Saturday, September 15, 2012

Can the Church be saved?

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)

This question has been asked by one of the most renowned and prolific theologians in the area of Catholicism, the German Swiss Hans Küng in a recent book that bears the same title, Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? ("Can the Church still be saved?" - 2012). He enthusiastically promoted the renewal of the Church together with his colleague at the University of Tübingen, Joseph Ratzinger. He has written a vast work on the Church, ecumenism, religion and other relevant topics. Because of his book questioning papal infallibility, he was severely punished by the ex-Inquisition. He didn't leave the Church, but devoted himself as few have to its reform through books, open letters and appeals to bishops and to the Christian community to open themselves up to dialogue with the modern world and the new global situation of humanity. People, sons and daughters of our time, cannot be evangelized by being presented a model of Church, made a bastion of conservatism and authoritarianism and feeling itself a fortress besieged by modernity, which is held responsible for all kinds of relativism. Incidentally, the fierce criticism directed by the current pope against relativism is made from its polar opposite, an invincible absolutism. This is the tone that has been imposed by the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI: a "no" to reform and a return to tradition and great discipline, orchestrated by the church hierarchy.

The current book, Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? (2012), expresses an almost desperate cry for transformation and at the same time, a generous expression of hope that it is possible and necessary, if we don't want to go into an unfortunate institutional collapse.

Let it be clear, to begin with, that when Küng and I myself talk about the Church, we mean the community of those who feel committed to the figure and cause of Jesus, whose focus is on unconditional love, the central place of the poor and the invisible, the brotherhood of all human beings and the revelation that we are sons and daughters of God, it being Jesus himself who let us glimpse that he was the Son of God himself who took on our contradictory humanity. This is the original and true meaning of Church. But historically the word "Church" has been appropriated by the hierarchy (from the Pope to the priests); it identifies itself as Church in one word and presents itself as the Church.

Well then, what's in deep crisis is this second concept of Church, which Küng calls "the Roman system", that is, "the insitutional-hierarchical Church" or "the absolute monarchical command structure". whose headquarters is in the Vatican and centered on the figure of the Pope and the bureaucracy that surrounds him -- the Roman curia. This crisis has lasted for centuries and there has been clamor for change throughout the history of the Church, culminating in the Reformation in the 16th century and the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) today. In structural terms, structural reforms were always superficial or postponed or simply aborted.

Lately, however, the crisis has taken on a special gravity. The institutional Church (the Pope, cardinals, bishops and priests, I repeat, not the great community of the faithful) has been stricken in its heart, in what was its great pretension -- being the "moral guide and teacher" for all humanity. Some already known facts have jeopardized this claim and have led to the discrediting of the institutional Church, which has caused a great emigration of the faithful: the financial scandals involving the Vatican Bank (Istituto per le Opere di Religione – IOR), which became a sort of off-shore money laundering outfit; the secret documents stolen, who knows, maybe even from the Pope's desk, by his own secretary and sold to the newspapers, revealing the power intrigues among the cardinals; and especially the issue of pedophile priests, thousands of cases in various countries, involving priests, bishops and even Hans Hermann Groer, the Cardinal of Vienna. The instruction given by then Cardinal Ratzinger to all the world's bishops to cover up, under pontifical seal, the sexual abuse of minors to prevent pedophile priests being reported to civil authorities, was extremely serious. Finally the pope had to acknowledge the criminal nature of pedophilia and accept its prosecution by the civil courts.

Küng shows, with irrefutable historical scholarship, the steps taken by the popes to go from successors of Peter to vicars of Christ and God's representatives on earth. The titles that canon 331 gives the Pope are of such magnitude that, in fact, they are only fit for God. An absolute papal monarchy with a golden crozier doesn't match the wooden crook of the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep with love and strengthens them in faith, as the Master asks (Lk 22:32).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Other Economy: Agenda Latinoamericana 2013

The 2013 Agenda Latinoamericana (Latin American Agenda) is now out. Here is Dom Pedro Casaldaliga's introduction to it, as translated by Richard Renshaw (in Spanish and Portuguese here). Click here for the English-Spanish digital edition. Older editions of the Agenda Latinoamericana in multiple languages can be found on the Agenda Latinoamericana website. You can also search the archives of the Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan editions of the Agenda Latinoamericana by year and author at Servicios Koinonia.

