Friday, August 23, 2013

An open letter from Dom José Maria Pires, Dom Tomás Balduino, and Dom Pedro Casaldáliga to their fellow bishops

This letter is published in Spanish on Reflexión y Liberación. It is available in Portuguese on the Cajueiro blog. English translation by Rebel Girl.

Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

We are three bishops emeriti who, according to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, despite no longer being pastors of a local Church, always participate in the College of Bishops, and together with the Pope, we feel responsible for the universal communion of the Catholic Church.

The election of Pope Francis to the pastorship of the Church made us very happy because of his messages of renewal and conversion, along with his constant calls to more gospel simplicity and more zealous pastoral love for the whole Church. We were also touched by his recent visit to Brazil, particularly his words to the young people and the bishops. It even brought to our minds the historic Pact of the Catacombs.

Do we bishops realize what this new ecclesial horizon means, theologically? In Brazil, in an interview, the Pope recalled the famous medieval maxim, "Ecclesia semper renovanda".

Because of thinking about our responsibility as bishops of the Catholic Church, we are allowing ourselves this gesture of trust of writing these reflections to you, with a fraternal request that we might develop a greater dialogue about them.

1. The theology of Vatican II on the episcopal ministry

The Christus Dominus decree devotes the 2nd chapter to the relationship between the bishop and the particular Church. Each Diocese is presented as a "portion of the people of God" (no longer just a territory) and it states that in every particular Church "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative" (CD 11), since every local Church is not just a piece of the Church or a subsidiary of the Vatican, but is truly the Church of Christ, and the New Testament designates it as such (LG 22). Each local Church is brought together by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, has its own consistency in the service of charity, that is, in the mission to transform the world and give witness to the Kingdom of God. That mission is expressed in the Eucharist and the sacraments. This is lived out in communion with its pastor, the bishop.

This theology places the bishop not above or outside of his Church, but as a Christian within the flock with a ministry of service to his brothers and sisters. From this inclusion, each bishop -- local or emeritus -- as well as the auxilliaries and those who work in pastoral roles without a diocese, all, as bearers of the gift received from God at ordination, are members of the College of Bishops and responsible for the catholicity of the Church.

2. Synodality required in the 21st century

The organization of the papacy as a centralized monarchical structure was instituted during the pontificate of Gregory VII in 1078. During the 1st millennium of Christianity, the primacy of the bishop of Rome was organized in a more collegial way and the whole Church was more synodal.

The Second Vatican Council guided the Church toward understanding the episcopate as a collegial ministry. During the Council, that innovation met opposition from a dissenting minority. The matter, in truth, was not sufficiently taken up. Furthermore, the Code of Canon Law of 1983 and documents emanating from the Vatican thereafter, did not prioritize collegiality but restricted the understanding of it and created barriers to its exercise. That favored centralization and the growing power of the Roman Curia, to the detriment of the national and continental conferences and the Synod of Bishops itself, only advisory and not deliberative in nature, being that such bodies hold, together with the Bishop of Rome, supreme and full power in relation to the whole Church.

Now Pope Francis seems to want to restore a more synodal organization and collegial communion to the structures of the Catholic Church and to each of our diocese. Towards this, he constituted a commission of cardinals from all continents to study a possible reform of the Roman Curia. However, to take concrete and efficient steps on that path -- which is already happening -- he needs our active and conscious participation. We should do that as a way to understand the proper role of bishops, not as mere advisers and assistants to the Pope who help him to the extent he asks or wishes, but as pastors, charged with the Pope to look after the universal communion and care of all the Churches.

3. The 50th Anniversary of the Council

At this historic moment, which also coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II, the primary contribution we can make to the Church is to assume our mission as pastors who exercise the priesthood of the New Testament, not like the priests of the old law, but as prophets. This forces us to collaborate effectively with the Bishop of Rome, expressing our views more freely and autonomously on the issues that call for pastoral and theological review. If bishops worldwide would exercise with more fraternal freedom and responsibility the duty of dialogue and more freely give their views on various issues, surely it would break certain taboos and the Church could resume the dialogue with humanity that Pope John XXIII began and Pope Francis is indicating.

It is the moment, therefore, to take up and update the Second Vatican Council, overcome once and for all the temptation of Christendom, live in a pluralistic and poor church, one that opts for the poor, for an ecclesiology of participation, liberation, diakonia, prophecy, martyrdom ... An explicitly ecumenical Church of faith and politics, of integration of Our America, claiming the full rights of women, overcoming in that respect the narrow-mindedness that comes from a mistaken ecclesiology.

