Friday, March 27, 2015

Palm Sunday

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
March 29, 2015

Mark 14:1-15:47

Jesus expected the possibility of a violent end. He wasn't naive. He knew what he was exposing himself to if he continued to emphasize the plan of the kingdom of God. It was impossible to so radically seek a decent life for the "poor" and "sinners" without provoking the reaction of those who weren't interested in any change.

Certainly Jesus isn't suicidal. He isn't looking for crucifixion. He never wanted suffering either for others or for himself. He had devoted his whole life to fighting it wherever he found it -- in sickness, in injustice, in sin, or in despair. So he's not running after death, but neither does he back away.

He will go on welcoming sinners and the excluded even though his actions are irritating in the temple. If they end up condemning him, he will also die as a criminal and excluded one, but his death will confirm what has been his entire life -- total trust in a God who excludes nobody from His forgiveness.

He will go on proclaiming God's love to the last and the least, identifying with the poorest and most despised by the empire, however annoying it might be in the circles close to the Roman governor. If some day he is executed through the torment of the cross, reserved for slaves, he too will die as a negligible slave, but his death will seal forever his fidelity to God, the defender of victims.

Full of God's love, he will continue to offer "salvation" to those who suffer from sickness and evil, he will "welcome" those who are excluded by society and religion, he will give free "forgiveness" to sinners and those who are lost and unable to return his friendship. This salvific action that inspired his whole life will also inspire his death.

That's why the cross attracts us Christians so much. We kiss the face of the Crucified One, we lift our eyes to him, we listen to his last words...because in his crucifixion we see Jesus' last service to the Father's plan, and the supreme gesture of God, surrendering His Son out of love for all humanity.

It is unworthy to convert Holy Week into folklore or a tourist attraction. For Jesus' followers, celebrating the passion and death of the Lord is thrilled gratitude, joyful adoration of God's "incredible" love and a call to live as Jesus did in solidarity with the crucified.

"The Pope has good will, but he can't revolutionize the role of women in the Church": An interview with Ivone Gebara

by Paulo Emanuel Lopes (English translation by Rebel Girl)
March 13, 2015

The feminist theological movement in the world is gaining ground from the reformist winds driven by the reforms of Francis' papacy. For Ivone Gebara, theologian, scholar and national reference on feminist theology, we should not, however, expect changes in the male structure of the Catholic Church. "Pope Francis has good will (...) but, living within a male sacred tradition, he's unable to take revolutionary steps to in fact promote the innovation needed in today's world."

Ivone clarifies that it's even wrong to speak of "greater participation of women in the Church" as if women weren't among those who build it daily. "It isn't, therefore, about a reintegration of women in the Church, as if women would have to be integrated into a place that isn't theirs. It even gives the impression that the Church is a reality apart from us."

Beyond the discussion of femicide and other forms of violence against women in Brazil, the scholar shows that the analysis should not be superficial but get to the root of the matter. "[The states and religions] do not realize that the reproduction of violence against women is still very present in the educational process (...) What we feminist thinkers do is warn people not to establish theoretical and idealistic models and display them as absolute goals to be achieved. That doesn't work"

In relation to International Women's Day 2015, held on Sunday March 8, according to the theologian, despite the apparent regression observed in the world in these last years, we must recognize the achievements and progress of the feminist movement. "[This March 8, 2015] we must celebrate the political confrontations of many women who don't hesitate to raise their voices against the violence of the current 'political culture'. We should celebrate the countless feminist networks that continue their work of reporting abuses by the powerful and the exploitation of our bodies. We have to celebrate the women who attend churches and are able to tell the priest or pastor 'I don't agree with you.' "

Check out the interview that theologian Ivone Gebara granted exclusively to Adital.

Adital: We've observed Pope Francis' words in support of greater participation of women in priestly life, although we know that in many cases his will collides with the conservatism of the Roman Curia. Can we expect any concrete changes in this regard during his papacy?

