Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vatican Whac-a-Mole

With all of the Vatican's recent orders to silence this or that progressive priest or nun, it's starting to feel like that old Whac-a-Mole game. The moment one person is reprimanded, another pops up only to be smacked down by the powers-that-be in Rome.

When Sr. Teresa Forcades was ordered to toe the Vatican line in her writing and speaking about abortion, Jesuit priest and bioethicist Juan Masiá Clavel rose to her defense with an article on his blog (English translation by Rebel Girl below). Fr. Masiá, whose own position in favor of condoms and other bioethical stances contrary to the Church hierarchy's cost him his Spanish university career, has received a letter from his superior in Japan ordering him to abandon "all activity related to Spain and to concentrate fully on [his] work in Japan".

In an unrelated development, Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Donna Quinn, who also advocates for artificial contraception, freedom of choice on abortion, and ordination of women, was reprimanded by her order after photos circulated showing her serving as a patient escort at the ACU Health Clinic, where abortions are performed. According to news reports, Sr. Quinn had been serving as an escort for at least 6 years. Sr. Quinn chose to suspend her escort activities pending conversations with her congregation, but she reiterated that "[r]espect for women's moral agency is of critical importance to me." The order put a statement on its Web site disassociating itself from Quinn's position: "As Dominican religious, we fully support the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the dignity and value of every human life from conception to natural death. We believe that abortion is an act of violence that destroys the life of the unborn. We do not engage in activity that witnesses to support of abortion."

Quinn is also a coordinator of the National Coalition of American Nuns and most recently tangled with the Church hierarchy over the excommunication of Fr. Roy Bourgeois for his support of women's ordination.

And in a surprising burst of candor, Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, admitted in a radio interview that concern about feminism was a significant factor in the decision to conduct the controversial apostolic visitation to U.S. women's religious congregations. The cardinal said a "representative -- whose identity was not revealed -- had 'alerted' him 'to some irregularities or deficiencies' in the way the religious sisters were living. 'Above all, you could speak of a certain secularist mentality that has spread among these religious families, perhaps even a certain 'feminist' spirit'."

WHACK...WHACK...WHACK..OK....Now for Fr. Masiá's article about Teresa Forcades:

Teresa Forcades, theologian and bioethicist: She thinks, she believes, and she has respect
by Fr. Juan Masiá Clavel
October 13, 2009

I read this morning's early news that, from the offices of the Roman curia, the thoughts of the Benedictine theologian Teresa Forcades have been challenged. As the people and media that brought the news are known for their habit of defamation and false testimony with acrimony and violence (they say they belong to the Catholic church but daily violate the eighth commandment: to not bear false witness or lie), although I was concerned, I did not speak on the subject without finding accurate information. I was glad to see that a person never suspected of yielding to radical extremism such as Mrs. Carmen Bellver, wrote with care and accuracy to deactivate the explosive hatred of the above commentators of inquisitorial court.

As I have witnessed a few such cases in which I have seen how religious women have been silenced, taking advantage of their vulnerability as women, as religious and lacking the opportunity to defend themselves canonically, and have seen how skillfully their superiors have been manipulated, without any ecclesiastical body, or any theologian or cleric or lay person coming to their defense; ... I have been concerned about the need to publicly repair the damaged reputation of a theologian whom we have to thank for her fruitful discussions. (Just last year I presented to a Buddhist group Teresa's reflections on the Trinity, which received a very favorable reception. And a few days ago I made known to physicians and bioethicists in Japan her reflections on the hype about influenza and the abuses of the pharmaceutical companies).

That is why, as soon as I finished my academic occupations this afternoon, I turned to slowly reading and rereading Teresa Forcades' text in Foc nou (See: "Entre els principis i la realitat", Foc nou, May 2009).

With the desire to contribute to thanking Teresa for her reflections, to repairing the damage to her reputation inflicted by the irresponsible statements of the "usual groups of inquisitional complainers in the Spanish government" and to inviting readers to deepen their knowledge of the theology of this woman religious who thinks, believes and respects people, I have written the following commentary on her words.

* * *

The theologian explains exactly the condition of fetus: neither just a part of the body of the mother (as it would be for someone who thought of it as a simple tumor), nor a fully independent being. For anthropology, this tension between biological dependence and independence is crucial and symbolically expressed in the mother-embryo interchange during the early stages of pregnancy.

