Friday, October 14, 2011

The Fifth Gospel: Proclamation of the Christ of Corcovado

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)

The famous statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado in Brazil turned 80 on October 12, 2011.

In those days, after 80 years of existence, the Christ of Corcovado shuddered and came back to life. What was concrete and stone became flesh and blood. Extending his arms, as if to embrace the world, he opened his mouth, spoke, and said:

"Blessed are you, poor, hungry, sick, and fallen along so many ways without a good Samaritan to assist you. The Father who is also Mother of goodness bears you in His heart and I promise that you will be the first heirs of the kingdom of justice and peace.

Woe to you, masters of power, who for five hundred years have sucked the blood of workers, reducing them to cheap fuel for your unjust wealth-producing machines. I will not be the one to judge you, but the victims you made, behind whom I myself was hidden and suffered.

Blessed are you all, indigenous ones of so many ethnicities, first inhabitants of these promising lands, who live in the innocence of life in communion with nature. You were almost exterminated, but now you are rising with your religions and cultures, testifying to the presence of the Creator Spirit who never abandoned you.

Woe to those who subjugated you, killed you by sword and cross, denied your humanity, demonized your worship, stole your land and ridiculed the wisdom of your shamans.

Blessed, blessed I repeat, are you, my black brothers and sisters, unjustly brought from Africa to be sold as parts in the market, turned into coal to be consumed in the sugar plantations and refineries, always harassed and dying prematurely.

Woe to those who dehumanized you! Justice cries out to heaven until the day of reckoning. Cursed are the slave quarters, cursed the stocks, the whip accursed, damned the chains, cursed the slave ship. Blessed is the refuge of the quilombo, the coming of a world of freedom and brotherhood without distinction.

Blessed are those who struggle for land in the countryside and the city, land to live and work and get food from the soil for themselves, for others, for all the world's hungry.

Cursed is the unproductive latifundio that expels those who work it as their own and kills whoever occupies it to have somewhere to live, work and earn bread for their sons and daughters. Truly, I say to you: the day will come when you will be despoiled. The little bit of graveyard earth that covers you will weigh heavy on your tombs.

Blessed are you, women of the people, who resist the millennial oppression, who win spaces of participation and freedom, and who are fighting for a society that is not defined by gender. A society in which men and women -- together, different, reciprocal and equal -- inaugurate the perennial alliance of sharing, love and mutual responsibility.

Blessed are you, millions of children deprived of everything and thrown into the streets, victims of a society of exclusion that has lost tenderness towards innocent life. My Father, like a great Mother, will wipe away your tears and hug you to His breast because you are His most beloved sons and daughters.

Blessed are the pastors who humbly serve the people among the people, with the people and for the people. Woe to those who wear showy outfits, boast on television, use the sacred symbols of power, exalt Our Father and forget Our Bread. So many use the crook against the sheep instead of against the wolves! I do not recognize them and will not give testimony in their favor when they present themselves before my Father.

Blessed are the basic ecclesial communities, the social movements for land, homes, education, health care, safety. Happy are they who, without needing to talk about me, take up the same cause for which I lived, was persecuted and executed on the cross. But I resurfaced to continue the uprising against a world that gives more value to the material goods than to life, that promotes private accumulation over involvement in solidarity, and prefers to give food to dogs rather than to hungry people.

Blessed are those who dream of a possible and necessary new world in which everyone can fit, including nature. Blessed are those who love Mother Earth as their own mother and respect her rhythms, giving her peace to rebuild her nutrients and continue to produce all we need to live.

Blessed are those who do not desist, but resist and insist that the world can be different and will be, a world where poetry walks side by side with work, music comes together with machines, and all recognize one another as brothers and sisters living in the one common home we have, this beautiful and bright little planet Earth.

Truly, truly I say to you: Happy are you because you are all sons and daughters of joy, for you are in the palm of God's hand. Amen."

Thursday, October 13, 2011


by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

Matthew 22: 15-21

The question that some Pharisees, who were in cahoots with Antipas' supporters, pose to Jesus is a cunningly prepared trap to set up an environment conducive to killing Him: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

If He says it's lawful, Jesus will be discredited before the people and lose His support, thus it will be easier to act against Him. If He says it's unlawful, He can be accused of being a subversive agitator against the Romans who, during the Passover feast which is coming soon, will go up to Jerusalem to quash any attempt at rebellion against Caesar.

