Sunday, May 21, 2017

Jorge Costadoat SJ: "The situation of women in the Church is an injustice, a loss and a sin"

by José Manuel Vidal (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
May 6, 2017

The prestigious Chilean Jesuit theologian, Jorge Costadoat, joins intellectual depth with a clear critical and prophetic denunciation capacity. On this last note, he denounces that the situation of women in the Church is "an injustice, a loss and a sin." He also believes that, in the long run, we could move towards a "non-clerical Christianity." that the future of Theology is "in the theology of the signs of the times," while recognizing the immense reformist work of Pope Francis.

Father Jorge Costadoat is in Spain to present the book titled Francisco: palabra profética y misión. Homilías, discursos y testimonios ["Francis: Prophetic Word and Mission, Homilies, Speeches and Testimonies"] edited by Reflexión y Liberación journal, by Religión Digital and by Mensajeros de la Paz, where it has a chapter, because it is a choral book written by many people. And with the speeches of the Pope. A book of support for Francis, above all.

Welcome, Father Jorge.

Many thanks.

What's your personal situation at the moment? Are you the director of the Larraín Center?

No. I was for 12 years. And towards the end of last year I left that position and Fredi Parra, who was formerly the dean of the School of Theology at the Catholic University in Chile, took it. Now I work as a researcher at the center.

A researcher of that center?

Yes, I'm still under contract with the Catholic University, devoted full-time to research, and in particular I do research at the Manuel Larraín Theological Center.

In your case, the new winds of Pope Francis aren't noticeable?

Not at all.

You were retaliated against, forced a bit to leave the canonical mission by Cardinal Ezzati, during times in which Pope Francis was already there. That is, we aren't talking about the old regime.

No, this new Pope thing didn't matter at all. Not even my being a Jesuit.

Did that hurt you?

Very much, yes. The truth is that I had a yellow card. I had been having difficulties for a while, first, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That ended some 12 years ago. And then Ezzati, three years before what happened two years ago, had warned me that I was at the point of a second yellow one. I was never clear what the problem was. It was a very vague answer and to this day I don't know exactly what the problem was.

They showed you the yellow [card], not the red one -- you're still a Jesuit, working at the university.

I never had any problem with the Society of Jesus. The problem was the University. One belongs to the Catholic University as a theologian to the extent one has the bishop's trust. It's the bishop who gives you the canonical mission.

Because Catholic University belongs to the Archdiocese of Santiago.

Exactly. So when the bishop summons me and tells me he's not giving me the canonical mission, I thought they were going to simply throw me out. And that's what happened. It became disgraceful that the reason why I was thrown out of the university was that I taught with a lot of freedom. Saying that to a university professor...It happened in a situation of very great university change in Chile, which particularly affected private universities.

The rector of the University and the higher council put pressure on the bishop, such that I wasn't thrown out and they left me as a researcher.

I remember that the faculty cloister mobilized. Practically everyone in favor of you.

Yes, I had very great support from the professors.

You put some distance between you. You went to Rome for a few months.

No, that was earlier. I was in Rome five months doing a sabbatical semester. I came back in January and in March they threw me out.

I see you're taking it peacefully. Calmly.

Look, my thing isn't belonging to or having a career in the Theology School. My thing is Theology and no one has kept me from that. I'm doing it with pleasure, more and more concentrated on research. They are important subjects for Latin America. I'm working with a team in the Manuel Larraín Center. We've won public competitions for doing research.

Is there public money for theological research?

Yes. You always have to enter through a competition. There's a national competition for researchers -- it's called Fondecyt, and in it there's philosophy, sociology, etc. There isn't Theology in particular but there are other disciplines, i.e., you can apply. We entered there, we won a competition and we just accomplished it with Carlos Schickendantz who's my colleague.

He's another Argentinian-Chilean theologian.

He's Argentinian. A diocesan who's been living in Chile many years now. And he's also under a full-time contract for research. He's the director of our collection.

What are you researching specifically?

The Theology of the signs of the times.

Very interesting.

For us (I'm saying it a bit exaggeratedly), it's the future of Theology.

The future?

Yes, and I'm going to make another exaggeration: all the other theologies are ancillary to the Theology of the signs of the times. It's an exaggeration but what's happening? It's that our intuition is that one has to think basically about what God is saying today, in the present.

