Friday, December 21, 2012

Satisfaction of basic needs

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)

Human beings are, by nature, beings of many needs. A great effort is required to meet them in order to live, not miserably, but a quality life. Behind every need, a fear and a desire are hidden: the desire to satisfy it in the most satisfying way possible and the fear of not getting it and then suffering. Whoever has something is afraid of losing it; whoever doesn't have anything, wants to have it. This is the dialectic of existence.

Teachers of the most varied traditions of humanity and the human sciences agree more or less on the following basic needs:

We have biological needs -- in a word, we need to eat, drink, clothe ourselves and be safe. We spend much of the time attending to such needs. The great majority of mankind satisfies them precariously, either for lack of work or because solidarity and compassion are scarce. The first petition of the Our Father is for daily bread, because hunger can not wait.

But we don't ask God to perform miracles every day and thus avoid producing bread. We ask that the climate and soil fertility be favorable and that there be cooperation in the production and distribution of food. Only then do we exorcise fear and attend to our basic want.

In addition, we need safety -- we can get sick and succumb to dangers that take away our life. They may come from nature, storms, lightening, prolonged droughts, landslides, from all kinds of accidents. They may come mainly from man himself, who has within him not only the life instinct but also the death instinct; he may lose self control and eliminate the other. All this makes us afraid. And we hope to get around it. The fact of having lived in caves and later in houses shows our search for safety.

The reality is that we never control all the factors. We can always be innocent victims or the ones to blame. And then we cry out to God, not to get us off the edge of the abyss, but to give us courage to avoid it and survive.

Thirdly, we have a need to belong -- we are social beings. We belong to a family, an ethnic group, to a certain place, a country, the planet Earth. What makes suffering painful is loneliness, not being able to count on a friendly shoulder and a welcoming hand. Because we are fruits of the caring of our mothers who carried us in their arms, we want to die holding the hand of someone near or someone who loves us.

In the depths of the existential abyss, we cry out for mother or for God. And we know He hears us because He is sensitive to the voice of His sons and daughters and feels the beating of our fearful hearts. To be reduced to solitude is to be condemned to existential hell and the absence of any communion. Therefore it's important to satisfy the sense of belonging. Otherwise we feel like abandoned dogs wandering through the world.

Fourth, we need self-esteem. Existing is not enough. We need our existence to be welcomed, that someone with their words and actions tell us "welcome into our midst, you count for us." Rejection makes us experience death, even while alive. So we need to be recognized as individuals, with our differences and peculiarities. Otherwise, we're like plants without nutrients that wither away until they die. How significant it is when someone calls us by our name and embraces us! It gives us back our denied humanity and we can go forward with hope and fearlessly.

Finally, we need self-fulfillment. This is the great longing and challenge of man: to fulfill himself and become human. What is human in the human being? We don't exactly know because even the inhuman belongs to the human. We are a mystery to ourselves. It's not that we don't know anything about what is human. On the contrary, the more we know, the more the size of what we don't know expands. We long for the stars from whence we came.

But we know enough to discover ourselves as creatures of openness -- to the other, the world and the All. We are beings of unlimited desire. However much we seek an object to quench our desire, we can't find it among the beings around us. We want the Essential Being and we only run into accidental entities. How, then, are we going to be able to fulfill ourselves if we perceive ourselves as an infinite project?

In this quest, it makes sense to speak of God as the Essential Being and the obscure object of our infinite desire. Only He satisfies the characteristics of the Infinite, suited to our infinite project. Self-realization, therefore, involves engaging ourselves with God. To engage with God is to awaken the spirituality within us, that ability to feel a powerful and loving Energy that goes through all reality. It's being able to see in the wave, the sea, and in the drop of water, the vastness of the Amazon. Spirituality is feeling hunger and thirst for a final refuge, a feeling safe in the arms of someone you trust where, in the end, all our needs will be met, where all fears die and where we will be able to rest.

As long as we don't develop this Center within us, we will always feel we are in the prehistory of ourselves, whole but unfinished beings and ultimately, frustrated.

When we enter into communion with the Essential Being through silent, unconditional surrender, through prayer and meditation, we open an incomparable and irreplaceable spring of energy. The effect is pure joy, the lightness of life, the blessing that is possible for pilgrims.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

God, saints, and Zetas: The PlayBoy interview with Fr. Alejandro Solalinde

by Arturo Flores (English translation by Rebel Girl)
PlayBoy Mexico
December 10, 2012

"The Lord can even make a Zeta a saint", Father Solalinde, the flamboyant recipient of the Premio Nacional de Derechos Humanos 2012, told

A recognized promoter of the rights of migrants, Alejandro Solalinde received this honor from President Enrique Peña Nieto and ombudsman Raul Plascencia. Leader of the Hermanos del Camino shelter, where he welcomes Central American travelers who are in transit through Mexico, this character has had to leave the country because of this task and his inflammatory statements. Death threats from organized crime are hanging over his head.

But inside the philanthropist, there is a man who remorselessly acknowledges that he has not been celibate. That he was with a woman, an experience he characterizes as a miracle that helped humanize him. In the end, he's not afraid, and while he goes through life under guard, he recognizes that when they want to kill him, they will. But even with that, he won't stop being a rebel priest.

Father, either you have a very hectic life or your colleagues are very comfortable in their parishes.

Wow! Maybe it's both. I'm not the only one, but my life is very hectic because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. It distresses me that there's so much need.

Where does this concern to make faith more of a field than a desk job come from?

