Friday, April 12, 2013

The Church isn't fixed just by changing shoes

by José Maria Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
April 9, 2013

The new habits that Pope Francis has introduced in the public image the successor to Peter presents to the world have been news worldwide. No one now doubts that the pope seems more and more like a normal man every day, without the red Prada shoes and with increasingly fewer of those costumes that are as striking as they are outdated. Of course, this is praiseworthy and it expresses that this pope has a strong, original and exemplary personality. A pope is important, not because of his public image but because of his exemplariness. It's obvious that Pope Francis is very clear about this. So we admire him, we applaud him, we feel closer to him. And we expect a lot of him.

Of course, I'm not one to tell the pope what he must do. Who am I to do that? In any case, with all possible modesty and humility, I am daring to suggest that one can think that the Church will not be fixed just by simplifying the vestments and modifying a few customs. It will be news, yes. Especially among more traditional people and groups. Some have already screamed to high heaven because, on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis dared to wash the feet of two women. It's sad to think that there are people who get so alarmed over such a thing. Wouldn't it be more reasonable to think deeply about where the root of the true problems the Church is suffering lies? And, especially, the problems that so many helpless people, marginalized and without hope of a future, are suffering?

Well then, the question thus having been raised, what I dare to suggest is that the origin of the problems that the Church is dragging along, isn't in the public image offered by the pope. The root is in the theology that the Church teaches. Because theology is the body of knowledge that tells us what we ought to think and believe about God, Jesus, sin and salvation, etc...Now, as anyone with a fair bit of culture knows, theology continues to be a body of knowledge that has remained too outdated. Because it's ideas and beliefs that were developed and structured more than 800 years ago. And, logically, in a culture like the current one, where the mind of almost everyone is on different problems and seeking other solutions, are we going to be surprised that the teachings of the clergy matter little and to fewer and fewer people every day? I agree that God is always the same. And it's not about the people of every era inventing the "god" that suits the people of those times. Not at all. It's precisely about the opposite. It's about us asking ourselves seriously if what we are teaching, with our theology and our catechism, is what God has told us. Or rather, what we are teaching is what has occurred to a long series of theologians -- more or less original -- who, in times past, said things that aren't very useful today.

I'll conclude by giving an example that illustrates what I'm trying to explain. In the "Credo" (our official profession of faith), we start by saying: "We* believe in One God, the Father Almighty." That is what the first Ecumenical Council, the one of Nicea (in 325), taught. Of all the qualifiers that could have been placed on the God of our faith, "Almighty" was chosen. That is, "power" was chosen, not kindness or love, which is how the New Testament defines God (1 Jn 4:8,16). But this isn't what causes the most difficulty. The main problem is that, if you read the original text of the Council, the Greek one, what it says there is that we Christians believe in the "Pantocrator", which was the title attributed to themselves by the Roman emperors of the Antonine dynasty (96 to 192), who dominated the golden age of the Empire and equated themselves with the gods. Now, the "Pantocrator" was the master of the universe, the absolute ruler of the cosmos. A way of speaking of God that has little (or nothing) to do with the Father Jesus presents to us. And I would note that this example, while important, is relatively secondary. Without a doubt, theology needs to be brought up to date, which involves much more serious problems than the pope's shoes. We will intensify our faith and our hope that Pope Francis will take decisive steps in that direction. In him, we Christians have more at stake than we surely imagine.

* Translator's Note: I'm translating from a Spanish version of the Credo which still uses the first person plural, as the English used to do before the latest revision. The current English version of the Credo uses the first person singular.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hans Küng: "Pope Francis should use his authority to clean up the Curia"

By Idafe Martin (English translation by Rebel Girl)
March 20, 2013

He turned 85 yesterday. And despite his slow movements and deliberate speech, Hans Küng still has an alert mind and enormous prestige as one of the great theoreticians of the Catholic Church. Author of dozens of works that have shaped theology in recent decades, his lashings against the corruption of the Vatican Curia were feared within the power cliques of the last two pontiffs. Küng, who was born in Sursee, Switzerland in 1928, received Clarín privately in the German city of Tübingen, where he was professor of ecumenical theology for decades and is now president of the Global Ethic Foundation. His dissent prompted the Vatican to take away the power to teach theology, but his university rebelled and created a chair for him. In this interview, very critical of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he says he's "very happy" because of the election of Pope Francis, who he asks to "be courageous." A cordial man, he invited me to have coffee and, to break the ice, asked the first question: "Do you think the Pope will read this?"

