Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fr. Antonio Puigjané: "I think Francis will address celibacy"

I have translated this interview in an ongoing effort to present credible testimony, especially from the left-wing of the Argentine Catholic Church, about Pope Francis. And because the life of this Capuchin priest friar, who spent 10 years in jail on trumped-up charges stemming from his human rights work, is interesting in and of itself. -- RG

 By Gabriel Giubellino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Tiempo Argentino
March 24, 2013

In a modest room in the infirmary of Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Pompeya, Father Antonio Puigjané received the reporter. Despite his 84 years and the stroke that forces him to move around in a wheelchair, he's excited to talk about Pope Francis and the Church he has served all his life in the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor.

Did Bergoglio's election as Pope surprise you?

It pleasantly surprised me because I think he's a humble man, very intelligent, and I think he's going to bring honor to the name he gave himself, Francis, a man who renewed the relationship with Christ, making the Church look and go in a different direction. I think that with time Pope Francis will achieve many important changes that are needed in the Church. Especially this closeness to the people, to people, to the poorest, which is one of Bergoglio's traits.

How is your relationship with him? Were you in close contact?

Very close, he likes me a lot too. I think he likes me because I was a prisoner for 10 years in the Caseros jail. He has a predilection for those who got into those situations.

Did he support you while you were in prison?

He wrote me several times.

What did he say in those letters?

He cheered me up. And with that tiny handwriting he had, he'd put at the bottom: "Pray for me."

That's what he said in Vatican Square. Did you talk with him before he traveled to the conclave?

A few days before, I talked to him by phone and to tease him, I said, "So you're gonna be Pope now?" He died laughing.

Did he have any expectation or indication that he would be Pope?

I think he might have felt something deep down, but I don't think he thought he would be Pope.

In your opinion, what are Bergoglio's virtues? Why do you think they elected him?

The main one is humility. He is a very humble and very intelligent man. Now, he is by nature a rather right-wing man, a conservative -- in his youth he was in the Iron Guard. I knew him in that period, but not as closely as now. And you could already see the debate. The progressive bishops and the reactionary bishops, who were always a majority.

So what happened? Do you think there was a transformation in him?

Basically he's the same, but little by little that contact with the poor, which he had intensely, was surely what transformed him. And I think he'll go on. Look how he escaped to greet the people, to visit the sick...

Did you read Horacio González's statements? He talks about these attitudes of Francis as demagoguery. A dissonant voice these days when the Pope has won over so many people.

I didn't know. You must have read too much Verbitsky (laughs), because Verbitsky hates him viciously, as I see it. He's poisoned, and that makes him exaggerate and only see one side. He doesn't see at all what Bergoglio says, that he tried to protect (Orlando) Yorio and (Francisco) Jalics. And Jalics says he doesn't have anything against Bergoglio.

The process of taking "ownership" of the figure of the Pope has been notable. From the billboards that claimed him as "Argentine and a Peronist" to the New York Times, which interpreted him as the Pope of the Americas. Many people seem to be saying: he's one of mine.

What matters is that people take him seriously for themselves. It gives me a lot of comfort to see the joy of the poor. Did you see how they jumped and screamed in the Cathedral, cheering the Pope? That's never happened and it's very significant. The voice of the people.

That's a phrase of Bishop Enrique Angelelli. He said one should have one ear on the people...

...and the other on the Gospel. That's essential. I think Bergoglio does, and in the end the poor will convert him completely. When he has to make serious decisions, I think he'll lean on that.

You've stated that the Vatican did everything to cover up Angelelli's death.

More than the Vatican, our bishops, because the Vatican is very far away. We'll see if this Pope will do something now. He went to La Rioja and said that Angelelli was a bishop in love with his people. I don't remember him saying that he was assassinated. On the other hand, Luis (Coscia, a priest) told me yesterday that yes, he had said that Angelelli was a martyr. And if he's a martyr, it's because he was assassinated. That made me very happy. And it's in the news that they say he's going to promote the beatification process of Carlos Murias. There's no doubt that they were destroyed by gunfire from the security forces.