Traditionally, theology has been concerned with the revelation of God in the past and how this revelation has been transmitted in the tradition of the Church by the magisterium and by theologians. And that is perfect, it's a theological collection that serves us today, but that fundamentally serves as a basis for how God is acting now. The God who spoke in the past, continues to speak in the present and we feel that what we have to interpret, fundamentally, is something in the present. The great events of history.

A new theological current?

This started with Gaudium et spes, a document structured on the basis that the Church responds to the great events of the era. In Gaudium et spes what's detected as the great sign of the times is the great transformations -- and accelerated transformations -- that are occurring.

This theology comes especially from Schillebeeckx, Congar... All those people who remained in the Council and who are the breeding ground for Latin American liberation theology. They're the ones who generated the trunk to which we, at a certain historical distance, are linked.

We aren't doing the theology of those years, 40 - 50 years have passed since then. There are other themes. We have focused especially on methodological matters and some signs in particular. Right now the subject of women's theology is emerging as very important. A very important subject with much future in the Church. A central theme. In fact, Virginia Azcuy also has a contract with the Manuel Larraín Center.


The theologian. The one who formed Teologanda, an extraordinary feminist theology movement in Latin America. And it also covers Iberoamerican theology. We're working together. They're subjects that weren't there explicitly at the beginning of liberation theology, that were developed later.

And the whole ecological subject that wasn't a theme 40 years ago and is now. That is to say, other subjects have emerged that require a liberationist faith stance and here we are. The migrant theme too, for example.

Migrants, refugees, that is, the new signs of the times.


The book in which you're involved -- what's the fundamental purpose of a book such as this that contains homilies, speeches, testimonies and a series of commentaries made by different authors?

I have the impression that the Pope, to a certain degree, is quite alone. He has resonated enormously with the people of God and also with others who aren't Christian. Among the laity, in the Church in general. But something is happening, like his thoughts, his actions aren't getting through the bishops or have gotten through with much difficulty.

There are many people who have the feeling that a great pope is leaving us, and a pope who has hit the nail on the head on Latin American theology and the Church, which is the option for the poor.

Is he leaving without us taking advantage of him?

Exactly. And he could die and another pope come who isn't going to give us the signs that Francis is giving. This pope already is, in a certain sense, out of the ordinary -- along the lines of the Latin American Church, of what he's been in his 50-year trajectory, there's no one who has been successful like him.

However, in his time he didn't consider himself to be a liberation theologian; he had his reservations about the Marxist versions there were in those days. But he's linked to the Argentinian theology of the people, which can also be considered a liberation theology in some respects.

The interesting thing is that today the liberation theologians are all exultant with this pope, because deep down he's responding very well to what that current is, that as for the rest, Marxism is not essential in it.

I know the Latin American theologians. It was, in some of them. They even flirted with Marxism because there weren't many alternatives forty years ago for social change, beyond that. But it wasn't essential. What was essential, and still is, is the recourse to social sciences. Because if you want to auscultate reality, the events of the era, to influence that reality through theological mediation, you also need the mediation of the social sciences because otherwise, it's going to be something very homemade.

The Pope has put the option for the poor label in the center again.

This is the great mystical and theological discovery, I think, of the Latin American church. Notice that in the four Latin American Episcopal Conferences, the preferential option for the poor is stated and endorsed as something central to which the Church has to respond. It's quite interesting because it's what's happened in the Latin American postconciliar period. That is to say, the Church is understood as a regional church starting from an integrating main focus that is the preferential option for the poor. And that is in the four Conferences with a remarkable importance; it has permeated throughout the Church in Latin America.

And this remained frozen at a certain time.

In practice, one could say so. But the Conferences proclaimed it, including the Santo Domingo Conference which was a conference in which the Vatican intervened. A grotesque intervention, by the way. Even so, in that Conference there's an endorsement of the option for the poor.

Theoretical endorsement, you mean. But afterwards, in the episcopacy and in ministry, it was toned down.


And now what the Pope's doing, I imagine, is recovering this.

Of course, something has emerged from the ashes that responds to a central insight of the Latin American Church.

Could there be a turning back? Is this spring which we are experiencing reversible in a later pontificate?

