Saturday, April 10, 2010

Quinceañera: The 8th Sacrament

Lately I have noted a number of people arriving on this blog while searching for information about quinceañera celebrations -- the religious and/or secular passage of young Hispanic girls into womanhood at 15. I call it the 8th Sacrament in Hispanic Catholicism in the Americas (for those who think this is sacreligious, wait until Archbishop Jose Gomez gets promoted to Pope...then the Catechism of the universal Church will catch up to us!). Meanwhile, I like to keep my readers happy, so here is some information and a few links to help you learn more about, and plan this celebration.


While the true origins of this celebration have always been a matter of debate, Rebecca Cuevas De Caissie sheds some light on the matter. She says: "Quiceañeras has its roots buried deeply embedded in Mayan and Aztecan history. In Mayan and Aztecan history, we learn that at the age of about fifteen, young women were considered mature enough to wed and begin a family as well as take on adult responsibilities. Their mothers formally acknowledged this coming to sexual maturity as they were directed in how to fulfill their duties as a wife, to obey the decorum and dictates of society as well as various forms of celebrations that to this day remain elusive to modern man. In the more elite circles of this society, daughters were sent to a temple to serve or to be educated as a priestess. At either rate, women by this age were considered experts in duties of womanhood or entered into training for the priestess profession, but the entrance into the position of woman was one that was highly regarded and welcomed by all those within their culture. What we do know is that with the invasion of Spaniards and the conquest of South America, the traditions and religions became blended and the traditional Quiceañera as we know it today was born."

Cuevas De Caissie also shows the commonalities between the quince and the traditional debutante and sweet 16 celebrations in Europe and North America.

Other Sources:

* History of the Quinceañera as a Rite of Passage


These will vary from culture to culture. There is usually a Mass -- or some other faith celebration -- and a party. The young lady will often wear an elaborate gown, usually white for the Mass then pink for the fiesta. Other elements commonly found are:

* symbolically changing from flat shoes to high heels
* wearing a tiara and carrying a sceptre
* formal dances with her attendants and her father
* receiving her last doll

An excellent summary of the most common traditions can be found in Traditions of Quinceañeras by Rebecca M. Cuevas De Caissie.

Other Sources:

* Quinceaneras: History and Traditions by Yelena Johnson

General Sources to Help Plan a Quinceañera:

* Quinceanera - Sweet Fifteen


Our Arlington Diocese offers retreats for quinceañeras which have become somewhat obligatory when a family requests a quince Mass. During these half-day retreats, the girls receive two talks. The first is about their rights and responsibilities as young women in Church and society and about the importance of sacred scripture. The second is about the Virgin Mary as role model for women and mothers. A schedule of this year's retreats can be found here.

If a parish or diocese is looking to write guidelines to cover these celebrations, they could do worse than to look at those developed by the Diocese of Tyler, Texas. These include information on the symbols that a formation session should cover.

A popular text for formation classes is the bilingual My 15th Birthday — Mis 15 Años written by the Diocese of San Barnardino and published by Pauline Books and Media. There is a separate teacher's guide.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has approved a rite for quince Masses. The text in English and Spanish is called Bendición al cumplir quince años / Order for the Blessing on the Fifteenth Birthday (PDF). It is also available for purchase as a small booklet.

Again from the USCCB, here is a brief description of the rite, though there may be many variations on the particulars depending on the young lady's country of origin and the family's economic means and preferences:

In the presence of family and friends, the young woman (the quinceañera), often accompanied by fifteen young men and women of her choice, (damas y chambelanes), enters the Church in procession, together with her parents and godparents. If she has prepared the readings, she may serve as the lector for at least one of the readings. After the Liturgy of the Word, the quinceañera makes a commitment to God and the Blessed Virgin to live out the rest of her life according to the teachings of Christ and the Church by renewing her Baptismal promises. Then, signs of faith (medal, Bible, rosary, prayer book) which have been blessed and may be given to her. A special blessing of the quinceañera concludes the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After Mass, the young woman is presented to the community. The ritual continues with a dinner and sometimes a dance in her honor.

This passage is part of the USCCB's Fifteen Questions on the Quinceañera which goes into greater detail, and it is particularly helpful for people in pastoral positions encountering requests for this rite for the first time. Not all 15-year old Hispanic girls are going to want a quinceañera celebration and, occasionally, a 15-year old boy will want a similar blessing. I think we can expect that this rite will become co-ed as it flourishes in the United States and gets away from its Latin American roots. It will be like American synagogues offering bat mitzvahs (for girls) whereas in the old days and the Old World only bar mitzvahs (for boys) were available.

