Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Teresa Forcades: The Jornal I interview

By Marta F. Reis (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Jornal i (em português / en español)
October 22, 2013

At 47, the Benedictine sister Teresa Forcades, trained in medicine and theology, divides her life between the San Benet monastery in Montserrat, an hour away from Barcelona, and intense political participation, as she's not afraid to say. She's one of the faces of the citizen movement Procés Constituent, which is creating a model for an independent state free of capitalism in Catalonia. She is coming to Portugal in November to present her book A Teologia Feminista na História, now translated into Portuguese. She leaves no one indifferent. Since April, the Catalan movement has gathered 45,000 supporters. On the Internet, there's a petition with 4,700 signatures asking the Holy See to intervene and restore the peace and quiet shattered by Teresa, who supports abortion and homosexual marriage. [Translator's note: a parallel pro-Teresa Forcades Internet petition has received 12,873 signatures to date] She says she received only one letter from the Vatican in 2009 to which she responded by invoking her right to her opinion.

In September, the BBC called you Europe's most radical nun. Do you like that title?

I've never liked labels. Instead of putting a label on me, I like it when people talk about me because they know me. Now, the truth is that I believe the Gospel calls us to a radical response against social injustice. If that's why they call me radical, because I say that you can't serve God and money and that today we have an economic system that puts money above people, it's true. That's what I am. That's what I'm trying to denounce.

Do you feel like you're doing politics?

I think the word "politics" is good. What I'm not doing, particularly in Catalonia, is creating a political party. I'm not doing partisan politics, professional politics. I also don't feel that I'm replacing my monastic vocation with a political calling. But, from my monastic vocation, just as everyone participating in the Procés Constituent movement has a distinct professional vocation, we realize and argue that democracy calls for political participation by all people. Partisan politics is one thing and what I want to do -- participate in local assemblies, give my opinion, and contribute so that common life really is such -- is something else. This type of change can never come from above. For me the most important thing is to structure people power, for us to organize ourselves to truly live in democracy. And we need everybody -- whether of the church or not -- everybody.

Did you feel a personal need to participate in this movement and are you doing it to show that the church is also part of civil society?

I joined the movement because I was asked. Since I have a certain popularity in Catalonia, when a movement starts, it's important to have familiar faces and I was called upon to stand up for it. I put my popularity at the service of a cause I believe to be just. I didn't think twice; it was spontaneous. Now yes, I realized that for many people it was a way of thinking that there's also room in the church to participate in movements for change and democratic processes.

In Portugal we see priests commenting about politics, but not nuns. They seem to be more hidden. Are you also a sign for women in the Church?

Yes, that is also important to me. I support women in the Church having an equal role in every sense.

Including being able to celebrate Mass?

I have said that I believe that, theologically, there's nothing against that.

A week ago you had an important moment for your movement, a gathering.

Yes, we had what we called the first main event of the Procés Constituent, a movement that began April 10. We called these first six months "make or break." We didn't know if we would have enough popular support. Now we've entered a new phase where the most important thing is to have a structure that allows us to make decisions and to allow us to have an influence in the politics of our country. We have to figure out an organization that allows us to affirm ourselves and includes everyone. We are already 45,000 strong. There are many of us, aren't there?

Was so much support expected?

In this main event, we brought together 10,000 people, which was already quite a lot. But what's important is that we're organized in almost a hundred local communities throughout Catalonia. Now we've launched a campaign called "Building the Catalan Republic of the 99%", which excludes a margin of 1% who are the corrupt installed powerful. On November 16th, we will have a national day of simultaneous meetings and, until November 30th, we will have civil disobedience actions, with great potential for more mobilization.

Do they let you do these types of actions in the monastery?

Well, I had to consult them before beginning. I spoke with the bishop and with my community, and while they didn't all agree, they agreed that if I felt this was a call to something I should do, they didn't want to stop me.

But does it feel like a calling?

When they asked me, it didn't come from me. What I did was take that request to prayer, like everything else, and through my discernment, felt a responsibility to say yes. I'm not in the movement as the ultimately responsible one, but as someone committed to making this voice greater.

The bishop must be an open-minded person...

The bishop is a man of peace, someone who doesn't see his job as pastor as authoritarian but as of service.

Do you feel the same empathy with Pope Francis?

I believe that Pope Francis has given signs of hope but at the same time, very aware that there is a structure in the church that is opposed to changes in the direction of justice. I believe we have a deficit of real democracy in the Church, I mean, we are many but the decisions are made by a few. I keep my eyes and ears open in the hope that Pope Francis can move forward. But for me the important thing is that, whether in the Church or in society, getting more social justice will never be a top down movement. Pope Francis will only be able to make changes if he allies himself with the people at the bottom who have been asking for them for many years. The Good Pope, John XXIII, made changes with the Second Vatican Council but he didn't make them alone. He could do it because throughout the twentieth century there were many movements, such as the one for liturgical reform or the new theology one, with people who spoke publicly and demanded that the Catholic Church approach modernity. It was this base that John XXIII promoted in his role as Pope. I think this is the position Francis is in. He will not be the one to bring about change. Because I even believe that bad changes come from top to bottom, as we see today in the social cutbacks we are having in our countries. If Francis does it, it will be because there's a base in the Catholic Church that has been asking for change for years.