In the history of the Church, that isn't new. It's hard to think there's going to be a Pope like this one -- daring, who speaks off the cuff. Parla a braccio, as the Italians would say.

It's rolled up.

Yes, and he speaks without fear of making a mistake. Something completely new. Consequently, if the Pope speaks and makes a mistake, the rest of us can do the same. And there's no drama. The Pope can be infallible when he speaks solemnly and the other times he can be fallible.

He's said it himself. People will have to understand that when he makes a mistake, he's trying to communicate.

It's a whole catharsis for what we're accustomed to.

When the Pope was infallible on everything, the rest of us would have to keep quiet. There wasn't any dissidence. Everything was monitored, punished.

There are matters that aren't on the agenda that was put on the Pope, and the Pope has come out with them. He's been asked to reform the curia and is into it. But he came out with the option for the poor, and this has been, in my opinion, the most important thing. Because, a pope isn't there to make policy and although he has to do it, it's secondary. Here, the important thing is that the Pope proclaims the Gospel, and does it.

This means breaking eggs -- breaking, because the Gospel cost Jesus his life. The normal thing for a Christian would be to talk freely; because of that itself, he has problems. If a Christian doesn't have problems in an unjust world, what's it about?

But the cycles of the Church aren't usually so short either. We've come from a cycle of involution and the logical thing would be to think that another John XXIII and Paul VI cycle is being repeated.

The interesting thing would be if the trend settled in. But in a Church that's 2000 years old, that requires a lot of time.

Because the trend, in your opinion, is seeping into the people. That's obvious.

Yes, but I don't know if it's seeping in at a high level, in the hierarchy. I have serious doubts.

Into the clergy, you're saying, in the higher and lower clergy.

Yes. In the Church, the bishops and priests. I don't know if priestly formation today is permeable to any type of ministry. I doubt it.

Why is it so hard for them to leave the old inertia? Leave the palaces, for example. In Spain, all the bishops live in palaces (with a few exceptions) and the Pope, from the start, leaves his palace and goes to Santa Marta.

In Latin America they don't live in palaces. The bishops have very discrete lives, even humble and poor ones. It's what I've seen and that's very good. The issue is the relationship the priest establishes with others. I think there's a fundamental problem here. I have the impression that the priesthood and the understanding of the priesthood have not assimilated the great criteria of the Council.

The big criterion is that baptism is the great sacrament that makes us all equal as brothers and sisters. One might view that there's a priestly ministry that's at the service of the people of God. This would obligate a different way of relating, one of equality, of fraternity and exchange. Everyone responsible for the Church and each one in their respect.

But if you have a priestly formation where they tell you you're representing Jesus Christ and you have to teach -- and obviously that the others have to learn -- in those terms, it's very hard for the priest to learn anything from anyone. He knows it, and that's what the seminaries, the libraries are for and for him to study as much as possible and the next day, he's going to relate to everyone else in those terms.

Clericalism, bureaucracy -- what the Pope has denounced so much.


Changing that is very complicated. And if that doesn't change, this institution, which in the end is very clericalized, doesn't change either. Or does it?

Yes, of course, tremendously. So much that, I say, exaggerating: Is there anything worse that a lay priest? Precisely because we haven't had a sufficiently adult laity.


Mature, adult, that says what it thinks. That believes new things. Everyone's waiting for what comes from above, from the bishops, from the priests. Because the ways of relating, in many cases, aren't adequate. Everything depends a lot on the creativity or permission of the clergy.

I think we should all got to a more fraternal model of Church, where the priest would really be a brother on the way, with everyone's creativity, creating a new Church. In new versions.

With new ministries too.

Yes. New things can be invented.

A married priesthood, for example. Why not allow it?

Clearly so.

Will the priesthood of women take longer?

It will take longer, but I don't think there are any theological reasons with enough weight to prevent it. And I think this situation of women in the Church is the greatest challenge of all.

Because it's a countersign of the times.

Totally. Here you have a case of the signs of the times and the importance of listening to the voice of God in history. How can it be that women don't participate in any important Church decision made at a high level? Of course they say later that the women in the chapels are the mothers; that's all true. But that women don't participate in a synod on the family and vote...

They brought the voices of some women to the synod and listened to them. But they don't participate in the decisions. No young women understand that nowadays. We men don't even understand it.

