Thursday, September 26, 2013

Open Letter to Pope Francis on Church Reform

A new international coalition called Catholic Church Reform, which is comprised of reform groups in many different countries, has sent an open letter to the pope and the cardinals on his advisory council prior to their meeting in early October, outlining what it views as the most important issues facing the Church today. 

Catholic Church Reform is the brain child of Robert Blair Kaiser, a journalist who covered the Vatican and church issues for TIME magazine and The New York Times and has written several books including A Church in Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future, and Rene Reid, a former Catholic nun with an M.A. in Theology who went on to become an expert in network marketing after holding a number of different church positions. Kaiser is also one of the founding members of the American Catholic Council, an umbrella church reform group in the United States.

The letter -- see text below -- has been signed by most of the major reform groups and individuals can still add their names here. A Spanish translation of the letter has been published on Redes Cristianas, one of the endorsing organizations. To date, over 100 organizations and 2,947 individuals have signed the letter.

September 20, 2013

Re: Request for this to be placed on the advisory council meeting agenda, October 1-3, 2013: Acknowledgement of the rights and responsibilities of the baptized faithful to have an effective voice in the decision making of our Church.

Dear Pope Francis and Brother Cardinals:

It is out of a deep concern for the Catholic Church, in the face of its many crises, that we, representing millions of Catholics from around the world, have collaborated in writing this letter. We are filled with hope that church governance will be discussed at your October meeting and we respectfully request that you give primary consideration to acknowledging the rights and responsibilities of the baptized to have a voice of influence in the decision-making of our Church.

Like you, we have experienced the catastrophic loss of trust in our Church, arising from the global revelations of Catholic clergy sexual abuse and hierarchical cover up. Abuses of power at the Vatican bank, as well as damaging disrespect and marginalization experienced by the laity, have caused many of our sisters and brothers to abandon Catholicism altogether. Our church seems unable to read the signs of the times and so handing on the faith to future generations has become ever more challenging.

In our understanding, what lies at the root of many of these problems is the destructive effects of clericalism. We support your desire, Pope Francis, to rid our Church of clericalism in order that we become a community of equals called, through our baptism, to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. All Catholics have the right and responsibility, innately deriving from our baptism, to have an effective and deliberative voice in the decision-making of our Church. The full participation of the faith community is in accordance with the Gospel, the tradition of the early Church, and the vision of Vatican II.

To this end we have outlined five areas that reflect the hopes and needs of the sensus fidelium.

1. A Church that embodies the radical justice of Jesus in the world
We are inspired, Pope Francis, by your compassion for the poor and desire for social justice as well as your personal commitment to live more simply. We want to work, as sisters and brothers, to build the reign of God on earth – so that all people may live free from oppression, war, unjust economic systems, violence, hunger, poverty, and the degradation of God’s creation. But our commitment to justice is compromised and often viewed as hypocritical because injustice exists within the Church itself. We hope for a time when all Catholics come to experience a joyfully renewed church that truly places justice and respect for the dignity and equality of every person at the heart of its lived mission.

2. A Church that welcomes open dialogue among its members
When speaking in Brazil, Pope Francis, you advised that “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue” is a cornerstone of all human progress, and we agree. The freedom of expression (including faithful dissent when required), freedom of reasoned inquiry, and the primacy of an informed conscience are vital to the health of our Church. We believe that prophetic women and men are continually calling us to engage the urgent theological, pastoral, social, and environmental questions of our time in new and inspiring ways. In this light, we recommend reinstating theologians, clergy and religious who, since Vatican II, have been censored and/or sanctioned for following their conscience. Secondly, as has been expressed by so many Catholics around the world, we believe that the Apostolic Visitation of US Women Religious and the investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious were unwarranted and unjust. Open dialogue cannot exist where fear of punitive action exists.

