God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

It’s not only shameful, it hurts…

Having celebrated the Eucharist in the Diocese of Harrisburg and having worked with a colleague for some years serving in this diocese the reading of the 40th Statewide Investigation of the Grand Jury on child abuse in the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania makes one wanting to throw up. Putting aside the sensational headlines it makes me wonder how any superior or Bishop can cover up for somebody molesting a child in hospital or leaving a priest in a parish even if he asks for help. This is all beyond my comprehension.
Yes, the Roman Catholic Church has changed and merciless fires priests proofed to have molested children sexually – and yes, a cardinal has recently resigned from being part of this illustrious circle of earls of the church. But is that really enough? Having made John-Paul II a saint while knowing that he indeed also covered up or at least ignored makes a rigorous clear-cut with the past even more difficult. The whole question of who becomes a bishop and if piety Rome style and absolute obedience without interference of own conscience as it has been for many years under the previous two popes has to be looked at again. This system is still partly in place even Pope Francis has taken steps to change this.
In the real world, a complete overhaul of leadership would be the way to go – but that will not happen. The question of power and the inability to go further than paying lip-service to change  as the church never errs somehow (but can develop painstakingly slow).
Germany, Ireland and now again USA – some Asian churches haven’t even started looking seriously into abuse allegations – nor many East European churches. There is more to come and every time there will be the feeling of shame and hurt.

But there is another question: kicking people out of church after having protected them for longer time and leaving it up for society to prevent further damage – is this really fair to all concerned? We as a church have to do more than re-writing the rules of child protection. We have to confront mistakes in the system which are rooted much deeper in how church is working. We also have to confront e.g. the question of sexuality and power in the church. We shouldn’t wait to update ourselves with the newest academic discourse on sexuality like we have waited hundred of years to acknowledge Galileo Galilei was right. Time is of essence as developments are much faster now than 100 years ago. The famous word of Gorbachev “who comes to late will be punished by life”applies – but in our case innocent lives are punished for the failures of those in power.

I was told yesterday that 3 victims of those abused in Pennsylvania have committed suicide by now – and I can’t imagine the pain and horror other victims and their families now go through again while listening to the news and reading newspapers. It is not only shameful, it deeply hurts….

The redacted interim report is found here to read: Interim Redacted Report

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An examination of Conscience

The times of the seasons are hectic times – especially in South Africa where the summer holidays and Christmas / Hanukkah and so many other festivities are coming together. It is difficult to pay attention to all what is happening around us and having time to read in depth what might be an interesting and important read. Therefore I feel it is appropriate to publish the Christmas greetings of the Pope Francis to the Curia from mid December 2014 again as I believe they are the most humble and honest reflection on church business on all levels of the church hierarchy. It is also done in support of the pope who really tries with utmost sincerity to clean up and restructure our church in a way which serves the Lord rather than those in so-called power. The battle is on for the direction of the church and our times will be decisive whether we can turn the ship of Peter around or sail in the same old direction and loose more and more people as we sail along. Or even worse: we are in danger to turn a message of joy into an ideology of burdens claiming like the Pharisees that this is the will of God. Let’s all examine our conscience and start the new year with clarity and honesty and make 2015 a year of joy and mercy for all men of good will. The text is taken from the official translation into English.

