Friday, November 30, 2012

Fr. Helmut Schüller to Rome: "This is not a tragedy to me"

The founder and leader of the Austrian priests' reform group Pfarrer-Intiative, which last year issued a Call to Disobedience, has been lightly disciplined by Rome. Fr. Helmut Schüller was instructed in a conversation with his superior, Vienna Cardinal Archbishop Christoph Schönborn, that he will no longer be able to use the title "Chaplain of His Holiness" or the honorific "Monsignor". A spokesman for the Vatican, Ciro Benedettini, called the Church's response understandable, given Schüller's dissidence. He indicated that the titles could be restored, were the situation to change.

Fr. Schüller responded with equanimity to the latest event. "Das ist für mich kein drama," the priest said. Whatever. "This is not a tragedy to me."

This response is also understandable, given the ongoing support for the movement. The November 2012 statistics from the Pfarrer-Initiative website show 506 priests and deacons (up from 463 in February) and 2908 lay people (up from 2097) supporting the Priests' Initiative. And a glance at the average age of the ordained clergy who are supporters of the Initiative -- 57 as opposed to 66 for the average Austrian priest -- gives a hint as to why Fr. Schüller continues to be a priest in good standing, only getting a mere slap on the wrist for his actions. The movement also recently received tacit support from the bishop emeritus of Innsbruck, Msgr. Reinhold Stecher, who decried the recent moves towards parish consolidation in his country, increasing the ratio of faithful to clergy to a level he feels is incompatible with providing adequate pastoral care. The bishop called it "equivalent to the suicide of the sacramental Church." So history and the future of the Austrian Church are on Fr. Schüller's side...and Rome knows it.

In a recent interview with Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, Fr. Schüller talked about his movement's plans for the future which include a 2013 international gathering of all priests' reform groups, perhaps in Germany. In addition to Austria, there are reform groups in Ireland, Germany, France, Australia, and the United States. Fr. Schüller said that "2013 will certainly be the year of internationalization" of the movement and that a meeting would demonstrate the "interconnectedness" of the groups and issues, showing that it's more than "just a few Austrian priests." He also said that the Pfarrer-Initiative plans to reach out more to Catholic lay people, "the Church citizens". "We invite you to think things through with us," the priest said.

The sense of seeing the Earth from beyond 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)

The last centuries were characterized by countless discoveries: continents, native peoples, living species, galaxies, stars, the subatomic world, the original energies and finally the Higgs field, a kind of subtle fluid that permeates the universe; the virtual particles get mass and are stabilized when they touch it. But we had not yet discovered the Earth as a planet, as our Common Home. It was necessary for us to leave the Earth to see it from outside and then discover it and observe the unity between Earth and humanity.

This is the great legacy of the astronauts who had the chance to contemplate the Earth from space for the first time. They produced in us what has been called the Overview Effect, that is, "the effect of the view from above." Frank White collected beautiful testimonies from the astronauts in his book The Overview Effect (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1987). Reading them produces a strong impact and a great feeling of reverence in us, a true spiritual experience. Let's read some.

Astronaut James Irwin said, "The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That living object, so beautiful and so warm, seems fragile and delicate; contemplating it changes the one who does, since you begin to appreciate God's creation and discover God's love." Another, Eugene Cernan, confessed, "I was the last man to walk on the moon in December, 1972. I stood in the blue darkness and looked in awe at Earth from the lunar surface. What I saw was almost too beautiful to grasp. There was too much logic, too much purpose to be the result of a cosmic accident. One felt, inside, forced to praise God. God must exist because He created that which I had the privilege to contemplate. Reverence and thanksgiving arise spontaneously; that's what the universe is for."

With fine intuition, Joseph P. Allen, another astronaut, observed, "With all the arguments, pro and con, for going to the Moon, no one suggested that we should do it to look at the Earth. But that may in fact be the most important reason."

Going through this unique experience, man awakens to the realization that he and Earth form a unit and that this unit is part of a larger one, the solar one, and the latter of another still greater one, the galaxy. It brings us back to the whole universe, the entire universe to the Mystery, and the Mystery to the Creator.

"From up there," astronaut Eugene Cernan observed, "you don't see the barriers of color, religion and politics that divide this world." Everything is unified into a single planet Earth. Astronaut Salman al-Saud commented, "the first day, we all pointed to our countries. The third and fourth days, we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth."

These testimonies convince us that Earth and humanity are in fact an indivisible whole. This is precisely what Isaac Asimov wrote in an article in The New York Times of October 9, 1982 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, which was the first to circumnavigate the Earth. The title was: "Sputnik's Legacy: Globalism". And Asimov said, "Forced into our unwilling minds has been a view that presents Earth and humanity as a single entity." The Russian Anatoly Berezovoy who was in space for 211 days said the same thing. Indeed we can not put Earth on one side and humanity on the other. We form an organic and living whole. We humans are the part of Earth that feels, thinks, loves, cares and worships.