There isn't any global institution now that doesn't have women. I don't know if the International Olympic Committee [Translator's note: The IOC has women on its Executive Board] ...But in everything else, it seems like a big countersign.

In the book, you address the subject "From introverted spirituality to missionary extrovertedness". Explain this to us a bit.

The title contains a play on words. This Pope has proposed an interesting and tremendously evangelical ecclesiology. And it's that the Church is for proclaiming the Gospel. For proclaiming it to others and not always for ourselves. Normally, our problem is that the generation that understands us no longer understands us, that's our own.

The Pope says, "That's to be seen; what's fundamental here is proclaiming to those who are far." The Church has to go out, the outgoing Church is the Church that goes out to proclaim to those who don't know the Gospel, to the alienated, to those who left and to those who've never been. And this should be the final goal.

When you put the target so far away, everything in between is ordered according to that goal. And it's a beginning of healing everything in between. Even those who might be very close to the center, we have to adjust to the fundamental. Here the center isn't the Pope or the Church, which would have to revolve around the Vatican and the Pope. No. The center is the Gospel, and that requires ordering things differently.

So, we've gone from a Church that's turned inward, even spiritually introverted, a chapel Church, to a Church that battles it out in the street with all the risks that holds. The Pope has said it, "I prefer a beat-up Church to a Church that's sick from being moldy."

This change in dynamics is taking time. It's already been four years and it seems like the gears are creaking.

Yes, you don't see much.

What might be needed so that we would see more? Because I imagine that there must be some bishops too who are persuaded that this is the trend we have to follow. That we have to get in this car because, in the end, we're facing a unique historic opportunity.

Basically, I'm waiting for all this creativity of the laity. The problem is that in the Church we're all a bit stunned. Sleepy. And if the laity doesn't also see some signs of change in the clergy and in the hierarchy, it isn't used to initiating new things.

There have always been exceptional people who open up opportunities with initiative, without asking anyone's permission. Perfect. There ought to be many more but they could also have more support. And I'm not seeing this. My judgment might be unfair; I'd have to go out and see how things are going.

But, apparently, there isn't much creativity. And it's not getting to those who've never been there. That's the ultimate parameter. When you're reaching those who are really far, you're hearing signs that the Gospel is coming.

And we have the clear example. Because Francis is reaching the alienated, the popular movements, atheists, agnostics..., everyone. He does know how to do it and is showing us the way. Why aren't we following him on this too?

I'm following him.

Here, Tarancón used to say that the bishops had cricks in their necks from looking to Rome so much. But now either they aren't looking or I don't know what's going on.

I don't know what's going on at the level of the Conferences. Because when a Conference is deadlocked, it's very hard to make decisions in one direction.

That is, you're trusting more that the Catholic grassroots will assume this trend?

It's what I'm hoping. I can't understand how the relationships are put together. Looking at the long, the very long term, what I think might happen is that Christianity might develop in a non-clerical version. A non-priestly/ministerial one.

There are so many changes happening in the world that what I believe and hope is that it be conjugated another way, with other religions, with other cultures. That something new comes out, a Christianity that would be less fearful and that would go out to meet others, without caring about what will result in the long run. I think that will be the healthiest. Which doesn't mean that clerical Christianity will cease to exist because it has a great resistance capacity. The danger is that it won't often represent the Gospel.

So there would be a co-existence of various types of Christianity as there is now too.

Maybe. But I'm hoping something new, airier, will come out, that responds to what the new generations need. Because Christ is living, it's a matter of faith. And if he's alive and acting through the spirit, he will go on and you have to trust in this. There will continue to be Christian expressions of another order, new ones.

Finally, it's always the return to the Gospel.

It's the fundamental thing.

But that personal, pastoral conversion is very hard for us...

I think it would be very interesting to go out to look where that's taking place. As the Lord says: the Gospel is like a mustard seed.

You have to go out to observe because there are things one finds when one is looking. And there are always shoots beginning to take flight. To gain importance. I believe a lot in this. Sometimes you don't see it. And you don't see it on television because the Pope has all the cameras.

It's true.

There might even be many priests and bishops who are starting novel things but they don't have cameras. And what isn't in the media, doesn't exist. It's obvious and it's something that the hierarchical Church is also taking a long time to understand and put into practice -- making visible the sorts of seeds there are now.