The Roman Curia is like a “complex body”: in order to live it needs not only “nourishment” but “care” to treat the diseases and temptations which weaken “service to the Lord”. This was the image chosen by Pope Francis for his address on Monday morning, 22 December, in the Clementine Hall, during the traditional meeting with members of the Curia to exchange Christmas greetings. The Pontiff proposed this reflection as “a help and a stimulus to a true examination of conscience, in order to prepare our hearts for the holy feast of Christmas”.
“You are higher than the cherubim, you who changed the pitiful plight of the world when you became like one of us” (Saint Athanasius)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the end of Advent, we meet for our traditional greetings. In a few days we will have the joy of celebrating the birth of the Lord: the event of God who became man in order to save us; the manifestation of the love of God who does not just give us something, or send us a message or a few messengers, but gives us himself; the mystery of God who took upon himself our humanity and our sins in order to reveal his divine life, his immense grace and his freely-given forgiveness. It is our encounter with God who is born in the poverty of the stable of Bethlehem in order to teach us the power of humility. For Christmas is also the feast of the light which is not received by the “chosen”, but by the poor and simple who awaited the salvation of the Lord.
Before all else, I would like to offer all of you — co-workers, brothers and sisters, papal representatives throughout the world, and all your dear ones — my prayerful good wishes for a holy Christmas and a happy New Year. I want to thank you most heartily for your daily commitment in the service of the Holy See, the Catholic Church, the particular Churches and the Successor of Peter.
Since we are persons and not numbers or mere titles, I would mention in a particular way those who in the course of this year concluded their service for reasons of age, or the assumption of new duties, or because they were called to the house of the Father. My thoughts and my gratitude go to them and to their families.
Together with you, I want to lift up to the Lord a lively and heartfelt thanksgiving for the year now ending, for all we have experienced, and for all the good which he has graciously willed to accomplish through our service of the Holy See, while at the same time humbly begging his forgiveness for our failings committed “in our thoughts and words, in what we have done and what we have failed to do”.
Taking this request for forgiveness as my starting point, I would like this meeting and the reflections which I will now share with you to be for all of us a help and a stimulus to a true examination of conscience, in order to prepare our hearts for the holy feast of Christmas.
As I thought about this meeting, there came to mind the image of the Church as the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. This is an expression which, as Pope Pius xii explained, “springs up and in some way blossoms from the frequent teaching of sacred Scripture and the Fathers of the Church”.1 As Saint Paul wrote: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor 12:12).2

