Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Farewell to Don Gallo -- the MicroMega interview

MicroMega (original in Italian; English translation by Rebel Girl)
May 22, 2013

Don Andrea Gallo, friend and collaborator of MicroMega, has died. For many years, in Genoa, anyone who was in a difficult situation or marginalized -- Italian or foreign, drug addict, alcoholic, prostitute, transsexual, ex-con, etc. -- knew they could count on him. With his community of San Benedetto al Porto, he has embodied the dream of a "poor Church for the poor". We remember him with the interview published in the recent volume of MicroMega devoted to "The hierarchical Church and the Church of God."

Jesus, the last, and the Council betrayed: an interview with Don Andrea Gallo by Luca Kocci, from MicroMega, n. 7/2012

"Street priest", "pastor of the social centers", the inevitable "Communist priest" -- many are the definitions used by the media to describe Don Andrea Gallo, the Genoese priest of the Community of San Benedetto al Porto, friend of another Genoese guy, Fabrizio De André, at whose funeral he pronounced the funeral prayer. Often, however, one is missing: priest of the [Second Vatican] Council. And Don Gallo is keen to recall it: "I am a priest of the Council. When Roncalli was elected pope in 1958, I was a deacon, and then on January 25, 1959, Pope John announced his intention to convene an ecumenical council for the universal Church and a few months later, on July 1, I was ordained a priest. So I was born a priest with the Council."

A very young priest, because Don Gallo, who was born in Genoa in 1928, was 34 years old at the opening of Vatican II. Before the religious life, there had been anti-Fascism -- in 1944, when the Italian Social Republic called to arms even those born in 1928, he chose to defect -- and the Resistance, as a partisan courier with the nom de guerre "Nan", a diminutive of "Nasan", "nose" in Genoese. When the war ended, the encounter with the Salesians and entrance into the order founded by Don Bosco, from which, however, he decided to leave in 1964: "The Salesian order was institutionalized and kept me from fully living the priestly vocation," says Don Gallo who, incardinated in the Diocese of Genoa, was named parochial vicar of the Church of the Carmine, in the historic center, between the epicenters of the '68 protests -- the Faculty of Arts, the classics high school "Cristoforo Colombo" and the headquarters of Autonomia Operaia -- and the Genoa of the underclass and irregulars sung about by De André. Don Gallo chose to stand on the side of the marginalized and join the movement. "I've heard that you often go in procession," Cardinal Siri, the Archbishop of Genoa, chided him, referring to the marches and demonstrations in which "his" priest took part. "I know the litany of the saints, but I've never seen nor heard of that saint who you continue to invoke with your parishioners, Ho Chi Minh."

The Cardinal, a representative of the most conservative part of the Roman Curia and the episcopate, removed him from the parish and Don Gallo took refuge in the parish of San Benedetto al Porto. The base community and host community were born, which opened their doors to anyone who came to those parts, Italian or foreign, drug addict, alcoholic, prostitute, transsexual, ex-con. "In life, I've been reprimanded in every way," says Don Gallo, but often "they've forgotten that they are also friends of prostitutes, deviants, punks, 'borderline' people, migrants, all those who travel on the margins of society . A priest from the sidewalk, in fact. That's where I live, every day and every night, looking for hope with the people I meet." And it's there that he continues to dream of a "poor Church for the poor," as the Gospel would want, as the Council hoped for.

"The Council had stirred in me, and in many of my brethren, great enthusiasm and high hopes," Don Gallo recalls. "Above all, I was struck by the questions raised by Cardinal Suenens, one of the moderators of the Council, and by Montini, the Archbishop of Milan: "Church, who are you? What do you say about yourself?" They are the fundamental questions. Today the Church doesn't raise them anymore; it no longer reflects on itself, because it's 'satisfied' and has assumed a dominant role and a position of power in society. The Roman Curia and the church hierarchy know it, but they keep silent. Thus, the Church is abandoning prophecy and forgetting the subversive power of the Gospel."

