Saturday, October 29, 2011

U.S. Catholics and their bishops: Still disconnected

In one corner, we have the U.S. Catholic bishops, claiming to speak to and for their flock through such things as the Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship voting guide with its stress on the abortion issue above and beyond all other social teachings of the Church, and the formation of a new Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, purporting to defend Catholics against such "threats" to religious liberty as contraceptive equity in health insurance coverage and the growing trend towards civil same sex marriage.

In the other corner, you have a Catholic laity that prefers to think for itself, at least according to a survey released this month by the National Catholic Reporter, and whose priorities are not those of their bishops. Fewer than half of those surveyed view opposition to abortion (40%), same sex marriage (35%) or the death penalty (29%) as being important to their Catholic identity. On the other hand, 67% believe that helping the poor is important.

On "personal" morality issues in particular, Catholics in this survey believe the individual rather than church leaders should have the final say about what is right or wrong and this percentage has grown steadily since NCR first began its survey in 1987. Today, this is who Catholics believe should have the final say on the following issues:

Divorce and remarriage
Church leaders: 20%
Individuals: 47%

Church leaders: 19%
Individuals: 52%

Sex outside of marriage
Church leaders: 16%
Individuals: 53%

Church leaders: 16%
Individuals: 57%

Church leaders: 10%
Individuals: 66%

Between a quarter and a third of those surveyed (depending on the issue) are willing to accept joint authority on these matters.

Even among those classified by the survey as highly committed Catholics, 60% believe that you can be a good Catholic without obeying the Church's teaching on birth control and 48% say you don't need to be married in the Church to be a good Catholic.

A different way of being Church

Nor are U.S. Catholics necessarily attached to the current hierarchical and patriarchal way of organizing the Church. Only 21% thought that celibacy for priests was important and 60% support the ordination of women priests. Less than a third thought the Vatican's teaching authority was important. Even among those who described themselves as highly committed Catholics, the Vatican's teaching authority has declined sharply in significance in recent years -- from 71% in 2005 down to 57% in 2011.

Catholics are no longer buying into the importance of "fulfilling the Sunday obligation." Even among highly committed Catholics, 48% believe you can be a good Catholic without attending Mass each week -- a good thing since weekly Mass attendance continues to decline from 44% in 1987 to 31% in 2011, and 47% of Catholics attend Mass less than once a month. We would expect this decline to accelerate once the new Roman Missal is implemented next month. If many are already unmotivated to participate in a liturgy that they find routine and remote to their daily lives, how many will want the added dimension of new, arcane language that must be memorized?

Most Catholics still believe that their parish priests are doing a good job but, as we approach the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, the laity are finding themselves increasingly shut out and most of those surveyed said they believe priests don't expect laypeople to be leaders. At the same time, they want to have a voice and 75-80% of them think they should have a say in such matters as how parish income is spent and who their priests will be.

As the Church time after time reiterates the value of a celibate clerical caste and punishes anyone who might think differently, and uses such outdated tactics as banning girls from being servers to keep the altar an all-male preserve, the Catholics in this survey are already looking towards a post-clerical future. While it's still very important for them to keep parishes open whenever possible and to have priests available to visit the sick and minister last rites to the dying, 76% would find it acceptable to have a layperson or deacon run the parish with visiting priests coming in to provide the sacraments. A similar number would accept reducing the number of weekend Masses (logical, since regular Mass attendance is not a major value), and 66% would accept the occasional Communion service instead of Mass.

In other words, laypeople have already come to terms with the priest shortage and are willing to explore different ways of being Church while the hierarchy continues to try to hold on to the old model and hopes to stimulate vocations through glitzy web sites and other high tech tools to put a new "look" on the same tired, old personnel system while failing to effectively address the underlying reasons for the decline in vocations, much less looking at how to function in a post-clerical future.