Ivone Gebara: I think before talking about Pope Francis' statements on women, we must remember three points so that we have a little more clarity on the current situation of the Roman Catholic Church. The first aims to recall that the role of ecclesiastical laws and dogmas is also to exercise some restraint on the lives of the faithful. What should be the object of belief is determined in order to avoid the multiplicity of interpretations and conflicts that fragmented and are fragmenting the community of believers. However, you can't forget that laws, dogmas and interpretations are born in specific historical contexts. These are mutable and never should be established as absolute norms or divine will, as has occurred. Hence arises the second point, which refers to the fact that these new laws and beliefs are legitimated as God's or Jesus Christ's will. This will, according to many, is immutable. Thus an argument of authority stated or promulgated by the Magisterium of the Church is established. And the last point which can be clearly seen is that this Magisterium is male and, in general, old and celibate. Women do not participate directly in it, as if by divine command they should be excluded. This patriarchal structure and interpretation considered sacred, hinders the most significant changes in the current church culture transmitted to the people. From there, you can lay out the issue in relation to women.

The Pope Francis has good will, he's attempting to understand some of women's demands but, living within a male sacred tradition, he's unable to take revolutionary steps to in fact promote the innovation needed in today's world. He is the product of his time, his clerical training and the boundaries that encompass it. I dare say that it's the Christian community and in this case, the Roman Catholic one, scattered over so many places, that should be demanding of their leaders behavioral changes based on their experiences. Starting at the bottom -- although those above can also help, insofar as they are more sensitive and receptive to the signs of every time and place -- is a way to adjust ourselves to the current needs of the women and men of our time.

Adital: In his new book Evangelho e Instituição ["Gospel and Institution"], the monk Marcelo Barros says that the Catholic Church should return to its (first century) roots, when women exercised a more active role in the Church. In your opinion, how should that reintegration be?

IG: I think that the idea of "return", in this case a return to Christian roots, must be looked at, because often we fall into anachronisms, including involuntary ones. Reference to roots is a kind of nostalgia for something good one would like to have. It's a hope in the form of discourse about origins. In general, we believe that what came before, the past, the roots, are always more consistent and true. The return to the womb, for example, is an aspiration of alleged peace of human desire, as if 'in those days' everything might have been fine. In fact, at the roots, we can find many things, including aberrations and things unsuited to our times. Each period is one period and has its grandeur and poverty. The period called "today" is our real time and in it we must seek new forms of coexistence, conscious that this is, like others, a limited time. Therefore it's not about a reintegration of women in the Church, as if women were to be integrated into a place that isn't theirs. In addition, the ecclesiastical language and the language of many of us demonstrates the difficulty of recognizing the Church as a community of sisters and brothers living a variety of situations. Sometimes I have the impression that the word "Church" means for many, first of all, the hierarchy, the roles of power and authority.

It's necessary to state that what is happening today has to do with a world cultural and social movement that is showing female roles and protagonism different from what we knew until a few years ago. Being just a mother or daughter or wife and dealing with domestic things is no longer the current reality of women. Feminine identity is going through a very big mutation. Another important aspect is to perceive the limits of the question about in what church we want to integrate or reintegrate women. It gives the impression that the Church is a reality apart from ourselves. Therefore, many are affirming that "we are Church" and want to live out this statement. Could it be just rhetoric? In my opinion, yes and no. Yes, to the extent that the discourse of many doesn't match the behavior of daily living human relationships. No, to the extent that one notices the commitment of many to seeking ways of greater participation and equality in the relationships of the ecclesial community. The issue of equality among human beings is insoluble.

Speaking of equality means seeking in each new context and in each new moment of history to heal the visceral selfishness that leads us to always prefer our interests to the detriment of others. We create slavery of all types, we establish colors and ethnic groups superior to one another, genders superior to one another, some sexual orientations more normal than others. And whoever is on the side of power and normality doesn't hesitate to maintain exclusive relationships and blame the "different ones" for the many ills of the world. There is no pre-definition of equality. What we feminist thinkers do is warn people not to establish theoretical and idealistic models and display them as absolute goals to be achieved. That doesn't work. What seems to have had some effect is putting ourselves in a state of continuing education, an education that awakens in us the value of every being, without the temptation to want to justify it based on pre-established hierarchical views.