Teresa Forcades says:

"God has put the life of the fetus while it is not viable in the hands of its mother (in the womb of its mother) and has linked its biological life to her spiritual life. We would do well to respect this primary relationship. As long as the fetus can not survive independently of the mother, she has the moral responsibility of deciding on its future, which is also hers, since she not only gestates it biologically, but also spiritually, with her love, her wish that it live, the joy of bringing it into the world. To respect the decision of the mother is to respect the integrity of her moral conscience, even accepting that objectively she can be wrong." (Note in these last two lines the compatibility between respect for the subjective decision of conscience of others and the admission that it is possible to objectively make a mistake. A third person who considers the case from the outside can say "I would not abort in this case" and, at the same time, say: "I would not penalize this woman or throw her crime in her face").

Teresa Forcades makes these reflections from the tradition of moral theology. She says:

"Respect for conscience has been a slow acquisition in the history of mankind. For many centuries forced religious conversions under threat of torture or death penalty have been the order of the day. There are still people today who find it inconsistent, for example, that the Catholic Church celebrates the right to religious freedom that allows thousands of children to be educated in worldviews openly contrary to the Christian faith. In the midst of the Second Vatican Council many bishops of goodwill found the proposal that the Catholic Church promote the right to religious freedom in countries where it was the majority -- Spain, for example -- absolutely senseless."

Having laid out her personal hypothesis about the implications of mother-embryo bonding, our theologian admits the possibility and need for a debate on controversial issues, a debate that should be had calmly and without hitting each other over the head with ideological labels or insults.

Teresa continues:

"To believe that the will of the mother when she decides to abort the child that can not survive without her should be respected and not be penalized, does not mean that there does not need to be a debate on this subject in the Church or in society."

But she does not limit herself to recommending a theoretical debate, but adds a concern for accompanying persons and for the need to raise social justice considerations about the social causes of abortion, as follows:

"How can you prevent abortion? What is the best way to accompany the woman who aborts without misplaced paternalism, but also without minimizing the pain or internal struggle in cases where these occur? This debate is fundamental and must take place in arenas as far away as possible from tension and violence. In society we have to discuss to what extent the socioeconomic factors that may lead to abortion (the case of an African American girl) are structural problems and we need to create the conditions so that it will not happen; the society as a whole must also discuss in depth the psychosocial factors that may lead to an abortion (the potential case of a Latin American girl) and we have to educate new generations so that relations between women and men are mostly respectful and free."

I find particularly worth noting the strength Teresa Forcades puts in the anthropological approach. I am convinced that the failure to take this approach creates many of the most frequent confusions that plague church documents about these issues: the confusion between contraception and abortion, the error of considering the morning after pill to be abortive, the commitment to not separating the unitive and procreative aspects in the use of sexuality (to which I referred in a recent article in this blog, etc.).

In addition, Teresa Forcades relates this anthropological approach to the key ideas of social thought of the Church (cf. the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church): human dignity, common good, social justice and reconciling compassion. She continues:

"Christians must participate in the public debate from the perspective of the concept of common good that is proper to us and from the assumptions of our theological anthropology. Unlike other contemporary anthropology, Christian theological anthropology does not base the dignity of the individual on unlimited freedom that is an end in itself but on a freedom inseparable from love. Christians must proclaim the respect for life as a gift from God and we should especially preach and exemplify the principle of hope associated with faith: the profound conviction that the strength of love is superior to all violence and that there is no circumstance that would justify despair."

At the root of all these reflections is a concept of personal liberty and self-determination that avoids the dual pitfalls of the whim of a shallow ego or submission to a super-ego, whether legal or ecclesiastical. Navigating between the two pitfalls is risky and confronts us with the "complex reality" in which, to find unexpected answers that are not generalizable to cases that seem unresolvable, we must trust, as Teresa says, that "Jesus waits for us there". Our theologian says:

"The Church has found it hard to accept that our mission of evangelization can not be achieved without respect for freedom of conscience. Because of the intimate relationship of mother to child as long as it is not viable outside of her, the decision to abort is inseparable from the mother's self-determination, from her personal freedom. This unique relationship between two lives means that we can not save the child against the wishes of the mother without violating the personal liberty of the mother. Therein lies, from the theoretical point of view, the nerve center of the debate on abortion: what value must we give to the personal liberty of the mother? From a practical point of view we can not simply defend the right of self determination of the mother because under this theoretical right, the worst submission and servitude can proliferate. It comes down to reality, which is complex. That is where Jesus awaits us."