First of all, Jesus asks them to show Him "the coin that pays the tax" and tell Him whose image and inscription is on it. The adversaries acknowledge that the image is Caesar's, as the inscription reads -- Tiberius Caesar, august Son of the Divine Augustus. Highest Pontiff. With His action, Jesus has put the question in an unexpected context.

So He draws an initial conclusion. If the image on the coin is Caesar's, "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's". Give back to him what is his -- that idolatrous coin, stamped with symbols of religious power. If you're using it in your business dealings, you're already acknowledging his sovereignty. Fulfill your obligations.

But Jesus, who doesn't live at the service of the Roman emperor but "seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness", adds a serious warning about something that nobody asked Him: "Render unto God what is God's." The coin carries the "image" of Tiberius but human beings are in the "image" of God -- they belong only to Him. Don't sacrifice people to any power. Defend them.

The conomic crisis that we are experiencing in the Western countries has no easy solution. More than a financial crisis, it's a humanitarian crisis. Obsessed as we are with greater and greater material well-being, we have ended up living a lifestyle that is unsustainable, even economically.

It won't be enough to propose technical solutions. A conversion in our lifestyle, a change of consciousness, is required -- going from the logic of competition to that of cooperation, setting limits on the voracity of the market, learning a new ethic of renunciation.

The crisis is going to be a long one. Tough years await us. We followers of Jesus must find inspiration and encouragement in the Gospel to live through it in solidarity. From Jesus we hear the invitation to be near to the most vulnerable victims -- those who are being unjustly sacrificed to the strategies of the most powerful markets.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Revolution in the Ranks

They all took vows of obedience but now, across the world, Roman Catholic priests are refusing to silently accept what they see as a dysfunctional organizational model that no longer responds to the needs of the modern day faithful...or, for that matter, their own needs. From Austria to America to Australia, priests are organizing, signing pledges to work for change in the Church they vowed to serve, supporting each other, and not retreating meekly when ordered to remain silent in the face of institutional injustice.

Back in June of this year, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, a group of Austrian Roman Catholic priests stunned their hierarchs by signing on to Die Pfarrer-Initiative ("Priests' Initiative"), an appeal for clerical disobedience and an attempt to bring the Catholic Church into the 21st century. The priests vowed the following:

1. WE WILL include a petition for church reform in every liturgy.

2. WE WILL not deny Communion to faithful of good will, especially remarried people, members of other Christian churches, and in some cases those who have officially left the Catholic Church.*

3. WE WILL avoid as much as possible celebrating multiple times on Sundays and feast days, and avoid scheduling priests travelling around or priests unknown to the community. A locally-planned Liturgy of the Word is preferable to providing guest performances.

4. WE WILL use the term “Priestless Eucharistic Celebration” for a Liturgy of the Word with distribution of Communion. This is how the Sunday Mass obligation is fulfilled when priests are in short supply.

5. WE WILL ignore the prohibition on preaching by competently trained laity, including female religion teachers. In difficult times, the Word of God must be proclaimed.

6. WE WILL advocate that every parish have a presiding leader – man or woman, married or unmarried, full-time or part time. Rather than consolidating parishes, we call for a new image of the priest.

7. WE WILL take every opportunity to speak up publicly for the admission of women and married people to the priesthood. These would be welcome colleagues in ministry.

We express solidarity with colleagues no longer permitted to exercise their ministry because they have married, and also with those in ministry who live in permanent relationships. Both groups live in accordance with their conscience – as we do with our protest. We see in them, as we do in our bishops and the pope, our brothers. **

* Here we refer to those who officially leave the Church; some to avoid Church Tax as a means of protest
** The German word used here is "Mitbruder" instead of "Bruder" (=brother) which is sometimes used just for clerics and excludes the laity.

In its September 2011 newsletter, the group reported having 338 priest members and a further 69 priest supporters as well as over 1,000 lay supporters. Approximately 6% of all Austrian priests have signed the Initiative.