Adital: What is feminist theology? How does this current of thought understand the world today? What are the challenges at the beginning of the 21st century?

IG: The great effort of most feminist theologies has been to denounce the absolutism of past biblical and theological interpretations, still in force in most churches. Absolutist interpretations are those that use God and the Scriptures to justify their ideology of maintaining religious power and privilege, often cloaked in holiness and solidarity. This power is exercised in the name of God and controls female bodies, both individually and culturally and socially. Religious control of bodies happens, first, within the symbolic aspect of the symbolic life, that is, within the subjective structure in which values and guilt intertwine and make the person captive of imagery imposed from the outside in. Playing with God's will to manipulate bodies, wanting to maintain an imaginary order called divine, is inhibiting the right to thought and freedom.

Affirming God as masculine, asserting that there is a powerful pre-existing will, justifying the male priesthood based on the gender of Jesus, valuing the male body as the only one capable of representing the body of God, are still current theological statements that especially affect female bodies. These statements often produce violence, exclusion and the cultivation of relationships of naive submission to religious authority. Unfortunately, at the beginning of this century, the space given to feminist theologies is very restricted. Their access to the formal theological training centers in Latin America is quite limited. Therefore, a significant migration of the places of theological production away from official institutions is happening, as the means of ecclesiastical control seem to ignore the advances experienced by women at national and global levels.

Adital: The world still lives with femicides (many of which end up unpunished), genital mutilation, low female participation in politics ... What are the main obstacles to women's full dignity today?

IG: The production of cultural and social violence against groups considered inferior for the most diverse reasons is a constant in human cultures. The assertion of the superiority of some in relation to others, the hierarchies of race, gender, culture, knowledge and power, are part of human history. Women were and are, in many cultures, considered subordinate beings, dependent, objects of male desire, but now the official discourses of governments and religions speak of equality in difference. Many followers of egalitarian discourses are capable of denouncing, for example, genital mutilation -- definitely an aberration and a crime -- but aren't able to realize the production of violence against women's bodies in the discourses of kindness disseminated by the different expressions of Christianity. They denounce the murders of women, direct physical violence, femicides, but don't perceive that the reproduction of violence against women is still very present in the educational processes.

The exclusive hierarchical trait, present in our relationships, undoubtedly necessary for the continuation of the current form of capitalism, maintains that violence socially. It needs it and others to continue creating new forms of privilege and social exclusion. Women, despite the many achievements of recent years are still, in the imagination of the capitalist economic and social culture, good targets or scapegoats to be accused of incompetence in public affairs. This exclusive culture, present in social and cultural institutions, is definitely an obstacle to men and women building new relationships and recognizing their different gifts and knowledge.

Adital: Some feminist movements, to get space, use as a strategy to produce a shock in society, exposing the naked body, calling themselves "whores" ... How do you see this form of protest? Is it valid, valid with qualifications, or does it collaborate negatively with the feminist movement?

IG: There is a naivety in the analysts of social movements to the extent that they try to limit the protests and demands to their own conceptions of decency, of what is permitted and forbidden. Clearly we clash with the destruction of groups in street demonstrations and we complain when that hinders our daily lives. It's obvious that dialogue about the demands would be the best way. But the capitalist system doesn't always recognize the best way, and it itself incites uncontrolled violence, one that unleashes the worst of us against others, one that is able to bomb rice fields and destroy ancient works of art, one which leads me to steal from my best friend and order whoever hinders my political plans to be killed. Many radical forms of protest by women shock us because we are not accustomed to women's public behavior, especially when they expose their naked bodies as a form of protest.

Women's naked bodies continue to be exposed to sell male merchandise, to arouse desire, but that nakedness is bearable by the majority. That nakedness approved by the market gives money and favors economic enterprises; at most, it might be criticized by some religious purists. However, who wonders why this group of women are calling themselves "whores"? What is their story? What are they demanding with their irreverence? Google may even give a brief answer to these pertinent questions. These forms of protest, don't afflict the global feminist movement, I think, because it is diverse and has varied forms of expression.

