Saturday, August 21, 2010

Nashville priest apologizes for remarks

Bob Smietana of The Tennessean (8/21/2010) reports that:

"The Rev. Joseph Breen had a choice. Retract and apologize for his statements criticizing Roman Catholic teaching on birth control and married priests and claiming that Catholics can ignore the pope. Or face being forced from his parish. On Friday the Diocese of Nashville announced that Breen, longtime pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church on Thompson Lane, has withdrawn his statements and apologized. He also announced plans to retire at the end of 2011. Breen, 75, wrote letters of apology to the pope and to members of his parish. He also agreed not to repeat his claims in public settings or media interviews...." (click on the newspaper's name for the rest of the story)

In the article, Nashville Bishop David Choby is quoted as saying: "In recognition of his many years of good work among the people of his parish, I want to give Father Breen every opportunity to correct the errors in his teaching, and gracefully enter retirement." But is it really gracious to demand that a veteran priest deny his conscience in exchange for the privilege of remaining in the active priesthood one more year? This kind of spiritual extortion is what is driving good men away from the Roman Catholic priesthood and out of Catholic theological circles. This is not "graceful", it's humiliating.

We particularly "like" this part of the official statement by the Nashville Diocese: "Bishop Choby offered Father Breen the choice of retracting and apologizing for his statements or face the process set forth for the removal of a pastor under canon law when a ministry becomes harmful or ineffective." (emphasis added). Excuse me? So far, I can't really see how Fr. Breen's ministry has become "harmful" or "ineffective". All of the feedback this blog has received from individuals who state that they go to St. Edward or know Fr. Breen personally has been positive. They say he speaks their mind and gives them hope for the Church.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that many thinking Catholics in Nashville will respond to this injustice by pointedly ignoring Bishop Choby's annual fundraising appeals, and I'm relatively sure that the conservative Catholic bloggers who orchestrated the anti-Breen campaign are not going to step up to the plate to make up the difference. Ultimately, this punishment will be more harmful to the Church than the original crime.

Friday, August 20, 2010

7th Annual Peace and Justice Commission Conference

I'm going to be out of the country at the time, but those of you who are in the Arlington, Virginia area might want to attend this annual diocesan conference, which will address the theme: "Immigration Reform: A Catholic Perspective".

There will be a Mass celebrated by our bishop Msgr. Paul Loverde and a keynote speech by Msgr. Nicholas DiMarzio, bishop of Brooklyn and former chair of the USCCB Migration Committee.

Date: Saturday, September 11, 2010, 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Place: Saint John Neumann Catholic Church, 11900 Lawyers Road, Reston, VA 20191

For more information see the conference flyer in English or Spanish.

Why does the Church-as-power continue to exist?

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)

I will touch on an uncomfortable but unavoidable subject: How can the institutional Church, as I have described it in a previous article, with authoritarian, absolutist and exclusionary characteristics, perpetuate itself in history? The dominant ideology responds, "just because it is divine." In fact, this exercise of power is not divine at all. This is exactly what Jesus didn't want. He wanted hierodulia (sacred service), not hierarchia (sacred power). But the latter prevailed over time.

Authoritarian institutions tend to have the same logic of self-reproduction. The institutional Church is no different. First, it deems itself to be the only true "church" and removes the title from all others. Then it establishes a rigorous framework: one single system of thought, one single dogmatic, one single catechism, one single canon law, one single form of worship. It does not tolerate criticism or creativity, which are considered negative or as creating a parallel church or other magisterium.

Secondly, the symbolic violence of control, repression and punishment is used, often at the expense of human rights. The one who is questioned is easily marginalized; he is denied the right to preach, write and act in the community. The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, punished more than one hundred theologians during his tenure. With this same logic, the sins and crimes of pedophile priests or other crimes, such as financial ones, are kept hidden to avoid jeopardizing the good name of the Church, without the slightest sense of justice towards the innocent victims.

