way to go. For a while, I've thought we could expect a lot from this pope, and I'm now a big fan of him. I'm thrilled, because he's giving the Church a face that is closer to Jesus'. However, on the subject of women in the Church, I've felt a little strange, although on the other hand, I've been really surprised, for example, by the American women religious issue.

I participated in an audience with the Pope and 800 superiors of the Congregation, the year of his election, in 2013. There, tension was already being felt when he talked to us about obedience to the bishops and the Holy Church. I was like "aarrgh." However, this pope always surprises us. I thought, "no one could be more conventional" and immediately afterwards, he received CLAR (Confederation of Latin American Religious) in an open, fraternal atmosphere and saying things like, "Don't be afraid; be bold," "Don't be afraid of getting a letter from the Congregation [for the Doctrine] of the Faith; go ahead." It was very encouraging.

The high point of all this, what surprises me most about this Pope, is that he comes from a certain context of Latin American patriarchy but nonetheless he is very able to learn. After everything that happened with the North American women religious, punished by the Vatican, by the Congregation [for the Doctrine] of the Faith, now the Pope is saying publicly that he admires the courage of these brave women who are fighting in the front lines. The faces of the bishops were petrified because the clash with these women religious was largely a clash with the US bishops, who opposed the reform of health care centers, arguing that in those places abortion would also be practiced. And the women religious supported health care reform, not because they were in favor of abortion, but because they understood that this left the poor unprotected, without access to health care. So when the Pope publicly congratulated the courage of those women, this for me was a big step, his ability to learn on the fly.

We have experienced many years of stagnation, exclusion. Now is a historic moment in which it's important not to miss the Kairos [opportune moment]. There's an atmosphere of openness, but the danger is that we expect all this from the pope. Before, we were paralyzed by fear, exclusion, etc. Now, we're so fascinated with the Pope that we may forget that we need to get moving. He's opened a breach, but we have to wake up.

Adital: And what do you think of the abortion issue?

Martha: I think that life is holy. They tell me that anyone who's in favor of abortion is an idiot. It happens that we're persecuting women who, in an extreme situation, choose abortion. In Romania, for example, I met older women who, in the days when there was no other method of planning, and because of social destitution and already having many children, underwent abortions, and now, at 80, 90 years of age have been condemned to hell for that. Promoting abortion is one thing, which for me is not an option, but it's another thing to criminalize women who, in extreme situations, choose abortion.

The Pope says, "Who am I to condemn a mother who has been told by her doctor that her child will be born with a serious deformity, which will make her suffer?". I am not in favor of abortion, but who am I to judge a mother who makes a choice because of this? It's necessary to protect the mystery of life, but criminalizing abortion is something else. And I'm certainly against criminalization.

Adital: Is that what's happening in El Salvador, where women are criminalized for any type of abortion?

Martha: Yes. This seems to me an intolerable double standard, starting with planning methods. It's offensive to men to talk about condoms, it's unthinkable to talk about it, but it's not obscene that, in health centers, injections with hormones for three months are applied that cause hormonal disorders in young women, which has consequences for women's health. That's a double standard.

Adital: What does the beatification of Oscar Romero mean for El Salvador?

Martha: In March 2015, we held a Congress at UCA, not knowing that in the same year the beatification would take place. In Christianity, memory is essential, celebrating death and resurrection, and life that bursts forth here and now. We can commemorate nostalgically, remembering a glorious past, and miss the current Kairos. The tragedy of Jesus, for example, must inspire us, not to stay in the past but to act here and now. So too the memories of the beatification of Monseñor Romero.

Ignacio Ellacuría said that with Monseñor Romero, God passed through El Salvador. In this world that's done in by the economic situation, the violence, the corruption, the drug mafia that's scourging a large part of the Central American people -- 60%, that is, two-thirds of the population are subjected to it -- Monseñor Romero's clear love, so profound and prophetic, is the irruption of God in this world.

The Church must obey the faith of the people; it can not deny it. The faith of the people had already made Romero a saint long before the beatification, and we don't have to wait for the canonization. It's something that gave many people hope and joy, because of now being officially recognized by the Church. There is a large part of the Salvadoran people who are deeply Catholic and now there's no need to go against the hierarchy, as the highest authority of the Church has declared this saint of the people a saint.

For me, the text of the beatification letter is beautiful, which speaks of Blessed Romero, "bishop and martyr, father of the poor, heroic witness of the kingdom, a kingdom of justice, love and peace." It's something very powerful that summarizes the faith of the people, even though it's sad that, at the local church level, in the bishops' conference, that was played down a lot. Romero is a model of holiness, what it means to live like Jesus, who stands unconditionally on the side of the victims, and therefore denounces the victimizers. He's a discomfiting saint, not a gentle, spineless saint who allows cheap reconciliation.