The question isn't asked anymore because the temptation to power got the upper hand?

Exactly. And so the Council, which was a "Copernican revolution", after fifty years, has died.

Is it possible to bring it back to life?

The Church's crisis is systemic, a structural one. It would take a theological response to resolve it. Instead, they prefer to organize mass gatherings, pilgrimages, media offensives, but they're just smoke and mirrors, because the crisis remains intact. The only hope for saving the Church is the people of God and the grassroots Catholics. Hans Küng, the great theologian who the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith banned from teaching in Catholic universities, wrote it too in one of his latest books, Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? [in Italian, Salviamo la Chiesa, Rizzoli, 2011 -- "Can the Church be Saved?"].

But to save itself, it's necessary for the Church to initiate radical reforms, because a top-down, patriarchal, sexist, misogynist Church, one that is sexually phobic but very careful to cover up pedophile cardinals and little priests, a Eurocentric Church that calls war a humanitarian intervention or a peacekeeping mission, that blesses aircraft carriers and doesn't oppose military bases -- like Dal Molin in Vicenza, a Church that defends Christian exclusivism and Roman imperialism, will never be saved. "Dare to Hope" was the motto of my partisan brigade. And I don't abandon hope for a Church centered on the gospel, not on power.

 Who has the most responsibility? Who undermined the Council and tamed the subversive power of the gospel?

It's the responsibility of all Catholics, but it's obvious that one must start at the top, namely with the Church hierarchy. At the time of the Council, I had a friend who was in Rome and was very close to Roncalli. And one day Roncalli confessed to him, "You know why I don't push the accelerator for reform? Because these venerable men of the Roman Curia would revolt to the point that, after me, they would elect as my successor a man who would scuttle everything I've started." Here are the ones who are responsible.

It seems that Roncalli's "prophecy" has come true...

Completely. Paul VI, John XXIII's successor, already took a few steps back, for example, with the encyclical Humanae Vitae, the one against the pill. With Wojtyla, then, the actual restoration began. Who did he choose to replace the retired bishops  and those who reached retirement age? New bishops fully aligned with Rome. He beheaded liberation theology, which on the contrary had been fully embraced by the Council. Newly elected in 1979, Wojtyla went to Puebla, for the Third General Conference of CELAM (the Latin American Bishops' Conference), ten years after the "birth" of liberation tehology, in Medellin, in 1968, and there he harshly attacked liberation theology. In subsequent years, then, he removed all major liberation theologians from professorships.

And then came Ratzinger...

Pope Ratzinger's latest encyclical is Caritas in veritate -- a beautiful title, but a false one, because it seems to me that there is neither love nor truth. However, Ratzinger does nothing but continue the restoration begun by Wojtyla, distancing more and more from the Council, but also moving away from the majority of the people of God. But then, with large gatherings organized from above, such as the World Meeting of Families last June in Milan for example, on television you see a million people on the streets with Ratzinger and you think that all Catholics are with the pope and the bishops. The Church structure is seriously ill, and the cause of the disease is the system of Roman government, which was established over the course of the second millennium thanks to the Gregorian reform that concentrated all powers in the hands of the pope and the Curia, and still holds on. But this is a real schism, the most serious of those the Church has experienced.

A schism?

Exactly. There have been three schisms in the history of the Church. The first in the 6th century, with the division between the Western Church and the Eastern Church, the second in the 16th century, with Luther and the separation between Catholics and Protestants, and the third in the 18th and 19th centuries, between Roman Catholicism and the modern world. The Second Vatican Council had attempted to reconcile this schism, because the Church was still the one of the Counter-Reformation, inimical to modernity. Although his pontificate lasted less than five years, John XXIII was able to open the windows of the Church to the world, despite the strong resistance of the Curia, and to show it, through the Council, the path of renewal and aggiornamento, towards a proclamation of the Gospel in step with the times, towards an understanding with other Christian Churches, of an opening towards other religions starting with Judaism, of reconciliation with democracy.

