God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Catholic Church: mysticism and reality in the times of the abuse scandal

abuseA lot is written about the meeting of bishops in Rome on the topic of child abuse – and the reactions were as diverse as people seeing the problem with different eyes:
for some the conference was a milestone as for the first time the Catholic Church took on the monster of child abuse head on admitting the cancer spreading since a long time within its ranks. For others it was more of a talk shop and they would have expected clear-cut rules and regulations how to deal with the past, the presence and the future. Obviously the topic was and is also used by those wanting either to preserve or yearning for change in the church: for the latter, child abuse is only a consequence of clericalism and a hierarchy which seems to have a meaning in itself while for those wanting to preserve the might and power of the Catholic Church homosexuality within the clergy is the core element of triggering abuse.

For me there is no question that the exaggeration of heavenly powers for those up the hierarchy, the wish of protection of the good name of the church, the failing to acknowledge that mysticism of faith has to be based in the realities of the people, the choosing of bishops and cardinals who would just go blindly along with everything said and done from the top without hesitation, the neglect of the synodality of the church in favor of a medieval rigid papal and curial system as promoted by John-Paul II has fostered a climate where child abuse was condoned, covered up and for some even encouraged as the most what could happen was to be moved to another place with ample opportunities to continue the horrible deeds. Child abuse is the consequence of a church system which gave rise to clericalism in all forms and shapes.

It seems that not all got the message – looking at statements from Cardinal Burke and Brandmueller and judging by other statements of right-wing and so-called conservative people within the church child abuse is taken as the scenario to fight modern ideas. And obviously the all-present fight against homosexuality which seems to be the pinnacle of all woes the church is in according to this fraction of the church. Being in an almost all-out war for the direction of the Catholic Church for the years to come, the abuse of the abuse is a convenient tool to fight for the return of the “Holy Mother” to the good old times where hierarchy was clear and the laity obeyed without doubts. And that would leave us with some misguided priests – rotten apples – to be forced to leave so that  church business can continue as it has been since ages.

As much as I can understand the yearning for an environment clearly defined in a world which is so confusing; as much as I can understand the insecurity of so many brothers and sisters in this mad world of so many choices and fast developments – we as church have to be at the cross-road of mysticism and reality.

The reality is that life is developing as is our understanding of the world and of the meaning of life – church can only be relevant if it keeps up with this development by at the same time preserve the mystical and inner core of its message:
This world has a meaning, we are part of a divine plan which is so much bigger than we can think of. It means to keep the fire burning in our hearts and minds towards a future we only can believe in without knowing all the facts – love, hope and faith are the components of this mystical inner yearning which promises to make at the end sense of our journey on earth.

At all times the church has tried to spell out this hope, which for us Christians become human and manifest in Jesus, with the tools and the knowledge available at that time. Looking back in history the church was often at the forefront of academia and developments but it is human nature that success can make one getting more slow and luscious and often also unwilling to accept new insights which would contradict its chosen path. So we have to catch up on reality and insight – living and preaching within the realities of life today without losing this mystical component of our human inner being –  in our days often is seen in the spirituality of people lived outside of official churches.

Keeping the divine fire burning in every human being while traveling in the modern world with all the new knowledge and the constant changes in possibilities is an art  – but the only art possible to survive as a church. And it means to acknowledge, expose and correct the wrongs of the past and to work openly and transparent on the new way forward.

For the question of child abuse it means to look honestly and without any reservation at the crimes committed or allowed to be committed, to hold those having failed responsible without regard to position or standing in the church and to make sure that this never happens again. There is, besides the deeds of single people a systematic failure we also have to acknowledge which means that we have to re-work aspects of the “system”church without betraying the core message of unconditional love of God which allows for life to flourish and develop. The questions of how we deal with sexuality in all forms and equality of man and woman are only some of the questions we have to tackle here and now to make sure the evil of child abuse has been brought to an end.

 

Filed under: Catholic Church, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

After weeks of silence..

After some time of silence and reflecting on the situation of the Roman-Catholic Church – reading through tons of articles, opinion pieces and so-called news I must admit that I am not so much surprised about discovering, that for quite a lot of prelates, bishops, priests and dignitaries their faith is rather formed by ideology and power play – I have seen and experienced too much in my own priestly life to not to know about the inner-workings of the church.  Living through a far too long pontificate of a Polish pope followed by brief intermezzo of a German one, trying to restore a church lived before the second Vatican council we were almost a paralyzed church when the “Buona Sera”of Pope Francis somehow gave a hint of a new dawn – and a new life-line for a cooled down church.

