Friday, March 18, 2011

Dissident priests face a new Inquisition

by Jesús Bastante (English translation by Rebel Girl)

On July 15, 1834, Spain officially abolished the Inquisition tribunal. In the past were more than 350 years of persecution of Jews, Moors, Lutherans, scientists, writers and humanists by a State iron-bound to the Catholic Church. The story, fortunately, has changed considerably since then. Or not so much? Cases like that of Father Manel Pousa, a known and respected figure in Catalonia for his social work and who will probably end up being excommunicated after confessing in a book that he paid for an abortion for a young woman, remind us how the Spanish Catholic hierarchy has failed to travel the road to modernity.

José Antonio Pagola, José Arregi, the priests of Entrevías, José Mantero, José María Castillo...In recent years, there have been dozens of cases of priests who have been persecuted, one way or another, by the Spanish Church hierarchy, especially since the cardinal of Madrid, Antonio María Rouco Varela, has been ruling it with an iron hand.

The control of orthodoxy

Some have been separated from their faculty chairs, others "reduced" (sic) to lay status, and several have been suspended a divinis or forced to leave the Church. The case of Manel Pousa is the most serious sanction from the perspective of canon law. Nonetheless, persecution of anyone who gets out from the control of orthodoxy is constant.

"Obedience is to conscience. And conscience only comes from God." Javier Baeza is in charge of the St. Carlos Borromeo "pastoral center", better known as the "red church" of Entrevías (Madrid), who, for three decades has worked with immigrants, drug addicts and youth at risk of social exclusion. Four years ago, Rouco Varela decided to close the parish, citing "grave errors" in the liturgy. The three priests, Javier Baeza, Enrique de Castro and José Díaz didn't always celebrate in albs, the absolutions were collective, and, sometimes, a cracker or bagel was used for the consecrated host. Rouco was met with opposition from the whole neighborhood and a good part of the base Church. They didn't give in and, for a change, managed to bend the will of the Cardinal of Madrid.

Four years later, the "pastoral center" continues to operate as it did before the persecution. "At the Church level, there's no relationship, though the new vicar visited us a while ago," Baeza noted. On Sundays, at 1 p.m., Mass is still celebrated, there are prayer groups "where problems are shared" and, of course, social work continues at St. Charles Borromeo. Even weddings and baptisms are still celebrated, with implicit permission of the hierarchy that, after trying to put an end to the "red church", had to backtrack and allow the three priests to remain with their parishioners.

"I still don't know why what happenened, happened," says the priest, who doesn't conceal that they are "ignored" by the "institutional Church". "They support us if we are censuring politicians or talking about poverty, but they don't accept when we are critical of the functioning of the institution." Despite the pressure, the priests of Entrevías have not considered leaving. "There are many things I don't have in common with the Church, but I'm not leaving, just as I don't leave my family although I get angry at my father. The Church is my home too, not just that of the hierarchy," Javier Baeza concludes.

The Mantero case

The one who did have to leave the priesthood and the Church was José Mantero, the priest from Valverde del Camino (Huelva) who was suspended a divinis after publicly admitting his homosexuality in the magazine Zero. Along with the former Carmelite Antonio Roig, Mantero is one of two Spanish priests "dismissed" by Rome after revealing their sexual orientation. Together, they both complained that "the Church has lost all shame and ethics" by turning homosexuals into "its new enemy."

Mantero tried to continue fighting from within for the inclusion of homosexual Christian groups in the Church, but the pressure from ultraconservative groups and the hierarchy's close mindedness to any approach to the gay world, ended up undermining his hopes.

Twenty years of persecution

José María Castillo is one of the most prestigious theologians in our country. On May 13, the Public University of Granada will grant him an honorary doctorate. Society thus acknowledges the worth of this professor who, in 2007, left the Jesuits after a harsh persecution that lasted more than 20 years. In 1988, he was punished along with Juan Antonio Estrada by the withdrawal of the placet of the hierarchy as a professor of theology at the University of Granada, according to Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope, because of his views on the dogma of the Trinity. José Arregi also had to ask to leave, in this case, the Franciscan order, after a confrontation with the new bishop of San Sebastian, the ultraconservative Jose Ignacio Munilla. The Basque theologian accused the prelate of conducting a "purge" among the more progressive clergy.

