Friday, March 15, 2013

Fr. Eduardo de la Serna on Pope Francis: "He handles power very well"

By Pedro Lipcovich (English translation by Rebel Girl)
March 14, 2013

"Jorge Bergoglio knows how to handle the reins of power very well," says Father Eduardo de la Serna, a member of the secretariat of Curas en Opción por los Pobres ("Priests with an Option for the Poor" - OPP). That political capability would be the thread that links the many different facets De la Serna points out about the new Pope: his conflict with right-wing sectors of the Church in Argentina, such as Archbishop Hector Aguer and the Instituto El Verbo Encarnado ("The Incarnate Word Institute"), but also his "active participation" in the disappearance of two priests during the military dictatorship, and on the other hand,"his ability to approach the people, his insistence that priests go into the barrios, to the villas ("slums")" while at the same time "it's not likely that he'll push for changes in matters of doctrine, such as the place of women in the Church and communion for divorced people" but, however,"it may well be that, without changing the doctrine, there would be overtures to divorced people or even transvestites." Early indicators of his management should be discerned in "whether or not changes take place in the Roman Curia and, in Argentina, the appointment of the new archbishop of Buenos Aires."

Why do you think the cardinals elected Jorge Bergoglio?

"Bergoglio knows how to handle the reins of power very well. He had already received a lot of votes in the previous conclave, when Joseph Ratzinger was elected, and in 2007, all the Latin American bishops elected him chairman of the committee that drafted the Aparecida document. As for the criteria the cardinals prioritized with this choice, from now on he probably won't be a pope of advances [in the church]. There are things that concern many people and I don't think are major issues for him, such as communion for the divorced, the issues of homosexuality and abortion. Instead, we can expect gestures of warmth from him. To imagine an example: It wouldn't surprise me on Holy Thursday if he were to wash the feet of a group of transvestites -- I'm not saying he will, but he would be capable of something like that, to make clear that in no way is he excommunicating them, even though he doesn't applaud their actions. So, I don't think he'll promote significant changes at the doctrinal level, but there may be significant gestures at the pastoral level," responded the OPP representative, who a few months ago questioned the bishops for accepting the link between the Church and the last military dictatorship.

Could you give us an example of this difference between the doctrinal and the pastoral?

The official doctrine of the Church says that those who live together without being married can't take communion, but, for many theologians, this has no basis. Well, it wouldn't surprise me if Bergoglio were to designate a group of theologians to study those arguments -- at a pastoral level, it would be a gesture of warmth with respect to those people who can't receive communion today, but creating that commission in itself wouldn't imply a change in Church doctrine with respect to it. Nor do I think with Bergoglio there will be changes in the role of women in the Church.

What will the impact of Bergoglio's nomination be on the Church in Argentina?

I'll begin by recalling the importance of the nuncios in the Church. The nuncio is the ambassador of the Vatican, but he's a lot more -- he ends up deciding which candidates for bishop appear on the lists that are sent up to Rome. Until a year and a half ago, the nuncio was the Italian Adriano Bernardini, who proposed many candidates close to Héctor Aguer, the archbishop of La Plata. But something interesting happened: When Bergoglio was nearly 75 and was supposed to tender his resignation as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the nuncio changed. At the beginning of last year, the Swiss Emil Tscherrig came in, who had a different disposition. I suspect the change in nuncio was one of Bergoglio's moves because, otherwise, when he would resign, Bernardini would appoint Aguer archbishop of Buenos Aires. Bergoglio knows how to use power. And it would be ingenuous to think that, as pope, he wouldn't take decisions concerning the Church in Argentina into his hands. In fact, he has shown a critical attitude with respect to very right-wing groups such as the Instituto El Verbo Encarnado. But at the time he was stopped by the Vatican Curia which shouldn't be able to stop him now.

What was Bergoglio's conflict with the Instituto El Verbo Encarnado?

That group was born in San Rafael, Mendoza, founded by Father Carlos Miguel Buela, who had come from Buenos Aires. It's a terribly right-wing order that, however, has a lot of priestly vocations -- everywhere, the right-wingers usually have many, many vocations. But this group is so far right that it had confrontations with almost all of the Argentine bishops, to the point that the full Bishops Conference went to see John Paul II to ask him to act on this Institute. But an Argentine layman, the former ambassador to the Holy See during the Carlos Menem administration who had a lot of contacts in the Roman Curia, and the [Vatican] Secretary of State, Angelo Sodano, not only ignored the bishops' request, but in San Rafael a bishop was appointed who was a friend of the Instituto, priestly ordinations from this group were authorized in Buenos Aires, which were performed by Aguer, and José Luis Mollaghan, the only one who hadn't condemned the group, was named archbishop of Rosario. In the Bishops Conference, Bishop Estanislao Karlic and Bishop Guillermo Rodríguez Melgarejo, who was secretary of the Conference, had to resign. I don't think those of El Verbo Encarnado are celebrating Bergoglio's appointment.