I've been a rebel my whole priestly life. To date I haven't followed the conventional path. I've made my own way. I went to seminary, then I went into the novitiate with the Carmelites, but because of being as I was, for viewing freedom as I view it, they chased me away! I didn't fit in. The Carmelites are excellent, but I didn't fit in a fixed system. So I entered a more open system, a diocesan Institute, but I didn't like it either. So, with other seminarians, I chose to do a separate experiment. I went to live in a neighborhood in colonia Portales and I began to have a real closeness to the working people, to the lower middle class. The problem came when they ordained me. Academically, I was taking classes at the Instituto Superior de Estudios Eclesiásticos del Cardenal Miguel Darío Miranda, but while the others went to their communities, to their secure lives, I set out to risk life in the street, with the lay people, the common people (laughs). But I wondered, "and how are they going to ordain me? What bishop is going to recommend me?" And a miracle happened. A Superior general came along who promoted my ordination from Rome. That day there was rock-and-roll, mariachis, I danced until I was tired and my jaws ached from so much happiness. God endorsed my path and I'm not putting myself up as a paradigm for others to follow -- not at all -- because otherwise I'm making myself into dogma and life isn't dogma. Life is fresh and always being built; there's no reason to adjust oneself to others' brackets. I rebelled against that. I didn't want a comfortable life because since I was a boy, I always had a poor life with my family. Once I was ordained, they took me to live at La Herradura for free. You're kidding! How was I gonna stand life with just rich folks?

And how did the rich folks take you?

That's where the problems started, because every Sunday Doña Chole Ávila Camacho (the widow of the former president) went to Mass and since you have to apply the Gospel, I applied it to her case. It was the parable of the rich man Epulon and poor Lazarus. I said, "Doña Chole is like the rich man Epulon and poor Lazarus is Palosolo," very poor colonia that was on the other side. They ran me out of the church too and sent me to San Isidro, a very poor area. That is, God knows how to get it done. My greatest rebellion was getting off the track and seeking my own path, my way of being church. And I'm very happy; I feel like I won the lottery, being among the people. Rather than judging anyone, because Jesus didn't come to judge anybody, it's about accepting people as they are. Later, when I was in the Toluca Diocese, I refused to live in a church and got a little apartment where I would receive people.

A priest who refuses to live in a church?

Yes, because of the structures and stereotypes. It wasn't useful for reaching the new generations.

Father, many of the things you say jump out at me...a priest who says that life isn't dogma?

No, life arises. I'll tell you something marvelous. I believe a lot in our human condition, I'm delighted to be human and fallible, defective, I'm delighted to have errors, to be limited, to be wrong. In those years I learned something; I was 32. Let's see, I talk to God like I'm talking to you. I deal with all the issues, even those of a sexual nature, with God. I have no inhibitions. I used to say to Him. "I've been ordained 4 years now and I've never had a relationship with a woman. I don't know what that is. I'm celibate out of obligation, because if I weren't, they wouldn't have ordained me, am I going to understand a couple or women, if I don't know anything about this?" And the miracle happened, without looking for it! Among the young women I was working with, it ...happened. I found it and it was marvellous; I discovered an incredible dimension that made me feel more human, more like a man. And far from feeling guilty -- not at all -- I didn't even confess it. I gave thanks to God and walked around like a boy with a new toy, because I discovered women as they are and I found myself as a man. I struggled over whether to continue my path or leave the priesthood and get married. She was very much in love, but I just liked her. So my vocation was stronger. I chose to be with the people, with the poor, and to be a priest. Now I'm celibate. Now (laughs).

Doesn't telling me that you were with a woman cause you problems?

No, because when they ordained me I was celibate. I did everything they asked, although I was repressed. I was faithful to God, but later I could become more human. It's impossible for one, as a priest, to try to guide young people, who talk so much about sex, while being in the dark. Nor am I saying that all seminarians should go through this like I did, but it worked for me. Now I'm a normal person. When I see a woman who attracts my attention, I tell God about it and that experience taught me to value women, not just see them as sex objects. I admire them a lot. Women are the most beautiful expression of the face of God.

Aren't you afraid your superiors will find out about this?

You have to understand that celibacy isn't a dogma of faith, but just a discipline,. Sex isn't bad, nor is getting married or having a relationship with a woman. Jesus was celibate, free, but he was a sexual being. He never rejected having a relationship with a woman from his nature as a man. He saw everything more naturally. On the other hand, the church is still very closed on the question of sex. Jesus chose a married man from among his disciples to go live in his house. And to top it off, he chose a married man, Peter, as the first leader of the Catholic Church, and he knew his wife. He never said you had to be celibate to follow him. The Catholic Church began to impose that when the sons of priests, popes, and bishops started to demand their inheritance rights. It hurt them administratively! Moreover, the time is coming soon when the Church will view celibacy as something optional.

They say one can get used to everything except not eating. Have you gotten used to the death threats?

Yes, I've now gotten used to them. They're secondary. I'm not afraid because I trust in Jesus. He says, in John 8:29 I think, "He who sent Me is with Me". Be it known that I am not "the One sent", but I am one who has been sent and the One who sent me is with me. Yesterday I went to the Interior Ministry and they said, hands on hips, "since you aren't going to change or stop making statements, we will have to implement security measures of the magnitude of your attitude." (laughs) Like that. And no, I'm not going to change. I feel very happy serving the truth. I don't care about the damn money, nor do I believe in power or fame.

Have you also gotten used to bringing along bodyguards like guardian angels?

