Friday, August 16, 2013

Is the Roman Curia reformable?

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Leonardo Boff Blog (em português)

The Roman Curia is made up of all the bodies that help the Pope rule the Church within the 44 hectares that surround the basilica of St. Peter. There are a little over three thousand employees. It was born small in the 12th century but changed into a body of experts in 1588 with Pope Sixtus V, forged especially to cope with the Reformers -- Luther, Calvin and others. Paul VI in 1967, and Pope John Paul II in 1998, tried unsuccessfully to reform it.

It is considered one of the most conservative governing administrations in the world and so powerful that it practically delayed, shelved and voided the changes introduced by the two previous Popes and blocked the progressive line of Vatican II (1962-1965). Unaffected, it continues as if it were working not for a time but for eternity.

However, the moral and financial scandals that have occurred within its scope were of such magnitude that a cry arose from the whole Church for a reform to be carried out by the new Pope Francis as one of his missions. As Giancarlo Zizola, a principle Vaticanist who is unfortunately now deceased, wrote (Quale Papa?, 1977), "four centuries of Counter-Reformation had almost made the revolutionary chromosome of early Christianity extinct; the Church had established itself as a counter-revolutionary body" (p. 278) and as a denier of all that might appear new. In a speech to members of the Curia on February 22, 1975, Pope Paul VI accused the Roman Curia of assuming "an attitude of superiority and pride before the episcopal college and the People of God."

By combining Franciscan tenderness with Jesuit sternness, will Pope Francis manage to give it a different format? He has wisely surrounded himself with eight experienced cardinals from every continent to accompany him and to accomplish this mammoth task with the purges that must necessarily occur.

Behind it all, there is a historical-theological problem which greatly hinders the reform of the Curia. It is expressed by two conflicting views. The first springs from the fact that, after the proclamation of the infallibility of the Pope in 1870 with the subsequent Romanization (standardization) of the whole Church, there was a maximum concentration at the head of the pyramid -- in the Papacy with "supreme, full, and immediate" power (Canon 331). This implies that in it are concentrated all decisions, a burden that is almost impossible to carry for a single person, even with absolutist monarchical power. No decentralization was accepted because it would mean a decrease in the supreme power of the Pope. The Curia then closed in around the Pope, making him its prisoner, sometimes blocking initiatives that didn't agree with its traditional conservatism or simply shelving projects until they were forgotten.

The other side knows the weight of the monarchic papacy and seeks to give life to the Synod of Bishops, a collegial body created by the Second Vatican Council to assist the Pope in governing the Universal Church. It happens that John Paul II and Benedict XVI, pressured by the Curia who saw this as a way of breaking the centralism of Roman power, turned it into just an advisory and not a deliberative body. It is celebrated every two or three years but without any real impact on the Church.

Everything indicates that Pope Francis, by convening eight cardinals to proceed with reforming the Curia with him and under his direction, has created a board with which he intends to preside over the Church. Let's hope he expands this board with representatives not only of the hierarchy but of the whole People of God, as well as women since they are now the majority of the Church. Such a step does not seem impossible.

The best way to reform the Curia, in the opinion of experts on Vatican affairs and also some hierarchs, would be a major decentralization of its functions. We are in the era of globalization and real time electronic communications. If the Catholic Church wants to adjust to this new phase of humanity, there's nothing better than making an organizational revolution. Why couldn't the dicastery (ministry) for the Evangelization of Peoples be transferred to Africa? Or the one for Inter-religious Dialogue to Asia? The Peace and Justice one to Latin America? The one for the Promotion of Christian Unity to Geneva, next to the World Council of Churches? And some, for more immediate things, would remain in the Vatican. Through video-conferencing, Skype and other communication technologies, immediate and round-the-clock contact could be maintained. Thus one would avoid the creation of an anti-power, something in which the traditional Curia is a great expert. This would make the Catholic Church truly universal and no longer Western.

As Pope Francis is asking us to pray for him, we must effectively pray -- and a lot -- for this wish to come true for the benefit of all Christians and those who are interested in any way in the Church.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

And if we run out of priests?