Once the Council was over, some bishops -- many from Brazil -- celebrated the Pact of the Catacombs of St. Domitilla. Approximately 500 bishops followed them in that commitment to radical and deep personal conversion. That was how the courageous and prophetic reception of the Council was inaugurated.

Today, many people in different parts of the world are thinking about a new Pact of the Catacombs. Therefore, wanting to contribute to your ecclesial reflexion, we are sending you, attached, the original text of the First Pact.

The clericalism denounced by Pope Francis is holding hostage the centrality of the People of God in the understanding of a Church whose members, by baptism, are raised to the dignity of "priests, prophets and kings." The same clericalism is excluding the ecclesial role of lay men and women, making the sacrament of holy orders override the sacrament of baptism and the radical equality of all the baptized in Christ.

Moreover, in a world context in which the majority of Catholics are in the Southern [hemisphere] countries (Latin America and Africa), it becomes important to give the Church other faces besides the usual one expressed in Western culture. In our countries, we must be free to de-Westernize the language of faith and of the Latin liturgy, not to create a different Church but to enrich ecclesial catholicity.

Finally, our dialogue with the world is at stake. What is at issue is what image of God we give to the world and to which we witness by our way of being, by the language of our celebrations and the form our ministry takes. This point is the one that should most concern us and demand our attention.

In the Bible, for the People of Israel, "returning to the first love" meant taking up the mysticism and spirituality of Exodus again. For our Churches in Latin America, "returning to the first love" is taking up again the mysticism of the Kingdom of God in the journey together with the poor and at the service of their liberation. In our diocese, social ministries cannot be mere appendages of the church organization or minor expressions of our pastoral caring. On the contrary, it's what constitutes us as Church, an assembly gathered together by the Holy Spirit to bear witness that the Kingdom is coming and that, in fact, we are praying and wishing for "Your Kingdom come!"

This time is undoubtedly, especially for us bishops, urgently, the time of action. Pope Francis, when addressing the young people during World Youth Day and supporting them in their mobilizations, expressed it like this: "I want the Church to go into the streets." It's an echo of the apostle Paul's enthusiastic words to the Romans: "It is the hour now for you to put on the armor of light" (13:11-12). May this be our mysticism and our deepest love.

An embrace of fraternal friendship,

Dom José Maria Pires, Archbishop Emeritus of Paraíba

Dom Tomás Balduino, Bishop Emeritus of Goiás

Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, Bishop Emeritus of São Félix do Araguaia

August 15, 2013

Photo: L-R: Dom José Maria Pires, Dom Tomás Balduino, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga

Trust, yes; frivolity, no

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
August 25, 2013

Luke 13:22-30

Modern society is imposing more and more strongly a lifestyle marked by the pragmatism of the immediate. There's barely any interest in the great questions of existence. We no longer have firm certainties or deep convictions. Little by little, we are being converted into trivial beings, laden with cliches, with no inner consistency or ideals that inspire our daily life beyond momentary well-being and security.

It's very significant to observe the general attitude of quite a few Christians towards the question of "eternal salvation" that was of so much concern just a few years ago. Many have wiped it without further ado from their consciences. Some -- we don't know exactly why -- feel entitled to a "happy ending." Others don't want to remember religious experiences that have caused them much harm.

According to Luke's account, a stranger asks Jesus a frequent question in that religious society, "Will only a few people be saved?". Jesus doesn't answer his question directly. He's not interested in speculating about these sorts of empty questions so beloved by some masters of the period. He goes directly to what's essential and decisive: how are we to act so as not to be excluded from the salvation that God offers to everyone?

"Strive to enter through the narrow gate." These are his first words. God opens the door to eternal life to all of us, but we have to strive and work to enter through it. That is the healthy attitude. Trust in God, yes; frivolity, carelessness, and false security, no.

Jesus stresses, above all, not deceiving ourselves with false security. It's not enough to belong to the people of Israel; it's not enough to have personally met Jesus on the roads of Galilee. What matters is coming into the Kingdom of God and His righteousness from now on. In fact, those who are left out of the final banquet are, literally, "those who practice injustice."

Jesus invites us to trust and responsibility. The patriarchs and prophets of Israel won't be the only ones sitting at the final banquet of the Kingdom of God. Pagans coming from every corner of the world will also be there. Being in or being out depends on how each one responds to the salvation that God offers everyone.

