Friday, March 13, 2009

Leonardo Boff: The current globalization requires a new paradigm -- cooperation

By Sergio Ferrari and Beat Tuto Wehrle
English translation by Rebel Girl
El Mercurio Digital

If globalization is the prevailing logic on the planet; if the earth is the only common area, and human beings are a deeply interdependent species, then the old notion of North-South cooperation should be redefined. "It's time to find a new paradigm that overcomes the old and energizes the new. It should be an essential part of global relations," says Leonardo Boff, liberation theologian and one of the most prominent contemporary Latin American thinkers. In an exclusive interview, Boff supports a "universal social contract," where just relationships, a culture of dialogue and consensus, and, in particular, real solidarity and cooperation rule.

Q: The human race lives in an increasingly global world. What are the present and future challenges for the relationship between the hemispheres, continents and people?

A: This globalization represents a new stage in the history of humankind and the earth, which is characterized by the fact that all peoples, cultures, traditions, and religions are in a single place -- a common home -- planet Earth.

So we must share. There is no alternative. This concept, perhaps, is the unique aspect of this moment. Now more than ever, the human being is recognized as a species, a family that inhabits a space that has limited resources, with overcrowding and in a world that is sick because of global warming and the pronounced imbalance of ecosystems.

This global finding requires a global solution. Global action can only result from the collaboration, the solidarity that every culture, religion, human being, person, church, and country can promote for the benefit of all.

Therefore, the current globalization requires new cooperation and solidarity.


Q: That is to say ...

A: Without cooperation and solidarity we would remain prisoners of the old paradigm that is characterized by competition rather than collaboration. A world of conflicts, confrontations, of a large accumulation of wealth by a tiny part at the cost of the exclusion of the other part, the majority.

For the first time, I think that, given the magnitude of the crisis, there is the possibility of understanding that the earth's resources should be distributed equally among all human beings. This requires a conscious and comprehensive management of the resources on which we depend. And hence the central place of cooperation and solidarity. Concepts that do not depend on the individual virtue that one may or may not have. Cooperation and solidarity in the light of what astrophysicists, biologists, and scientists in general have already confirmed. Those who argue that the most universal law of the universe is the cooperation of all with all. As the German physicist Heisenberg used to say: the greatest law is that everything is related to everything else, in any moment or circumstance. The whole is the sum of all virtual and real entities. The entire energy of all beings. There cooperation and mutual solidarity rule so that all can live and coexist while ensuring respect for biodiversity.

Q: You hold up the image of the planet as a common home and all human beings as the great human family, no matter in which continent they may be?

A: The notion of the nation-state exists and has its role, but in some ways it is a category from the past. Now the only Nation is the earth. And all human beings are citizens of the same. Preserving the experiences they have had throughout the centuries, in their cultures, ecosystems, world values and spirituality. All bring something and find that these dimensions are all human. It means that human beings can be humans in a thousand different ways. That there is not only the western Christian way. All these various manifestations are worthy and express the richness of what it means to be human. And there is the human family, with different faces, brothers and sisters, different ways of living, but all are members of the same.

There are many species of living things, among them the human being, that form said family. And the great dream of the family, however small, is to meet, rejoice together, and celebrate the generosity of nature. And this is the dream of the human family that sits around the table of the common house, to enjoy what the earth can offer and the cultural goods we have created. And so, in this case, the family will feel happy. Not in a valley of tears but in a field of beatitudes.


Q: Unlike your humane and humanist vision of cooperation, what now prevails, however, is the reproduction of mechanisms of domination of the South by the North ... And sometimes, in this context, cooperation appears to be a formula to soothe consciences.

A: It is the strategy of the old paradigm. That there are nations that have hegemony, where one of them is imperial, dominating others and setting the course. This paradigm does not seek to change the system but, in sum, reduces the negative effects of it. Therein comes the traditional view of cooperation that does not change the relationships of power and privilege. The land crucified, divided among many countries, exploited. With an existing cooperation but one that is not the very axis of the global society, one that serves to soothe the guilty consciences of some, that tries to calm those who suffer so that they won’t rebel, while the system that creates marginalized people remains intact. That view, I think, is wearing away. And either we make an outright change of direction and reference points or we will move towards widespread conflict.


Q: In this challenge of paradigms, an especially weighty concept appears that was much discussed in the various World Social Forums: the Global South. What is your view?

A: There are two major tasks and attitudes. The first, to strengthen the countries in the South so they have more negotiating power with the North. Demanding, for example, better prices for their products in international trade; influencing international policies.

The second is to realize that the world is contradictory: globalization and Balkanization co-exist.

In that sense it is very important that there be this expression of the global South, because it is precisely in the South where all the elements required by the North exist: fresh water, oil, diversity. All this is in the South, but ever more re-colonized by multinational corporations.

Although there is this North-South contradiction, it is important to see the earth as the astronauts do, as a single entity and with it the human race as one. From up there, you do not see the north-south differences, whether this or that human being is Catholic or Muslim ...

