Friday, August 26, 2016

Francis, Jesus and women

By Frei Betto (English translation by Rebel Girl)
O Globo (em português)
August 6, 2016

Pope Francis has named a commission to analyze whether women should have access to the diaconate, as already occurs with single and married men. In the hierarchy, the deacon occupies a grade below the priesthood. He can preside at marriages and baptize, but he can't celebrate Mass. There were women deacons in the early Church.

In many countries, including in Brazil, there are already women religious who, authorized by the local bishop, preside at marriages and celebrate baptisms, although they aren't women deacons.

Francis is very clever. Instead of imploding the building with dynamite, he prefers to demolish it brick by brick. It's what he's doing by fiddling around with issues that, for centuries, have been frozen by the taboos surrounding traditional Catholic doctrine -- remarriages, access of the divorced to the sacraments, homosexuality, mandatory celibacy, corruption in the Roman Curia, strict punishment for pedophiles, etc.

There is no biblical basis for excluding women from the priesthood or even from the right to be bishops and popes. The big obstacle is the patriarchal culture that was predominant in the early centuries of Christianity and is still in vogue in the Catholic Church.

Matthew points out five women in Jesus' genealogical tree: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Mary, and, implicitly, Solomon's mother, the one "who was the wife of Uriah." It isn't quite an ancestry of which any of us would be proud.

A widow, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law and beget a son of the same blood as her late husband. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. Ruth, David's great-grandmother, was a Moabite, i.e. a pagan in the eyes of the Hebrews. The one "who was the wife of Uriah," Bathsheba, was seduced by David while her husband was at war. And Mary, mother of Jesus, didn't escape others' suspicions either because she appeared pregnant even before she married Joseph. As you see, the Son of God entered human history through the back door.

Jesus was accompanied by the Twelve and some women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's procurator, Susanna, "and several others," says Luke (8:1). Therefore, Jesus wasn't a chauvinist at all. And in Bethany, he used to frequent the home of his friends Martha and Mary, Lazarus' sisters.

The first apostle was a woman: the Samaritan who dialogues with Jesus by the side of Jacob's well and then goes out to proclaim that she has met the Messiah. The first witness to the resurrection was Mary Magdalene. And by healing Peter's mother-in-law, Jesus showed that the priesthood and celibacy are not associated. Peter was married and that didn't keep him from being chosen as the first Pope.

Misogyny is, in the Catholic Church, an unjustifiable syndrome, especially when we consider that in rural communities and those on the urban outskirts, it's mainly women who lead the pastoral activity. Today, fortunately, a number of married women, including in Brazil, hold the title of doctor in theology.

The theology of my confrere Thomas Aquinas dates from the thirteenth century and still serves as the foundation for official Catholic doctrine. Today it requires updating, like on the aspect of women, considered to be ontologically inferior beings to men. Which is why the freed slave can be a priest, but not women.

There is not one case in the gospels where Jesus repudiated a woman -- as he did with Herod Antipas -- or uttered curses upon them, as he did with the scribes and Pharisees. With them, he showed himself merciful, warm, and affectionate, and he extolled their faith and love.

The time has come for the Church to assume its feminine side and open all of its ministries to women. In the end, half of humanity are women. And the other half are children of women.

Frei Betto is a writer, author of "Um homem chamado Jesus" ("A man called Jesus" -- Rocco), among other books.

Reinstituting women deacons

By Msgr. Felipe Arizmendi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Sol de México
August 11, 2016


"After intense prayer and mature reflection, His Holiness has decided to institute the Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women," the Holy See press room announced. Thus he fulfilled what he had offered to the International Union of Superiors General, who made the proposal to him. What does this mean and what does it imply? Will it be a path for women to be able to be ordained priests?

In the first centuries of the Church there were women deacons. Saint Paul mentions one: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. Receive her well, as should be done among Christians and holy brothers and sisters, and help her in everything she needs, since many are in debt to her, and I as well." (Rom 16:1-2)

What did they do? As the baptism of adults by immersion was the custom and they would go down into the water without any clothes to dress in a white tunic afterwards, it wasn't proper for this celebration to be performed by the bishop, the priests, or the male deacons, therefore women deacons were established to baptize the women. Also, when there were complaints from the wives that their husbands had hit them, the women deacons would have to check the women's bodies to prove the wounds and bruises. It wasn't prudent for the men to make such a review. Moreover, it was customary to anoint the sick on the parts of their body that were hurting. It was appropriate for such service to be given by the women. Over time, these customs changed and women deacons disappeared. There is no evidence that they received sacramental ordination, but it was a service that they gave in the community.


Is it appropriate for them to be instituted again today? Before Vatican Council II (1962-65), the diaconate was only for celibate men being prepared for the priesthood. The Council re-established the permanent diaconate "not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service" (LG 29), to provide some services such as administering baptism, assisting at weddings, proclaiming the Gospel and preaching at Mass, giving the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament, celebrating the funerals of the dead, giving various blessings. This diaconate was conferred on married men and there are currently thousands throughout the Church. They don't celebrate Mass or hear confessions or anoint the sick sacramentally. Whether the diaconate can also be conferred upon women is being studied.

What could they do? The same thing as male deacons. However, for these celebrations you don't need women deacons. The bishop can authorize women catechists, the wives of permanent deacons, nuns, and other adequately prepared women to perform them. In compliance with the norms of the Church, I have delegated two indigenous women to baptize and preside at marriages in remote places where the presence of a priest is rare and there are no male deacons.

The potential women deacons getting to be ordained priests is completely excluded. That has been finalized since 1994 by Pope John Paul II: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4).


Let us ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten the Pope to decide what is most appropriate. Meanwhile, let us continue giving women their rightful place in the Church and in society.

Msgr. Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel is Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How Helder Câmara carried out the Pact of the Catacombs in Recife

by Eduardo Hoornaert (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Blog de Eduardo Hoornaert (em português)
July 3, 2016

Right at the beginning of the book of Exodus are the following words:

"The messenger of Yhwh appeared (to the shepherd named Moses) in a flame blazing from the middle of a bush (thicket, briar, brush) (Ex. 3:2-3).

God calls out from the fire: Moses, Moses.

And Moses: Here I am.

God says: Do not come near. Remove the sandals from your feet, for this land is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.

Yhwh says: Yes, I see the oppression of my people in Egypt, I have heard their cries against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. Now, the outcry of the children of Israel has reached me, I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them.

Now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt." (v. 5-10).

Here, at Fronteiras, the same God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses called Helder Camara by name.

"Helder, Helder."
"Here I am."

"Take off your sandals, because Fronteiras is hallowed ground. I have seen clearly the oppression of my people in the Northeast, I have heard their cries about the authorities, yes, I know their sorrows. Now, the cry of the children in the Northeast has come to me, I have seen the oppression caused by the highest authorities of the land."

Even today, these words resonate through the Church of Fronteiras, which is sacred territory. For over thirty years (between 1968 and 1999) there lived a man who knew how to listen to the words. God's call is still burning for those who have the eyes of Helder Camara, the ears of Helder Camara, the heart of Helder Camara.

Rome 1965

The big picture

In 1965, about 2,500 Catholic bishops are gathered in the Vatican, in the ample wealthy spaces of St. Peter's Basilica. They are of the most varied tendencies. There are a majority who don't know what they're doing in Rome. I know of a bishop who, during the intervals between sessions in the Basilica and during meal times (all for free), played chess with a colleague. Others must have played cards or were reading something. Anyway, most weren't surprised to be in the opulence of the Vatican and even thought it fitting for their episcopal dignity.

I will describe in brief lines the various tendencies that manifested themselves among the bishops, based on the book O Pacto das Catacumbas ["The Pact of the Catacombs"] by José Oscar Beozzo, that has just been released by Edições Paulinas.