Another older resource about this ritual from a Catholic religious perspective is the Mexican American Cultural Center (now Mexican American Catholic College) publication Quinceañera by Angela Erevia, MCDP. Caution: Use the USCCB publication mentioned above for the most updated and approved version of the blessing ritual. This one, however, is still useful for readings and music ideas as well as for general information about the quince.

For priests who are not sure what to say, offers a sample quince homily in English and in Spanish.

Finally, for an ecumenical touch, here is a guide for Quinceañera celebrations in the Episcopalian Church. Written by Isaías A. Rodríguez, it includes a history, pastoral suggestions, a sample liturgy, and suggested readings. Also on the same Web site is another sample quince homily in that tradition. For evangelicos, here is a quince rite from Semon Central contributed by Adrian Olivas of the Assembly of God church in Spanish and in English.


Prayer of Dedication for a Quinceañera

Thank you, Lord
For calling me to be, to live,
To be an image and likeness of you;
Thank you for sending your Son to save me,
Your Spirit to make me holy;
To all your goodness and love,
I wish to say “YES”
And with your help
I dedicate myself more and more generously
To serve you in my brothers and sisters.

I also dedicate myself to you,
Mary, Mother of Jesus;
You who were so close to Him, are a model of faith.
From you, may I continually learn
What it is to be a woman
And a Christian.
Help me to hear the Word of God
As you did,
To keep it in my heart
And to live it in unselfish ways. AMEN.

Oracion Para Quinceañera

Señor mio:
Hoy hace XV Años vine al mundo sin poder agradecerte nada,
pero hoy he venidoa decirte: Gracias por el milagro de la vida,
gracias por la salud que disfruto, gracias por los padres que me diste,
gracias por mis abuelitos, gracias por mi juventud dichosa,
gracias por toda mi familia y por los amigos que me han rodeado,
para quienes te pido derrames tus bendicones en este dia y siempre.

Gracias Senor por permitir que mis padres guiaran mis pasos y con
ternura apartaran los cardos del camino para llegar a ti llena de
felicidad en este dia de mis XV Años.

Photo: Fr. Joe Dyer gives a blessing to a quinceañera in the cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson, Mississippi

Friday, April 9, 2010

The win-win principle

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)

Looking at the world as a whole, we realize that almost nothing works properly. The Earth is sick. And since, being human, we are also Earth -- human comes from humus --, we also feel somewhat sick.

It seems clear that we can not continue in this direction, since it would lead to an abyss. We have been so foolish in the past generations that we have built the beginning of self-destruction, to which irreversible global warming must be added. This is not a Hollywood fantasy. Between appalled and perplexed, we ask ourselves: how have we come to this? How can we escape this global problem with no exit? What contribution can each person bring?

First, we have to understand what the core structure of world society, which is primarily responsible for this dangerous route, is. It's the kind of economy that we have invented, with the culture that accompanies it, which is private accumulation, consumption without solidarity at the cost of sacking nature. Everything has become merchandize for competitive trading. Within this dynamic, only the strongest win. The others lose, or are added as junior partners or disappear. The result of this logic of competition of all against all and the lack of cooperation is the great transfer of wealth to the few strong, the big corporations, at the cost of general impoverishment.

We must recognize that for centuries this competitive trading has been able to shelter all, willy-nilly, under its umbrella. It created a thousand facilities for human existence. But today, the possibilities of this type of economy are being depleted as the economic and financial crisis of 2008 has highlighted. The vast majority of countries and persons are excluded. Brazil itself is nothing more than a junior partner of the big ones, for which is reserved the role of being an exporter of raw materials and not a producer of technological innovations that would give it the means to shape its own future. We have not yet fully decolonized ourselves.

Either we change or the Earth is in danger. Where to look for the articulating principle of living together, a new dream for the future? In times of total structural crisis we must consult the original source of all: nature. She teaches us what earth science and life have been telling us for a long time: the basic law of the universe is not competition, which divides and excludes, but cooperation, which adds together and includes. All energy, all elements, all living beings, from bacteria to more complex beings are interdependent. A fabric of connections surrounds them on all sides, making them cooperative and supportive people, the main content of the socialist project. Thanks to this fabric we got here and we can have a future ahead.

Given this fact, we are able to develop an exit for our societies. We have to consciously make cooperation a personal and collective project, something which was not seen in the COP-15 on climate in Copenhagen. Instead of competitive trading where only one wins and others lose, we must strengthen complementary and cooperative exchange, the great ideal of the "good life" (sumak kawsay) of the Andes, in which everyone wins because everyone participates. We must take up what the brilliant mind of Nobel mathematician John Nesh formulated: the win-win principle, through which all, talking and giving, are better off, without there being any losers.

To live together humanly, we have invented the economy, politics, culture, ethics and religion. But we have distorted these "sacred" things by poisoning them with competition and individualism, thus tearing apart the social fabric.

