Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Good "Good Friday"

The phone call never came and I didn't call either. As it were, it was for the best. I was tired from a bladder infection and after laundry, a care planning meeting for mother, a lengthy visit with her, some blogging, I was just wanting a little quiet down time with God...not some crowded, complicated Via Crucis en vivo.

So I ate some leftovers and went over to St. Ann's. As I watched the church fill for the Spanish Good Friday service, I remembered several years ago when I first proposed the idea of offering Viernes Santo at a time and in a language that worked for our community. Back then it was attended by a couple of dozen stalwarts. Now there are many and the line to venerate the Cross seemed interminable.

Mothers came up with little children, showing them how to bless themselves and pay respect to Our Savior. Gawky adolescents made quick genuflections and nervously touched the Cross. Everyone had their own style -- mine being a sort of oriental gasho and a kiss firmly planted in the center of the Cross.

I watched Fr. Jorge and felt happy that I had lobbied for the diocese to assign him to St. Ann's. He is more traditional than I am, but the number of people in attendance last night and the relative smoothness of the service are testimony to his good relationship with the community. My "family" now has the father it has always needed and deserves. They are bonding with him and my heart is glad.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Passover/Easter of the crucified Earth

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Passover/Easter* is a holiday common to Jews and Christians and contains a metaphor for the current state of the Earth, our devastated common home. Etymologically, Passover means a transition from slavery to freedom and from death to life. The planet as a whole is going through a severe Passover. We are in an accelerated process of loss: of air, soil, water, forests, ice, oceans, biodiversity and sustainability of the Earth-system itself. Terrified, we have watched the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, followed by tsunamis.

How is all this related to the Earth? When will the losses end or what will they lead us to? Can we expect that, as at Easter, a new life and resurrection will erupt as it always does after the Good Friday of Passion and death?

We need a look back on the history of the Earth so that it sheds some light on the current crisis for us. First, we must recognize that earthquakes and devastations are recurring in the geological history of the Planet. There is a "background extinction rate" that occurs in the normal process of evolution. Species exist for millions and millions of years and then disappear. It's like a person who is born, lives for some time and dies. Extinction is the fate of individuals and species, including our own.

But beyond this natural process, there are mass extinctions. The Earth, according to geologists, has gone through 15 major extinctions of this nature. There were two particularly serious ones. The first occurred 245 million years ago during the breakup of Pangea, the single continent that broke up and gave rise to the present continents. The event was so devastating that it decimated between 75% and 95% of the then existing species of life. Below the continents there are still active tectonic plates, bumping into each other, overlapping or separating, in a movement called continental drift, responsible for earthquakes.

The second occurred 65 million years, caused by climatic changes, rising sea levels and warming, events caused by a 9.6 km asteroid that fell in Central America, causing infernal fires, tidal waves, poisonous gases and a long blackout of the sun. The dinosaurs who dominated, sovereign, for 133 million years on Earth disappeared completely as well as 50% of living species. The Earth needed ten million years to completely recreate itself. But this allowed for a range of biodiversity as never before in history. Our ancestors who lived in the treetops, feeding on flowers, trembling with fear of the dinosaurs, could fall to the ground and make their way, culminating in what we are today.

Scientists such as Ward, Ehrlich, Lovelock, Myers and others argue that another mass extinction is going on, which began about 2.5 million years ago, when vast glaciers began to cover part of the planet, changing climates and the sea level. It greatly accelerated with the emergence of a truly razing meteor, which is the human being through his systematic intervention in the Earth-system, particularly in recent centuries. Peter Ward (The End of Evolution, 1977) states that this mass extinction is clearly seen in Brazil, where over the last 35 years, four species are becoming definitively extinct daily. He ends by warning: "a giant ecological disaster awaits us."

What causes a sense of crisis in us is the existence of earthquakes that destroy everything and kill thousands of people such as in Haiti and Chile. And here we have to humbly accept the Earth as it is, whether a generous mother or a cruel stepmother. She follows the blind workings of geological forces and ignores us, so the tsunami and disasters are terrifying. But she passes information to us. Our mission, as intelligent beings, is to decode it to prevent damage or use it to our benefit. Animals grasp such information before a tsunami and flee to high places. Maybe a long time ago we knew how to grasp it and defend ourselves. Today we have lost that ability, but to compensate for our failure, there is science. It can decode the information that Earth previously passed to us and suggest strategies for self-defense and salvation.