By José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Reflexión y Liberación
August 12, 2013

Christianity has its roots in Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus wasn't a priest. Jesus was a layman who lived and taught his message as a layman. Jesus gathered a group of disciples together and named twelve apostles.

Let's remember that the Church of the first millennium had a very different concept of the priestly vocation than the one we have now. Today we think of vocation as "a call from God" so that a Christian, with the approval of the bishop, can be ordained a priest. In the first ten centuries of the Church, they thought that vocation was a "call from the community" so that a Christian might be ordained a priest. But it happens that, right now, the shortage of vocations is such a notable fact that the Christian Democratic politicians in Germany have put out a letter in which they're asking the bishops for married men to be able to be ordained as priests. Even the politicians are worried about how badly things are going in the Church because of the alarming lack of priests to attend to the spiritual needs of Catholics, among other reasons.

That's how things are right now. The bishops -- the Germans have already said it -- aren't ready to abolish the celibacy law. And they're even less willing to make more radical decisions with respect to the clergy, especially with respect to the need in the Church for there to be priests to administer the sacraments. And I don't know if the bishops are going to yield on this delicate matter. Or if they yield, when they're going to do it. Whatever may be, it seems to me that the time has come to face this question: And what if the day comes when we are practically without any priests? Would that be the complete breakdown of the Church?

Christianity has its roots in Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus wasn't a priest. Jesus was a layman, who lived and taught his message as a layman. Jesus gathered together a group of disciples and named twelve apostles. But that group was composed of men and women who went with him from village to village (Lk 8:1-3; Mk 15:40-41). Jesus' death on the cross wasn't a religious ritual but the civil execution of a subversive. That's why the Letter to the Hebrews says Christ was a priest. But that text is the most radically secular one in all of the New Testament. Because Christ's priesthood wasn't "ritual" but "existential." That is, what Christ offered wasn't a ceremonial rite in a temple but his entire existence, through his work, through life with others, and especially through the horrible death he suffered. For Christians, there's no other priesthood than Christ's, which was that everyone should live for others. Nothing more or less than that. The Christian priesthood, such as it is in the Church, has no Biblical basis whatsoever. Therefore you don't have to have "consecrated" men in the Church. What you do have to have are "exemplary" men and women. The "holy priesthood" or the "royal priesthood" that the First Letter of Peter talks about (1 Pet. 1:5,9) is merely a "spiritual" designation for all Christians.

Moreover, "priests" in the Church is never mentioned in the whole New Testament. What's more, it's well demonstrated that the authors of the New Testament, from Saint Paul to Revelation, carefully avoid applying the word or the concept of "priest" to those who led the communities that were being formed. That situation remained until the 3rd century, i.e. the Church lived almost two hundred years without priests. The communities would celebrate the Eucharist, but it never says that a "priest" would preside. In the Christian communities there were people who were responsible or in charge of different tasks, but they weren't considered "holy" or "consecrated" men. In the 3rd century, Tertullian reports that any Christian might preside at the Eucharist ("De Exhortatione Castitatis" VII, 3).

What would happen if we ran out of priests in the Church? Simply that the Church would return, in practice, to the original model that Jesus wanted. Therefore, what would happen would be that the Church would be more authentic. A Church that would be more present in the people and among the citizens. A Church without clergy, without functionaries, without honors that separate and divide. Only thus would we retake the path that Jesus' movement -- a prophetic, charismatic and lay movement -- followed. Clericalism, holy and consecrated men, have alienated the Church from the Gospel and the people. That's how the people see it and what they say. The Church thought that, by having an abundant and prestigious clergy, it would be a strong Church, with influence in culture and society. But I'm referring to the facts. That model of Church is running out. We can't ignore all the good that priests and religious have done and are still doing. But neither can we forget the scandals and violence that the Church has experienced and those for which the clergy, in large part, have been responsible.

But the worst is none of that. The most negative thing that the clerical model of Church has given in and of itself, is that those who have had the "sacred power" have established themselves as the responsible ones and the "communities of believers" have been made "obedient subjects." The Church has split, it has been divided -- a few give orders and the rest obey. In the Church, there must be, as in any human institution, persons responsible for the management of affairs, for coordination, for teaching the message of Jesus ... But, one of the two: either Jesus was wrong or we're the ones who are misguided.