Thanks to Teresa, praying and hoping that she will not be discouraged by the lack of understanding within the Church and will continue to walk in hope and do good with her reflection rooted in contemplation.


  1. Regarding abortion, in those few cases in which in the past I have known a woman to seek and get an abortion, it has been because either sadly they could not provide for another child, given that they already had a few and the income was low and other cases, in Spain for example, girls having affairs with married man and getting pregnant.
    Under pressure from the man and/or because they could not have a child or even been seen pregnant under this circumstances, they left the country when abortion was illegal in Spain, and had it somewhere else.
    In those cases, I could pretty surely guess that the mothers did not abort very willingly and with the thought of not having a child, but they did because of need of family and social pressure or fear. In other circumstances, I presume that they would have been very happy to have the baby.
    This is a complex issue that goes beyond the issue of the feminist idea that states that the woman has to have control over her body and decide if she wants or not the pregnancy.
    The fact the a particular woman decides if she was or not to have the baby, is in many cases –either she realizes it or not- a problem of social environment and particular circumstances in life and time of that person.
    Abortion is not different from other circumstances in life in which we are put in a position to choose: Is either me or the other? Do I have my prize or piece of mind at any cost, or I consider for a minute that another human being is involved in the process?
    In this case, the roll of society would have to be such in which both, mother and future child, have a chance. Get rid of morals of condemnation, education of families and wide open opportunities for trouble free adoption, with easy processes and way to help the potential mother to allow birth without having to give up her rights if in the immediate future she desires to keep the baby.
    Now, it is also true that there will always be people that will seek abortion with the same easiness and disaffection as when we seek a dentist to take out a rotten tooth.
    For those, hope of redemption and sorrow for her act, has to be left on the hands of God.
    In the cases of late term abortion however, except for well justified medical reasons, I would bring criminal charges against the doctors who per form them.

  2. You are right. The Vatican, the "head" of our church, is unable to dialogue, unable to be autocritical, unable to rethink its mission.
    Excluding people, threatening them, silencing them, using power and "obedience" to punish someone,... are the tipical attitudes of armies, political parties and feudalistic structures, not of Jesus' followers.
    They really believe they are 'someone', their ego is overgrown, they call themselves 'fathers', of what? Of a Tradition that freezes all kind of spiritual awakening? Aren't they following the steps of professor Frankenstein?
    Jesus never identified himself with the Father, he always rejected being called 'father', he was aware from that ego(istic) temptation.

    A church that relies on patriarcal values, denying the sacredness and even divinity of the feminine, which is present in all of us, is very far from the Kingdom of God, based on humbleness and service.

    Congratulations for your blog. You offer an international view on what's going on in many different countries.

  3. Whac a mole ... if Sr. Forcades is a mole ... the Jesuits must be a whole army of moles ... is it even possible to fix that order ? there are just too many of them.

  4. ... Jordi ... when you say that the vatican is "unable to rethink its mission" ... why in the first place should they rethink their mission since they received it from the Jesus and the Apostles ? ...

  5. Benvingut, Jordi! For other readers, Jordi, who hails from Catalunya (Spain), has his own blog in Spanish on religious matriarchy and patriarchy called Matriarcado Cristiano. You all should check it out.

    To Anonymous: With respect to the Jesuits, you may be right (sonrisa traviesa). I expect that there are days when the Vatican would like to do as Spain did at a certain point in Catholic history in that country and kick the lot of them out...Eso dicho con todo el amor que tengo para esta congregacion porque tengo muchisimos amigos jesuitas y sin ellos es muy posible que nunca me hubiera convertido al catolicismo ni me hubiera quedado en nuestra Iglesia cuando estuve pasando momentos dificiles.

  6. Jordi, nice to meet you noi. Jo també soc de Barcelona, La Sagrera.
    I am also in love with Éowyn and admire Arwen. Now that you mention the father issue, as a tradition and respect, I call the priest of my parish “father”, but I think is wrong, (And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Matthew 23:9) We have only two fathers, our biological one and our divine one.
    Lets’ not forget that Catalonia is one of the most advanced regions of Spain, perhaps on the world, when it comes woman rights, feminist and the cult to the Goddess, (The Mother, feminine aspect of God on Earth) We worship Montserrat, our black Madonna and in Barcelona we trust in Our Lady of La Mercé.
    As opposite as in the rest of Spain, women in Catalunya, when they marry do not take the husbands’ last name, but they keep their own and their own identity.
    And now we have a treasure from our home land, and she is Sor. Teresa Forcades. Thanks also to R.B, for all the work she does bringing to us her writings and videos to the blog.
    Jordi, mira aquet video del Sisa:

  7. The Bible says to beware of false teachers ( 2 Peter 2:1 ) and clearly Fr. Juan Clavel is a false teacher misleading christians around the world ... if i was a Jesuit priest and i started teaching that Jesus is really a muslim and not christian, it would be good that i be corrected right ? Same thing with Fr. Juan ... he should be corrected and told not to talk about false teachings ...

