Sunday, March 31, 2013

Teresa Forcades: "The great changes in the Church come from below, not from the Pope"

by Marta Menán (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Progreso
March 29, 2013

Teresa Forcades says that one day she felt the call from God and that, even though she tried to ignore it at first, it became so strong that it overcame all her doubts. Her profile was not the one expected of a novice then, but the years have passed and neither is it what one would expect of a nun.



The whole world followed, and was surprised by, the election of the new pope. Did you expect the turn that the Catholic Church has presumably taken?

In all this, what most matters to me is the need -- which Cardinal Martini already expressed in his day -- to update a structure that is 200 to 300 years behind. In the papal election, that is reflected in the fact that only the cardinals -- all men of a certain age -- vote. The election of a new pope would have been a great opportunity to discuss this renewal and it wasn't. We will have to see how this internal criticism is faced and addressed over the next few years. This is what really matters, not whether the pope is from Italy or Argentina.

So, don't you think the time has come for the "necessary renewal" of the Church which you advocate in your book?

Any change in history, both at the church and the societal level, has started from below. When John XXIII was chosen, for example, there were already renewal movements like Nouvelle Théologie in France and the Movimiento Litúrgico, which was very important here in Montserrat. Well, I see something similar happening now: constructive and faithful criticism is rising from the grassroots so that -- I don't know if it will be this pope -- but the time will come when it can't be ignored.

How do you feel about Pope Francis?

I know the criticisms of his actions during the dictatorship, but I can't get into evaluating them. What can be evaluated is his position on the full acceptance of homosexuality in the Catholic Church, something which Francis has spoken against, or in the face of this crisis in what would be social rights, where he hasn't supported groups that, from a Christian basis, are demanding real structural change. There are positive signs, like not taking out the ermine stole, but I'm more interested in the basic questions. And we'll see those soon.

His predecessor, Benedict XVI, resigned because he didn't have the strength. Should we praise his honesty?

Yes, and that resignation has broken the mystique of papism. In the last few papacies, like those of John XXIII and John Paul II, perhaps because of their charisma, almost messianic expectations were placed on them, something that didn't happen in the early Christian communities. That, nowadays, is essential.

You've always been very critical of the Church of which you are an active member. Has this earned you any reprimands?

It's that the Church can't be conceived as a confrontation between members, and therefore defenders and non-members, who would be just pointing with the shotgun. For me, critical loyalty is what shows the bond -- that the institution matters to you and that you believe in it. The criticisms are born from that love. And yes, I have received a reprimand, which came on the subject of abortion.

How did it happen?

Well, after one of my television speeches, when they asked my opinion on that subject, I gave it and received a letter from Cardinal Rodé admonishing me.

It was inevitable...

True. Within the institution there's freedom of expression, although there are those who say you have to keep your opinions to yourself if they don't coincide with the official one. Now, if your freedom of expression leads you to contradict one the main dogmas of the Church, especially if you're a theologian, the Magisterium will have to say something -- if I were to devote myself to stating that Jesus isn't God, I couldn't expect them to tell me, "great". What happens is that one must be very clear about what the Second Vatican Council called the hierarchy of truths. The unquestionable ones are Revelation, the Trinity, and Christology. The others are secondary dogmas that are reviewable throughout history, such as happened with the notion of witches -- the women who had had sexual relations with the devil and the best thing one could do with them was burn them, or that -- according to what was asserted until Vatican II -- the best form of organization was absolute monarchy.

And all this, applied to abortion, would give a different interpretation...

Yes, because it allows us to ask questions that broaden and deepen our understanding of the bioethical conflicts and their seriousness. There are times when the Catholic Church tolerates the principle of self-determination or the right to one's own body going above the right to life of an innocent child. I'm thinking of the case of a child who needs a kidney transplant and his father refuses to give him one even though he's compatible. The principle of self-determination tells us that in that case you have to respect the decision of the father or mother, even accepting that objectively they could be mistaken.

On this subject, in your book you remind us that Jesus understood perfectly the distance that separates principles and reality.

That's true, which is why I wish that in society, from Christian faith, we could always speak of hope and say to any pregnant woman, "Trust, that this thing which seems like a setback may be a source of blessing to you." But we can only say this if behind it, we don't have prison bars, or else it would be hypocrisy.

In addition to the election of Pope Francis, another event happened this month which shook up the world -- the death of Hugo Chavez. You assert that there's no European leader as cultured as the latter.

It's that here we have a stereotype about Chavez that has little to do with reality. If Chavez had been the caricature the Spanish media had made him out to be, that statement would have been meaningless. But here, none of his interview have been aired in depth, where one can see his culture, the books he read, and that he was able to integrate all that into his thought. I haven't noted that Zapatero, Rajoy, Cameron, Sarkozy or Angela Merkel had that depth in their speeches, let alone Berlusconi. On the other hand, Václav Havel did have it.

You've also stated, after traveling several times to Venezuela, that what is broadcast about the country has nothing to do with what's happening there.

I state that clearly. This misrepresentation of the reality of Venezuela is given, just like here there's a distortion of the reality in Catalonia, because of the way certain media broadcast it -- there are people in Spain who believe that Spanish isn't spoken in Catalonia. What do I mean by distorted? Well, for example, the issue of dictatorship -- how can you call a government that has been endorsed 15 times in the polls a dictatorship?

What's going to happen in Venezuela?

The challenge is huge, just as it will be if real democracy advances in our country and we throw off the yoke of rulers that haven't looked out for our interests and have led us into an untenable situation. In Venezuela, social tensions are very high, but I hope that the years of this government, which has given education to a population that had been marginalized for centuries, will be noted and the country will move forward.

The Venezuelan government has stated that Chavez's cancer was provoked. As a doctor, what do you think of that statement?

That statement came to me second-hand, because I never saw Nicolás Maduro saying it directly. Yes, I suppose there were wishes to eliminate a leader like Chavez -- who opposed the argument that there weren't any alternatives to neoliberalism and who suffered attacks not just from the media. If it were possible to induce cancer, he would have had a lot for it to happen to him.

Doctor García Sabrido, chief of surgery at Gregorio Marañón and a personal friend of Fidel Castro, states that "inoculating with cancer borders on the impossible."

Medically, I don't see that it's possible. You can radiate someone and afterwards lymphomas and leukemia appear, but other than that I don't know of another mechanism.

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