The new social centerpoint and the necessary and saving new rationality are based on cooperation, empathy, the deep sense of belonging, of familiarity, hospitality and brotherhood with all beings. If we don't make this conversion, we must prepare for the worst.

A Time of Confusion

On Easter Sunday I heard three direct or indirect apologies from priests for the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal. The first came from a Hispanic priest who was rambling and defensive. This man, who is given to effusive abrazos, honestly wants to convince us that all priests are not abusive, that clergy abuse is a small percentage of total child sexual abuse. He is someone who genuinely cares for children and wants to go back to a time before all the confusion and mistrust, when he could hug young and old alike without questions being asked. The second and third came from North American priests -- one of whom also took the opportunity to apologize for the Church's broader sins of sexism and homophobia.

I hear these words and realize that my previous columns on this subject have been harsh -- perhaps like a mother might talk when she is mortified by her children's behavior that has embarrassed her publicly. I also think it is important to realize that most of the cases that are emerging date from a time when we were less open and less aware of these issues than we are today. They are painful, but the pain is by and large coming from the past, not the present.

Most dioceses including our own have the mechanisms in place to prevent future scandals. We have a rigorous application and training process in place for anyone who wants to work with children and youth or for any diocesan institution. It has presumably weeded out child molesters. It has also weeded out undocumented immigrants -- regardless of their experience in catechesis -- and people like me who have previous arrest records (for civil disobedience, in my case) and who don't want to be bothered with fingerprinting and background checks. It weeds out those whose work schedules and lack of computer and language proficiency make it difficult for them to sign up for and receive the training classes.

The diocese also provides regular Masses in English and Spanish for victims of abuse and counseling services as well as referrals to outside providers. It provides a place to report abuse and issues an annual report. Here are some statistics from the latest report which came out a couple of weeks ago:

  • Between 2003 and 6/30/2009, the office received 246 calls from victim/survivors of sexual abuse.

  • Between 7/1/2008 and 6/30/2009 the office received 52 calls. Two of the calls were received from third parties reporting on two alleged victims of child abuse by diocesan clergy. The victims refused to come forward themselves so those cases could not proceed. Another two calls were reports of inappropriate conduct towards minors but these did not rise to the definition of child abuse. This is not hard to imagine, given that such a seemingly innocuous act as a priest giving a book or a CD to a child without informing the parents first is prohibited by our diocesan guidelines. The guidelines are so broad that I can think of numerous times I have been guilty of violating the prohibition on photo'ing specific children while taking pictures for the Renovacion -- with no more evil intent than to show, for example, how the younger members of our prayer groups help out by distributing water during the healing Masses.

  • During the same time period there were two reports of inappropriate conduct by a clergy member towards adults.

  • There were four allegations of child abuse or inappropriate behavior by priests from other dioceses or religious orders and the Arlington office assisted those persons in reporting to those institutions.

  • The remaining calls were about non-church related sexual abuse.

The four diocesan cases "were forwarded to the Bishop's Delegate for Clergy for investigation and appropriate action has been taken." The report cannot say more because these priests are entitled to employment privacy law protection, particularly if they have not done anything illegal. And so we are left with unanswered questions and must trust that real abusers are not still being covered up for and shuffled around.

It is also important to address the question of inappropriate behavior towards adults -- something that the diocesan office appears to have taken on even though it is not strictly within its purview. I have certainly been at the receiving end of behavior and comments that I would consider inappropriate coming from persons who are vowed to celibacy. These were not offensive, merely a little unusual, and I saw no reason to report them. I have been concerned that such ill-concealed displays of affection might lead outside observers to cause trouble for the priests. It is a highly subjective area.

We are a multicultural diocese and need to be aware that "appropriate" can vary from culture to culture. An example: A friend of mine who is a Peruvian priest routinely greets me with a kiss on the cheek. The first time this happened, I was a little taken aback. Later I came to realize that this is how all Peruvian men regardless of marital or clerical status greet women acquaintances and that it means absolutely nothing. I'm also aware that an American outside observer might think they are seeing "inappropriate conduct".

So I don't blame priests for feeling confused and defensive about this renewed focus on the Church's sexual issues. These are confusing times and I keep hoping and praying that we can get beyond them and be able to go back to exchanging abrazos freely without having to worry about misperceptions, complaints, and lawsuits.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Padre Jony Officiates at First Rock Mass in Tortosa Cathedral


The Mass was celebrated to commemorate the centenary of the establishment of the Court of Honor of the Virgen de la Cinta, a women's group that cares for the chapel and the figure of the Virgen de la Cinta, patroness of Tortosa.