What others pros and cons would you point out in the new pope?

Bergoglio has very negative aspects. On the human rights issue, the shadow of the two Jesuits who disappeared at the ESMA weighs on him -- there are strong suspicions that he actively participated in that, as has been detailed in news stories by Horacio Verbitsky (in Página/12).* This doesn't seem to have mattered to the cardinals. Nor can we expect Bergoglio to promote liberation theology. But, however, in the diocese of Buenos Aires he knew how to be a pastor. After archbishops who were "princes of the Church" like Caggiano, Aramburu and Quarracino, Bergoglio was willing to approach people -- he has washed the feet of AIDS patients, of pregnant women in the Sardá Maternity [Hospital], he has blessed the ragpickers in Constitution Plaza. They are positive things after a pope as removed as Benedict XVI, who never saw a poor person in his life. Politically, Bergoglio comes from the Peronist Guardia de Hierro ("Iron Guard") group. Unlike Aguer, he can drink mate with the people, he insists that priests go into the barrios, he puts in curas villeros ("slum priests"). Now we have to pay attention to two things. One: Who Bergoglio will appoint in the Vatican curia, which is a mafia den -- what usually happens is that those who are already there are initially confirmed, but maybe there will slowly begin to be changes. The second question is who will be appointed Archbishop of Buenos Aires -- hopefully Hector Aguer has finished his ecclesiastical career.


*Translator's Note: Before anyone calls me on it, it should be noted that Pope Francis has denied responsibility for the disappearance of the Jesuits. The Vatican issued a statement on March 15, 2013, that said:

"The campaign against Bergoglio is well-known and dates back to many years ago. It has been made by a publication that carries out sometimes slanderous and defamatory campaigns. The anticlerical cast of this campaign and of other accusations against Bergoglio is well-known and obvious."

"The charges refer to the time before Jorge Mario Bergoglio became bishop [of Buenos Aires], when he was Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Argentina and accuse him of not having protected two priests who were kidnapped."

"This was never a concrete or credible accusation in his regard. He was questioned by an Argentine court as someone aware of the situation but never as a defendant. He has, in documented form, denied any accusations."

What seems clear is that the family of one of the Jesuits who was kidnapped and tortured and who passed away in 2000, Fr. Orlando Yorio, still hold Bergoglio responsible for not standing up for them. The second priest, Fr. Francisco Jalics, has since reconciled with the pope and is living in an monastery in Germany. He gave a terse statement to the press in which he said that "years later ...we had the opportunity to talk with Father Bergoglio ... to discuss the events. Following that, we celebrated Mass publicly together and hugged solemnly. I am reconciled to the events and consider the matter to be closed."

Pope Francis called to restore the Church

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)

On the social networks, I had proclaimed that the future pope would be named Francis. And I was right. Why Francis? Because Saint Francis's conversion began when he heard the Crucifix in Saint Damian's Chapel say to him, "Francis, go and restore my house, which as you see is falling into ruin." (St. Bonaventure, Legenda Maior II, 1).

Francis took these words literally and rebuilt the Porziuncola Chapel in Assisi which still exists inside a huge cathedral. Then he realized that restoring the "Church that Christ saved through his blood" (ibid) was a spiritual matter. It was then that he started his movement for renewal of the Church that was presided by the most powerful pope in history, Innocent III. He began to live with the lepers and arm in arm with one of them, he went along the way preaching the gospel in the vernacular and not in Latin.

It's good to know that Francis was never a priest but just a layman, Only at the end of his life, when the popes forbade lay people to preach, did he agree to become a deacon, on the condition that he not receive any kind of remuneration for the post.

Why did Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio choose the name Francis? I think it's because he realized the Church is in ruins because of demoralization due to the various scandals that have affected the most precious thing it had: morality and credibility.

Francis isn't a name; it's a plan for a Church that is poor, simple, gospel-centered, and devoid of all power. It's a Church that walks the way together with the least and last, that creates the first communities of brothers and sisters who recite the breviary under the trees with the birds. It's an ecological Church that calls all beings those sweet words "brothers and sisters". Francis was obedient to the Church and the popes and at the same time he followed his own path with the gospel of poverty in hand. So theologian Joseph Ratzinger wrote: "Francis' 'no' to this imperial type of Church couldn't be more radical; it's what we could call a prophetic protest."(in Zeit Jesu, Herder 1970, 269). Francis doesn't talk; he simply inaugurates something new.