What decisions should Francis make in the Vatican?

Take apart that sort of Mafia that exists among the cardinals. The Vatican is a circus and he has to take that apart little by little. He's already begun. There've been some gestures already. Very subtly, intelligently. I tried to watch when he greeted the cardinals. He treated all of them with great affection, but at the same time he ought to be wary of them. Because, taken together, they're a sort of huge Mafia that doesn't even come close to Jesus' plan. And I think Pope Francis wants to go back to Jesus' plan, like Saint Francis of Assisi. It's very hard, because the anti-power...He has said that the real power is the power of service, and it's true. Jesus even gave his life to serve.

What influence will the election of this Argentine pope have on politics and society?

I think he'll touch the hearts of many. He touched Cristina's [Argentina President Cristina Kirchner] heart; she seemed completely in love. They treated each other with an affection that was good to see.

Do you know Cristina personally?

No, but I like her because of what she's doing. She's doing everything she can to get us to be a country of brothers and sisters.

Getting back to the Pope's job, he knows the struggle of Jerónimo Podestá and his wife Clelia Luro for the possibility of priests being able to have mates. Might there be a chance that he's thinking about something like that?

I think so. I know that before, he blessed and kept priests who had women companions and children in their ministry. Quietly, you see, without making a fuss, because there were those on the other side who were looking at him with inquisitorial eyes, to get on him for the slightest slip.

Were you aware of that?

Yes, I was aware of that.

So you have hope with Francis in the Vatican.

He's a good man, humble, poor. I have hope that Francis will change things, that he'll be looking for opportunities to make the huge change that needs to be made there. I think he'll address priestly celibacy too. On women's participation, I don't think he'll do so much. But that might happen too. Because of what he's done, I think it could.

Changes that Benedict XVI couldn't or didn't want to make?

His way of being itself and his thought was very tied to what came before. But I think his resignation was a lovely gesture.

When it was just learned that Bergoglio was elected, there were reactions. In fact, he was the same person who opposed same-sex marriage.

Marriage equality.

And who didn't support sexual and reproductive health policies. There was even a political perspective quickly. To put it crudely, that the empire put him in to put the brakes on the union of the Americas that was in progress. Something like: he came to break down Latin American brotherhood.

Who said that?

Luis D´Elía.

How strange of "el Gordo"! I don't think so, on the contrary. If you saw with what affection he greeted Rafael Correa at the Vatican. And Correa can't be mistaken for someone else. He greeted him with a lot of affection too.

Let's talk about your time in prison. Even though you were detained, you offered Mass with a chalice that the Pallarols [a family of gold and silversmiths in Buenos Aires] had made.

A precious chalice, that Luis (Coscia) has. Each of them made a little bit of it, as they told me.

You've always said that the attack on La Tablada barracks was a mistake.

A terrible mistake that I didn't know at all until the moment of the event itself. The real reason they sent me to jail was for having accompanied the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in the plaza, which I did for several years enthusiastically and devotedly. I thought it was almost more important than participating in a Mass. At first they went overboard and wanted to convict me as a participant in the takeover. And then they brought in witnesses who saw fantasies, like a sort of superman running all over the barracks from end to end, shooting crazily with a machine gun. And I could barely walk in those days. Now, with the stroke, nothing anymore. I had been operated on and was barely moving. However, they said outrageous things. It was so exaggerated that it became impossible to maintain. So they changed the accusation and made me an ideological participant in the takeover of La Tablada.

So you were in for 10 years.

I went in when I was 60 and got out the day I turned 70, on June 13, 1999. That day, they put me under house arrest. I went to Coghlan and there my good friend Luis Coscia received me. The one who didn't celebrate was the pastor, who didn't want me to appear anywhere, out of embarrassment. To those who wanted to take me out for anything, he would say, "No, Antonio's a prisoner; he has to be in his cell."

How did the Church behave towards you during this whole process?