It's like bringing eyeglasses. To be honest, the day the bad guys want to break me, they'll do it without hesitation. And if they haven't done it, it's because they haven't wanted to. I understand that my personal security agents carry big weapons and have undergone special training, but the day they really want to kill me, even 20 agents would be useless. That's why I take them as a measure of respect and obedience to the international community which tells me "you aren't the Messiah, but be careful because we need you." But I'm not afraid that they'll dispatch me. I don't believe in death; it's just a step from one dimension to another. This life is beautiful and I enjoy it, but the one to come is better. Although I don't want to be a martyr either, that would be a great gig!

What is your first memory associated with a migrant?

When I was in the Holy Trinity parish in Juchitán (Guerrero). Four very young migrants came and said to me, "Look, Father, they just robbed us." I took them in my little car to where they had been assaulted. I found out it had been law enforcement officers and I confronted them. That's how this life began. "What you stole from them, you have to give back to them", I demanded. Of course, they didn't do it but I made accusations to their superiors.

And how was the shelter born?

It started on February 26, 2007, when I had been giving out food along the railway tracks for a year. It wasn't enough because what the migrants need most is security. One day I was giving out food on one side of the train and on the other, they began to assault them. I went to that side and on the one where I had been, it was the same -- assaults. It was a joke. So a place was needed where they could be so they wouldn't be walking around like sheep without a shepherd. I feel honored to serve them, but human blindness outrages me. I don't divide the world into good guys and bad guys because we're all, as they say in Oaxaca, interspersed. It saddens me that the institutions have done nothing to train up human beings. I charge the PRI, which was in power for so many years and didn't do anything to train people; I charge the PAN because in spite of being so Catholic, they didn't make Mexico more humane; I charge all the parties that have become corrupt, but I also charge the Catholic Church, with all that it's an institution with moral authority, it wasn't able to train people, because don't tell me that the law enforcement officers and soldiers who have deserted the army to get into crime aren't Catholic! Don't tell me that the financial capital people, starting with Carlos Slim, aren't Catholic! How can they do what they're doing, being Catholic? Because they were tricked; they were told that faith is religion. That's not true. Faith is following Jesus. But they do what they do, go to Mass and calmly receive their blessing from a bishop and even give him their little bit of alms.

It was for statements like that they had to get you out of Mexico. How were those days abroad?

Hard, because I missed the shelter, but I don't waste time. I'm a missionary 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In Europe, I rejected going about like a tourist. I risk my neck and for that I deserve a vacation? No! I took advantage of the spaces that the international peace brigades gave me and I had parliaments, chambers of deputies and senators listening to me, 90% full. I asked what they do with migrants over there. As I said yesterday to two European diplomats I was eating with, "You're exemplary on human rights for regular people, but I reprove you on human rights for migrants." Mexico is a country that pretends -- it signs international treaties and says it respects human rights, but the truth is that it tramples them.

As a critic of the Church, what do you think of Marcial Maciel?

He was a poor addicted man, sick, a criminal, but also a victim of a system that, once again, hasn't been concerned with forming people. He was the victim of a system in collusion with money. How is it possible that they didn't see Maciel's hidden life? Of course they knew, but they didn't say anything because he brought in lots of money. They had to save the f---ing capital rather than saving people. How horrible! If I were high up in the Church hierarchy, I wouldn't have an administrative soul, so I would save people. Sometimes God writes straight with crooked lines. I would ask the ones who remained in charge of his institute, "How do you feel?". Well f--- it, they would say, our founder wasn't a saint, now how are we going to free ourselves from the stigma? I would propose forming a new institute, one which they would initiate. But no, what did they do? They sent two cardinals from Rome to put a bandaid on a gaping wound and save the name and the product. This happens in Mexico -- human beings don't have priority when it comes to investments. So we have the dying countryside, the indigenous people who are neglected, those who have been rejected by the universities, the slackers.

But we'll have a new presidential plane!

Yes. Those are the great contradictions. We don't understand our drama. We give ourselves luxuries as if we were in the First World.

Do you agree with the separation of Church and State?

I'm delighted; that's how it should be. In the Middle Ages, the Church usurped money to become a power. But thanks be to God, the French revolution, the Renaissance and Mister Benito Juárez, the Church is in its place now. The Church doesn't have to be a power body. Let's hope the Vatican will stop being a State and become just the Holy See.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bishops Casaldaliga and Balduino honored by Brazilian government

El Periódico/EFE
December 18, 2012

On Tuesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff honored Catalonia-born bishop Pedro Casaldaliga and 16 other people for their work in defense of human rights.

Casaldaliga could not receive the award in person since he is in hiding in an unknown location under the protection of the federal police due to a surge in the threats he has been receiving for years for his work on behalf of the indigenous people.

Rousseff stated that Brazil "learned to admire" Casaldaliga and Bishop Tomás Balduíno, who was also honored for his support for the indigenous, and she said that she is proud to be a "contemporary" of both men. The president stated that the Brazilian government will devote "all available means and police and civilian forces" to ensure the safety and protection of those who work "to defend the excluded."

The Brazilian president asserted that the defense of human rights is "very important" to her and her generation, because "they have personally felt the abuse of power and truculence of the state."

The bishop, who is 84 and suffering from Parkinson's, left the town of Sao Félix do Araguaia, in a jungle area in the state of Mato Grosso, a week ago due to threats.

The Consejo Indigenista Misionero (CIMI), an organization with ties to the Brazilian bishops, reported that the threats had doubled in recent weeks, apparently due to an imminent court decision, that seemingly will find in favor of the Xavante people in a land dispute.

The Xavante have counted for over two decades on the support and solidarity of Casaldaliga, who came in 1968 to this remote corner of the state of Mato Grosso, where he stayed to live with the dispossessed.