I think Pope Francis has in mind a church outside the palaces and symbols of power. He showed it when he appeared in public. Normally the Popes and mainly Ratzinger would put over their shoulders the mozzetta, that short capelet embroidered in gold that only emperors could wear. Pope Francis came dressed only in white. Three highly symbolic points stand out in his inaugural address.

First: He said that he wants to "preside with charity", something that has been called for since the Reformation and by the best theologians of ecumenism. The Pope should not preside as an absolute monarch, clothed in sacred power, as provided for in canon law. According to Jesus, he should preside in love and strengthen the faith of the brothers and sisters.

Second: He gave a central place to the People of God, as Vatican II highlighted but which had been left aside by the two previous popes in favor of the hierarchy. Pope Francis humbly asked the people of God to pray for him and bless him. Only afterwards would he bless the people of God. This means that he's there to serve and not be served. He asked them to help him build a path together and called for brotherhood for all humankind, where human being don't recognize each other as brothers and sisters but are tied to economic forces.

Finally, he avoided all spectacle in the figure of Pope. He didn't extend both arms to greet the people. He remained still, serious and sober, even frightened, I would say. One only saw a white figure who greeted the people affectionately. But he radiated peace and confidence. He showed his mood by speaking without official-sounding rhetoric, like a pastor speaks to the faithful.

It's worth mentioning that he's a pope who comes from the Great South, where the poorest of humankind are and where 60% of Catholics live. With his experience as pastor, with a new view of things, from below, he will be able to reform the Curia, decentralize the administration, and give the Church a new and credible face.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

We all need forgiveness

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
March 17, 2013

John 8:1-11

As was his custom, Jesus had spent the night alone with his beloved Father on the Mount of Olives. He begins the new day filled with the Spirit of God that sent him to "proclaim liberty to the captives...and to set the oppressed free." Soon he will be surrounded by a crowd who have come to the temple area to listen to him.

Suddenly, a group of scribes and Pharisees bursts in, bringing "a woman caught in adultery." They aren't concerned about the woman's terrible fate. No one questions her about anything. She's already condemned. The accusers make it very clear: "The Law of Moses commands us to stone adulteresses. You, what do you say?"

The situation is dramatic -- the Pharisees are tense, the woman, distraught, the people, expectant. Jesus remains surprisingly silent. He has before him that humiliated woman, condemned by all. Soon she will be executed. Is this God's last word on this daughter of His?

Jesus, who was seated, bends down and and starts writing some lines on the ground. Surely he is looking for some light. The accusers are asking him for an answer in the name of the Law. He will answer them based on his experience of God's mercy -- that woman and her accusers, all of them, are in need of God's forgiveness.

The accusers are only thinking of the woman's sin and the condemnation of the Law. Jesus will change the perspective. He will put the accusers before their own sin. Before God, all must acknowledge themselves as sinners. Everyone needs His forgiveness.

As they go on increasingly insisting, Jesus straightens up and says to them, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone." Who are you to condemn this woman to death, while forgetting your own sins and your need for God's mercy and forgiveness?

The accusers "go away one by one." Jesus is pointing to a coexistence where the death penalty cannot be the final word on a human being. Later on, Jesus will solemnly say, "I have not come to judge the world but to save it."

Jesus' dialogue with the woman sheds new light on his action. The accusers have gone away, but the woman hasn't moved. It seems she needs to hear a last word from Jesus. She still doesn't feel free. Jesus says, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more."

He offers her his forgiveness and, at the same time, invites her not to sin anymore. God's forgiveness doesn't negate responsibility but requires conversion. Jesus knows that "God desires not the death of a sinner, but that he be converted and live."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wanted: A More Liberal Pontiff

North American Catholics continue to be out of step with the teachings of their Church and as the mainstream media takes their pulse in anticipation of the papal election, we find the moral disconnect still in effect and extending to structural concerns.