With this Eucharistic celebration, distant from the traditional canons and unprecedented in this cathedral of the Ebro region, those responsible for the Court of Honor sought to attract younger people to the church and raise their interest in the figure of the patron saint of the city and in religion in general.

In the end, hundreds of teenagers came to the cathedral to attend the Mass along with other people who wanted to see live a Eucharistic celebration such as has not been seen before in the Tortosa church.

Padre Jony, who has released rock albums with themes related to religion and the promotion of human values, was accompanied during the Mass by a group of musicians with electric guitars, drums, keyboard and bass.

The musicians took their place around the altar, while spotlights projected colored lights on the columns of the altar and the medieval altarpiece of the Virgen de la Estrella, which dates from the middle of the 14th century.

Next to the altar, there was a screen on which images and videos were projected during the Mass to accompany the songs of the rock n roll priest.

Padre Jony began the Mass with a blues number and, later, during the liturgy came out with rock versions of popular religious songs such as, for example, "Pescador de hombres."

One could also hear an "Our Father" sung in a rock version and an offertory song with a rap rhythm.

The repertoire closed with a rock version of the "Himno a la Virgen de la Cinta", one of the pieces of music most representaive of the city of Tortosa. This version was created especially for today's Mass.
The songs, performed strictly directly, provoked applause and even some light dance moves in some of those attending the mass.

The youngest participants in the celebration, who came from all the schools in Tortosa, did several readings and brought up the offerings, among which was an electric guitar that ended up on the altar.

In his homily, Padre Jony encouraged the young people to try to learn more about the Virgin Mary and warned that current problems such as drugs, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of social commitment must be banished.

After the Mass, Padre Jony expressed his satisfaction with the response and the impression generated among the teenagers of Tortosa.

"It was a different expression of faith so that young people can see it in their own way, with a bit of rock and rap," said the priest, who was pleased because the teens "were very attentive, well-behaved and involved."

The priest, who has already expressed his wish to celebrate more rock Masses like the one today in Tortosa, had to devote quite a bit of time to signing autographs for the dozens of young people who approached him after the Eucharistic celebration.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Church Sex Abuse Scandal: Blaming the Messenger

Rome -- and its outposts -- just don't get it. There have been real crimes committed by men of the cloth, crimes that have all too often been swept under the carpet by their superiors, crimes that are emerging for public scrutiny to the embarrassment of Catholic faithful worldwide. We want answers or, at least, someone to answer for what has happened in our Church -- a truth and reconciliation commission, if I may be so bold as to borrow a concept used more often in the case of crimes against humanity, torture by military dictatorships, apartheid, etc...This is what we are getting instead:

1. Don't want bad news? Cancel your subscription. That's what the Archbishop of Portland John G. Vlazny did to the Oregonian. An excerpt from the Archbishop's statement: "The last straw came on March 31. On the editorial page again, this time in the form of a prominent editorial, the editors arrogantly scolded the church for its past failures in handling this matter of child sexual abuse and, in an insulting and unfair attack, chose this most holy time of the year, during our church’s Year of the Priest, to connect the practice of celibacy among our clergy with the problem of child sexual abuse, when everyone knows that most abusers by far are married persons! Is every single person now under a cloud of suspicion? Or only single Catholic priests? If only the latter, don’t you wonder why? For more than ten years as Archbishop of Portland, in one way or another, I have pondered these challenges and perhaps taken them more seriously than they merited. But I knew that reconciliation and healing among those aggrieved would only be possible if we who are the church were truly repentant and serious about doing better. But the media could never be satisfied. Why? It’s a trick as old as the human race. “When you don’t like the message, destroy the messenger.”..."

The Oregonian's editorial page editor Bob Caldwell responded: "Our editorial and cartoon about the child sexual abuse scandal were not, in any sense, anti-Catholic. They could be construed as critical of the pope and church's handling of abuse cases over the years, but the editorial was both thoughtful and hopeful. We had no intent to offend anyone, although I am not surprised that some disagreed with the opinions expressed on our pages."

Incidentally, the Portland Archdiocese has a whole Web site where documents pertaining to its abuse cases are posted:

2. "The best defense is a good offense"? This seems to be the tactic from those surrounding Pope Benedict XVI:

  • Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals: "The Pope embodies moral truths that aren't accepted, and the shortcomings and errors of priests are being used as weapons against the church...It's not a bishop's fault if one of his priests is stained by grave wrongdoing. And certainly the pontiff is not responsible." Also from Sodano's Easter greeting to the Pope: “Holy Father, the people of God are with you, and do not let themselves be impressed by the gossip of the moment, by the challenges that sometimes strike at the community of believers.” (dude, you need to get out of the Vatican and into the trattorias and start listening to the people of God)

  • Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, President of the Governatorate of Vatican City State, said that the reporting on the sex abuse scandals was part of a campaign of "hatred against the Catholic Church." (perhaps it might be better to view it as part of fraternal correction because many of the critics are devoted Catholics who are just tired of the scandal)

  • Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, said that the Pope's opposition to gay marriage and abortion put him at odds with "powerful lobbies (which) would like to impose a completely different" agenda on the Church. (actually we would like to get the sex abuse issue out of the way so we can get back to arguing with the Church about women's ordination and gay rights)

Meanwhile, the abuse and coverup reports keep emerging like pus slowly draining from a boil:

  • Georg Mueller, a former bishop in Norway, admits to having sexually abused an altar boy 20 years ago when he was a a priest in Trondheim.

  • Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, a Roman Catholic priest in southern India charged with forcing a 14-year old girl to have oral sex with him in Minnesota in 2004 has said that he will return to the United States to face the charges.

  • Politics Daily blog reminds us that the current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which still supposedly handles these cases at the Vatican level, Cardinal William Levada, has his own share of covering-up to answer for and enjoys the distinction of being the only prelate in the United States to be successfully sued for having placed a priest, Jon Conley, on administrative leave and ordering him to go into counseling for blowing the whistle on a sex abusing colleague.

  • The Miami Herald reports again on the case of former priest Ernesto Garcia-Rubio, who was allowed to transfer to the Miami Archdiocese from Cuba after Washington-based Apostolic Delegate Luigi Raimondi warned then-Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll that Garcia-Rubio "was forced to leave Cuba because of serious difficulties of a moral nature (homosexuality)." There were four sex-abuse allegations against Garcia-Rubio by teenage Nicaraguan and Salvadoran refugees from 1983 to 1988 and the Archdiocese sent him to St. Luke's for treatment. In 2004 the Archdiocese of Miami agreed to pay $3.4 million to settle almost two dozen lawsuits against various priests including Garcia-Rubio. The lawyers for the victims have posted all of the related documents and a timeline here on the Web. What really got to me was that in 1996, ten years after he was aware of the abuse allegations, Archbishop Edward McCarthy wrote a letter recommending Garcia-Rubio for a case worker position in the day care division of Catholic Community Services.

Many are not going to like this column, but can the Church truly blame the faithful for being fed up with the defensive nonsense that is coming out of the Vatican right now? It's time for our leaders to have the courage and integrity to lance the boil of sex abuse in our Church and let it heal completely as boils will do when opened up and allowed to drain.

Saving Maribel Perez Vargas - An Update

UPDATE 2012: A little comment posted by one of Maribel's children on this blog piece prompts me to add this note that Maribel did receive her double lung transplant in 2010 and, according to an article in Washington Hispanic, returned to her home and children free of the ventilator which had been keeping her alive. This photo of Maribel and her husband was taken after her return home.

Old news:

For those of you who so kindly contributed to Maribel for her lung transplant, we are so incredibly close and your help has made this a reality for her as contributions met the copay requirement.

Maribel is in Pittsburgh waiting to be put on the list. It could happen as early as this week. Once she is on the list, she should get high priority as her condition has worsened. Just last week she went from breathing through her nose with assisted oxygen, to going to Fairfax Hospital and being intubated for 36 hours to being flown on a medical jet to the University of Pittsburgh, the only hospital that could handle her delicate case. The doctors have taken the tubes out and reopened her tracheostomy so she can breath.

While she remains in Pittsburgh, she needs a minium of $8,000 to cover the expenses of her caregivers during her stay. So, we ask that you donate a minimum of $5.00 (more if your are financially able) and if you cannot contribute, please send a prayer that she makes it on the list. Thanks for caring.

1. Donate online here

2. In the U.S. you can make donation through:

Chevy Chase Bank
Acct No. 0954382064

3. You can also send checks to:

P.O. BOX 8523,
Falls Church VA 22041

Why the Church doesn't want to -- and can't -- abolish the celibacy rule

I had read a couple of articles mentioning that Leonardo Boff, in light of the latest spate of sex abuse cases, had called for the abolition of the celibacy requirement. Now, he has published his views on the theological forum Atrio. We bring them to you in English.

By Leonardo Boff

The emergence of cases of pedophile priests in almost all Catholic countries is still in progress, revealing the extent of this crime that has caused so much damage to its victims.

It is little to say that pedophilia has embarrassed the Church, or to apologize and pray. It's worse. It represents an unpayable debt to those children who were abused under the cloak of credibility and confidence that the role of priest embodies.