On contemplating the present earthly globe in almost all places, the perception erupts spontaneously in us that despite all the threats of destruction we mount against Gaia, a good and beneficial future is somehow guaranteed. So much beauty and splendor can not be destroyed. The Christians would say: Earth is penetrated by the Spirit and the Cosmic Christ. Part of our humanity has already been immortalized by Jesus and is at the heart of the Trinity. God will not be completing His work on the ruins of the Earth. The Risen Lord and his Spirit are pushing evolution towards its culmination.

A modern legend embodies this belief: "There once was a Christian militant from Greenpeace who was visited in a dream by the risen Christ. Jesus invited him to walk in the garden. The militant enthusiastically agreed. After walking for a long time, admiring the biodiversity in that corner, the activist said, 'Lord, when you were walking along the roads of Palestine, you once said that one day you would come back in all your splendor and glory. Your coming is long overdue! When are you really going to come at last, Lord?' After a few moments of silence that seemed an eternity, the Lord replied, 'My dear brother, when my presence in the universe and in nature is as obvious as the light that illuminates this garden, when my presence under your skin and in your heart is as real as my presence here now, when my presence becomes flesh and blood in you to the point you do not need to think about it any more, when you are so imbued by this truth that you no longer need to question insistently as you are questioning now ... then, dear brother, these will be the signs that I've come back in all my splendor and all my glory.'"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Outrage and hope

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
November 28, 2012

Luke 21:25-28,34-36

An indestructible conviction has sustained the faith of Jesus' followers from the beginning: spurred on by God, human history is heading towards its final liberation. The unbearable contradictions of human beings and the horrors that have been committed in every era must not destroy our hope.

This world that sustains us isn't final. Some day the whole of creation will give "signs" that it has reached its end, to give way to a new liberated life that none of us can imagine or understand.

The gospels contain the memory of one of Jesus' reflections about this end time. Paradoxically, his attention isn't focused on "cosmic events" that might happen at that time. His main objective is to lucidly offer his followers a lifestyle in the face of this future.

The end of history isn't chaos, the destruction of life, total death. Slowly, in the midst of light and darkness, by listening to the calling of our hearts or ignoring the best that is within us, we are going towards the ultimate mystery of reality that we believers call "God".

We are not to live caught in fear and anxiety. The "last day" is not a day of anger and vengeance, but of liberation. Luke sums up Jesus' thinking with these admirable words: "Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” Only then will we really know how much God loves the world.

We must revive our confidence, lift our spirits and awaken hope. Some day the financial powers will sink. The folly of the powerful will end. The victims of so many wars, crimes and genocides will know life. Our efforts for a more humane world will not be forever in vain.

Jesus struggles to shake the consciences of his followers. "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy." Don't live like fools. Don't let yourselves be carried away by frivolity and excess. Keep indignation alive. "Always be awake." Don't relax. Live with clarity and responsibility. Never tire. Always keep the tension.

How are we experiencing these times that are hard for almost everybody, anguishing for many, and cruel for those who are drowning in helplessness? Are we awake? Are we living in slumber? From the Christian communities we must foment outrage and hope. And there's only one way: being together with those who are being left with nothing, drowning in despair, rage, and humiliation.

Masters in Latin American Theology - UCA

Universidad Centroamericana "José Simeón Cañas" in El Salvador is offering a Masters degree in Latin American Theology. Registration for this five semester program that includes a written thesis, begins December 1st and continues through February 28, 2013. The program will be conducted in Spanish and a list of the registration requirements, cost, and other logistical information (foreigners must get a student visa) is available on the university website. Prospective students whose undergraduate degree is NOT in theology will be required to take a year of remedial coursework in that subject before being accepted into the Masters program.

The website also offers a list of courses and the faculty who will be teaching them, including some well-known names in liberation theology.

According to the university, the goals of this degree program are:

  • Exposing graduate students to the rich heritage of Latin American theologians
  • Analyzing the current social and ecclesial situation theologically
  • Contributing to research on the history of the various indigenous religions
  • Making possible the development of theological knowledge that is proper to Latin America
  • Forming professionals who are characterized by honesty about reality and a will to seek and tell the truth, leadership in promoting fraternity, peace, justice and solidarity, a commitment to the poorest and most marginalized members of society and to evaluating ecological questions.

Because many readers of this blog are interested in Latin American theology, we have decided to help UCA publicize its offering in this space.

