Saturday, March 15, 2014

Teresa Forcades: Banned in LA

Yesterday, we were pleased to bring you the good news that Benedictine nun and theologian Sr. Teresa Forcades would be doing a book signing in a bookstore in the Los Angeles area. She still is, as far as we know.

Now the bad news: That is all Sr. Forcades will be doing. Yesterday, she went on Ruben Luengas' program "Hablando Claro" and told the reporter that she had been scheduled to speak at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' Congress on Religious Education this weekend but that at the last minute, just a couple of weeks before the event, her participation was cancelled by conference organizers. Luengas spoke to Sr. Edith Prendergrast, director of the Office of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who told him, "We spoke with her and decided that her topic, which was very good, might be misinterpreted since she comes from the theological world...She could be caught in a situation where common people couldn't understand someone with strong theological baggage."

Excuse me??? If your jaw is dropping at this response, which is as insulting to the Catholic laity of this country as it is to Sr. Forcades herself, you are not alone. As of this morning, Sr. Forcades was still listed as a speaker on the Religious Education Congress website, but with a terse indication "No longer attending Congress 2014". She would have given two presentations. The first, "The Light of Feminist Theology in History" will now be given by Olivia Cornejo, Director of Institute for Pastoral Ministries of the Diocese of Orange, California. The second, "Is God acting in the world? The Providence Factor", will be presented by Lupita Vital Cruz, Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose. Obviously, the topics are not the problem since there is no mention that these have changed.

Blacklisting and censorship are ugly. They are even uglier when they are perpetrated by the Church and uglier still when perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church in the United States of America, a country which prides itself on tolerance of diverse views and freedom to express them that is enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. It's a shame that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles can't trust the faithful to listen to Sr. Forcades and form their own opinions for or against her theological perspective. But, as we have always told our readers, the best defense against this kind of ecclesial censorship is to actively support the person who is being censored. In this case, we would encourage readers, as a protest and -- what the heck? -- even if you don't speak Spanish, to buy a copy of Sr. Forcades' La Teologia Feminista en la Historia (Fragmento, 2011). It's usually available on the Spanish Amazon site, although right now they're showing only one in stock with more on the way.

Meanwhile, even though she isn't welcome in the mainstream Church, Sr. Forcades is welcome on the political left. To end on a note of good news, on her way back to Europe, Sr. Forcades will be stopping in Baltimore, Maryland. On Tuesday night, March 18, at 6:00 pm, she will be speaking at an event sponsored by Red Emma's in their Free School Classroom, 30 W. North Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21201. Red Emma's says the nun will be talking about the indignados movement in Spain and that she "would very much like to meet with local radical activists." Fortunately, not everyone is afraid of the "big, bad nun."

NOTE: You can listen to Sr. Teresa's full one hour interview with Ruben Luengas here (Mp3 file in Spanish)

Selected excerpts from the interview are included in this video:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Against the Catholic Church, women priests celebrate baptisms and Mass

Translator's Note: This article is essentially a summary of a television program about Colombia's women priests that aired earlier this month and about which we reported on this blog.

By Marcela Belchior (English translation by Rebel Girl)
March 14, 2014

On June 29, 2002, the Argentine bishop Rómulo Antonio Braschi ordained the first seven women priests in the history of the Catholic Church. So that no diocese could revoke the sacrament, the ceremony took place on a boat on the Danube river, Germany. Almost 12 years later, there are 180 ordained women.

Among them is the Colombian Olga Lucía Álvarez, 72. Three years ago, she became the first woman priest in South America. As opposed to the powerful Catholic Church, Olga questions the role of women in Catholicism, rebelling against the policies of the Vatican and its hierarchy. She celebrates Mass and performs all the functions of any other Catholic priest.

These women's rebellion has cost them dearly. They have been excommunicated, the maximum punishment within the Catholic Church. The religious institution that is now under the leadership of Pope Francis believes that only men can be priests.

"Although the hierarchy tells us we are excommunicated, we don't accept it. It's absurd that they're refusing to let us render ministerial service within the Church. There's no biblical or theological reason for them to exclude us as we have been excluded. There's only a canon, within the Canons of the Church, 1024, that says that only baptized men can aspire to priestly orders," Olga argues.

The general secretary of the Colombian Bishops Conference, Monsignor Daniel Falla, explains that the Church sees priests as symbolizing Christ on earth and, therefore, the tradition of male representation should be maintained. The case of the women priests being the motive for automatic latae sententiae excommunication, that is, that which the believer incurs at the moment he commits the fault previously condemned by the faith. "We would say that they have excommunicated themselves. They are not in communion with the Church, with what we want to preserve throughout history. We can't call them members of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church," Falla explains.