The order had a good attitude; it didn't do anything against me and it allowed the brothers to visit me. Luis Coscia behaved like a real brother -- he got permission for a weekly interview -- it was a spiritual visit or something like that -- that any prisoner can get if he asks. With that authorization, he visited me every week. Other brothers didn't look so favorably on it, but they didn't stop him. Now, I was convinced that the penal system had stopped me from saying Mass, but Luis said no, that it was Cardinal Aramburu. He told the penal system I couldn't celebrate Mass.

But you celebrated Mass anyway.

Yes, but individually, at 3 in the morning, the only time I could do it peacefully, with the spiritual presence of everyone -- friends and enemies, I invited everybody in my heart to participate in the celebration. When I told Bergoglio this, it impressed him a lot. Everything to do with prayer moves him a lot.

Do you still see people from the MTP ["Movimiento Todos por la Patria" -- "All For the Motherland" Movement, a political organization]?

The last one to talk to me was Joaquín, one of those who quickly realized that La Tablada was a mistake. Because they thought they had done a heroic act. They believed that after the conviction, everyone was going to come and congratulate us, welcome us as heroes. But (he laughs) it wasn't like that; it earned everyone's repudiation. A fair repudiation, not of the comrades, but of the deed, which was Gorriarán's idea. He took them to that slaughterhouse.

Gorriarán never repented.

He continued to maintain that it was necessary to fight the soldiers, so that they wouldn't repeat a military coup.

Did you argue about that with each other?

No. I saw him, I visited him, but I didn't get to talk about that. I'm sure he was doing it out of conviction. He argued that La Tablada wasn't going back to armed struggle, but stopping the military. But obviously, stopping the military that way, was gong back to arms. Because they run on weapons. Later when he got out and started to manipulate the comrades again, I broke off with him. I never saw him again, not even when he died.

Tell me something about your life here in Pompeya. Do you celebrate Mass?

When Luis comes, we celebrate right here, in this room, which is part of the infirmary.

Do you go out in the street?

Saturday, I'm going to go to a demonstration in Lanús, for 30 thousand reasons, for memory, for truth, justice, that a group of Peronist young people is organizing.

His father's 1972 disappearance

Juan Daniel Puigjané, Antonio's father, disappeared in 1972. "It was September 8th, poor old guy, he was 70 years old. He thought like I did. Basically he disappeared because the militants thought that, like me, he was a subversive, which is what Monseñor Plaza, who threw us out of Mar del Plata, used to say. At that time, Papa, thinking we were sad, started to visit us on weekends in a house we had in San Miguel. He was seen a lot with us; he had a very beautiful nature. And one of those time, when he got back to his home in Caballito, when he went to buy avocados in a little market, four men put him in a car and sped off. That was the last news; we never heard of him again."

Was any court case opened?

What would there have been in those days? He was one of the first of the disappeared. I think they interrogated him, they wanted to rush him along with some kind of cattle prod torture and since he had heart problems, he must have died on them. And in those days the most effective way to make things simpler, or rather, to put a lid on them forever, was to make his corpse disappear. He disappeared and ciao. And you know how I know some of the details? When they killed Angelelli, the police went to see the bishop who was still in charge and they told him that if he wanted to save my life, he would get me out of La Rioja because they wouldn't answer for my life. And they gave him a letter I had written to my father that he always carried in his pocket. It amused him and he read it often. Because of that letter, the police concluded I was a subversive. Basically, they were right. (laughs)

What did that letter say?

It was very Franciscan, joyful, telling him about the things Monseñor Plaza had done when he came to Mar del Plata as apostolic administrator. The letter talked about everything that was happening, and the soldiers thought that was subversive.

Did you keep that letter?

No. Rubiolo -- that was the bishop's name -- gave it to my superiors. They brought it to Buenos Aires, but it disappeared here. It would be lovely to read it now. I'm sure it wasn't subversive at all.

What did you do at that time?