Is popular religiosity coming back, purified? How do you see it? Here we've just celebrated Holy Week on a big scale. The only young people who are signing on to this new popular religiosity trend are the guilds, the brotherhoods. The other young people are absent.

That might be different in different parts of the world. Here in Spain, popular festivities are very strong. And I understand that this hasn't been lost, although at the same time young people are participating less. In Latin America they're still strong. Very strong.

Religiosity in Latin America is still powerful. It has quite a bit of independence but at the same time it requires the timely service of the priest.

Just like here.

What may be happening are very big mutations. Juan Martín Velasco, in Spain, studied this phenomenon of mutations in religiosity, It's happening and with quite some independence from the Church, and it's not clear that it's diminishing. In fact, the statistics say that 50 years from now the number of Christians in the world will be more or less the same as now.

There will be different combinations of religiosity. We aren't necessarily going to a more secular world. Or we'll go on being a two-sided character, that in some big areas we're religious and in others we're completely atheist.

But these two realities co-existing.

Yes. And Christianity should be an integrating principle of the person as a whole. The one who lives with realities that are antagonistic, sometimes doesn't work. That distance would have to shrink.

That breaks new ground and it's complicated.

And of course it demands a very great lucidity of Christian life and work. One needs to convert areas of life that aren't easy, starting with money.

There are so many very Christian and very rich people...We've had 2000 years for there to be a change in the matter. And even so, it's possible to be rich and Christian. A millionaire and a Christian. How is that possible in a world where there's so much destitution, so much hunger, so much war, so many migrant refugees? Jesus would say that something is wrong with that. And so forth, other areas.

On this, especially, there has been constant denunciation on the part of Pope Francis. Of this economy that kills, the discard economy.

The concentration of wealth in the world is hair-raising, that eight people can have as much wealth as 3 billion people. And moreover it's a trend that isn't stopping.

It seems like it's growing.

Rich people who are able to buy whole countries, what's up with that?

You're experiencing that situation in Chile too same as here, I imagine. It's globalized.

We too. There's great wealth that's concentrated. Inequality in Chile is great. Even though it has remained, for fifty years there haven't been great variations. Suddenly, the Gini index has gone down a bit, but the trend towards inequality has remained.

What improves the relationship is redistribution. Years ago, for example, in Chile, income inequality was 1 to 14. And by virtue of state redistribution it went down to 1 to 7. That's important, that there are taxes as a way to shrink the differences.

Are you in this dynamic of redistribution of wealth?


And at the church level? It seems like your hierarchy has lost prestige.

It's lost a lot of prestige. The hierarchy, nowadays, according to statistics, is at an 18-20% prestige level. It's very low for what it's traditionally had. This basically has to do with the cases of abuse by priests of minors.

The famous Karadima case.

Abuse and cover-up. What the people can't bear is, there having been abuse, that that abuse wasn't denounced. And when it has been denounced, there hasn't been justice but it's been covered over.

There's been a lot of learning in this, but everything still isn't being done. I think there may have been problems of this type in the Church forever -- what was done, out of ignorance, was that if a priest abused a youth and a complaint arose, the superior would send him on a spiritual retreat to be converted or get him off to another city.

From here, they were sent to Latin America.

Clearly, it was thought that the person had committed a sin. But today science tells you it's a sin but it also might be a sickness that has no cure. Therefore, that priest ought to be removed from being a priest.

And, in any case, it's a crime you have to denounce.

Exactly. This learning is taking place, although it's hard. In Chile, protocols have been created in the schools, in churches, in different parts.

But this is being done by force because of the media pressure.

As has happened with all the important rights that have been established in the West. Behind every right there's a struggle. Women haven't come to acquire the dignity, the prestige they deserve in the 20th century except though the women who struggled to get it. And in the end they convinced us men ourselves.

In this the pressure, the media and the courts of justice have caused those responsible to bite the dust and realize that what happened, could not happen, and that this isn't only a sin, it's a crime. And crimes are to be denounced, however much it hurts. Because, although it's hard for a superior to have to bring an underling to the police, today he has to do so, if the case comes up. Before, it wasn't understood that way -- he was his spiritual son, he had to be protected...