The central thesis of Pope Ratzinger, which I got tired of listening to in his lectures and classes, is invalidated by itself. For him, the important thing is not that the Church be large. It's enough for it to be a "little flock", consisting of highly spiritual people. It is a small "reconciled world" representing the others and all humankind. It happens that within this small herd there are criminal sinners and that it is everything but a "reconciled world." He must humbly accept what tradition used to say: the Church is holy and sinful, a "chaste prostitute" as some of the ancient Fathers used to say. It is not enough for it to be Church; like everyone else, it has to go along the right path, and integrate the sex drive, which already has billions of years of biological memory, to be an expression of tenderness and love, not of obsession and violence against children.

The pedophilia scandal is a sign of the times. We learned from Vatican II (1962-1965) that we have to discover through signs the message that God wants to convey. I think the message is along this line: it's time for the Roman Catholic Church to do what all other churches have already done: to abolish celibacy imposed by church law, and free it for those who see meaning in it and are able to live it out with gaiety and freshness of spirit. But this lesson is not being grasped by the Roman authorities. On the contrary, despite the scandals, they reaffirm celibacy more strongly.

We know the education for the integration of sexuality in the formation of priests is insufficient. It takes place away from normal contact with women, causing some atrophy in the construction of identity. The sciences of the psyche have made it clear that men mature only under the gaze of women, and women under the gaze of men. Man and woman are reciprocal and complementary. Genetic and cellular gender has shown that the difference between a man and a woman, in terms of chromosomes is reduced to just one chromosome. The woman has two X chromosomes and the man has one X and one Y chromosome. From which it is derived that the base-gender is female (XX), the male (XY) being a differentiation of same. There is therefore not an absolute gender, but rather only a dominant one. In every human being, man and woman, there is a "second sex." In the integration of "animus" and "soul", i.e. of the two dimensions of the feminine and masculine present in every human being, the seeds of sexual maturity are sown.

This integration is hampered by the absence of one of the parties, woman, who is replaced by imagination and phantoms, which if they are not subjected to discipline may lead to distortions. What was taught in seminaries is not without wisdom: who controls the mind controls sexuality. For the most part.

But sexuality has a volcanic force. Paul Ricoeur, who has reflected philosophically on Freud's psychoanalytic theory a lot, recognizes that sexuality is beyond the control of reason, of moral norms and laws. It dwells between the law of the day, in which established rules and behaviors prevail, and the law of the night, where drive, the force of spontaneous vitality, operates. Only an ethical and humanistic life plan (what we want to be) can give direction to sexuality, and transform it into a force for humanizing and fruitful relationships.

This process does not excluded celibacy. It is one of the possible options that I defend. But celibacy can not be born of a lack of love; on the contrary, it must result from an overabundance of love for God that overflows to those around one.

Why doesn't the Roman Catholic Church take a step and abolish the celibacy rule? Because it is contradictory to its structure. It is a totally authoritarian, patriarchal, highly hierarchical institution, and one of the last bastions of conservatism in the world. It covers a person from birth to death. For anyone with minimal civic awareness, the power conferred upon the Pope is simply tyrannical. Canon 331 is clear: that power is "ordinary, supreme, full, immediate, and universal." If we remove the word "Pope" and put "God", it works just as well. Therefore it was said: "the Pope is the minor god on earth", as many canonists have said.

A Church that puts the power in its center, closes the doors and windows to love, tenderness and compassion. The celibate person is useful to this type of church, because the celibate one is denied that which makes him more deeply human -- the love, tenderness, emotional meeting with people, which would be more easily facilitated if priests were married. They become fully available to the institution, that can just as well send them to Paris as South Korea.

Celibacy involves co-opting the priest totally to the service not of humanity, but of this type of church. He should only love the Church. When he discovers that it is not just "Holy Mother Church" but can be a stepmother who uses her ministers according to the logic of power, he becomes disappointed, leaves the ministry along with mandatory celibacy and gets married.

As long as this logic of absolutist and centralizing power lasts, we do not expect the celibacy rule to be abolished, no matter how many scandals occur. Celibacy is too convenient and useful to the ecclesiastical institution.

But then what about Jesus' dream of a fraternal and egalitarian community? Well, that's another problem, perhaps the main one. From that perspective, we would pose the question of celibacy and the style of church that would be most appropriate to His liberating message differently.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

More good news for "la raza"...

According to a report on birth rates for different age groups released today by the National Center for Health Statistics:

"The rate for Hispanic teenagers fell to 77.4 births per 1,000, the lowest rate ever reported for this group in the two decades for which rates are available. Rates fell for all race and Hispanic origin groups between 2007 and 2008, with statistically significant declines ranging from 2 percent (for non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black teenagers) to 5 and 6 percent for Hispanic and API [Asian and Pacific Islander] teenagers."

Which hopefully will mean that more of our hermanitas will be finishing high school and looking at careers and college...