The Second Vatican Council thus recalls that “a diversity of members and functions is engaged in the building up of Christ’s body too, There is only one Spirit who, out of his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his various gifts for the welfare of the Church (cf. 1 Cor 12:1-11).3 As a result, “Christ and the Church together make up the ‘whole Christ’ (Christus totus). The Church is one with Christ”.4
It is attractive to think of the Roman Curia as a small-scale model of the Church, in other words, as a “body” which strives seriously every day to be more alive, more healthy, more harmonious and more united in itself and with Christ.
In fact, though, the Roman Curia is a complex body, made up of a number of Congregations, Councils, Offices, Tribunals, Commissions, as of numerous elements which do not all have the same task but are coordinated in view of an effective, edifying, disciplined and exemplary functioning, notwithstanding the cultural, linguistic and national differences of its members.5
However, since the Curia is a dynamic body, it cannot live without nourishment and care. In fact, the Curia — like the Church — cannot live without a vital, personal, authentic and solid relationship with Christ.6 A member of the Curia who is not daily nourished by that Food will become a bureaucrat (a formalist, a functionalist, a mere employee): a branch which withers, slowly dies and is then cast off. Daily prayer, assiduous reception of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation, daily contact with the word of God and a spirituality which translates into lived charity — these are vital nourishment for each of us. Let it be clear to all of us that apart from him we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:8).
As a result, a living relationship with God also nourishes and strengthens our communion with others. In other words, the more closely we are joined to God, the more we are united among ourselves, since the Spirit of God unites and the spirit of evil divides.
The Curia is called constantly to improve and to grow in communion, holiness and wisdom, in order to carry out fully its mission.7 And yet, like any body, like any human body, it is also exposed to diseases, malfunctioning, infirmity. Here I would like to mention some of these probable diseases, “curial diseases”. They are the more common diseases in our life in the Curia. They are diseases and temptations which weaken our service to the Lord. I think a “listing” of these diseases — along the lines of the Desert Fathers who used to draw up such lists — will help us to prepare for the sacrament of Reconciliation, which will be a good step for all of us to take in preparing for Christmas.
1. The disease of thinking we are “immortal”, “immune” or downright “indispensable”, neglecting the need for regular check-ups. A Curia which is not self-critical, which does not keep up with things, which does not seek to be more fit, is a sick body. A simple visit to the cemetery might help us see the names of many people who thought they were immortal, immune and indispensable! It is the disease of the rich fool in the Gospel, who thought he would live forever (cf. Lk 12:13-21), but also of those who turn into lords and masters, and think of themselves as above others and not at their service. It is often an effect of the pathology of power, from a superiority complex, from a narcissism which passionately gazes at its own image and does not see the image of God on the face of others, especially the weakest and those most in need.8 The antidote to this plague is the grace of realizing that we are sinners and able to say heartily: “We are unworthy servants. We have only done what was our duty” (Lk 17:10).
2. Another disease is the “Martha complex”, excessive busy-ness. It is found in those who immerse themselves in work and inevitably neglect “the better part”: sitting at the feet of Jesus (cf. Lk 10:38-42). Jesus called his disciples to “rest a while” (cf. Mk 6:31) for a reason, because neglecting needed rest leads to stress and agitation. A time of rest, for those who have completed their work, is necessary, obligatory and should be taken seriously: by spending time with one’s family and respecting holidays as moments of spiritual and physical recharging. We need to learn from Qohelet that “for everything there is a season” (3:1-15).
3. Then too there is the disease of mental and spiritual “petrification”. It is found in those who have a heart of stone, the “stiff-necked” (Acts 7:51-60), in those who in the course of time lose their interior serenity, alertness and daring, and hide under a pile of papers, turning into paper pushers and not men of God (cf. Heb 3:12). It is dangerous to lose the human sensitivity that enables us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice! This is the disease of those who lose “the sentiments of Jesus” (cf. Phil 2:5-11), because as time goes on their hearts grow hard and become incapable of loving unconditionally the Father and our neighbour (cf. Mt 22:34-35). Being a Christian means “having the same sentiments that were in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5), sentiments of humility and unselfishness, of detachment and generosity.9
4. The disease of excessive planning and of functionalism. When the apostle plans everything down to the last detail and believes that with perfect planning things will fall into place, he becomes an accountant or an office manager. Things need to be prepared well, but without ever falling into the temptation of trying to contain and direct the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which is always greater and more flexible than any human planning (cf. Jn 3:8). We contract this disease because “it is always more easy and comfortable to settle in our own sedentary and unchanging ways. In truth, the Church shows her fidelity to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not try to control or tame him… to tame the Holy Spirit! … He is freshness, imagination, and newness”.10
5. The disease of poor coordination. Once its members lose communion among themselves, the body loses its harmonious functioning and its equilibrium; it then becomes an orchestra which produces noise: its members do not work together and lose the spirit of fellowship and teamwork. When the foot says to the arm: “I don’t need you ”, or the hand says to the head, “I’m in charge”, they create discomfort and scandal.
6. There is also a “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease”. It consists in losing the memory of our personal “salvation history”, our past history with the Lord and our “first love” (Rev 2:4). It involves a progressive decline in the spiritual faculties which in the long or short run greatly handicaps a person by making him incapable of doing anything on his own, living in a state of absolute dependence on his often imaginary perceptions. We see it in those who have lost the memory of their encounter with the Lord; in those who no longer see life’s meaning in “deuteronomic” terms; in those who are completely caught up in the present moment, in their passions, whims and obsessions; in those who build walls and routines around themselves, and thus become more and more the slaves of idols carved by their own hands.