The main group of bishops on the right enjoys the (implicit) sympathies of the Roman Curia and the major European media, controlled by political and economic forces that prefer a conservative Church. It's called the Coetus Internationalis Patrum (CIP: International Group of Fathers), which has as its reference point the French bishop Marcel Lefebvre and as more visible leadership, the Brazilian bishop Geraldo Sigaud. According to Beozzo, "Coetus" brings together more or less 300 Council fathers, but their power is much greater.

It's more difficult to name the left wing movements. Names appear of charismatic leaders who so to speak symbolize certain positions. Such as the Concilium journal group with Yves Congar, the "Ecumenical" group with Cardinal Bea, the "joys and hopes" group (which gave its name to the conciliar document Gaudium et Spes) with François Houtart, the "Opus Angeli" group (acting out of "Domus Mariae") with Helder Camara, and so on. Names like Dell'Acqua, Capovilla, Colombo, Suenens, Lercaro, Liénart and Doepfer also coalesce positions. These names give some context to the currents, blocs, and groups which often overlap, mingle, combine and, at times, coalesce.

But there's one group that stands out for the firmness of its position and depth of its questioning -- the "Church of the Poor." It doesn't appear in high profile in the history of the Council because it operates discreetly, almost timidly. Only in the third session, in November 1964, did it publicly propose two documents that received the support of more than 500 Council fathers -- "Simplicity and Gospel Poverty" and "That the evangelization of the poor be given first place in our [Episcopal] Ministry." Beozzo speaks here of the establishment of a "conciliar network," that is, a link that pervades the various segments of the episcopal universe meeting in Rome and that consists basically of support, at least formally, given to the words of Pope John XXIII in a radio address before the opening of the Council (September 11, 1962): the Church must be "in particular the Church of the poor." With those words, the term "the poor" gains an epistemological status which it preserves for decades in Church circles, mainly in Latin America. In the "Church of the Poor" group, the name that most stands out is that of the French worker-priest Paul Gauthier, founder of "Companions of Jesus the Carpenter" in Nazareth. In Rome, the meetings of that group usually took place in Fr. Gauthier's apartment or at the Belgian College.

What unites the "Church of the Poor" bishops is a common affection, a shared sensibility. In an ecclesiastical Rome made of power symbols, i.e. at the Vatican, these bishops don't feel good. The image of the "catacombs" comes up, which suggests an "underground" persecuted Church.

Three weeks before the conclusion of the Council, on November 16, 1965, some members of the "Church of the Poor" gathered in the catacomb of Saint Domitilla in Rome. Two months earlier, on September 12, Pope Paul VI was in the Saint Domitilla catacomb, showing symbolic support for the idea of a "Church of the catacombs." But it becomes something specific with the concelebrated Mass, presided by Msgr. Himmer, bishop of Tournai in Belgium. The bishops present signed the so-called "Pact of the Catacombs" with one another, a lifelong commitment "to proclaim good news to the poor." All very discretely, almost clandestinely. Just three weeks later, on the day of the closing of the Council (December 8, 1965), the French newspaper Le Monde publishes, without much emphasis, a note about "a group of anonymous bishops who have committed themselves to giving external witness to a life of strict poverty." The note is signed by journalist Henri Fesquet, observer of the Council on behalf of said newspaper.

Years later, through research conducted among the papers of Bishop Himmer, we have managed to recover the list of participants, as Beozzo reveals in a note found on the Internet. There are 39 signatories, almost all bishops. There are a few priests (such as Father Luiz Gonzaga, consecrated bishop a few days later, and Paul Gauthier). The presence of a woman is recorded, Marie Thérèse Lescaze, a French Carmelite residing in Palestine, a participant in the group surrounding Father Gauthier. Eight Brazilian bishops sign the document (some at the time, others later): Antonio Fragoso of Crateús, EC, Francisco Austregésilo Mesquita Filho of Afogados da Ingazeira, PE, João Batista da Mota e Albuquerque, Archbishop of Vitoria, ES, Luiz Gonzaga Fernandes (who is to be consecrated auxiliary bishop of Vitória some days later) Jorge Marcos de Oliveira of Santo André, SP, Helder Camara of Recife, PE, Henry Golland Trindade, Archbishop of Botucatu, SP, José Maria Pires, Archbishop of Paraíba, PB. Helder was not present at the time, although Beozzo writes that he was the author of the text, as Beozzo stresses. In the nineties, it was mainly bishops José Maria Pires, Valdir Calheiros, Antônio Fragoso and Adriano Hipólito who remembered the Pact.

Ten signed from other countries in Latin America: Manuel Larraín of Talca in Chile, Marcos Gregorio McGrath of Panama (Diocese of Santiago de Veraguas), Leonidas Proaño of Riobamba, Ecuador, Alberto Devoto of Goya, Argentina, Vicente Faustino Zazpe and Enrique Angelelli, bishop of Rioja assassinated by the military government, from Argentina, Juan José Iriarte of Reconquista, Argentina, Alfredo Viola, bishop of Salto, Uruguay, and his auxiliary, Marcelo Mendiharat, Tulio Botero Salazar, archbishop of Medellín and his auxiliary, [Miguel Antonio Medina] Medina, from Colombia. From Italy, Luigi Betazzi, auxiliary at that time to Cardinal Lercaro in Bologna, signed. From France there are the following names: Guy Marie Riobé, bishop of Orleans, Gérard Huyghe of Arras, and Adrien Gand, auxiliary bishop to Cardinal Liénart in Lille.

In Msgr. Himmer's papers other names yet appear, from different countries: Georges Mercier, bishop of Laghouat in the Sahara, [Maximos] Hakim, Melkite bishop of Nazareth, [Grégoire] Haddad, Melkite auxiliary bishop of Beirut, Gérard-Marie Coderre, bishop of Saint-Jean-de-Québec in Canada, Rafael Gonzalez Moralejo, auxiliary of Valencia in Spain, Julius Angerhausen, auxiliary of Essen in Germany, [Anibal] Muñoz Duque of Pamplona, Raúl Zambrano of Facatativá and Angelo Cuniberti, apostolic vicar of Florence. From Africa, Bernard Yago, archbishop of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, Joseph Blomjous, bishop of Mwanza in Tanzania, signed; from Asia, Charles Joseph van Melckebeke, Belgian bishop of Ningxia in China, expelled and living in Singapore. There were also bishops from Vietnam and Indonesia.

The symbols of the Pact, such as exchanging the "jewel ring" for the simple "fisherman's ring", simplifying liturgical vestments and abandoning the traditional pompous style, meant a very specific lifetime commitment in terms of housing (abandoning the episcopal palace), transportation (simple automobiles), personal wealth (not having personal money in the bank). Finally, the bishops united by the Pact committed themselves to living as the common people lived in the country where they were residing.

All this happened very discretely, almost clandestinely, which shows the strong resistance in the episcopal body in general to the idea of a "Church of the poor." Today the Pact is still influencing the style of the Catholic episcopate. People are more attentive to the way in which the bishop behaves, beyond words and speeches. This is a definite gain, and in this sense we can say that the Pact is the most important event that occurred within the Second Vatican Council.

How Helder Câmara perceives this scene

Since before the Council, Helder Câmara, Auxiliary Bishop of Rio de Janeiro, stands out. In a questionnaire sent to all the bishops by the Vatican, most bishops say that the big problem in the world is the opposition between capitalism and Communism, between the United States and the Soviet Union, between religion and secularism and even atheism. The big enemy is atheist Communism. Helder's response is entirely different: the big problem is that two-thirds of humanity live in poverty, have problems of hunger, endemic disease, housing. It should be said in so many words that Helder Câmara is one of the very few men in the Council who have "vision", as the theologian Congar wrote. Helder's Circular Letters begin with the following words: "The Council is going to be very difficult." That says it all.