Jesus ends with a proverb that sums up his message. With respect to the Kingdom of God, "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." His warning is clear. Some who feel sure of being admitted might remain outside. Others who appear to be excluded beforehand could be inside.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bishop Raúl Vera López: "Homophobia is an illness"

by Christian Rea Tizcareño (English translation by Rebel Girl)
August 19, 2013

You have to be "sick in the head" to think that a gay man or a lesbian is a degenerate or depraved person. Homosexuals are human beings worthy of respect, stressed Raúl Vera, Bishop of Saltillo, Coahuila [Mexico].

Interviewed by Terra, after his participation in the program "Tejemaneje" -- the first program of political analysis and debate on the Internet in Mexico, Vera López talked about the question Pope Francis asked the international press recently: "Who am I to judge homosexuals?"

The winner of the Rafto Prize 2010 for his fight for human rights in Mexico acknowledged that the words of the Argentine pontiff conrast with what many hierarchs of the Catholic Church think about it, that is, that homosexuality is a form of human perversion.

"A mom came talking to me about her son, and she had a lot of issues because he was going around with 'those degenerate gays!' I told her, 'Well, condemn yourself, because your son was formed that way in your womb and he wasn't formed as a degenerate or a pervert! He was generated with a composition that you're getting tied up in knots about. Calm down! You're the mother of this child and this child started to be what he is today in your womb!," says the head of the Diocese of Saltillo.

Homosexuality has a scientific explanation that we still don't want to admit, and from the religious point of view, it's important for pastors to review the historical context and carefully re-read "the Biblical texts that we've beaten homosexuals over the head with to say that they're condemned in the Bible," the Dominican prelate explained.

Homophobes think a priori that homosexuals and lesbians are degenerate and promiscuous people, but having those thoughts is a mental illness, the Catholic hierarch thinks.

Francis is a "Spring" in the Church

With respect to the coming of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the Vatican and his way of leading the Church during the first months of his papacy, Vera López calls Pope Francis "a Spring, a new hope."

According to the Mexican prelate, Francis is just applying what the Holy Spirit told the Church at the Second Vatican Council and what Latin American theology has done in the [Latin American] bishops' conferences: "understanding the world and drawing near to it." However, he ackowledged that those who followed that line in the past were condemned by the Church itself.

"The princes become vassals and henchmen become princes"

Fray Raul Vera recently celebrated a Mass for indigenous professor Alberto Patishtán, sentenced to 60 years in prison on charges of participating in an ambush on June 12, 2000, where seven policemen were killed and two people were injured. However, human rights organizations in Mexico and the world, such as Amnesty International, have documented serious irregularities and contradictions in that trial.

What does Don Raúl Vera think about the circumstance of the Tzotzil teacher in the face of the release of such characters as the drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero on August 9th because of procedural errors in the case of the assassination of U.S. agent Enrique Camarena?

To answer, he quoted a phrase from Fray Bartolomé de las Casas to the King of Spain which, from his point of view, applies to the Patishtán case: "In these lands, the princes become vassals and the henchmen become princes."

All Mexican politicians "are cut from the same cloth"

For the bishop of Saltillo, Coahuila, the change in the parties in power in Mexico hasn't served to improve the conditions of the citizens since the political class "are cut from the same cloth."

It used to be said that the parties had an ideology and members of those institutions were true to their principles. Today a standard prevails of "shoddy, ambitious and greedy politicians." "You didn't make me a candidate? Oh no, then I'm going with those ones over there," he said by way of example.

In that context, the prelate emphasized that the current federal administration, headed by PRI member Enrique Peña Nieto, doesn't differ in any way with his predecessors' form of governing.

He argued that the presence of self-defense groups is explained by Mexico's failure in its duty to ensure the safety, peace, justice, and human rights of its citizens.

He noted that in places like Michoacán, federal authorities, instead of arresting and trying criminals, have devoted themselves to disarming the self-defense groups.

"What you're also seeing here is: Where is the sense of justice? Where is honesty? Where is corruption? Where is organized crime? Because today we don't just have organized crime in the mafias. Today we have organized crime in all those corrupt officials. They're partners in crime. Many of our political structures in the public service are delinquent associations," the priest and activist warned.

Even though people who are corrupt or tied to organized crime prevail on the political stage, the founder of the "Fray Juan de Larios" Diocesan Center for Human Rights reiterates that the only solution to the problems of the country lies in these same people.