7. The disease of rivalry and vainglory.11 When appearances, the colour of our clothes and our titles of honour become the primary object in life, we forget the words of Saint Paul: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4). This is a disease which leads us to be men and woman of deceit, and to live a false “mysticism” and a false “quietism”. Saint Paul himself defines such persons as “enemies of the cross of Christ” because “they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:19).
8. The disease of existential schizophrenia. This is the disease of those who live a double life, the fruit of that hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and of a progressive spiritual emptiness which no doctorates or academic titles can fill. It is a disease which often strikes those who abandon pastoral service and restrict themselves to bureaucratic matters, thus losing contact with reality, with concrete people. In this way they create their own parallel world, where they set aside all that they teach with severity to others and begin to live a hidden and often dissolute life. For this most serious disease conversion is most urgent and indeed indispensable (cf. Lk 15:11-32).
9. The disease of gossiping, grumbling and back-biting. I have already spoken many times about this disease, but never enough. It is a grave illness which begins simply, perhaps even in small talk, and takes over a person, making him become a “sower of weeds” (like Satan) and in many cases, a cold-blooded killer of the good name of our colleagues and confrères. It is the disease of cowardly persons who lack the courage to speak out directly, but instead speak behind other people’s backs. Saint Paul admonishes us to “do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent” (Phil 2:14-15). Brothers, let us be on our guard against the terrorism of gossip!
10. The disease of idolizing superiors. This is the disease of those who court their superiors in the hope of gaining their favour. They are victims of careerism and opportunism; they honour persons and not God (cf. Mt 23:8-12). They serve thinking only of what they can get and not of what they should give. Small-minded persons, unhappy and inspired only by their own lethal selfishness (cf. Gal 5:16-25). Superiors themselves could be affected by this disease, when they court their collaborators in order to obtain their submission, loyalty and psychological dependency, but the end result is a real complicity.
11. The disease of indifference to others. This is where each individual thinks only of himself and loses sincerity and warmth of human relationships. When the most knowledgeable person does not put that knowledge at the service of his less knowledgeable colleagues. When we learn something and then keep it to ourselves rather than sharing it in a helpful way with others. When out of jealousy or deceit we take joy in seeing others fall instead of helping them up and encouraging them.
12. The disease of a lugubrious face. Those glum and dour persons who think that to be serious we have to put on a face of melancholy and severity, and treat others — especially those we consider our inferiors — with rigour, brusqueness and arrogance. In fact, a show of severity and sterile pessimism12 are frequently symptoms of fear and insecurity. An apostle must make an effort to be courteous, serene, enthusiastic and joyful, a person who transmits joy everywhere he goes. A heart filled with God is a happy heart which radiates an infectious joy: it is immediately evident! So let us not lose that joyful, humorous and even self-deprecating spirit which makes people amiable even in difficult situations.13 How beneficial is a good dose of humour! We would do well to recite often the prayer of St. Thomas More.14 I say it every day, and it helps.
13. The disease of hoarding. When an apostle tries to fill an existential void in his heart by accumulating material goods, not out of need but only in order to feel secure. The fact is that we are not able to bring material goods with us, since “the winding sheet does not have pockets”, and all our earthly treasures — even if they are gifts — will never be able to fill that void; instead, they will only make it deeper and more demanding. To these persons the Lord repeats: “You say, I am rich, I have prospered and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. So be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:17, 19). Accumulating goods only burdens and inexorably slows down the journey! Here I think of an anecdote: the Spanish Jesuits used to describe the Society of Jesus as the “light brigade of the Church”. I remember when a young Jesuit was moving, and while he was loading a truck full of his many possessions, suitcases, books, objects and gifts, an old Jesuit standing by was heard to say with a smile: And this is the “light brigade of the Church”? Our moving can be a sign of this disease.
14. The disease of closed circles, where belonging to a clique becomes more powerful than belonging to the Body and, in some circumstances, to Christ himself. This disease too always begins with good intentions, but with the passing of time it enslaves its members and becomes a cancer which threatens the harmony of the Body and causes immense evil — scandals — especially to our weaker brothers and sisters. Self-destruction, “friendly fire” from our fellow soldiers, is the most insidious danger.15 It is the evil which strikes from within;16 and, as Christ says: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste” (Lk 11:17).
15. Lastly: the disease of worldly profit, of forms of self-exhibition.17 When an apostle turns his service into power, and his power into a commodity in order to gain worldly profit or even greater power. This is the disease of persons who insatiably try to accumulate power and to this end are ready to slander, defame and discredit others, even in newspapers and magazines. Naturally, so as to put themselves on display and to show that they are more capable than others. This disease does great harm to the Body because it leads persons to justify the use of any means whatsoever to attain their goal, often in the name of justice and transparency! Here I remember a priest who used to call journalists to tell — and invent — private and confidential matters involving his confrères and parishioners. The only thing he was concerned about was being able to see himself on the front page, since this made him feel “powerful and glamorous”, while causing great harm to others and to the Church. Poor sad soul!
Brothers, these diseases and these temptations are naturally a danger for each Christian and for every curia, community, congregation, parish and ecclesial movement; and they can strike at the individual and the community levels.
We need to be clear that it is only the Holy Spirit who can heal all our infirmities. He is the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ; as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed says: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life”. It is the Holy Spirit who sustains every sincere effort at purification and in every effort at conversion. It is he who makes us realize that every member participates in the sanctification of the Body and its weakening. He is the promoter of harmony:18 “Ipse harmonia est”, as Saint Basil says. Saint Augustine tells us that “as long as a member is still part of the body, its healing can be hoped for. But once it is removed, it can be neither cured nor healed”.19

