by Juan G. Bedoya (Eng. trans. Rebel Girl)
"The great blasphemy of our time." Under the weight of this definition of the current social and economic system, the 29th congress of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII unfolded in Madrid. Its theme? Christianity in the face of the economic crisis. "We denounce the apathy and lack of social commitment of the religious denominations that are more concerned with issues of power and privilege than in denouncing the injustices of a system that is striking out at the most needy," reads the concluding message from the meeting in the Comisiones Obreras union auditorium in Madrid.
The theologians are asking the government for a change of direction in fiscal and social policy. Arcadi Oliveres, professor of economics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, opened the congress with a presentation that left no doubt about the general feeling about the crisis. According to the Catalan economist and president of Justice and Peace, the dream of "shameless capitalism is the privatization of profits and socialization of losses". He gave examples of companies such as Seat, which has used the crisis to put that theory into practice with modifications in its workforce, without any impediment from the authorities.
A so-called "informal dinner" with the President at Moncloa Palace on Friday foiled the speeches in Congress, agreed upon months ago, by the secretaries general of the UGT and CC OO, which angered many attendees.
The attitude of the theologians towards the crisis is revolutionary compared to that in other ecclesiastical and even leftist spheres. "The economic crisis is not originally technical, but ethical, economic and political. In the beginning we had the current neoliberal economic and social system — "the great blasphemy of our time" according to Bishop Casaldaliga — which legitimized and led to the spread of corruption in its various forms: embezzlement, fraud, extortion, waste, greed, abuse of power and deception of the citizenry," denounced Juan José Tamayo, general secretary of the association which has organized the congress since 1981.
"All these practices are supported by the majority of nations and their governments, including Spain, through policies of economic liberalization, which lead to the impoverishment of most of the population and represent a setback in the defense of the common good and human rights, reducing them to property rights. Neoliberalism is inherently immoral, since it generates economic, cultural, ethnic, and sex-based discrimination, structural injustice and institutional violence," he added.
There has been repeated criticism of the hierarchy for its behavior in the face of the crisis. In some diocese, many priests have devoted a bit of their salary to solidarity with the most vulnerable sectors of the population. There have also been "very laudable pronouncements" by some prelates. But "at the institutional level, it has not been sensitive enough." This was the lament: "The attitude of the hierarchy is closer to the priest and the Levite in the Gospel parable, who were more concerned about attending worship services than serving the badly injured person, than the Good Samaritan, who was in solidarity with the suffering brother. The hierarchy should have been mobilized as an institution and held an awareness campaign among Christians, and even among the citizenry, as this is a problem that goes beyond the denominations and religious groups."
"What is responsible for the crisis is the capitalist system, which allows a few to become rich at the expense of the impoverishment of the majority population, but the best traditions of justice, equality and solidarity of all religions and spiritual movements need to be activated," concludes the final statement.
The government is also picked apart, and the theologians call for "an urgent reversal of economic policies that benefit the powerful and the implementation of fiscal and social policies favorable to the disadvantaged."
On Sunday there was also a closing Mass celebrated at the headquarters of Comisiones Obreras, organized by the optional celibacy movement, Movimiento pro Celibato Opcional (MOCEOP) in Albacete, and concelebrated by some of the theology congress participants. During the difficult years of the Franco regime, workers from the PCE union would hide in Catholic churches and now they are returning the favor to that church that hated state Catholicism as much as they did.
The first congresses were held in religious centers but the hierarchy has now coerced those congregations into not welcoming them. Most of the participants -- some 700 this year -- are priests devoted to teaching or secular people in base communities who work in working class parishes.
In Spain there are around 5,000 married priests. A few continue to minister discretely, with the complicit agreement of some bishops. Those who presided at the Eucharist yesterday did so openly. The fervor of the ceremony was palpable as were the joy and enthusiasm. Among the many songs, these verses: "Sabéis lo que hizo [Cristo] cuando hubo hambre? Partió el pan. El oro del templo para repartir mazapán. ¿Sabéis lo que hizo cuando hubo amor? El Papa de Roma volvió a ser papá, la suegra de Pedro reparte rosquillas en el Concilio I de Moratalaz: cuando salió del armario Dios se hizo Mamá" ("You know what [Christ] did when there was a famine? He broke the bread. The gold of the temple to distribute marzipan. You know what he did when there was love? The Pope of Rome became a father, the mother of Peter shared donuts in the First Council of Moratalaz: when He came out of the closet, God became a Mom"). During the collection, the participants gave 10,800 euros for solidarity programs. Last year it was 11,255 euros. The crisis.