And the Initiative has gone international. For example, 17 priests (10% of the archdiocesan priests) from the Archdiocese of Rouen, in France, have now signed the Pfarrer-Initiative, and that number is expected to grow. Fr. Paul Flament, one of the signatories who runs the social organization Fraternité Banlieues, explained to Paris-Normandie that "we want a Church that listens to the needs and expectations of the men and women of today, a Church in solidarity with the poor and the excluded." And he added that "the Church has to change. We are completely in agreement with the our Austrian brothers' call for the ordination of women and married men."

The Rouen priests emphasized that they were not complaining about their archbishop. "Monsignor Descubes is an open man, very sensitive to social action and current reality." In fact, they see the protest as helping the local hierarchs. "We're tired of being trampled on by the Roman authorities who take refuge in religion and refuse to listen to today's world. We are coming to the aid of our bishops." The Archbishop of Rouen declined to speak to the press, calling the protest an "internal affair".

Part of what made the Pfarrer-Initiative, which actually began in 2006, send such shockwaves through the Austrian Church was its leader, Msgr. Helmut Schüller (photo). You would expect such a movement to come from a disgruntled Vatican II era priest working on the margins of the Church. It's a whole different story when the leader is a prominent priest in his 50s whose resumé includes a stint as president of Caritas (1991-1995) and another as vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Vienna (1995-1999) under Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. Msgr. Schüller was also ombudsman for the Archdiocesan office for dealing with victims of sexual abuse for a time and he remains spiritual advisor to the Katholischen Akademikerverbands, the Catholic Academic Association. He is presently pastor of St. Stephan in Probstdorf and a chaplain at the University of Vienna.

The Pfarrer-Initiative enjoys substantial popular support in Austria. According to a poll by Oekonsult, 71.7% of Austrians said the “priests initiative” was both “fair and reasonable”, while 64.7% said they would sign a “call for insubordination”. Eighty-six percent were of the opinion celibacy created more problems than it had advantages and 84% said the refusal of the Catholic Church to reform is likely to further alienate believers.

The revolution spreads

Earlier this month, Msgr. Schüller also addressed the first annual general meeting of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests, which was founded last year. While ACP does not support the tactics of Pfarrer-Initiative which they view as too divisive, a spokesman for the group, Fr. Tony Flannery, avered that the Austrian priests "are basically taking a similar stance to ourselves – and in that we would support them." ACP is urging the priests to stick together. "If they stand together – and there are 400 of them – what can [Cardinal Schönborn] do? He can hardly sack all 400 of them. So it is all a question of whether they have the strength at this stage to all hang together. But if they become divided and disunited they will be easily dealt with. I am just hoping that they will hang together on this one,” Fr. Flannery said.

ACP, which currently has 600 member priests, one-eighth of the priests of Ireland, also addressed several church reform issues at its AGM. Writing about the AGM in The Mayo News this week, Fr. Kevin Hegarty shared some of his speech to the group:

"...a new church would open its doors to married priests and women priests. It would benefit from secular insights on, for example, democracy and human intimacy.

It would accept the validity of homosexuality as a human experience rather than seeing it as a distortion. It would, in sum, develop a healthy and holistic theology of sexuality.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is not happening. The hope of change, engendered by the Vatican Council, proved shortlived. It was choked by the Roman Curia.

For over 30 years the church has retreated from reform. It has returned to the incense-filled ghettoes of the past in defence of its traditional, hierarchical structures.

Its procedures are archaic, cumbersome and precious. It is suspicious of lay involvement. Only those who are seen to conform to its narrow views are admitted to the temple of authority. So bishops are chosen on the basis of being in favour of compulsory celibacy, docility to papal teaching and above all against contraception and the ordination of women. It is fearful of the feminine. Mysogyny is dressed up in theological abstractions. The current imposition of the new Roman missal, with its conservative theology and its sexist language is a symbol both of Vatican arrogance and its distance from the pulse of modern life..."

And, Fr. Hegarty concluded, the challenge is to keep the door open in a changing world.

A refusal to be silenced

On this side of the Atlantic, the revolt centers around the question of women's ordination. At the heart of this revolt is Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest better known for his campaign to shut down the School of the Americas. In August 2008, Fr. Bourgeois participated in and delivered the homily at the ordination ceremony of Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a member of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. As a result of this action, he was technically excommunicated latae setentiae.