We are the Earth itself which has awareness and intelligence, but we are still in the juvenile phase, with little learning. We are entering adulthood, learning how to better manage the energies of the Earth and the cosmos. Then, the mechanisms of the Earth, through our knowledge, will stop being destructive. We all still have to grow, learn and mature.

Earth hangs on the cross. We have to take her down from there and restore her. Then we can celebrate a true Easter and we will be allowed to wish: Happy Easter.

* Translator's note: The term "pascua" in Spanish is used for both Passover and Easter (and a variety of other religious celebrations) but we have different words for the Jewish and Christian celebrations. I have chosen to alternate the terms depending on what process Leonardo Boff is describing.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What's God doing on a cross?

by Fr. José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)


According to the Gospel story, those who passed in front of Jesus crucified on the hill of Golgotha mocked Him and, laughing at His impotence, said to Him, "If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross." Jesus does not respond to the provocation. His response is a silence full of mystery. Precisely because He is God's Son, He will remain on the cross until His death.

The questions are inevitable: How is it possible to believe in a God crucified by men? Do we realize what we are saying? What is God doing on a cross? How can a religion founded on such an absurd conception of God survive?

A "crucified God" is a revolution and a scandal that forces us to question all the ideas that we humans have about a God who we supposedly know. The Crucified One has no face or features that religions attribute to the Supreme Being.

The "crucified God" is not an omnipotent and majestic being, unchanging and happy, oblivious to the suffering of humans, but a helpless and humbled God who suffers pain, anguish and even death with us. With the Cross, either our faith in God ends, or we open to a startling new understanding of a God who, embodying our suffering, loves us incredibly.

Before the Crucified One, we begin to sense that God, in His last mystery, is someone who suffers with us. Our misery affects Him. Our suffering splatters on Him. This is not a God whose life goes by, so to speak, on the margin of our sorrows, tears and misery. He is in all the Calvaries of our world.

This "crucified God" does not allow for a frivolous and selfish faith in an omnipotent God to serve our whims and demands. This God makes us look toward the suffering, the abandonment and helplessness of so many victims of injustice and misfortune. We meet this God when we come near to the suffering of any crucified one.

We Christians continue to take all sorts of detours to not run into the "crucified God". We have even learned to lift our eyes towards the Cross of the Lord, diverting them from the crucified ones who are before our eyes. However, the most authentic way to celebrate the Lord's passion is to revive our compassion. Without this, our faith in the "crucified God" is diluted and the door to all sorts of manipulations is opened. May the kiss we give to the Crucified One always turn our gaze towards those near or far from us who live in suffering.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Some reflections on the Church sex abuse crisis

I've tried to avoid writing about this issue but, as one of my readers pointed out, it is too big to ignore anymore.

I've been reading and thinking about Sinead O'Connor's insistence that Pope Benedict XVI needs to confess. Those who criticize Sinead must understand that she is coming from having been one of the girls confined in the infamous Magdalene laundries -- the issue of abuse in Catholic institutions is personal for her. But her analysis of the causes of abuse doesn't go far enough while some of her solutions, e.g. suggesting that Catholics should "avoid Mass", go too far.

We also heard about the sex abuse scandal on Palm Sunday from Fr. Joe, who feels our anger and shame and used his brief homily to beg for forgiveness for his fellow priests and, if not forgiveness, then prayers. He asked us -- most of us are Latin American -- to remember the Church that has been in solidarity with the poor there (although the Latin American Church has also had its share of pedophilia cases). Finally, he appealed to those who might be tempted to leave in disgust to remember that we are the Church. Fine...except that Fr. Joe never abused a child and doesn't owe anyone an apology, and while he says that we are the Church, those who run the Church don't seem to give a rap what we think unless the funds start to dry up. Mostly we are told to shut up and mind our own business if we don't want to appear sinfully disobedient.