Archbishop Gomez appointed to Archdiocese of LA

Rebel Girl views this a very wonderful news. I met Archbishop Gomez at a conference at Notre Dame last year and was impressed by his openness and willingness to solicit the views of attendees about what they thought could be done to improve Hispanic ministry in the United States. This is the kind of leader we need in the Catholic Church today and it is what makes him a worthy successor to Cardinal Mahony.

Although it is not in the news story, the press release issued by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles reveals that Cardinal Mahony will turn 75 at the end of February 2011 so that is when he must submit his resignation and when the transition will take effect. Cardinal Mahony has also been one of our best allies for immigration reform and I sincerely hope that he will continue to work tirelessly for the immigrant community after his retirement. Te necesitamos en la lucha, hermano cardenal!

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2010 / 05:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- This morning the Holy Father appointed current San Antonio Archbishop Jose H. Gomez as Coadjutor Archbishop of Los Angeles, California, the largest diocese in the United States. The prelate will serve alongside current Cardinal Roger Mahony, and will take over his position when he retires.

Archbishop Gomez was born in 1951 in Monterrey, Mexico to Dr. José H. Gomez and Esperanza Velasco, both who are now deceased.

The prelate earned bachelor's degrees in accounting, philosophy and theology and was ordained an Opus Dei priest in 1978. In 1980, he obtained a doctorate in theology from the University of Navarre's Pamplona, Spain campus.

From 1987 to 1999, then-Father Gomez was in residence at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in San Antonio where he assisted with the parish's pastoral work. It was during this time that he became a regional representative to the National Association of Hispanic Priests (ANSH). In 1995 he was named president, then took on the role of executive director in 1999.

Archbishop Gomez played a central role in establishing the Hispanic Seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City which opened in 2000.

Then in 2001, he was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Denver, where he served in several areas, including outreach to the Hispanic community. He also organized the establishment of Denver’s Centro San Juan Diego for Family and Pastoral Care, a place for formation of lay leaders and a base to provide welcoming services to immigrants.

In 2005, the year he was appointed Archbishop of San Antonio, he was named one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential Hispanics in the United States, and in 2007 he was on a CNN’s list of “Notable Hispanics” in a web special celebrating “Hispanic Heritage Month.”

While the Archbishop of San Antonio, Most Rev. Gomez created the The Catholic Community Foundation for the Roman Catholic Church of the archdiocese and was key in bringing together Hispanic leaders for the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL).

Archbishop Gomez was also appointed in 2008 as a consultant to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He also serves in various roles for the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops including: chair of the task force on the Spanish Language Bible for the Church in America, chair of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, member of the Committee on Doctrine, and member of the Subcommittee on Hispanics and the Liturgy.

According to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, in his new role, Archbishop Gomez will lead 4,329,267 Catholics (as of 2005), 530 diocesan priests, 640 religious priests, and 1,710 religious sisters.

Photo: Archbishop Gomez with parishioner at San Juan Capistrano Mission


Monday, April 5, 2010

Breast is still best

Thirty plus years ago, in a previous life as a public health student, I spent a lot of time on the campaign to stop infant formula manufacturers from marketing their products in places where their use could only lead to infant deaths. The combination of maternal poverty (not enough money so cans of formula are "stretched" beyond their nutritional value), contaminated water (mixed with the formula), and deprivation of the protective antibodies in mother's milk was frequently lethal.

At the time I was also impressed by how many painters had depicted Our Mother unselfconsciously breastfeeding the infant Jesus -- a practice that had come to be viewed in the West as unsophisticated and certainly not fit to be performed, even modestly, in public places. While women in developing countries know that the best way to keep a squalling infant quiet in church is to offer the breast, this is frowned upon by many parishioners in our country where a bare breast is seen as a sex symbol rather than a source of food and comfort. I always fantasized about turning some of the more famous "Maria Lactans" paintings into promotional posters for breastfeeding.

A new study published today in Pediatrics brought this to mind. The World Health Organization and many other groups including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention argue that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life "to achieve optimal growth, development and health." However, a 2009 breastfeeding report card from the CDC found that only 74 percent of women start breastfeeding, only 33 percent were still exclusively breastfeeding at three months and only 14 percent were still exclusively breastfeeding at six months. According to the report in Pediatrics: "The United States incurs $13 billion in excess costs annually and suffers 911 preventable deaths per year because our breastfeeding rates fall far below medical recommendations." Let alone the worldwide costs of failure to breastfeed.

Part of the reason that women stop breastfeeding early in the United States has been the lack of legal support in the workplace -- adequate breaks, a place to pump breast milk, etc... One of the many "pro-life" provisions in the health care reform bill that the USCCB opposed but Congress passed and President Obama signed "amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.Code 207) to require an employer to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time such employee has need to express milk...The employer must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk. If these requirements impose undue hardship, an employer that employs less than 50 employees is not subject to these requirements." This provision and a summary of state laws on breastfeeding can be found on the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site.

