Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hearing and following Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
April 21, 2013

John 10:27-30

It was winter. Jesus was walking about the Portico of Solomon, one of the open air galleries that surrounded the large esplanade of the Temple. That Portico, specifically, was a place often frequented by people since it was apparently protected against the wind by a wall. Soon, a group of Jews circles around Jesus. The dialogue is tense. The Jews beset him with their questions. Jesus criticizes them because they don't accept his message or his actions. Specifically, he tells them, "you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep". What does that metaphor mean?

Jesus is quite clear: "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life." Jesus doesn't force anyone. He just calls. The choice to follow him depends on each one of us. Only if we hear him and follow him do we establish with Jesus that relationship that leads to eternal life.

There is nothing as decisive for being a Christian as making the decision to live as followers of Jesus. The great risk for Christians has always been claiming to be one without following Jesus. In fact, many of those who have drifted away from our communities are people who nobody has helped to make the decision to follow in his footsteps.

Nonetheless, that's the first decision of a Christian. The decision that changes everything, because it's beginning to experience in a new way one's allegiance to Christ and membership in the Church -- finally finding the way, the truth, the meaning and the reason for the Christian faith.

And the first thing for making that decision is hearing his call. Nobody starts to walk in Jesus' footsteps by following their own intuition or wishes to live out an ideal. We start to follow him when we feel drawn to and called by Christ. Therefore faith is not primordially believing something about Jesus, but believing him.

When the following of Jesus -- cared for and reaffirmed again and again in one's own heart and in the Christian community -- is lacking, our faith runs the risk of being reduced to an acceptance of beliefs, the practice of religious obligations, and obedience to the discipline of the Church.

Then, it's easy to settle into religious practice, without letting ourselves be challenged by Jesus' calls to us from the gospel we hear each Sunday. Jesus is in that religion, but he doesn't drag us along in his footsteps. Without realizing it, we become accustomed to living in a routine and repetitive way. We lack the creativity, renewal, and joy of those who make an effort to follow Jesus.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pope Francis and women: The "honeymoon" is over?

I have to admit that I've been somewhat amused by the reactions of progressive American Catholics to the news that at the meeting between Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the leaders of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Müller stated that he had discussed LCWR's doctrinal assessment by the CDF wih Pope Francis and that the latter "reaffirmed the findings of the Assessment and the program of reform for this Conference of Major Superiors."

Müller did express "his gratitude for the great contribution of women religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor", but any hopes that the new pope would see the errors of the ways of his predecessor were summarily dashed.

LCWR simply issued one of its usual polite but terse statements, confirming that the meeting had taken place in the presence of Archbishop Peter Sartain, who has the misfortune of having been appointed the enforcer of the Vatican's program for LCWR. They said that LCWR officers reviewed the activities of the organization since receiving the doctrinal assessment a year ago, concluding that "conversation was open and frank" and adding that they "pray that these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the Church."

Progressive Catholics and Catholic Church reform groups immediately flooded the social media with responses calling the news "disappointing", saying they had lost hope in Pope Francis, that the "honeymoon is over". Roman Catholic woman bishop Bridget Mary Meehan characterized the move as "a big disappointment and a setback for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious." And it was amazing how quickly the bad news became fodder for another round of fundraising by these organizations. The ink was barely dry on LCWR's statement when our inboxes were deluged with electronic appeals, both for money and for more letters -- to the editor, to the papal nuncio, even to Pope Francis himself.

In my view, there was no "honeymoon" to begin with on issues of gender justice. Progressive Catholics saw Pope Francis wash the feet of two women (out of 12 people -- hardly a blow for gender equality) on Holy Thursday and concluded that our salvation had come. They would have done better to look at the composition of the leadership of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires under Bergoglio. We are assuming that the new archbishop who just took office on March 28th hasn't just fired a bunch of women so, if you look at the Autoridades and the Areas de Pastoral pages of the Archdiocesan web site, you will see that, except for the Archdiocesan Archives (librarian/archivist is a traditionally female profession), all offices and pastoral departments are headed by men and virtually all by priests. Promoting women wasn't a priority for Pope Francis when he was Cardinal Archbishop Bergoglio of Buenos Aires; it won't be now.

