Friday, November 27, 2009

Teresa Forcades: "The interests of the multinationals do not coincide with the common good"

Appearing on the program "Els Matins" on 11/23/2009, Teresa Forcades, doctor and Benedictine nun, presents her arguments for questioning the Influenza A vaccine in her statements and speeches, and she responds to the criticisms that her polemical video on YouTube has provoked. Forcades reaffirms her position and stresses that "the interests of the big multinationals do not coincide with the common good." This interview is in Catalan.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Say You're One of Them

One of the few benefits of lying in bed for several days with zero energy and a raging cough is that I have been able to do some reading. My current distraction of choice is Say You're One of Them, the best-selling collection of short stories set in Africa and the 2009 selection for Oprah's Book Club.

The author is Fr. Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit priest. This alone is interesting because other than a few veteran writers like Fr. Andrew Greeley, it is almost unheard of for a work of fiction by a Catholic priest to hit the best-seller list...and stay there.

Fr. Uwem, who was ordained in 2003 and works as a parish priest in Nigeria and who studied creative writing at the University of Michigan, says of his book that he set out to write "about how children are faring in these endless conflicts in Africa. The world is not looking. I think fiction allows us to sit for a while with people we would rather not meet...I want their voices to be heard, their faces seen."

The stories, inspired by Fr. Uwem's personal experience with street children in his native Nigeria and in Nairobi where he studied theology, take us into their world of grinding poverty, unrelenting violence, sex trafficking and abuse by the adults in their lives. And they are told literally in the voices of the people -- which means a sort of pidgin English (and occasionally pidgin French) interspersed with Africanisms like "abeg o" and the ubiquitous "dey" wedged between the subject and verb. While authentic, it can make it difficult to understand the characters and, as an ESL teacher, I found it a little annoying and distracting, especially the transposition of consonants (the mixing of "l" and "r" as in "We dey beg you say no bling porice", or "p" and "f" as in "inpidel" and "feofle"). One fares better by giving up a literal word for word understanding of such dialogue and just submerging into the spirit of the stories.

And what a spirit there is! At the moment, I have just finished "Luxurious Hearses" -- a surreal, nightmarish account of a teenage boy's journey in a bus bearing refugees from northern to southern Nigeria. It is a harrowing cacophony of religious and political conflict into which the author manages to work every issue that is tearing his country apart. Faced with his own inner conflicts between his Catholic baptism and Muslim upbringing and the shifting loyalties of the other passengers on the bus, the young Jubril/Gabriel barely knows who he is, let alone who he can trust.

Catholicism comes out looking good among the different religious voices, as the one of calm, peacemaking, and inclusiveness. It is embodied in Madam Aniema, an older woman who is spending her bus journey reading The Imitation of Christ. She endears herself to her fellow travelers by sprinkling holy water on a soldier crazed from post traumatic stress disorder and leading the crowd in a litany of the saints which calms the man down.

The scene ends with an amusing dialogue with old Chief Ukongo -- the voice of traditional African religion:

"You've got the real thing, woman!" the chief cut in with his congratulations..."Your holy water is as powerful as what those bearded Irishmen sprinkled on our ancestors to make them instant Catholics. Then the Church didn't waste time dipping you into the river before you got the Spirit..."

"Yesss!" the Catholics cheered.

"Just three drops of water and you knew Latin like the pope," the chief said.

"Of courssse!"

"I'm going to personally tell Rome to ordain you a priest..."

"No, no, no...That's not our church!"

"Chief, we no dey ordain women for our church!"

A light murmur went through the bus. Some said Madam Aniema should be exempted from church tradition, while the Catholics said it was impossible to ordain women and warned outsiders to mind their own business...
The whole dialogue makes me wonder where Fr. Uwem really stands personally on women's ordination.

Fr. Uwem's writing debut enjoys the support of his bishop, the Most Rev. Camillus Etokudoh of Ikot Ekpene, who penned a very kind afterword telling the priest that his diocese is proud of him. Fr. Uwem has suggested that in future stories he may give a voice to the African immigrant community in America and after reading Say You're the One, we long to hear more.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tactics we DON'T support:

Iglesia Descalza does not agree with the Church's positions on homosexuality or mandatory celibacy and we certainly are as scandalized as any Catholic by sexual abuse or other misuses of clerical power.

This being said, we don't think that a Web site that encourages parishioners to out their priests -- whether homosexual or involved in an illicit heterosexual affair -- is the way to go. The Web site in question,, was founded by DC area gay activist Phil Attey. It states its objective up front:

This site was created to provide you with the opportunity to save LGBT youth from the hypocrisy of priests in the Archdiocese of Washington who are socially, romantically or sexually active gay men, yet stand silent while Archbishop Wuerl and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops increase their dogmatic war against gay families. If you have information that a priest in the Archdiocese is gay (or having a heterosexual affair) please share your story.
Although we find it a little strange to actually be on the same side of an issue as Bill Donahue of the Catholic League, Iglesia Descalza believes that priests are human beings who have a right to privacy as long as their activities are merely sinful (per Church teachings and regulations...this is not to be read as any sort of personal moral judgement) and not illegal (e.g. a sexual relationship with a minor or engaging the services of a prostitute).