Thirdly, ecclesiastical authorities are mythologized and almost idolized, especially the Pope, who is the "sweet Christ on Earth." I think to myself: what sort of "sweet Christ" was Pope Sergius (904), the murderer of his two predecessors, or Pope John XII (955), elected at age 20, an adulterer who was killed by the betrayed husband, or worse, Pope Benedict IX (1033), elected at age 15, one of the most criminal and unworthy men in the history of the papacy, who sold the papal dignity for 1000 silver lire?

Fourthly, figures are canonized whose virtues fit into the system, such as blind obedience, the ongoing exaltation of authority and "agreeing with the Church (the hierarchy)", much like the fascist style according to which "the boss (Duce or Führer) is always right."

Fifth, there are people and Christians of an authoritarian nature who value order, law and the principle of authority above everything else to the detriment of the complex logic of life that has surprises and requires tolerance and adaptations. They support this type of Church, as well as authoritarian and dictatorial political regimes. Moreover, there is a close affinity between dictatorial regimes and the Church-as-power, as has been seen with the dictators Franco, Salazar, Mussolini, Pinochet and others. The conservative priests become bishops easily, and the bishops who are very loyal to Rome are promoted, encouraging servility. This social-historical-religious block crystallized, ensuring the continuity of this type of church.

Sixth, the Church-as-power knows the value of rites and symbols, since they strengthen the conservative identity, but couldn't care less about their content, provided that they remain unchanged and are strictly observed.

Because of this dogmatic and canonical rigidity, the institutional Church is not experienced as a spiritual home. Many migrate. They say "yes" to Christianity and "no" to the Church-as-power with which they do not identify. They are aware of the distortions to the legacy of Jesus, who preached freedom and exalted unconditional love.

Despite these pathological conditions, we have figures like Pope John XXIII, Dom Helder Câmara, Don Pedro Casaldaliga, Don Luiz Flávio Cappio, and others who did not adopt the authoritarian style, or present themselves as church authorities, but as pastors in the midst of God's people. But despite these contradictions, there is a merit that is important to recognize: this authoritarian type of Church has never failed to convey the Gospels, even while denying them in practice, thus enabling access to the revolutionary message of the Nazarene. It preaches liberation, but usually it is others who liberate.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ominous silences and merciless condemnation

By Juan Jose Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El País

Ominous silences and merciless condemnation. That has been the attitude of the Vatican and much of the Catholic hierarchy over the past 70 years. Ominous silences with respect to massacres and crimes against humanity and those responsible for them. Merciless sentences against theologians, priests, bishops, philosophers, writers -- Christian or otherwise -- for exercising free speech and daring to dissent, all convictions against all legal reasoning, which states that "thinking is not a crime". Ominous silence about bloodythirsty people, totalitarian ideologies and military dictatorships with blood on their hands. Merciless condemnation of men and women of clean hands, unimpeachable honesty, exemplary lives.

The most serious of these silences was, without doubt, that of Pius XII in face of the six million Jews, gypsies, disabled, homosexuals, transsexuals, gassed and taken to the cremation pyres of Nazi concentration camps. Earlier, as Secretary of the Vatican State, he signed the Imperial Concordat with Nazi Germany under Hitler's government on behalf of Pius XI. His complicity with Nazism began there. One of the earliest intellectuals to denounce such a big and ominous silence was the German playwright Hochhuth in his play The Deputy, which premiered in 1963.

In 1953, Pius XII signed a Concordat with Franco, legitimizing the dictatorship, while remaining silent about the repression under Franco after the civil war that cost tens of thousands of deaths.

A year later he did the same with the dictator Rafael Trujillo, president of the Dominican Republic, without condemning his abuses of power and state crimes.