A time for dialogue

Going back to the Church's presence in the political arena, Catholics are largely with their bishops on broader social issues such as immigration reform, government funds for the poor, and reducing spending on nuclear weapons, but only about half the faithful agree with their bishops on opposing health care reform legislation and same sex marriage. To sum it up: Catholics don't want their bishops in their bedrooms or in their doctor's offices, whether directly through Church directives or indirectly through lobbying.

It seems to me that by continuing to adopt a paternalistic, "father knows best" approach, the bishops will further alienate the Catholic laity and undermine their own spiritual and political authority. After all, how can you hope to influence a secular and religiously diverse country when you cannot even persuade your own flock? A more effective approach would be to use these surveys to bring the Church's political priorities into sync with those that enjoy widespread agreement and support from lay Catholics and put issues such as contraceptive equity and same sex marriage on the back burner. Then the bishops would have a better chance of mobilizing the Catholic faithful and gaining real political clout.

Second, these surveys are a clear indication that it's time for the nation's bishops to start talking to the faithful about how we, together, can reshape the institutional Church to meet the needs of Catholics in light of what, for the foreseeable future, is going to be an ongoing decline in membership, personnel, and financial resources. It is customary for businesses to use focus groups and other tools to get input from their clients and use the results to improve their products to meet their clients' expectations and keep their loyalty. This is how Americans think, subconsciously, and while some may resent the suggestion that similar standards should be applied to a religious institution that traces its roots back to Jesus Christ, there's no reason such an approach couldn't work for the Catholic Church without sacrificing the basic "product". It's time for "We Are Church" to become more than just a slogan.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dealing with our inner angels and demons

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 human being is a complex entity: he is simultaneously corporeal man, psyche-man, and spirit-man. Let us linger a moment on psyche-man, that is, on his inner world, woven of emotions and passions, light and shadows, dreams and utopias. Just as there is an outer universe made of order-disorder-new order, of horrific devastation and promising emergences, so there is an inner world, inhabited by angels and demons. They reveal tendencies that can lead us to madness and death, and energies of generosity and love that can bring us self-actualization and happiness.

As the great scholar of the meanderings of the human psyche CG Jung used to observe, because of these contradictions, the journey to one's own center can be longer and more dangerous than the trip to the moon and stars.

Among those who think about the human condition, there is a question that has never been satisfactorily resolved: What is the basic structure of our interiority, of our psychic being? There are many schools of interpretation.

In sum, we hold the view that reason doesn't seem to be the primary reality. Before it, there is a whole world of passions and emotions that stir the human being. Above it, there is intelligence, through which we sense the whole, our openness to the infinite and the ecstasy of contemplating the Being. Reasons begin with reason. Reason in itself has no reason. It's just there, indecipherable.

But it goes back to the most primitive dimensions of our human reality, on which it feeds and which cross through all its expressions. Kantian pure reason is an illusion. Reason is always imbued with emotion and passion, a fact accepted by modern cosmology. Contemporary cosmology includes in the concept of universe,not only energy, galaxies and stars, but also the presence of spirit and subjectivity.

Knowing is always entering into self-interested and emotional communion with the object of knowledge. Supported by a host of other thinkers, I have always maintained that the base status of human beings lies not in the Cartesian cogito (in the "I think, therefore I am"), but in the Platonic-Augustinian sentio (in the "I feel, therefore I am"), in deep feeling. The latter puts us into living contact with things, seeing ourselves as part of a larger whole, always affecting and being affected. More than ideas and worldviews, passions, strong feelings, germinal experiences, love, and also their opposites, enslaving rejection and hatreds, are what move us and get us going.

Sensible reason is rooted in the emergence of life, 3.8 billion years ago, when the first bacteria emerged and began to talk chemically with the environment to survive. That process was deepened from the moment, over 125 million years ago, when the limbic brain of mammals emerged, the brain that is the bearer of caring, tenderness, affection, and love for offspring. It's emotional reason that reaches a self-aware and intelligent level in human beings, because we are also mammals.