Here I make a note: You may be surprised that I don't use the term "Dom" when talking about Helder Camara. In this, I am following point no. 5 of the Pact of the Catacombs, which reads, "We refuse to be called in speech or writing by names or titles that signify grandeur and power (Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor ...). We prefer to be called by the gospel name "Father". See Mt 20:25-28, 23:6-11, Jn 13:12-15." Or simply "brother."

I consulted Book 3 of Volume 1 of the Letters and some topics caught my attention:

1. In the Circular Letter of November 16-17, 1965, written on the eve right after the signing of the Pact, there is nothing about the Pact of the Catacombs. Only sparse references to "concelebrations" appear. It is that Helder has other commitments at the time; he isn't in the Saint Domitilla Catacomb then.

2. Only more than ten days later, in the Letters of 11/29-30 and 12/01-02 (Letters I, 3, 301 and 304) are the 13 points of the Pact talked about.

3. In general, the information is somewhat divergent. On p. 301, it is written that all 2,500 Council fathers received a mimeographed sheet about the poverty group, drafted at the house of Père Paul Gauthier. It seems that 500 reacted positively (testimony of Antônio Fragoso), but we don't know what the specific result of this was in those bishops' lives upon returning to their dioceses. But others reacted negatively. On p. 322, Helder writes that some bishops made a "mockery" of the papal gesture in exchanging the diamond ring for the "fisherman's ring." This shows that there was also resistance to the idea of episcopal poverty.

4. On p.322 it is written that, during the last days of the Council, Helder forwarded the text of the Pact to the pope.

The impression one is left with from reading these letters is that the bishop, in the last weeks of the Council, was involved in many things. He would like to know if the Pope accepts the three strong documents that he has written at the end of the Council. That's what occupies Helder's mind during the last weeks of the event.

What is very clear is that Helder shows aversion to Roman pomp. For him, the Vatican is a papal court, the most impressive court in existence in the whole Western world. There are mind-blowing images scattered throughout the pages of the Circular Letters. The bishop sees Emperor Constantine (4th century) crossing St. Peter's Basilica on a horse at full gallop. In another vision, the pope throws the tiara into the Tiber and walks berserk through the streets of Rome, where he meets prostitutes and thieves. He imagines the Pope giving the Vatican to an institution (UNESCO?) specialized in managing museums and going to live in an apartment in Rome. He dispenses with ambassadors at the Vatican and the Vatican nuncios. He dispenses with the Vatican. Thus he can quickly undertake the reform of the Roman papal Curia (the papal court).

I strongly advise reading these circulars, because each one brings a surprise. When you least expect it, an absolutely brilliant sentence appears, in many different senses. For example, his assessment -- historically impecable -- of the 4th century Council of Nicaea (I, 3, 265), or when he complains that with cardinals it is "humanly impossible" to work (I, 3, 268), or when he writes that quoting texts from Isaiah is very beautiful, but the people don't understand words like Zion, Israel etc. and that you need to say things with words that people understand. Sparks of an exceptional spirit that appear here and there in the Letters.

Recife 1968

Firstly, there is the São José dos Manguinhos Episcopal Palace on Avenida Rui Barbosa, a manor built by Viscount of Loyo, Recife, a successful Recife merchant in the 19th century (Dom Pedro II handed out the titles of Earl, Baron, and Viscount left and right to better control his immense empire), with many mango trees. There is, next door, the São José dos Manguinhos Church, as there usually is in rich people's manors. In the early 20th century, the Archdiocese acquires the manor and transforms it into an episcopal residence. Everything in the traditional ecclesiastical style.

There is, secondly, more towards the historic centre of the city, the Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção das Fronteiras, on the edge of an estate granted by the King of Portugal in 1656 to the mestizo soldier Henrique Dias, a fighter alongside the Portuguese in the war against the Dutch that resulted in the restoration of Pernambuco. Emperor Pedro II visited the site in 1859 and gave it the title of Imperial Chapel. The Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife regained this Chapel after the war of the guilds. But, in 1968, that's all in the past. The Fronteiras Church serves as a chapel for women religious and has, like all chapels, a sacristy and a base for the chaplain.

The scenic contrast between Manguinhos and Fronteiras is reminiscent of the contrast between the Vatican and the Catacombs. Helder leaves the Manguinhos "latifundio" to go live "in my house", in Fronteiras.

Reading the Circular Letters of the year 1968 was a surprise for me. Even knowing the works of Helder Camara because of having worked with him for over 16 years (between 1964 and 1980), reading the Circular Letters was a surprise to me. What wealth! So many new things!

Here I make one more observation. I appreciate the invitation of you who gave me the opportunity to get into these circulars. Thank you especially to the compilers, transcribers and editors of the Letters: Luis Carlos Marques and Roberto de Araújo Faria (vol. I), Zildo Rocha (vols. II, III, IV) and Daniel Sigal (vols. III and IV), who have done and continue to do work of inestimable value.

The circulars of the year 1968 are found in Books 1 and 2 of Volume IV. It's the year of the move from the Manguinhos Palace to the sacristy. A move that not only has consequences for the bishop's personal life, but also for the life of the Archdiocese.

In personal terms, Helder dispenses with the private car, the private secretary, ready meals on time, the Manguinhos cook. Henceforth, his menu is precarious. In the morning, the Fronteiras Sisters fix him breakfast. At noon, he eats lunch at the Colégio das Damas on Avenida Rui Barbosa, and at night he's on his own. His bedroom includes a bed and a chair. He comments: "I live with two dead and a Living One (Jesus in the tabernacle). There is a lounge to receive people and write his circulars by night. It has a round table, three chairs and, in the back, a stretched out hammock. On the walls, a few souvenirs of trips and some strong texts.

1. In the January 5 to 6, 1968 circular (no. 344), Helder shows himself to be enthusiastic about the move (p. 295), planned for the day of Saint Sebastian (1/21), which doesn't happen because of the failure to remove two graves and arrangements behind the altar (p. 317). He knows that this move is leading to a remodeling of the functions of some buildings of the Archdiocese. The bishop's dream is that both Manguinhos (which he calls "the latifundio", "too much of a house for a single tiny bishop", see p. 383) and the old episcopal palace in Olinda will hereinafter be referred to as "Houses of the People". Camaragibe, "the aircraft carrier" (p. 312), would be sold and the financial fund thus created would be used "in large part for a low-income housing scheme."

But his aides don't have such lofty ideas. In fact, the bishop's plans to move involve a complex accommodation of buildings. There is also, at the same time, the decision that touches the lives of seminarians. From now on, the program is that they live in "small communities among the people." All this messes with Manguinhos, the episcopal Palace in Olinda, the Olinda seminary, the building on Rua do Jiriquiti, Camaragibe. While the aides are pondering the real possibilities, Helder continues speaking of Houses of the People. He dreams of giving homes to shelter homeless people. Why maintain two throne rooms at the Manguinhos "latifundio" while homeless people are sleeping on the veranda? The bishop is saddened when his aides are forced to find a guard to monitor the lives of those who sleep on the veranda; he's afraid that this guard will come to use violence and might come to shoot at someone.

2. Ten days later, in Circular 348 (1/16-17/68), he writes that the core team of the seminary now lives "on high" (the first floor) of the House of the People, with some teachers, while the colonial Seminary of Olinda has turned into a Training Center for Leaders for Northeast II (Eugênio Sales style). What complicates everything is that Rome doesn't like the idea of seminarians living "among the people." Cardinal Garrone writes a letter to that effect and sends Monsignor Pavarello to Recife to verify the situation "in loco." This Monsignor stays a long time and reaps much information.