Progressive Catholics also need to learn to listen more carefully to the new pontiff. They got so excited about the pope's remarks during the April 3rd audience when he said that "in the profession of faith in the New Testament only men are recorded as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Judaic Law of that time, women and children could not bear a trustworthy, credible witness. Instead in the Gospels women play a fundamental lead role. Here we can grasp an element in favour of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it was an invented event, in the context of that time it would not have been linked with the evidence of women. Instead the Evangelists simply recounted what happened: women were the first witnesses. This implies that God does not choose in accordance with human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus were shepherds, simple, humble people; the first witnesses of the Resurrection were women." Finally, some feminist Biblical exegesis coming out of the Vatican!

But having gone that far out on a limb, Pope Francis then retreated when it came to praxis: "This is part of the mission of women; of mothers, of women! Witnessing to their children, to their grandchildren, that Jesus is alive, is living, is risen. Mothers and women, carry on witnessing to this!" Pope Francis' shout out to women is limited to calling them back to their traditional roles in the "domestic Church." We should not be tempted to read into this any hint that the Pope is open to women priests, or even women deacons, as the conservatives seem to fear.

Progressive Catholics need to understand that Bergoglio is a political creature. He did not get to where he is today by reacting to every tendency in the Church. He has his own priorities for the Church and he's not going to waste political capital on problems he doesn't care about. Furthermore, he comes from a country and a culture where nuns are submissive and, for the most part, still wear the veil, so the idea of dialoguing on an equal footing with the superiors of women's religious congregations when there's disagreement would be utterly foreign to him. This pope's style is to listen respectfully to others but then he makes the decision that appears best to him and doesn't feel he has to discuss or explain that decision to anyone. It's a far cry from what American Catholics in general, and women in particular, mean by "dialogue".

Maureen Fiedler has written that she doesn't think the Pope got full information about the LCWR mandate, that perhaps "it could be a case of the 'good 'ole boys' in the Curia wanting everything to remain the same and trying to make the new pope go along on an issue about which he knows little." I beg to disagree. I find it fully believable that Pope Francis read the assessment and agreed with enough of it sufficiently not to want to take the highly controversial step of contradicting his predecessor.

So, by all means, go to the Nun Justice Project and write, pray, pledge, share, vigil, and petition for Pope Francis to disavow the doctrinal assessment of LCWR and enter into dialogue with America's women religious. Just don't hold your breath waiting for an answer...

Alessio, Grassi, and von Wernich: A double standard

A reader of the Iglesia Descalza blog raised this issue in comments on an earlier article I had posted about Fr. Alessio. "Maria" was irate: "What is really obnoxious is that while this priest [Alessio] got immediately suspended, there are priests that participated actively in torture sessions during the last dictatorship in Argentina, found guilty of this and currently in jail, and still are part of the church; never got suspended and moreover, still celebrate mass in the jail. I'm talking of Christian Von Wernich, in case you are curious." I was curious and, fortuitously, found this recent piece by journalist Washington Uranga which neatly sums up the double standard that's alive and well in the Argentine Catholic Church...and, if we think about the differences in how Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Bishop Robert Finn have been treated, in the U.S. Catholic Church too. -- RG

By Washington Uranga (English translation by Rebel Girl)
April 14, 2013

José Nicolás Alessio "has been penalized through dismissal from the clerical state by the Congregation for the Clergy (Rescripto Protocolo No. 2012 3423/F), dated February 6, 2013." Thus the institutional Catholic Church closed the chapter on the former pastor of San Cayetano in Cordoba, who had already been sanctioned and suspended by Archbishop Carlos Ñañez for speaking in favor of marriage equality. The decision is a very different approach to that used in other cases in the same Church.