In the 2012 Agenda we asked what sort of humanity we can and want to be, what sort of life we can and want to live out, what way of living together we hope for. The 2013 Agenda is located on the battlefield of the economy where the decision is made about the willingness and the possibility of living and living together as humanity with real human dignity. Emmanuel Mounier reminded us that everything is political, even though politics is not everything. Long before and also afterwards, ideologies and powers have reduced everything to the economy. Churchill used to say that "at the origin of every question there is a pound sterling." The Agenda takes up the question of the Other Economy. This is not at all a new topic but one that fits in well with the utopian struggle of so much of humanity through movements and revolutions that have different names but that are always searching for justice and struggling against hunger and slavery, against all the political regimes that have denied land and bread to the immense majority of a single humanity.

We speak of the Other Economy. It really is other: radically alternative and not simply a matter of "economic reforms." The God of Life frees us from cheap reformisms. The Other Economy cannot be merely economic. It has to be integral, ecological, and intercultural, at the service of Living Well and Living Well Together, in the construction of a human fullness. It has to be an economy that dismantles the current economic structure, which is exclusively at the service of the total market and without loyalty to any country, an economy that destroys people and commits genocide on entire peoples. We dream of a systemic change that attends to the necessities and aspirations of the entire human family united in the common home, the Oikos. "Oiko-nomia" is "the administration of the household" that has fraternity/sisterhood as its law.

This other economy can only happen when it is based on a human and humanizing consciousness that denies the scandalous inequality that structures current society. It is an economy for everything and for all peoples, in a communion of struggles and hopes in the way that the campesino had dreams for his nine sons: "more or less for everyone." We are dreaming at the level of family or neighbourhood, of the city or the entire country, of the continent or the entire world. We are always thinking of the poor and excluded, building on the land of the People, based on their sweat, their cry, their song, the blood spilled for so many crowds of witnesses/martyrs.

Viewing the great crisis, the journal, "Iglesia Viva," wrote in its 248th edition: "The only way of getting beyond this crisis and avoiding others that would be even more serious is to overcome inequality in all its manifestations." The reports of the PNUD remind us that the richest 20% of the world population use 80% of the world's wealth and that the poorest 20% have to be content with 1.6%. According to Noam Chomsky 230 families possess 80% of the world's wealth. As long as these statistics of monstrous inequality continue, there will be no peace or justice in the world. The Other Economy has to be one of the socialization of major goods that are the patrimony of all humanity: the earth, water, housing, health, education, work, communication, transportation. The economy of the speculative, financial market rules the world and everything is submitted in this way to a macro-dictatorship of the neoliberal, capitalist economy. Instead of a social policy, the total market and its speculative, globalized financial economy have been imposed. The civilization that rules today is the capitalist structuration of egotism, of arrogance, exclusion and hunger, of premature death for minor reasons.

Ellacuria, the martyr theologian, fought for "the civilization of poverty." I translate that as the "civilization of shared simplicity." If we continue to make profit at any cost the objective of the economy, hunger, misery, violence and predatory behaviour will continue growing. Neoliberal capitalist growth can only be defeated by a "harmonious and world-wide "de-growth." "Living Well and Living Well Together" demands and makes it possible for humanity to really grow by becoming more human at all levels. "Humanize humanity" is the slogan: Ecologically, pluri-culturally, with equality and diversity in the Common House, the Oikos.

In light of religious faith, above all, that other economy will be a real spirituality of compassion in solidarity with all those who have fallen by the wayside, of prophetic indignation in face of all the idols of falsehood and death, of a living together in love with all beings. It supposes an authentic conversion to the Mystery of Life, to the God of that Mystery, to the Oikos that we live in together.

You might say that it is utopian and it is. It is a legitimate utopia if it is lived each day by constructing it through love and hope. A utopian-economy has to advance by inventing itself through daily practice. It will demand that we take a profoundly other look at the notion and practice of private property, which is held as sacred and unlimited. Religions, specifically the Church, have served to justify the enthronement of private property, which is deprivation and dispossession. Yet, in the early years of the Church those venerable theologian/bishops said categorically that "what is superfluous is not yours." The theologian Comblin would say that by accumulating among a few and excluding the majority, private property is waging a war to the death between oppressors and the oppressed. Or, as Cervantes would say: between those who have and those who do not.