Is it a silent plea?

Very quiet and prayerful. I work with my hands, heart and mind. This thing we call prayer is a profound mystery. When I speak of the people who have worked in recent years for change, I'm not just talking about those who met in committees, produced documents and held public demonstrations. I'm talking a lot about people who in their hearts and in prayer asked for change.

How could the Church change to support society more?

I think intraeclesial reform is essential. Today there are many people who are touched by the Gospels and have deep respect for the figure of Christ. But they soon collide with impossible church structures that they can't accept. So I think the first duty of the Church to society is to offer the message of Christ without adding superfluous things.

For example?

This structure which requires, for example, having liturgy in a previously consecrated room. A liturgy could take place in the woods, but some bishops don't allow it. Any limitation that exists in this sense doesn't come from the gospel. For example, that priests can't celebrate the Eucharist with divorced people and a divorced person can't take Communion. Communion and any other sacrament should never be denied to anyone.

Not to divorced people, not to homosexuals?

It's what has been lacking -- to nobody and whenever they ask. Now, well, if it were Pinochet, someone who has committed obvious public crimes of which he has not repented, there I would see a possibility of denial. Now people who think differently, gays, divorced people or those who have had abortions, they should never be denied a sacrament.

You even support homosexual marriage. On what grounds?

Marriage is a sacrament that enables faithful love between two people. I think that when a couple loves sincerely and faithfully, they should be able to celebrate that love as a sacrament, that is, as a sign of God's love. If the possibility of procreation were a requirement for the sacrament, postmenopausal women ought not to be allowed to marry and the church has always permitted that.

Your position on abortion is also controversial.

I think no woman should be forced to continue a pregnancy. I think the attitude that respects women's freedom is closest to the way I believe God treats us. Now, I repeat, this is not because I think that abortion doesn't matter. It's important to me. Now I don't want a woman who thinks differently than I do to be required to continue the pregnancy. I'm not saying that having or not having an abortion is the same; I think it's necessary to help the mother make a decision in favor of life while respecting her ultimate decision.

But how can this respect be reconciled with the Church's commandment not to kill?

It's a conflict between two fundamental rights: the right to life and the right to self-determination. One human being should never be considered a means to save the life of another person or group of people. The human being is always an end in him- or herself, not a means. My question is: Why doesn't anyone oblige a father who has a compatible kidney to donate it to save his child's life? What is the Catholic moral principle that allows that not to be imposed on him? Why isn't that principle applicable in the case of the mother?

Do you have problems with the Vatican because of these positions?

In 2009, I got a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and I answered with an explanation that is published in the book Diálogos com Teresa Forcades ("Conversations with Teresa Forcades"). [They asked her to publicly manifest her adherence to Catholic doctrine and Forcades said she respects the magisterium of the church, but has the right to express contrary opinions.]

Do you still practice medicine?

No. In the monastery, I've been in charge of the infirmary but lately I've done some research and am writing about the medicalization of society. It's a way to stay in it.

What concerns you?

Not just the excessive medicalization we've seen in our societies but especially this idea that people's problems are treated with pills. Look at the treatment of hyperactivity in children. We have 10% of children medicated with drugs whose mode of action is similar to cocaine. In the U.S., we have 45% of young people who have been diagnosed at some point in life with depression. And medicated. I agree that some have problems, but 45% is impossible. It would be an epidemic.

And this is due to what?

Many things. It was previously thought that it was normal to go through the age of stupidity in adolescence. The person begins to think outside the nuclear family, falls in love for the first time, defies the parents. It's normal to have days when they're down. Now some parents say, "Cheer up, it's normal"; others say that they need to go to a psychiatrist then. Families have less and less time; the lifestyle increasingly reduces the time between parents and children.

When you were young, you thought of becoming a nun but rejected the idea because of celibacy. You only entered the monastery after you turned 30. What changed?

In adolescence, I thought that I couldn't be happy without having a companion. Today I accept that life in community also has its compensations. It's different from married life, but since I've been a nun, it doesn't mean I haven't had experiences of falling in love. Now each time I fell in love, it was a commotion. One is caught off guard, but one has to work with this, always understanding that God wants happiness and not repression.

Were you able to live cloistered?

I live cloistered, but in the Benedictine order we have the constitutional cloister, where we can leave. There is another type of cloister that I've never experienced which is the papal cloister, instituted in some women's convents in the 16th century and where everything is imposed from the outside. They can't leave. I don't think it's good.

Do you have plans to come to Portugal soon?

Yes, in November. I'm going to present my book and attend a conference on feminist theology on the 14th and 15th.

On your Facebook page there are lots of criticisms of austerity. Is there also a message in that sense?

I see austerity as something positive so what I wish is that they would change the name of the measures imposed by the European troika on countries that don't meet their economic convergence criteria -- they aren't austerity measures, they're criminal measures. They impose penalties on citizens with more modest incomes and divert the money via bank bailouts to the wealthiest.

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