Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Leonardo Boff: "Francis is one of us."

By Joachim Frank
Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger (in German)
December 25, 2016
(Spanish translation by J. Benito Fernández Álvarez / English translation by Rebel Girl)

The Brazilian Leonardo Boff, born in 1938, is the son of Italian immigrants. In 1959, he entered the Franciscan order and studied for five years in Germany. In the 1980s, Boff became the main representative of liberation theology and was in conflict with the Vatican and its supreme guardian of the faith Joseph Ratzinger because of criticizing the official church. After they imposed a prohibition from publishing on him twice, Boff left his order in 1992 and resigned from the priesthood.

Mr. Boff, do you like Christmas carols?

What do you think? (he sings) "Sti-hil-le Nacht, heilige Nacht..." It's sung in every family that celebrates Christmas. Here in Brazil, it's also the tradition like in Germany.

Doesn't this kind of Christmas seem antiquated and commercialized to you?

It's different from one country to the other. Of course, Christmas has become big business. But in light of the above, joy, family fellowship, and for many too the moment of faith, are still alive. And as I've spent Christmas in Germany, it's a very expressive, a marvelous celebration of the heart.

How does faith in a "God of peace" that Christmas speaks of, function in the midst of the discord we are experiencing on all sides?

Most of faith is promise. Ernst Bloch says: "The real Genesis is not at the beginning but at the end, and it begins to start when society and existence are radical." The joy of Christmas is that promise: The earth and people are not condemned forever to continue as we see them now -- with all the wars, the violence, the fundamentalism. We have been promised in faith that at the end all will be good, that despite all the errors, the wrong turns and setbacks, we are going towards a good end. The true meaning of Christmas isn't that "God became man," but that He has come to tell us that "you human beings belong to Me and when death comes, you will come home."

Does Christmas mean that God is coming to pick us up?

Yes. The Incarnation means that something in us now is divine, immortal. The Divine is within us. In Jesus, it showed with greater clarity. But it's in all men. In an evolutionary perspective, Jesus doesn't come from out of this world but he grows from it. Jesus is the manifestation of the divine in evolution, but not the only one. The divine also appears in Buddha, in Mahatma Gandhi and other great religious figures.

That doesn't sound very Catholic.

Don't say that. All Franciscan theology of the Middle Ages viewed Christ as part of creation, not just as the redeemer from guilt and sin who comes from out of the world. Incarnation is redemption, yes. But, first of all, it's a celebration, a deification of creation. And something else that's important in Christmas. God appears in the form of a child. Not as an old man with white hair and a long white beard...

So, not like you?...

Not at all. I look more like Karl Marx. As far as I'm concerned, when we end our lives and have to answer to the divine judge, then we will be facing a child. A child who doesn't condemn anyone. A child who wants to play and be with others. We must re-emphasize this aspect of faith.

Liberation theology in Latin America, of which you are one of the prominent representatives, has come back into favor with Pope Francis. A rehabilitation also for you personally after decades of fighting with Pope John Paul II and his supreme guardian of the faith, Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI?

Francis is one of us. He made liberation theology a common good of the Church. And he has expanded it. Those who talk about the poor now have to talk about the earth, because it is also being plundered and profaned. "Hearing the cry of the poor", which means hearing the cry of the animals, the forests, of the collective suffering of creation. The whole earth weeps. Thus says the Pope, referring to the title of one of my books, we must also hear the cry of the poor and the earth today. And both have to be liberated. I myself have worked previously with this expansion of liberation theology. And that is what's fundamentally new in "Laudato Si'" ...

...The Pope's 2015 "eco-encyclical". How much Leonardo Boff is there in Jorge Mario Bergoglio?

The encyclical belongs to the Pope. But many experts were consulted.

Has he read your books?

And more. I was asked for material for "Laudato Si'". I gave him my advice and sent him some of what I had written. And he has used it. Some people have told me that they thought as they read it, "That's Boff!" Incidentally, Francis told me, "Boff, please do not send the documents directly to me."

And why not?

