Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Ivone Gebara: "The hierarchy thinks that the Gospel message is a sealed package to deliver to the faithful"

by Luis Miguel Modino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
June 25, 2017

Ivone Gebara is one of the main references of feminist theology of the last decades, not only in the Brazilian arena but in the world. She defines herself as a feminist liberation theologian and is aware that this stance determines how she understands Christianity.

Her critical attitude has caused rejection in many church environments, often coming from people who do not inquire into the presuppositions that are the basis of the theological reflection of the Brazilian nun, who has always made clear on which side she stands, that of the marginalized groups within society and the Church itself.

In this interview, Ivone Gebara shows her thoughts regarding the female world within the Catholic Church, which she accuses of being influenced more by cultural models than by Jesus Christ's own message, implying that the attempts at change Pope Francis has wanted to carry out in reference to women are actions which, in her opinion, won't give rise, for now, to anything novel.

Why is it so hard in the Catholic Church to assume a theological view from the female perspective?

The Church has no difficulty in assuming the feminine from its model, that is, from its view of human relationships and the place it has determined that women occupy. In that view, there is an almost ontological priority of men in relation to women, since they are the first image of God, the one which can represent Christ.

This theology is still the current theology and it wasn't necessarily created by the Church, but by the Greco-Roman culture that marked the formation of Christian theology. Cultural processes are very slow and involve a complexity of behaviors and motions that don't always submit to our rationalizations.

I think it will take a long time for egalitarian anthropological change to take place in the world and in the Church.

From your point of view, what were the causes of the attempt to subject women within Christianity and later within Catholicism throughout history?

I think we copied the models of other cultures and we made those models the will of God and of Jesus. And unfortunately most of the theology teaching still administered in the Institutes and Faculties of Theology, and also in the parishes, is done from a hierarchical view of human beings, not just of gender, but of race and social classes too.

The Church doesn't change independently of the world. The Church as an institution would hardly assume a position of justice and gender equality different from that of the world. It even goes to fight the world, believing that it's obeying divine will. It doesn't ask itself whether there is in fact such an unequal and unjust divine will, whether in fact that view doesn't imply maintaining a now ultra-outdated model of power with very marked totalitarian features.

Isn't subjecting women an attitude contrary to the new that Jesus wanted to establish?

Jesus wasn't a feminist. Feminism is a contemporary movement. But in Jesus' tradition, in Jesus' Movement, we find an egalitarian ethical dimension along the lines of individual rights that is an inspiration to the feminist theologies of our time. But it's necessary to have our eyes and ears open to perceive that in the Gospels.

The arrival of Pope Francis brought a new church policy in regard to women. Do you think it's enough with those new attitudes or is something more radical needed? What do you think of the proposal to ordain women deacons?

I don't think Pope Francis has brought a new church policy regarding women. He's brought many important things, but not with respect to women. The female diaconate project is still in the "bain-marie", and I don't think it has the chance to get off paper and out of the meetings in which the same things are discussed eternally.

The Pope rejects the word "feminism", the expression "gender relations", the term "feminist hermeneutics" of the Bible, patriarchalism and other interventions that are important to feminist liberation theology.

He thinks a theology should be done for women, which shows great naiveté in relation to what we have already done in half a century of activity in different parts of the world. I believe that the changes have to take place in the communities, in the barrios, in the daily life of the people before appearing as decrees of the Pope or some bishop.

Can a Church where women are not on an equal plane with men enter into dialogue with today's society?

I believe it's very hard to enter into dialogue with the problems of the world today. And this in part because the hierarchical Church, the one that holds the authority over the Catholic communities, thinks that the message of the Gospel is a sealed package that it's responsible for delivering to the faithful.

They don't open the doors to think about Jesus' heritage for the world of today starting from an ethos of diversity, but at the same time centered on love and respect towards people. The Church's success, with rare exceptions, is still in mass devotion, in miracles, in sanctuaries, that is, in that which is expressed as religiosity that is given for people's consumption.

I don't think this is very educational, especially in current times. It hardly meets the needs of an orphaned people for leaders and care for one another. A people where the hunger for peace and health almost necessarily leads to expecting from superhuman powers what the powers of the earth could offer.

Unfortunately the Pope goes on creating the beatified -- men and women saints -- perhaps even half forced to do so by the conservatives who surround him. But it doesn't seem to me a good path for the growth of collective responsibility in a cruel world like ours.

Lately, you've addressed issues related to ecotheology. Should Christianity deal with this dimension as a fundamental aspect of reflection?

I've worked on several issues of ecotheology, but along an ecofeminist philosophical line, starting from which I stress the interdependence of all things. This undoubtedly requires an interesting interpretation of the Bible and different theological work.

I think the current theology of our Churches barely fixes things. In other words, it includes a fashionable theme in a theological structure from the past as if the urgent revision of concepts were not needed.

Has the encyclical Laudato Si' helped in this theological viewpoint? From it, is there more awareness of the importance of reflection on these aspects?

The encyclical Laudato Si' seems to me a document with important information on issues relating to ecology and especially climate problems, but its theology is inadequate.

In other words, its theology doesn't take up the appeals that the encyclical itself states are being made by the world today. There is an unevenness and a clash of discourses within the text itself.

We have a long way to go and every day it's necessary to take whatever steps are possible.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

New reference book on liberation theology

by Jacques Berset (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cath.ch (en français)
June 21, 2016

The very first Dictionnaire historique de la théologie de la libération ["Historical Dictionary of Liberation Theology"] has just come out at Editions Lessius, in Brussels. This compendium of over 650 pages is coming out in a context of globalized socio-cultural and economic realities, while liberation theology (LT) was born in Latin America in the atmosphere of revolutionary effervescence of the 1970s.