Thinking differently

"I'm only asking that there be room in the Church to think, teach and act differently, and that views that are considered wrong are combated only with arguments of reason," says the former Franciscan. "If Christianity is not to become a museum piece or a sect, there must be huge fundamental changes: the democratization of all institutions, critical reading of the Bible and dogma, a mystical and transformative spirituality beyond dogmatism and moralism, acceptance of the principle of secularism." Something that doesn't enter the minds of Munilla, Rouco and company.

The last known case is the investigation opened by the Vatican against Basque theologian José Antonio Pagola and his book, Jesus: An Historical Approximation. The most reactionary sectors of the Bishops' Conference managed to get the publisher to withdraw the volume (after selling more than 80,000 copies) and destroy the copies. Pagola, who remains a priest, is facing possible sanction of his works, and even the withdrawal of his venia docendi (permission to teach), the closest thing to "excommunication" for a professor. And it seems that, 350 years after it was repealed, the Inquisition in the Spanish Church has come alive with a vengeance.

The Church's double standard

In May 2006, one year before the death of Marcial Maciel, Benedict XVI ordered him to lead a retired life, banning him from celebrating Mass in public. So the Holy See already knew about the excesses of the pederast founder of the Legionaries of Christ. However, the only action against him while he was alive was the suspension of his public life. He was not suspended or excommunicated, as might happen with Father Manel Pousa. The double standard has been a constant in the history of the Church. Thus, for centuries pontiffs who had women, children and lovers, survived while clerics were severely punished -- even ending up burned at the stake -- if they broke celibacy.

The excommunication of Pousa could result from "collaboration" with an abortion, despite the explanation of the priest alluding to a "lesser evil" and supported by his fight for life. Rome seems determined to convict him. However, no priests convicted of child sexual abuse have been excommunicated.

Photos (top to bottom): Manel Sousa, Javier Baeza, Jose Mantero, Jose Maria Castillo, Jose Arregi, Jose Antonio Pagola.

Zero tolerance of female genital mutilation

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

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Globalization as a new stage of humanity and the Earth itself, has not only put individuals and peoples in contact with each other, but also has spread their viruses and bacteria, plants and fruits, cuisine and fashion, their worldviews and religions, including their values and negative values, worldwide. It is characteristic of human nature and history -- not a defect but an evolutionary sign -- that we are sapient (sapiens) and demented (demens) and, therefore, emerge as contradictory beings. Hence, alongside the bright dimensions, which are the best side of human beings and through which we enrich each other, dark dimensions also appear, age-old traditions that penalize large sectors of the population. Thus, we must be critical of each other, to identify inhumane practices that are no longer tolerable.

We Westerners, for example, are individualistic and dualistic, so focused on our identity that we have great difficulty accepting those who are different from us. We tend to treat those who are different as inferior. This provides an ideological basis to our colonialist and imperialist spirit, to impose our values and worldview on the whole world.

Such limitations are found in all cultures. But there are limitations and limitations. Some of them violate all parameters of decency, and just simple common sense makes them unacceptable. They seem more like violations and crimes than cultural traditions, however ancient they appear to be. And it's useless for cultural anthropologists and sociologists to go on defending them in the name of respecting differences. What is cruel is cruel in any culture, anywhere in the world. Cruelty, because it's inhumane, has no right to exist.

I am refering specifically to female genital mutilation. It has been practiced for centuries in 28 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and several European countries where there has been immigration from these areas. It is estimated that worldwide there are currently between 115 and 130 million genitally mutilated women. Another three million, including five hundred thousand in Europe, are still subject annually to such horrors.

What is it? It is the removal of the clitoris and both labia and in some places even the stitching together of the labia in girls aged 4 to 14. This is done without any hygienic concern with scissors, knives, needles and even with sharp pieces of glass. The screams of pain and horror, the emotional impact and untold suffering, and the hemmorrhages and infections that can kill are unimaginable, as can be seen in some YouTube videos on the Internet, which I don't advise anyone to watch.

In Europe, such practices are prohibited. The mothers then take their daughters to their home countries under the pretext of meeting their relatives. And there this horror, that is more an assault and gross violation of human rights than a cultural practice, awaits them. Behind it is the most primitive form of machismo that seeks to prevent a woman's access to sexual pleasure, transforming her into an object for the exclusive pleasure of man. The World Health Organization rightfully denounced the practice as unacceptable torture.

I see two reasons that discredit certain cultural traditions and lead us to fight them. The first is the suffering of others. Where the cultural difference involves dehumanization and mutilation of the other, there is the limit and it should be inhibited. No person is entitled to impose unreasonable hardship on another. The second reason is the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, signed by all states. All cultural traditions should be compared with its precepts. Practices involving violation of human dignity should be prohibited and punished. The supreme law is to treat human beings humanely. In genital mutilation, we are faced with a social convention that is inhumane and harmful. This is why February 6th has been established as International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation.