Photos: Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga (top); Bishop Tomas Balduino (bottom)

Women believers

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
December 19, 2012

Luke 1:39-45

After receiving the call from God announcing that she will be the mother of the Messiah, Mary sets off alone. A new life is beginning for her, at the srvice of her Son Jesus. She walks "hastily", decisively. She feels the need to share her joy with her cousin Elizabeth and be at her service as soon as possible in her last months of pregnancy.

The meeting of the two mothers is an unusual scene. The men aren't present. Just two simple women, with no title or importance in the Jewish religion. Mary, who carries Jesus with her everywhere, and Elizabeth who, full of prophetic spirit, dares to bless her cousin without being priest.

Mary enters Zechariah's house, but she doesn't address him. She goes directly to greet Elizabeth. We know nothing of the content of her greeting. Only that that greeting fills the house with overflowing joy. It's the joy Mary has been experiencing since she heard the Angel's greeting: "Rejoice, favored one."

Elizabeth cannot contain her surprise and happiness. When she hears Mary's greeting, she feels the movements of the infant within her and interprets them maternally as "jumping for joy." Then she blesses Mary, crying in a loud voice, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb."

She never calls Mary by her name. She sees her as completely identified with her mission: She is the mother of her Lord. She sees her as a faithful woman in whom God's designs will be fulfilled: "Blessed are you who believed."

What most surprises her is Mary's action. She hasn't come to show off her worthiness as mother of the Messiah. She isn't there to be served but to serve. Elizabeth doesn't cease to be astonished. "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

There are a lot of women who don't live in peace within the Church. In some of them, disaffection and malaise are growing. They suffer on seeing that, despite being the first collaborators in many areas, they are barely relied on to think, make decisions and promote the progress of the Church. This situation is hurting us all.

The weight of a centuries-old history, controlled and dominated men, keeps us from becoming aware of the impoverishment that doing without a more effective presence of women means for the Church.

We don't listen to them, but God can raise up women believers, filled with the prophetic spirit, who spread joy to us and give the Church a more human face. They will be a blessing. They will teach us to follow Jesus with more passion and faithfulness.

Monday, December 17, 2012

To not perish, conviviality is necessary

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)

Conviviality, as a concept, was introduced by Ivan Illich (1926-2002), one of the great prophetic thinkers of the 20th century, who lived in Petrópolis a while. Born in Vienna, he worked with Latinos in the United States and later in Mexico. He became famous for challenging the paradigm of medicine and conventional school. Through conviviality he attempted to respond to two crises -- that of the industrialist process and the ecological one.

With the industrialist process, the mastery of man over tools has become the mastery of tools over man. Designed to replace the slave, technological tools have ended up enslaving human beings by focusing on production and mass consumption. They have given rise to a society full of appliances, but without a soul. Current industrial production is not combined with the dreams and creativity of workers. It doesn't love them. It just wants to use their labor, whether muscular or intellectual. When creativity is encouraged, it's with a view to the overall quality of the product to benefit the company even more and the workers even less.

However, many employers have become aware of this distortion and have realized the degree of dehumanization of industrial society. They have started to put on the company's agenda social and environmental responsibility, the importance of subjectivity and spirituality, cooperative relations between all -- employers and employees -- rather than pure competition and accumulation.

What is meant by conviviality? Conviviality (the word does not appear in the famous Brazilian Portuguese dictionary "Aurelio") means the ability to make live together the dimensions of production and caring, compassion and effectiveness, product modeling and creativity, freedom and fantasy, multidimensional equilibrium and social complexity -- all to strengthen the sense of universal belonging as opposed to selfishness.

The technical value of material production must go side by side with the ethical value of social and spiritual production. After having built the economy of material goods it's important to urgently develop the economy of human goods. Isn't the big capital, infinite and inexhaustible, perchance, the human being, spiritual capital?

Human values of love, tenderness, caring, commensality and veneration might impose limits on the voraciousness of domination-power and exploitation-production-accumulation.

Conviviality also seeks to be an appropriate response to the ecological crisis, caused by the manufacturing process of the last four centuries. The process of depredation of natural goods and services can cause dramatic devastation of the Earth system and all organizations which manage it, a real planetary crush.

This scenario is not unlikely. It happened before, with the collapse of stock market on Wall Street in 1929. At that time it was only a partial crisis of the capitalist system and didn't affect the physical limits of the planet. Now the crisis is of the global system.

Surely in a context of widespread breakdown the first reaction of the ruling system will be to increase planetary control and use massive violence to ensure the maintenance of the existing economic, financial and military order. Such a measure, rather than alleviating the crisis, will aggravate it because of growth in technological unemployment and the ineffectiveness of fiscal adjustments. It's what we are witnessing in the crisis in the countries that are the core of the system.

Some have hypothesized a catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions. But this would not be fatal. It's important to leave open the possibility of a convivial use of technological tools to serve the preservation of life, the good life of mankind and the protection of our civilization.

That new stage will possibly experience a terrible Good Friday that will precipitate into the abyss the dictatorship of the work-material-production way of being to make way for a Sunday resurrection: the reconstruction of a world society on the basis of caring and real sustainability.

The first paragraph of the new social contract between the people will be the sacred principle of self-restraint and just measure, and then the essential caring for all that exists and lives, gentleness with human beings and reverence towards Mother Earth.

Then human beings will have learned to use technological tools as means and not ends, they will have learned to live together with all things, knowing to treat them with reverence and respect. Would that not be the real opening of the new millennium?