Western thought is anthropocentric and logocentric and has always been suspicious of emotion, for fear of impairing the objectivity of reason. In some sectors of the culture, a kind of lobotomy was created, that is, a great insensitivity to human suffering and the suffering that has happened to nature and the planet Earth.

Nowadays we realize that it's urgent to decisively include cordial and sensitive reason along with inalienable intellectual reason. If we don't go back to affectionately and lovingly feeling as if Earth is our Mother and we ourselves, the conscious and intelligent part of her, it will be hard for us to move to save lives, heal wounds and prevent disasters.

One of the undeniable merits of the psychoanalytic tradition, starting with its founding master Sigmund Freud, was to have scientifically established passionality as the basis, at zero degrees, of human existence. The psychoanalyst works not from what the patient thinks but from his emotional reactions, his angels and demons, trying to establish some balance and a sustainable inner serenity.

The whole question is how to creatively take control of our volcanic passionality. Freud focuses on the integration of libido, Jung on the quest for individuation, Adler on the control of the will to power, Carl Rogers on the development of personality, Abraham Maslow on the effort of self-actualization of latent potential. One could cite other names such as Lacan, Reich, Pavlov, Skinner, transpersonal psychology and behavioral cognitive therapy, and others.

What we can say is that regardless of the various psychoanalytic schools, psyche-man is forced to creatively integrate his inner universe that is always in motion, with diabolic and symbolic, destructive and constructive, tendencies. We gradually discover our path through trial and error.

No one can replace us. We are condemned to be masters and disciples of ourselves.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

In an attitude of conversion

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

Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus speaks with prophetic indignation. His speech to the people and His disciples is a harsh criticism of the religious leaders of Israel. Matthew picks it up eight decades later so that the leaders of the Christian Church won't fall into the same behavior.

Can we remember Jesus' recriminations today peacefully, in an attitude of conversion, without getting into any empty debates? His words are an invitation to bishops, priests, and those of us who have any responsibility in the Church to review our performance.

"They don't practice what they preach." Our greatest sin is inconsistency. We don't live what we preach. We have power but we lack authority. Our behavior discredits us. If we were to set the example of a more gospel-centered life, the atmosphere in many Christian communities would change.

"They lay heavy burdens on people's shoulders...but they aren't willing to lift a finger to move them." It's true. We are often demanding and stern with others, understanding and indulgent with ourselves. We overwhelm the humble people with our demands but we don't make it easy for them to welcome the gospel. We are not like Jesus, who was concerned with making His yoke light since He was simple and humble of heart.

"Everything they do is to be seen by people." We can't deny that it's very easy to live hung up on our image, almost always seeking to "look good" in others' eyes. We don't live according to God who sees everything in secret. We are more attentive to our personal prestige.

"They love being first and in the places of honor...and to be greeted reverently in the streets." We are ashamed to admit it, but we like it. We like to receive special treatment, not like just another brother or sister. Is there anything more ridiculous than a witness to Jesus seeking reverence and distinction from the Christian community?

"Don't let yourselves be called 'master'...or 'guide'...because only One is your master and guide: Jesus Christ." The gospel commandment cannot be clearer: renounce all titles so as not to overshadow Christ; direct the believers' attention only to Him. Why doesn't the Church do anything to eliminate the many titles, prerogatives, honors, and ranks to better show the humble and friendly face of Jesus?

"Call no one on earth your father because you have but one Father in heaven." For Jesus, the title "Father" is so unique, intimate, and profound that it ought not to be used by anyone in the Christian community. Why do we allow it?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez honored at Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University

by Liliana Rojas (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La República (Peru)

Liberation theology, which was created over 40 years ago, is still going strong because a significant income inequality still exists in Latin America as well as millions of poor people, says Father Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino, founder of this theological current.

Even though he acknowledges that the political and social conditions are not the same as four decades ago, he notes that poverty in the region continues to be a shameful "scandal" that attacks human dignity. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 200 million people live on less than a dollar a day. That is, they are extremely poor.