For Olga, there's chauvinism in the Catholic doctrine, to which the general secretary of the Bishops Conference responds, "The Church isn't a social or political institution, but a divine institution that makes present the mystery of God, of Jesus Christ incarnate as a man." "If we forget this, it certainly could be seen as something chauvinistic, but when we try to conserve the essence of the Church, we understand that it's not a chauvinist position, " he counters.

The Colombian woman priest doesn't have a parish and rejects opulence. "I can work in the communities. They call and ask me," she says. She travels around the neighborhood communities in Medellin and Soacha, where she interprets the Catholic Gospel a different way.

Traditional Position vs. Inclusion

The Catholic Church, for thousands of years, has excluded women from any position of power. Currently the Vatican doesn't recognize women priests and the possibility that they will be accepted in the institution seems remote. Pope Francis appears to be the figure that represents the transformation and modernization of the Catholic Church.

Throughout the first year of his pontificate, Francis has reaffirmed his intent to enhance the role of women in the Church, expanding the opportunities for a more incisive female presence. "For me, the presence of Francis in the Church is very important. Not because he's going to ordain or accept us, because that's not easy for him. What matters most to me is that this man is pure Gospel," Olga states.

The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, although it is based on the same gospel as traditional priests, distances itself from the policies that have been implemented by the Vatican hierarchy. For them, for example, homosexuality isn't a moral issue, but a question of inclusion.

As if they hadn't sufficiently defied the Vatican, many of these priests are married women with children. For them, celibacy is an economic act so that Church property might not be shared with families. They have also tried to renounce the opulent and powerful image of gigantic cathedrals and valuable religious adornments. "Our bishops don't have miters or crosiers, which are power symbols. They're on the same level as us," says Olga.

Of the first seven women priests ordained, three were chosen to be ordained as bishops, so that they would have the authority to ordain new women priests. Recently, the first Afro-Colombian woman priest was ordained. Marina Teresa Sánchez is the third South American woman to be ordained a priest. "I decided to be ordained because it is part of the identity of representatives of God," she argues. "Being the first Afro-Colombian woman priest is a great commitment to our Latin American communities in general," she adds.

News Flash: Sr. Teresa Forcades coming to Los Angeles area this weekend

According to Religion Digital, Benedictine nun and theologian Sr. Teresa Forcades will be launching her book La teología feminista en la historia (Fragmenta, 2011) in the United States for the first time this Saturday, March 15th at the El Buen Pastor Catholic Bookstore, 215 W. Rosecrans Ave. in Compton, California. The event, organized by the Instituto Latino and the bookstore on the occasion of International Women's Day, will be split into two sessions -- the first in English at 9:00 a.m. (registration begins at 8:30 a.m.) and the second in Spanish at 5:00 p.m. (registration begins at 4:30 p.m.). NOTE: There seems to be a discrepancy on the timing of the Spanish session between the publisher's website that shows that session beginning at 4:00 p.m. and the bookstore website that says 5. I would say, aim for the earlier time to make sure you get in.

An entrance fee of $15 ($8 for students) will be charged and Sr. Forcades will be signing copies of her book. The East LA musical group Las Cafeteras will also be performing. Seating capacity is limited so come early!

"Liberation theology has died? They didn't invite me to the funeral!": An interview with Gustavo Gutierrez

By Andrés Beltramo Alvarez (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Vatican Insider (italiano) / Adital (español)
March 7, 2014

For the first time, Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and the "father" of liberation theology, was a speaker in an auditorium at the Vatican. The historic moment happened on February 25th, at the launching of the book Povero e per i poveri, signed by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Ludwig Müller as it also includes his writings. A volume with a foreword by the Pope. They are signs of an obvious detente with a theological current that is still facing turbulent debates in Latin America. Gutierrez talked to Vatican Insider about his involvement in the presentation.

How do you think this "reconciliation" was reached?

The word "reconciliation" is a little strong to express what happened. There were certain problems with a few people, and not so fair. There wasn't a determination against it, otherwise I would not have continued to write, but that didn't happen. Of course, there are people who don't agree with me and I respect that. There are many theologies I don't like but I don't persecute them because of that. But, we have differences. On the other hand, there are church people who think everything happens in the Church, which isn't true.