I prayed. I was satisfied with praying. I didn't have the courage or the intelligence of the Mothers to go out and fight then. And in addition to prayer, you have to move. Prayer and action have to go together.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Uganda's "Singing Priest" Suspended

Easily the most charismatic and best known Catholic priest in Uganda, you would think Fr. Anthony Musaala would be the last person the Church would want to suspend. Yet that is just what happened last month to the young clergyman whose singing talents earned him and his dance group the Pearl of Africa Best Gospel Artiste Award in 2005, with his song "Tusimbe Ffena Mu Kisiinde" (see video below) winning Best Song of the Year.

On March 12, 2013, Fr. Musaala, tired of the hypocrisy around sexual issues in the Catholic Church in his country, wrote an open letter to his clerical colleagues and superiors, about the sexual abuse and celibacy violation issues in the Ugandan Church.

Fr. Musaala starts out by saying that "it is an open secret that many catholic priests and some bishops, in Uganda and elsewhere, no longer live celibate chastity...The church, however, still maintains the fable that most catholic priests persevere in celibate chastity fairly well, which fiction begs belief." And he opines that "now more than at any other time, we must begin an open and frank dialogue about Catholic priests becoming happily married men, rather than being miserable and single, either before or after ordination."

The letter goes on to mention specific cases known to Fr. Musaala of inappropriate sexual conduct by priests, without mentioning the names of the victims or the perpetrators, except the last case in which he himself, at age 16, had a sexual encounter with a teaching brother at his Catholic secondary school, which the brother initiated after inviting the young Musaala to his room on the pretext of doing some extra chemistry study.

Fr. Musaala's letter also expresses his frustration with uncorroborated allegations that surfaced in 2009 "that I must be a homosexual, because I had homosexual friends and went to homosexual gatherings." In the letter, he says that he "pointed out that I didn’t actually recall having had homosexual relations with any of my rabid accusers, neither did they; which meant that hearsay alone became the evidence." But in spite of the absence of proof or any convictions, Fr. Musaala writes that "I was being treated, by my superiors as the biggest sinner in Nineveh."

In an exclusive interview on March 20th with blogger Melanie Nathan, Fr. Musaala went further, telling her that "one key reason I had to speak up was because of the subtle blackmail I was undergoing at the hands of the church." He said that every time he inquired about a new posting or permission to travel "the Archbishop would gently remind me of all the allegations of homosexuality made against me in 2009, and according to him still being made now." He said the Archbishop told him that it was up to him to prove that the allegations against him were untrue. In the meantime, he told Ms. Nathan that the Archdiocese of Kampala had placed him in a fairly remote parish, making it difficult for him to continue with his music work, which he says was frowned upon by conservative elements in the Ugandan Church. He laments that he has never been afforded the opportunity to confront his accusers and concludes that all of this is "good old fashioned catholic prejudice towards homosexuality, those who seemed to be homosexual. The unspoken text was 'You really do not belong here, but can be tolerated.'"

In response to Fr. Musaala's letter, Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga suspended the popular cleric on March 19th, issuing a statement that "because of the publication of his article in the public media which damages good morals of Catholic believers and further expresses a wrong teaching against the Catholic Church’s teaching and that this stirs up hatred and contempt against the Church, he incurs a Ferendae sententiae penalty as prescribed by Can.1314. This means that Father Anthony Musaala is suspended from celebrating sacraments and sacramentals, from the powers of governance in accordance to the law of the Church Can.1335 and 1336 §1n.1, 2 and 3 as investigations are being carried on."

Later, on Holy Saturday, Archbishop Lwanga apologized publicly to those who have been victims of inappropriate sexual conduct by members of the clergy. The archbishop acknowledged that some of the anecdotes were "correct" but that the indiscretions should not be generalised as being condoned by the Catholic Church. He later told the press that he was forming an ad hoc commission to inquire into the matter. “Nobody commits a sin on behalf of an institution," Lwanga said.