"There is poverty and human suffering. This is undeniable. There is great poverty and inequality," Gutierrez Merino said during his speech at the tribute that Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University gave him on the 40th anniversary of the publication of his book, Teología de la liberación. Perspectivas (A Theology of Liberation, Orbis 1988). Audio files of each speaker at this event are available on Erich Luna's Vacío blog.

During the tribute, Alberto Simons, director of the Instituto de Fe y Cultura, former congressman Rolando Ames, and philosopher Raúl Zegarra highlighted the contribution of liberation theology to Christian philosophy.

Father Gutiérrez recalled that in the 60s when he returned from Europe and found that, in a whole continent that considered itself Christian, millions of people were living in inhumane conditions, the need for liberation theology became imperative. "The conditions were given," Gutiérrez Merino emphasized.

The university's Centro de Estudios y Publicaciones, which publishes Gustavo Gutierrez's writings in Spanish, has also dedicated a special issue of their journal, Páginas to the anniversary of his most famous work.

Photo: Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino poses with well-wishers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teresa Forcades: A "hopeful woman" speaks on the state of women in the Church

by José Manuel Vidal (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
October 23, 2011

She is a doctor, a theologian, and a cloistered nun. However, Teresa Forcades, the Benedictine from the convent of St. Benet in Montserrat, is known all over the world. A YouTube video against the multinationals and the swine flu hoax catapulted her into fame. We interviewed her in Madrid on October 7th, taking advantage of the presentation of her book, La teología feminista en la historia ("Feminist Theology in History" -- Fragmenta). Sister Teresa states that women's situation of exclusion in the Church is "a scandal" and that "no Pope has dared to ban women priests ex cathedra." But she also acknowledges that it has been in the Church and in her convent that she has felt most respected as a woman.

Why does a cloistered nun like yourself write a book on "feminist theology in history"?

The book was proposed by the publishing house Fragmenta. They proposed it because they knew that I had trained with theologian Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. I met her in Barcelona in 1992, before the Olympics. I was going to study in the United States, to specialize in internal medicine. She had come from Harvard and gave a lecture. A lecture in which the communication broke down because the interpreter, who knew English well, knew nothing about theology. I got up to help with the translation from English to Catalan and the problem was solved. Elizabeth was delighted and invited me to visit her at Harvard. In the end, it was she who came to Buffalo, in northern New York state, where my hospital was, to give another lecture.

And you had to get up again as a spontaneous interpreter?

I went to her lecture, which there was no need to translate, and we met again. And, as a result, I started to translate one of her books into Catalan, her book about feminist Biblical hermeneutics. I liked the book very much and translated it to delve deeper into its contents. When I finished the translation, I went to interview Schüssler Fiorenza a couple of times, to share my doubts and reflections with her. Seeing how I had received, understood and processed her book, she encouraged me to study theology and wrote me a letter of recommendation to study at Harvard.

A life journey the publishing house knew about.

Exactly. What's more, I had given some lectures on feminist theology in Barcelona. And when the publishing house launched this series of brief, introductory books that could serve as university texts to introduce the theological discipline, they asked me to write the book and I agreed with pleasure.

As a feminist theologian, is the current situation of women in the Church painful to you particularly?

The situation of women in the Church has a complex history that includes both discrimination and promotion. The discrimination hurts anyone who is for justice and who understands that the gospel involves human growth at all levels. In the gospel, one also learns the reality that when a person tries to live out Jesus' message, he or she is usually marginalized. In that sense, the situation of women testifies to the fact that there are truths whose place will always be on the margins until the end times.

That is to say, you are prepared to go along on the margins or on the frontier and without aspiring to the altar.

The dynamic of the gospel margins is, in my opinion, the promotion of justice at all levels but knowing realistically that, whenever one manages a step forward, a process is generated whereby whoever doesn't want to stay in one place will continue to find reasons to go on walking towards the margins. Hence my theological defense of the margins.