3. On the night of March 13 to 14 (Circular 375) comes the definitive news: when the day breaks, I'm moving to Fronteiras. This is a "complete sign": "selling Manguinhos and investing the money for the advancement of God's children dehumanized by destitution." In the same letter appears a first description of the new dwelling with an assessment of what the bishop likes most -- doors without locks, windows without bars, a small entryway through the garden, "under construction", the wooden bed (the Manguinhos one was gilded bronze), the company, at bedtime, of two dead (tombs) and a Living One (tabernacle).

4. On the 14th day of March of 1968, at 19 hours, Helder enters the new house (p. 40). From now on, his daily routes change: from Fronteiras to Manguinhos, from Manguinhos to Damas (on the same avenue, for lunch), from Damas back to Manguinhos and at the end of the day from Manguinhos to Fronteiras. His transportation depends on taxis, but in reality there is no taxi driver who wants to charge him for the trip (p. 52). This information is repeated on 5/22-23/68.

5. Fifteen days later, in the 3/27-28/68 circular (IV, 1, 59) comes a new proof that the bishop likes the new house: in the bedroom, the little window with a bolt that shows where the Tabernacle is (where the Living One dwells), the embrasure above that "leaves a patch of sky to view, like a beautiful little star" (later he points out that embrasure to me and says "how easy it is to throw a bomb through there"), the window without bars that gives on another garden, behind the living room, the round table where he can write his circulars during the evenings, the roses in the garden, the three thermos bottles (hot tea, cold drinks, water) that the sisters leave ready, as well as glass jars with cookies, etc. Anyway, Helder likes the new abode. This is very clear.

In all this, the bishop follows to the letter the first commitment of the Pact of the Catacombs: "Regarding housing, food and means of transportation and everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the ordinary manner of our people (Mt 5:3, 6:33f, 8-20)." For me, he is one of those following with greatest fidelity the commitments made in the Pact, although comparative data is needed to substantiate this opinion. We have only partial information (from Antônio Fragoso, José Maria Pires, Valdir Calheiros, etc.).

Today we are on hallowed ground

Today we are here at Fronteiras, on hallowed ground, 50 years after the Pact of the Catacombs in Rome and 47 years after Bishop Helder Camara moved here. We feel responsibility, because many among us, like myself personally, have been eyewitnesses to what I have just related through reading the circulars. One way or another, the words of John's Gospel apply to us:

He came as a witness,
to bear witness to the light
(Jn 1:7)

Helder Camara is for us like the one sent by God in the prologue of the Gospel of John. He bore witness to the light and we must bear witness too, as the Gospel itself says:

And you too will be witnesses,
because you have been with me from the beginning
(Jn 15:27).

This is the evidence of one who saw it -- true evidence (Jn. 19:35).

Our meeting here is not just a commemoration, it's a responsibility. We have to "bear witness" these days about what happened here between 1968 and 1999, and is still going on in our lives. From now on, it's not about the physical person of Helder Câmara, but his spirit that is still alive and pervades the place where we are. What can we do?

1. I will explain through history. The Vatican is not the Catacomb and Manguinhos is not Fronteiras. What does the Vatican symbolize? Historically there is no doubt: the Vatican symbolizes the misuse of money from the poor. Pilgrims, over many centuries, have deposited huge sums of money in the so-called tombs of Peter and Paul in Rome. This has been, until today, the base of the Vatican -- not just of the splendid palaces, but also the vast court of monsignors, eminences, the purple-clad and mitred. Much of this wealth is being shamefully diverted in many cases, as recent facts have proven. What does Manguinhos symbolize? Opulence surrounded by poverty, honorific titles, arrogance. I don't know of any scandals linked to Manguinhos, but even so I think it is a counter-sign in gospel terms, a bishop residing in a palace.

What was a catacomb, historically? It was a worthy tomb for all slaves, whether Christians or not. That was the policy of the managers of the catacombs like Calixto, who came to be elected pope in the 3rd century. To opt for the Catacomb is to opt for a lifestyle that gives a chance to all, above any cloister. You understand that I'm talking about something practical. When Helder opted for Fronteiras, he really chose a way of life that doesn't fit in with a palace, honor, prestige, but with a commitment to the weakest of society.

2. Of course, everything depends on the specific conditions of our lives. We are not bishops or priests. Perhaps we aren't Catholic either and yet we are witnesses of Helder Câmara and the Pact of the Catacombs. The symbolism is clear; it means a way of living and acting that stands out from a lifestyle oriented towards profit and accumulation of money. Each and every one of us can do something. There is no rule that applies to all. Each and every one of us must see what we can do. The bishops left the palace, some got around without a private car (as Helder did), sometimes they dispensed with their cook (as Helder did), they renounced honors and personal bank accounts. And we, what do we do in practical life?

It's not easy to live out the Pact of the Catacombs today. Two things, I think, can help us: (1) spirituality; (2) participation in a group of Christian inspiration.

1. Spirituality

When Volume I, 1 of the Circulares was launched, Zildo Rocha gave a beautiful address titled "The role of the vigil in the spirituality of Dom Helder." In it, Zildo asserted that all of Helder's days rested on two points -- the Mass and the vigil. Two moments that put the bishop's life "in a perspective of eternity" and put us in the face of God. José Comblin said the same thing here in this place in 2001: Helder is first and foremost a mystic. Reading the circulars has convinced me of the same. Each letter begins with a spiritual reflection. I don't know if he's commenting on past liturgy or the next day's liturgy, I didn't check that. But I have noticed that, for him, spirituality comes first. Without talking with his father God, his brother Jesus, his guardian angel Joseph, Helder would not have endured so many defeats, so much failure. His day was an offshoot of the Mass and the vigil.

I see Helder entering the synagogue in Nazareth and unrolling the text of Isaiah, as is reported in Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Luke:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me;
Through Him I have been designated (the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Chosen One) to proclaim good news to the poor.
Sent by Him, I declare freedom to the prisoners,
To the blind that they will see again,
To the oppressed that they will be forgiven.
(see Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6)

When Jesus says he's with the "poor in spirit" (Mt 5:3), he's refering to Isaiah 57:15:

I am with the defeated
The humiliated spirits
I revive the spirit of the humble
I revive the heart of the defeated.

That is the biblical spirituality of Helder Camara, which gave him the strength to bear an episcopate full of problems with the political dictatorship (one priest dead, others exiled) and at the same time with the Vatican (a dubious Pope Paul VI, irresolute colleagues in the episcopate).

In the Fronteiras living room, I read the following framed message:

When the night is darkest
Closer is the dawn.

2. Participation in a group of Christian inspiration

Psychology teaches that without a group, lasting action cannot be sustained. That's what Helder experiences after the sensational success of his journeys in the first part of the 1970s. Everywhere massive enthusiasm at the time. Then nothing. It was hard for a man of stage and microphone, the center of the scene and large gatherings, to realize that his ideas about unification of the universities around ideas of liberation, etc. were coming to nothing, just as Vatican II in many respects came to nothing. "How hard it is to break structures," he complained. It was in such disillusionment that Helder discovered the strength of minorities, of the "Abrahamic" minorities. This is a happy expression because it encompasses many movements -- in addition to Christianity, it goes to Judaism and Islam, and even beyond. Physical groups (such as Igreja Nueva ["New Church"]) or virtual groups, such as those that are forming around Alder Calado in Paraiba, Adital in Ceará, Somos Iglesia in Chile, Amerindia, and many others, which are getting bigger and bigger.

Also a word about groups formed by women. We must not forget that we owe the Circular Letters to the fact that Helder, since his days in Rio de Janeiro, always related to his "Mecejana family", a group of women such as Cecilia Monteiro [his secretary], Marina Bandeira [member of the CNBB National Justice and Peace Commission and Camara's collaborator] and others. To this day, the clerical Church has been skidding because it doesn't understand the power of women, which has manifested itself so clearly by the worldwide acceptance of birth control pills since 1961. The Synod which was held in October went nowhere because the Synod Fathers still don't understand the power of women, or rather, they don't understand that women also reveal God. If they, since 1962, haven't listened to the priests anymore, it's because something is wrong with the priests' teaching. The popes are distressed, but they should learn from Helder Camara who showed that women help free the Church from the pope.

