Friday, July 23, 2010

Where the real crisis in the Church lies

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)

The pedophilia crisis in the Roman Catholic Church is nothing compared to the real crisis, that is, the structural crisis regarding its social and historical institutionalism. I do not mean the Church as a community of believers. This is still alive despite the crisis, organizing itself communally, not pyramidal like the Traditional Church. The question is: what kind of institution represents this community of faith? How is it organized? Currently, it appears to be out of step with contemporary culture and in strong opposition to the dream of Jesus, which is understood by the communities that are accustomed to reading the Gospels in groups and thus making their analysis.

To put it briefly but without caricature: the institutional Church is based on two forms of power: a secular, organizational, legal and hierarchical one, inherited from the Roman Empire, and a spiritual one, based on St. Augustine's political theology about the City of God that he identifies with the institutional Church. In its specific montage, the gospel and the Christian faith don't count as much as those powers that they claim for themselves -- the only "sacred power" (sacra potestas), even in its absolute form of fullness (plenitudo potestatis), in the Roman Empire style of absolute monarchy. Caesar wielded all the power: political, military, legal and religious. The Pope, similarly, holds the same power: "ordinary, supreme, full, immediate and universal"(Canon 331) -- attributes that only fit God. The Pope is institutionally a baptized Caesar.

That power that is embodied in the institutional Church has been building up since the year 325 with Emperor Constantine and was officially established in 392 when Theodosius the Great (d.395) imposed Christianity as the only state religion. The institutional Church took that power with all the palace titles, honors and garb that still continue today in the lifestyle of the bishops, cardinals and popes.

This power became, over time, increasingly totalitarian and even tyrannical, especially beginning with Pope Gregory VII who in 1075 proclaimed himself absolute lord of the Church and the world. Making his position more extreme, Innocent III (d.1216) presented himself not only as Peter's successor but as a representative of Christ. His successor, Innocent IV (d.1254), took the ultimate step and proclaimed himself the representative of God and therefore universal lord of the Earth, and could distribute portions of it to anyone he wanted, as the kings of Spain and Portugal in the sixteenth century did later. All that remained was to proclaim the Pope infallible, which happened under Pius IX in 1870. It came full circle.

However, this type of institution is now in a profound process of erosion. After more than 40 years of continued study and meditation on the Church (my field of expertise), I suspect that the crucial moment for it has come: either it changes bravely, and thus finds its place in the modern world and metabolizes the accelerated process of globalization, and thus will have much to say, or it is doomed to be a Western sect, increasingly irrelevant and emptied of the faithful.

Benedict XVI's current project of "recapturing" the visibility of the Church against the secular world is doomed if it does not lead to institutional change. People today no longer accept an authoritarian and sad Church, as if they were coming to their own funeral. But they are open to the saga of Jesus, to His dream and Gospel values.

The crescendo in the will to power, thinking wishfully that it comes directly from Christ, prevents any reform of the institutional Church because everything in it would be divine and untouchable. The logic of power, described by Hobbes in Leviathan, is fulfilled: "power always want more power, because power can be secured only by seeking more and more power." An institutional Church thus seeking absolute power, closes the door to love and distances itself from the powerless, from the poor. The institution loses its human face and becomes insensitive to existential problems, such as those of the family and sexuality.

The Second Vatican Council (1965) tried to cure this deviation through the concepts of the People of God, communion and collegial governance. But the attempt was foiled by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who reemphasized Roman centralism, aggravating the crisis.

What was once constructed can be deconstructed another day. The Christian faith possesses the intrinsic strength at this planetary stage to find an institutional form better suited to the dream of its founder and more in tune with our times.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Support SOA Watch

Michael Baney
SOA Watch
July 21 2010

...School of the Americas Watch was recently informed that Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, which has previous contributed $17,000 annually to SOA Watch, will not support our efforts for peace and justice in the Americas this year. Their decision is due to SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois' personal belief that women, as well as men, should be able to be ordained into the priesthood [Fr. Bourgeois' letter to his order about women's ordination, courtesy of WOC].