And in the new paradigm that vision is essential. And preventing what is promoting the existing exploitation of resources: the bifurcation of the great human family. The great risk now is that the powerful will build a Berlin Wall that separates North and South. That they will use all the technologies and advances such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, so that those in the North live 130 years, leaving the rest of humanity outside.

And I think one of the key human challenges today – one that is also the responsibility of the churches -- is to keep the human family united, to prevent the bifurcation.

And here again I emphasize the value of the new concept of cooperation. We must not think of it as one more given but as a personal and collective project, which encourages the relationship between people and holds the human family together. Otherwise it will be deeply torn apart.

Q: Then, seeing the Global South as the union of the marginalized in the South and the North ...

A: This is very important. We should not see North and South as geographical categories only, but as sociological ones. And the union of this global South is essential because it gives it the strength to cry out against injustice. It would be important to establish a kind of peoples’ diplomacy. That people visit each other, meet, sit down, look at their respective wishes to love, to build ... And then preconceptions quickly disappear. We discover that we are all human, fragile, full of wishes, that we want happiness. And all that is worth much more than a large account in a bank. And that the human being is more important than any technological project. All this is only possible, I would stress, with face to face contact. Why not promote a real global social contract, which currently does not exist, a contract that arises from below, from the people?


Q: Could you further define this new paradigm of global society? Some key concepts of the same?

A: More than precepts or rules, it seems to me that we need to be thinking of courses and directions.

First, the belief that we have only one earth as human home.

Then, that land-humanity is one big unit. Land is life and does not just have life on it. This land-humanity must be protected because it is threatened by the irresponsible activities of human beings, especially in the last three hundred years by the generalized spread of an industrial way of production.

Third, that the fundamental ethic is caring. Every living thing requires care. We ourselves would not exist without the care of our mothers at birth.

Another key point is to develop compassion. Not pity but encouraging the ability to feel what the other is feeling. And create structures that allow the earth to exist.

The fifth aspect is that of universal responsibility.To realize the consequences of our actions. We cannot start a war today because it would mean the destruction of the human species. We cannot use genetically modified organisms because they produce enormous consequences for the structure of life. This implies promoting an ethic of life. And having in each country or region ethical bodies to study the consequences of acts. Promoting science with a conscience. Not science for development, but for life, that would be good for the majority.

Complementary, and a sixth aspect, I believe that ethics cannot be imposed unless there is an aura of spirituality. A broader meaning of life. We are hooked to something that transcends the world, we are beings in an infinite series of actions who only rest when we identify that more transcendent reality and see what is behind everything. Allowing life to continue. Putting order in the chaos of the universe. Something that human beings respect and value. Religion has given this the name "God." In any case without that spirituality man feels a great void.

And a warning: it is good that cultures develop all that. We do not have to let spirituality be the monopoly of religion, but an anthropological fact.


Q: Going back to the subject of cooperation. You spoke earlier of the importance of “face to face” contact for the building of a new planetary culture. There is a tendency in the North to underestimate the cooperation that promotes the exchange between people. What is more important is technology transfer and measurable quantitative results.

A: The criticism comes from an old model of development that is only material, that seeks efficiency above all, that sees the material relationship with nature as more important than social transformation. And that is a weak vision. Because in fact what guarantees human happiness, what unites the human family, is not the accumulation of material goods or a more developed technology, but rather the feeling of happiness, self esteem, recognition, respect, love between people and nations. That is not in the bank or the stock market but in the human heart.

There is a struggle between two paradigms that also touches on cooperation. The old is materialist, calculating, efficiency-driven.

In fact we need technology, science, production. We do not want to be obtuse in our thinking. But we want a model which can integrate science and poetry, where production is integrated with worship and celebration. A complex combination that makes for the fulfillment of human beings.

Q: Another trend of cooperation has not managed to transcend the framework of North and South. No one understands that there is real potential in the South-South exchange and that there are new areas, such as the global networks, the social forums, which significantly enhance a different future form of cooperation ...

A: Accepting our world view is contradictory to this trend because it is anti-systemic. And those valid categories such as exchange, mutual intercultural enrichment etc. do not fit into the mental universe of those who support numbers, accounts, profitability.

It is essential to build a common platform, a humane one, based on dialogue. What can facilitate the dialogue between the high-level manager of a Swiss transnational and a working class person in a Latin American country is not rationality, but common sense, emotional intelligence.

Given that the world is globalized, ways to talk must be widespread. Everybody talking, sharing. And on that basis, stress the common points, the convergences in diversity.

The design that does not prioritize this interpersonal exchange, often ends up supporting violence as a means of imposing the will, whether military, ideological, or informational, etc…

Q: One final thought ...

A: Sharing with you a belief that I think is mutual. In my case, after many years of struggle, many of them lost because the system beat us more than once, I have salvaged two important elements. One, that despite everything, we have carried on, persevered, continued, without giving in on anything. The other, that we think of ourselves as seed. And that is important. So that together with others we can become a large tree ...

Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy

PS: Gracias, hermano Alejandro de MACC, for this news item!