"Less Pope, More Jesus": Patricia Fresen's Address to Call To Action, November 2012

This is the full text of Patricia Fresen's remarks to CTA, courtesy of Roman Catholic Women Priests, which posted it on their Facebook page. Dr. Fresen is a theologian and a bishop with the RCWP movement. Ahora, yo quiero hacer una llamada a l@s herman@s de habla español. Espero que alguién se animará a traducir esta bella charla y compartirla en las redes teológicas como son Atrio o Adital o Redes Cristianas o Amerindia. Gracias de antemano. - RG

Let us imagine the scene in St. Peter's on 8 September 1964. It is the opening of the third session of Vatican II, and there is a new pope, Paul VI, on his throne in the front. Imagine the bishops and cardinals and monsignori filing in, in all their red and purple regalia and taking their seats, over 3000 of them. Among them there are 30 men in business suits, so-called laymen - and a small group of women. (Some accounts say fifteen, others twenty-three.) Yes, women! The religious women are dressed in long black habits and veils; the others are laywomen, like Dorothy Day, Barbara Ward and Patricia Crowley of Chicago, who was on the commission on birth control. It had been Cardinal Suenens who, at the end of the second session of the council, had had the courage to get up and say: "Why are we even discussing the reality of the church when half of the church is not represented here?" His explosive words aroused strong opposition, especially among the Italian bishops, we are told, but the Dominican Yves Congar and the South African bishop, Denis Hurley, were strong supporters of having women present. The women were invited to the Council as auditors and were told that their presence was "symbolical". These women were ready for the Council. They were well-read, had traveled widely and all of them were either presidents of international organisations of heads of their Religious Congregations. They have been called the "mothers of Vatican II". In contrast to the more liberal bishops and most of the laymen, some of the Italian bishops never acknowledged the women's presence and never spoke to any of them. Some of the bishops even covered their eyes! And there was strict apartheid between the men and the women: the women were even allocated their own coffee-shop and dining-room! The women at the Council, in the book by Carmel McEnroy, were later described as "guests in their own house".

During the plenary sessions of the Council, these "mothers" were not allowed to speak, but Father Bernard Häring, nicknamed "Häring the daring" insisted that the women be invited to the sub-commissions, the groups who wrote the drafts of the Council documents. Here the women made some very significant contributions and interventions and had particular influence on Gaudium et Spes, the Decree on the Laity and on the Commission on Birth Control. A Spanish woman, Luz Marie, who was on the subcommission of Gaudium et Spes, played a notable part in changing the attitude of many bishops. The majority of bishops, we are told, viewed sex as a result of concupiscence and sin, not as an act of love. Luz Marie herself had fourteen children, all born in love, she said and she addressed the bishops in the subcommission: "I tell you, when your mothers conceived you, it was also an act of love". When her Spanish words were translated, the bishops who were present first looked wide-eyed and then turned red – and then they laughed. One of them responded: We never thought of that: you have spoken the truth."

It was because of the presence of the women in this subcommission that there is the statement in § 29, that "every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, colour, social condition, language or religion is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent." The same imperative is found in Lumen Gentium § 32, establishing the equality and dignity of all human beings, based on Galatians 3, 28, that we know so well: "Hence there is in Christ no inequality … there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

It is remarkable to read what Gladys Parentelli, who was 32 years old at the time, wrote about her experience of the Council. It sums up a great deal of what we are now, fifty years later, demanding and working for. Gladys wrote: "I hoped that Vatican II would orientate itself towards an opening to the world, that the church would open itself to the signs of the times, that it would go along with the more active and progressive Christians, that it would give a greater participation to the laity in all the structures of the church, that women would be considered members with full rights in the church, that the hierarchy would be less authoritarian, that the church would have an organizational charter that was more democratic and less hierarchical. On the contrary, however, the current Roman Curia is the most authoritarian, dogmatic, inhuman and hard-hearted that the church has had in this century."

One of the women at the Council was Sr Mary Luke Tobin. She was a Loretto Sister who was at the time president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Women, later called LCWR. (The present leaders of LCWR are following wonderfully in Luke Tobin's footsteps!) I was privileged to meet St Mary Luke shortly before she died and was very impressed by her and was deeply heartened by her support of us women in RCWP.

Some of the theologians at the Council acknowledged how the presence of the women had changed their understanding of the role of women in the church. Among these were Karl Rahner, Gregory Baum and Abbot Butler from England.

Although they were so few, the women were a formidable presence at the Council. The greatest legacy they left us was a much greater awareness of the deep-seated patriarchy that had taken root in the church over many generations This new consciousness, among women as well as men, led to the emergence of a new branch of inductive academic theology: Feminist Theology. Mary Daly's book, The Church and the Second Sex was released in 1967, soon after the Council. Since then many feminist theologians have emerged and greatly altered the image and understanding, not only of women and of men, but indeed of God. Among the best of the feminist theologians is Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, who reminds us that feminist theology is not only for women but for everyone: it is a gender-inclusive way of understanding the church and society as a whole. (Her talk at Conference in Frankfurt, Oct. 2012).

Developments in the last fifty years

In this year as we celebrate fifty years since Vatican II, we look back on the last half-century and realize that we, as church, are in a very different place than we were fifty years ago. A prophetic church is emerging, a church in which the people speak truth to power, a church in which the people are resisting the backward pull which Benedict XVI calls restorationism. Schillebeeckx, the great Dutch Dominican theologian, believed that the present pope and the previous one have been in schism (Fox, 2011 p 227) by ignoring the rulings of Vatican II and taking the church backwards. A General Council is, after all, the highest authority in the church.