3. A Church that recognizes the fundamental equality of its members
Catholic teaching tells us that all persons have been created with equal dignity in the image of God. Therefore church structures must reflect this reality. Since all governance in the Church now rests exclusively with ordained male celibate priests, this excludes the vast majority of baptized Catholics. Therefore we recommend a canonical study of the feasibility of linking church governance to baptism rather than to ordination. With regard to ordained ministry, we recommend that identifying the call be based on individual and communal discernment of the candidate’s gifts, spirituality, pastoral sense, and theological formation, rather than gender, sexual orientation, or state in life. We reject the sexist exclusion of women from full participation at all levels of the Church. Equally, it is unacceptable to deny our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters’ access to full participation in every aspect of Church life and ministry. And it is unjust to ordain married male ministers from other denominations, while refusing to accept lifelong Catholic priests who have left the active ministry to marry. Further, divorced and remarried Catholics should not be withheld from full communion; their personal conscience in this matter should be respected.

4. A Church with greater participation of the baptized in governance
Addressing the needs of our Church requires implementing collegial systems and structures based on: participation of the faithful in the selection and tenure of bishops; reinstatement of the principle of subsidiarity in parish councils, diocesan pastoral councils, and national conferences of bishops; and inclusion of qualified lay men and women serving in leadership positions in the Curia. Implementation of collegial structures will promote a culture of authentically accountable leadership that more fully orients the Church toward the common good.

5. A Church that effectively confronts and prevents sexual abuse
The scandal of clergy sexual abuse can only be overcome when the bishops who facilitate or ignore the abuse are removed from office and brought to justice by church and civil authorities with universal, binding protocols established and implemented. The Catholic Church must earnestly examine the complex of systemic causes that have led to this scandal of global proportions and do everything in its power to prevent it in the future.

In closing, we ask you once again to recognize the rights and responsibilities of the baptized to participate in the deliberative decision-making of our Church. We offer to send a delegation to the Vatican to discuss our proposal further. We look forward to your reply as, together, we continue this important dialogue for the good of our church. We pray the wisdom of the Holy Spirit be upon you and your deliberations.

Your sisters and brothers in Christ,

Breaking down indifference

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
September 29, 2013

Luke 16:19-31

According to Luke, when Jesus cries "you can't serve God and mammon [money]," some of the Pharisees who were listening to him and were friends of money "laughed at him." Jesus doesn't back down. A little while later, he tells a harrowing parable that those who are living as slaves of wealth might open their eyes.

Jesus briefly describes a bloody situation. A rich man and a poor beggar, who live close to each other, are separated by the gulf between the insultingly opulent lifestyle of the rich man and the extreme destitution of the poor one.

The tale describes the two characters, strongly emphasizing the contrast between them. The rich man is dressed in purple and fine linen; the body of the poor man is covered with sores. The rich man dines splendidly not only on feast days but every day; the poor man is lying at his door, unable to raise to his lips that which falls from the rich man's table. Only the dogs who come to look for something in the trash approach him to lick his wounds.

It never says that the rich man has exploited the poor man, or abused or despised him. It could be said that he has done nothing wrong. Nonetheless, his whole life is inhumane, since he only lives for his own welfare. His heart is stony. He totally neglects the poor man. He's in front of him but he doesn't see him. He's right there, sick, hungry and abandoned, but he isn't able to cross the threshold to take responsibility for him.

Let's not kid ourselves. Jesus isn't just denouncing the problem of Galilee in year 30. He's trying to stir the consciences of those of us who have become accustomed to living in abundance while having at our doorstep, just a few hours flight away, entire peoples living and dying in absolute destitution.

It's inhumane to lock ourselves in our "affluent society" while completely ignoring this other "society in distress." It's cruel to continue nurturing this "secret illusion of innocence" that allows us to live with peace of mind thinking that everyone and no one is to blame.

Our first task is to break down indifference. Resist going on enjoying affluence that is devoid of compassion. Not continue to isolate ourselves mentally to move the hunger and destitution that exist in the world to some abstract distant place, to thus be able to live without hearing any outcry, moaning, or sobs.