Adital: In the recent Brazilian elections, some political analysts stated that one of the reasons [for the problems] faced by Dilma Rousseff for her reelection was due to the fact she is a woman. The statement sounds a bit strange, given the presence of women in the presidency of countries like Argentina, Chile, Germany ... In your opinion, does this statement make sense? Are we Brazilians still a chauvinist country?

IG: I think that in most countries, even strong conservative female figures such as Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi experienced power limits imposed by gender. In fact, there is some fear of having a woman at the pinnacle of power of a nation. The journey from secluded within the boundaries of private life to public climbing is big too. Perhaps the title of queen might even be more bearable because it's wrapped up in all the fanciful aspects of past and the current actual decline of that power. In that sense, attributing deficiencies, weaknesses and other things like that to the government of a woman is almost spontaneous.

Like other women, Dilma Rousseff is facing the difficulties of being at the political top of the nation. However, what most people don't see is that the policy of a country doesn't depend only on the president, but also depends on economic and political forces at play, as well as the participation of citizens. Combining policies and perks, corporate interests and the common good, sectarian interest parties with the administration of a country of continental proportions is a difficult game of chess. In fact, sexism persists in Brazil, but the lack of character and vision of the common good is a much more widespread and dangerous disease. It plagues politicians and businessmen, spreads to the middle class and the working class, settles into social institutions and churches like a scourge to be fought daily.

Adital: Late last year, we saw the unfortunate declaration of a Brazilian member of parliament who said that "he wouldn't rape" a [female] parliamentary colleague just because "he wouldn't want to." How do you analyze this and similar cases?

IG: The lack of character and vision of the common good blinds men and women to any humanist view of respect for every human being in equality and difference in relation to each other. The Brazilian MP who used this and other expressions during sessions of the House remains in power because the Brazilian political culture allows it. It's conducive to 'anything goes', which can be seen in the actions and speeches of politicians. The lack of parliamentary decorum is the means of exchange of political privileges and satisfies those seeking justice and injustice by their own hands. In this situation, women are not exempt from these sins though they commit them with less public intensity. We are all this contradictory and paradoxical mixture and it's within it that we can find ways to make civic life a bit more respected.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jesuit theologian dismissed from the Catholic University of Chile

Mons. Ricardo Ezzati, Cardinal of Santiago, Chile, has dismissed Jesuit theologian Jorge Costadoat Carrasco, SJ, from his teaching position on the theological faculty of the Catholic University of Chile. Fr. Costadoat had been serving as director of the university's Centro Teológico Manuel Larraín and as an assistant professor of theology. He had taught there for over 20 years and had good student evaluations. Ezzati's decision to terminate Fr. Costadoat was even opposed by the school's own dean, Fredy Parra, who met with the cardinal in an attempt to dissuade him from the action.

While Fr. Costadoat is known for his progressive views on morality issues, often at odds with official Church teaching, an extensive communique from the Centro de Estudiantes de Teología at the university says that: "Professor Costadoat was told that the non-renewal [of his teaching license] was due to the tension Monseñor Ezzati acknowledge between two freedoms -- the professor's own freedom to teach and the freedom of the Faculty to allow him to keep teaching...It was stressed to the professor that this decision wasn't a sanction or a condemnation, since there exists no sort of doctrinal questioning. Rather, it was suggested that this decision was moved by seeking what was best for the professor himself and the exercise of his academic freedom, which is why it was recommended that he continue to do teaching and research in some other theological center."

The student group's assertion is contradicted, however, by other media reports which claim to have seen a memo from the cardinal to the faculty explaining the reasons for Fr. Costadoat's dismissal: "The academic career of Professor Costadoat records unwise statements that blur the magisterial teaching of the Church on various key points of the same, generating sufficient reasons to believe that he has not based his positions sufficiently on the basic principle that 'the theological disciplines, in the light of faith and under the guidance of the magisterium of the Church, should be so taught that the students will correctly draw out Catholic doctrine from divine revelation.'"