In the 1940s, Cardinal Emmanuel Celestin Suhard, Archbishop of Paris, authorized some priests and religious to work in the factories. The Dominican Jacques Loew did so as a longshoreman at the port of Marseilles. Monsignor Alfred Ancel, auxiliary bishop of Lyon, was a worker priest for five years. The experience was immortalized in Gilbert Cesbron's novel Les Saints vont en enfer ("Saints go to Hell"). But it was soon frustrated. The worker priests were accused of being communists and subversives, when what they did was to witness to the Gospel among the working class that was skeptical and alienated from the Church, sharing their lives and their hardships, identifying with their struggles, earning their bread by the sweat of their brow. Instead of turning a blind eye to the allegations, Pius XII took them to be true and asked the priests to leave factory work and reintegrate into pastoral work in parishes and the religious to rejoin their communities, while ordering the French bishops to send the worker priests into the monasteries to be "re-educated."

Another long, ominous and complicit silence has been kept in the face of the sexual abuse by priests, religious and bishops with children, adolescents and young people over more than half a century in parishes, novitiates, seminaries, training houses, rectories and family houses in many countries, abusing the authority of the office and parents' confidence in them.

The allegations against the founder of the Legion of Christ, the Mexican Marcial Maciel, reached the Vatican. But they were not taken into account nor were they filed. Which gave Maciel carte blanche to continue committing sexual crimes against vulnerable and defenseless people, abusing his power and influence as a founder and the support of the popes and bishops.

Merciless condemnation is what fell like a stone against the Nouvelle Theologie in Pope Pius XII's encyclical Humani generis (1950), followed by sanctions against the theologians most representative of this trend: Henry de Lubac, Karl Rahner, Yves M. Congar, Dominique Chenu ... The crime? Doing theology in dialogue with modernity, seeking unity of the churches through ecumenism, finally burying the religious wars. The sanctions? Censorship of theological publications, exile (Congar, then a cardinal, suffered three exiles), prohibition against writing and preaching, removal from faculty positions, placement of some of their works on the Index of Forbidden Books and their removal from seminary and theological school libraries, expulsion from religious orders, and, sometimes, imprisonment.

A few months before John XXIII inaugurated the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, who served as Grand Inquisitor at the head of the Congregation for the Holy Office, addressed the letter Crimen sollicitudinis to bishops worldwide, in which he instructed on measures to be taken in certain cases of sexual abuse by clergy: it required that cases of solicitation during confession be treated "in the most discrete way" and imposed "the obligation of perpetual silence." Moreover, all persons involved in such cases (including victims) were threatened with the penalty of excommunication for failure to observe secrecy. The silence was maintained during the pontificates of John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II and Benedict XVI until a few months ago.

With the Second Vatican Council, it seemed as if the sanctions would be contained and the veil of silence on the crimes against humanity would be lifted. But that was not to be. To mark the publication of Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae (1968), which condemned the use of contraceptive methods, there were new trials, censorship, bans and condemnations against theologians who disagreed. Two characteristic examples: Edward Schillebeeckx and Bernhard Häring, Vatican II advisors and the inspiration behind some of its renewing texts, were subjected to harsh judgements by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As the conditions of the ecclesiastical trials hardened in the hands of the Inquisition (acceptance of anonymous complaints, helplessness of the prisoner before the ecclesiastical courts, the same people who instructed the process were those who judged and condemned, inability to appeal ...), the same Vatican organ imposed silence on sex abuse crimes, protected the guilty, acquitted them without any intent to reform and, moreover, gave them a new place of ministry, sometimes without even warning neighboring bishops and priests of the real reasons for the transfer.

In the letter De delictis gravioribus, 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger ratified the silence imposed by Cardinal Ottaviani 40 years earlier. Meanwhile, in numerous documents he condemned homosexuality, considering merely homosexual inclination to be "objectively disordered" and homosexual relationships "morally unacceptable", and demanding the expulsion of homosexual candidates to the priesthood from seminaries. A few days ago, the German theologian David Berger was expelled from the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome for publicizing his homosexuality. While he kept it secret, there were no problems. The Vatican's cynicism knows no bounds!

Recently, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has made some changes to the 2001 document that, under the guise of toughening the penalties, makes things worse by rating the holy ordination of women, apostasy, heresy and schism as grave and punishable crimes on the same level as pedophilia.