Very clearly, the emphasis now is on "less pope, more Jesus". I got this expression from Hans Küng, whose latest book: Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? (Can the church still be saved?) published in 2011, is a profound analysis of what is wrong in the church and what can be done about it. In that book Küng wrote that the church is seriously, possibly terminally ill and the malady of the church, he says, goes far beyond the recent sex abuse scandals. At the heart of the problem, says Küng, are:

- the church's resistance to reform,
- its secrecy,
- its lack of transparency, and
- its misogyny.

This year, however, Küng's prognosis is much less hopeful. He is now becoming even more drastic in his criticism of church authority and is calling for a "revolution from below to unseat the pope and force reform at the Vatican… The people and the priests need to confront the Catholic hierarchy, which", says, Küng, "is corrupt, lacking in credibility and apathetic to the real concerns of the church's members … The Vatican makes a point of crushing any form of clerical dissent. The rules for choosing bishops are so rigid that as soon as candidates emerge who, say, stand up for the pill or for the ordination of women, they are struck off the list. The result is a church of yes-men who unquestioningly toe the line". (Article from The Guardian, 5 Oct 2012).

It is a clear sign of the times that we can no longer simply talk about "the church" as a unit. We constantly need to distinguish, these days, between the institutional, hierarchical church, on the one hand, and the church of the people (i.e. the baptized) on the other, because the two are moving in opposite directions.

The well-known woman dissident from Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, has said: It is not power that corrupts; it is the fear of losing power. Power is never handed over – it is "unseated" (to use Küng's word) by a revolution from below.

Three weeks ago I was at a Congress of liberal Catholic groups in Frankfurt, very similar to this one. The theme of that conference was: Signs of the Times: Hope and Resistance and there was plenty of both in evidence. For me, the most important thing that Hans Küng said in his keynote presentation was this: the main need today is to return to the Gospel, to the way Jesus lived and taught us. (Less pope, more Jesus!) What the people in the church want is to live the inclusivity and compassion of Jesus and to move away from the clericalism, the excommunications, the silencing, the suspensions, the banning from communion and the condemnation of books such as those by Elizabeth Johnson and Margaret Farley. (However, The Search for the Living God and Just Love are practically sold out! Just as Bishop William Morris of Australia now has more invitations to speak all over the country than he ever had before he was suspended by Benedict XVI for suggesting that the matter of women's ordination should be considered.) Of course, we have been forbidden, since Ordinatio Sacerdotalis even to discuss the topic of women's ordination. Bishop Morris should have known better! Isn't it incredible that a pope could actually forbid us to discuss something! Freedom of speech is a basic human right.

Resistance is coming from every side, often in the least expected places.

"The parish church of Amras, Austria, near Innsbruck in Tyrol, was chock-a-block full for the First Communion Mass on April 22nd. Shortly before Communion, the parish priest announced that only Catholics who were in a state of grace should come forward to communion. Catholics who are divorced and remarried and those who do not attend mass every week were not worthy to receive the Eucharist, he said. When communion time came, not a single adult came forward. The entire congregation demonstratively remained seated. Only the children received communion." (

The situation described here is symbolic of the resistance taking place in the church today. We need only think of the outcry there has been about the sex-abuse scandals and their cover-up: the intrigues reported in Vatileaks and the financial revelations in Moneyval, available on the internet. The press has been full of the protests everywhere in the United States against the Vatican inquisition of LCWR, the demands for Nunjustice and the widespread support for Sr Simone Campbell's Network and the Nuns on the Bus. There is the growing support for Fr Roy Bourgeois and indeed for all of us Roman Catholic Women Priests - and the number of people joining the communities served by our women priests is growing steadily. And there is the resistance to the recent translation of the liturgy, which is another throwback to an outdated theology. The people are being guided by their own consciences - the sensus fidelium is becoming ever stronger and we no longer internalize the hierarchical, patriarchal oppression that has characterized the institutional church for centuries.

The hierarchical church needs to move from power over to power with. Diarmuid O'Murchu has coined the phrase: "The Companionship of Empowerment". This is his phrase for the "kingdom of God", the "reign of God". Jesus was a deconstructionist, says O'Murchu (p.10): he set out to name, unmask and dethrone all structures of patriarchal power. And we in our time are called to do the same: deconstruct the patriarchal power structures that oppress us all and to bring the vision of Jesus back to the church. This is prophetic witness. Walter Brueggemann describes prophetic witness as follows: The primary task of prophetic ministry is to criticize in order to energize. (O'Murchu, p.6.)

Robert Blair Kaiser, in a recent edition of NCR, puts it well: "Rather than whine over what Daddy won't let us do" he says, " we can put the Council into play ourselves… Vatican II has given us a new view of ourselves. It has made us more free, more human and more at the service of a world that Jesus loved. It has given us a new view of the church. It's our church, not the pope's church or the bishops' church, or a priests' church". (Robert Blair Kaiser: Vatican II has already made us free, NCR Aug. 7th, 2012 )

It is a great sign of hope that the priests no longer allow themselves to be intimidated into silent abjection. They are changing and are discovering that together they are strong - and they are finding enthusiastic support from the people. It started in Austria, as you know, where more than 500 priests under the leadership of Fr Helmut Schüller, have issued their Call to Disobedience. The same is happening in Switzerland, in Ireland, in many parts of Germany, in Belgium and now also in parts of the USA. Hundreds of so-called "dissident" priests are standing together to take a stand against hierarchical oppression and for a different kind of church. Their demands include allowing divorced and remarried people to receive communion, allowing lay people to lead services in the church and the ordination of women. These demands have been flatly refused by the Vatican but neither the priests nor their supporters are backing down.