Healing also comes about through an awareness of our sickness and of a personal and communal decision to be cured by patiently and perseveringly accepting the remedy.20

And so we are called — in this Christmas season and throughout our time of service and our lives — to live “in truth and love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Eph 4:15-16).
Dear brothers!
I read once that priests are like planes: they only make news when they crash, even though so many of them are in the air. Many people criticize, and few pray for them. It is a very touching, but also very true saying, because it points to the importance and the frailty of our priestly service, and how much evil a single priest who “crashes” can do to the whole body of the Church.
Therefore, so as not to fall in these days when we are preparing ourselves for Confession, let us ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, to heal the wounds of sin which each of us bears in his heart, and to sustain the Church and the Curia so that they can be healthy and health-giving; holy and sanctifying, to the glory of her Son and for our salvation and that of the entire world. Let us ask her to make us love the Church as Christ, her Son and our Lord, loves her, to have the courage to acknowledge that we are sinners in need of his mercy, and not to fear surrendering our hands into her maternal hands.
I offer cordial good wishes for a holy Christmas to all of you, to your families and your co-workers. And please, do not forget to pray for me! Heartfelt thanks!

1 He states that the Church, being mysticum Corpus Christi, “calls also for a multiplicity of members, which are linked together in such a way as to help one another. As in the body, when one member suffers, all the other members share its pain, and the healthy members come to the aid of the ailing, so in the Church the individual members do not live for themselves alone, but also help their fellows, and all work in mutual collaboration for the common comfort and for the more perfect building up of the whole Body… a Body not formed by a haphazard grouping of members, but… constituted of organs, that is of members, that have not the same function and are arranged in due order; so for this reason above all the Church is called a body, that it is constituted by the coalescence of structurally united parts” (Encyclical Mystici Corporis, Part One: AAS 35 [1943], 200; ed. Carlen, Nos. 15-16).
2 Cf. Rom 12:5: “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another”.
3 Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 7.
4 It should be remembered that “the comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body. Three aspects of the Church as the body of Christ are to be more specifically noted: the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; Christ as the head of the body; and the Church as bride of Christ. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 789 and 795.
5 Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, nn. 130-131.
6 Jesus often spoke of the union which the faithful should have with him: “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (Jn 15:4-5).
7 Cf. Pastor Bonus, Art. 1 and CIC can. 360.
8 Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, nn. 197-201.
9 Benedict XVI, General Audience, 1 June 2005.
10 Francis, Homily at Mass in Turkey, 29 November 2014.
11 Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, nn. 95-96.
12 Ibid., 84-86.
13 Ibid., 2.
14 “Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humour to maintain it. Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil, but rather finds the means to put things back in their place. Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumbling, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called ‘I’. Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humour. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke and to discover in life a bit of joy, and to be able to share it with others”.
15 Evangelii Gaudium, n. 88.
16 Blessed Paul VI, referring to the situation of the Church stated that he had the feeling that “through some crack, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God”: Paul VI, Homily for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June 1972); cf. Evangelii Gaudium, nn. 98-101.
17 Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, nn. 93-97.
18 “The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. He gives life, he brings forth different charisms which enrich the people of God and, above all, he creates unity among believers: from the many he makes one body, the Body of Christ…. The Holy Spirit brings unity to the Church: unity in faith, unity in love, unity in interior cohesion” (Francis, Homily at Holy Mass in Turkey, 29 November 2014).
19 Augustine, Serm. cxxxvii, 1 (Migne, P. L., 38, 754).
20 Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, nn. 25-33.

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South Africa not in good shape but there is still hope