Christian von Wernich, a priest who was sentenced to life imprisonment on October 9, 2007 for crimes against humanity, was found guilty of 34 cases of illegal deprivation of liberty, 31 cases of torture and 7 aggravated homicides. He continues to exercise his priestly ministry in prison. Julio César Grassi, a priest in the Diocese of Morón, was convicted of two acts of sexual abuse and aggravated corruption of minors, and at first he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on June 10, 2009. The sentence has been appealed and there is still no final resolution. Grassi continues to exercise his priestly ministry. No doubt to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church speaking in favor of marriage equality merits a much more severe and harsh punishment than involvement in genocide or sexual abuse against children and youth.

Tomorrow, the Catholic hierarchy begins its first plenary assembly of the year in Pilar, without this subject on the agenda. There will be time to analyze the current social and religious situation of the country, and the repercussions of Jorge Bergoglio's election as Pope Francis. The deliberations will be presided by the Archbishop of Santa Fe, José María Arancedo, who met on Thursday with President Cristina Fernández.

The Vatican resolution against Alessio is the conclusion of the canonical (church) process that Ñañez himself initiated against the priest in 2010 because of his public pronouncements. Since then, "as a precautionary measure", Ñañez banned him from publicly celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments -- functions of priests. On that occasion, Father Alessio said that "they've punished me for thinking differently" and said Archbishop Ñañez is "fascist, reactionary and incapable of understanding diversity."

The one now in charge of broadcasting Alessio's punishment is the Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese of Córdoba, Salesian priest Dante Eduardo Simón, who was concerned with clarifying that due to the resolution, the priest "has automatically lost the rights that belong to the clerical state and from now on is no longer bound by other related obligations." As if that were not clear, he said explicitly that Alessio "remains excluded from any exercise of the sacred ministry, according to the rules that apply to priests who have been downgraded." And yet because of doubts, Father Simon finished by saying that "this downgrade is not subject to any appeal."

In press statements, Alessio had claimed that the institutional Catholic church "is more concerned about the bed of Argentines than about their table" because "it's very concerned to know who goes to bed with whom, but has never gone out to march to defend the table of the workers, the unemployed and the poor."

Dante Simon asserts, however, that Alessio wasn't punished for thinking differently. According to the spokesman, "in 2010 there were many accusations against him for imparting the sacrament of marriage in a manner contrary to what Catholic doctrine says," clarifying that it was specifically about "having married same-sex couples and divorced people."

In a recent article on the occasion of Bergoglio's election as pope, Alessio suggested that in order to really move towards a "poor" Church, Francis should "appoint another person as bishop of Rome to be responsible for that diocese, appoint a lay person to be responsible for the Vatican State, require all priests who are 'ambassadors' -- the apostolic nuncios -- to work in parishes and that lay people also hold their position, and, above all, as 'Pater Pauperis' (Father of the Poor) that he plant his feet in a diocese of some Third World country and from there offer his service as pastor of all."

Alessio also asked the Pope to "lift the censures, reprimands, penalties, and bans on all theologians, biblical scholars, pastoralists and faithful who have had trials in the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at least from Vatican II to date." To move towards an "inclusive" Church, he suggests "appointing a committee of experts in the humanities and social sciences to propose soon a document where it clearly distances itself from homophobia, clearly rejects the theory that regards homosexuality as a 'grave disorder', values the ideology of 'gender' as an indispensable contribution to the respect for diversity, and puts all church sexual morality up for discussion." And finally, he requested that the Church allow "all priests who have been reduced to lay status, if they wish, to be able to take charge of communities and parishes for pastoral service, put up for discussion the issue of celibacy in particular and the figure of the priest in general, and allow the faithful laity to be able to celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments too."

For the now former Father Alessio, "these gestures, more than just friendly gestures, would make it clear that we have started moving in a different direction." Alessio is no longer recognized as a priest by the Catholic Church. Von Wernich and Grassi continue to exercise their priestly roles unimpeded. Beginning Monday, the bishops will discuss various topics. This will not be part of the agenda or their immediate concerns.