The Surveys:


The Church teaches that abortion should not be resorted to under any circumstance. The NYT/CBS poll found that only 23% of Catholics were completely opposed to abortion. Thirty-six percent of Catholics said it should be generally available under all circumstances (42% of all survey participants) and 38% said it should be available but with stricter limits than now. In spite of this, they still expect the Church to oppose all abortion. Asked whether the pope should be for or against legalized abortion, 56% said "against". (NYT/CBS)

Death Penalty

The Church generally opposes the death penalty but 61% of Catholics are in favor of it, only slightly lower than 64% for Americans in general.(NYT/CBS)

Same-sex Marriage

In recent years, the institutional Catholic Church has been campaigning intensively against the right of homosexuals to marry. The lesson apparently hasn't been absorbed by the faithful, 62% of whom support same-sex marriage. Ironically, this is even slightly higher than Americans in general, of whom only 53% think same-sex marriage should be legal. (NYT/CBS)

54% Catholics support same-sex marriage. (Quinnipiac)

Birth Control

The Church teaches that artificial contraception is contrary to Catholic morality but 79% of Catholics surveyed favored the use of artificial methods of birth control (NYT/CBS). This is the one issue where Catholics want the next pope to come around to their point of view. Seventy-one percent of those in the NYT/CBS poll and 64% of those in the Quinnipiac one said the next pope should be in favor of artificial birth control.

Papal Infallibility

Respondents split on the question of papal infallibility. Only 40% agreed with this teaching, while 46% did not view the pope as infallible on matters of moral and faith. Seventy-eight percent of Catholics surveyed said that on difficult moral questions, they are more inclined to follow their own consciences than the teachings of the pope. Eighty-three percent opined that it was possible to disagree with Church teaching on issues such as birth control and divorce and still be a good Catholic. (NYT/CBS)


Catholics no longer believe unconditionally in transubstantiation (that the bread and wine are literally changed during the Eucharist into the Body and Blood of Jesus). Forty percent of those surveyed expressed a belief in transubstantiation but 58% said the bread and wine are just symbolic reminders, not the literal Body and Blood. (NYT/CBS)

Married Priests

Sixty-six percent of Catholics surveyed thought priests should be allowed to marry. (NYT/CBS). In the Quinnipiac poll, the percent in favor of married priests was only slightly lower, at 62%. The Washington Post/ABC poll found 55% of Catholics opposing the ban on married priests. The Angus Reid poll found that 71% of Canadian Catholics and 55% of American ones would like to see the next pope allow priests to get married.

Women Priests

Sixty-six percent of Catholics surveyed (NYT/CBS) thought women should be allowed to be priests. In the Quinnipiac poll, the percent in favor of women priests was only slightly lower, at 62%. The Washington Post/ABC poll found 58% of Catholics opposing the prohibition on female priests. The Angus Reid poll found that 62% of Canadian and 52% of American Catholics think the next pope should allow women to be ordained.

No.1 Issue in the North American Catholic Church: Sex Abuse

In the NYT/CBS poll, sex abuse by priests and its cover-up remains the most important issue for the Church today according to Catholics. No other issue even came in a close second. In the Washington Post/ABC poll, 78% of Catholics disapproved of the Church's response to the sex abuse crisis. This echoes the findings of a February 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center in which a third of the respondents identified this issue as the number one concern.

Wanted: A More Liberal Pontiff

Not surprisingly, more than half of those surveyed said they feel the Church is out of touch with the needs of Catholics today. (53% - NYT/CBS; 52% - Quinnipiac). In the Washington Post/ABC poll, six in 10 Catholics characterized the church as not in sync with their attitudes and lifestyles. Most North American Catholics surveyed want the new pope to be more liberal. According to the Angus Reid poll, Catholics who attend church less often than once a week would like to see the new pontiff take a more liberal approach to issues like contraception and birth control (CAN 77%, USA 59%), divorce (CAN 59%, USA 47%), and same-sex relations (CAN 56%, USA 40%). Canadian and American Catholics who attend Church at least once a week are roughly on the same page on contraception (CAN 57%, USA 43%) and divorce (CAN 43%, USA 35%), but considerably fewer would endorse a more liberal approach on same-sex relations (CAN 34%, USA 24%). While Angus Reid made an effort to survey an equal number of weekly Mass attenders and Catholics who don't go to church as frequently, it's important to put this in the context that only about a quarter of American Catholics admit to attending Mass regularly. Thus the views of those who attend church less frequently are probably more representative of the average Catholic perspective.

The collapse of his theology: the main reason for the resignation of Benedict XVI?

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)

It is always risky to name a theologian to the role of pope. He can make his particular theology the universal theology of the Church and impose it worldwide. I suspect this has been the case with Benedict XVI, first as a cardinal appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the former Inquisition), and later as pope. Such a deed has no legitimacy and becomes a source of unfair condemnations. He in fact condemned more than one hundred theologians for not fitting in with his theological interpretation of the Church and the world.