Christmas time and New Year, also time for the matric results to be published and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will praise the improvement of the pass rate from 60,6% in 2009 to 76,6% in 2013. Not spoken will be about the grim realities surrounding this result:
* The low pass rate: pupils must achieve 40% in their home language and in two other subjects, and a minimum of 30% in the remaining subjects. They can fail in only one of their seven subjects.
* Extra exams for tertiary education: more and more universities ask for extra entrance or literacy tests and compulsory enhancement programs because they do not trust the matric certificate.
* Drop outs at school level: the total number of matric pupils who write the exams is half of those starting education – the other half is gone, be it through economic difficulties or for other personal or social reasons.
* Drop outs at University level: over 50% of those starting to study will not graduate, so a report of the Council for Higher Education chaired by Professor Njabulo Ndebele
It seems like in many other instances that the assessment of realities tend to differ sharply in South Africa and it is not only the fire pond baptized swimming pool of Nkandla. 20 years into democracy this society has not found its feet somehow and is still struggling to meet the dreams of those being liberated with the end of Apartheid.
I am not thinking South Africa is doomed to fail but I hear and notice things which indicates that there is still room for improvement in many ways and I don’t mean the remaining high crime rate, the lack of service delivery, worker unions which want to be government, representation of workers and capitalists at the same time, Malemas and there-likes  etc. Coming from Germany, where I was born in a city where US Americans ran a major airbase in Europe, in my childhood “black people” were rich people because they had the dollars. Moving to South Africa I learned how different worlds can be and I had to adjust to open and hidden conflicts between races and ethnic groups on a level not known before. Even thinking that I keep an open mind and a hopeful outlook, I catch me out at times to have doubtful thoughts indicating a deeper problem: Driving often to Parklands Mainroad I see all those youngsters standing there waiting to be picked up for a day’s job. Often I thought, it would be nice to employ somebody when help is needed but one reads so much about crime and spying out opportunities that I simply don’t have the courage to stop and give one of them the livelihood for today. It shows how deep mistrust is sewed into the heart and mind of people including me.  The same applies when it comes to the suspicion of corruption: Seeing not so talented drivers in big new shiny cars often brings up the thoughtful question whether hard work or corruption has brought this car on the street. I admit: it is a shame, but such thoughts are crossing my mind and with all the obvious corruption, from hungry police officers in Johannesburg asking for chicken wings at a police control up to Nkandla and all those politicians, people in power and the tiny group of multimillionaire turned BEE applicants it might be even excusable.  And I am sure I am not the only one having such thoughts.
Flying often from Cape Town to Johannesburg return and seeing the attitude of many at destination taken away by government cars I must hold on not raising my voice and telling those people what “service” in democracy means.
Despite those observations are all the positive points South Africa can show off with: besides breath-taking nature and mostly friendly and compassionate people with a smile on their face, natural resources, a young generation willing to take the challenge if society and education gives them the equipment needed. So there is so much positive to cherish in this country.

I sometimes have the feeling that our society here has come out of the truth and reconciliation commission process knowing most of what happened in the past, but had no time to heal the wounds of the past. A government blaming Apartheid for every own failure does not help to let wounds close and scarfs appear, which are still present as a reminder, but they do not hurt anymore. I honestly think South Africa is in need of better leaders on all levels, showing an example how to serve a nation instead of milking it in many ways. And for me, there are in every political party people who could rise to the challenge. I had the opportunity to speak to politicians of different parties and I am convinced that South Africans can take on the challenge of transforming this country to be a beacon of hope for all of Africa. We just have to escape the spell of corruption, lies, dishonesty and the devils circle of senseless violence marring this country. Healing is for me the miracle word, healing of a collective nations psyche.
Churches can play a big role in this – furthering the process of healing and being the needed conscience of the nation if and when they put aside they own agenda and just being willing to serve the people without the intention to proselytize or forcing their own believe system on a nation. There is an existing ethos we all can agree of – be it the golden rule or the principles of world ethos as described by Hans Kueng and his world ethos project. The justice and peace projects of the Roman – Catholic Church is another example of trying to support and assist this process. Other churches have similar portfolios. So there is hope for me – and I hope that this hope will be carried through to a year of elections which can be won or lost by any party; and there is no entitlement of owning certain parts of this democratic process – a good government, a strong opposition, separation of powers and the goodwill of all people should prevail and bring us a step forward. A blessed New Year to all.

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20.12.2009 The Church’s Dilemma in the face of HIV and AIDS

An interesting article from Fr. Joseph,which I found on the net…

XVII INTERNATIONAL AIDS CONFERENCE 2008
ECUMENICAL PRE-CONFERENCE ON AIDS MEXICO CITY

Reflection on informed decision-making as a strategy for the church in the light of the HIV and AIDS Crisis

