While bishops granting blanket permissions for all priests working in their jurisdiction to pardon abortions is commonplace and, in the case of WYD, probably necessary under canon law, trumpeting this fact in the mass media is simply exploitative and patronizing, as Brazilian theologian Ivone Gebara points out in this controversial column.
by Ivone Gebara (English translation by Rebel Girl)
It is with much embarrassment that many Catholic women read the news published in various newspapers this past weekend that the Archdiocese of Madrid with papal approval authorized the granting of pardon and plenary indulgence to women who confess abortion during the visit of the pope. The impression we got is that the pope, the Vatican and some bishops like playing jokes in bad taste on women. We don't know in what world these men live, who they think they are, and who they think we are!
First, they grant pardon to those who can travel to attend the Pope's Mass and pass through the "confessiondrom" or the set of two hundred white confessionals installed in a large public square in Madrid called "Parque del Retiro." The forgiveness of this "sin" has a set place, date and time. It just costs a trip to Madrid to stand before the pope! Who would not make the effort for such a great privilege? You just have to have the money to travel and pay for a stay in a hotel in Madrid for forgiveness to be achieved. So we wonder: what alliances does the practice of forgiveness in the Church have with capitalism today? How can such theological and existential reductionism exist? Who is reaping the benefits from this behavior?
Second, they have the effrontery to assert that forgiveness of this "heinous crime", as they often state, is just given during the pope's visit so that on that same occasion the faithful sinners get "the fruits of divine grace" by confessing their sin. How to understand that a fault is forgiven only when the highest authority is present? Wouldn't that be reinforcing the old and decadent imperial model of the papacy? When the Emperor is present everything is possible even the expression of the contradiction in its criminal justice system.
I don't want to take up again the arguments that many of us women sensitive to our own pain have repeated over many years in a brief reflection such as this. But this papal event in Madrid, unfortunately, only shows once again a side that is still very much alive in the Vatican, that is, the side of medieval quarrels in which issues of absolutely no weight in human life were discussed. Moreover, it shows ignorance of women's suffering, ignorance of the tragedies that situations of violence cause in our bodies and hearts.
By granting forgiveness for the "crime" of abortion -- in the language they have always used -- they reveal in an elitist way the ambiguous face of the religious institution capable of giving in to the triumphalist apparatus when its credibility is at stake. We can bless troops to kill innocent people, send priests as military chaplains into always dirty wars, make public statements in defense of the institution condemning the poor and oppressed, make exceptions to its behavioral rules to attract young people alienated from the great problems of the world to the Pope's flock. The list of practices and customs that transgress its own laws is huge ...
Why reduce Christian life to bread and circuses? Why give a show of magnanimity amid the corruption of morals? Why create illusions about forgiveness when the everyday life of women is full of persecution and bans on their choices and skills?
We are invited to think about the ominous aspect of the position of the pope and the bishops who sided with him. The pope did not grant pardon and plenary indulgence to the full "urbe et orbe", that is, to all women who have had abortions, but only to those who confessed at that precise moment during the pope's visit to Spain. Isn't this once again using consciences, especially women's, toward the end of expansionism of his perverse model of kindness? Isn't it once again making concessions that follow an authoritarian logic that seeks to restore the ancient privileges of the Church in some European countries? Isn't it a way to buy women, confusing them in the face of alleged magnanimity of the hierarchs?
Are the constituted authorities of the Catholic Church and other faiths still Christian? Are they still followers of the humanist ethical values that guide the respect for all life and especially the lives of women?
I believe that once again we are called to publicly express our sentiments repudiating the use of the lives of many women as a pretext for papal magnanimity of heart. We are invited to make public the corruption of morals in all our institutions, including those that publicly represent our religious beliefs. We are invited to be the visible body of our beliefs and choices.
In doing so, we are no better than anyone else. We are all sinners capable of hurting each other, capable of hypocrisy and deceit, cruelty and refined cruelty. But we are also capable of sharing our bread, welcoming the abandoned, covering the naked, visiting the prisoner, calling Herod a fox. We are this mixture, an expression of our selves, our gods, the thorns in our flesh inviting us and calling us to live beyond the facades behind which we like to hide.
* Theologian Ivone Gebara has a PhD in philosophy from the Catholic University of São Paulo and in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.