In December 2006, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents simultaneously raided Swift & Company meatpacking plants in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Utah, detaining nearly 1,300 undocumented immigrants in the largest immigration enforcement action in recent history. The consequences of these raids also spread to many U.S.-born children, who faced the loss of a parent and great instability. The unique circumstances of these citizen children pose fundamental questions for our immigration law system about their rights and interests—questions that remain unresolved more than two years after the arrests.

A new report, “Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy,” highlights these problems and argues that current laws ignore the needs of the 3 million citizen children of undocumented parents. The authors contend that our laws are seriously deficient and out of step with the way children are treated in other areas of U.S. law, marginalizing what it means for them to be American citizens.

Join us for a spirited discussion of what American law, child welfare jurisprudence, and international human rights norms have to say about the “best interests of the child.” Are we neglecting children’s interests in the pursuit of immigration control? Which laws should apply to these children? How can our enforcement approach be changed—or should it be changed at all— to minimize harm to citizen children of undocumented parents?

WHEN: Monday, March 23, 2009, Noon-1:30 p.m. ET. Lunch will be provided at 11:30 a.m. The forum begins promptly at noon.

WHERE: Urban Institute, 2100 M Street N.W., 5th Floor, Washington, D.C.


  • Ajay Chaudry, director, Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, Urban Institute (moderator)

  • James Kremer, partner, Dorsey & Whitney LLP; coauthor, “Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”

  • Doris Meissner, senior fellow, Migration Policy Institute; former commissioner, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service

  • John Willshire-Carrera, senior attorney, Greater Boston Legal Services
    Others to be announced

To attend in Washington, D.C., RSVP at,e-mail, or call (202) 261-5709.

To listen to the audio webcast or a recording, register at

On a related subject, Rep. José Serrano (D-NY-16)'s Child Citizen Protection Act, H.R. 182 has gained some additional sponsors since the last time we blogged about it. If your representative is not on the list below, call and ask him or her to sign on to this bill.

Rep Filner, Bob [CA-51] - 2/26/2009
Rep Gonzalez, Charles A. [TX-20] - 2/10/2009
Rep Grijalva, Raul M. [AZ-7] - 2/10/2009
Rep Hinchey, Maurice D. [NY-22] - 1/28/2009
Rep Holt, Rush D. [NJ-12] - 3/6/2009
Rep Honda, Michael M. [CA-15] - 2/10/2009
Rep Kucinich, Dennis J. [OH-10] - 2/11/2009
Rep Lee, Barbara [CA-9] - 2/10/2009
Rep Nadler, Jerrold [NY-8] - 2/10/2009
Rep Ortiz, Solomon P. [TX-27] - 3/11/2009
Rep Pastor, Ed [AZ-4] - 3/11/2009
Rep Payne, Donald M. [NJ-10] - 2/11/2009
Rep Rothman, Steven R. [NJ-9] - 2/26/2009

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.

A mis hermanos y hermanas salvadoreños: ¡Ve y vota!

Este domingo 15 de marzo, los salvadoreños tienen la oportunidad de elegir quien va a gobernar su país por los próximos años. Como estadounidense que soy, no pretiendo decir a mis hermanos por quien votar, solamente que es la enseñanza de nuestra Iglesia Católica que los cristianos debemos formar nuestra conciencia y participar en los procesos políticos de nuestros paises. El Arzobispo de San Salvador, José Luis Escobar Alas, recordó a su pueblo que votar es asumir "una enorme responsabilidad ante Dios, su conciencia y sociedad en la que vive. Votar es un derecho, pero también un deber. Por eso, abstenerse de acudir a las urnas sin tener para ello motivos que realmente lo justifiquen sería una grave irresponsabilidad social."

La Conferencia Episcopal de El Salvador instó a los partidos y a los ciudadanos a llevar a cabo un proceso electoral transparente y respetar el resultado de los comicios. Se pide a los partidos políticos reflexionar y evitar los enfrentamientos, provocaciones y amenazas, tanto verbales, como físicas.

Para los que todavía no han hecho opción por uno u otro de los candidatos, aquí tienen las páginas Web de los dos para ayudarlos en su decisión:



Truth and memories

Yesterday a friend came by and brought a pair of coffee cups he had picked up in his travels. He looked fresh and energetic. There was even a whiff of cologne. I gave him a hug and before I could stop them, the words were out of my lips: “You smell good!”

I was exhausted and when we get to that place, it is too tiring to lie or conceal the truth. I was too tired to play games, too tired for inhibitions or the guilt I have been told I should feel...but don’t. Too tired for anything but the truth. Titles fell away and all I saw was a man who, at that particular moment, looked and smelled GOOD.

Over the years I have seen my friend happy, playful and sweaty, tired and dejected, formal but distant, fussy, nervous and shy. He is a man who I care about and, if there is any guilt involved, it is only that I am human too – a tired woman with limitations who can’t always give him what he needs and deserves.

It was a brief moment in time. He had errands to run, things to do. Perhaps one day he will stay and I will make us some coffee and we will sit quietly, enjoying each other’s presence, and drinking from those beautiful cups. Yesterday, however, we just went our separate ways, savoring only memories.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interfaith Mercosur concludes today

Participants at the first Interfaith Mercosur, which concluded today after two days of meetings in Asunción, proposed to consider religions as elements of cohesion among the region's societies. The meeting brought together over 80 social and religious organizations from across the region to put a human and cultural face on what had previously just been an economic and trade alliance.