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Continuity and disappointment": Juan Jose Tamayo's thoughts on "Lumen Fidei"

by Juan Jose Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
August 11, 2013

Continuity! It's the word that, after Pope Francis took as his own the encyclical Lumen Fidei, written almost entirely by Benedict XVI, best expresses the transition from the "Benedictine" to the "Franciscan" pontificate, both in the recipients of the encyclical who are cited according to the hierarchical structure of the Church ("bishops, priests and deacons, consecrated persons, lay faithful") and in its academic theological content. A continuity which was confirmed by the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Gerhard L. Müller at the presentation: "Notwithstanding the differences of style, sensibility and accent, anyone who reads this encyclical will immediately note the substantial continuity of the message of Pope Francis with the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI."

Disappointment! It's the word that best reflects my intellectual attitude after reading the encyclical, which includes in its entirety Cardinal Ratzinger's theology inspired by St. Augustine and St. Bonaventure. Many of us -- Christian and not -- were expecting, if not a breakaway of Francis from the two previous pontificates, yes, at least a certain distancing, a new direction and a new way of talking about faith and presenting Christianity in tune with his words, attitudes, gestures and initiatives to reform the church organization as well as his commitment to build a church of the poor and for the poor, his defense of the rights of immigrants and his stern denunciations against capitalism and corruption in the Church.

In my opinion, the encyclical doesn't take seriously the crisis of the Christian faith and religion in general in the contemporary world, and doesn't analyze its causes with the depth and rigor they deserve. Nor does it assume any responsibility for it or propose answers consistent with the importance of the phenomenon. The encyclical seems to be unaware of the change of era we are experiencing and, insensitive to the new challenges, it goes on giving answers from the past to questions of the present. In this aspect, it moves away from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) which,  in the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, analyzes the phenomenon of atheism, its various forms, roots and causes, and assumes the large part of responsibility that belongs to Christians for the genesis of modern atheism. At that time, Joseph Ratzinger was a young theologian and Council adviser; today he's an emeritus pope obsessed with the dictatorship of relativism and clinging to dogmatic truths.

The encyclical barely takes seriously the modern criticism of religion in its various forms -- philosophical, political, economic, scientific, psychological. It's limited to a topical quote from Nietzsche, another from Wittgenstein taken out of context, and a third from Dostoevsky. It doesn't take into account the radical and iconoclastic criticism of the monotheistic religions, and especially of the Christian faith, made by the new atheism of certain philosophical and scientific sectors that are very influential in the current cultural climate. Nor does it contemplate the radical challenge to Christianity by the world of structural poverty and systemic injustice that affects two-thirds of humanity, when it's from that world that the most questioning voices come, sometimes in the form of silent suffering, the harshest criticism of the Christian faith and the most difficult to refute.

The main concern of the encyclical focuses on the relationship between faith and reason, faith and truth, love and knowledge of truth, unity and integrity of faith, sacraments and the transmission of faith, the ecclesial dimension of the faith, etc.. It's certainly an important problem, but largely a European one and not very relevant in other geo-cultural environments, such as in the indigenous communities of Latin America and those of African descent, African Christianity and its relationship with native religions, and Asian Christianity in dialogue with Eastern religions.

The encyclical fails to address the relationship between Christianity and liberation, faith and the struggle for justice, theological hope and commitment, Christian faith and the option for the poor, faith in inter-religious dialogue, the multiculturalism of faith, etc. The poor do not appear in it, or liberation, or the option for the poor, which constitute the most genuine "light of faith" and are radical theological truths and ethical attitudes.

The encyclical offers an androcentric doctrinal exposition in patriarchal language. It constantly talks about "modern man", "brother", "God as the common Father", "universal brotherhood among men", "unfailing love of the Father", etc.. Only once does it refer to men and women -- in the section on "Faith and Family". And it does so to refer to marriage as a "stable union of man and  woman" and to  "the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh...and are enabled to give birth to a new life." We are faced with a homophobic conception of faith and love, family and marriage.

Juan Jose Tamayo is director of the Department of Theology and Religious Sciences at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid. His latest books are Otra teología es posible. Pluralismo religioso, interculturalidad y feminismo ("Another theology is possible: Religious pluralism, multiculturalism and feminism" -- Herder, 2012, 2nd ed.) and Invitación a la utopía ("Invitation to Utopia" -- Trotta, 2012).