Friday, March 13, 2009

Frei Betto: “The Church is boxed in by its abstract idealism”

By Michelle da Silva Amaral (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Brasil de Fato

In an interview with Brasil de Fato, the Dominican Frei Betto talks about the two most controversial cases involving representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.

They are the excommunication of those involved in the abortion of a little girl in Recife and the suspension of Father Luiz Couto from his church activities, because of his controversial statements about some aspects of Catholic doctrine, which led to a discussion of the conservatism still defended by the Catholic Church in opposition to the reality of its faithful.

In both cases the position of the Church has generated great controversy. Bishop José Cardoso Sobrinho excommunicated the mother and the medical team that performed an abortion on a little nine-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather and became pregnant with twins. Without considering the risks to this little girl [of continuing the pregnancy] the bishop stated that he was complying with Catholic law.

In the case of Father Luiz Couto, Bishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto has suspended him until he publicly retracts the statements he made in an interview where he advocated the end of celibacy and supported the use of condoms and combating discrimination against homosexuals. The priest is also a federal lawmaker and president of the Commission on Human and Minority Rights of the Chamber of Deputies.

In the interview with Brasil de Fato Dominican friar Frei Betto speaks about both cases and explains how the conservatism of the Catholic Church contributes to the alienation of its followers. In his opinion both cases “show the difficulty the Catholic Church has in adapting to the present reality."

Brasil de Fato: How do you assess the position of the Catholic Church on these two recent cases, that of excommunication for the abortion of a little nine-year-old girl and the sanctioning of Father Luiz Couto for his statements contrary to conservative Catholic thought ?

Frei Betto: I think that it shows the difficulties that the Catholic Church has in adapting to current realities. Compare the attitude of the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife to Jesus confronting the adulterous woman ... What a difference! Jesus was able to understand, forgive and embrace. The doctors acted properly in saving the life of the little girl and avoiding the risk of having three deaths. As for Father Luiz, of whom I am a friend and admirer, I manifest my full support.

BF: Therefore the Church is separating itself from the reality in which people live today?

FB: Yes, the Church remains locked in its abstract idealism, without considering what theology calls "situational ethics" of concrete realities. That is why the faithful look for other religious environments, where they feel more accepted because of the compassion, forgiveness, and divine mercy demonstrated by their pastors. The Brazilian Church loses 1% of its faithful every year.

BF: What is excommunication for a Catholic?

FB: Exclusion from the institutional church and its sacraments, but never a break with God and neighbor. The changes proposed by Luiz Couto are part of a debate raised by many sectors of society and the Church itself.

BF: Do you think that the controversy generated by this sanction can help strengthen these proposals?

FB: You must clarify for the readers that Father Luiz Couto was sanctioned – he was banned from celebrating the sacraments – for defending an end to celibacy and to discrimination against homosexuals, as well as for supporting condom use. I think he is absolutely right. The Church had married apostles, like Peter (Jesus cured his mother-in-law), and married priests in the early centuries. The vocation to the priesthood does not necessarily coincide with the vocation to celibacy. As for homosexuality, I understand that it is a natural tendency of human beings and as such should be respected and not discriminated against or punished as happens in patriarchal societies, chauvinist ones like those in the Old Testament. I agree with Cardinal Arns, in that the condom is a lesser evil compared to an epidemic that leads to the death to millions.

BF: And how should the Church proceed?

FB: Always in favor of life and love, like that which binds a same sex couple.

BF: How did liberation theology help change the way Christianity is practised in the Catholic Church?

FB: Liberation theology offers a new way of reading the sources of Christian revelation, such as the Bible and the traditions of the Church, as did St. Augustine in the fourth century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.

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