That window, however, was immediately closed by the Curia bureaucracy, which had done everything to keep the Council under control, and so the schism has been reopened. Pope John died too soon, and the Roman system has won. And it's commanding, especially now, that we turn back towards a pre-conciliar Church.

Are you referring to Pope Ratzinger, who has restored a number of pre-conciliar elements, from the Latin Mass to liturgical celebrations with the priest turning his back to the faithful?

Not only to Ratzinger, because the process of restoration had already started with Wojtyla, who I liken to Ronald Reagan -- an actor, with a great charisma and powerful charm, an exceptional communicator, capable of acts of great symbolic value, who thus was able to make the more conservative doctrines and practices acceptable, so as to curb the conciliar movement and stop the reforms.

Catholic doctrine was fully reaffirmed. Instead of opening to the modern world, accusations, disappointment and denunciations of an alleged adaptation to it were renewed with great insistence. The more traditional forms of devotion were encouraged. A new Inquisition was reinforced. Freedom of conscience was rejected. Ecumenism was set back and the emphasis was on everything that is Catholic, equaling the Church of Christ with the Roman Catholic Church. We're in an era not only of re-Catholicizing, but of re-Romanizing.

The Council marked, among other things, the opening of the Church to the modern world. This area seems to be one in which the retrenchment has been greatest, especially on some issues, such as sexual morality ...

The ditching of the council started right there, with Humanae Vitae in 1968. Paul VI ignored not only Gaudium et Spes, which focused on women and men of our time, but also the opinion of the Preparatory Commission appointed by him, in favor of the pill. If you go back to what we were studying before the Council: the main purpose of marriage procreatio est, said the professor of theology in the main classroom. Enough, so much for that. Then he added that it was also remedium concupiscentiae and then mutuum auditorium. From 1968 to today, on the subject of sexual morality nothing has changed; we are still at Humanae Vitae, which also ended saying that the Church should take an interest in this issue. But since then nothing has happened. A more comprehensive doctrine on birth control is needed, but the Church has turned a deaf ear; it doesn't want to know. On the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the encyclical, in 1998, Pope Wojtyla reiterated it word for word, without removing or adding a comma. An unreasonable total closure, such that once I asked a cardinal, "Excuse me, Eminence, but is sexuality a gift of God to men and women or is it a gift from the devil?"

Yet the core of any union, of any type of union, is love. Even in the celebration of the sacrament of marriage, there's no need for the priest, because what counts is the "yes" of the spouses, and that's it.

And then there are the other issues: "respect and defense of human life, from conception to natural death" -- i.e. not only the issues of contraception but also of assisted reproduction, living wills, aggressive treatment, stem cell research, "the family founded on marriage between man and woman" -- with the ban on domestic partnerships and same-sex unions, "the freedom to educate one's children" -- that is, funding for Catholic schools. All coded and summarized in the expression "non-negotiable principles" coined by Ratzinger and often used by the Italian Bishops Conference, especially when, in the political debate, some law that the bishops don't like appears to be making inroads.

Exactly. It's about "taboo" arguments, non-negotiable, which you can't even discuss. Among other things, they show a Church that is blind, that not only doesn't want to dialogue with science, but that doesn't even respect it.

That doesn't even respect the freedom of conscience?

No. It doesn't respect it even though the Council -- let's go back to that again -- clearly affirmed the primacy of conscience, which is not subject to anything or anyone. Instead, it often happens that this freedom is denied and indeed that conscience itself is made prisoner with the threat of hell. Because although it's true that the Church has beliefs which it can't give up and it has the right to express them publicly, discuss them and propose them in the political debate on the formation of laws, it's equally true that in a pluralistic and democratic society, rules and standards are made together with others. One may propose, without arrogance, but not impose. Instead it seems that the Church wants to impose its own principles at any cost, in a society that is post-Christian. The Church could be a stronghold of authentic humanism and perform a service to the freedom and dignity of man, however it does not acknowledge the values that come from outside, from the secular world, and this is very serious. But when the Church denies the possibility of ethics to anyone who is not a believer in God, when it sees in today's society only fragmentation of values, nihilism, a culture of death, then it doesn't contribute to the contrast but feeds the confrontation. The culture clash is talked about a lot -- we must be careful that it isn't Catholics themselves who are fomenting it within our societies, because this would also be a sign of barbarism, an increasingly invasive barbarism.

