Friday, June 7, 2013

Felipe Berríos: Far from home, still making waves

Chilean Jesuit Felipe Berríos, who left Chile three years ago to do missionary work in Africa, is back in the news again following a controversial interview the priest gave to TVN's "El Informante". The former chaplain of Un Techo para Chile's blistering attack on the institutional Church in his country left the social media buzzing and his superior, Fr. Eugenio Valenzuela, bending over backwards to apologize to the Archbishop of Santiago and President of the Chilean Bishops' Conference, Msgr. Ricardo Ezzati.

Msgr. Ezzati simply responded by "blessing" Fr. Berrios and his work in Africa, while a spokesman for the Bishops' Conference offered a harsher assessment, characterizing Berrios' remarks as a "caricature" of the Church and a harmful one at that. Msgr. Juan Ignacio González, the bishop of San Bernardo, went further, saying of Fr. Berrios that "it hurts me to hear him speak in such a disrespectful manner. It demonstrates what we already know about Father Berrios' opinions -- exaggerated, tone deaf, with words that are often hurtful and produce no positive effect at all."

Here are some excerpts from the infamous interview (see video below) as transcribed in La Nación (5/29/2013) and translated by Rebel Girl:

Why did you leave Chile?

"I think the Church has long fallen into a language of secrecy, of half-truths, and people have become accustomed to reading between the lines, and seeing conspiracies and such.

I think that has hurt in that they don't believe that I came because I believe that the situation the Church itself is experiencing makes us have to return to its source, and returning to the source is returning to service, to being with the poor, the homeless, to recharging one's batteries. That's what brought me to come here -- what is most genuinely Jesuit is mission, which could be done in Chile as well, but I wanted to be here because they are the most abandoned ones on the planet."

 The Church, profit, and salvation

At one point in the conversation, Berrios asks Astorga [Juan Manuel Astorga, host of "El Informante"] to name seven bishops of Chile. He immediately answers that he [Astorga] can't because nobody knows them -- "they aren't leaders." Later he notes:

"These bishops are good people who have done nothing wrong, but neither have they done anything good. They're unable to take risks for the suffering, for the poor, to detect inequality in Chile and speak up about it, except at the last episcopal conference where they discussed the issue. Rather, they are the Catholics of Catholics and we priests also perceive it, that we don't have a pastor where we can take risks and be critical.

(I) bless the ring of a person who's gotten remarried and the next day I'm getting a phone call from the Archbishop, from Rome, but if the branch of a bank that's sucking the blood of the Chileans is blessed, we don't say anything. That detracts from the credibility of the hierarchy and the Church."

"The Church has profited, believing itself the owner of salvation."

"There are groups within the church that have done tremendous damage to the Chilean elite, who have made them worry about empty rites, seeking a salvation that God gives them free, but they want to buy it with good deeds, but when it affects their economic interests, they stop doing good deeds. The culprits are those who have taught them a God who doesn't question that."

"If the Church could shake itself free of all that pomp and preach the gospel with specific acts, we would have a lot to say. But the church leaders we have in Chile and abroad, have been brought up not to break any eggs, so they'll never make omelets."

Discrimination in Catholic schools

"Catholic schools shouldn't be exclusive. They should be open to all, to children who don't have money, whose parents are separated, or to those of other faiths."

"The emphasis has been put on defending freedom of education, but no one has emphasized the freedom to put my child where I want, which is not how it is now."

"The Church discriminates, and the proof of the pudding is, as the Pope has said, that the Church should be of the poor, and it isn't. The poor are just visitors; they're reasons for charity."

The young, Camila and Giorgio

"We've shown them (young people) a God who is so, in a word juvenile, so tacky, insipid, a God who is rather moralistic, that it makes the kids dispense with God, for Him not to be a subject for them (...), but when a kid is seeking equality, he's seeking God."

"The young are made to spend themselves, to give their lives, to dream about their ideals, but we make them be planned, we fill them with fear, they're all indebted, we've trimmed their claws (...) I'd like to tell the young people not to get into the machinery of unbridled consumption."

"Young people want change, they don't have our trauma and that's why I'm pleased that Giorgio (Jackson) and Camila (Vallejo) are getting into politics and I think that force for change must be transformed into political movements so that the change is real."

Leadership and Commitment to Others: The Lagos Case

"People have been looking for what I want, my self-interest, my own comfort, and they've forgotten what I can do for others. To me, it was very interesting what happened in the election of President (Ricardo) Lagos, in the first round. Lagos was a candidate who offered a dream, he offered sacrifice, but almost lost and in the second round he said, well, I'll offer what the people are asking for. That sounds nice, but it's complicated, because people ask for their own comfort, their own stability, and not what's best for others."

The "God" of Consumption: The TVN Episode

In the previous question, Berrios was asked what he thinks Chileans believe, what they think about, what they're attached to. He answered with an example of a dialogue at TVN:

"When I was at Un Techo, we wanted to do an ad at Christmas of a person who was imitating Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary and knocking on doors asking for shelter, which has to do with Christmas, and the director of Televisión Nacional in those days told me no because Televisión Nacional was the channel of all Chileans and it couldn't commit itself to any political tendency or any creed and this would be committing itself to the creed.

I told him it was ridiculous since Christmas is a holiday precisely because the birth of Christ is being celebrated. I couldn't get him off this and he prohibited us from doing this commercial, but I said to him "well then, throw out Santa Claus because Santa Claus is the God of consumption."

I think most people believe in the God of consumption, and that produces a huge void. They say they believe in Jesus, but basically our God has become the God of consumption, represented by Santa Claus."

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