Liberation theology had problems mainly with the politicians and the military. I'll give two examples. In December 1987, there was a meeting in Buenos Aires of the armed forces of the continent from Canada to Chile and Argentina. You know what the problem was? The dangers of liberation theology. Have you ever heard of the armed forces of Europe meeting to talk about the theology of Rahner or Congar? Never. But in Latin America, they did.

Who do they kill? Civilians. We've had hundreds of people murdered and this always escapes a lot of people. Who killed Monseñor Romero? Roberto d’Aubuisson Arrieta, a military officer who's now dead. But that man was not a man of the Church. He answered only to certain political interests.

So there's a different climate of understanding?

Today, yes, of course. And this has to do with what I just said, because it takes away the weapons of those who, for no Christian reason, don't trust liberation theology. Because they realize that they're dealing with the whole Church. It's very different. But it's very frequent. Another example: During Reagan's presidential campaign in 1980, there were some people, who later would be ambassadors in Latin America, who issued a document in which they warned that one of the greatest threats to U.S. foreign policy was liberation theology. I've never seen anyone say that, at least, it talks about God. And this is very serious, this is the climate that kills.

Could it be that some people exploited liberation theology?

Everything can be manipulated. In South Africa, Christianity was used by apartheid too, and we can't stop that. One can answer for oneself or for close friends. After all, if someone uses their own ideas, what can you do? There were problems, but there were more problems and more serious ones in the civilian environment. Why, then, do you think we talk about "Latin American martyrdom"? We're referring to the political and military situations in Latin America. Countrymen of the continent. It's what happened in Brazil under the dictatorship, with Videla in Argentina, in Uruguay. That was then, and one of the most frequently used arguments was that anyone who talked about human rights and social justice was a Marxist. It's not that there weren't any problems in the Church, I'm pointing out what, to me, was more serious.

Did you ever think you would have a friend who was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

I never imagined it nor did I discard it, because one never knows. I'm not much given to predicting things. No, obviously not, but who could have foreseen something like this?

Could this be providential for your work?

Yes, it might be useful for the work. But what matters to me is what will happen to the poor of Latin America. You ask me if it will be useful for them? I think so. That it will be useful for liberation theology, sure. I'd be a fool if I didn't give a damn. Up to age 40, I had never spoken of liberation theology, because I didn't know it. But I was still a Christian. So, if I was a Christian before, I hope to be one afterwards as well. People say to me: "Liberation theology is dead." And I answer: "Maybe, but no one invited me to the funeral!" Theology isn't crucial, people are.

And is Pope Francis decisive?

Ah, well, but certainly yes. Precisely this way, going to concrete daily things, saying, "I don't want corrupt money, dirty money." That's very specific. Of course so, obviously.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Listening to Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
March 16, 2014

Matthew 17:1-9

The center of this complex story, traditionally called "The Transfiguration of Jesus", is a Voice that comes from a strange "bright cloud", a symbol used in the Bible to speak of the always mysterious presence of God who reveals Himself to us and, at the same time, is hidden from us. The Voice says these words: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." The disciples are not to confuse Jesus with anybody, not even with Moses or Elijah, representatives and witnesses of the Old Testament. Only Jesus is the beloved Son of God, the one whose face "shines like the sun."

But the Voice adds something else: "Listen to him." In former times, God revealed His will through the "Ten Commandments" of the Law. Now God's will is summarized and embodied in a single command: Listen to Jesus. Listening establishes the true relationship between Jesus and his followers.

On hearing this, the disciples fall to the ground "filled with fear". They're overwhelmed by that experience so close to God, but they're also frightened by what they have heard. Will they be able to listen only to Jesus, recognizing only in him the mysterious presence of God?

Then Jesus "came near and touched them, saying, 'Rise, and do not be afraid.'" He knows they need to experience his human closeness -- the touch of his hand, not just the divine radiance of his face. Whenever we listen to Jesus in the silence of our being, his first words to us are, "Rise, and do not be afraid."

Many people only know Jesus through hearsay. His name is familiar to them, perhaps, but what they know about him doesn't go beyond some childhood memories and impressions. Even though they call themselves Christians, they live without hearing Jesus within them. And without that experience, it's not possible to know his unmistakable peace or his strength that lifts and sustains our lives.

When a believer stops to listen in silence to Jesus within his conscience, he always hears something like this: "Do not be afraid. Quite simply abandon yourself in the mystery of God. Your little faith is enough. Don't worry. If you listen to me, you'll discover that God's love is in always forgiving you. And if you believe this, your life will change. You will know peace of heart."

In the Book of Revelation, it is written: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house." Jesus knocks at the door of Christians and non-Christians. We can open the door to him or we can reject him. But living with Jesus is not the same as living without him.