I think we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. I actually feel somewhat sorry for Pope Benedict XVI. He has only been Pope since 2005 and most of the incidents we are discussing occured during the administration of the previous Pope, John Paul II. But we certainly need to look at Pope Benedict XVI's record too, in light of the reports in the New York Times on the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, the Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys but was never brought to justice after he personally appealed to then Cardinal Ratzinger. A second issue involves the Pope's handling of the case of Rev. Peter Hullermann, a priest in Munich who was repeatedly transferred to new parishes and and allowed to work with children, even after a 1986 conviction for sexually abusing boys. The Pope claims the transfers were handled by a deputy and he was unaware of them. Perhaps His Holiness is only guilty of being a compassionate guy and a negligent administrator, but is that what we want on the throne of Peter?

In an interesting aside, Austria's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn has gone on record in defense of the Pope arguing that in 1995 then Cardinal Ratzinger tried to investigate allegations that the previous Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, had molested youths at a monastery in the 1970s, but was blocked by Pope John Paul II. Groer was not relieved of his religious duties until 1998 and went into exile in Germany where he died several years later. This is a clear sign to me that we should be putting the brakes on John Paul II's canonization until we find out to what extent he was involved in protecting pedophile priests and their ineffectual bishops.

Finding out who knew what and when at the Vatican may get easier. Attorneys in abuse cases in Oregon and Kentucky have won the right to proceed against the Vatican. The circuit court decision in the Oregon case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Vatican has traditionally claimed that as a sovereign state it is entitled to diplomatic immunity in these cases. For the record, we find this deplorable.

Ultimately, the only real answer is demanding that the Church be more open and accountable. As long as the "Father knows best" model predominates and the faithful are routinely denied information about parish and diocesan decisions and their legitimate questions and concerns are patronizingly dismissed, we will continue to foster the climate in which clerical sexual abuse of children (pedophilia), staff (sexual harassment), and those who go to priests for counseling (professional misconduct) can flourish.

As long as priests are treated as gods who cannot be questioned, they will be free to abuse their power and position. Abuse has been allowed to continue because priests have enjoyed the benefit of the doubt. How many unwittingly abet the abusers by refusing to believe their own children or by suggesting that older victims "asked for it" because of how they acted or dressed? We have only to look at how the woman is villified when a popular priest like Fr. Alberto Cutié leaves the priesthood, as if Fr. Alberto had no responsibility or ability to say: "I'm a Catholic priest with vows so: No, I won't go there." We need to stop blaming the victims, the women, and instead hold our priests accountable for violating their vows, their positions, and our trust in them.

The Pope is also under fire for a 2001 directive he wrote while a Vatican cardinal, instructing bishops to keep abuse cases confidential and that all were to be channeled through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The directive has been interpreted as an attempt to cover up, although this was refuted by Monsignor Charles Scicluna. Scicluna said that since the 2001 directive, 3000 cases of abuse have been investigated by the CDF. Three hundred of those were determined to be genuine pedophilia while most of the rest involved adolescents. Six hundred priests have been defrocked. Most of those who were not defrocked were spared due to their advanced age.

But we need more than contrition and selective prosecution from the Vatican. The Pope needs to send a loud and public message to all priests and bishops that they have a collective responsibility to protect our Church by weeding out those whose behavior brings disgrace and mistrust to the institution. That there is a time to lay aside collegiality for truth, to forcefully encourage each other to shape up or ship out, to get counseling if needed, to turn oneself in to civil authorities if guilty of criminal behavior. A message that says that whistleblowers on clerical sex abuse will no longer be treated as pariahs by their religious communities. If we were effectively policing ourselves, the courts would not have to get involved (see Mt 5:25).

I would like to see the Church move away from the secrecy, the idolatry of the clerical state, and other factors that have nurtured an environment where abusers can get away with their sins. This is OUR Church. We want it back. We want a Church that we can be proud of, not one that makes us cringe with embarassment every time we open the newspaper or turn on the evening news. A Church where our leaders keep their pants on and their ears and hearts open to the questions of their flock instead of trying to keep us in the dark and "in our place". Only then will any words of contrition ring true.