FR. JOSEPH MPINGANJIRA

‘And just to conclude, listen to these words: “over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups.” These were words by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the present Pope Benedict XVI, expressing very clearly what it means to say that conscience is the highest moral authority’. Christians in Africa have come to identify with the Church more when the church leaders and institutions talk about issues affecting them in their day-to-day life and when they (church leaders and institutions) become engaged in real life questions. Nobody can deny that HIV and AIDS is a world crisis, more so in my continent of Africa, south of the Sahara, my home region. It is a crisis in my country and painfully so, a crisis in my family. As a priest I have personally come face to face with this crisis losing two sisters, a brother, three nephews and four nieces. I have lost friends and people I have dearly served as a priest. These have left children some of whom I know are HIV positive. I still have so many relatives and friends. Some of them are aware that they are HIV positive, some are aware that they are HIV negative and some are HIV (status) ignorant. Most of these are faithful to each other as couples. Some of them are abstaining. As a priest and a friend I encourage them to do so because these principles offer the surest possible protection against HIV infection, even if their attainment seems difficult. But there is another reality that the church ought to face. The response to the epidemic has sometimes been compromised with moral issues. When it comes to the pastoral response to this crisis the church ought to come to terms with the reality. The fight against HIV and AIDS should be approached as a whole, namely, the care, treatment as well as prevention. There is already a lot that the church is doing in terms of care and treatment. As a priest from Malawi, Africa, I believe that each individual as created by God has a right to care, to treatment and the right to prevent oneself. I also believe that each individual has the right to information on HIV and AIDS, information on care, treatment as well as information on prevention on the same and thereby come up with well-informed decision. When it comes to prevention it is not a hidden truth that all the known three, namely, Abstinence, Be faithful and Condom (ABC) are there and working. The fact that we in the church circles advocate for the A and B does not necessarily mean that the C does not work. It does. It becomes easier for some ‘good’ Theologians sitting in big conferences discussing these issues and condemn the C.
In the years leading up to 2005 The Episcopal Conference Malawi discussed sensitively about the problem. In general, they tend to recognize the importance and legitimacy of sexual activity for a discordant couple. They have also brought out the importance of safeguarding the health of one’s partner in marriage, underscoring that marriage does not give one the right to endanger the health of a spouse in any way. But what they have even stressed most is that conscience is the ultimate moral rule and that the couple must act on the basis of what their conscience tells them is correct in their circumstances. This message was put in their (Bishops’) documents that were presented for the Ad Limina visit at the Vatican in 2005. No clear response as a guiding principle was given to them except the teaching of Humanea Vitae (especially § 14). From the Ad Limina visit, like the case before the visit, each Bishop has gone back and presents his own message to the people he is shepherding. Double messages have sometimes been sent thereby confusing people. In some cases some leaders have opted to remain silent on some ways of preventing or controlling HIV and AIDS but have expected an end of the pandemic.
The truth of the matter is that HIV and AIDS has not brought about a sense of immorality, but has rather highlighted existing moral challenges in within our society. The crisis has highlighted cultural practices that churches ought to address. Other issues are: the frequency of multiple partnerships, psychological and financial coercion to have sexual intercourse, the early sexual activity of the young and lack of proper sexuality education, the prevalence of sexual violence by intimate partner, etc. As a pastor doing my pastoral duties in a parish I see these issues differently. I am aware that there is a ‘law’ (teaching) in the church which says ‘no to use of condom’. I am also aware that I am a pastor who has been sent there not to break the ‘law’, but as a pastor I will sometimes do what Jesus did in Mark 3:1-6, namely to ‘break the law’ for the sake of letting some brothers and sisters out there ‘live their life to the full’. The use of C for discordant couples, for instance, is a method that has to be openly taught as a way to prevent oneself; it is a way that I will share with my sisters, my brothers, etc, so that some of them ‘may have life’. If as a pastor I cannot remove the pain from these poor ones of Yahweh, then the least I can do is never to add a gram of pain to their conscience by insisting on the wholesale condemnation to the use of Condoms with contradicting messages.
Moral discussions on the use of condom and other contraceptives as taught in the Humanae Vitae should not be confused with the use of condom in the above case. The teaching of Humanae Vitae based on the intention of God in procreation is not to be applied in the situation of HIV and AIDS. It is not a question of: when to have sex or not but rather life or death (in some instances). In other words, old answers are no longer relevant for the new questions that we have today in the face on HIV and AIDS pandemic. I am aware that some parents and religious leaders have expressed the fear that the discussion of how HIV transmission can be prevented, risk-reducing factors and similar matters with the inclusion of the C might provoke among people the very sexual behaviour that the church seeks to check. This could indeed happen if the information being provided is not positive and prudent. But it would be equally unethical to deny people the desirable alternatives of abstinence and fidelity or indeed deny people information on measures that would protect them against possible HIV infection. A couple where both are HIV negative will not sit in the house and say, “My wife there is HIV out there. We must be careful. We must use condoms to protect ourselves.” NO! What they will say is, “My wife there is HIV out there. We must be careful. We must be faithful to one another.” On the other hand a couple where one is (or both are) HIV positive, will sit and say, “My wife I am (or we are) HIV positive, let us prevent each other. Let’s use a condom. Should I not share this information (for a well-informed decision) with a clear conscience with the people I pray with, the people I serve in the church that I call mine? Many priests and other church leaders that I work with believe that Conscience is an issue of special relevance to the ethical challenges that the AIDS pandemic raises in relation to sexuality.
The Catholic Catechism teaches that conscience must be informed and moral judgement enlightened (1783). It does not stress the teaching role of the church in the formation of conscience but asserts, “In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path” (1785). “The Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer, and put it into practice. This is how our conscience is formed” (1802). And how many times have nuns, who are doing a very wonderful job in so many of our clinics, helped patients and clients and at the end have told these patients and clients that they (nuns and their institutions) are not allowed to give out condoms but that they go to the next institution where they can get them. All this points to the gap between policy and practice with regard to informed decision-making. Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgement in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgement that departs from them (1799). Nevertheless, a human being must always obey the certain judgement of his conscience (1800). This has been true before HIV and AIDS came and will be true after pandemic is gone. And just to conclude, listen to these words: “over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups.” These were words by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the present Pope Benedict XVI, expressing very clearly what it means to say that conscience is the highest moral authority.
Statements for discussion Ecumenical pre-conference workshop informed decision-making
1) The gap between policy and practice with regard to informed decision-making isn’t a problem as in daily practice (health) people practice – informed decision making-
2) While the church is “a champion” in care and cure it is can be an obstacle in prevention.
3) Informed decision-making is the solution for the Church dilemma’s in prevention.