"You have to understand religion as an important element to life, as a proxy for people, like solidarity," said the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff at a news conference.

"We have a growing religious diversity and that can not imply difference, separation, discrimination, or antagonism" in the region, the Brazilian Dominican Carlos Alberto Libani Christo, known as “Frei Betto”, opined.

Boff and “Frei Betto" have been the most prominent presenters at this event, which is part of the program that Paraguay has arranged for the first semester in which it chairs Mercosur.

The opening day was attended by the Head of State of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, who in his time as Catholic bishop embraced liberation theology, as did Boff and Frei Betto. In his remarks yesterday, Lugo welcomed the religious diversity of the participants. “There is room for all of us under the same roof, just as we all fit under the same sky, and we live on the same earth and we invoke the God in whom we believe – the God who is sometimes both near and distant – this God that became…a “dialogue” so that we could dialogue with each other,” he stated. “I am also a man of faith, and my faith is renewed when I see people committing themselves every day to this South America that is both rich and poor.”

"We are mystical people and that helps to reduce prejudice and distances that make us more rational," said Boff.

Regarding the role of religion in society, the theologian stressed that it should be an "ethical mission". "In other words, to raise the values of justice, combating corruption, and love of truth, and to encourage citizens to participate, to be active” in social processes, he said. He also felt that this mission should not have "a direct dimension in the political arena”, but in raising awareness of the processes experienced by a country.

"Frei Betto" for his part felt that the best way to promote interfaith spaces would be to harness the "democratic spring” that South America is experiencing, with popular democratic governments, including in Paraguay, to make major structural changes.

"It is time to address the democratic shortcomings, to promote structured systems and ensure a society with less inequality," the priest added.

This report has been compiled from the President of Paraguay's Web site and other news sources.

Photo: Leonardo Boff listens as President Lugo addresses the Interfaith Mercosur

Pope Benedict XVI's letter

I've read this letter now a couple of times and I'm not sure what I think. Its tone is defensive. The Pope regrets whatever damage done to Catholic-Jewish relations by his remission of the excommunication of the SSPX bishops. He is still defending the decision.

And the letter is an exercise in circumlocution to the ears the average lay person. What does it mean when the Pope says that these four bishops were "ordained validly but not legitimately"? And "until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church." Does this mean that they are still suspended "a divinis"? Does it mean that they can no longer call themselves "bishop"? If you really read the letter, how can you be sure? Why can't the Pope just come out and tell us exactly what these men's roles will be in the Catholic Church? Or is he hoping that the letter will be a smokescreen until the brouhaha dies down and SSPX will continue to function as usual?

I'm willing to forgive and am slightly amused by the Pope's self-assessment that "I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news." Welcome to the 21st century, Your Holiness!

But I want more clarity about what is going to happen with the four SSPX leaders, especially given the Pope's reluctant admission that they were readmitted "with some reservations in the area of obedience to [the Pope's] doctrinal authority and to the authority of the Council." I also wonder about the practical long-term implications of the Pope's stated intention to join the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It's buried pretty deep into the letter and is probably too obscure for mainstream media analysis.

The letter seems to me like walking through a minefield. The Pope knows where he wants to go -- preferably unscathed -- and knows that it is not where many post Vatican II Catholics want to follow him. Yeah, we KNOW that Church doctrine didn't start or stop with the Second Vatican Council, but it was a watershed mark in the history of the Catholic Church and we don't want to retreat from it either and are sensitive to any backward motion on the part of the Magisterium. So there are more explosions waiting to happen between this Pontiff and our Church.


concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre

Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry!

The remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre without a mandate of the Holy See has for many reasons caused, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, a discussion more heated than any we have seen for a long time. Many Bishops felt perplexed by an event which came about unexpectedly and was difficult to view positively in the light of the issues and tasks facing the Church today. Even though many Bishops and members of the faithful were disposed in principle to take a positive view of the Pope’s concern for reconciliation, the question remained whether such a gesture was fitting in view of the genuinely urgent demands of the life of faith in our time. Some groups, on the other hand, openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment. I therefore feel obliged to offer you, dear Brothers, a word of clarification, which ought to help you understand the concerns which led me and the competent offices of the Holy See to take this step. In this way I hope to contribute to peace in the Church.

An unforeseen mishap for me was the fact that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication. The discreet gesture of mercy towards four Bishops ordained validly but not legitimately suddenly appeared as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and thus as the reversal of what the Council had laid down in this regard to guide the Church’s path. A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation thus turned into its very antithesis: an apparent step backwards with regard to all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council – steps which my own work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support. That this overlapping of two opposed processes took place and momentarily upset peace between Christians and Jews, as well as peace within the Church, is something which I can only deeply deplore. I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news. I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility. Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which – as in the days of Pope John Paul II – has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.