In biblical-theological language we have the key to speak of the Other Economy, one that is truly other, the Reign, the economy of the Reign. It is the obsession of Jesus of Nazareth: a total revolution of the personal and social structures. It is a necessary Utopia, one that is "obligatory," because it is proposed by the very God of Life, the Father-Mother of the whole human family.

Taking Jesus seriously

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
September 10, 2012

Mark 8: 27-35

The Caesarea Philippi episode is central in the Gospel of Mark. After they had lived with him for a time, Jesus asks his disciples a decisive question, "Who do you say that I am?". On behalf of all, Peter answers without hesitating, "You are the Messiah." Finally, it seems like everything is clear. Jesus is the Messiah sent by God and the disciples are following him to collaborate with him.

Jesus knows that's not how it is. They haven't yet learned something very important. It's easy to confess Jesus in words, but they still don't know what it means to follow him closely, sharing his plan and his fate. Mark says that Jesus "began to teach them." It isn't just another teaching, but something fundamental that the disciples will have to assimilate little by little.

From the start he speaks to them "completely openly". He doesn't want to hide anything from them. They have to know that suffering will always accompany him in his task of opening the way to the Kingdom of God. In the end, he will be condemned by the religious leaders and die through violent execution. Only when he resurrects, will it be seen that God is with him.

Peter rebels against what he's hearing. His reaction is incredible. He takes Jesus aside with him to "rebuke him." He had been the first to confess him as the Messiah. Now he's the first to reject him. He wants to make Jesus understand that what he's saying is absurd. He isn't willing for him to follow this path. Jesus has to change this way of thinking.

Jesus reacts with unknown harshness. Suddenly he sees in Peter the features of Satan, the tempter in the desert who seeks to separate people from the will of God. He turns to face the disciples and literally rebukes Peter with these words: "Get thee behind me, Satan!" -- go back to your place as a disciple. Stop tempting me. "You are thinking as men do, not as God does."

Then he calls the people and his disciples to listen well to his words. He will repeat them on several occasions. They are never to forget them. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."

Following Jesus isn't an obligation. It's a free decision for each one. But we have to take Jesus seriously. Facile confessions aren't enough. If we want to follow him in his exciting endeavour of building a more humane, worthy, and joyful world, we have to be willing to do two things.

First, renounce projects and plans that are contrary to the Kingdom of God. Second, accept the suffering that may come to us for following Jesus and identifying with his cause.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The future of the Church is in the hands of the laity: An interview with Dom Tomás Balduíno

by Ermanno Allegri (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Adital (Español / Portugues)

Dom Tomás Balduíno, bishop emeritus of Goiás and permanent adviser to the Comissão Pastoral da Terra ("Pastoral Land Commission" -- CPT), is in Fortaleza, Ceará, where he is participating in the symposium on "The 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the 40th anniversary of liberation theology -- what is the Spirit saying to the churches?" The event ends tomorrow and is being organized by the Movimento por uma Formação Cristã Libertadora.

In this interview with Adital, Dom Tomás talks about the changes in the Church generated by Vatican II, emphasizes the important role played by lay people, and puts the Latin American scene in context.

The Second Vatican Council was the moment when Sacred Scripture was the central focus. It again became the central concern of the Church and, above all, started to get into the hands of the people, into the hands of Christians, of the laity. Did this cause any change in the Church?

It caused many changes. I'm talking about the case of Latin America, where people were already seeking contact with the Bible, with the word of God in the communities, above all, which were considered at a disadvantage relative to the believers who struggled quite well with the Bible. So, among us, we had the great opportunity with Carlos Mesters, with his group -- with the CEBI -- to read the Bible popularly. That was simple as pie and the Bible spread widely among us.

The Church as the People of God also emerged, if not in contradiction, almost as a new value of the Council. The Church on the hierarchical side didn't support this change. How do you view this issue, thinking, above all, of the future with so many theologians who are almost removed from it?