To conclude, I repeat what I said at the beginning: Fronteiras is not a museum, it's not just a place of memory. Fronteiras is the burning bush. Here burns the flame that turned Moses into a liberator of his people and Helder Camara into a bishop on the Borders, that is, without borders. It's not just a place to visit, it's a place that reminds us of the truly important things in our lives.

Translator's Note: Dom Helder Camara's circular letters have been published in their original Portuguese in multiple volumes by Companhia Editora de Pernambuco in Brazil. See the Instituto Dom Helder website for price and contact information for hard copies. The collections are also available electronically via Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes and Noble (Nook).

  • Volume I: Conciliar Circulars (3 books - Oct. 1962-Dec. 1965)
  • Volume II: Interconciliar Circulars (3 books - Apr. 1964-Sep. 1965)
  • Volume III: Post-conciliar Circulars (3 books - Dec. 1965-Jul. 1967)
  • Volume IV: Post-conciliar Circulars (4 books - Aug. 1967-Jan. 1970)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Women's Ordinations - May-June 2016

May 28, 2016 - Tinley Park, IL

On May 28th, Terese "Tee" Rigodanzo-Kasper was ordained a Roman Catholic woman priest in a ceremony presided by ARCWP Bishop Mary Collingwood. The ordination took place at the Tinley Park United Methodist Church. Rev. Rigodanzo-Kasper has a B.A. in Management from the College of St. Scholastica and has served in many administrative roles, primarily in companies and organizations providing home care and care for seniors. She has also worked for a parochial school. She is presently a QA analyst and software tester for two companies -- SpotJobs and Campayn. During her homily at the ordination, Bishop Collingwood also mentioned Rev. Rigodanzo-Kasper's volunteer work in music ministry in her parish and hospital pastoral care and said that she had "prepared herself for ordination through her studies in feminist and contemporary theology with certification through the People's Catholic Seminary", a program sponsored by ARCWP.

June 4, 2016 - Medellin, Colombia

Lucero Arias Manco's ordination day as a Roman Catholic woman priest was anything but uneventful. ARCWP Bishop Olga Lucia Alvarez had to leave very early to take the bus that wound its way slowly up the narrow streets to the hillside community where the ordination ceremony would take place because the faster cable cars weren't working. A young Afro-Colombian boy helped her find the correct stop. At the place, "El Paraíso" ("Heaven"), she was met by a neighborhood woman who gave her breakfast. The calm morning was brutally interrupted when a young neighbor, Johanny, who had been sent to fetch others to join them for breakfast, was stabbed in the neck before he could perform his mission. Everyone mobilized to provide first aid to Johanny and get him to the police station where he was then transported by ambulance to the hospital. Once the word came back that Johanny would be OK, the group proceeded with the ordination ceremony, which was attended by many from the local Christian base communities as well as representatives from the Old Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, among others.

Luis Eduardo, the master of ceremonies, explained the circular configuration of the community around the altar. "A symbol of Divinity, it puts us in the position of equals; no one is more important than anyone else." Following introductions, Bishop Alvarez explained the history of ARCWP and their presence that day before proceeding with the ordination rite. In her homily, Bishop Alvarez talked about Rev. Arias' background as a married mother of three and her work as an organizer in this peasant community beset by violence. She emphasized her training and experience in rural ministry and theology as well as in women's theology. Rev. Arias has also been active in working with youth groups, using her musical skills. Note that a series of videos from this ordination ceremony may be found here.

June 11, 2016 - Northbrook, IL

Susan Vaickauski, a long-time parishioner at Our Lady of the Brook in Northbrook, says that she felt called to be a priest all her life since her childhood in Indiana. "I can't remember a time when it wasn't there," she told a reporter. "When you're young, you don't know what it is. You just know something inside you is different." On June 11th, that dream became a reality for Rev. Vaickauski who was ordained a priest through the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement in a ceremony at the United Methodist Church in Northbrook. Vaickauski, a retired secretary at Westmoor Elementary School who now devotes herself to a foundation she started to provide educational assistance to Kenya, The Fred Outa Foundation, became an RCWP deacon in 2015. Vaickauski has not decided where she will practice as a priest, but is thinking about working with the homeless, something she has already been doing as a volunteer. Meanwhile she says she will continue to attend her old parish with her husband who fully supports her choice, even though she will no longer be allowed to receive the sacraments there.

June 25, 2016 - Orinda, CA

On June 25th, Joanna Truelson was ordained a Roman Catholic womanpriest during a ceremony at the Orinda Community Church performed by RCWP Bishop Olivia Doko. Rev. Truelson is a former nurse. She has a Masters in Mental Health Nursing Administration and worked as a medical surgical pediatric coordinator for 24 years. After leaving the medical field, she became a realtor with Alain Pinel Realtors. Truelson also has a Doctor of Ministry degree from the University of Creation Spirituality, founded by Rev. Matthew Fox. She attended the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, and was ordained an Interfaith Spiritual Director in 2000. She presently ministers at the Namaste Catholic Community in Orinda, which holds liturgies on the second and fourth Saturday of the month at the Orinda Community Church. Being excommunicated from the mainstream Catholic Church is no big deal to Rev. Truelson because, as she says, the Church has already denied her the sacraments as a divorced and remarried Catholic.

Friday, June 10, 2016

SAVE THE DATE: 36 Congreso de Teología

The Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII will hold its 36th Theology Congress September 8-11, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. The conference, which will be in Spanish, is open to all and this year's theme is "Immigrants, refugees and borders -- from exclusion to hospitality." We've printed the essential information here in English but you can learn more by visiting the conference website.


Place:Comisiones Obreras, Calle Lope de Vega, 40, Madrid, Spain

Cost: All 3 days: 30 euros; Saturday and Sunday: 20 euros; Sunday only: 10 euros. Payment may be made in cash at the door of the conference (pre-registration is not required) or you can make a bank transfer in advance. Instructions on the website.


September 8

19:15 - Welcome Saludo de Bienvenida
19:30 - Inaugural Address: "Immigrants and Refugees: An international perspective" by Helena Maleno, writer and expert on Migration and Human Trafficking

September 9

10:00-11:30 - Communications, moderated by Comunidad Fray Pacífico


12:00-13:30 - Roundtable: "Experiences of solidarity with refugees and migrants" (I)

16:30-17:00 - Open Communications

17:00-18:30 Roundtable: "Experiences of solidarity with refugees and migrants" (II)


19:00-20:30 - "Human rights, gender and immigration" by Itziar Ruiz-Giménez, Professor of International Relations, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

September 10

10:00-11:30 - "Migrants and refugees: A political and economic perspective" by Nazanin Armanian, political scientist, Professor of International Relations at Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED).


12:00-13:30 - "The monotheistic religions and the Mediterranean - from intercultural and interfaith sea to common grave for migrants and refugees" by Juan José Tamayo, Chair of Theology and Religious Studies, Universidad Carlos III in Madrid

16:30-17:00 - Open Communications

17:00-18:30 - "Migrations, exodus and liberation: A theological and Biblical perspective" by Elsa Tamez, theologian and Biblical scholar, currently residing in Colombia


19:00-20:30 - "Forgotten and opressed peoples"

  • Video on Tarajal - Helena Maleno
  • The Kurds - Nazanin Armanian
  • The Palestinians - Marwan El Burini, Palestinian Diplomatic Mission, Spain
  • The Sahrawis - Abdulá Arabi, delegate of the Polisario Front to Madrid.