What do you think of Cardinal Bergoglio's election as the new Pope?

A very happy surprise because I didn't have confidence in the names that were rumored. My hope was that, after the discussion, a figure like John XXIII would emerge, but I didn't know who it could be. He's a fitting man, who brings hope, avoids pomp, and is changing the style of Benedict XVI.

And that he's chosen the name Francis?

A good sign, because it's a program in itself, not of domination and power but that proclaims a Church of service to all, starting with the poorest, of simplicity and modesty.

Francis is the first Jesuit pope. What does that mean?

It means that we have a person with a very good education, someone who's very intelligent, very well trained in philosophy and theology. A man who has the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. And an up-to-date spirituality, of service to human beings.

He's also the first non-European pope.

It's a good sign because it shows the Church is no longer Eurocentric, but universal. And from the political point of view, he's a man who doesn't come from the Curia, who hasn't been involved in the scandals.

What reforms might he initiate?

The question is whether he'll be able to assert himself over the Curia. Legally speaking, he has all the power and if he wants to, he could do a lot of things. But he should use that authority to clean up the Curia, surrounding himself with the right people and firing Secretary of State Bertone, who's incompetent, now. Moreover, he should be courageous and form a cabinet of experienced people. not just of those who come from the hierarchy, who are there because they're pleasant people who aren't annoying or argumentative. He needs to put competent people in the dicasteries who would meet each week, who would discuss things. He should put someone in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who's open to dialogue, not like the current Müller, who's there only because he's a friend of Ratzinger. And he could now review the "Gregorian" reform that imposed papal absolutism, strong clericalism, and celibacy. And move towards a collegial system between the Pope and the bishops, to leave behind absolutism and open a free debate about celibacy. For now, he has shown he can change.

Does the Church need a new Council?

The pope can make some reforms by himself. He can also make decisions together with the Curia that he names, with his small circle. Not just with the cardinals, since many of them are incompetent. He could convene a Council, but not with the nearly 5,000 bishops, but with bishops who would represent their communities and be elected by them. We need a Council that would make decisions with the pope, not against the pope or at the pope's orders.

What do you expect from the new pope on moral issues?

I don't think he has to adapt to everything, but he shouldn't be too much of a stickler. He shouldn't approve promiscuity, but the Church should allow couples to decide if they want to have children or not, and how many. As for abortion, no one expects the pope to agree with it, but in certain cases, the Church shouldn't condemn it. And I think it should accept homosexual civil unions, but not adoption by those couples.

Pope Francis says he wants a poor Church devoted to the poor...

Poverty in itself isn't an ideal. Especially in Latin America, what the Church ought to do is help people get out of poverty. The Church has to be on the side of the poor and the powerful must recognize that the Church should protest against abuse, against misery.

What should he do with respect to liberation theology?

I'm a friend of Leonardo Boff, I was a friend of Ellacuría and I knew Gustavo Gutiérrez. I think there's a different political situation today. Some of the liberation theologians were too fascinated by Marxism. They weren't Marxists, but they sympathized with Fidel Castro, and now we need democracy. Liberation theology could serve to create living communities that help fight against poverty. Millions of people in Latin America are leaving the Catholic Church to go to the Pentecostals, because they find community there and the help of others and because the Catholic Church is too hierarchical and with those boring Masses. We need community, warmth, emotion, the support of others. For that, we need more pastors, which we'll only get by abolishing celibacy. It's very hard to attract young men to a profession that prohibits them from marrying and that's governed in an authoritarian way. And mercy is very important, not just for the poor, but also for divorced people who want access to the Eucharist, for pastors who get married.

Is the election of a Jesuit a defeat for the movements that supported and were supported by the two previous popes, such as Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ?

There are good people in those movements too, with honest intentions. But I'd guess that the new Pope won't forget that the Jesuits were treated very badly, were humiliated, especially by John Paul II. I'm sure that Francis isn't a vindictive pope, but he has to distance himself from the financial power of Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ.