Of course, the end of the clergy can't be improvised. The change will probably happen not because of decisions coming from Rome but because life and the turn history takes will lead us to that -- to a Church composed of communities of believers, aware of their responsibility, united with their bishops (led by the Bishop of Rome), respecting the diverse peoples, nations, and cultures. And concerned above all with making the memory of Jesus visible and obvious. There are already many communities all over the world where, due to the lack of clergy, lay people are the ones who celebrate the Eucharist all by themselves. Because there are many Christians who are persuaded that the celebration of the Eucharist isn't a privilege of the priests but a right of the community. The process is underway. And I believe nobody will stop it. I'll end by stating that, if I'm saying these things, it's not because the Church matters little to me or because I don't want to see it at all. On the contrary. Precisely because I owe so much to it and care so much about it, what I most wish is that it be faithful to Jesus and the Gospel.

Without fire, it's impossible

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
August 18, 2013

Luke 12:49-53

In a clearly prophetic manner, Jesus sums up his whole life in some unusual words: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" What's Jesus talking about? The enigmatic nature of his language has led exegetes to find the answer in different directions. In any case, the image of "fire" invites us to draw near to his mystery in a more ardent and passionate way.

The fire that burns inside him is the passion for God and compassion for those who are suffering. This unfathomable love that animates his whole life will never be able to be revealed. His mystery will never remain locked in dogmatic formulas or in the books of the wise. No one will write a definitive book about him. Jesus attracts and burns, stirs up and purifies. No one will be able to follow him with a burnt-out heart or dulled faith.

His words make hearts burn. He gives himself amiably to the most excluded, stirs up hope in prostitutes and confidence in the most despised sinners, fights against everything that harms human beings. He battles against religious formalism, inhumane strictness, and narrow interpretations of the law. Nothing and nobody can chain his freedom to do good. We will never be able to follow him while living in religious routine or the conventionality of "what's right".

Jesus starts conflicts, he doesn't put them out. He hasn't come to bring false comfort, but tension, confrontation and division. Actually, he introduces conflict in our own hearts. It's not possible to hide from his call behind the shield of religious rites or social practices. No religion will protect us from his gaze. No agnosticism will free us from his challenge. Jesus is calling us to live in truth and to love unselfishly.

His fire didn't stay dead when it was submerged in the deep waters of death. It resurrected to new life; his Spirit goes on burning throughout history. The first followers felt it burning in their hearts when they heard his words as he was walking with them.

Where is it possible to feel the Jesus' fire today? Where can we experience the strength of his creative freedom? When do our hearts burn on receiving his Gospel? Where is it lived out passionately, following in his footsteps? Although the Christian faith seems to be extinguished today among us, the fire that Jesus brought to the world goes on burning beneath the ashes. We can't let it go out. Without fire in the heart, it's not possible to follow Jesus.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Excommunicated for defending gay people, Padre Beto talks...and fights...back

by Gerardo Lissardy (English translation by Rebel Girl)
BBC Mundo
August 13, 2013

Pope Francis' words at the end of his recent trip to Brazil asking who he was to judge a homosexual who is seeking God surprised many around the world, but it had special value for Roberto Francisco Daniel.

This 48-year old Brazilian priest was excommunicated by the Catholic Church at the end of April, after uttering commentary published on the Internet in support of homosexuals that bothered the Diocese of Bauru, the city in the state of Sao Paulo where he was serving.

Now "Padre Beto", as they call him locally, has just published a book titled Verdades proibidas ("Forbidden Truths") and turned to the Brazilian civil justice system alleging that the Church ignored his rights and tha he should be readmitted.

"If (the Diocese of Bauru) wants to excommunicate me, they'll have to do it within the legal rules," he says. "I don't think this would have happened after the Pope's visit."

Below are excerpts from the conversation BBC Mundo held with the excommunicated priest, who defines himself as heterosexual, wears an earring in his right ear, and shaves his head.

How would you characterize your current relationship with the Catholic Church?