September 11

10:00-11:30 - "Migrants and refugees: Hospitality and solidarity from Christianity" by Esteban Velázquez, Jesuit, promoter of the "Cambio personal, Justicia global" initiative, formerly in charge of migrant ministry for the Archdiocese of Tangiers in the Nador area.

12:00 - Eucharist and solidarity collection. MOCEOP

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Women's Ordinations - March-April 2016

March 5, 2016 - Sarasota, FL

On March 5th, Janet Blakeley was ordained a Roman Catholic woman priest in Sarasota, FL. The ceremony took place at St. Andrew United Church of Christ and the presider was ARCWP Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan. Rev. Blakeley has a Master's degree in Clinical/Pastoral Counseling from Emmanuel College in Boston. In addition, she has graduate courses in Scripture and Theology from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, Lay Ministry Training Institute, Boston, Andover-Newton Seminary, Boston College and Boston University. She has spent a lifetime in various ministries – church musician, parochial school administrator, parish adult education leader, volunteer in Haiti and spiritual director. Blakeley and her partner, Rev. Sally Brochu, have co-presided regularly at Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community (MMOJ) in Sarasota where they now live. Rev. Brochu was ordained to the priesthood in May of last year.

April 10, 2016 - Sartell, MN

On April 10th, Ruth Lindstedt was ordained a Roman Catholic woman priest by RCWP Bishop Nancy Meyer. The ordination ceremony took place at the First United Methodist Church in Sartell, MN. Rev. Lindstedt has been a member of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle community in St. Cloud. She received her Master's in Divinity from St. John's University in 2015 and shortly thereafter was ordained an RCWP deacon. Prior to joining the RCWP movement, Lindstedt worked for 40 years as a professional nurse and administrator in home care and hospice settings. She told the St. Cloud Times that she views the Church's opposition to women's ordination as a contradiction to its teaching on justice. "When the church talks about welcoming the marginalized, and this whole thing on justice, I'm sorry I just can't take it seriously, folks," she said.

April 16, 2016 - Albany, NY

On April 16th, Jim Marsh and Kim Panaro were ordained as priests within the ARCWP movement by ARCWP Presiding Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan. The ordination took place at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Albany. A graduate of Siena College, Rev. Marsh trained with the Franciscan friars. After leaving seminary formation, he served his local church communities as lector, Eucharistic minister, religious educator, parish counselor, and working with youth and seniors. A gay man, Rev. Marsh established a DIGNITY Chapter in the Capital District region of New York and created an interfaith Eucharist table where all were welcome, including GLBTS. His work in establishing support services for AIDS victims and families was recognized by then Governor Mario Cuomo.

Rev. Panaro has an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies from the College of St. Rose and a Master's in Social Work from SUNY Albany. She has served as a school social worker for many years. She has worked for the Bethlehem Central School District and for the Episcopal Diocese of Albany's Episcopal Counseling Service. Of her vocation, Rev. Panaro says, "I always knew I had a calling in the church...We don’t need to wait for permission to do what God calls us to be. As a woman priest, I feel my ordination is to be a witness for Catholics who don’t feel comfortable in the church anymore." Both new ARCWP priests are members of The Upper Room Inclusive Catholic Community (click on each event in "Calendar" for time and place of services) where they will continue to serve.

April 16, 2016 - Windsor, Ontario

On April 16th, Sydney Condray was ordained a Roman Catholic woman deacon by ARCWP Bishop Michele Birch-Conery at Cardinal Place Chapel in Windsor, ON, Canada. Ms. Condray holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toledo. She has been a professed lay Carmelite for 50 years and, as such, she would meet monthly with a group to explore the spirituality and traditions of the Order of Carmelites. She has worked as a General Activities Therapist at Northwest Ohio Developmental Center. She is the author of O Gracious One: 150 Psalm-Inspired Prayers (Twenty-Third Publications, 2005) and Assembled in Christ: 44 Liturgies with Lay Presiders (Twenty-Third Publications, 1993). In 1987, she received an "Outstanding University Woman" award from the University of Toledo's University Women's Commission.

April 17, 2016 - Somerset West, South Africa

On April 17th, Ann Ralston became the third Roman Catholic woman priest from South Africa. RCWP Bishop Patricia Fresen, who performed the ordination, was the first, although Bishop Fresen now lives in Germany. The second is Rev. Mary Ryan, who was ordained in 2014. Since her ordination, Rev. Ryan has been part of forming two Eucharistic communities in the Cape, and Rev. Ralston, a former nun, retired general practitioner, and spiritual counselor, credits her work with awakening her dream of the priesthood. Last year while still a deacon, she told RCWP that "womenpriests are truly the prophets of our time. I have a sense that we are digging new channels for the Spirit to flow into stagnating waters and to renew their freshness." In addition to her medical degree from Stellenbosch, Rev. Ralston also has degrees in Theology from Regina Mundi College for Women in Rome, as well as degrees in Church Music, Spiritual Counseling, and Pastoral Theology from various institutions.

April 23, 2016 - Morristown, NJ

On April 23rd, Sharon Dickinson, Jacqueline M. Clarys and Claire Gareau were ordained as Roman Catholic women priests by RCWP Bishop Andrea Johnson. Jackie Clarys is a member of the Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community in Maryland and holds master's degrees in Music in Vocal Performance and Literature from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY and in Theology from the Ecumenical Institute of Theology, St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD. After a music career with the U.S. Army, Rev. Clarys now serves as a Chaplain Intern through the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. Claire Gareau is a member of the Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community in New Jersey, and Sharon Dickinson is a member of the Spirit of Life Community in Weston, MA.

April 23, 2016 - Manchester, NH

On April 23rd, Kim Turcotte was ordained an ARCWP woman deacon by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Manchester. Ms. Turcotte lives in Epping and is studying theology-pastoral ministry. She has devoted her life to mothering an adopted son with many medical issues. "Now with my son almost grown, I will advocate for the church that Jesus intended and serve the people of God," says Turcotte. "Being the mother of a child with disabilities, I am called to serve those at the margins."

April 30, 2016 - Fresno, CA

On April 30th, Donnieau Snyder became the third African American woman to be ordained as a Roman Catholic woman priest. The first was the late Rev. Alta Jacko of Chicago, IL, and, in January 2016, Renée (Ronnie) Dubignon was ordained in Altamonte Springs, FL, by ARCWP Bishop Bridget Mary Mehan. Snyder and fellow RCWP priest Donna Marie Shaw were ordained by RCWP Bishop Merlene Olivia Doko in a ceremony at Trinity Lutheran Church in Fresno. Rev. Snyder is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of children and adolescents, and Donna Shaw is a nurse from Illinois, currently living in California, who also has a Bachelor of Religious Studies from Global Ministries University.

Speaking to the Fresno Bee about the upcoming ordination, Rev. Snyder said that she neither feared nor accepted the almost certain excommunication from the institutional Roman Catholic Church. "As a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, not having been truly welcomed in all ways, shapes and forms, in worship and community, it's hard to accept the concept of 'you're no longer included.' How can I be excluded if I was truly never included? Have I ever truly accepted excommunication? No,I feel I am more a part of the Catholic Church than I ever have growing up, because I get to really practice the primacy of my conscience."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Theologian Ivone Gebara talks about the new apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia"

By João Vitor Santos (English translation by Rebel Girl)
IHU On-Line (em português)
April 17, 2016

Philosopher and theologian Ivone Gebara doesn't hide her disappointment with the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia: "I had naively hoped that it would be addressed first to Catholic families, especially those who want to be, as far as possible, within a practice of following the papal guidelines."

Ivone highlights both the difficulty of absorption of the writings for the laity and the need for mediating action by the clergy. "The poor who want to understand something of the document won't be able do so directly, but always through the interpretive mediation of bishops, priests, deacons, etc.," she points out.