Adital: And who are the martyrs of today?

Martha: The goal is not to produce more martyrs, please, no more dead. The question I wonder about is that in the times of conflict, Monseñor Romero denounced state terrorism. He was never a friend of violence, but said that there are situations where violence, always as a last resort, may be legitimate because it's in defense of life. And he recognized that the violence of oppression by certain interests is what comes first, and the revolutionary violence of the guerrilla is secondary in this, and has some legitimacy. Why did they kill him? Because that bothered the powerful.

Now, in El Salvador, a clear word from the Church and also a clear political proposal is needed. We have a leftist government, but what you feel is that there is a clear response that falls into the trap of previous administrations, of implementing a strong-arm policy against the gangs. Currently, the situation is complex; we don't know how to interpret it and discern what is happening. That gang violence is made up of humiliated young people who were robbed of a future and became victimizers who, for their part, exert terrorist violence and impose fear. Powerless, the only way for them to feel their power is to impose themselves on the weakest. At the time of the guerrilla, terrorist acts were also questioned, but there was a goal in that struggle. The current struggle is irrational, self-destructive. I compare it to an autoimmune disease that destroys the body itself -- the poor who kill their poor brethren.

Also at the time of Monseñor Romero, he said, "Brothers, stop killing your own brothers, soldiers of the guerrilla." However, the guerrillas had a political goal, the gangs don't. It's a desperate, irrational, very destructive and dangerous cry. And the people who are scourged by the terror start crying out for lynching, with slogans like "the mice must be fumigated."

Monseñor Romero's words, in his situation, used to give light, guidance. Now shepherds with a clear analysis are lacking. The bishops go on with their press conferences, but don't offer a word of guidance. I hope and pray for an irruption of the spirit, but I don't see that moment. Martyrdom is a result of an unconditional yes to life. None of those martyrs had a self-destructive pathological disease, seeking martyrdom. They were fighting for life. I'm not asking for more martyrs, I'm asking for more fighters passionate for life, who are daring. Jon Sobrino has often quoted a Salvadoran peasant who said that Monseñor Romero defended the poor, that he told the truth, and that's why they killed him. That was decisive.

Currently, the complicated thing is that there's no clear line between where the victims are and where the victimizers are. A sustainable social solution for El Salvador is needed, and there's a strong desire to recognize the gangs as part of a crucified people, those young people whose future has been stolen, who are humiliated because nobody needs them. One night, I slept very badly thinking about what it means to decipher this context. Jesus included marginal people; he used to share the table with sinners. What does Jesus' attitude mean in face of this youth violence in El Salvador?

I don't want to justify any of these acts of violence, it's not that, but what is the good society? I understand when a person suffers violence from a marginal person. I don't share it, but I can understand psychologically when a person who loses his relatives, cries out for lynching. However, those who take advantage of this situation socially, politically and economically, are shouting that it's necessary to "fumigate mice," which, to me, is an unforgivable sin against the spirit. And as a real violence situation exists in Central America, the question is, "Where is there redemption?."

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sister Teresa Forcades: "Gay Adoptions? Children need mature love; the parents' sex doesn't matter"

The feminist theologian, who has left the cloister for a year to engage in politics, talks about civil unions and homosexual marriage: "It's always a sacrament of God if there is respect for the freedom of the other."

By Geraldine Schwarz (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Repubblica (in Italiano)
February 9, 2015

ROME - "If you're against civil unions because these allow the union between persons of the same sex, it seems to me that this is basically just a fear of differences. The fundamental value of marriage is that it is a commitment for life. I think it's important to underline this in a society that tends towards superficiality and using people -- I'm with you because you serve me, or you're useful to me, or you give me pleasure, or it's fun for me or whatever. I'm against that attitude clearly and a civil union can be as serious as a religious one, depending on the degree of commitment one puts into it." So says Sister Teresa Forcades, a cloistered Benedictine nun who left the Monastery of Sant Benet in Barcelona last year (with dispensation from the Vatican) to get involved in politics and support the independence of Catalonia through the political movement that she founded, Proces Constituent. "Revolutionary and peaceful" as she calls herself, Sister Teresa, 49, a graduate in medicine and theology in Barcelona and at Harvard, is sincere, gentle, speaks and smiles despite the criticism she often gets. She fights the multinational pharmaceutical companies, has fallen into politics and talks about topics that are hot from a "theological" point of view even for more libertarian Spain. She is often censored but then, somehow, her voice manages to make itself heard. Because she says, "Prayer gives me strength."

What do you think of civil unions and homosexual marriages? Can they be considered a sacrament? Can they work in the eyes of God and society?