We are grateful for Maryknoll's support throughout the years and sad that they won't support us this year. Our immediate need, however, is to cover a $17,000 budget gap caused by this unfortunate situation. With seven new US military bases opening in Colombia, members of the media and opposition continuing to be targeted in Honduras, and military solutions to crime threatening to send the situation in Mexico spiraling out of control, there's little room for SOA Watch to back off its demands for humane foreign policy. That's why we need your financial assistance today. I know that $17,000 is a lot of money, but if just 84 of our grassroots supporters sign up to give $17 a month through our monthly sustainer program, we will - over the course of one year - make back what we lost. If you cannot give monthly, please consider a one-time contribution. Every donation adds up!

We need to make up for the shortfall before this November, when human rights activists, religious communities, torture survivors, and movement organizers from around the Americas will gather at the gates of Fort Benning for the 20th Anniversary of our annual vigil. We will be hosting over 100 workshops and trainings that teach skills that people can put to use back in their communities. Without our annual grant for Maryknoll, however, we need your direct support to make it all happen...


1. Send a check or money order to: SOA Watch, PO Box 4566, Washington, DC 20017

2. Click here to donate online.

Photo: Fr. Roy Bourgeois (center, wearing stole) and other SOA Watch protestors

A vision of faith and hope

Some words of wisdom from another occasional reader of this blog, UK Green Party activist Derek Wall. From Morning Star, 7/21/2010:

Religion is something of a quandary for the left. Ever since Karl Marx talked about it being "the opium of the people," socialism has seemed to equal secularism.

However, religion is as often associated with liberation as it is with oppression.

Muslim religious dress is in the news at the moment with the French ban of the burqa. Shockingly Green, Socialist and Communist Party members of the French parliament abstained on the vote. And in Britain a right-wing Conservative MP wants to push through a similar ban.

Islamophobia is to a large extent simply a refuge for racists and the ignorant, but is it possible to argue that religion generally fuels oppression, hatred and is based on irrational authority.

However, even as a firm non-believer, I think religion can be a source of real good.

An excellent illustration of this is the story of Father Paul McAuley, a man who serves his god by working with a poor community deep in the Amazon rainforest.

The Peruvian government accused McAuley of being an agitator and interfering in the politics of the country.

After much public pressure, including from Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury and Green MP Caroline Lucas, the Peruvian government has been forced to cancel an expulsion order.

As usual in Peru it's all about oil. There is a huge struggle continuing across the Amazon between the government, which is attempting to auction the rainforest to oil companies, and the people living in the Amazon, who would rather not have their environment destroyed.

In the very remote part of the country where McAuley is based the conflict is particularly strong.

Together with local people he has set up the Loretena Environmental Network which campaigns and educates on natural resource management.

When indigenous people have been attacked by the paramilitary forces McAuley has helped to gain legal support and, through video interviews, he has let the world know about the oppression local people face.

He is one of at least five rainforest priests in the country doing such work and similar stories can be told right across the world. For example, in Honduras, Father Andres Jose Tamayo leads a movement to stop loggers taking land from his parishioners. For doing so he has received numerous death threats.

Tamayo has also been a strong opponent of the coup which has seen indigenous people and trade unionists murdered in the country.

Let's not forget that at the heart of the Latin American struggles that are bringing social change lie not traditional left-wing political parties but liberation theology.

The idea that Jesus stood for the poor and oppressed is core to Hugo Chavez's work for socialism.

Of course such visions of social justice are not just confined to Catholicism - one thinks of radical Protestant groups like the Hutterites who hold their property in common, arguing that Christianity is a religion based on communism.

The original Hutterites in the 16th century launched a huge rebellion in Saxony to create a utopian socialist society.

Friedrich Engels wrote about them at length and Marx used to quote Thomas Muntzer - perhaps the best-known Anabaptist.

Islam, so derided and attacked, has social justice at its very heart. Mohammed was a great reformer who challenged what he saw as backward attitudes and, more than any other monotheistic prophet, he drew wisdom from contemporary women, especially his wife Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, a powerful businesswoman.

The fact that, if she was alive today, the Saudi authorities would ban her from driving and enjoying equality reflects on a regressive fundamentalist society rather than Islam and its prophet.

For every bin Laden there is a Rumi - the great Persian mystic poet who preached tolerance. For every Inquisition, there is a group of Quakers calling for a non-violent struggle for justice.

Two of the most inspiring leaders I have come across - Britain's Salma Yaqoob of Respect and the Brazilian Green Party presidential candidate Marina Silva - are both attacked by their opponents because of their respective religions.