Cardinal Castrillón, a Colombian, used to say that a bishop is a father. And a father never denounces his son.

That was the logic and it required sort of understanding. That logic doesn't work today. The paradigm has changed; there's learning in favor of the human being.

The logic and paradigm have also changed in relation to women, as you said earlier. And now you're adding a new dimension as if inviting a fight. Do women in the church have to fight to gain their recognition?

Certainly. It's a critical situation, the one of women in the Church. Disgraceful. And at this point, women count in their favor many men who are willing to support their greater participation in the decisions that would have to be taken at the highest level. It seems to us that it's an injustice, a loss and a sin. The situation of women in the Church today is not simply negligence. At this point, it's a sin.

The Commission on the Diaconate that Francis established, seems to point along those lines.

The Pope is opening opportunities and you have to understand that a 2000 year-old institution can't make changes overnight but he's not sitting idly. The Pope is beginning to make some changes in those directions and this study of the female diaconate is very important.

He's reproached for not going more rapidly because he also doesn't have much time left, or it's predictable that he doesn't too much time left. It's the law of life.

Yes. However, it's surprising all he's done.

You see the glass as half full, don't you?

Yes. It seems to me that he's done infinitely more than what is expected in little time. I would like him to have more backing. That other people would raise their voices and more bishops would row in the same direction.

In the situation of honoring divorced people who have remarried, I can't see why, if the synod has opened the possibility of it being a reality, the bishops of the world have been so shy to support Amoris Laetitia. It's clear that even when the document doesn't say it totally explicitely, it brings forth all the elements to come to that conclusion.

There have been some bishops who've had the courage to speak clearly, like the one from Malta, the German one. But there are so many more bishops who I don't know why they don't risk backing the Pope on this matter.

Including various cardinals, as we all know, the dubbia cardinals.

And it being about a central issue for the future of the Church. About understanding what the human reality is. It's not a question of mercy in the sense that I grant it...It's a matter of understanding the human phenomenon, what it means to be a couple today, to be a married couple, to form a family. With all the complications there can be.

I accompany a Christian base community in Santiago de Chile that started from a land takeover. Of very poor people.

In the working-class world, the Church is being slowly built up. In the end, the couples come to have a house, they form a family. But at the beginning, it starts from a young couple who have a boy or a little girl. Sometimes that relationship fails and another begins. He brings one child, she another, they have a third one.

That is, the family is built bit by bit and they never get to get married in the Church, or at all. They decide to get married when they have the house in which they're living together. And for that, 10, 15 or 25 years may pass. Are you not going to give communion to a family that's Christian because it's not in order? Because it's had a history?

If the Gospel isn't for these people, it's all wrong. It's an outgoing Church that puts itself in the situation of the one who is last, that wants to reach the last one. And if it doesn't reach that one, everything in between is questionable.

In the same dynamic would be the relationship of the Church with the gay world, with the LGBTI world, I'd imagine.

They're ongoing discoveries and behind which there always has to be a struggle. The struggle of homosexual persons is what has allowed the non-homosexual world to open its eyes, become sensitive, and see that there are other versions of sexuality. Other sexual conditions that aren't a sin. Here too, there are basic scientific facts.

At the beginning of the century homosexuality was thought to be a perversion. Then science says, "it's not a perversion, it's an illness." So the attitude changed. Then science says it's not an illness, that it's a condition, a possible version of human sexuality. Now we're saying that if it isn't a sin or an illness, if it's a sexual variant, we ought to treat it a different way.

Even so, you uphold it in your articles (on your Religión Digital blog and in other writings) and brickbats rain down on you for maintaining something that seems very common sense, very much of the Gospel.

Well, but brickbats are useful for us to advance. Let's put it that way.

In the end, you're optimistic and hopeful, aren't you?

Yes, but you have to go into battle. It's obvious. Things don't come out by themselves. It's not a matter of evolution. The one who is there for an evangelical cause has to risk that there will be no results. It's not the measure. If it went badly for the founder of Christianity, it has to go badly for the rest of us who want to open some way. Almost necessarily, Jon Sobrino and all those people would say.

Many thanks, Jorge. A pleasure. Let's go into battle and keep on rowing, ok?

Keep on rowing, very well. Delighted, and thanks to you.