"A sacrament is the manifestation of God's love in space and time. Love is always a sacrament of God if it respects the freedom of the other. Possessive love, on the other hand, even if it's between a man and a woman, can not be sacramental in the deep sense of the term."

Do you think that children who are "adopted" by a homosexual family, with two fathers or two mothers, can grow up in a healthy way?

"Yes, absolutely. What children need is mature and responsible adult love from parents who put their needs ahead of their own and who at the same time know how to set proper limits for them and help them grow. The fact of growing up with two women or two men is no problem. In the Middle Ages, many children grew up in monasteries with only women or only men and many of them became saints."

What do you think of surrogate motherhood?

"The gradual accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few is the scandal of the century. Surrogate motherhood is an abuse of power in an economically unbalanced world like the current one in which we live. It puts more and more poor women in a position of choosing between marketing and selling their motherhood or condemning themselves and their children to poverty. It's extremely cruel, just as it is even when women have to emigrate and abandon their families to earn a minimum wage in order to survive, or end up in prostitution for the same reason. According to the latest report of Oxfam International's study group, 1% of the world's population owns more wealth than the remaining 99%. Apart from economic exploitation, I reject surrogate motherhood for ethical reasons -- a person's psyche begins to be constituted during pregnancy through the perception of the voice and the effects of maternal hormones circulating in fetal tissues and becomes attuned to the mother's voice and states of mood. Thus, separation from the biological mother is always traumatic for the child and should be avoided as much as possible."

What do you think of the Vatican's positions on issues of civil rights and bioethical questions?

"The doctrine of the Church argues for the dignity of the individual and rejects their exploitation but in some cases such as abortion, or euthanasia, the principle of self-determination of the individual, which is a recognized principle that is defended by the Church, clashes with the defense of life and the recognition of life as a gift from God. I believe that the Church must continue to defend life as a gift that can not be disposed of at will. But I think the best way to do that isn't promoting laws that criminalize women who interrupt a pregnancy. You can't save the life of the fetus without jeopardizing the mother's rights. Then you have to ask yourself if we want the State to force a woman to opt for the child. In this case, only in this case, I lean towards the mother. I think you can't use people -- you can't make the mother an instrument for the child's life but, at the same time -- and this applies to the practice of surrogacy -- you can't make the child an instrument of desire either."

Do you think you're a revolutionary and a feminist as some have called you? In what sense?

"I think I'm a peaceful revolutionary. I think I'm a feminist because I want to recognize the work of the first women, the pioneers of feminism who were called that when they fought for the right to get into university, to vote, to be rulers in society and hold the highest positions in the Church or in a faith. I'm against violence and I don't think it's useful for changing society but I'm revolutionary because I believe that our society should not be reformed but must rightly be changed radically. For example, I support the right to property but I don't agree that it should be an absolute value. In that, I'm against capitalist principles."

You've undertaken many battles. Has anyone tried to make you keep silent? What are the criticisms that have been addressed to you and if you've suffered resistance, from which circles?

"I've been censored, my lectures have been cancelled whether in the medical, the political, or the religious arena. In medicine, because of my criticism of the pharmaceutical industry. In politics, because of my criticism of Israeli government policy in the confrontation with the Palestinian people. In the religious environment, because I support homosexuals unions and because of my feminism. The latest episode was when I was to have gone to Israel for a lecture and they didn't let me enter the country, they sent me back."

How do you live out your dual role of public involvement and prayer?

"I continue to study and write, and the rest in solitude. Prayer gives me strength and makes me able to fight without bitterness with an open heart. At the monastery, where I sometimes return for a few days, the official schedule is five hours of prayer and six of work. Outside the monastery, the activity is much more intense and I'm lucky if I can achieve one hour of prayer a day."

For you, what are the obstacles in the path of women in the Church today?

"The biggest obstacle is the internalization of a consciousness that says that women must have a secondary role compared to men's and that God wishes it so."

Have you ever met Pope Francis?

"No, but I'd like to."

How did you decide to become a cloistered nun?

"I went to the monastery as a guest. I was looking for a place to study and I felt an inner calling. After two years I entered."

In June, your first year off will expire. Have you decided whether you'll continue to stay "outside" or go back "inside" the cloister?

"It depends on whether it will still be necessary to have some kind of involvement in politics. As long as I'm doing political activity and for a maximum of three years, I'll live outside the monastery but it may also be that in a few months, I'll go back to living within it. This depends on how the political situation develops in Catalonia where I'm fighting for independence."

Do you have a spiritual father?

"More than one and even more than one mother. Accompaniment in spiritual life seems very important to me. But it's also essential to accept ultimate responsibility for one's own journey."