Monday, November 5, 2018
Félix Cepeda: "The Pope should have an advisory council of women and another one of oppressed people"
November 4, 2018
The Dominican ex-Jesuit Félix Cepeda is one of the leaders in the fight for social justice in the Church in the United States. To the point where he has been arrested several times for his demonstrations for the most oppressed. In this interview with RD, the young social activist analyzes the challenges of the North American bishops before their fall meeting of November 12 to 14, for which one of his main petitions is that the prelates ask the Pope "to change canon law to allow us lay men and women to be able to make decisions in the parishes."
The US media have described you as a "one man social justice mission." What does "social justice" mean to you and what are you doing to achieve it?
For me, justice is that no one is discriminated against for any reason -- their sexual orientation or gender, their skin color, their social class, their religion or for being an atheist -- in Church and in society. That we can all have housing, education, health care, a job with a decent salary, be able to take vacations, enjoy good food, art, music...
To achieve this in the United States and in the Dominican Republic, I work with many people and social movements, where we try to think, pray and act for justice. And we try with the little we have -- music, food, knowledge, etc. -- to share with our needier brothers and sisters. We have even been arrested for defending the rights of the most vulnerable and I think you have to risk your freedom and life if necessary.
You were a Jesuit brother before becoming a social activist. Does your social activism involve as much of a vocation as being a Jesuit?
God has called me to learn and struggle together with our most oppressed sisters and brothers. For a time I did it as a Jesuit and now I'm doing it as a layman. The way of serving might change, but never the call to fight for justice in and out of the Church.
From November 12 to 14 the US bishops will meet for their fall gathering in Baltimore. In your opinion, what should they do at this meeting to respond to the sex abuse crisis?
I think the main thing during those days is to invite the victims, listen to them, and put their suggestions into practice, such as the one that the Catholic bishops ought to stop fighting against the laws that the victims want approved that would be beneficial to them.
I think the bishops agree that there should not be a limitation period from now on, that is that current victims can accuse their abuser when they're ready, no matter if a lot of time has passed since the abuse. But the bishops don't agree that laws be changed so that past victims can sue their abusers and institutions. Past victims are fighting for this to change, but the bishops are fighting against them.
What should the US bishops do for the migrant caravan that's currently crossing Central America?
I think the day that caravan gets to the border, all the US bishops should be there to receive them and offer them their homes and churches, and to receive those who need a place to sleep and support them in everything they need.
Is there any other urgent matter in your opinion that the US bishops should address at their gathering?
I think the bishops should ask the Pope to change canon law and allow us lay women and men to be able to make decisions in the parishes. Parish councils are currently there to advise the pastor, but the priest has the last word. This should change. In the Protestant churches, laypeople can fire a pastor if he doesn't suit them. I think that in our Church too we laypeople should have more power to serve our communities, jointly with the priests.
Did you follow the recent Vatican synod on youth? If so, what sticks with you?
I'm very pleased with the women and men who, in the streets of Rome and in the Synod, protested to demand that women be able to vote in the Synod.
I think the time has come now to protest and get organized. We laywomen and laymen, women and men, should be together with the cardinals and bishops, priests and the Pope as equals. Likewise, we should be able to govern our Church together, to be able to better serve our most oppressed brothers and sisters.
What's your opinion of Pope Francis? Do you feel motivated as an activist by the emphasis on social justice in his papacy up to now, or would you like him to go further in his ideas?
I admire Pope Francis a lot, but I think he has to listen more to the most oppressed women and men in Church and society, as well as put his suggestions into practice.
I was arrested in Washington, DC, when Pope Francis was here in the United States. With other women and men, we committed civil disobedience and nonviolently blocked the entrance where the Pope's car was passing. The police arrested us. The Pope looked at us and read our signs where we were calling for women's ordination to the priesthood.
Just as Pope Francis has a council of cardinals, he should have one of women and of oppressed people who are struggling against their oppressors. These people could help the Pope be braver.