The question of the People of God became a proposal directed within the Church, one that messes with the structure. That's why there was more reaction from the Curia. They didn't expect that scheme that would put the People of God ahead of the hierarchical Church. And that, then, with the 1985 Synod already programmed by John Paul II, went bankrupt, it was over, it was suppressed. That means, theoretically, it was then suppressed by the Curia. In fact, it's our strength; it's the strength of our ministry in Latin America. It's the People of God with all the consequences of participation, contribution, presence, and contradiction.

About the Latin American situation, we can say today that there are clear signs of specific initiatives that indicate not only a future, but show continuity. Having seen the past, thinking of these signs and looking at the future, how do you assess the experience of those sectors of the Church?

Before talking about those signs, which are luminous signs, I want to show the strategy used especially by Pope John Paul II of encompassing the whole Church structure. He took charge of everything from seminary formation to the naming of bishops, passing though canon law and the repression of liberation theology too. He also took collegiality, as the appointment of bishops was done according to the Roman system, so collegiality disappeared and church provinces reappeared. It was a strategy that lasts heavily up to today in the whole Diocese, in the whole worldwide Church.

There are clear and specific signs of life from Vatican II that continue, living out that charism in Latin America. First the fruits of Medellin which are the social organizations of peasants, indigenous people and women that exist today. We are experiencing the desired consequences planned by Medellin in the sense of the communities, their agents who are subjects, authors, and recipients of their own journey.

This is happening more in some countries than in others. I am thinking, for example, of Ecuador and Bolivia as countries where this is very blatant. Then, within the Church itself, the strengthening of the BCCs, the meetings of the BCCs is a call. The people come. It's a minority group but very representative and significant in all of Brazil.

Also the social ministries, how they've grown, how they've gotten stronger now in communion or interchange with the various popular social organizations. Then, the congresses, the organizations of theology leaders, the campaigns show that the seed wasn't destroyed, the seed is producing fruit. It's very interesting. I think it's interrelated worldwide with the various attempts to break the monolithic structure of the Church.

What's missing today for lay people to be more autonomous, for them to make their own decisions? This Theological Symposium we're having should be multiplied in the sense of giving lay people the means to feel more secure in their stands and to take more initiative. What's needed for them to act?

For 20 years or more I've been thinking about this and trying to move forward. The first thing is that the future is in the hands of the laity of the Church, not the hierarchy. The banana tree that has already given its cluster, doesn't produce more. It has its role, but the Church's strength is the laity. And the Council raised it a little timidly, but the way to overcome these dependencies, these thousands of dependencies on the parish or the bishop -- a path to create autonomy -- is the school of theology, the Bible school.

It's true that we have autonomous ministries. We have an autonomous ministry that is the Pastoral Land Commission, which I consider to be a lay structure. It has a bishop in the leadership because the CNBB ("Brazilian Bishops Conference") demanded it, but what counts here is the presence of the laity. And when the latter are trained, when they have a theological base and know how to see the future, they not only serve as advocates for the people or group, but they also serve as a pathway of service to the world, a necessary service because it's not just the hierarchy or the missionaries who are going to do something but the laity, and even more effectively, with leaven in the dough.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Revolution in the Ranks: The Quiet Warriors

The Catholic Church has come out swinging against the rights of gay people to get married even in civil ceremonies let alone in religious weddings. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, even drilled home the issue non-too-subtly in his two prayers at the Republican and Democratic conventions. Both parties were reminded that "happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature's God" and the cardinal asked God to "empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making", adding for the Democrats' benefit,"...or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community."

The message isn't taking root with some of those in the ranks. One priest in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, has been reprimanded by his superior, Archbishop Henry Mansell, for taking part as a lector in the same-sex Lutheran marriage of his cousin in New York. Fr. Michael DeVito, pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Suffield, was not vested but did wear his Roman collar. His participation last month in the marriage of his cousin Richard Termine, a freelance photographer, and Roger Danforth, would have remained anonymous but for a write-up in the New York Times.

The Archdiocese issued a statement saying that, "Archbishop Mansell informed Father DeVito that his participation in this ceremony was understandably perceived by many Catholics as an implicit endorsement of same-sex marriage, which is contrary to Church teaching. As a consequence, and in accordance with canon law, the Archbishop formally rebuked Father DeVito and informed him that the rebuke would be a permanent part of his record. Fr. DeVito said that he would not participate in any way in same-sex marriages in the future."