What could he do to promote better relationships with the other faiths?

Show sympathy. After Benedict XVI gave that unfortunate speech at Regensburg (where he linked Islam and violence), the Muslims said, "he doesn't like us." He was the opposite of John XXIII, who from the beginning showed that he liked the Jews, that he accepted them as brothers. And he should recognize what unites Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and even Hindus and Confucians. We have common ancestors, a common view of history, and common ethical standards. Each can keep their faith but must agree on basic ethical principles: not killing, not lying, not stealing...And above all, a golden rule: don't require of others what you don't require of yourself and treat every human being humanely.

At dawn

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
April 14, 2013

John 21:1-19

The epilogue of the Gospel of John contains an account of the risen Christ's meeting with his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. When it was written, the Christians were experiencing hard times of trial and persecution -- some denied their faith. The narrator wants to revive the faith of his readers. Night is coming and the disciples go out to fish. The Twelve aren't there. The group was broken apart when their Master was crucified. They're back again with the boats and nets they had left to follow Jesus. It's all over. They're alone again.

The fishing expedition is a complete failure. The narrator strongly emphasizes it: "They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing." They come back with empty nets. Isn't that the experience of many Christian communities whose strength and evangelizing capability has been weakened?

Often, our efforts in the midst of an indifferent society barely bring any results. We too note that our nets are empty. The temptation to discouragement and despair is easy. How do we sustain and revive our faith?

In this context of failure, the story tells us that "when it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore." However, the disciples don't recognize him from the boat. Perhaps it's the distance, perhaps the dawn fog, and, above all, their saddened hearts that prevent them from seeing him. Jesus is talking to them, but "they didn't know it was Jesus."

Isn't this one of the most pernicious effects of the religious crisis we are going through? Preoccupied with survival, noticing our weakness more and more, it isn't easy for us to recognize the presence of the risen Christ among us, speaking to us from the Gospel and feeding us in the celebration of the Eucharistic supper.

The disciple most beloved by Jesus is the first to recognize him: "It is the Lord!" They aren't alone. Everything can begin again. Everything can be different. Humbly but faithfully, Peter will acknowledge his sin and admit his sincere love for Jesus: "Lord, you know that I love you." The other disciples couldn't feel any different.

In our Christian groups and communities, we need witnesses to Jesus. Believers who, through their lives and words, help us to discover in these times the living presence of Jesus in the midst of our experience of failure and fragility. We Christians will get out of this crisis, adding to our trust in Jesus. Today, we can't imagine his strength to get us out of despair and hopelessness.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"In you, the orphan finds mercy": Jon Sobrino's 2013 homily about Mons. Romero

Homily by Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ, given on March 22, 2013 in the Chapel at the UCA on the 33rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Monseñor Romero. This homily is available in Spanish on Adital. English translation by Rebel Girl.


These words of the prophet Hosea tell who Yahweh, God, was for the poor of Israel, better than any creed or dogma. It was the true confession of God. In this Eucharist, we apply them to our dear brother Oscar Romero.

Our country is a country of poor people. Men and women who don't have a lot to give their children to eat, who don't have anywhere to live when the rain from the storms destroys their homes, who go door to door without finding work, who have to risk their peace, families, and life in other countries. These men and women find mercy, consolation and hope in Monseñor.

Our country is a country of young people, disappeared, kidnapped, assassinated day after day, and who don't find work. It has been a country where women had to leave in a hurry with their newborns in their arms, and suffered when their children left home to go to the organization or the mountains. In Monseñor they found the strength to live.

And many thousands more in El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Colombia, have found in Monseñor a light to walk by, generosity to take risks, tears to cry, laughter to laugh.

He was the voice of the voiceless, ex officio defender of the oppressed, consolation for those who cry. Today we call him "our pastor, prophet, and martyr". And we affectionately speak of him as we only speak of God and we say to him: "Monseñor, in you the orphan finds mercy." In Monseñor many Salvadorans have found the mysterious God who gives strength to live.