Yaqoob is Muslim, Silva is from an evangelical Protestant background. Both are powerful voices for the liberation of women and against neoliberal attacks on society.

However religion, like everything else, must be treated critically. For example, there can be no room for the sex obsessives who seek to police our relationships in the name of God. Religion can risk being authoritarian - but so can politics.

Religion is based on faith, which might be called superstition - but so too is much that pretends to be "scientific," such as free-market economics.

At its best religion does two important things. It calls for justice and it asks big questions about the relationship of humanity to the rest of the universe, including the non-human natural world.

Religion has been used to serve the most reactionary forms of politics, from the Saudi regime to the US far-right tea party. These groups share a common background in the most backward extreme and bigoted versions of Christianity and Islam.

One also thinks of the Hindu nationalist party the BJP, which has done so much damage in India.

There are also examples of religion being used overtly as a colonial tool. Interestingly, perhaps the best example also comes from Peru.

The innocently named Summer Institute of Linguistics has sought out the remote indigenous communities in the world since the 1950s to record their languages.

While this sounds like a laudable project, SIL International (as it is now known) is formed of Protestant missionaries who seek to evangelise such communities with the Bible and have been strongly linked to oil companies seeking to weaken indigenous resistance to capitalism.

They have been kicked out of several countries, including Ecuador and Mexico, accused of damaging indigenous peoples.

However in Peru there has been a surprising side-effect. By teaching indigenous communities to speak Spanish, SIL unintentionally helped indigenous resistance to big oil - over 40 different ethnic groups can now communicate with each other easily.

A project aimed at destroying indigenous resistance to the exploitation of the Amazon has paradoxically allowed indigenous people to unite and build the political network Aidesep to fight assaults on their communities.

Indeed the indigenous peoples, many of whom adhere to traditional beliefs, some of whom are Christians and others who mix faiths, show a critical and rational approach to religion by taking what they need and challenging what is aimed to repress them.

McAuley too seems to have a respect for what is good and sacred in the Amazon religions. Three times he has taken "ayahuasca," known as the "rope of death," which is said to provide a mystical journey into the future.

I hope the vision of MacAuley and others like him continues to bring advances for the Latin American left based on respect for nature, social justice and real change for marginalised communities.

I have heard Tony Benn describe how the prophets in the Bible would tell the truth about injustice and be persecuted by the rich and powerful for doing so.

We need prophetic voices more than ever in a world dominated by corporations. There is reason in faith and compassion in religion.

Both Marx and the Buddha adhered to the same phrase - "doubt everything." I think it is one we should continue to practise, but it should not blind us to what can be good about religion.

No Reasonable Basis Exists for Excluding Female Priests

I wish this letter to the editor had appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald rather than the Sun Gazette (7/22/2010). It never will, so we will share it with you here. For those who are interested in this topic, a good academic source is Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History by Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek (The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 2005)

Editor: I congratulate the three newly ordained Catholic priests of the Arlington diocese. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Fr. Weber’s first Masses. And I congratulate the Sun Gazette for publishing a story on their paths that led to the priesthood.

But I take exception to a statement attributed to Fr. Brian Bashista, diocesan vocations director, concerning why women may not become priests.

He is quoted as saying that it’s not a “human precept” but due to divine revelation “by the example of Jesus Christ calling forth men to become priests.”

Consider the time of Jesus Christ some 2,000 years ago. His public ministry lasted three or four years roaming throughout the land without a permanent home.

Consider the role of women during that time period. It would have been considered contrary to the mores of the culture for Jesus to have chosen women to come and travel with him for years. In fact, the women would have been in greater danger than the men if they had done so.

This is not divine revelation, but the reality of the times.

Following Jesus’ death, there were in fact women apostles, disciples, martyrs and, yes, priests. There was Phoebe, a deacon (Romans 16:1). There were women who headed churches in their homes, such as Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16:15) and Nympha of Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). There were Junia, an apostle, and Thecla, a martyr, just to name a few.

So, contrary to Fr. Bashista’s belief, it most definitely was “human precept” in the form of the male leaders of the Catholic Church for centuries that decided that there would not be female priests. And now Pope Benedict XVI and the men who surround him are about to decree that women who become ordained and the priests that ordain them have committed the gravest of sins and will be automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

So, yes, it is a “human precept” - a male precept - that women will not be ordained Catholic priests. The better question is what is the basis for this unfounded fear.