LT, which aims at an integral liberation of man, seemed to have wilted long ago, but this book brings it back into the spotlight. This new dictionary shows that the evolution of LT is still in progress. Developed at the beginning by the Peruvian priest and theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, to whom the paternity of this theological approach developed in contact with the poorest and with their participation has been attributed, LT has become widely diversified in the meantime.

The preferential option for the poor

Some one hundred specialists of 28 nationalities have collaborated in the development of this dictionary which has 280 entries. These entries are the key themes, countries and people -- whether the theologians who have theorized LT or the actors who were inspired by it and put it into practice. For the authors of the book, LT is one of the rare theologies that has always wanted to act on the peoples' history.

A large panorama of LT, from its origins to the present day, closes the book, which is edited by Maurice Cheza, a specialist in Third World theologies, Luis Martinez Saavedra, a specialist on LT in Latin America, and Pierre Sauvage, a specialist on LT in Latin America and its reception in the Western world. They have benefited from the assistance of Alzirinha Rocha de Souza, an expert on LT in Brazil, and Caroline Sappia, a an expert on LT in South America and its reception in the French-speaking world.

One discovers through the pages that for decades LT has been addressing problems that have long been left in the shadows, always starting from the preferential option for the poor. It deals with the emancipation of women, black and indigenous people, and the question of the preservation of creation, namely ecology, thus addressing many perspectives.

The South has transformed the North

Along with Father Gustavo Gutiérrez, received into the Dominican order in 2004, the Brazilian Franciscan Leonardo Boff is considered one of the most prominent representatives of Latin American liberation theology. But the book makes it possible to discover many other less well-known players in our latitudes and from very diverse socio-cultural contexts.

The reader may be surprised to find entries on North America (Canada and the United States) and Europe (Belgium, Spain, France, Switzerland). In fact, these countries have formed a great number of theologians and pastoral agents close to LT in Latin America. Many of their trainers went to countries in the south, especially in Latin America, some stayed there, notably as Fidei Donum priests. Those who returned were inspired by what they had found, trying to form basic ecclesial communities (BECs) in Europe and in North America, or groups of the same style.

With Pope Francis, a new wind is blowing on the Church

Pope Francis' presence on the throne of Peter has, from the start, made a new wind blow in the Church. The Argentinian pontiff immediately wanted to be a shepherd among shepherds "permeated by the smell of their sheep." He encouraged them, from his first Chrism Mass at the Vatican on March 28, 2013, to serve the poor and the oppressed. For some time already, LT no longer provokes the same Roman mistrust, and the new generation of theologians has been clearing new fields of reflection and action.

Indeed, the time of the Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation", written in 1984 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is long past.

Christ, a social and political liberator?

The future Pope Benedict XVI then denounced "that current of thought which, under the name 'theology of liberation', proposes a novel interpretation of both the content of faith and of Christian existence which seriously departs from the faith of the Church and, in fact, actually constitutes a practical negation." Remarks that were very well received and especially utilized by the powerful supporters of the status quo, both in the countries of the North as well as those in the South.

For the Vatican, in an era that had not emerged from the Cold War, it was a question of warning against the deviations caused by the introduction of elements of Marxism into the interpretation of social reality. It also criticized "rationalizing" interpretations of the Bible, tending to reduce the story of Christ to that of a social and political liberator.

A theology of freedom

The same Cardinal Ratzinger would, in 1986, publish a new Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation that, while not annulling the earlier one, completed and nuanced it. Rome was rereading LT in a positive manner by introducing the spiritual dimension of a theology of freedom. The intervention of certain leading figures of the Brazilian episcopate of the time, supporting the most visible protagonists of LT, had not remained without effect! In the same year, John Paul II would even say in a letter to the Brazilian episcopate that "liberation theology is not only timely but useful and necessary!"

This Dictionnaire is intended for those who are passionate about history and theology, for those who are interested in the history of ideas as well as that of those women and men involved in the transformation of a fundamentally unjust society, sometimes at the risk of their lives. The general public has here a practical instrument for accessing the essential elements of liberation theology, which has been widely diversified and refined in a constantly changing context.

Reservations and reluctance within the Vatican

The work highlights these rising generations who are working on new issues and are henceforth benefiting from some recognition from the Vatican. It is enough to recall the fundamental role played by Pope Francis in the canonization process of Msgr. Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated by the right-wing death squads on March 24, 1980. The prelate, killed "in hatred of faith", according to the formula defining martyrdom, was beatified May 23, 2015 in San Salvador, mainly thanks to the personal commitment of Pope Francis ... and despite the reservations or even the reluctance (*) of certain ecclesiastical circles, both in El Salvador and in the Vatican.

(*) "There were many in Rome, including some cardinals, who did not want to see him beatified. They said that he had been killed for political reasons, not religious ones." Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the postulator for the cause of of the late Archbishop of San Salvador, in the Jesuit magazine America on April 17, 2017.

Bibliographic Details:

Title: Dictionnaire historique de la théologie de la libération
Author: Maurice Cheza, Luis Martínez Saavedra, and Pierre Sauvage (eds)
Publisher: Editions Lessius
Publication Date: March 2017
ISBN: 9782872993130
Number of pages: 656
Language: French

Read the Foreword here. (MS Word; in French)