Polling the faithful - Pew vs the USCCB

Two days ago, the National Catholic Reporter published an article stating that laypeople in only just over a third of the nearly 200 Catholic dioceses in the United States were given the opportunity to respond directly to the Vatican's survey in preparation for the upcoming synod on the family. It said it "found 78 dioceses with clear, easily accessible information about what the survey was and how Catholics could participate, either through online surveys, direct consultations...or parish input" and that "of those, about a dozen reported the results of their surveys and consultations publicly."

However, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops needs to understand that regardless of whether or not they allow the faithful to complete the Vatican's survey and confirm what we already suspect, we have other sources of information about the position of American Catholics on the most significant issues covered by the survey, and some others besides. It's a pity most of our bishops can't be as open as the Pew Religion and Public Life Project.

Pew surveyed American Catholics last month on the occasion of Pope Francis' one year anniversary and here is what they found. The good news is that Pope Francis' popularity remains high (85% give him a favorable rating, so that honeymoon is definitely not over). The bad news is that, except for being inspired to maybe pray a little harder, Catholics have not changed much due to the new pope. Mass attendance remains the same as a year ago with only 40% attending weekly or more. Participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation continues to decline with 22% of Catholics reporting that they are confessing less often than when Francis assumed the papacy.

Nor has there been any significant change in the acceptance of Church teachings in key areas:

  • Birth Control: 77% of Catholics surveyed think that the Church should allow the use of birth control and 56% think the Church will change on this issue by 2050 (up from 53% in 2013)

  • Married Priests: 72% of those surveyed think the Church should allow priests to get married and 51% think the Church will change on this issue by 2050 (only 39% thought change was possible when Benedict XVI was in office)

  • Women Priests: 68% of Catholics think that the Church should allow women to become priests but only 42% think the Church will change on this issue (slightly more than a year ago when only 37% thought it possible)

  • Same-Sex Marriage: 50% of those surveyed think the Church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples but only 36% think the Church will change on this matter by 2050. If this number seems low, it's because the question is asking about the Catholic Church recognizing these marriages, not about civil same-sex marriage which enjoys much more acceptance among the Catholic faithful. The message we can derive from this is that American Catholics understand their Church's position on same-sex marriage, which the bishops have been hammering away at over the last couple of years while opposing same-sex marriage laws around the country, and so they don't expect the institution to change. However, they don't accept that position and at least half of them would like to see change in this area.

Except on same-sex marriage, the majority of even the most devoted Catholics -- those who attend Mass at least weekly -- want to see their Church change on these issues. Sitting on the surveys, writing some sort of spin rather than listening to and truthfully and openly feeding back what the faithful are thinking on these matters, is not going to change reality. One of the reasons Pope Francis is so beloved is that he hasn't been afraid to ask the tough questions. Why are our American shepherds so afraid to ask the questions...and hear the answers?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Francis is changing the somber atmosphere of the Church, says Leonardo Boff

By Astrid Prange (English translation by Rebel Girl)
DW (em Português)
March 12, 2014

In an interview with DW, one of the main critics of Catholic conservatism states that in just one year the pope has managed to bring the priests and bishops closer to the people. Living in Latin America was instrumental for that.

On March 13, 2013, Francis was elected pope. And in just one year at the head of the Vatican, he has brought up for discussion a number of issues that had previously been left aside by the Church, initiating a process of transformation of the institution and the role of the Pope.

In an interview with DW, Leonardo Boff, an exponent of liberation theology and one of the leading critics of Catholic conservatism, says Francis has made the Church more alive by reforming the papacy.

"Francis didn't assume the classic figure of 'monarch pope' with absolute legal primacy and doctrinal and pastoral supremacy," says Boff, who left all his positions in the Church in 1992 after being censured by the Vatican. "He changed the climate. Before, the atmosphere was severe and gloomy."

DW: What has changed in the Catholic Church in Brazil a year after Pope Francis was elected?

Leonardo Boff: He changed the climate, which is no small thing. There's relief because the institutional Church was seen as a nightmare. There is joy, because before the environment was severe and gloomy. What we're seeing is that many priests and bishops have become more accessible to the people, more tolerant, less doctrinaire. The Archbishop of Rio, Dom Orani Tempesta, when he went to Rome to receive the red hat, traveled economy class to follow the example of Cardinal Bergoglio who always traveled like that. But it may be too early to have a more accurate impression of the changes in the habits of priests and Christians.