In the following interview, granted by e-mail to IHU On-Line, Ivone develops a critique of the way the exhortation expresses the conservative, hierarchical, and male Church thinking about families and their multiple configuration possibilities. "Once again, the Church appears as being first a celibate male hierarchy, a hierarchy that isn't constituted as a family according to the model indicated, but that criticizes behavior and defines life guidelines as if it were a master of the complex intricacies of human love," she analyzes.

Ivone Gebara is a philosopher, woman religious and theologian. She taught for almost 17 years at the Theological Institute of Recife - ITER. She has devoted herself to writing and giving courses and lectures in various countries in the world on feminist hermeneutics, new ethical and anthropological frameworks, and the philosophical and theological foundations of religious discourse. Among her most recently published works are Compartilhar os pães e os peixes. O cristianismo, a teologia e teologia feminista ("Sharing the loaves and fishes: Christianity, theology and feminist theology" -- 2008), O que é Cristianismo ("What Christianity is" -- 2008), O que é Teologia Feminista ("What feminist theology is" -- 2007), As águas do meu poço. Reflexões sobre experiências de liberdade ("The waters of my well: Reflections on experiences of freedom" -- 2005), among others.

Check out the interview.

IHU On-Line - To whom is the exhortation directed? How do you explain the addressee problem?

Ivone Gebara - The direction of the exhortation is clear, though it deals with the family and Christian marriage. It addresses, in hierarchical order, the bishops, priests and deacons. It follows the same style of the letters, encyclicals and exhortations of previous popes. However, due to the subject, I had naively hoped that it would be addressed first to Catholic families, especially those who want to be, as far as possible, within a practice of following the papal guidelines.

The fact that Pope Francis, wanting to be so close to poor people and reiterating various times that we need to go to the streets, listen to the poor, embrace their cause, has once again written or signed a document that is so vast and so inaccessible to the poor as well as to the common people, astounds me. This means that the poor who want to understand something of the document won't be able do so directly, but always through the interpretive mediation of bishops, priests, deacons, etc. We're faced anew with the problem of subtlety of religious powers and their ability to keep minds and hearts submissive to their claims, considered 'truths' according to God or according to the Bible.

The much-vaunted personal and collective responsibility is reduced to words or rhetoric without significant efficacy in life. Also, once again, the Church appears as being first a celibate male hierarchy, a hierarchy that isn't constituted as a family according to the model indicated, but that criticizes behavior and defines life guidelines as if it were a master of the complex intricacies of human love. A malaise invades readers who were expecting simpler and more direct reflections that could help in the contemporary formation of consciences, respect for differences and collective responsibility.

IHU On-Line - Isn't the title of the exhortation an invitation to love?

Ivone Gebara - The beautiful title of the exhortation "The Joy of Love", more than an invitation to love, is an invitation to thinking from the daily life of our relationships. We know that while there is joy in love, the title seems to hide the sorrows of love -- the annoyances, the many frustrations, the inevitable disagreements, breaches of trust, the human cruelty manifested in everyday life. In the end, hidden through a powerful and subtle 'paternal' attitude, the subjugation of the faithful to an idealized world that is not ours, a world where the spiritual powers tend to mask the complex mixture of our lives.

The worst in all this is the justification of the guidelines and interpretations given through what they understand by "power of God", not hesitating to subordinate consciences to their "opinions" often identified also with freedom. There is an ambiguity that runs through the whole document, especially in the use of imagined concepts such as the "quiet acquisition" of the community of the faithful or as evident in the experience of many. There is also a kind of defense of the Church hierarchy that appears as the side that knows and is right in the complex history of the world today. It's a side that doesn't speak like consumerist advertising or like the great of this world, nor like those who slide along paths that seem contrary to the order established by God. The bishops reassume their magisterial role even on subjects that seem to escape their competence.

IHU On-Line - At first glance, could this document be an inspiration to change in the local churches?

Ivone Gebara - The document is difficult and monotonous reading. The structure of the document and the allusion to the Synod Fathers confuse the reader who wonders if the ideas even come from Pope Francis or whether he felt compelled to express some ideas that were discussed at the Synod on the Family. In addition, there are several current issues of our world that are considered very generally and the treatment given them appears like an easy solution, often depending on individual will and following the Church's teachings.

Issues such as poverty, lack of employment, housing and health conditions, family violence, massive emigration that make family life difficult, are addressed often amid biblical and theological trappings and ecclesiastical document citations. Such a process, far from clarifying it, obscures the problem and doesn't give it the proper value in the current context of our history. The document, full of citations justifying the traditional stances of the Catholic hierarchy, doesn't allow readers to have a more comprehensive view of the issues or even the possible new developments addressed in the Synod.

I don't think this exhortation can change a lot in the practice of religious hierarchies in relation to the concrete life of the faithful. Similarly there are no major changes in the document either in form or in content, to respond to the new challenges that we are experiencing. So I'm not sure that the document can help, unless through the methodology of inviting people to think differently about the challenges that life presents today.

IHU On-Line - How does the mediation of the Bible seem in the document?

Ivone Gebara - It's astonishing to note that the use of the Bible as the first foundation of the positions taken by the Church government in relation to the family appears to ignore the work of many scholars of the documents considered "sacred." A pre-critical interpretive reading is captured in the exhortation, idealizing and concording the narratives, ignoring the efforts not only of the historical-critical interpretations, but of the many hermeneutic and materialist, popular, feminist and postcolonial readings of Scripture. We often have the impression of the presence of "the Bible is right," a pastoral method used especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries by fundamentalist groups.

Moreover, a disconnect is often noted between the traditional meaning of the document and the use Pope Francis makes of it. For example, in paragraph 23, he justifies the importance of human labor (Genesis 2:15) talking about it as a divine command and ignoring other allusions to work as punishment for Adam and Eve's disobedience. In other words, the documents and interpretations are often removed from their literary context and used to justify naive positions on the human family. In the same vein, he uses the family of Nazareth as an icon for all Christian families, idealizing it even when he's talking about the suffering endured by Mary and Joseph because of the persecution of Herod and the flight into Egypt.

From this idealization, he affirms the Church's teaching on marriage and the family founded on the indissolubility of the marital bond. And along this line he naively affirms the ability of each family to face the vicissitudes of life and history (paragraph 66) based on the maintenance of the sacramental bonds and consideration of the family of Nazareth as the icon of the Christian family. This kind of simplistic approach, in fact, hides the power to control that the institution, especially the prelates, want to have over the lives of the faithful. It covers up and mutes the reality of human relationships, the difficulty of current times, and the new ways of living and conceiving human relations. What's more, he reasons by always contrasting an ideal world "willed by God" to the real world of everyday relationships marked by our multiple passions and weaknesses. He values a kind of definitive vision of marriage and the family at the expense of the ability we have to begin new ties, without the latter therefore being frivolous or seeking only selfish satisfaction.

IHU On-Line - And does this theology in the document present new challenges?

Ivone Gebara - A more accurate analysis would be needed to capture the different theologies present in the document. However, a quick view allows me just to say that the theology of the exhortation takes up the same tradition of the Church expressed by previous pontiffs, especially since the Second Vatican Council . In addressing the different problems experienced by families, it gives primacy to charity and mercy before judgment. This seems to me a good thing. However, the theological parameters of the document are limited almost exclusively to the Church's Magisterium sources with particular reference to the documents of the last two popes.

IHU On-Line - Also at the beginning of the exhortation, in paragraphs 54, 55 and 56, the Pope reflects on "women" and criticizes the so-called "ideology of gender." How do we understand that in the current social context?

Ivone Gebara - Paragraph 54 begins by affirming the rights "of woman" and the importance of her participation in the public sphere. At first glance this affirmation might be commendable, but it isn't without many problems and difficulties. Again it begins by the abstract "woman," as if the multiplicity of women's faces would become a problem. In fact, talking about women in the plural, as feminism does, is an obstacle to the abstract and monolithic thinking of the hierarchy that often works on concepts distant from actual historical experiences.