Meanwhile in Minnesota, which is facing a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would ban same-sex marriage, one priest is helping to fund the opposition. While the Diocese of Duluth has given $50,000 to support the "Marriage Amendment", one priest in the diocese, Fr. Peter Lambert, pastor of St. Louis parish in Floodwood, has given $1,000 of his own money to Minnesotans United for Families, the primary group opposing the amendment. A spokesperson for the diocese indicated that Fr. Lambert did not expect his contribution to be made public and declined to say what actions if any might be taken against the priest. Stay tuned...

Message of the XXXII Congreso de Teología

The following is the message from the XXXII Congreso de Teología of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII which met in Madrid last week. The theme of this year's conference was Christianity, the market and social movements.

Para leer el mensaje en español pulsar aquí.

September 6-9, 2012, we Christians from various denominational traditions and every continent met in Madrid to reflect on Christianity, the market and social movements, to exchange experiences and seek alternatives. We want to share the following message:

Market-centrism is the supreme institution of neoliberalism that turns human beings into commodities and subordinate parts of the system, identifies justice with legal compliance, dictated by the market, and reduces human rights to property rights. The market generates death situations for millions of human beings and nature.

We view with concern and are outraged by the consequences of the crisis caused by the financial powers that unfairly punishes the most vulnerable sectors of society worldwide, and especially in some European countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, where there has been a dramatic increase in poverty in a society with sufficient resources to meet the needs of the population.

Amid this situation, we positively value the gestures of solidarity from some members of the clergy and the church hierarchy, but we express our discontent and indignation at the silence of the Spanish Bishops' Conference, which has been so loquacious at other times and on other issues. Society views this silence as a scandal and complicity with those who have caused the crisis. We deem it insensitivity to injustice, a departure from the liberating message of the Gospel, and lack of compassion for the victims. We believe that such an attitude is due to the institutional church's comfortable seat in a privileged position, which contrasts with the cutbacks in all areas.

We ourselves, the participants in this Congress, are not exempt from contradictions and inconsistencies between our alternative way of thinking and our accommodative way of life, our critical attitude and our conformist practice, criticism of consumption and our consumerism, option for the poor and our lack of testimony of poverty.

The response to the crisis requires a new paradigm that translates into structural transformations, revolution in subjectivity and conscience, habits of life and personal relationships, under the guidance and priority of ethical values present in all the religious, moral, and spiritual traditions, albeit often breached. Among them are worth highlighting: human dignity in the face of the inhuman treatment that millions of human beings receive, respect for life against violence in its various forms, global justice, truth, righteousness, and gender equality.

We acknowledge the importance of the social movements, which are necessary mediations to transform reality. They are an alternative to neoliberal single thinking and globalization. They restore values that seem endangered, and rebel against a reality characterized by exploitation, domination, and the tendency to reduce reason to mere calculation.

The Congress has recognized the special significance of feminism as a theory of emancipation and the non-clonic equality between men and women, a practice of international sisterhood and support for the demands of women which are often relegated in the name of "higher general interests," including within the social movements themselves.

We can't settle in historical pessimism and fatalism. There are alternatives. This is why we support and make our own the following initiatives to get out of the crisis: the creation of a constituent assembly, civil disobedience, ethical banking, the Tobin tax, job sharing, universal social services, recognition of the citizenship of all residents of our territory, mutual aid pacts without subordination, food sovereignty, change in the production models, etc...

As Christians, we commit ourselves to:

Recovering the legacy of Jesus, which is characterized by the option for the excluded and marginalized, compassion as a principle of action, and affirmation of the authority of those who suffer.

Following the spirit and practice of Jesus, which is humanizing the world beginning with the last, fighting against the neglect of the victims, and putting ourselves on their side.

Affirming the incompatibility of God and Money and fighting against the Money Empire.

Practicing active nonviolent resistance to the system.

Actively participating in the social movements, old and new, and especially in the various Social Forums that work for "Another Possible World", and the movement of the Outraged Ones, within which stands Jesus, Outraged by the religious authorities, patriarchy, and political and economic powers of his time.

Madrid, September 9, 2012