As for Fr. Musaala, he is no longer discussing the case, citing an "agreement" he has reached with Archbishop Lwanga. Kampala's Judicial Vicar, Fr. Andrew Katto-Kasirye, has said that Fr. Musaala remains on indefinite suspension pending the investigation into the contents of his letter but that he is free to appeal. Fr. Katto-Kasirye added that "the responsibility now remains in the hands of Fr Musaala, to amend the damage he has caused to the Catholic faithful" and he advised him to "duly explain" to catholic believers the doctrine of celibacy in its rightful manner and context.

Fr. Musaala has told Uganda's NBS TV that he plans to challenge the suspension under canon law. He says that his letter was not intended for public consumption but was leaked to the press by someone who had shared his experience (presumably his sex abuse by a member of the clergy). He says in the interview that he wants the Church to learn to differentiate between abuse and consensual homosexuality. But on such issues, at least for now, Uganda's "singing priest" must remain silent...

Tusimbe Ffena Mu Kisiinde

Other music videos by Fr. Anthony Musaala

From doubt to faith

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
April 7, 2013

John 20:19-31

Modern man has learned to doubt. It is part of the spirit of our times to question everything to advance in scientific knowledge. In this climate, faith is often discredited. Human beings go through life full of uncertainty and doubts. So we're all easily in tune with Thomas' reaction when the other disciples tell him that, in his absence, they've had a astounding experiencing -- "We've seen the Lord." Thomas could be a man of our times. His answer is clear: "Unless I see it...I won't believe it."

His attitude is understandable. Thomas doesn't say that his companions are lying or that they've been deceived. He just states that their testimony isn't enough for him to join in their faith. He needs to have his own experience. And Jesus never reproaches him.

Thomas was able to express his doubts within the disciples' group. Apparently, they weren't scandalized. They didn't throw him out of the group. They didn't believe the women either when they announced to them that they had seen the risen Jesus. The Thomas episode allows us to see the long road the small group of disiples had to travel to get to faith in the risen Christ.

In our time, Christian communities ought to be a space of dialogue where we could honestly share the doubts, questions, and searches of believers today. We don't all have the same experience within us. To grow in faith, we need stimulation and dialogue with others who share our same concerns.

But nothing can replace the experience of personal contact with Christ in the depth of one's own conscience. According to the gospel story, eight days later Jesus shows up again. He doesn't criticize Thomas for his doubts. His reluctance to believe reveals his honesty. Jesus shows him his wounds.

They aren't "proof" of the resurrection, but rather "signs" of his love and devotion unto death. Therefore, he invites him to delve deeper into his doubts confidently -- "Do not be unbelieving, but believe." Thomas waives verifying anything. He no longer needs proof. He only knows that Jesus loves him and invites him to trust -- "My Lord and My God."

Someday, we Christians will discover that many of our doubts, experienced in a healthy way without losing contact with Jesus and the community, can rescue us from a superficial faith content to repeat formulas, and stimulate us to grow in love and trust in Jesus, the Mystery of God incarnate who is the core of our faith.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Theologian Leonardo Boff: "The Pope will be important in Latin American politics"

by Álvaro Murillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Nación (Costa Rica)
April 2, 2013

He was an active priest who was critical towards the Vatican. He co-founded the leftist current known as liberation theology in Brazil, was punished, and therefore left the priesthood and devoted himself to promoting his human rights ideas in his role as a lay person. He also adopted the idea of environmental sustainability and works as a teacher of theology.

He came to Costa Rica, invited by La Salle University for its course on environmental sustainability, but the subject of the new pope is obligatory when facing one of the most critical voices of the Catholic Church in Latin America, the founder of the leftist Christian movement known as liberation theology. Leonardo Boff, the Brazilian former priest, hasn't ceased to be optimistic about the election of Francis.

We know your very optimistic opinions about the new Pope Francis. Why, given that you've been so critical of the Church?

His name, Francis, is more than a name; it's a plan for the Church. It's rebuilding a Church that's in ruins because of the sexual scandals, the Vatican bank, infighting. It's providential that he's a Jesuit, well-trained and with the virtues of Saint Francis -- simplicity and the option for the poor.