"Women of a Lesser God": Rochester City Paper interviews Roy Bourgeois about his dismissal from Maryknoll and women's ordination

"In a recent telephone interview from his home in Columbus, Georgia, Bourgeois said the Catholic Church is in crisis. The Vatican's stance on women's ordination is discrimination, he said, and its recent crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is "arrogant." The Vatican was critical of the LCWR for not being more outspoken against issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

Bourgeois said the Catholic Church needs to change to remain relevant. He's saddened that more Catholics are not speaking out on behalf of women who are called to the priesthood, but he said he's confident change will come eventually.

The following is an edited version of the discussion with Bourgeois...."

This excellent interview with Fr. Roy can be read in full here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Torture as a mind-body split

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)

With the operation of the Memory and Truth Commission, torture as a systematic means of the military dictatorial state to combat its opponents comes to light in all its barbarity. These processes of dehumanization of the tortured and the torturer have already been studied in detail. It's necessary for them to repress their own humanity to practice their inhuman act. Naturally, many torturers ended up committing suicide because they couldn't endure so much evil.

I, however, want to emphasize a point that isn't always present in the discussion, one which has been well analyzed by psychoanalysts, especially in post Nazi Germany, and among us by Hélio Peregrino, now deceased.

The worst of torture policy is that it forces the tortured one to fight against himself. Torture splits a person in half. It sets the mind against the body.

The mind wants to be faithful to the cause of the companions, not to deliver them up in any way. The body, under extreme intimidation and humiliation, to be free from torture, tends to speak and so do the will of the torturer. This is the split.

But a point of note: the tortured person when he's a prisoner of panic and dread might be a victim of unconscious mechanisms of identification with the aggressor. By identifying with him, he's able to psychologically exorcise the panic for a moment and thus survive.

The tortured one who has succumbed to this desperate self-defense contingency sinisterly incorporates the figure of the torturer. The latter is able to open a breach in the soul of the tortured one, managing to penetrate that last bit of intimacy, where the most sacred secrets reside and where the person feeds its mystery. Therefore he passes the final threshold of human depth to possess the victim and make him into someone else -- someone who ends up acknowledging that he is indeed subversive, an enemy of the country and the human race, a traitor to religion, one cursed by God and excommunicated from the Church, someone who is from the devil. Torturers Albernaz and Fleury were experts in this perversity. Fleury said directly to Frei Tito, as can be seen in Ratton's terrifying film "Batismo de Sangue" ["Blood Baptism"], based on Frei Betto's book by the same name, that he would leave marks on him that he would never forget. Indeed, he was able to to split his mind and body and penetrate his deepest intimacy to the point that, in exile in France, he felt the presence of his executioner at all times. He left a note before taking his own life: "I prefer taking my life to dying."

This kind of torture is particularly evil because it makes dehumanization the axis of a systematic practice of certain agents of the State. If the anti-Christ category still means anything, it must be in this infernal framework. This is the complete subversion of what is human and its sacred references. It is surely one of the greatest crimes of inhumanity that may exist.

Such evils cannot fall under any amnesty. Torturers bear the stigma of Cain in their souls and minds. Wherever they go, life itself will accuse them because they violated its supreme sacredness.

And there is still the torture of the disappeared, which crucifies their loved ones. For example, there was a guerrilla war in the Araguaia River region not fully recognized by the military to this day. All excesses were commmitted there: they cut off the heads and fingers of the dead guerrillas and sent them to Brasilia for identification. They made their bodies disappear. They made lives disappear and now they're attempting to wipe out the dead. And the families are living a nightmare that never ends. Every bell that rings in the house acts like wind blowing on the ashes and rekindles the embers of hope, followed by bitter disappointment: Could it be him, coming home? Others say, "we aren't moving from this house because he could still come back...and what would become of him if we weren't here for the hug, the kiss and the tears?"

The torturers and their bosses are here, now threatened by the Levante Popular da Juventude ("Popular Youth Uprising") movement that doesn't let their consciences alone. As a theologian who was persecuted but not tortured, I want to scream in their ear the cry of Jesus Christ: "Your generation will be charged with the blood of all the prophets, of the persecuted and tortured, of their blood poured out since the beginning of the world. Yes, I assure you that you will be held accountable for this blood."(Lk 11:50-51).

There may be an amnesty agreed upon by men. But there will be no amnesty before conscience and before the One who presented Himself in the guise of a prisoner, tortured and executed on the cross, Jesus of Nazareth, when as the Supreme Judge he will especially judge those who violated minimum humanity. The day will come, the supreme day, when all the disappeared will appear. They will come, as Revelation says, out of the great tribulation of history. Yes, they will return with the Living One. And then there will be no more waiting or agitation in the hearts. The Living One, also tortured one day, will make all distance void, he will wipe away all tears and inaugurate the Kingdom of the sacrificed and disappeared, now living, liberated and found. Then this will be definitely true: "No more dictatorships. No more disappeared. No more torture."