For the Vatican, says feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, "trying to ordain a woman is worse than the sexual abuse of a child. The sexual abuse of a child by a priest is a deplorable moral lapse of a weak individual ... The attempt to ordain a woman is a sexual offense, a contradiction to the nature of Holy Orders, a sacrilege, a scandal." Another merciless condemnation against women, the silenced majority in the Catholic Church. How much longer?

Juan José Tamayo is director of the Faculty of Theology and Science of Religion at the Carlos III University in Madrid and author of Teología de la liberación en el nuevo escenario político y religioso ("Liberation Theology in the new political and religious scene" -- Tirant Lo Blanc, Valencia).

Centenary Tribute to Msgr. Leonidas Proaño

El Ciudadano

The Ministry of Culture of Ecuador will hold the "First Ibero-American Encounter in Hommage to the Thought and Action of Monsignor Leonidas Proaño" to commemorate the centenary of his birth.

The Ibero-American Encounter aims to assess liberation theology and the thought of Monsignor Proaño. His work from education to social change promoted the recognition of the oppressed as historical subjects able to reflect on and transform their own reality.

He encouraged meetings to strengthen organizing in the communities. He questioned the traditional ways of thinking about and doing education. That's why, in the city of Riobamba on August 29, 2008, his work was declared an asset belonging to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the State.

The methodology of the Encounter is an alternative, collective, and liberating pedagogical approach. It is based on an exchange with other experiences of resistance worldwide. The transverse axis of Encounter is the phrase "Enseñar aprendiendo" ("Teach while learning").

The subject of art as an educational tool will also be dealt with, in which vulnerable groups are included as actors in aesthetic and political processes.

The event will open on October 20th in Riobamba. One the 21st the presentations begin. The first will deal with Liberating Education: critical, collective and alternative pedagogies. On October 23rd, the subject will be Education and Liberating Theology. On October 24th the theme is: Liberating Artistic Practices.

The closing session will be on the 24th. The main representatives of the indigenous communities will be present.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wash, rinse, spin...

"The Pontifical Council for Social Communications (PCCS) has organized a conference to examine the role of the Catholic press in today's world. Among the themes to be addressed is the Catholic media response to controversy within the Church..."

Better yet, here is exactly how the theme is worded in the preliminary program on the PCSC Web site -- a program which doesn't yet list speakers or any other details about the meeting except that it is to be held in Rome at a yet to be disclosed location on October 4-7, 2010:

...Day #2 – 5th October 2010...
3,30 Ecclesial Communion and Controversies. Freedom of
Expression and the Truth of the Church.
Panel: Blogger, Church spokesperson, Theologian,
Sociologist, Secular Journalist.
5,00 Group Work. Language Groups. Should Catholic Press
avoid certain topics? How should it speak of controversial
issues? Should it give a voice to dissent?...
Wash, rinse, spin...If necessary, re-wash.

On another subject: To the PCSC: A cardinal rule for good Web communications is that you don't post organizational events on your website until you have most of the basic information to convey -- location, speakers, etc. ..and de-bugged. I registered for free and logged on to the PCSC website using my new password but was unable to get the registration form for the conference to come up. Maybe PCSC should attend its October 6th session:

3,30 Internet Initiatives. Structures and Needs – Meeting the
glocal demands.
Panel: Representatives chosen to showcase successful
ventures in use of new media by Church communicators (Local
papers, Online services, Diocesan Websites, Networked
Diocesan Papers, on-line parish.)

I do like the use of the word" glocal", though. If there are others who have never seen this word before, it's not a typo and this is what it means, courtesy of Wikipedia: "By definition, the term “glocal” refers to the individual, group, division, unit, organisation, and community which is willing and able to “think globally and act locally.” "I believe in One Holy, Catholic, Glocal and Apostolic Church..."