With the pope, could liberation theology rise from the ashes?

It never was in the ashes because oppression continues and Christians who are aware are guided by liberation theology to give meaning to their practices. Theologians continued to publish, despite the strict vigilance of Cardinal Ratzinger, who became an enemy of understanding the poor.

That is the weight he will carry throughout history. Rome tried by every means to rub out this kind of theology, but left frustrated because the gospel content of liberation theology pointed against Rome, which showed itself indifferent to the plight of the poor. It talks about the poor but never wants to meet them physically.

What was the role of theology after Francis took over at the Vatican?

With the new pope it gained prominence because he put the question of social justice and the poor church for the poor at the center of the concerns of his pontificate. He meets the poor, hugging and kissing them because, in his words, they are "the flesh of Christ." By receiving in audience on September 11, 2013 Gustavo Gutiérrez, one of the founders of this theology, and then Little Brother of Jesus Arturo Paoli, 102 years old, who worked for 45 years along the liberation line in Latin America, the Pope gave clear signals that he wants to honor and even redeem liberation theology.

The Pope wants to honor and increase the power of the laity because the shortage of priests on the continent is serious. Are there signs yet of what those new powers will be? Will they be able to celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments?

A main type of vision of Church that the pope represents is the "Church as people of God." Everyone belongs to this people, which is made up mainly of laypeople, men and women. The pope wants laypeople, especially women, to participate in the decisions of the Church and not just participate in the life of the Church. How he will do it, we don't know. We just know that he's surprising and that new things can be expected, including the appointment of women as cardinals, since "cardinal" is a title in the tradition that isn't linked to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. You don't have to be a priest or a bishop to be a cardinal. I don't think he'll allow laypeople to celebrate the Eucharist because that would be too bold a step. But as happens in the basic ecclesial communities where there's no priest present, the Lord's Supper is ritualized and dramatized. As a theologian, I think such a practice is a way of bringing Christ sacramentally into the community.

What could the Church in Latin America contribute to reforming the Vatican?

The greatest contribution Latin America is giving to Vatican reform is Pope Francis himself. He didn't start by reforming the Curia but by reforming the papacy. He didn't assume the classic figure of 'monarch pope' with absolute legal primacy and doctrinal and pastoral supremacy. He sees himself as bishop of Rome and wants to rule with charity. It's important to note that this pope grew up in the cultural and ecclesial stew of the Latin American Church whose face is very different from the old European Christendom Church. It's a lively Church, with base communities, with strong social ministries, with prophetic bishops and martyrs persecuted by military dictatorships.

What characteristics has Pope Francis brought to the papacy?

He's bringing new gospel and prophetic habits to the Vatican. He sees himself as a common man who likes to be with other common men, sharing their quests and perplexities. Rather than teaching, he wants to learn through dialogue and coexistence. These pastoral traits are typical of most bishops from Latin America. Thus he's rescuing the humanitarian, merciful, and likable face of the harsh institutional Church. I think he will be the first of many popes who come from the Third World, since most Catholics live here.

In your opinion, what would be the most important reform the Catholic Church needs to make?

I think there will be a new form of leadership in the Church, no longer monarchical but collegial. I mean, the pope won't run the Church by himself but with a college of cardinals, bishops, laymen and women. He implied this clearly when he said there should be more decision-making bodies in the Church along with him.

Could Brazil or Latin America be pioneers in some of them?

In Latin America we've accumulated good experiences with group pastoral work, be it at the national or continental level. As for celibacy, it's already been said that it's not a closed question as it was at the time of John Paul II who prohibited even raising the issue. As I see it, the path will be more or less like this. First he'll invite the 100,000 married priests throughout the world who want to do so, to come back to the ministry.

That would be the first step. Then he would allow optional celibacy. There would no longer be the mandatory celibacy law. For this pope, the Church belongs to everyone, especially those who were pushed aside. The Church is a home that is open to all. Everyone can come in without preconditions.

Are you willing to take a leadership position in this reform process?

I don't expect or pretend to have any role in the Church. Free speech is enough for me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reformist priests warn of an anti-Francis front

By EFE (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Universal
March 11, 2014

The "disobedient" Austrian priests, pioneers in the reformist trends in the Church, rated the first year of Pope Francis' papacy positively but indicated that the changes could fail because of opposition from the bishops and from what they call an "anti-Francis front" in Rome.

Helmut Schüller, founder and spokesman for this group, asserted in a press conference that there is a "well-organized anti-Francis front" in which he put groups such as Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, and the Legion of Christ.