Photos: Nicolas Alessio (top), Christian von Wernich (bottom)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Helmut Schüller: "The election of Francis was a defeat for Opus Dei"

Periodista Digital

Thousands of priests in Europe and the United States have united in a call to "disobedience" against the hierarchy which they don't see as heresy but as a warning: if Pope Francis doesn't undertake the modernization of the Church, Catholics, who are disappointed, will leave it en masse.

"Dissatisfaction has reached the core, including even the most loyal tiers who go to church every Sunday," Helmut Schüller, spokesman for the group of Austrian priests who in 2011 rebelled against the Vatican and began a movement which has been joined by 3,500 priests in Europe and the U.S, said in an interview with EFE.

In June 2011, the so-called "Pfarrer Intiative" published a manifesto that "in face of the rejection by Rome of long-needed reforms", they declared themselves forced to follow their own consciences and act independently of the dictates of the Vatican.

Supporting the ordination of women and married men, giving communion to all faithful of good will including divorced people, and allowing lay people to preach the word of God too, are some of the "acts of disobedience" to which a group of priests, which 430 -- or 14% of all priests in the country -- have joined so far today, have committed themselves.

The support of some 1,000 priests in Ireland and the United States, around 700 in Germany, more than 540 in Switzerland, contacts with Latin America, and especially with Brazil and Africa, have made these dissenters the main threat for the Vatican hierarchy.

Father Schüller, whose rebellion has been punished by the withdrawal of the title "monsignor", is hopeful that the election of Francis implies the beginning of an opening of the Church, although he warns that there are forces, headed by Opus Dei, that aren't going to make it easy.

Although he admits that it still isn't clear if the pope wants to initiate these reforms, the former director of Caritas Austria during the 1990s does think that Jorge Mario Bergoglio "is under great pressure due to expectations."

"We are waiting with interest. We don't want to be rudely impatient, but there will have to be signs soon," confides Schüller, because otherwise there may be a negative effect.

"If this hope remains disappointed, two things are going to happen: many will leave the Church and those who still want change will certainly become hardened," he asserts.

In any case, if Francis decides to make changes, Schüller thinks he'll have to seek help and confront the more conservative congregations like Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, and the Legionaries of Christ.

"It's clear that for Opus Dei (the election of Francis) was a defeat. But the system is still there. There's a lot of power and money, there are many interests. You almost have to be a bit scared for the pope; it's not without danger," he warns.

"The (Vatican) administration has been strongly controlled for decades by those movements," he explains.

"The greatest power of the apparatus is in not doing anything, like after Vatican II, when what was agreed upon was simply not implemented," he recalls.

According to Schüller, whoever tries to reform things at the Vatican Bank and what's happening under the rug there, is going to face hard people who aren't squeamish.

Schüller encourages the pope to seek the support of the bishops and change their synod into a body of co-government of the Church.

In this struggle of power and interest, the former Vicar General stresses that the communities are the essential pillar of the Church.

"Active parishes are the most important element of the Church" and they need support and available priests," he stresses.

"If that's the priority, can one allow only men to be priests? Expel talented men just because they aren't willing to not get married?," he asks, recalling that these are precisely the cornerstones of his call to disobedience.

Schüller compares the Church's distance from its parishioners with the closeness and accessibility that have made the evangelical denominations gain turf in Latin America.

The former advocate for victims of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Vienna denies that his initiative is schismatic and asserts that in fact this demonstration that one can be critical within the Church has made many faithful not abandon it.

Regarding the fact that the "disobedience" hasn't stalled even in Italy, Spain, and Eastern Europe, Schüller warns that this wave will come there and recalls that in Ireland "the Church and the people were one" and, nonetheless, now it's one of the axes of the rebel movement.

About the loss of trust in the Church due to the concealment in cases of abuse of minors, he states that "we will be amazed at what will come out of Poland, Eastern Europe, Southern Europe," where, he says, these scandals haven't yet been uncovered.