Another mistake, which I deeply regret, is the fact that the extent and limits of the provision of 21 January 2009 were not clearly and adequately explained at the moment of its publication. The excommunication affects individuals, not institutions. An episcopal ordination lacking a pontifical mandate raises the danger of a schism, since it jeopardizes the unity of the College of Bishops with the Pope. Consequently the Church must react by employing her most severe punishment – excommunication – with the aim of calling those thus punished to repent and to return to unity. Twenty years after the ordinations, this goal has sadly not yet been attained. The remission of the excommunication has the same aim as that of the punishment: namely, to invite the four Bishops once more to return. This gesture was possible once the interested parties had expressed their recognition in principle of the Pope and his authority as Pastor, albeit with some reservations in the area of obedience to his doctrinal authority and to the authority of the Council. Here I return to the distinction between individuals and institutions. The remission of the excommunication was a measure taken in the field of ecclesiastical discipline: the individuals were freed from the burden of conscience constituted by the most serious of ecclesiastical penalties. This disciplinary level needs to be distinguished from the doctrinal level. The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. There needs to be a distinction, then, between the disciplinary level, which deals with individuals as such, and the doctrinal level, at which ministry and institution are involved. In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.

In light of this situation, it is my intention henceforth to join the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” – the body which has been competent since 1988 for those communities and persons who, coming from the Society of Saint Pius X or from similar groups, wish to return to full communion with the Pope – to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This will make it clear that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes. The collegial bodies with which the Congregation studies questions which arise (especially the ordinary Wednesday meeting of Cardinals and the annual or biennial Plenary Session) ensure the involvement of the Prefects of the different Roman Congregations and representatives from the world’s Bishops in the process of decision-making. The Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 – this must be quite clear to the Society. But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.

I hope, dear Brothers, that this serves to clarify the positive significance and also the limits of the provision of 21 January 2009. But the question still remains: Was this measure needed? Was it really a priority? Aren’t other things perhaps more important? Of course there are more important and urgent matters. I believe that I set forth clearly the priorities of my pontificate in the addresses which I gave at its beginning. Everything that I said then continues unchanged as my plan of action. The first priority for the Successor of Peter was laid down by the Lord in the Upper Room in the clearest of terms: “You… strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32). Peter himself formulated this priority anew in his first Letter: “Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses “to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1) – in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.

Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time. A logical consequence of this is that we must have at heart the unity of all believers. Their disunity, their disagreement among themselves, calls into question the credibility of their talk of God. Hence the effort to promote a common witness by Christians to their faith – ecumenism – is part of the supreme priority. Added to this is the need for all those who believe in God to join in seeking peace, to attempt to draw closer to one another, and to journey together, even with their differing images of God, towards the source of Light – this is interreligious dialogue. Whoever proclaims that God is Love “to the end” has to bear witness to love: in loving devotion to the suffering, in the rejection of hatred and enmity – this is the social dimension of the Christian faith, of which I spoke in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

So if the arduous task of working for faith, hope and love in the world is presently (and, in various ways, always) the Church’s real priority, then part of this is also made up of acts of reconciliation, small and not so small. That the quiet gesture of extending a hand gave rise to a huge uproar, and thus became exactly the opposite of a gesture of reconciliation, is a fact which we must accept. But I ask now: Was it, and is it, truly wrong in this case to meet half-way the brother who “has something against you” (cf. Mt 5:23ff.) and to seek reconciliation? Should not civil society also try to forestall forms of extremism and to incorporate their eventual adherents – to the extent possible – in the great currents shaping social life, and thus avoid their being segregated, with all its consequences? Can it be completely mistaken to work to break down obstinacy and narrowness, and to make space for what is positive and retrievable for the whole? I myself saw, in the years after 1988, how the return of communities which had been separated from Rome changed their interior attitudes; I saw how returning to the bigger and broader Church enabled them to move beyond one-sided positions and broke down rigidity so that positive energies could emerge for the whole. Can we be totally indifferent about a community which has 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 seminaries, 88 schools, 2 university-level institutes, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters and thousands of lay faithful? Should we casually let them drift farther from the Church? I think for example of the 491 priests. We cannot know how mixed their motives may be. All the same, I do not think that they would have chosen the priesthood if, alongside various distorted and unhealthy elements, they did not have a love for Christ and a desire to proclaim him and, with him, the living God. Can we simply exclude them, as representatives of a radical fringe, from our pursuit of reconciliation and unity? What would then become of them?

Certainly, for some time now, and once again on this specific occasion, we have heard from some representatives of that community many unpleasant things – arrogance and presumptuousness, an obsession with one-sided positions, etc. Yet to tell the truth, I must add that I have also received a number of touching testimonials of gratitude which clearly showed an openness of heart. But should not the great Church also allow herself to be generous in the knowledge of her great breadth, in the knowledge of the promise made to her? Should not we, as good educators, also be capable of overlooking various faults and making every effort to open up broader vistas? And should we not admit that some unpleasant things have also emerged in Church circles? At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.

Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case. But sad to say, this “biting and devouring” also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love? The day I spoke about this at the Major Seminary, the feast of Our Lady of Trust was being celebrated in Rome. And so it is: Mary teaches us trust. She leads us to her Son, in whom all of us can put our trust. He will be our guide – even in turbulent times. And so I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the many Bishops who have lately offered me touching tokens of trust and affection, and above all assured me of their prayers. My thanks also go to all the faithful who in these days have given me testimony of their constant fidelity to the Successor of Saint Peter. May the Lord protect all of us and guide our steps along the way of peace. This is the prayer that rises up instinctively from my heart at the beginning of this Lent, a liturgical season particularly suited to interior purification, one which invites all of us to look with renewed hope to the light which awaits us at Easter.

With a special Apostolic Blessing, I remain
Yours in the Lord,
[Benedictus PP. XVI]
From the Vatican, 10 March 2009.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In the dock and under the gun: New report on human rights in Colombia

Human Rights First has issued a new report on unfounded criminal prosecutions and harassment that are endangering and interfering with the work of human rights activists in Colombia.

Titled Baseless Prosecutions of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia: In the Dock and Under the Gun, the report documents the cases of 32 prosecuted human rights activists, as well as analyzing the extent of the problem.

The report concludes with the following recommendations to the Colombian government:

  • Empower the human rights prosecutor to review all criminal investigations against human rights defenders, close those that are unfounded, and immediately release those in detention;

  • Prosecute officials found to have violated the law in falsely investigating human rights defenders;

  • Stop using coerced and coached witness testimony and intelligence files as a basis to initiate criminal investigations against defenders; and

  • Refrain from public statements that falsely link human rights advocacy to terrorism.

Colombia is one of the most dangerous states in the world for human rights defenders. Dozens of human rights defenders are murdered every year, including labor rights activists, lawyers, indigenous leaders, members of nongovernmental organizations, and community and religious leaders.

El informe de Human Rights First está también en español: Los defensores de derechos humanos acusados sin fundamento: Presos y señalados en Colombia

Photo: Gloria Florez of MINGA, Andrew Hudson of Human Rights First, and Ivan Cepeda of MOVICE at the press conference releasing the report in Bogota, February 24, 2009.

Padre Nuestro de la Creación / Our Father of Creation

Al final de esta bellísima carta pastoral de Msgr. Luis Infanti De la Mora, Obispo de Aysén (Chile), “Danos Hoy El Agua de Cada Día”, hay una oración preciosa que quiero compartir con ustedes. Pidiendo disculpas a mi hermano obispo, cambie unas palabras porque creo que su oración vale para toda la tierra, y no solamente Patagonia. And, for our English speaking readers, I have also translated this lovely reflection so we can all share it. I also gave it a title...

Padre Nuestro de la Creación

Por Msgr. Luis Infanti De la Mora

Oh Señor, Dios nuestro y Santo:
te alabamos, te bendecimos y te damos gracias
por que derramas a manos llenas tu santidad
en el corazón, en la mente, en la voluntad
y en el alma de cada ser humano,
como en el misterio y belleza
de cada ser de tu creación.

Si en la cumbre de nuestra alegría
no te ponemos a ti, Creador y Señor,
que nuestros ojos no vean más el sol.

Te adoramos Señor de la Vida:
por cada persona, hermana sagrada
que refleja tu divinidad,
por la tierra, hermana fecunda,
por el agua, hermana fuente de vida,
por el aire, hermano aliento del alma,
por nuestro planeta virgen, tierra bendita de Dios.

Con cantos de victorias
celebramos las aguas libres y puras
que bautizan a nuestra sagrada tierra
para entregarla bella y pura
a las generaciones futuras.

Tu cuentas conmigo y yo con tu gracia:
para discernir el bien del mal,
para convertir mis actitudes y acciones,
para luchar contra toda desgracia,
para ser capaz de solidaridad y comunión,
para tener relaciones de paz, Contigo,
con los hermanos y con la naturaleza.

Danos hoy nuestro pan
y el agua de cada día,
perdona nuestras ofensas
y danos amor para perdonar.

Líbranos de los enemigos de tu vida:
los violadores de la dignidad de las personas
y de los misterios de la madre tierra.

No nos dejes caer en la tentación
del consumismo y de la maldad.

Como llenaste de gracia a la Virgen María
y el Espíritu la hizo fecunda
regalándonos el Tesoro Redentor,
llénanos de gracia y de los dones
de sabiduría, responsabilidad y amor
para ser profetas de la Paz
y misioneros de la Vida.

Danos valor y fe
para embellecer el planeta
con cielos nuevos y tierra nueva
como alianza de amor Contigo
Hoy, y por los siglos de los siglos. Amén.

Our Father of Creation

By Msgr. Luis Infanti De la Mora / English trans.: Rebel Girl

O Lord, Our Holy God,
We praise You, we bless You
and give You thanks
because You have fully poured out Your holiness
into the heart, mind, will,
and soul of every human being,
and so too in the beauty and mystery
of every being You have created.

If we do not make You, Lord and Creator,
the crowning point of our joy,
may our eyes no longer see the sun.

We worship You, Lord of Life:
for every person, holy brother and sister
and reflection of Your divinity;
for the earth, fertile sister;
for the water, sister fountain of life;
for the air, brother breath of the soul;
for our virgin planet, land blessed by God.