Each day of the year and especially every March 8th, International Women's Day, we should stand in solidarity with these girls, victims of a harsh cultural tradition that is the enemy of life and pleasure.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

José Ignacio González Faus on Benedict XVI's Latest Book

by José Ignacio González Faus
(English translation by Rebel Girl)
Miradas Cristianas Blog

A good friend from Sabadell (Alvaro) great Christian, sent me an email today telling me that he is sad because, in the nursing home where he lives, he read this morning in the press that the pope, in his book on Jesus, is charging the liberation theologians with saying that Christ was a revolutionary zealot, and for being friends of violence, while Jesus definitely separated religion and politics ... Alvaro was once an immigrant from Extremadura to Catalonia, he lived in caves for a while, was a YCW activist and a USO union member (forbidden then), then he was arrested by Franco's police and underwent torture and imprisonment. We have known each other for over forty years. I'm writing this response for him, but I'm posting it here because maybe it can help other readers.

We'll have to wait to see the book, but I doubt very much that Ratzinger would say such things as the press is saying, because I consider him a person of unquestionable intellectual rigor. At the moment four reflections occur to me to reassure my friend.

1. I think I know all the Christologies written by Latin American theologians. None of them has said what the Pope attributes to them, according to the press: not Boff, not Sobrino, not Juan Luis Segundo, not the unfortunate H. Echegaray in his precious book, La práctica de Jesús ("The Practice of Jesus"), not Carlos Bravo in Jesús, hombre en conflicto ("Jesus: a man in conflict")...None that I know of. The idea of a zealot Jesus is of European, not Latin American, origin (Reimarus in the 18th century and Brandon in the 20th).

2. What the liberation theologians do usually say is that, consciously or unconsciously, politics is a dimension that is always present in our ways of acting. This could be debated, but it is an anthropological rather than a Christological statement. Liberation theologians also argue that politics were a decisive factor in Jesus' death sentence. This is what the fourth gospel, the one to which Ratzinger gives so much historical credibility, shows in its 11th chapter: the Jewish authorities fear that if the people believe in Jesus "the Romans will come and take away our nation"; and Caiaphas (who was the ayatollah of the day) determined that it was better for one man to die so that we would save ourselves. Jesus was also accused of blasphemy, but blasphemy didn't demand a political sentence like crucifixion, but rather stoning, as happened to Stephen a few years later.

3. Jesus' response when they asked him if it was licit to pay tribute to Caesar ("give to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's") doesn't claim to be a teaching about the separation of religion and politics. Because in itself it says nothing, since everything that is Caesar's is also God's and what is God's, He has given to men and women (among whom is Caesar too). Jesus' phrase, therefore, doesn't aim to teach anything, but rather to expose those who were tempting Him. The Jews had accepted Roman currency (something like the "dollarization" that has happened in some South American countries and has been very beneficial for the rich, but disastrous for the poor and the peasants). Moreover, the Roman coin had the image of Caesar engraved on it, and the Jews were absolutely forbidden to carve human images. In this context, those who were taking advantage of Roman money come hypocritically to ask Him a moral question to set a trap for Him. And Jesus just exposes their bad faith (He calls them "hypocrites") and says an almost tautological phrase but one which puts them in a bind. This is why the people are in admiration.

4. I'm also astonished that Ratzinger would make such a radical separation between religion and politics because that would put him at odds with Benedict XVI, who holds one of the highest political offices (head of state). And Ratzinger is a consistent thinker.

5. What IS possible is that Ratzinger would say that Jesus radically refused any use of political power to establish what he said was to be our main concern: "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." In this case, he is quite right: Jesus refused to be proclaimed king and did not believe that being the Messenger of God gave Him such rights.

If so, then it would match with everything said in the first three points. For me personally, there would still be something I don't understand in the fourth point (in the character of the head of state, the Pope)...because in his other book, Light of the World, Ratzinger explicitly states that the letter of St. Bernard to Pope Eugene III (called in Latin De Consideratione) is a book that all popes should read. Well, in this letter St. Bernard tells the pope that "he doesn't seem to be a successor of Peter but of Constantine." That is, St. Bernard (and Benedict XVI) calls for a separation between religion and political power, which still has not occured in the church today.

And nothing else. I hope these things serve to reassure my great friend Alvaro.