"You can count on these groups, which have been very influential up to now, not giving up easily," the pastor and former vicar general of the Austrian Church opined in response to questions.

The Pfarrer Initiative, begun by Schüller in 2006 and imitated in other countries in Europe and in the United States, today took stock of feelings about Francis' performance.

"The pope is setting clear signals for a reformist breakthrough in the Church, but among the bishops waiting is predominant, with fatal consequences for the parishes," Schüller warned.

The Initiative, which has 3,500 priests internationally, praised Francis' initiatives as the first attempt to open the Church since the 1962 Vatican Council.

Unlike the previous pope, Benedict XVI, "we now have a pope who, suddenly, is finally participatory," said Father Peter Kaspar, another leader of the Initiative.

"A pope who seems to want to end the monarchy in the Church," this Austrian priest said.

Kaspar named five aspects in which the Pope is sending messages to transform the Church: from centralism to universality, from a dominating Church to a Church of the poor, from dogma to diversity, from moralizing severity to mercy, and from absolute right to openness.

However, this Initiative, considered one of the strongest in internal dissent from the Church, warned today that Francis has launched many ideas but that it remains to be seen whether he can carry them through or whether his successor will continue them or if another setback will occur.

Thus, this group of priests indicated that the issues of the grassroots Church are still the same, such as the lack of priests, the merging of parishes, and the remoteness from parishioners.

Schüller highlighted the need to end discrimination against women in the Church, to open it to the divorced, to discuss whether priests can get married and whether to give more responsibility to lay people in the parishes, among other matters.

All in all, he argued that there are reasons to keep the Call to Disobedience that they launched in 2011 in which, "faced with Rome's rejection of a reform that has been needed for some time," they declared themselves forced to follow their conscience and act independently of the Vatican's dictates.

According to what Schüller said today, Spain is one of the European countries where the disobedience initiative has received the least support among priests, a situation he attributes to fear.

Regarding the changes in the Spanish Bishops' Conference, with the departure of Antonio Cardinal Rouco Varela from the presidency, Schüller indicated that "when bishops come into office who free them from this fear and even value the pastors, the Catholics, speaking openly and expressing themselves, the pastors will be more daring."

"Over many countries there is still a cloak of silence. It can change with the entrance of new bishops," he concluded.

"The Gospel doesn't want women to be oppressed": An interview with Ernestina Ródenas, president of Dones en L’Església

By June Fernández (English translation by Rebel Girl)
January 28, 2014

"I'm leftist, working-class. I've always had to move in hostile and contrary environments. I'm on the border. I make many people uncomfortable." That's how Ernestina Ródenas, president of Col·lectiu de Dones en l’Església ("Collective of Women in the Church") which brings together some 200 believers (nuns and laywomen, a few men too) in Catalonia who are committed to gender equality, introduces herself. They incorporate feminist thinking with liberation theology, debate women of other faiths and lay feminists, support the argument of the Second Vatican Council that "the Church is not the only space for salvation, but one of the doors."

Once a month they celebrate the memorial of the Lord, giving training on the Eucharist as "catechesis illustrated from the gender perspective." "It's forbidden by the Church, but we don't care. Well, the nuns have less freedom. One woman, who's responsible for her order, told us during an action, 'I don't care if I come out in the photo but I've already taken many blows.'" Rodenas is quite clear that the Church is not synonymous with a hierarchy that opposes women's rights, but one that builds a community of believers for which the Gospel is not an instrument at the service of power, but a source of liberation.

Do you identify different spiritual needs in women than in men?

We women are very close to life, to the necessities of life that we learn in community. We have a great need to express ourselves; we aren't solitary people. Men, on the other hand, have linked spirituality with solitude and isolation. Traditionally, churches have been full of women because it was a space where we could go alone without anyone making us feel guilty, even a way of escaping the home environment. Also, we women look for answers to our life experiences in religion. We create life; we care for life. We easily understand religious messages such as the incarnation of Jesus, a God you can hug in your arms. We also feel a greater need to seek answers to suffering, due to the duties and roles we have been assigned. The gospel can be liberating. Jesus always leaned towards women and the weakest, as non-misogynist interpretations of the gospel that have been done recently indicate.

Many atheists don't understand how churches, being institutions with a patriarchal organization and a discourse opposed to women's rights (such as their reproductive ones), go on having a feminized base. What makes women keep on participating in these institutions?