What surprises, even what I am nauseated by is the abuse of the abuse for power gains in my church today. The inability of the Roman Catholic Church to rid itself from the daemon of child abuse is hard to swallow. The inability to confront patriarchy and to deal with power and sexuality and the slow awareness that prayer, fasting and apologies are not good enough anymore takes its toll, but the keen abuse of this process to attack a pope and to resist reform is breath-taking.
Without shame those who under JP II and Benedict XVI have attacked anybody who dared to speak out or dared to voice concern about papal statements now have no problem themselves to ride one attack after another against the current pope.

Faith and religion seems for them to be an end in itself instead of a way to assist in fostering a relationship between humans and the divine – faith as a fixed and unchangeable instead of a fluent and intimate relationship, which needs the community of saints and sinners rather as a conduit. Or even clearer spelled out: church as a play field for exercised power and might instead of serving the needs of those we call faithful.

I guess like the world in general is at the end of an old area walking with all the challenges and somehow blindsided into a new chapter of human development, so also churches and especially the oldest player in the Christian field can not escape this shaping in the coming of the new dawn and realization what it means to be human and what is needed to tackle the challenges lying in front of us. So maybe the abuse of the abuse can be turned into a blessing in seeing clearer the mistakes and failures of the past and allow for walking forward with renewed trust that our lives have a meaning and that faith and religion is here to assist, to help and to allow the promised freedom, the magnificent freedom we are promised in the scriptures, to live a life to the fullest. Looking at it in this manner can be a liberation in itself and a starting point for a renewed church where tender love, endless hope and trusted faith as well as equality and dignity of all are at the forefront of what we believe in.

 

Filed under: Catholic Church, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Understandable language

Communication can only work out when people use words and phrases in a way understandable to each other. This simple rule applies to all situation in life, be in the sphere of religion or health.
Our HOPE community health worker and doctors of HOPE Cape Town are challenged every day to break down medical conditions , adherence and compliance rules into words which can be understood by those on the receiving end. It is essential to know what has been talked about during consultation or a brief of patients by all present.
The same should go for the religious sphere but since the former pope Benedict XVI insisted of changing the translation of the liturgy in the Roman-Catholic church this rule seemed to be out of favor. In a bid to “latinize” the English we priests now had and have to battle with prayers one even can’t get the head around after reading twice, let alone that the faithful would understand what they supported with the “amen” at the end. In South Africa, the South African Catholic Bishops Conference was keen to adhere to the wishes of Rome quickly and the new translation was put into practice even before the necessary time.
I always felt despair when – as a Chaplain @sea – had to say Holy Mass for the hundreds of Filipinos working on the cruise liner, who were simply not able to digest or even answer orderly when confronted with the new English translation. While the German Bishops gently delayed any implementation of any new “latinized” translation of the order of the mass successfully the English-speaking world struggled and still struggles with words and phrases nobody would use in real life.
The decision of Pope Francis to move the responsibility for a good translation back to the local churches is therefore a step in the right direction and hopefully gives rise to a new translation (or going back to the old one) which allows the faithful to worship with knowing the meaning of prayers and petitions.
I certainly do acknowledge that the intention of this effort was to bring back the language closer to the roots of Christianity but as societies evolve and develop so does language as a mirror of society. We can only take to heart what we do understand – even if those thinking more in the backwards direction in our church believe that the Eucharist is a mystery which should remain also mysterious by means of language.
Celebrations should uplift the hearts and minds of people – not make them wish having a dictionary or a “repeat” or “rewind” button to play it again for understanding purposes. A language which is understood from all participating in an atmosphere which allows for the purpose of gathering to unfold in a dignified and good way – this is all what is asked for in any situation of life including church services.
For us Catholics the change in Canon Law by publishing the decree  “Magnum Principium” is also an indication that the stalling of Vatican II has finally stopped and the documents of this important council will continue to be authoritative and permanent. For the liturgy of the church it is now clear: there is no “reform of the reform” and this is good news for all of us.

Source:
Magnum Principium

Filed under: Catholic Church, chaplain, chaplain to sea, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

I am not praying for Paris?

Another day of terror and bloodshed, another day splitting opinions about how to react besides mourning the death. Reading the statements of local academic Professor Farid Esack I actually have to hold my breath. He writes in a Facebook post: “I am not praying for Paris; I am not condemning anyone. Why the hell should I? I had nothing to do with it,” and continues “I am sickened by the perpetual expectations to condemn. I walk away from your shitty racist and Islamophobic expectations that whenever your chickens come home to roost then I must feign horror.”