With songs of victory
we celebrate the pure free waters
that baptize our sacred land
to bring it, pure and beautiful,
to future generations.

You count on me and I on Your grace
to discern good from evil,
to convert my attitudes and actions,
to struggle against all misfortune,
to be capable of solidarity and communion,
to be at peace with You,
with my brothers and sisters,
and with nature.

Give us this day our daily bread
and water.
Forgive us our trespasses
and give us love so as to forgive others.

Deliver us from the enemies of Life –
those who violate the dignity of people
and the mystery of Mother Earth.

Lead us not into the temptations
of consumerism and wrongdoing.

As you filled the Virgin Mary with grace
and the Spirit made Her fertile,
giving us the Redeemer Treasure,
fill us with grace and the gifts
of wisdom, responsibility, and love
that we might be prophets of Peace
and missionaries of Life.

Give us the courage and faith
to beautify our planet
with a new heaven and a new earth
as a pact of love with You
now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Nuestra agua de cada día -- continued

The pastoral letter on water "Danos hoy el agua de cada día" that we blogged about yesterday is getting the attention that it deserves. Héctor Carrillo reports that thanks to Bishop Luis Infanti's letter, the Chilean Catholic bishops' conference has decided to take up the theme of water and the environment at their next meeting April 20-24. Pope Benedict XVI is also expected to release a new encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate" that month which will focus on social issues including climate change and the environment.

The bishop of Aysén also visited Italy and had conversations with the directors of Enel which a few days ago acquired a 92% interest in Endesa, the company that has a monopoly on the water in the region. He described the conversations as cordial. "I got a good impression", he said. "I felt Enel had a different position than Endesa in that they are respectful of the environment and the culture of the people in the areas where they have projects."

Also on the water front comes a warning from the scientific community that the rise in sea levels due to global warming is expected to be even greater than what was predicted in 2007 by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Advances in the understanding of the mechanisms that control how quickly ice sheets melt show that sea levels are likely to rise a by at least a meter by 2100 -- twice the 20 - 54 cm that the IPCC originally thought -- and probably more. Speaking at a conference in Copenhagen, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change, said that unless greenhouse gas emissions are controlled within 50 years the planet will be locked into rises of "tens of metres". "Sea level is rising faster than expected. It's rising much faster than in the models," he told the audience of hundreds of climate change researchers.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Danos hoy el agua de cada día

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the stat that I found on the International Women's Day Web site: "Women in developing countries on average carry 20 litres of water per day over 6 km." For Americans, that's carrying about 5.2 gallons of water for 3.72 miles every day. Think about it and remember how blessed we are every time we turn on the tap and clean, drinkable water comes out.

I learned to appreciate water during my two trips to Peru. On the first trip we visited a community in northern Peru, near Piura, where there was no running water. We saw the water being brought in on the backs of animals, as it had to be each day. On the second trip I was in Cuzco but the tap water was -- as it is throughout Peru -- not safe to drink. Every day the cook in our house boiled pitchers full of water to keep us thirsty norteamericanos hydrated and healthy. However, the water supply was unreliable and usually cut off during the night. Sometimes it would come back on in the morning; other times it would not and I would have to go to school without washing and -- worse -- leaving the toilet unflushed.

So I was deeply grateful to discover this beautiful pastoral letter from Bishop Luis Infanti de la Mora, OSM of Aysén (Patagonia), Chile -- "Danos hoy el agua de cada día" ("Give us this day our daily water"). The 90-page letter was written over the course of a couple of years, starting from a dialogue about the environment the bishop began with his people in 2006. His questions and their answers are part of the pastoral letter.

The letter was first publicly presented in September 2008 to executives of HidroAysen, a company that was proposing to build a dam which the bishop has opposed. It is an eloquent reflection on the many facets of water -- as an environmental resource, as a necessity for human survival, as a sacramental sign -- and it ranges from hard facts to hard-hitting political statements to the elegant verse of Chile's poet Gabriela Mistral. We learn, for example, that 96% of Aysén's fresh water rights are controlled by one company, Endesa -- a monopoly which the bishop believes is problematic because it "can become a form of colonialism, the domination of certain peoples."

Environmentalists like Juan Pablo Orrego, an ecologist with the Chilean NGO Ecosistemas, have welcomed the letter. “I find the bishop’s stance to be both valuable and brave, because certainly there are sectors within the Chilean Catholic Church that take a very different view, which are very pro-development, allied with business leaders,” says Orrego. “That fact that this message is coming from the Chilean Catholic Church is very powerful. It represents a paradigm shift, an update.”

Those who speak Spanish are encouraged to read the original pastoral letter in its entirety. For English only speakers, I have taken the liberty of translating Bishop Infanti's introduction. I can only hope that it approximates the beauty of the bishop's original words.

Introduction to "Danos hoy el agua de cada día":

Dear brothers and sisters:

While visiting the community of Villa O’Higgins, my car got thirsty. Quenching that thirst cost me 850 pesos per liter of gasoline ($5.25/gallon).