The Gospel can help us live vigilantly, without becoming increasingly insensitive to the suffering of the neglected, without losing our sense of fraternal responsibility, and without remaining passive when we can act.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Women cardinals?

The online world is buzzing about an article by journalist Juan Arias, respectfully suggesting to Pope Francis that if he wants to give women a greater role in the Church, the method of least resistance would be to open the diaconate to women and then, since Canon Law allows deacons to be cardinals, promote a woman to cardinal. Here is Arias' article, followed by a response from Italian church historian, journalist, and contributor to L'Osservatore Romano, Lucetta Scaraffia.

A woman cardinal?

By Juan Arias (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El País
September 22, 2013

It's not a joke. It's something that has crossed Pope Francis' mind: naming a woman cardinal. Those who know him, in and out of the Society of Jesus, before coming to the Chair of Peter, say that the first Jesuit pope is called to surprise us each day not only with his words but also, and especially, with his gestures. He's been doing that in the first six months of his pontificate.

Those who think that Francis, with his provincial priest's simplicity, plain language and a smile always on his lips, is a simpleton or naive, are wrong. This pope, who doesn't seem like a pope, has come to Rome from the periphery of the Church with a very specific program: to change not only the rusty apparatus of the ecclesial bureaucracy but also to resurrect original Christianity.

The symbolism of his gestures started the moment he appeared on the center balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica, dressed in white, calling himself "bishop" and asking the people in the square to bless him. Since then, he hasn't missed a minute in sowing his first months of papacy with unexpected gestures to the consternation of many, in and out of the Church.

And he'll go on doing it. For example, with this plan to make a woman a cardinal. He knows that the women's issue in the Church has yet to be resolved and can't wait. He made it clear in two soundbites in his last interview in Civiltá Católica: "The Church cannot be herself without women." It's not just a statement. It's an accusation. The sentence could also be interpreted this way: "The Church is not yet complete because it lacks women."

Francis deems that solving the issue of women in the Church is no longer something that can be postponed. How to introduce into the Church this essential piece without which the Church "cannot be herself"? He said it in the same interview: "We need a profound theology of women."

And that theology, the pope implied, caninot be built in the laboratory of the Vatican, sponsored by power. Women are already building it within the Church. "Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed," he says.

Francisco wants to solve that problem during his pontificate because he is convinced that the Church today is one-handed and one-legged without women in their rightful place, which would be neither more nor less than the one they had in early Christianity, where they exerted a huge role. At least until Paul coined his theology of the cross, masculinized the Church, and turned it into a hierarchy.

The pope knows that to carry out the revolution he has in mind, he needs to "listen" to the Church, not only the one on top, but also the one below, where women are asking "deep questions."

He could, however, open the way himself with some gestures that would force the Church to put women's issues urgently on the table or, if you prefer, on "the altar." And one of those gestures would be to appoint a woman cardinal. Which is impossible? No. Today, according to canon law, there can be cardinals who aren't priests; it's enough for them to be deacons.

But it's that women, some might say, can't even be deacons today like they were 800 years ago and especially in the first Christian communities. Well that's also one of the reforms Francis has in mind. It's not about some dogma. Women could be admitted to the diaconate tomorrow.

As Phyllis Zagano of Loyola University in Chicago, the greatest expert in the Church on this issue, has written, "the female diaconate is not a concept for the future. It's a present topic, for today." And she says she broached the subject with Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope and that he answered that it was "something that is being studied." With Benedict XVI, it was in the pipeline, but Pope Francis could accelerate the process. Today, the Armenian Apostolic and the Greek Orthodox churches, both linked to Rome, have women deacons.

Once women have reached the diaconate, he could then, without changing current Canon Law, make a woman cardinal with the title of deaconess. Moreover, one would just have to change the current rule to allow a lay person, and, as such, a woman, to be chosen as cardinal, since there have been at least two cases in the Church in which two laymen have been named cardinal: the Duke of Lerma in 1618 and Teodolfo Mertel in 1858. [Translator's note: The names of some additional lay cardinals can be found here.]