Is secularity a value?

Of course it is, and there are very profound secular ethics. There is no contradiction between fidelity to the Church and attachment to the need for secularity. Secularity isn't secularism, on the contrary -- it's the respect for all faiths by the state which ensures the free exercise of religious, spiritual, cultural, and creative activities of the diverse communities. And in a pluralistic society, secularity is the only space for dialogue and communication between the religions.

The "non-negotiable principles" seem to be very far from that subversive and liberating power of the Gospel that we talked about earlier. What happened to gospel themes such as social justice, care for the marginalized and the oppressed, wealth and poverty?

Attention to power and privileges has eclipsed them. The Church, including my archbishop who is also president of the CEI [Italian Bishops' Conference], has supported Berlusconi for years. Now he's backing Monti. Communion and Liberation applauds the powers that be, Famiglia Cristiana even wrote it, talking about the Rimini Meeting this summer. Rather than defending the non-negotiable principles, there's attention to the defense of privilege. Moreover, the holy monks told me too -- the Church is governed by Opus Dei and other elite troops: Communion and Liberation, the Community of Sant'Egidio, the Legionaries of Christ, with their founder, the pedophile father Maciel, who was even a protege of Pope Wojtyla. In this case too, we must return to the Council, where it talks about the "poor Church for the poor," and liberation theology -- decapitated by Wojtyla and Ratzinger -- that proclaimed the fundamental option for the poor.

But there's a part of the Church and many Catholic organizations that help the poor ...

It's true, but you have to be very careful. There are two roads -- they look similar; they really go in opposite directions. The church hierarchy and some sectors of the Catholic world offer solidarity that has positive aspects but that is limited to welfarism, and so confirm, even reinforce, the dominant economic system of exploitation, neo-colonialism over the dispossessed of the world. The way forward is that of liberating solidarity, which calls into question neo-liberalism. Dom Helder Câmara, the great bishop of Olinda and Recife, had it all figured out: "When I feed the poor," he said, "they applaud me, and when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a Communist." The Church has not yet made a clear-cut choice. But if the Church wants to be Catholic, it should be Christian; if it wants to be Christian, it should be poor, otherwise it will be an apparatus that governs the world, but it is certainly not the church of Jesus.

Let's discuss some ecclesial themes that emerged in the Council and in the post-Council, on which a tombstone was placed, for example the role of women in the Church, even the possibility of priestly ordination.

On this aspect, the shutdown is total. This year, as usual in the Holy Thursday homily, Ratzinger said -- about the ordination of women -- that our Lord has not given us any "authorization." If I had been there, I would have wanted to ask,"Holy Father, maybe Jesus authorized or suggested founding the IOR [Istituto per le Opere di Religione - Institute for Religious Works], the Vatican Bank?" Then, as required by papal practice, he cited Wojtyla -- "my predecessor, Blessed John Paul II," said Ratzinger -- who reiterated the "no" to women in the priesthood "irrevocably." Here we are faced with a veritable heresy: How can you say "irrevocably"? The pope is the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, but most of the time the popes believe they are gods. The Council affirmed religious freedom and the primacy of conscience, after centuries of obscurantism and condemnations that didn't end in 800 but continued up to Pius XII, who was the predecessor of John XXIII. It broke all the old paradigms, but now we are proceeding from restoration to restoration. Now I ask: Is it licit for a Christian like me to invoke the application of the Documents of Vatican II? I can't base my faith on the principle of authority of the papal magisterium, as if my faith were genuine only if I blindly obey the Pope. It's absurd; it doesn't stand either philosophically or ontologically, or theologically or biblically. "Never swear," Jesus says in the Gospel, "say yes when it's yes and no when it's no; everything else comes from the devil." So there are no dogmas, there can't be.