We Catholics need to take the medical studies on the benefits of breastfeeding seriously as part of our pro-life agenda:

  • Catholic employers should comply with these workplace provisions voluntarily, whether or not they have 50 or more employees and therefore are forced to comply.

  • Catholic doctors and hospitals should be doing everything in their power to promote and support extended breastfeeding by their maternity patients, and, if necessary, minimize their promotional relationships with infant formula manufacturers.

  • Catholic churches should adopt policies that welcome nursing mothers rather than making them feel like they are a disturbance.

Finally, we can all pray to Our Lady of La Leche -- for whom the La Leche League was actually named! -- to protect all nursing mothers and help us become a community that supports rather than shuns them.

Photos (top to bottom):

1. Altar in the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where tradition has it that a drop of Mary's milk fell while she was breastfeeding her Child and turned the grotto white.
2. El Greco
3. Leonardo da Vinci
4. An image of Nuestra Señora de la Leche in Chile
5 and 6. Image and shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida

Odds and ends...

The combination of a bladder infection, having to attend three funeral or memorial Masses in about 1 week in addition to the usual Holy Week stuff and other incidents have left my mind too scattered to blog a lot right now. However, I wanted to highlight a few things...

1. Cesar Chavez Day: In the presence of United Farmworkers co-founder Dolores Huerta and current president Arturo Rodriguez and several members of the Chavez family, President Obama signed a statement proclaiming March 31st to be Cesar Chavez Day and urged "all Americans to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor Cesar Chavez’s enduring legacy.” President Obama's visitors also reminded him of the need for immigration reform to allow the legalization of millions of undocumented people living and working in the United States.

Also, at a ceremony at the Labor Department, Secretary Hilda Solis (photo, center) unveiled a new mosaic with the face of Chavez. She was accompanied by the late labor leader's brother Richard Chavez and his niece Camila Chavez.

2. Bishop Ruiz's Homily: Mons. Samuel Ruiz García, bishop emeritus of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México and honorary president of SICSAL was the guest homilist at the special 30th Anniversary Mass for Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero on 3/24/2010 in the crypt of the Cathedral of San Salvador. The homily is long and wonderful and is available on Adital for those who read Spanish. "No es la tumba de un hombre muerto - asesinado diría con mayor precisión - la que desde aquí observamos, sino el faro luminoso que nos ha guiado durante las últimas tres décadas, en la búsqueda y en la construcción del Reino de Dios que nos vino a anunciar Jesús." "This is not the tomb of a dead man -- an assassinated man, to be more precise -- from which we look out, but a luminous lighthouse that has guided us over the last three decades in seeking and building the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to proclaim..."

3. Vía Crucis del Migrante: I am actually in the middle of translating this marvellous new Stations of the Cross, courtesy of the Guatemalan bishops' conference migrant ministry program. I like it because it is sufficiently universal that it could be used in any of the countries of origin of our Latin and Central American immigrants and, with slight modifications, could be adapted for use in the U.S. The meditation from the 15th Station "Jesús Resucita Glorioso en las Culturas":

Si, es cierto, Jesús resucito, y Jesús sigue resucitando hoy en cada migrante, en el refugiado en el desplazado. Jesús sigue resucitando hoy cuando se recupera la libertad, la dignidad, la igualdad de derechos y oportunidades. Sigue resucitando cuando se respeta la vida, se hace justicia, sigue resucitando hoy cuando el migrante encuentra trabajo digno, respecto a lo que hace y cree. Sigue resucitando cuando el migrante sabe que su patria es la tierra que da el pan. Para el migrante, patria es el mundo. No debemos de tener miedo de denunciar las violaciones a los derechos humanos. Sigamos en la lucha para encontrar a Jesús en la larga peregrinación de los y las migrantes.

Yes, it is true, Jesus is risen, and Jesus continues to resurrect today in every migrant, refugee and displaced person. Jesus continues to resurrect today when freedom, dignity and equality of rights and opportunities is regained. He continues to resurrect when life is respected, when justice is done. He continues to resurrect today when the migrant finds decent work, respect for what he does and believes. He continues to resurrect when the migrant realizes that his country is the land that gives bread. The migrant's country is the world. We should not be afraid to condemn violations of human rights. Let us continue in the struggle to meet Jesus in the long pilgrimage of the migrants.

4. Teresa Forcades' Journey to the Holy Land: Regular readers of this blog might notice that I started to translate Sr. Teresa's blog posts about her trip and then stopped and took all existing posts down. Briefly, it was becoming too time-consuming and taking me away from other things I needed to do. Those who can read Catalan can find her journey on her Un Mandament Nou blog.