And the ban on women's presence at the altar?

The conclusion of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which was asked by Paul VI to study the issue, was that there is no Biblical reason whatsoever to deprive women of access to ordained ministry. That was in 1976. In 1974, the first women's ordinations in the Episcopal Church had taken place. Paul VI saw it coming that similar demands would be made in the Catholic Church so he asked the Pontifical Commission to study the issue.

What does the Pontifical Commission document say specifically?

It states that in the Scriptures there is nothing against it. After learning the conclusions of the Commission, Paul VI published a motu proprio in which he said that he didn't think women should be ordained in the Catholic Church.

And later on came John Paul II's attempt to close the subject definitively.

Yes, but no Pope has dared to proclaim this ban ex cathedra.

Is this flagrant discrimination against women in the Church a scandal?

Yes. For those who want to go deeper into this issue, I recommend Professor Gary Macy's book, The Hidden History of Women's Ordination.

How does this situation exist at a time, too, in which civil society is moving towards parity?

I don't like the pattern that has been set putting civil society in the vanguard and the Church in the rear on something in which it should be a pioneer. I think the situation between men and women and the way of viewing feminine and masculine in contemporary Western society is far from being satisfactory. What I'm most interested in discussing theologically are the critical theories of Lacan and some of the modern post-structuralists. Because, at the moment and acknowledging that there may be others who have had a different experience, where I have felt most respected as a woman has been in the Church and, specifically, in my convent. Compared to other environments, such as the hospital or the university, I stick with the monastery, by far, as a space of freedom and respect. In my relationship with the monks of Montserrat for example, I have found much richer possibilities for interaction than those I have generally experienced or observed between men and women who are colleagues at the hospital or university.

Then the Church isn't as anti-women as they say.

Look, we have to start to talk about this issue truthfully because, otherwise, it would seem like we have, on the one hand, a liberated society -- an oasis or mecca for women -- and, on the other hand, the Church that is an institution of oppression and disaster. My experience speaks to the contrary. Because, if it were such, perhaps I wouldn't be where I am.

Do you mean to say that there's a huge space of freedom within the Church in spite of everything?

There always has been. What happens is that you also have to denounce that, within the leadership ranks of the Church, women are totally unrepresented. And that is the scandal we were talking about.

Freedom for women in the Church-people of God and lack of representation in its hierarchy.

We have to change this notion of Church that looks upwards first. To talk about the Church, we have to first look down. And down there we find founders and initiatives that have no corollary in the civil world. At least up until now. We'll see what happens in the 21st century.

Some of the more conservative Web sites point fingers at you and accuse you of all sorts of heresies. Are you scared?

I remember St. Francis' "perfect joy" and I think it's essential for a Christian to know that when everybody is applauding you, you're going the wrong way. Unleashing the anger of certain sectors is not in itself a guarantee that you're right, but it's a bit better than when everyone is applauding you.

Is the hierarchical Spanish Church too closed in on itself and does it exert too much control over its ranks?

It's clear that, since Vatican II, there has been a turning inwards. And, one can note that in the Spanish Church fear exists and there's a lack of freedom to speak in different voices, which is what usually happens when people speak from their experience. That uniformity of expression is very troubling.

Is there a lack of diversity in the Spanish Church? Or, to put it another way, are the Spanish bishops able to accept that there are different church models or sensibilities and that all are valid?

Many bishops are able. The problem is that it's not just a matter of accepting that, but living it out. The bishops have the right and duty to exercise their pastoral responsibility according to their own consciences; they can't just substitute the criterion that comes from above for their own criterion. In that sense, the bishop doesn't only accept diversity, he becomes a generator of the latter and lives it.

You're a Benedictine nun. Does religious life have a future or has its time come to an end? What do you think?