What was clear to me at the Frankfurt Conference and is equally clear at this one, is that while we need to retrieve much of Vatican II that was very valuable and important, we have already moved far beyond Vatican II in some important ways. Let me highlight four of them:

  1. We have a much broader understanding of Church as the "People of God".

    At Vatican II this was a huge paradigm shift when the official church declared that the church is not the hierarchy. This had been the ecclesiology of Vatican I and earlier. No, the church is the people - and in Lumen Gentium the chapter on ‘The People of God' was placed before the chapter on the hierarchy. The new realization, however, is twofold:

    a) What we are experiencing is the end of the male, clericalist, hierarchical system in our church. We are building a democratic church that respects the human rights of women and men, including freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.

    b) We are not the only "people of God" and it is offensive to people of other Christian churches and other religions, such as the Protestants, the Jewish people and the Muslims, to claim this for ourselves exclusively, for they too are the ‘people of God'. We do not accept Benedict XVI's public statements which have been so hurtful to, and so antagonized the mainline Protestant churches, the Jewish people and the Muslims.

  2. A new understanding of priesthood as well as new forms of priestly ministry: Since the major problem in our church is clericalism and hierarchy, what we desperately need is a new theology of priesthood and new forms of priestly ministry. Both of these need to fit into the emerging picture of who we are as church. One of the most insidious teachings about priestly ordination - and I know it is taught in the seminaries - is that there is a so-called "ontological change" that comes about when the Sacrament of Order is conferred. This, so they say, makes the ordained person superior to those who are merely baptized and gives them the right to stand in persona Christi, so that they henceforth represent Christ in a way that no-one else can. It also gives them automatic admission to the "Old Boys' Club" so that, now that they rank among the clerics, they have authority over the rest of us. (Of course, let me hasten to add, this ontological change takes place only in the men, since, I've been told, ordination does not "take" in a woman!)

    This dreadful teaching is behind the whole clericalist, hierarchical system and it must go. I need to add that the good male priests I know, and there are many whom we all know and deeply respect, would have no truck with any such arrant nonsense. They are humble people who want to serve, not to be served.

    New forms of priestly ministry are emerging. Bishop Fritz Lobinger of South Africa proposes ordaining the community's natural leaders. Most of these are married people with families and jobs, which they would keep after ordination, so the person who works in the post office, the bus driver or the local school teacher could be priests in the community. This would radically change the image of a priest.. Lobinger also proposes having different kinds of priests: those with full theological training and those with less, and there could be full-time and part-time priests. He also suggests that these community priests would be ordained for a specific community only. (p.167) It sounds refreshingly normal.

  3. Women: their place in the church: Both in society and in the church, we have come a long way in this regard in the past fifty years. Anthony Padovano describes the situation in society well: "The role of women has been so radically altered that language has changed to recognize inclusivity and nations freely elect female leaders. Women are ordained in Christian churches and in Jewish congregations. The universities, the professions, the military and corporations admit women and are led by women to an extent one no one would have predicted fifty years ago. (Corpus Reports, Nov-Dec 2012, p.4). This is true of the Western world. However, in countries like Pakistan, where a young girl was shot for calling for equal education for boys and girls, and in some churches, including the Catholic church, women are still excluded from full human rights. This is paralleled by the way the hierarchical church still insists on excluding women from priestly ministry and from having any official voice in church affairs, but the people of the church are claiming the full inclusion of women in all aspects of church life and ministry. In fact, what is happening now among the people is a paradigm-shift with regard to the feminine, says Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza. (Talk in Frankfurt at Congress of Reform Groups, Hoffnung und Widerstand, 18 – 21 Oct. 2012) The people are beginning to understand that feminism is not an addition to the church but an essential part of it. WE are church – it is not an object - we, women and men together, in full and equal human dignity, are the church. Women's rights are finally being seen as human rights.

    A broad understanding of feminism has led to a major change in language about God. We all know that when God is spoken of only in male terms, the fact that women are created equally with men in God's image is forgotten. As Sandra Schneiders has said: "God is not two men and a bird!."(Article in US Catholic, May 1990).

The RCWP model of ministry:

In the paradigm-shift of our times, we need a new model of ministry that fits the emerging new model of church. The community to which I belong, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, (RCWP), has a different model of ministry. We are ordained in apostolic succession, because this is the only form of ordination used for the men and by doing this, we claim equality for our ordained women with the male priests. But we do not follow the clericalist model . The question I am most frequently asked is: Patricia, how can you join the ranks of the clerics, become part of the hierarchical, clericalist system? The point is that we don't. We have a different model of priesthood and we want to show that a different, non-clericalist model is not only possible, but necessary - and we believe it is much more according to the mind of Jesus, whose model of ministry included footwashing, teaching, healing and seeing that people were fed.

Our model is the servant-leadership model. Our structures are non-hierarchical, democratic and non authoritarian, ("non-matriarchal", if you will!) We are anti-clericalist and do everything possible not to have that "unbridgeable gap" between the ordained and the laity. The communities served by our priests in fact organize themselves and ministries are shared. And in order to be non-hierarchical, we have divided ourselves into Regions, not dioceses - and the bishop, although there is a woman bishop in each RCWP Region, is not the "boss" of the Region. Instead, there is an elected Administrator who administers the Region. The bishop's ministry is mostly pastoral and unitive. When matters concerning the Region need to be decided, this is done by vote and the woman bishop has only one vote. Each RCWP region has a leadership team consisting of the Administrator, the bishop and the Program Coordinator, together with others who may be co-opted.