For me, the Church isn't the hierarchy. We are the community of believers. We meet, we read the gospel that contains words of liberation, that can be interpreted from the gender perspective. There's hope for a while. For example, the story of the bent over woman whom Jesus healed because he couldn't bear to see her like that (Luke 13: 10-17). She symbolizes oppressed women who can't life their eyes from the ground. Jesus makes her straighten up. She stands, walks, praises God, sings and dances. Religion understood as the practice of the gospel message that doesn't want to see any woman bent over. It wants us standing, happy...It never condemns.

In research on women and religion, I found the following statement: Women have indicated that religions impose their moral standards more rigorously on them than on men, they're aware of this moral double standard but they don't have the tools to question it. What do you think?

The man who makes her pregnant doesn't exist, just the pregnant woman. They load all the suffering, the exclusion, the guilt, the penalizing on her. The woman remains alone and accused by everyone. The pimp and the john receive less condemnation than the prostitute. The moral double standard is blatantly present. To the single mother and the prostitute Jesus says, "I do not condemn you."

The criminalization of abortion is another example of this ideology that is crushing women. But there are tools. On the anniversary of Vatican II, let's advocate for free conscience, so everyone can discern their fundamental choices. And let's leave blame aside.

Popularly, we talk about Christian guilt. Isn't it an emotion inherent to Catholicism?

Guilt has permeated a lot. European civilization comes not just from Christian theories but from Aristotelian ones too that weren't conducive to women having a prominent place in society. European Christian culture has gone through many periods when women were freer. We're dragging along the stigma of Franco's sharp clericalism. Guilt isn't inherent in the authentic message. To hold power, the hierarchy has fostered Christendom and has forgotten the Kingdom of God -- peace, justice, equality. Governments have used religion as an instrument of domination and power. The weakest suffer.

But, in matters of sexual morality, are there any insurmountable mandates? Can one question all of them?

The secular feminist movements did us a big favor by rediscovering the meaning of pleasure, of joy, as opposed to the idea that we've come into the world to suffer. Catholic women had internalized that. Women in Spain couldn't study theology, but in other countries they could, and there were feminist theologians from whom we are learning. We know that God can be both Mother and Father. S/he can't be labeled. And that, where there is love, God is there.

That's the slogan of a campaign for diversity by the Movimiento Feminista de Nicaragua ("Feminist Movement of Nicaragua") whose image is of two women kissing each other. What do you think?

Well, fine. It's not that love is something perfect that can bear everything, but it seems a good message to me.

So, what's sin?

Sin is an invention. It's the denial of life, the denial of the possibility to be happy. It's a social construct. Sin is a disorder that you provoke yourself, but you're the first victim and you have a load that you carry on your back. Jesus spoke of sin because it was the language of the time, but he didn't rail against sinners. We are seeing a very totalitarian theology of sin. The easy recourse is to blame women, load more weight onto the bent over woman. Confession is an instrument of power. It's been years since I went to confession. So women are abandoning the churches. The workers left the Church because of injustice in the early twentieth century, the young in mid-century, women in the 21st century. We want to change things and we also want men to change their model of masculinity.

But how can a woman from a small town have access to these alternative arguments to those of her parish priest?

Before, it was impossible. Either you left the village, or you went into a religious order. Now the village women have resources. There are means of communication. They write letters, send e-mail, express opinions. If necessary, they make denunciations. Let's abandon the notion of the poor little woman who doesn't know. They've lost the fear of speaking out. Patriarchal discourse comes from ancient times. It's not just emitted by the Church but by all of society -- from the media to the pulpits, women are told what to do. It's difficult to escape this monolithic mindset. To the extent women organize into groups, there's strength there.

The [Spanish] Bishops' Conference has gotten upset over abortion but it hasn't spoken out against male violence, against femicide.

The Church has one fault: it is very obsessed with the end and the beginning of life. It reserves only to God the right to decide. That marks its position on euthanasia and abortion. So killing each other in wars is apparently inevitable and, in effect, the measures to protect victims of male violence are not developed. The hierarchy confuses the power of God with its own power to influence. But there are farsighted people within the Church who are denouncing it, like Teresa Forcades.

The book Cásate y sé sumisa ("Marry and be submissive") has become a bestseller. Do you think that the female submission mandate prevails in the hegemonic discourse of the Catholic Church?

They could have spared that book. I'm not even going to bother to answer. We won't discuss nonsense. It's a desperate attempt at wanting to save what they see as threatened. They feel that with Pope Francisco, everything is getting out of their hands. A monolithic mindset apparently gives security. You sell your free conscience in exchange for that false security.

What do you expect from Pope Francis?