He comes from the Third World, where 60% of Catholics live, while Europe is a dying region. He can bring new vigor to the Church, new hope, and he's already given very clear signs that he will be different. He's already said that pastors should smell like sheep, not like palaces, altars, and sacristies. It's a Church of all times. He will be more a pastor than a doctor.

The Church is also a system made up by authorities who are the same ones as in the previous papacy. Isn't it naive to think Francis can change what's wrong in the Church?

He has to intervene, to use that power of absolute monarchy. He has the ability to intervene in the diseased body of the Church, in its cancer. If he doesn't do it, his name wouldn't make sense.

The problem is that the Church has completely lost credibility and is universally demoralized. He was elected to restore that credibility in this internal crisis. He feels obliged to make a complete reform in the face of the errors of the Curia.

Will he have any leeway? The cardinals are the same.

Maybe that's the only advantage of being an absolute monarchy. He has absolute and immediate power. He can remove a cardinal, transfer an archbishop, and he can excommunicate people at the highest level. Perhaps that would be the only advantage of being a dictatorship.

How should the churches of Latin America view all these gestures of austerity, humility, and option for the dispossessed? Is it a binding example?

I hope so. Most of the cardinals and bishops are very devoted to the Pope; they exalt him and such. Well, now's the time for the bishops to imitate him and shed their palace titles. He's already said that "the carnival is over", when they wanted to put the garments on him. This is a scandal. With all that solemnity and habits, it looks more like the carnival in Rio. I'm one of those who's going to remind them to imitate the Pope. If they don't do it, it's a sign that they're breaking with him and his papacy.

Are you confident that they'll imitate him?

They should, because he isn't repressive like Ratzinger, who chopped the heads of 140 theologians.

You were one of them.

Yes, I was one of them, one among many, but it seems that's over. Francis doesn't seem so interested in doctrine, but in being a shepherd and bringing hope, being in the world of solidarity. He'll be important in the politics of Latin America, now, with the flowering of populist democracies. He has always preferred the poor, not out of philanthropy but out of justice.

That's what liberation theology says, isn't it?

Yes, that's the main point. We're very happy and it doesn't matter whether he uses the words "liberation theology" or not. What matters to us is his solidarity and his moral authority with human beings and the Earth.

Do you think the College of Cardinals knew what kind of pope they were choosing?

I suspect that the European cardinals were embarrassed. They knew it couldn't be one of them.

Now we're seeing more and more gestures. When will we see the first decisions and what will they be?

It will go on as it is. But perhaps another council is coming, an open council of Christianity, even including atheists, focused on life and respect for others. In 50 years (since Vatican II) humanity has changed a lot. We have to define the paths of the Church and ecumenical Christianity for the third millennium. That would be the best and it would emerge strengthened.

Is he a socialist pope?

I don't know if that label would fit him. He may be interested in the poor and in social justice, which are the classic banners of historical socialism; they're ethical banners. But using the word is a party or an ideology and they distance themselves from that. What we can say is that one should seek a socio-cosmic democracy, that also includes nature. I think that he's going along that line.

Will you help him in his projects for South America?

My concern isn't helping the pope but taking on the cause that goes beyond him, of lives that are threatened. If he takes it on, I'll be there, but if not, we'll pressure him, because we don't have a lot of time.

Do you think he could go live outside the Vatican?

Like John Paul I who, two days before dying, gathered the cardinals and announced that to them; two days later, he turned up dead.

Are you saying that Pope Francis would be taking a risk?

It's a risk, because there's a history in the Vatican of many assassinations, a long time ago. He should be careful because where there's a struggle for power, there's no love -- and power always seeks more power. He should handle this to make reforms without causing a schism. The base of the two previous popes was the fundamentalists like Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, and the Knights of Christ. Those groups must be very unhappy with the new pope, who is more social [justice] based.

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.