Catholics who are concerned about their priest's activities should talk to the priest in question. If the problem cannot be resolved, then you go to the bishop or religious superior, but only if you have sufficient evidence that the priest really is engaged in immoral behavior. Nobody should be ratting on their priest in a public forum unless they have exhausted all internal Church remedies for handling a situation and only if it is a situation that threatens the public welfare (i.e. not a relationship between two single consenting adults).

Governors blast church over funding threat

No postings lately because I've been dealing with a horrible case of bronchitis for the last several days. I am working on a new Sr. Teresa Forcades translation, an interview she gave in Catalan where she talks about prayer, Benedictine spirituality, etc...

Meanwhile I was happy to see two Catholic governors stand up today and say: "No, opposing gay marriage and benefits for domestic partners is NOT more important than caring for the needy." In this case, all you have to do is look at how Jesus said we would be judged (Matthew 25) to know what the Church's priorities should be if we were really following the Gospel.

As a side note, I want to clarify what has really happened in the flap over Rep. Patrick Kennedy and communion. Although many members of the media and Rep. Kennedy himself have said that Bishop Thomas Tobin is denying Kennedy communion, this is not the case. In fact, in 2007 Bishop Tobin simply wrote to Kennedy: "In light of the Church's clear teaching, and your consistent actions, therefore, I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving Holy Communion and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so." And in a recent public letter in the diocesan newspaper Tobin offered a more detailed rebuttal of Kennedy's positions, telling him that "if you don’t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you 'less of a Catholic.'"

Opining that a person is not in communion with the Church and asking them to voluntarily refrain from taking Communion is not the same as, for example, instructing all priests in the diocese of Providence to deny Communion to Congressman Kennedy.

All of this is very difficult for me. After all, I disagree with the Church's teachings in a number of areas. The only difference between myself and Rep. Kennedy is that I am not famous so what I think or don't think will never be a matter of public scandal. The same is true for all of those couples who will go up and receive communion this Sunday and take their birth control pills or put on their condoms that night. And what about all the Catholic judges, jurors and governors (including Gov. Kaine) who will sentence someone to the death penalty and then step up to the altar as if they had nothing to confess? Have any of them ever been advised by their bishops not to present themselves for Communion?

Bottom line: If everyone who, in the opinion of the American bishops, is not worthy to receive were to stop coming to Church and getting in the communion line, we could probably solve the priest shortage because we could close most of the parishes.


WASHINGTON - The governors of Virginia and Maryland blasted the Catholic Church over its threat to stop providing social service programs in the District, if the city's proposed same-sex marriage law isn't changed.

The criticism from the governors came on WTOP's Hands Across the Potomac program

"I'm Catholic, and I think it's wrong. I don't think you take your ball and go home," Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said.

"I think the strategy of threatening to pull back, it doesn't seem like the church I've come up in."

The D.C. bill says that religious organizations wouldn't have to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings, but would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians. The archdiocese wants to be exempt from the law.

District leaders have contacted the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington in the hopes of forging a compromise. D.C. Council members want the church to explore what Georgetown University has done. Georgetown provides medical coverage to a spouse or "a legally domiciled adult" in the employee's household.

Kaine, who praised the "remarkable" work of the church, says if the Catholic Church opts to end its charitable work in the District, it would "it would set a very bad example."

"It's really not who the church has been. If you look at the church through history, the church will stand in tough situations and continue to do good," said Kaine, who has worked as a missionary in Honduras.

"I would be very, very disappointed here or anywhere else if the Catholic Church decides 'Gosh, we don't like something that's happening in civil society, so we're going to retreat into our shell.'"

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who also is Catholic, agreed.

"I don't understand how they can possibly do this," O'Malley said.

"I have a hard time believing that the nuns and priests who taught me about the Corporal Works of Mercy would agree that this is an appropriate response for the church," he said.

"I think it would be very, very sad for all concerned, especially for the people who are served by the good work of the Catholic Church acting out the Gospels."

Both governors also say they hope the cuts that may be coming to the area's Catholic schools aren't as severe as reported.

Pastors at 14 Catholic churches in D.C. and Maryland say their schools are in danger of closing or undergoing major changes if enrollments continue to decline. The archdiocese operates 96 schools serving 28,629 students in the District and Maryland. Enrollment is down 2.4 percent from last year.

"It would have a big impact on quality of life in a lot of neighborhoods in the District, and also in Maryland," O'Malley says.