And in the Salvadorans, Monseñor found his people. We will say it in his words:


Looking at the suffering of His people in Egypt, Yahweh said, "I will always be with you." Seeing the suffering of the Salvadorans, Monseñor said, "I will not abandon my people." And they weren't empty words. He used to say, "I will run all the risks with you." And to the president of the country who offered him protection, he solemnly answered, "I want to tell you that, before my personal safety, I would like security and tranquility for 108 families and disappeared people. Personal well-being, safety for my life don't matter to me while I see my people in an economic system that tends more and more to open up these social differences."

Monseñor spoke of his pain in his homilies. "Brothers and sisters, my soul hurts a lot knowing how our people are being tortured." And he prepared the homilies like this. "I ask the Lord during the whole week, as I'm gathering the cry of the people and the pain of so much crime, the ignominiousness of so much violence, to give me the right words to console, to denounce, to call to repentance."

He created, he squeezed the language so his pain would be brought out. "This week my heart was horrified when I saw the wife with her nine little children who came to inform me. According to her, they found him dead and with signs of torture. Here is that wife and those helpless children."

He railed against the criminals, and beyond legal and restorative justice, he urged them to take charge of the lives of those nine children. "I think the one who commits a crime of this sort is bound to restitution. It's necessary that the many households that are now helpless like this one, get help. The criminal who makes a household destitute is obliged in conscience to help support that household."

And the good news of that people. In that suffering people, Monseñor Romero found light, affection, and love. "I feel that the people is my prophet." "The bishop always has a lot to learn from his people." "Between you and me, we are creating this homily." "With this people, it isn't hard to be a good shepherd." "I glory in being among this people."

Father Ellacuría was right when he said that "in Monseñor Romero God visited El Salvador."


Let's say it briefly now in the language the bishops used in Puebla in 1979. Puebla is known for the option for the poor. But it talked especially about the God of the poor and God's poor.

God is the first to have made the option for the poor. The Church hasn't invented anything new -- and God fulfills that option better than the Church. And in that option of God there are two basic things that we will hopefully always keep in mind, and hopefully reproduce them ourselves, even if on a smaller scale.

The first is gratuity. "By the mere fact of being poor, independent of their personal moral condition, God defends them and loves them." (1142) God's love for the poor is absolute and unconditional. God does not react to the goodness of the poor or their merits. God reacts to their poverty. That is what moves His heart.

The second is coming out in defense of the poor, and I want to stress this point. God not only loves and helps the poor, but first of all he defends them -- which is usually not taken into account. And it's important to see the profound logic in this action of God. What makes the poor poor -- very basically in our world -- is that they have enemies, adversaries. To opt for the poor is then to confront those who make them poor, and it is, therefore, to enter into conflict with their oppressors. Opting for the poor is not only -- but, yes, mainly -- to fight against the victimizers so that they stop producing victims.

There is no option for the poor without the choice to defend them. And as such, without a choice to get into the historical conflict. That is usually not taken into account very much. Not even theoretically. Nor at Aparecida. But let's say it again: There is no option for the poor without taking risks.


This year Monseñor Romero's anniversary coincides with the election of a new pope, Francis. To conclude, I want to say two things briefly:

The first is my wish that in him the poor would always find mercy. That the pope would help us be compassionate towards the poor. And that we would help the pope be merciful towards them.

The second is to present him some wishes. I'll mention four that seem important to me and I hope you agree with them:

1. That he proclaim that the Church is the Church of the poor and that he listen joyfully to the applause of John XXIII who rests in peace in a tomb near his papal apartment.

2. That once and for all he would raise women up and valiantly solve the problem of women in the Church. And that with the women in it, the Church would be a better midwife of humanity.

3. That he would not abandon the modest cross he wears on his chest. And that he would begin to take steps to stop being a head of state. And thus that he would make the Church a people that is journeying, through trial and error, towards God.

4. That he would canonize without the need to repeat formulas and without being held captive by norms, all the martyrs for justice in following Jesus. And if he's looking for a name so that all of them will have a name, from here we are offering him very humbly the name of Monseñor Romero and the name of the martyrs of El Mozote. And that he would add many other names of men and women -- and crucified peoples -- who have given their lives out of love like the crucified Christ and like the suffering servant of Yahweh. In all of them, God has visited this world.

May Monseñor Romero help Pope Francis. And may he help all of us be more like Jesus of Nazareth.