Saturday, September 3, 2011

Educating to celebrate life and the Earth

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)

Given the widespread crisis in which we now live, all education must include the care of all that exists and lives. Without care, we will not guarantee sustainability that allows the planet to maintain its vitality, its ecosystems, its balance, and our civilization, its future. We are taught critical and creative thinking, to have a profession and a good standard of living, but we forget to teach responsibility and caring for the common future of the Earth and Humanity. An education that does not include caring shows itself to be alienated and irresponsible. The most serious analysts of the ecological footprint of the Earth warn that, if we don't take care, we will know disasters worse than those experienced this year 2011 in Brazil and Japan. To maintain itself, the Earth may perhaps have to reduce its biosphere, eliminating species and millions of human beings.

Among the many skills proper to the concept of care, I want to emphasize two of interest to the new education: the integration of the globe in our everyday imagination and enchantment with the mystery of existence. When we look at planet Earth from outer space, a feeling of awe arises in us to see our only Common Home. We are inseparable from the Earth, forming a whole with it. We feel that we should love and care for her so that she can provide everything we need to stay alive.

The second skill of caring as an ethical attitude and form of love is the enchantment that arises in us by the most spectacular and beautiful apparition that has ever existed in the world, that is, the miracle of the existence of each individual human person. The systems, institutions, science, technology and schools do not have what every human being has: consciousness, love, caring, creativity, solidarity, compassion and a sense of belonging to a greater whole that sustains and encourages us, realities that form our depth.

Surely we are not the center of the universe. But we are beings of awareness and intelligence, through which the universe is thought out, becomes aware and sees itself in its splendid complexity and beauty. We are the universe and the Earth that has come to feel, think, love and worship. This is our dignity which must be internalized and should imbue each person in the new global era.

We must feel proud to be able to carry out this mission for the Earth and the whole universe. We only fulfill this mission if we take care of ourselves, of others and of every living being here.

Perhaps few have expressed these noble feelings better than the eminent musician and poet Pablo Casals. In a speech at the UN in the 80s, he was addressing the General Assembly, thinking of the children as the future of the new humanity. His message also applies to us adults. He said:

The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn't been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him. Each child is unique, from the beginning to the end of time. So the child assumes a responsibility when he admits: It's true that I'm a miracle. I'm a miracle like the tree is a miracle. And being a miracle, could I do wrong? No, because I'm a miracle. I can say God or Nature, or God-nature. It doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm a miracle wrought by God and made by nature. Could I kill someone? No. I can't. And could another human being, who is also a miracle like I am, kill me? I think that what I'm saying to the children, could help make another way of thinking about the world and life rise up. The world today is evil; yes, it's a bad world. The world is bad because we don't talk to children as I'm talking to them now and the way they need us to talk to them. Then the world would no longer have any reason to be bad.

Here is revealed great realism: every reality, especially the human one, is unique and precious, but at the same time we live in a troubled, contradictory world, with frightening aspects. Nevertheless, we must trust in the strength of the seed. It is full of life. Every child born is a seed of a world that can be better. So it pays to have hope. A patient in a psychiatric hospital I visited, burned onto a tablet that he later gave me: "Whenever a child is born, it's a sign that God still believes in the human being." It's needless to say more, because these words contain the full sense of our hope in face of the evils and tragedies of this world.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Double standard: abortion forgiven in Madrid

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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spain is a refuge of justice in the massacre of the Jesuits

By Edgardo Ayala (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Inter Press Service
August 30, 2011

The nine soldiers accused in the assasination of six Catholic priests and two of their colleagues in 1989 in El Salvador, will be tried in absentia by Spanish courts after the Supreme Court of that Central American country refused to hold them for extradition.

Thus a crack appears to shed light on facts that the Salvadoran institutions still refuse to face around that slaughter and other as yet unpunished crimes committed in the war of the armed forces and paramilitary groups against leftist guerrillas from 1980 to 1992, which left 70,000 people dead and more than 8,000 disappeared.

"The case will go forward in Spain, with or without the military men sitting on the bench; they will have to be tried in absentia," Benjamin Cuellar, director of the Human Rights Institute of the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas, told IPS.

"If convicted in absentia, the military men would be fugitives from international justice and would be in a 21,000 square kilometer prison," said Cuellar, referring to the territorial expanse of El Salvador.

The nine uniformed men, now retired from military service, had taken refuge on the 7th of this month at an army base east of San Salvador in a move that avoided the formal arrest being orchestrated that same day by Interpol (international police) from France, at the request of Judge Eloy Velasco of the Audiencia Nacional of Spain.