I think it's very good. Religious life has changed throughout history and it will only have a future if it keeps on doing so. Change is inherent in religious life and only the branches that don't change tend to disappear. Maybe we Benedictines will come to an end, but those community spaces of people who see that their lives aren't fulfilled by living as a couple but in relationship with a community will always exist. Because they are also people who bear witness that this is the model for all in the eschatological world.

Religious life as anticipation of the heavenly life.

This is Christian anthropology. The life of the couple is the sacrament of God's own love but temporarily so. Community life is eschatologically so because God calls us to be people who understand that the relationship with all of humanity, with all who are created in God's image, is a relationship of absolute love, a relationship of giving and receiving like that of the Trinity. The Christian utopia proposes this life of trinitarian communion.

But that can also be experienced in marriage -- being open to all and loving all.

Obviously, but marriage is until death do us part. And that's why Jesus said: "You don't understand." Because, in Heaven, people don't marry.

Was your 2009 video denouncing the famous swine flu scheme so successful because it showed the superficiality of the great factual powers of information in a globalized world?

We have to be clear in the criticism that the growing inequality between rich and poor over the last 50 years is the greatest disaster in modern society. It is a much bigger scandal than the injustices to women in the Church that we talked about earlier, although there isn't much sense in comparing injustices, because each one is an absolute in itself. There is much to be criticized in modern society but not as a slogan. Because while it's true that this superficiality exists, it's also true that it's coexisting with people who really believe that one shouldn't wait for the solution to problems to come from above.

There's also a lot of good in current society.

Exactly. Today there are many people who are taking the reins of their lives into their own hands. It's true that we are going through a neoliberal stage that, at the structural level, can be compared to other stages in history in which there was a growing unease among the people.

What do you think of this growing outrage that's spreading everywhere, including in the Arab world?

I'm very worried about what's happening right now in Libya and Syria. And what could happen in Iran. Especially from the perspective of the great political lies. They did it twice, but it seems we weren't chastened. It happened in Iraq and later we regretted it. I think the same thing has happened with Gadhafi. They lie to justify a military intervention. Why don't we intervene in Saudi Arabia to liberate women?.. and yes, we did in Afghanistan.

Would you like the Pope to go to Somalia as a prophetic gesture to stop or mitigate the deaths of so many people and so many innocent children?

This might be another of those slogans from which I would like to stand apart. Perhaps now, when everybody's looking at Somalia, I might like the Pope to go somewhere else. Because disasters proliferate. For example, what's happening in Sudan?

Are the media fooling us?

I have the impression, which was confirmed in the case of swine flu, that another of the major current scandals in the lack of freedom in the world of information. There's more journalistic freedom in Periodista Digital or Vida Nueva than in El País or La Vanguardia.

Let's go back to where we started: life is better in the Church.

I wouldn't like to bite my tongue when it's time to criticize what can be criticized in the Church, but let no one ask me to say that there's greater freedom in civil society than in the Church, because it isn't true. Which doesn't mean that the Church has nothing to learn from non-ecclesial society. It always has.

Did you participate in, or see World Youth Day? What do you think of these kinds of events?

I didn't see much of it. The three youngest sisters in the convent went and they came back very content. The macro-Church event is perhaps a sign of the times. I attended one of those macro events in Venezuela for the 90th anniversary of the death of Monseñor Romero and it seemed extraordinary to me. The same thing happened to the people who went to see the Pope. These big church events are perhaps a sign of the times in the 21st century. What's important is the kind of message they send and how they use those spaces.

And how were they used during WYD?

I think there was a preponderance of conservative expressions and messages towards the young people along us-them (Church-society) lines, but there were also spaces where one could share the faith with a more open viewpoint.

Do you have hope for the future of society and the Church? Are you a hopeful woman?


For example, will we see a change in the Church in the short term?

More than in the short term, today. I like to look at reality the way Jesus asked us to. A look that sees that the fields are golden or mature and that there is just a need for harvesters. That outlook that sees, as St. Paul says, that the world is pregnant with God. And even already giving birth, and in places where nobody anticipated it. That's what gives hope.