He's in our line, about removing unnecessary contrivances, opening the way for the Gospel to be read more clearly, blessed be. But I'm not a mythomaniac. His is a voice like ours, except that from the Vatican loudspeaker it sounds louder and carries farther.

Do you advocate that women who are bumping into the chauvinist discourse of the Churches live their faith without intermediaries or in alternative spaces?

That's what we're doing. We women are teaching. We're learning theology, history, the Bible. We're working in solidarity networks with other women to gain equality, we're critical of how men are ruling. We're thinking of strategies to dismantle exclusionary myths and language. We are discussing ecofeminism, queer theology (the theology of the margins that recognizes God in the subjects society rejects -- black people, homosexuals, transsexuals,...). We're recovering the indispensable contributions of biblical and historical women. For example, we talk about how Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible (represented in a cave, undressed with a skull), relied on a group of women from Trent who had power (because the men were at war) and who were a key source of support for his work.

We are building the Church we dream of. We don't want to be the same as them. We don't want them to make us priests or to get to be popes. That doesn't matter to us. There wouldn't have to be either a pope or the Vatican.

Photo: A Mass in Girona celebrated by Rev. Genevieve Beney, a Roman Catholic woman priest from Lyons, France.

Monday, March 10, 2014

RCWP Olga Lucia Álvarez featured on Caracol's "Los Informantes"

Colombian Roman Catholic woman priest Olga Lucia Álvarez has been featured in a long segment on Caracol TV's "Los Informantes." Titled "La Novicia Rebelde" ("The Rebel Novice"), the broadcast mainly features Rev. Olga celebrating Mass with her community, baptizing a baby, and speaking about the history and role of women priests.

The broadcast also includes clips from the recent ordination of Colombia's first Afro-Colombian woman priest, Rev. Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia, last month in Sarasota, Florida, interviews with Rev. Marina Teresa and with Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan who performed the ordination, and contrasting clips of the institutional Roman Catholic Church, which appears very remote from the people compared to the women priests. Monsignor Daniel Falla, a spokesperson for the Colombian Bishops' Conference, gets to defend the Church's stance against women's ordination which he does mainly by relying on the argument that women can't be priests because priests have to represent Christ and Christ was male. And in spite of women priests' rejection by the official Church, the program also shows Rev. Olga speaking favorably about Pope Francis.

Church begins to research beatification of Father Rutilio Grande

By Gloria Marisela Morán (English translation by Rebel Girl)
March 6, 2014

According to Jesuit priest José María Tojeira, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Msgr. José Luis Escobar, announced at the meeting of the clergy on March 4th that he would be initiating an investigation into the life of Father Rutilio Grande (foreground, right) and thus initiating the cause for his beatification.

Rutilio Grande was assassinated on March 12th, 1977. The crime was attributed to the Guardia Nacional because of his commitment to the poorest classes in El Salvador. He was ambushed as he was going to preside at a Mass in El Paisnal, a township of San Salvador. With him were assassinated his two collaborators, Manuel Solórzano and young Nelson Rutilio Lemus.

Tojeira said that Escobar mentioned, in front of more than 100 priests, that he would be initiating proceedings for the beatification of Father Rutilio Grande and would appoint a priest to begin the investigation.

"A diocesan process must be opened. This isn't open yet but the Archbishop said he has now appointed a priest to go look for material to be able to open the diocesan process for the case of the beatification of Rutilio Grande as a martyr," Tojeira said.

Rutilio Grande, in his homilies and work, always featured denunciations of the inequalities of the period, and his assassination was to silence his denunciations. It was precisely this event that inspired then Archbishop of San Salvador, Msgr. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, to denounce social injustice. Romero was assassinated for the same reason on March 24th, 1980.

"We must give a lot of information about him. We are very willing to offer it. It's an honor for us that the Archbishop has fixed his eyes on Rutilio Grande and wants to initiate the beatification process. We have been convinced that he's a martyr and we were waiting for Msgr. Romero to be beatified before introducing the cause of Rutilio's beatification, but the Archbishop has gone ahead," Tojeira told ContraPunto.

In fact, the actions and life of Father Rutilio have been remembered in various ways in his town and outside. One of these memorials of his vision was the mural in the El Paisnal parish (see above). A mural that was removed in 2013.

"Rutilio was a great priest, a man very concerned about the training of the clergy and always aware of accompanying the peasants and the poor, and in that sense he was a man of priestly life and also life for the neediest. In our time he is a demanding role model, a person who gave his life to serve the poorest," said Tojeira, explaining the priest's importance for the Salvadoran community.