  8. Thanks for your welcome, Rebel Girl and JuanMM. Gràcies pel link al vídeo del Sisa.
    Yes, I am also proud of being catalan.
    Keep the good work and take care all of you.

  9. Answering to Anonymous:
    They should think about the right use of their "authority". I don't believe that Jesus wanted a piramidal structure for the Church, it goes against his teachings (Mc 10, 42-45).
    I have my doubts on the 'institution' of a formal church by Jesus. I doubt on many things in the New Testament that get in contradiction with the liberation message of the Kingdom of God and the ethics of love.

    You are right: the apostles (and every christian) were given a mission, that is to forgive sins and build the Kingdom of God based on his teachings. Nothing else.
    Jesus also denounced the apostles for not believing Mary Magdalene (Jn 20,18; Mc 16, 14), and nobody remembers that. What happened to her and the other women? Did they go back to their kitchens, just for pleasing a lovely husband?
    I don't think so. I think the patriarchs used their 'authority' to silence those women, like nowadays.
    Did Jesus deny the authority of women? He never did that, in fact he empowered women.
    Is the Vatican really executing the mission given by Jesus? Would Jesus agree with the way his 'apostles' are using their 'power'?

    All of us must constantly pray and discern on how we are building a better world around us. That's what I mean by rethinking our mission.
    I hope I answered your question. Take care.

  10. Just think...there is a reason why the head of the Catholic Church is in Rome, and not in Jerusalem, Magdala or even Cesarea, Efesus or Tesalonica. And no, I don't think that's because Peter was crucified over there...

  11. ... JuanMM ... not sure what you mean ... what is your main point about the Pope being in Rome? ... please explain ... thanks

  12. Quesada... Although I am not a scholar or historian, I have asked myself how come the Vatican (name of one of the hills of Rome) and the seat of the Catholic Church is in Rome, which was the greatest city of historical antiquity ever known.
    I believe that when the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, under Constantine, adopted the Christian religion as the official one after the Council of Nicaea ( it set the basis for state sponsored religion which – of course- was male dominated and patriarchal.( I was going to say first state sponsored religion, but the Egyptians had a good gig going also, with their Pharaoh-Gods)
    Tradition sais that when Elena or Helen, Emperor's Constantine mother, traveled to Jerusalem, found a large piece of the true cross (How wonderful!)We are talking about almost 3 1/2 centuries after the crucifixion. Late more findings of the true cross followed, to the extent that if you put them all together you could make several true crosses with them.
    Later there was a prosecution and extermination of the practitioners of the nature religions of Europe, druids and other believers in the cult of the Goddess. The grand novel “The Myth of Avalon’ can shed some light upon these times.
    This is how the catholic religion became to be enthroned in Rome, the capital of the already declining Roman Empire and why the structure of the church took a sort of
    Pyramidal shape, with the Pope at the head (Emperor), the regional bishops (Governors) and the local priest with their prefectures or parishes, like local administrators.
    This is what has to do with the –let’s say- political administration of the Church, which –as Jordi said well- we don’t really know if is what Our Lord Jesus-Christ ever intended to become.
    But we are men (and women) and we seem to have the need to organize and to manage things in a territorial and political way.
    My advise to you… if I may, humbly. Don’t worry about these things. Seek the mystic teachings of The Lord. Learn to discern who is giving you a piece of their mind against who is given you a piece of their heart and souls with the love and inner revelation of the Lord… choose the second. Don’t worry too much about historical or partisan details.
    Love the truth that sounds holy in your heart and don’t fall in the error of sectarianism or believing that God has only one true source of revelation.
    You may learn about God, even from the greatest sinner. Be humble and let perception come to you instead of crating your own form of it.
    That I can say. Sorry for a confusing answer. It’s all I got.
    Blessings. JuanMM