When talking about "rights," the exhortation seems to exempt Christianity from the responsibility of having kept women inferior to men up to the present day through its theology/ideology. Moreover, it seems to hide and silence what the many claims of women's groups in many parts of the world reveal about the complicity of the Catholic hierarchy in maintaining the lack of women's rights.

Along this line, the paragraph continues talking about "forms of feminism that we can not consider appropriate*," but doesn't clarify the forms of feminism that seem appropriate to them. What would they be? Where are they? What do they ask of the government of the Church? The exhortation again ignores the worldwide historical efforts of different groups of women in achieving rights and respect for their dignity at the various social, political and cultural levels. It ignores or omits historical struggles such as the universal suffrage one that are still present today in many countries.

In paragraph 56, the crucial issue of gender appears as a challenge to be considered. According to the document, it is stated that "an ideology of gender" "denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family."

What is meant by "reciprocity in nature?" What we actually know is non-reciprocity in nature. However, we know something of historical reciprocity. This is an arduous acquisition of some groups that recognize the rights of their peers and seek to affirm them in social and family relationships. Moreover, in criticizing the "ideology of gender," the document talks about foreseeing a society without gender differences ... What would be foreseeing a society without gender differences? What do the writers or writer mean by this? Is it a matter of rights, of ethics?

I confess the confusion and absolute lack of clarity that this paragraph causes in any more critical reader. Precisely so-called gender theory and not "the ideology of gender" with all the limits admitted by feminist theorists is a statement against the absolutism of a culture that denies differences and makes us go into and submit ourselves to the world of "male" norms pre-established as "nature" and the divine order. It makes us go into behavior models and identity content defaults, blaming ourselves if we don't fit into them. The notion of "nature" proposed by the document is a stunning oversimplification. He seems to believe in a kind of already made natural human being, directly born from the hands of God and in the image of how they (the writers of the document) conceive him.

However, the belief in this kind of ordinary materialism coming from a anthropomorphized God leads them to say, in the same paragraph 56, that the ideology of gender doesn't allow us to "protect our humanity,... accepting it and respecting it as it was created." Once again, what do these statements mean?

Concepts like theory and ideology, natural and unnatural, cultural constructs, rules and symbolic codes, plural identities are not reflected on from our contemporaneity. Monolithic identities appear as the work of divine creation from which we can not escape. This appears to provide a solid foundation of 'truth' and respond to the insecurities, including identity ones, of today's world.

In the exhortation, there is a fixist anthropology that determines what men are and what women are sustained by a gender hierarchy and by often compulsory heterosexuality turned into "nature." So we are invited to be understanding and tolerant of those who are different, to help them in their needs and understand their limits. But surely they don't enjoy the status of being an ideal family model. They can not be a historical expression of the icon of the holy family of Nazareth.

We find in the exhortation some negative criticism of the notion of gender, but not a serious questioning from which we are invited to reflect about and, above all, to love each other based on our differences. Deep down we only know the differences, the diversity ... We only exist as diverse and interdependent life ... Unity is really a construct along the lines of interdependence and the inevitable conflicts present in our family life or in society and, therefore, in relation to all that exists.

However, there are for the Synod Fathers or for the Pope, as it appears in the document, foundational categories of sex and gender raised to natural truths established by God. But what happens when different social groups live out other relationships, other beliefs based on their bodies? The Church hierarchy should condemn them and invite them to normalization according to the parameters it establishes. Wouldn't this be an attempt doomed to ineffectiveness? Wouldn't it be a way to discredit the institution and the services it can still offer? In the exhortation we can perceive the presence of tolerance toward people considered victims, but at the same time an intransigence toward theories and philosophies that would shake the foundations of Catholic philosophical idealism so strongly present in the document.

IHU On-Line - To what extent could the exhortation help families in today's world?

Ivone Gebara - I have doubts, many doubts about documents that aren't based on the authority of life with its precariousness and its contradictions. Being based on life isn't just taking a few examples drawn from here or there to support our preconceived ideas, to justify what we think. Being based on life is to recover other ways of inspiration that the Bible and Tradition can offer us, less normative ways, more realistic and poetic at the same time.

For example, the beauty and plasticity of that story in Genesis 2, one of the biblical myths of human creation from earthen humus mixed with divine breath that could be read as a poem about the human mystery, always a mixture of clay, earth and creative breath. Of course, I'm using biblical documents, documents of our tradition, but I'm not giving them unquestionable authority over us ... Being based on life is evoking senses, memories, analogies, as if we wanted to ask people to do the same based on their lives ... as if we wanted to invite them to recover pieces of their lives and learn from them as Paulo Freire used to do in his adult literacy method. Recover diverse and fundamental words and experiences that awaken in us new tenderness and new possibilities to feel good about simply being human.

Therefore it's necessary that every Christian community write its documents, its policies, its present goals ... You have to shift the Magisterium to the people and allow them to write their letters about their lives and how they are being lived. Universal or universalizing knowledge, despite its importance, doesn't always help small groups to grow inside and out. It's true that in a globalized world we need some global analysis, but we need, above all, to learn from the locality, to make analyzes based on our own experiences, creating the tradition of thinking about our lives, valuing our history and our knowledge.

IHU On-Line - Would you like to add anything else?

Ivone Gebara - I would like to end this conversation by saying that I believe in the good will of Pope Francis, recognize the value of many of his initiatives, and admire his efforts in the introduction of behaviors and attitudes indicating ethical and gospel options for our time. But I also notice in him, as in many of us, the "nostalgia of perfect origins." And that nostalgia is ambiguous and leads us to want a more or less perfect present in view of a future or perfect life end.

What I'm saying sounds complicated but it's quite simple. Limiting myself to the proposed life present in Christianity, we believe that we come as a perfect being from God and we will "be perfect in that God" after this life. There is a semi-obscure idea of perfection that inhabits us and makes us seek the perfect man, the perfect woman, the perfect family, the perfect community, as if the ideal of life were the realization of some projected perfection that we don't know what it is.

I believe that, although we have many sorts of dreams, we're living in a time when life in its different expressions and dimensions appears to us as a mixed reality. And this mixture expresses greatness and smallness, beauty and ugliness, kindness and cruelty, belief and disbelief in different doses and diverse perceptions present in human beings and in all that exists.

Therefore, far from destroying our humanity and diversity, many current theories have helped us to believe that we are more than the definitions, measurements and classifications we make of ourselves. We can't forget that this diversity can also be found in the Bible, for example, in many documents that speak of God. The Latter One  appears with an immense diversity of faces ... S/he's a potter, has an artist's hands, has a uterus, breasts, sadness, anger, is a father, is a hen who gathers her chicks, is a champion of the oppressed, is a warrior, is a chastiser, is an avenger, slow to anger, full of love and mercy, a gentle breeze ... As paragraph 313 of the exhortation says, love "takes on different hues ...".

This plasticity of images and symbols  reflects the effervescence and mixture of life well, this intense movement of diversity and difference that constitutes us. Therefore, we are called to love our neighbor, the fallen one on the road, the smelly, the different, and not just those who think the same or like the same things. Maybe we should try to be artists more, inventors of ourselves, poets able to play with words, to share the bread, fish and fruits of the renewed daily dance. Get out of the rigidity of the same, the fixed structures of documents, slogans and masterful theses ... Get away from advice in view of unknown or imagined perfection ... Realize that there is more goodness than we imagine and much, much beauty that can not be contained in the old wineskins of our theologies.

*Translator's note: The Vatican English version of Amoris Laetitia mistranslates the original Spanish "inadecuada" as "inadequate" when "inappropriate" would be a better translation, given the context.