I honestly don’t think this is the way to comment on a tragedy killing innocent people – it is an insult to those suffered the loss of a loved one, but on the other hand it shows a pattern clearly visible in a lot of statements and talks about acts of terror, about the rise of ISIS and the Muslim faith: A toxic mix of emotions and perceived facts, intermingled in a way not helpful at all to see through the factual side of what happens in the moment. This mix, felt by most bystanders and those having lost loved ones is played with quite heavily by those in power, by politicians and fundamentalists and those trying to create havoc and push their own agenda and ideology without counting the losses.

So how to untangle this mix?

Firstly – and this is directly addressed to Prof Farid Esack: I am sickened if you don’t condemn barbaric acts of terror – you don’t have to feign horror – because it is horror. Realize your sensitivity on real or perceived Islamophobic attitudes and acknowledge that as a Muslim Scholar, you have to deal with it. And “it” means you have to deal not only with perceptions but with the question how Islam is connected to violence in our days and how those developing and studying the doctrine and the teaching of Islam define the relationship between violence, statehood and faith. There are dozens of open questions and you can’t hide behind politics. You are part of the Ummah which has to distance itself clearly from all forms of violence and acts of terror.

Secondly – yes, there is the level of politics and there the West has to come to the party: With the unlawful war in Iraq we seeded what we now reaping. And if there is a human justice in place, people like Georg Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld initiating not only war but terror, torture and renditions should face the music in a court of international law together with Tony Blair and others.  We continue to earn money with weapons delivered readily to fuel the war in Syria, we bomb a country to its knees like Libya and then let it run its own destruction – the West is two-faced and ambivalent when it comes to those questions. There is a lot the West, you are accusing has to account for.

Thirdly – again yes, it was the West introducing the word “war” in a very unconventional way – the “war on terror” created by President Georg W Busch is the mother of lots of evil today because it was used by its own creator to justify the unjustifiable giving a blueprint also for those now in charge in the “caliphate”. Pandora’s box was opened with the abuse and waterboarding and orange jumpsuits now famously seen in beheading scenes.

Fourthly – all lives matter and yes, there is in our global village a clear tendency to react more emotional when European lives or US American lives are at risk – and global diaries like Facebook make this suddenly so much more visible. And it feels wrong to many as could be seen by the reactions of so many African voices on social media. I find it remarkable that there is a sense that life is valued differently in our earthly village – and we have to work on it to change this perception.

We are in a mess – we reap what we have allowed to be seeded and we have to get out of it. But this can only happen if we overcome our emotions and start working on a better world. And it means first of all to pray and mourn those innocently slaughtered on a daily base, to keep track on all life lost on a daily base. I don’t expect the narrowness of politics to make an immediate difference but I expect us religious people to lay the grounds for a better world. The world ethos of Hans Kueng describes that there will be no peace on earth if religions don’t get it right and they are coming to a basic understanding.  We have to lead, we have to challenge each other, we have to have a robust debate on our relationship to God, to human mankind, to violence and much more, we have to find common grounds. And it all starts with mourning the death of Paris and Kenya and Nigeria and Syria and all those other hot-spots of terror, be it state sponsored or committed by others.

And let us start agreeing: ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, the word “jihad” cannot be used for terror attacks and “suicide bombers” are not connected to any religious faith whatsoever. Lets eliminate all those verbal connections loud and clearly. lets declare that killing and God does never go together and we have done the first step in the right direction. May the dialogue – urgently needed –  begin after untangling the emotions from the facts. And lets pray together for Paris and include the rest of the world in pain and agony…

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Faith and Joy..

I think I would never have considered in my keenest dreams that I one day would sort of advertise a papal writing. Anyhow nobody would expect that from me, but this Apostolic Exhortation is worth being read by a lot of people. This document cannot be labeled progressive or conservative, it does not introduce new teachings, but it paves the way to get back to the roots of our faith. Believing should bring joy to life, it should give meaning to life, it should protect life… It should serve the purpose of experiencing the unconditional love of God in our daily life. Evangelii Gaudium shows what it could mean if the church just does that: proclaiming the joy of the good news. And it also has a meaning for those working in the fields of social injustice or health challenges; those working on the ground, work on grass-roots level. Because this message has practical means – faith is practical and must express itself in doing good and caring for those around us and in need of a holding or supporting hand.
But read for yourself:
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html

Read it as a caregiver, a patient, a believer, a person searching, even as a non-believer I am sure you get some heart warming thoughts from it. And for those within the church: exciting times are ahead – not in the sense that liberalism or left-wing attitude wins over the other side of the spectrum. Once again: old labels don’t work with this pope, and this is good so.

 

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Reflection, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

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