It's ambivalent: I feel I'm Catholic, belonging to this Church. I didn't choose to stop being a priest, so I continue to be a priest. But through the Diocese of Bauru, through the local Church, I'm excluded.

You went to the civil justice system to file a claim over your excommunication. Are you seeking to come back to the Church even though you talked earlier about resigning?

The Bishop of Bauru gave me two alternatives -- retract all materials published on the Internet and apologize, or canon law would be applied to me. In the face of this, I thought it was good to leave the priestly ministry and return at another period of time. Wait for the wave of conservatism that exists now to pass.

But facing excommunication, I decided to get into the common justice system, not simply because I want to come back, but because no institution can do to a person what the local Church did to me. I was treated like an adolescent and expelled without the right to defend myself.

The Church didn't respect me as a human being, it didn't respect the 14 years I've been in the priesthood, it didn't respect my family.

The question is to what extent can the Church allow a representative to speak against its own teachings...

I didn't speak against the teachings of the Church. I just raised some points of reflection on the sexual morality of the Church. I was born in a Church in the 70s and 80s which -- in Latin America, at least -- was very open to reflection.

When I came back from Germany in 2001, after 10 years, I was making reflections openly because I thought that every Christian ought to reflect about the rules we have and propose changes. The Church can't keep on defining things at the top and then deciding for its faithful, as if they were children.

Did Pope Francis' visit to Brazil and what he said about gays change your opinion of the Church at all?

This pope was already motivating me. He's trying to get back to a more open, reflective Church. When he says that if a Christian isn't revolutionary, he's not a Christian, that's where he's going. When he says that the pastor ["the shepherd"] should smell like the faithful ["the sheep"], he's indicating that we priests have to live a simpler life along with the other faithful.

He doesn't have a vision of a hierarchical Church. And when he talked about gays, he ended on a high note. "If a gay person is seeking God, who am I to judge him?" It means that what he cares about is the person's character, not their sexual orientation.

Isn't there a difference between what the Pope says and what you say about gays? Francis talked about homosexual tendencies, which some distinguish from the homosexual act itself, but you don't make that distinction...

There's no way to make that distinction. It's clear that our pope has to use the strategy much more than I do. There's still a Roman Curia that was created by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that's still alive. His situation is very delicate. I have more freedom as a theologian.

There's a big difference between what he says and what I'm trying to reflect about. Is saying to a gay person "we accept you but not your sexuality" really loving one's neighbor? It's condemning a person to celibacy and instilling in them that their sexual desire is a sin, something they'll have all their lives.

Is this respecting human knowledge? That's my question, which is neither a sin nor an attitude that merits excommunication.

But do you agree that the homosexual act is a sin?

No. That two people of the same sex, who are intimate, are freely giving pleasure to one another and perhaps even expressing love...what about that would be a sin? A sin is a loveless act. And lovelessness isn't present in a homosexual relationship.

Do you personally consider yourself gay or as having homosexual tendencies?

No. I'm heterosexual. I entered the seminary at 27. I didn't enter as a virgin; I'd had relationships before. My sexuality is well resolved and my priestly vocation too. I sense a truly Christian attitude in my stance on homosexuals and bisexuals.

I could be in my comfort zone as a heterosexual and let gays and bisexuals deal with their lives. But no. I have heard many confessions for 14 years from people -- men and women -- who are homosexuals and are experiencing very great anxiety.

There's a lot of talk about a "gay lobby" in the Church. In your experience, how extensive is homosexuality and how much power do gays have in the Church?

The gay lobby exists, but it isn't for the Church to accept homosexuals. It's a power struggle and the gays within the Church are much more homophobic than the heterosexuals, incredible as it may seem. They're more conservative; they're struggling for power. A power that's more focused on aesthetics, on positions.

They're mostly people who entered the priesthood fleeing their sexuality and they've ended up living out their sexuality in an almost schizophrenic way within the Church hierarchy.

The Pope also said that he shares the Church's position against gay marriage and the right to abortion, and he opposed the liberalization of drug [laws]. Is he a progressive or conservative pope?

I would say he's a progressive pope, but moderate.