Bringing us down to earth, a commenter on the CNA article about the conference wrote: "Will the conference cover the fact that 9 journalists and relatives have been murdered in Honduras since the Pope said in his Christmas Homily that the Church is helping that country ”rebuild its institutions’? Although this issue received wide recent coverage (Economist. etc..), the Church said nothing." Ouch. We might quibble about the numbers but this comment is basically correct. And one of the Honduran journalists who has received death threats is Padre Melo, the Jesuit priest who runs Radio Progreso. Is a solidarity statement from Rome too much to ask?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Leonardo Boff in Cordoba: The Dia a Dia interview

By Matías Bengolea (English translation by Rebel Girl)

"You ask whatever you want and I'll answer whatever I want," he said, just after the greeting, this old man who bases his words on his studies, but especially on his years of experience working for the poor, the marginalized and towards a better relationship between human beings and the planet.

Leonardo Boff, the founder of liberation theology whose preaching earned him a "silencing" by the Vatican, visited Cordoba this week where he was recognized as a "distinguished guest." Between lectures and entertainment, he made time to talk with Día a Día.

Why do you think that the Church is moving increasingly away from society? For example, the curia here was extremely against gay marriage.

LB: I think the problem is not society, nor is it homosexuals. The problem is that the Church has no experience living in democratic spaces. First, it is not a democracy, it is the only single gender -- only men -- absolute monarchy in the world. And it combines well with military dictatorships because they have the same inherent structures. The Church must learn to live in a democratic space where there are many opinions, to respect them. She is entitled to have hers, but she has a duty to listen to others. And if a society has decided this, they have to accept it. A Christian might not view it as marriage, but as a union that guarantees the rights that give them legal status, citizenship, they should support that, irrespective of whatever moral judgment they might make about it. And the Church has not learned to do this to date, because it has never accepted democratic structures inwardly; and it has accepted them in society insofar as it keeps the moral hegemony, can have its space, its schools, its Catholic universities, but the moment there is any conflict, it opposes them and becomes absolutely anti-democratic. There's the problem.

You have suffered persecution within the Church. Why do you think that the Vatican is so afraid of the proposition that liberation theology puts forth?

LB: When I talk about the Church, I'm not talking about the Christian community which is very broad, I'm talking about the Church as a power institution, about the hierarchy. This hierarchy historically, as it is a power, has interacted with other powers and has never made an alliance with the powerless. Liberation theology begins with the economic "zeros", the exploited poor, for whom the Church has had a presence of accommodation, of resignation and has never helped them discover that poverty is evil, that it isn't natural or willed by God, that it's produced by economic and political exploitation. So there the Church seems lost, because the relationship with the poor is only charitable, existentialist, keeping the poor dependent. The vision of liberation is: the poor have a historical force, they know how to think, they can be organized, they can help change society, the Church and Christians can be allies. Not that the Church will magically liberate the poor, but that the Church has social and political power, it has an infrastructure, it can offer the parishes where they can meet and things like that. But the Church is afraid of them, because they want change in society and want change in the Church as well, because they want to participate, to consider together, and not be treated in the childish manner in which they are treated.

What's your opinion of Benedict XVI?

LB: I think he's a conservative Pope and reactionary at certain points, someone who is seeking to demolish all the achievements of the Second Vatican Council. His project is to build a strong inward Church, separated from the world, because he has a negative view of the world and all modernity. He sees modernity as decay, as relativism of the great medieval synthesis. We must rescue the good elements of modernity, modernity has given us human rights, individual dignity, it has given us technological and scientific development. There are positive elements, but they condemn them en masse. Also, he thinks that salvation comes only through the Church and strongly emphasizes that arrogant view that there is no salvation outside the Church, that other churches are not churches. He's a Pope who's still a professor, who never managed to become a pastor.

America, the cradle of change. Boff accompanied the current president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo (another former priest like himself), at his inauguration and has shared the stage on several occasions with Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Evo Morales, who have acknowledged him as an influence on their thinking.

What's your opinion about Lugo's shift to politics?