This second version, with its citation from Optatam Totius (16)  is more likely given Cardinal Ezzati's history with progressive Jesuits in the Chilean province of the order. Last Fall, the Cardinal tangled with three other priests -- Felipe Berríos, Mariano Puga and José Aldunate -- over their public statements, specifically Puga's assertion that "the Church, instead of being the one to destroy the concept of class, strengthens it -- some schools for the poor, others for the indigenous, others for the upper class" and Aldunate's support for gay marriage and declaration that the Church's position on that issue is antiquated. Berríos has also accused the Chilean Catholic Church of classism and was temporarily banished to Africa for his public denunciations.

Reflexión y Liberación, for which Fr. Costadoat has frequently written, has published a public statement of support for the academic, saying: "We want a Church with open procedures, subject to reason and justice. Therefore we are showing our support and gratitude to Fr. Jorge Costadoat, SJ, for his dedicated theological work. He is an excellent academic who combines erudition and piety. As a theologian of the signs of the times, he has built bridges for better dialogue between the Church and the world, between faith and science and culture."

And Fr. Costadoat has simply responded with his own thoughts about academic freedom and what it means to be a Catholic university, published March 24, 2015 on Reflexión y Liberación:

Catholicity of individuals or the university?

"What's Catholic" creates problems in the university environment. When the mission of a university is confused with the demands of the Christian religion, it is the very catholicity of universities which ends up being discredited. But "what's Catholic" can effectively contribute to the search for truth, purpose and meaning of all universities. It can, when faith and reason are properly articulated in the "Catholic ones".

When the catholicity of a university is made to depend on its students' and, above all, its professors' religious affiliation or devotion, the university sickens. I will mention three pathologies. Two typical ones -- simulation and exclusion. Most immediately, the religious invocation of "what's Catholic" can generate exclusion. Academics in universities who are afraid of being looked at askance -- or who actually are -- because they don't believe in God, aren't Christians, have another creed, or aren't up to the doctrine of the institution, have commented on this. For example, there are people who fear not getting appointed if they separate or, even worse, if they marry again. In the "Catholic ones", it also happens that academics wear their Catholicism to ingratiate themselves with the establishment. This simulation is painful, but it also rarefies the relationships between people, creates suspicion, generates nastiness.

In my opinion, these diseases affect the catholicity of Catholic universities because they pollute their mission. A university cannot be Catholic if the free exercise of reason, without which it is impossible to achieve social justice and peace -- the ultimate objective of the university's task in society -- is not encouraged.

The main Church document on the subject notes that the mission of every university is the quest for truth (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 30). Catholic universities, in this respect, should not invoke any privileged title. By doing so, they would infringe on their own theological assurance: the Church believes that the Father of Jesus Christ is the Creator of human reason, reason that all people enjoy irrespective of creed. Hence Catholic universities should understand that, according to Christian faith itself, their quest for truth is no better or worse than others', but that it is characterized by emphasizing the need for dialogue and love of humanity itself, which is achieved through an appreciation of cultural diversity and subject to the methods that science offers with no harm to anyone. Christian universities, therefore, should be spaces for that freedom of thought which is enabled by a clear distinction between the planes of faith and reason that, paradoxically, clears the way for a convergence of the two. In these universities, Catholics should not seek to find the truth without non-Catholics. It would constitute a "sin" against the Creator of both.

Where there is lack of freedom, it is hard to study, think, dialogue, and teach. For this reason, respect for  conscience and scientific inquiry, particularly through an institutional framework capable of correcting any abuse, is a condition for finding that truth which is only such when, by the same token, it liberates the potential of all and urges a commitment to all, especially those who have no one to do research for them.

That's why I will mention a third disease. The worst of all. In our environment, the alliance between academia and the private sector should be open to an understanding of the humanly broader, more humanizing truth that this only serves to feed capitalism. When, however, this alliance is sealed with the help of a pious and narrow Catholicism, social injustice becomes uncounterable. Individual interests then prevail over the common good, and the preferential option for the poor that should distinguish the "Catholic ones" gives way to the training of the privileged as usual.

A university is truly Catholic when, in it, the Christian faith promotes freedom of thought and commitment to including those excluded or stigmatized by their creed or life.

Jorge Costadoat, SJ
Christ under Construction