Whatever happened to episcopal collegiality, which was also called for by the Council?

Episcopal collegiality only exists on paper. Then the veline come from Rome and bishops must obey. The bishops, for years now, haven't assumed collective responsibility regarding the whole Church, conferred by the Council itself. They've been reduced to mere functionaries, mere recipients and executors of Vatican orders. The oath itself that the bishops make to the pope is in contrast with the Gospel where it is written, I repeat, "Do not swear."

But there's a lot more. The marriage of priests? Woe to anyone who talks about it. Communion for the divorced? No again. A new system for the appointment of bishops? No. Reform of the papacy and the Curia? No.

In Italy there are several priests and religious, well-known and authoritative, clearly lined up on the side of the marginalized and excluded, but who, in fact, choose to intervene and commit themselves only on social issues and problems, from water to incinerators, from the Mafia to disarmament. They talk little or not at all about the Church power system, the Vatican Curia and the hierarchy, what's not working in the Church, the lack of reform, as if they were unwilling to put their fingers in the wounds. Why?

What you say is true. Those who raise substantial structural ecclesial questions, who have the courage to face theological and pastoral knots, are few. At one time there was Father Balducci and Father Turoldo, until a few months ago there was Don Enzo Mazzi of the Comunità dell'Isolotto in Florence -- great people, who are no longer here. Almost no one is speaking in their place. Today, there remains brother Arturo Paoli, who turns 100 in November, there is Msgr. Bettazzi, but he's been put in a corner, as if he were a relic of the Council, rather than the great bishop he is; Don Franco Barbero remains, and in fact he has been dismissed from the clerical state by Wojtyla. The theologians are silent, the priests as well. The problem is that in Italy there is strong repression -- if you speak freely and critically, they marginalize you, they take away your professorship, make you go hungry. It's repression you can't escape, so it's not easy to decide to speak up on ecclesial questions, to decide to criticize the Church -- they are very afraid.

Some groups are trying, very courageously -- there's the Italian section of We Are Church, there are the base communities, sometimes there's Pax Christi, but in this climate it's difficult to organize dissent and critical thinking. And this silence is a big problem, because it doesn't help the conversion of the Church.

The recent "Call to Disobedience" of the 300 Austrian priests asking for radical reforms in the Catholic Church -- from communion for the divorced and remarried to Eucharistic celebrations without a priest, from priesthood for women to an end of compulsory clerical celibacy -- quickly made the rounds in Europe and has collected thousands of signatures. Perhaps abroad, away from Rome and the Vatican, it's easier to deal with these ecclesial knots and criticize the Church too?

It's no coincidence that that appeal wasn't signed by Italian priests and religious. But then what happened? During the celebration of the Holy Thursday Mass, in St. Peter, Ratzinger rebuked them and called them to obedience, without even considering the merits of the things they were asking for.

Prior to that, in 1996, there was the "Appeal from the People of God," which was launched in Austria by the international movement We Are Church, which called for a series of reforms to the Vatican along the line drawn by the Council -- from recognition of the role of women in the Church to optional celibacy of the clergy, from overcoming discrimination towards homosexuals to freedom of conscience with regard to birth control -- and that has collected more than 2 million signatures, of which more than 30 thousand in Italy ...

And that are almost completely ignored. This means that the people of God don't count in the Vatican. There's no other explanation. Yet it is said that the Church is semper gloriosa, semper paenitens and semper reformanda -- that latter aspect has been disregarded and forgotten altogether.

All this saddens me very much. I have been a priest for 53 years, I love my Church, and I see that the revolutionary and liberating message of Jesus is being kept from reaching women and men. But I still hope and dream.

Of what?

A Vatican III with three themes: the poverty of the Church, the abolition of mandatory celibacy, and women's ordination.

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