Earlier this year, Maryknoll gave Fr. Bourgeois 15 days to recant or be expelled from the order. Fr. Bourgeois refused and has yet to be dismissed as negotiations are ongoing. Meanwhile, 200 priests signed a Clergy for Conscience statement supporting Fr. Bourgeois. Fr. Bourgeois says that by demanding that he recant, his superiors are asking him to lie. In a letter to his Superior General, Fr. Bourgeois says: "What you are requiring of me is not possible without betraying my conscience. In essence, you are telling me to lie and say I do not believe that God calls both men and women to the priesthood. This I cannot do, therefore I will not recant." Instead, he has hired a canon lawyer to fight the possible dismissal.

And he has not given up public advocacy for women's ordination. He plans to join women priests and members of the Women's Ordination Conference on a panel next month at the Call to Action annual meeting in Milwaukee but, before that, there's a trip to the Vatican to deliver a petition signed by over 15,000 people supporting women priests. Those who want to keep up with the play-by-play on this case should check out the Knollwood Blog. In the latest move, 127 former Maryknollers have added their voices in support of Fr. Bourgeois.

A new priests' group, inspired by the Irish Association of Catholic Priests, is also being formed. Currently led by Fr. David Cooper of Milwaukee, the new group has two objectives: to reach out in fraternal support to brother priests and to create a collegial voice so priests can speak in a united way. "When you look around today, you see everybody has a national association or conference," Fr. Cooper told the National Catholic Reporter. "The bishops have a conference. There's an association of Catholic women, Catholic musicians, Catholic theologians, Catholic canon lawyers. Everybody but us."

The new U.S. group also draws its inspiration from the What If We Just Said Wait? website set up by Fr. Michael Ryan of Seattle to protest the new English translation of the Roman Missal which many priests have found objectionable for various reasons. The new group used the site to survey priests about what they would want the main objective of a new association to be and the most common response was "full implementation of the vision and teachings of the Second Vatican Council with special emphasis on the primacy of the individual conscience, the status and participation of all the baptized, and the task of establishing a church where all believers will be treated as equals."

Down under, a bishop down

On the other side of the globe, in the Diocese of Toowoomba, Australia, a bishop who was concerned about the shortage of priests in his region and merely suggested in a pastoral letter that the Church should consider opening the priesthood to women and married men, was forced by the Vatican in May to submit an early resignation. In a 2006 letter, after projecting the future priest shortage, Msgr. William Morris had written:

"...Given our deeply held belief in the primacy of the Eucharist for the identity, continuity and life of each parish community, we may well need to be much more open towards other options for ensuring that Eucharist may be celebrated. Several responses have been discussed internationally, nationally and locally:

* ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community;

* welcoming former priests, married or single, back to active ministry;

* ordaining women, married or single;..."

The priests under Bishop Morris did not take their leader's dismissal lying down. Eight of them drafted a letter on his behalf arguing that he had not been treated fairly or respectfully, and affirming his performance in office. "The far greater majority of priests and lay people of the diocese have found the pastoral leadership of Bishop Morris to be constructive, informed and life-giving," the priests said.

Msgr. Morris also received support from the National Council of Priests of Australia which issued a statement saying: "We are embarrassed about the shabby treatment meted out to an outstanding Pastor of this diocese who has faithfully ministered in the Church in Queensland and throughout Australia since his priestly ordination in 1969."

And the statement went on: "We are concerned about an element within the Church whose restorationist ideology wants to repress freedom of expression within the Roman Catholic Church and who deny the legitimate magisterial authority of the local Bishop within the Church. Jesus rightly condemned the righteous scribes and Pharisees of his time for adhering to their interpretation of the Mosaic law at the expense of God's ultimate commandment of love."

Last month, another Australian priest, Fr. Greg Reynolds, who was given a choice last year by the Archdiocese of Melbourne to be silent about women's ordination or resign, chose to leave the Roman Catholic church which he had served as a priest for 32 years and start his own congregation. "Services will celebrate the Eucharist in a Catholic way," says Fr. Reynolds, "but in a way that's more inclusive of women and gays."

Back in November 2010, Fr. Reynolds delivered a homily in the three parishes in which he served, a homily which he then mailed to Archbishop Dennis Hart and made available to the press. "I am convinced in my heart that it is God's will that we should have women priests," Fr. Reynolds told his flock, "I believe certain women are being called by God to the ministerial priesthood, and our official church is obstructing the work of the Holy Spirit. I feel I can no longer sit back and remain silent."