LB: Lugo deserves credit for having introduced a rupture in the politics of Paraguay, which was dominated for more than 50 years by a highly corrupt party and an alliance between the military and civil society that was indestructible. He has managed to break that up. As corruption is strong, it has been very difficult for him to govern, he has also had personal problems that are very painful, but has now stabilized. He now has support from many Latin American presidents, especially the president of Brazil. Lula has been very supportive, not letting personal problems turn into political problems. He managed to renegotiate the treaty of Itaipu, which has allowed him funds to do social work and Lula made him conscious of that. Lula has acknowledged that "we have a historic debt that we have never paid. We have destroyed that country. We've always treated it as small and poor, but no, it's just like us, a brother who has to be helped." And that ethical dimension has made them great friends, talking to each other practically every week. Too bad Lugo has cancer and is being treated in Brazil. But I think that he will consolidate his rule and allow Paraguay to have another kind of history, not the corrupt one that has dominated for over 50 years.

What do you think about the direction the governments in the region are taking?

LB: I believe that Latin America is experiencing a time of democracy that it has never experienced before. We used to have democracies that were of the elite, then the military dictatorships, and now democracies based on the social movements. In Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina and partly in Chile, there is a renewal of democracy in its nature. Before the policies were elitist, now the focus is on social policies. In Brazil, which is what I know a little better, the gap between rich and poor has fallen by 17 percent. Thirty-two million who were entirely excluded were included, more than 30 million rose from poverty to lower middle class. And this is a social revolution within the democratic camp, this is happening a bit all over Latin America as something new. I think that, as Boaventura de Souza Santos says, it is the only continent that is renewing democracy on the basis of community spirit, whether of the movements or the community democracy that comes from the indigenous, which is the typical structure of indigenous communities, with a deep sense of equality, being kind to the earth, not focused on economics, but on living. And that is renewing democracy and is the merit of the new democracy in Latin America.

Ecological crisis. On Wednesday, this 71 year-old man with a long white beard, spoke about climate change and the need for a new beginning in the relationship between humanity and the Earth.

In his thinking, there are two visions of the world in conflict: the classic, which sees the Earth as an object, one that provides for us and that is to be tortured to get everything out of it. And the other that takes the planet as a living supra-organism, that regulates itself and gives life, meaning that it is mother (this vision blends the old conceptions with modern conceptions of science). The first view corresponds to domination and the second to caring.

Concerning the two conceptions that are at war, from where do you think the new beginning will emerge?

LB: I believe that through the growing ecological crisis, with extreme events, mankind is realizing that we are entering a process of chaos, the land is in chaos. I believe that humanity will wake up. We can not continue like this. The worst thing we can do is continue the same way, we have to change, because what dominates today is the logic of the market which is extremely competitive, not cooperative at all, and the solution has to come from international cooperation. Because the risk is global, each has to give his brick to build something alternative. It's not whether we want to or not, because if we don't do it, everything gets worse. I believe in the lesson that comes from suffering, you learn a lot from suffering. We are facing a tragic situation, a lot of pain for humanity and that's obviously going to threaten us all. And they will learn that we can live much better with less. Along with that, the more positive side is that more and more people are trying to live in an alternative way: organic production, smaller cooperatives, treating waste better, water ... These measures help to build the framework of a better alternative.

So you think it's necessary to hit bottom, to suffer, before making a change?

LB: That is moving within the conventional physics of Newton: cause and effect. But if one starts from quantum physics, one works with uncertainty and surprise. The universe lives on emergency. In an emergency, there is something surprising: energy that accumulates and suddenly appears as a phenomenon that changes minds. I support the principle of surprise and unpredictability. No one could foresee that a black man born outside the United States [Translator's Note: Brarack Obama was NOT born outside of the United States, he was born in Hawai'i], would become president, it would be against all the rules of physics, but it's an emergency. Nobody could believe that a worker who narrowly escaped hunger would become President of Brazil. And so many things like that... I think that emergencies will appear in humankind, which will help save -- not the earth because the earth has no problem, the earth will go on -- but save the kind of life we have.