While there was never a formal arrest of the accused, the Salvadoran government of Mauricio Funes said at the time that the military men were under orders of a local judge, implying that they were detained, pending the process running its course, ie, receiving an extradition request from Spain.

So, arguing that no such request had been received prior to the alleged detention, the Court ordered the release of the accused, though at the same time, it acknowledged that they were never in jail.

"For us, they aren't really regaining freedom, because they were never deprived of it; they were in a unique situation," said Judge Ulises de Dios Guzmán, a member of the Court, in an attempt to clarify this blatant contradiction.

In 2009, a Spanish court began the case to clarify the massacre of the Jesuits in El Salvador from a lawsuit filed a year earlier by the Center for Justice and Accountability in San Francisco and the Human Rights Association of Spain.

The maneuvre of the military men, who avoided arrest based on a non-existent legal concept, "military protection", as their team of lawyers called it, showed how weak the Salvadoran state institutions are when trying to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations during the civil war.

"The ruling shows that impunity remains institutionalized in the country, it continues to dominate through clean slates and new accounts," Ima Guirola of the Institute of Women's Studies told IPS.

In 1989, during a guerrilla offensive that put the government of right-winger Alfredo Cristiani (1989-1994) in check, an army command entered the campus of the Universidad Centroamericana Jose Simeon Cañas (UCA) at night and killed six members of the Society of Jesus who were there, including the rector, the Spaniard Ignacio Ellacuría.

In addition to Ellacuría, the Spanish priests Ignacio Martin-Baro, Segundo Montes, Amando Lopez and Juan Ramon Moreno, the Salvadoran bishop Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, and an employee, Elba Ramos, and her 16 year-old daughter Celina, were shot by the Atlacatl Battalion, which had been trained in the United States in counterinsurgency.

The political right and the military leadership of the time regarded the Jesuits, especially Ellacuría, as ideologues of the guerrillas for their advocacy of liberation theology, a progressive trend in the Latin American Catholic Church that had its peak in the 60s and 70s and championed social and political change in its option for the poor.

Most of those accused in the multiple murders, committed with the consent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, occupied command positions in the army during the civil war, including General Rafael Humberto Larios, then Minister of Defense, and Juan Rafael Bustillo, chief of the Air Force.

The list is completed by colonels Francisco Elena Fuentes and Juan Orlando Zepeda, lieutenants José Ricardo Espinoza Guerra and Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, second sergeants Antonio Ramiro Avalos Vargas and Tomás Zarpate Castillo, and soldier Mariano Amaya Grimaldi.

Another 10 Salvadoran officers who are on Velasco's list of extraditables could also be liable to detention orders in the coming months, although it remains to be seen how the Spanish judge will react based on the ruling of the Salvadoran court.

The arrest warrant included another former defense minister Gen. Rene Emilio Ponce, who died last May.

Retired colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, former security minister during the conflict, and also included in Velasco's expanded list, was arrested Tuesday the 23rd in the United States on charges of falsifying immigration information which had allowed him to live smoothly in that country, said a local newspaper, The Boston Herald.

Judge Velasco is carrying out the trial under the concept of universal justice, which has its roots in the Nuremberg Tribunal that tried and convicted Nazi war criminals at the end of World War II (1939-1945).

Among antecedents of attempts at justice in El Salvador for crimes committed during the civil war is the 1991 trial of nine men in uniform precisely for the murder of the Jesuits, two of whom were convicted but later released thanks to the amnesty law that was enacted in 1993 and strongly criticized by activists and jurists.

The Spanish judge thinks that the trial was already quite flawed and, therefore, that a new one is required to at last shed light on what really happened in 1989 at the Universidad Centroamericana.

In 2000, the Salvadoran Supreme Court refused to reopen the investigation into the case, as requested by the Society of Jesus. For this, the magistrates argued that the ten years set for keeping a trial open had already passed and, moreover, that the amnesty law protected the accused military men.

"I believe that impunity has been a prevalent feature for years in El Salvador and still is," Ramon Villalta, of Iniciativa Social para la Democracia, told IPS.

On the other hand, retired General Ernesto Vargas, a signer of the 1992 Peace Agreement that ended the civil war, welcomed the ruling because, he said, if the Court had given the green light to proceed against the military men, it would have blown up the treaty, which is based on the amnesty law.

"There could be no peace agreement without amnesty; it's the price we had to pay for peace," he argued.