I was also thirsty. It cost me 900 pesos per liter of WATER ($5.55/gallon). I did not stay calm. In the kingdom of pure and crystalline waters, of eternal snows, of graceful waterfalls, and majestic rivers such as Aysén where one can get the purest water on the planet for free, bottled water is more expensive than gasoline, milk, or a kilo of bread. And, like fireworks going off, questions filled my mind. And so I went searching, asking, observing, thinking and talking to people,...

It was one more reason for me to write this pastoral letter, the first in my 8 years as bishop in the Aysén region of Patagonia.

I realized that water, “sister water” -- together with “sister earth” -- are so essential to our daily life, that without them we would be captured by the tentacles of death. Through the subject of water, I have discovered how deeply social, ethical, political, religious, cultural and economic interests and motives are intertwined. I have been able to understand the direction our human history is taking, the political economy of a globalized world, the vocation and mission of the human being on this earth, and the urgent and prophetic role of the Christian and the responsibility to be an instrument of God to fight and build a world of harmony, peace, justice, solidarity and equality. In the end, I discovered the intimate relationship that should be between the human being and God, between the human being and the resources of His creation.

In every corner of vast Patagonia one finds the fingerprints of a creator God, the grandeur of the beauty and mystery that surrounds and surpasses us, in the colors, the silences, the smells, the waters and the forest, the wind and the animals, the snowdrifts and the rainbow; and therefore, in profound and solemn praise, we feel responsible for their protection and preservation.

Patagonia is contemplation and praise. It is exuberant life. It is the joy of living in a reserve of life. It is responsibility, struggle and effort, it is love and wisdom, peace and celebration, it is future and prayer. In acknowledging this reality, we want to speak out so that this corner of the planet will not be wounded and consumed by the urge for profit, exploitation and destruction that “soft consumerism” would entail.

Will Christian spirituality in the third millennium manage to convert the human being into a wise and responsible co-inhabitant with the cloak of nature that lovingly surrounds him? Will he continue to act as the bitter enemy of sister earth, sister water, brother air, and human brothers and sisters of this land, converting it into a “vale of tears”?

Will we still feel the soft footsteps of God passing through our land, meeting the fisherman and the peasant, the quick-witted child or the brave pioneer; and conversing with the suffering woman, the youthful dreamer, and the missionary priest in the garden of Patagonia?

A rainbow is breaking out. The sign of love and peace with which God blesses and embraces our earth, holy Patagonia, in an eternal pact of commitment so that the pure, clear and crystalline waters continue to flow with life, whose blood energizes the arteries of our land.

An alliance between Patagonia and her God, to maintain the lushness and the purity of the air, the impetuousness of the seas, the majesty of the eternal snow and ice, the nobility of the agile huemul, the amusing ñirre, the lenga, and the flowering calafate. Fraternity grows around the stove, and with mate and truco, a pact of friendship and faith is sealed, against the threatening projects of destruction.

Patagonia stands up, raises her voice, unites, organizes, and builds her future with sweat and faith.

Photos: Bishop Infanti and his land.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Farmville: The Radical Circus

About 150 outsiders, including yours truly, showed up in Farmville, Virginia, to tell the people they didn't need or want a new detention center.

We heard from Native Americans from all over Virginia, Mexicans from Prince William County, Catholic Workers from Goochland, and immigrant rights activists from Richmond and other parts of the state. But nobody stood up and said: "I'm from Farmville and I'm against building this new jail.".

The other voice that was missing was the Church. A couple of religious from Portsmouth came but did not speak from the podium. Not even any sign of the Protestants for this one, much less the institutional Catholic Church. At least when we marched in Prince William County last year we had a couple of evangélico pastors and a local Franciscan. But yesterday? Nada. Un silencio total. ¿Dónde están nuestros pastores? Y las ovejitas más y más perdidas y desprotegidas.

But partly it's our fault. Building elaborate puppets and turning out a bunch of would-be hippies with unkempt hair, raggedy clothes and exotic body art and piercings is not a substitute for the hard work of real community education, organizing, and coalition building. For that you need to cut the hair and the attitude, take out the nose stud, put on conservative clothes, and start reaching out to the churches and other groups in the community itself.

We had no visible opposition yesterday. The police were courteous, the townspeople polite but unpersuaded. The radical circus had come to town. Ignore them and they will go away, back to their homes in communities that don't need the 200 jobs that the new detention center will bring to Farmville with its median income of $33,227 in 2007 (almost half the statewide median income) and 22% of its population below the federal poverty level.

Which voice speaks louder? The one that is chanting in a Native American language that I don't understand? The one that is shouting slogans in Spanish? (Most of the slogans were in Spanish as we marched through a community that is only 1.3% Hispanic) Or my brother telling me softly how ashamed he is because he hasn't worked for over three months and had to go to the food bank for the first time last week to feed his family? He's hoping he can get a job at the new jail but, until then, could I lend him a little money to pay the utility bills?

Bottom line: Unless we make changes in our image and attitude that enable us to connect with the community, unless we start to listen to Farmville's issues and concerns, and unless the people of Farmville start to speak out for themselves, this detention center will be built and the radical circus will move on to the next issue and the next town.