Cardinalship does not imply priestly or episcopal consecration. Cardinals are the pope's advisers and their main function is to elect the new successor of Peter. Is there anything unsuitable about a woman being able to give her vote in the silence of the conclave? Would her vote be worth less than a man's?

One Jesuit told me, "Knowing this pope, his hand wouldn't tremble while making a woman a cardinal and he would even be delighted to be the first pope to allow a woman to be able to participate in the election of a new pope."

When Francis, in his long interview, stresses that he doesn't want to make changes abruptly and that before doing so, he prefers to "listen" to the Church, it's because he already has those changes -- some of which are surprising -- in mind, maybe well enumerated. He just wants to present them not only with the support of the hierarchy but of the people of God.

With this pope, as Federico Fellini would say, "the ship sails." With Francis, the pillars of the Church begin to move. And many begin to tremble. From fear. Inside, not outside the Church. Outside, notes of amazement and even disbelief are resounding. "With this pope, I almost want to become Catholic," one reader wrote yesterday in this newspaper.

Something is moving, perhaps irreversibly, in the Church just at the moment when in the secular political world, in the field of modernity, all the clocks seem to have stopped at once.

A woman cardinal: Pope Francis grapples with the last taboo

by Lucetta Scaraffia (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Il Messaggero

Appoint a woman cardinal: the hypothesis-proposal in El Pais is not entirely new. Other voices have spoken up over the years -- personally I want to remember the great British anthropologist Mary Douglas, a Catholic -- to point out this main way to give power and thus increase the authority of women in the Church. The appointment would have the great advantage of being possible, without involving the thorny problem of the priestly ordination of women. It would constitute a powerful and significant act of change, of the sort we have gotten used to expecting from Pope Francis. And it would not be very surprising, in the end, after listening to the challenging words pronounced recently by the Pope about the role of women in the Church.

Certainly, it would be a revolution strong enough to shake the position of distrust and disinterest that much of the clergy take against women -- religious and lay -- because it is now clear that the exhortations, advanced by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, to take into account the presence of women in various ways, have only borne modest fruit. Pope Francis has spoken bluntly of women in important positions, but it's not easy to achieve a decisive reform. Sure, to everyone - that is, to the world outside of the church hierarchy - it seems very strange, and in particular clearly wrong, that there are no women in leading positions in the decision-making bodies such as the pontifical councils that deal with issues that affect them personally. There are no women, in fact, in the institute that regulates the issues of men and women religious - even though women make up two-thirds of the total number of religious, or on the Pontifical Council for the Laity, of which, of course, at least half are women, on the Pontifical Council for the Family, where their presence should be obvious. But even in the institute that regulates health care, largely handled - and well - by women's congregations. And we must not forget that women should participate in the decisions of a cultural nature, and those regarding communications. In both areas, outside of the Church, but also within it, women now hold important roles, demonstrating great skill.

And again, why, in the congregations preceding the conclave, could the cardinal electors not have had the opportunity to even listen to a woman, religious or lay? Today, women refuse to be represented by men on every occasion, and demand, quite rightly, to be heard. What is missing in Church is just that: a willingness to listen to women, who are regarded only as obedient executors of the directives of others, or providers of domestic services.

Forgetting that the Church really owes a lot to women who have been -- and still are -- a part of it. What would mysticism be without Teresa of Avila? And who brought the most widespread devotion in the world by far, that is, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, if not a French nun, Marguerite Marie Alacoque? And how much does it owe to all the founders of the 800 active life congregations that have created a network of schools, hospitals, orphanages, providing the Church - at a time of great anticlerical tension - a positive and useful image to society that has ensured the loyalty of many believers now in the balance? Even today, women religious are in the heart of all difficult and painful situations, and they know how to act with courage and common sense, neither seeking nor expecting any recognition. And what about the cloistered nuns, who sustain the faith of all of us, and the purity of the Church, with their incessant prayer? And the many catechists who assist the increasingly overworked and often depressed pastors?