Health reasons and a feeling of powerlessness against the severity of the crisis in the Church led him to resign. But not only that. The text of his resignation speaks of deteriorating strength of body and mind and an inability to address issues that hindered the performance of his mission. I believe the deeper reason for his resignation is hidden behind these words: the perception of the collapse of his theology and the failure of the model of Church that he wanted to implement. An absolute monarchy is not absolute to the point of overcoming the inertia of aging Curial structures.

The central theses of his theology were always problematic for the theological community. Three of them ended up being refuted by the facts: the concept of the Church as a "small reconciled world", that the City of Man only has value before God through the mediation of the City of God, and the famous "subsistit" which means only in the Catholic Church does the true Church of Christ remain; all other churches can not be called churches. This narrow view of a keen intelligence, but one held hostage to itself, did not have enough intrinsic strength or the necessary adhesion to be implemented. Might Benedict have recognized the collapse and consequently resigned? There are reasons for this hypothesis.

The Pope Emeritus found his master and inspiration in St. Augustine, in fact the latter was the subject of some personal conversations with him. He took his basic perspective from Augustine, beginning with his antepenultimate theory of original sin (transmitted by the sexual act of procreation). This makes the whole of humanity a "convicted mass." But within it, God, through Christ, established a saving cell, represented by the Church. It is "a small reconciled world" that holds the representation (Vertretung) of the rest of lost humanity. It is not necessary for it to have many members. A few are enough, if they are pure and holy. Ratzinger incorporated this vision. He completed it with the following reflection: the Church is constituted by Christ and the twelve apostles. So it is apostolic. It's just this little group. It excludes the disciples, the women and the masses who followed Jesus. For him they don't count. They are reached through the representation (Vertretung) that the small reconciled world takes on. This ecclesiological model ignores the vast globalized world. He then wanted to make Europe "the reconciled world" to reconquer humankind. It failed because the project was not taken up by anyone and was even ridiculed.

The second thesis is also taken from St. Augustine and his interpretation of history: the confrontation between the City of God and the City of Man. In the City of God are grace and salvation -- it is the only path that leads to salvation. The City of Man is built by human effort. But, as all its humanism and its other values are already contaminated, they aren't able to be saved because they haven't gone through the mediation of the City of God (Church). So it is plagued by relativism. Cardinal Ratzinger consequently harshly condemned liberation theology, because the latter sought liberation by the poor themselves, made autonomous subjects of their history. But since it's not coordinated with the City of God and its cell, the Church, it's insufficient and vain.

The third is a very personal interpretation of his that he gives of Vatican II when he speaks of the Church of Christ. The first conciliar draft said that the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ. In the discussions seeking ecumenism, replaced is by subsists in to make room for the Church of Christ to be fulfilled in other Christian churches, in their own way, too. That interpretation, which was upheld in my PhD, earned an explicit condemnation from Cardinal Ratzinger in his famous document Dominus Iesus (2000), where he states that subsists comes from subsistence which can only be one and occurs in the Catholic Church. The other "churches" have "only" ecclesial elements. That "only" is an arbitrary addition that he makes to the official text of the Council. Both some notable theologians and I myself show that that existential meaning doesn't exist in Latin. The meaning is always specific: "be embodied","be objectively fulfilled." That was the "sensus Patrum", the sense of the Council Fathers.

These three main theses have been refuted by the facts: in the "small reconciled world" there are too many pedophiles even among the cardinals, and thieves of the Vatican Bank money. The second, that the City of Man doesn't have salvific weight before God, is built on an error by restricting the action of the City of God only to the realm of the Church. Within the City of Man is also the City of God, not in the form of religious consciousness but in the form of ethical and humanitarian values. The Second Vatican Council guaranteed the autonomy of earthly realities (another name for secularization) which has value independent of the Church. For God they count. The The City of God (Church) is made through explicit faith, through celebration and through the sacraments. The City of Man, by ethics and politics.

The third -- that only the Catholic Church is the one and only Church of Christ and, moreover, that there is no salvation outside of it -- a medieval thesis resurrected by Cardinal Ratzinger, was simply ignored as offensive to the other faiths. Instead of "outside the Church there is no salvation","the universal offer of salvation to all human being and the world" was introduced into the discourse of priests and theologians.

I nurture the strong suspicion that such a failure and collapse of his theological edifice took from him the needed strength of body and spirit to the point that, as he confesses, he felt incapable of exercising his ministry. Captive of his own theology, he had no alternative but to honestly resign.