Patrick Riley


Some humor in the middle of all this Vatican insanity...

A friend sent along the following cartoon which fits our mood today. Translation:

"He forgot a 'Blessing': 'Blessed are the laity for they will not be obliged to obey norms that I never dictated.'"
"...and, knowing Him, I think He would have added: '...nor that I would dictate'."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Suspended a divinis? Hell no!: Fr. Nicolas Alessio won't follow "unreasonable" and "unjust" orders

On July 15, 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize gay marriage, over the disapproval of the Catholic church and other denominations. Some 60,000 people converged on the Argentinian Congress building in downtown Buenos Aires carrying orange flags, the symbol of opposition to the bill, the evening before the vote, in a march organized by the Catholic Church in alliance with Evangelical groups, and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, opined that "if approved, this law would be a real and dire anthropological setback." The subsequent vote was taken by many in the media as an indication of the waning influence of the church in secular policy decisions.

The Church could not even keep all of its priests on board and the most outspoken one, Fr. Nicolas Alessi, pastor of San Cayetano in the poor neighborhood of Altamira for the last 27 years and member of the Agrupación de Sacerdotes Tercermundistas Enrique Angelelli, has been suspended a divinis by the Archdiocese of Cordoba. In a terse communique on its Web site, the Archdiocese says:

"The Archbishop of Córdoba, Mons. Carlos José Náñez, clearly states that, after having exhausted all means of pastoral requests for Fr. José Nicolás Alessio to mend his ways and publicly retract the statements made by him in support of alleged "marriage" between persons of the same sex, which is contrary to the teaching and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, and given that the above-mentioned priest has denied any possibility of changing his actions, it has been decided to initiate a church trial in the Interdiocesan Tribunal of Cordoba so that all acts are in accordance with the church law in force, and establishing an interim measure that formally "forbids him to public exercise priestly ministry."

The trouble started in May, when Fr. Alessi and his group weighed in on the gay marriage debate with a public statement that was published on the Diario del Chango blog. The statement was inflammatory, to put it mildly: "Faced with the possibility of a law that allows persons of the same sex to be "married couples" and experience love and sexuality deeply, we view that supporting it, accompanying it and studying it in depth puts us on the path of the Gospel of Jesus. A Jesus who revealed the loving face of God to us. The official Church, and its views do not necessarily or always coincide with the Gospel. This issue is one of those cases."

One day after he was censored by his archbishop, Fr. Alessio was unrepentant, declaring to the media that "if a gay couple were to ask me to marry them, I would do so with pleasure". In an interview this week with Radio Brisas, Fr. Alessio added that he also supports married priests, including, of course, the marriage of gay priests. He called his suspension "unjust" and "unreasonable" and said that his colleagues should be censored too, because "we all think the same and we made a responsible and mature decision to support homosexual marriage. We were all called upon to recant and no one said he would, because no one would go against his conscience. I was the only one who was punished."

Fr. Alessio told his archbishop that he would not accept the suspension and that he intended to keep on offering Mass and other sacraments such as baptism and marriage. "I said to Carlos Ñáñez when he talked to me yesterday morning, 'Carlos, I have a commitment to my community, before complying with an unfair, authoritarian, and harsh sanction.'"

"'Carlos I don't believe in all this Vatican legalism, I'm not going to submit to the Roman shysters, I believe in the Gospel. If we haven't understood that what Jesus proposed there was a fraternal community of brothers and sisters and not a deified monarchy, then we haven't understood anything.'" But, Fr. Alessio says, the bishop didn't answer.

And so on Saturday night, as you can see from the photos, Fr. Alessio celebrated Mass outside the church where he had been a pastor for so many years in freezing weather and accompanied by several married priests who concelebrated with him and several hundred faithful. "I did it because it did not seem good to me to obey an unreasonable and unjust order," the priest said, and added: "I'll probably get another sanction because I don't know much about these legal and canonical intricacies, because I became a priest to follow Jesus, not the Roman Catholic bureaucracy."

Fr. Alessio doesn't plan to parrticipate in his church trial. He has already announced that he plans to resign in December because of his disagreements with the Church hierarchy. His parish community, who support him unconditionally, have asked him to stay until the end of the year.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Immigration News Roundup - 7/19/2010

1. MARK YOUR CALENDARS: July 28 Children's March on the White House: On July 28th, Familia Latina Unida will join with organizations and families across the nation to bring 500 U.S. citizen children and young people to the White House. Marchers will gather in front of the White House at 4 P.M. on Wednesday, July 28th and then proceed to a nearby church (not sure which one but will post more information when I find out) for a town hall meeting at 7:00 P.M. to which they are inviting President Obama and his family.