It seems incredible that the church hierarchy thinks that these women have nothing to say, nothing interesting to suggest. That they are not, that is, indispensable interlocutors to create a viable future for the Church.

But Pope Francis, who wants above all to "warm hearts", knows that women are masters at doing so, and that a different, more alive future cannot be achieved without their active contribution.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The "holy and sinful" Church and women's ordination

by Jung Mo Sung (english translation by Rebel Girl)
Adital (em português)
September 13, 2012

One of the statements about the Church I like best is the one that says the Church is "holy and sinful." Not because I like to point out the sins of the Church, but because it is a deeply realistic theological statement that also has "validity" in the analysis of social institutions and societies.

One of the temptations of all institutions or social systems that acquire great power in society is to consider themselves immune to errors or questions and criticisms. Especially when that institution considers itself a representative of divine will or the laws of history (as was and is the case of some Communist parties that came to and/or remain in power and also the neoliberal free market advocates).

The Christian churches are not immune to this temptation, especially since, as churches, they speak or claim to speak on behalf of God and in the name of revelation. Therefore, the continuous remembrance of the claim that the Church is "holy and sinful" is essential to overcome this temptation. This temptation which, like all the others, will never disappear completely from our lives.

To say that the Church is "holy and sinful" is to acknowledge the ambiguity of our human condition and, therefore, of all human institutions. The statement that the Church is "holy" is the confession of faith that we see in the communities that form the Church, the presence of God's Spirit that encourages us along the Way. It is important here to note that this confession of faith affirms that the Church is "holy" and not sacred. Something that is sacred is -- or should be -- untouchable, unchanging and separate from everyday life, seen as the realm of the profane. Christianity is not a religion rooted in the assertion of the sacred that is separate or distinguished from the profane, but in the faith that God, who is Holy, emptied Himself of His divine status and became human (see Phil 2:6), lived and walked among us so that all people could live with dignity and joy. Accordingly, the holiness that we can live out is the acceptance of the free love and mercy of God and bearing witness to that love among the people, especially those who are suffering the most.

The reason we put the "foundation" of our Church on the merciful presence of God among us, is that we know and acknowledge that we are sinners. It is God's mercy and holiness that reveals our sinful condition to us and encourages us to live our faith that, even as sinners, we are loved by God.

Anyone who sees the Church, with its members and its institutions, as sacred, admits no change in those rules and laws which are considered immutable because they are sacred. One example of an untouchable law would be the exclusive ordination of men. However, anyone who confesses that the Church is "holy and sinful" knows that holiness does not reside in the immutability or untouchability of the institution or its laws, but in God's free and merciful love. They know that one of the characteristics of love is precisely creating some disorder in the laws and the institution in the name of love for loved ones. And that love gives us the courage to acknowledge that we are sinners and that our sins are concretized and ossified in laws and institutions. They know that you can not live in community or society without laws and institutions, but they also know that those laws can not be treated as sacred.

A serious discussion about the role of the clergy in the Church (the power relationship between clergy and laity) and the ordination of women -- with all the problems and difficulties that would bring -- would be a very "interesting" way for the Catholic Church to witness to the world that our church is not sacred, but rather "holy and sinful". Thus it would have more credibility in its criticism of the various forms of sacralization of human customs or institutions, for example, the neoliberal temptation to turn market forces into something sacred.

Dr. Jung Mo Sung is a Roman Catholic lay theologian and professor in the graduate program of religious studies at the Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil. He has also taught in the graduate program at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo. He is the author of numerous books, the most recent being Beyond the Spirit of Empire: Theology and Politics in a New Key, co-authored with Joerg Rieger Page and Nestor Miguez (SCM Reclaiming Liberation Theology Series, 2009) and Deus em nós: o reinado que acontece no amor solidário aos pobres, co-authored with Hugo Assmann (Paulus, 2010).