Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Joxe Arregi: A Silenced Theologian Leaves the Franciscans

Joxe Arregi Olaizola, the Basque Franciscan theologian and writer, has protested his silencing by Bishop José Ignacio Munilla Aguirre of the Diocese of San Sebastian, Spain, by breaking his silence and leaving his order. Arregi was born in Azpeitia (Gipuzkoa) on November 8, 1952. He was a Franciscan and lived at the Arantzazu Sanctuary. He received a PhD in Theology from the Catholic Institute of Paris, writing his thesis on the relationship between Christianity and other faiths. He has taught theology at Pamplona, Vitoria and Deusto. For many years he has been working in the theological formation of lay people. He was editor of Hemen, a journal of religious thought in Euskara. A more detailed biography and a list of his other publications in Spanish and in Euskara can be found here.

by Joxe Arregi,
Periodista Digital

Rumors have been swirling for some time like swallows flying so fast and free, with no other guide than the unerring instinct of life (by the way, how the swallows have multiplied in Arantzazu, and they are still growing! God bless you). But once the rumors are unleashed, sometimes innocently, sometimes intentionally, it is more difficult to stop them than to stop the flight of birds.

Well, the news has broken out in all directions and, contrary to my original intention, I can do no less than confirm it now: I'm going to leave the Franciscan Order. By the way, I apologize for any ambiguous statement of mine that some might have understood as a denial. It was not meant to be such.

I will leave the Franciscan Order. I have thought about it, looking inward between my light and shadow, looking outward at the mountain and sky, and the swallows. I have shared it with the people who love me and whom I trust most. I have spoken with the leaders of my Franciscan province who are also my friends. I will leave this Arantzazu of my soul, where I have lived for 17 of my 57 years; I will leave the Franciscan Province that has been my family and my home since I was 10 years old; I will leave the Franciscan Order that has completely shaped my being. I will not say that the decision did not cause pain and dizziness, but I take the step in peace.

It was predictable from that December 23rd when they imposed upon me, and I promised, silence for one year. And it was irreversible from that June 17th when I broke my vow of silence because, previously, my bishop had repealed the conditions that warranted it. I spoke up, not because I had some urgent prophetic message to preach, but simply because the time when freedom of speech could be enjoined in the Church of Jesus under the pretext of dogmas and magisterium, has passed.

Jesus did not establish dogmas and magisterium. On the contrary, He taught that the word of God should not be identified with human tradition (Mark 7:7 to 13), and He denounced scribes who had taken over the chair and the magisterium (Matthew 23:2), He categorically prohibited anyone calling themselves "teacher" or "father" (Matthew 23:8-9), He solemnly declared that "every human being is lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28), i.e. lord of every religious law however sacred it might be, and He said to the deaf man in Aramaic: Ephphatha, "be opened", "listen and speak" (Mark 7:34).

Moreover, and the church should acknowledge it without further delay: even if Jesus had established dogmas and teachings — which He certainly did not establish — they would not have been immutable, because Jesus had no law or criteria other than the Spirit of God, and the Spirit is like air and water, and it is always moving. And if need be, as St. Paul said, "where the Spirit of Jesus is, there is freedom" (2 Cor 3:17).

Of course, the Church, like all human groups, requires structures and a more or less common language, but the structures have to be flexible and mobile, like everything living, and dogmas should be able to be understood and expressed in words always new, like any mystery; and in the first place, an authoritarian Church should change into a democratic Church, as Jesus wished.

And the Church, which has taken so many liberties to contradict Jesus, with more reason should be free to go along with the Spirit of Jesus. It's enough to know history to see how things have changed, and enough to taste the Spirit of God to know how they have to change. Whoever does not know history, at least let him taste the Spirit; whoever does not taste the Spirit, at least let Him know history. How anachronistic and contrary to the gospel is this idolatry of doctrine that has gagged us!

Simply because of this, I said: "I will not shut up." That amounted to insubordination, and there is no place for rebels in the institutional church that we have, and I knew it. There is also no place for objectors in the Franciscan Order that we have, and I also knew that: the Franciscans in charge, even against their will, and as the only way to avoid a serious internal conflict, would be obliged to require me to submit to the orders of the bishop. Therefore, I have not needed any great insights: either I complied or I left. I thought that I should not obey, to be faithful to the sure Jesus, to my unsure conscience, to my humble mission, but I did not want to be a reason for conflict for the Franciscans, who are my friends and brothers. The choice was not easy, but it was forced and simple.

I will leave the Order, and thus lose much, but who knows if, in the end, losing is not a gain as well this time. I choose life with all its risks, including the word. I do not know what will become of me (who knows what will become of themselves?), but wherever I go, God will come with me, and if I get lost along the way, He will find me. I want to continue being a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, the good and free man. Oh, how far I feel from Him! But He is near me, near you. Jesus is my neighbor and every neighbor is Jesus. With him, like him, I want to continue being Church without those clumsy dichotomies of clergy and laity, religious and secular, faithful and heretics, believers and unbelievers.

I wish my bishop and brother Jose Ignacio Munilla well, and I think the best thing is to listen to, respect, and support the voice of the vast majority of his diocesan community, of which I will continue to be an active participant. The community's voice is the voice of the Spirit, far more so than the voice of Madrid or Rome.

Oh, and I want to continue to be a Franciscan, a simple Franciscan without the habit. Peace and Good!

As he has done in many of his writings, Arregi closes with a little passage to pray about, a poem by Benjamín González Buelta, SJ.

Esta mañana
enderezo mi espalda,
abro mi rostro,
respiro la aurora,
escojo la vida.

Esta mañana
acojo mis golpes,
acallo mis límites,
disuelvo mis miedo,
escojo la vida.

Esta mañana
miro a los ojos,
abrazo una espalda,
doy una palabra,
escojo la vida.

Esta mañana
remanso la paz,
alimento el futuro,
comparto alegría,
escojo la vida.

This morning
I straighten my back,
I lift my face,
I breathe in the dawn,
I choose life.

This morning
I welcome my punches,
I silence my limitations,
my fear dissolves,
I choose life.

This morning
I look someone in the eye,
I pat them on the back,
I offer a word,
I choose life.

This morning
I bring peace,
I nurture the future,
I share joy,
I choose life

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1 comment:

  1. What a spiritual man! After seeing others try to improve the Church and encourage it to be more flexible, it is no surprise that priests do leave the priesthood or the Church. The shortage of priests will surely get larger as long as the Church continues to muzzle those who try to speak wisdom and truth.

    The poem expresses the joy that the Church should be exhibiting, without the iron muzzles.