He said, "Otherwise, the Sottosegretari (the Vatican administration staff) will take them, and I won't get them. Rather send things to the Argentine ambassador with whom I have a good relationship and the'll reach my hands safely." You have to understand that the current Vatican ambassador is an old acquaintance of the Pope from his time in Buenos Aires. They've often drunk mate together. One day before the encyclical was published, the Pope had them call me to give me his thanks for my help.

A personal meeting with the Pope is still pending?

He's seeking reconciliation with the main representatives of liberation theology, with Gustavo Gutiérrez, Jon Sobrino... with me too. I told him with respect to Benedict, Joseph Ratzinger, "But the other one is still alive!". He didn't agree. "No", he said, "il Papa sono io" -- "I am the Pope." We stayed silent. Thus one could see his courage and determination.

So why hasn't your visit taken place?

I had an invitation and had even landed in Rome. But just that day, right before the 2015 Synod on the Family, 13 cardinals -- including the German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- attempted a revolt against the Pope with a private letter addressed to him and then -- wonder of wonders! -- it appeared in the newspapers. The Pope was furious and said to me, "Boff, I don't have time. I have to promote calm before the Synod. We'll see each other some other time."

But he didn't get the calm either, did he?

The Pope felt the blade of the winds against his own ranks, especially from the United States. This Cardinal Burke, Leo Burke, who now - along with Cardinal Emeritus of Cologne Meisner - has already written a letter, is the Donald Trump of the Catholic Church. (Laughter) But unlike Trump, Burke is now frozen in the Curia. Thank God. These people really believe they should correct the Pope. As if they were above the Pope. So something is unusual, if not unprecedented in church history. One can criticize the Pope, argue with him. I did it quite often. But those cardinals are accusing the Pope of publicly disseminating theological errors and even heresies...in my opinion, it's too much. This is an affront that the Pope himself can't tolerate. The Pope can't be condemned; that's Church doctrine.

Despite your enthusiasm for the Pope -- what's up with the Church reforms that many Catholics had expected from Francis but that aren't really happening so much?

As I see it, the focus of his interest now is not the Church, it's not on the actions of the Church, but the survival of humankind, the future of the earth. Both are in danger, and you have to ask yourself whether Christianity can contribute to overcoming this important crisis in humanity that is under the threat of perishing.

Francis is worrying about the environment and meanwhile, the Church is still up against a wall?

I think for him there's a hierarchy of problems. When the earth is destroyed, there are also other problems. But as far as the internal affairs of the Church, you have to wait! Just the other day, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a confidant of the Pope, said there will soon be great surprises.

What's he expecting?

Who knows? Maybe the diaconate for women. Or the possibility that married priests can be reintegrated into the ministry. That has been a formal petition to the Pope from the Brazilian bishops, especially his friend, the retired Brazilian Curia Cardinal Claudio Hummes. I've heard that the Pope wants to answer that request, for a first experimental phase in Brazil. This country which has 140 million Catholics should have at least 100,000 priests. But there are just 18,000 -- a disaster from the institutional point of view. It's not surprising that the faithful are going en masse to the evangelicals and pentecostals who are filling the personnel void. Now, if thousands of married priests were to take up their office again, it would be a first step in improving the situation -- and at the same time an impulse for the Catholic Church to solve the bondage of compulsory celibacy.

If the Pope were to decide in this sense, would you also assume priestly functions again as a former Franciscan priest?

Personally, I don't need a decision of this sort. It wouldn't change anything of what I'm doing nowadays, what I've always done -- I baptize, I bury, and when I come to a community without a priest, then I also celebrate Mass together with the people.

A very German question: Are you allowed to?

Up to now, no bishop that I know of has ever opposed it or even prohibited it. The bishops are also glad and they tell me, "The people have the right to the Eucharist. Keep on doing it calmly!" My theological teacher, who died unfortunately some days ago, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, for example, was very open. He went so far as to ask married priests whom he saw in the church pews during the celebration to approach the altar to celebrate the Eucharist with them. He often did it and said it -- "You are still a priest and continue to be one."