2. New Immigration Detention Facility to Open in Virginia: In spite of protests last year from immigrant rights activists, the new private detention facility -- the largest in the mid-Atlantic region, is slated to open soon in Farmville, Virginia. The $21 million center will house up to 584 immigrant detainees when it opens its doors. Over the next year, it might grow to hold 1,000 prisoners, most of them tagged by the Secure Communities program. Last month, Virginia became the second state, after Delaware, to implement the program statewide, requiring jails and prisons to screen prisoners by immigration status and check their fingerprints against the country's immigration database. Farmville itself is largely united in support of the detention center, which is expected to bring 300 jobs to the community. "They have to send these people somewhere," said Mayor Sydnor C. Newman Jr. "Thank God they chose Farmville." 300 jobs...30 pieces of silver...

3. More illegal immigrants dying in the desert heat: More and more undocumented immigrants crossing in to the U.S. from Mexico are dying from heat-related illnesses in the scorching Arizona desert. This July could be the deadliest month ever recorded, beating out 68 in July of 2005. Pima County Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce Parks says 40 undocumented immigrants have been brought to his office since July 1. The office that handles the bodies is using a refrigerated truck to store some of them. Parks says his office is currently storing about 250 bodies and had to start using the refrigerated truck because of the increase in immigrant deaths this month. The office has handled the bodies of 134 undocumented immigrants from Jan. 1 to July 15, up from 93 at the same time last year and 102 in 2008. Many of the bodies appear to be coming from the desert southwest of Tucson, where it tends to be hotter than eastern parts of the border or the Tucson metro area. Authorities believe the high number of deaths may be due to an ongoing tighter border security that pushes immigrants to more remote, rugged and dangerous terrain...

4. Conservative Evangelicals Backing Immigration Reform: An interesting article in yesterday's New York Times talks about how heavyweight evangelical leaders are supporting President Obama on immigration reform even as they disagree with him on just about everything else. Why? “Hispanics are religious, family-oriented, pro-life, entrepreneurial,” said the Rev. Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm. “They are hard-wired social conservatives, unless they’re driven away. “I’ve had some older conservative leaders say: ‘Richard, stop this. You’re going to split the conservative coalition,’ ” Dr. Land continued. “I say it might split the old conservative coalition, but it won’t split the new one. And if the new one is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to have a lot of Hispanics in it. And you don’t get a lot of Hispanics in your coalition by engaging in anti-Hispanic anti-immigration rhetoric.”...About 70 percent of Hispanics in the United States are Catholic, but some 15 percent are evangelicals, and they are far more likely than the Catholics to identify themselves as conservative and Republican.

5. Va. AG joins 8 other states backing Arizona immigration law: And speaking of Republicans, to those of us who know the man's track record it should come as no surprise that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has joined with attorneys general from eight other states in a legal brief supporting Arizona's controversial new immigration law. Other state prosecutors who joined the brief include those from Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas. All are Republicans. Surprise, surprise...NOT!

6. 106 Year Old Woman Becomes U.S. Citizen: We'll end this roundup with a lovely story that proves that you are never too old to become an American citizen. Ignacia Moya (106) of Mexico, who has been a legal permanent resident of Chicago for many years, became a U.S. citizen today with the assistance of Rep. Luis Gutierrez who helped her waive the English language requirement (Note: this is not really a special exception; elderly applicants and persons with doctor-certified disabilities can get waivers). Gutierrez was present as Moya took her oath. ¡Bienvenida, Doña Ignacia!

Teresa Forcades at II Bilboa Ciudad Intercultural

Sr. Teresa Forcades has been mostly silent these days while her "alter ego", comedienne Mireia Portas of the TV3 show "Polónia" has been performing regularly, most recently in a musical skit on the evils of the pharmaceutical industry. However, the real Teresa did give a presentation last month as part of an interfaith conference in Bilbao on a panel about "Religion, Feminism, and Democracy". Here are her remarks as video'd on culture, gender, and individuation. She is speaking in Catalan but the producers have helpfully supplied Spanish subtitles.