In other ways, too, we are creating a forward-looking model of ministry. Most of our women priests and -bishops are married, since we believe there is no intrinsic link between priesthood and celibacy. Our women priests are self-supporting, like most other people. And although we use the Roman Rite of Ordination, we omit not only the promise of celibacy but also the promise of obedience to the bishop. Instead we promise to try to live in what we call prophetic obedience, i.e. we strive to follow where we believe the Spirit is calling us, both individually and as a community We are also inclusive, not only in language but in membership: we have some male priests among us, although our priority is the ordination of women, but we do not want to exclude men; we also have gays and lesbians among us and in the communities to whom we minister. We have an open table at communion: all at welcome at the table. We are also ecumenically inclusive, welcoming members of other churches to our liturgies and in our communities.

These (or similar) structures can be found in almost all the reform groups that are coming into being in the church today. Some of these groups celebrate Eucharist as a community without an ordained priest. The priesthood of the baptized is being more and more recognized. And there are different forms of laying-on of hands in ordination: sometimes it is by the community rather than the bishop. The Vatican, however, while it takes no notice whatever of these "community" ordinations, seems forced to sit up and take notice of our RCWP ordinations. It is our claim to apostolic succession that really seems to cause weeping and gnashing of teeth among the hierarchy, who, for this reason, are unable to ignore us and keep excommunicating, not only us, but (in some dioceses) even our supporters.

We all need to respect different ways of moving towards a renewal of ministry in the church. In the future, I suspect, the main issue will not be ordination as such, but ministry. What is emerging is a greater recognition of different ministries within the community, all of which we do as baptized persons "in persona Christi"

The Catacomb Pact

This seems to have been the best-kept secret of Vatican II but is becoming ever more widely known and accepted as part of the new kind of church we want to be.

We were privileged, at the recent Frankfurt Conference, to have present among us Bishop Luigi Bettazzi, who is now 90 years old and who was one of the bishops who signed the Catacomb pact. His personal witness about this, and the simplicity and love that flowed from him, was very moving.

On November 16, 1965, close to the end of Vatican II a group of 43 Conciliar bishops met at the Catacomb of St Domitilla to sign a pact intended to do away with the wealth, pomp and luxury among the hierarchy. It was a pact to live a life of simplicity and poverty according to the Gospel and to renounce riches and a lifestyle that only the rich can afford. This applies especially to housing, vestments and insignia. The Catacomb Pact bishops pledged financial accountability, promising to hand over the financial and material administration of their dioceses to competent laypeople, so that they could be pastors and apostles rather than administrators. They also renounced titles like Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor (in fact, Bettazzi told us that they called themselves "Piccoli Monsignori".) They pledged to avoid, as far as possible, privilege, priority and expecting the best seats and preferential treatment. (We recall that Jesus had some thing to say along those lines in Luke 14,8.) They promised to have a heart for the poor and to promote social works based on justice and charity to assist all, not just Catholics, who are in need. The Catacomb Pact was not one of the official documents of Vatican II. The 43 bishops who signed it were mostly from Latin America or they were bishops who followed the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld. Later they passed the Catacomb Pact around to other bishops and about 500 more signed it. At the Frankfurt Congress, we asked Bishop Bettazzi why it had not been included among the official documents of Vatican II. He said: "Because it would never have been passed". The 43 original bishops who had signed the pact, kept in touch with one another and had annual meetings. Bettazzi is almost the last one still alive. It was an honour to meet him. I think Jesus would have signed the Catacomb Pact.

The people in the church today are not impressed by titles such as "Your Holiness", nor by the cult of the person of the pope, nor by priceless vestments or red Prada shoes. What we want in our leaders is the simplicity and compassion of Jesus, as expressed in the Catacomb Pact.

A church/world with an alternative to capitalism?

There was, at the Hope and Resistance Congress in Frankfurt, a keynote address by Susan George on capitalism as one of the great problems and challenges of our time with the call to us, as church in our present global society, to find different ways of managing and sharing money, financial solutions that will not reward those who are guilty and punish the victims. The Catacomb Pact would very much support this.

Vatican III?

There is a lot of talk today about a possible Vatican III. On the other hand, many are proposing something quite different to the kind of Council that was Vatican II.

I believe that the next General Council will be a Council of the People, of the Baptized. Priests and bishops will be represented but only proportionately. The curia, as many have said, should be abolished. This would include the rank of cardinal. Rather than a Vatican III, consisting mainly of the pope and the bishops, we need a very different gathering: a General Council - a Synod - of the People. And it should not be in the Vatican, not even in Europe, but in Sao Paulo or Mexico City, or Manila or Lagos or Bangladesh, or perhaps New York or San Francisco or Chicago or Toronto. It would consist of representatives of the people from every country in the world.

But first, let us work much more on the local and national level, allowing for diversity and finding ways, with today's technology, to communicate across national and cultural boundaries until we are ready for a large global council of the people

We want less pope, more Jesus;
Less Canon Law, more living the Beatitudes,
Less excommunication, more compassion,
Less secrecy, more transparency,
Less pomp and luxury, more concern for the poor,
Less exclusion, more welcoming at the table,
Less power-over, more empowerment,
Less allegiance to the pope, more obedience to the Spirit,
Less lording it over us, more servant-leadership.

Let us continue to build this emerging church as we gather in conferences such as this one at Call To Action to change what must be changed, so that we have less and less pope in our church and more and more Jesus.

Patricia Fresen, D.Th., RCWP
Call To Action, Louisville, Kentucky,
November 11, 2012