Joseph J. Mpinganjira

Diocese of Lilongwe,

P. O. Box 631, Lilongwe, Malawi

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , ,

25.10.2009 News from the Vatican…

I found this article about the last day of the Africa synod. I do understand this article as a great encouragement for my work as on the “condom” issue it clearly supports my stand that there is no official policy, that we have to debate such a policy and the book “Gott, AIDS, Africa” seeks in big parts to assist in such deliberations.  Good to know that after all the hassle I experienced there is also officially  nothing wrong with my stance. 🙂

Vatican City – The pope appointed Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana to head the Vatican’s justice and peace office on Saturday, a high-profile post that cements his reputation as a possible future papal candidate.

The office is responsible for promoting the church’s social teachings on justice issues, such as war, the death penalty and human rights. Turkson told reporters three weeks ago there was no reason there couldn’t be a black pope, particularly after Barack Obama was elected US president. Turkson’s appointment to his new post was announced at the end of a three-week Vatican meeting on the role of the Catholic Church in Africa, which Turkson had headed. In their discussions, the 300 bishops and cardinals tackled the pressing issue of Aids on the continent, including the question of whether married couples could use condoms if one spouse is infected. While the Vatican has no specific policy concerning condoms and Aids, the Catholic Church opposes the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against artificial contraception. It advocates sexual abstinence and marital fidelity as the best way to combat the spread of HIV.

In their final recommendations to the pope, the bishops made no mention of condoms, leaving it up to the couples themselves to decide how to prevent infection. Asked at a news conference if this marked a deviation from church teaching, Turkson replied that the Vatican still had no firm policy on the matter. “That issue is still being discussed,” Turkson said. “I don’t know when this discussion will come to an end, but I’m aware such a discussion is going on in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Condone condoms?

In 2006, the Vatican’s top health care official confirmed his office was studying whether condoms can be condoned in the case of a married couple where one spouse is HIV-positive. Since then, there has been no indication the issue was still on the table until Turkson’s comments. In the final recommendation, the bishops called for pastoral care for couples dealing with an infected spouse to help form their consciences “so that they might choose what is right, with full responsibility for the greater good of each other, their union and their family.”

Other issues in the document include:

– An urgent call for starting religious dialogue with followers of Islam and African traditional religions.

– A recommendation that each African bishop name an exorcist to deal with sorcery and witchcraft, which are part of traditional African religions and cultures.

– A denunciation of an African Union agreement known as the Maputo Protocol that says abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is endangered.

– A call for a day for reconciliation every year.

Round of applause

But the biggest news to come at the end of the synod was Turkson’s appointment, which drew a round of applause when Pope Benedict XVI announced it at a luncheon with the 300 bishops, priests and others attending the synod. The 61-year-old archbishop of Cape Coast replaces Italian Cardinal Renato Martino, who is retiring.

Up until now, the most prominent African cardinal mentioned as a possible first black pope was Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. But he retired from the Vatican office in charge of rules for celebrating the liturgy around the world last year, and will celebrate his 77th birthday next week, making him an unlikely choice. Speculation has swirled for years about the possibility of a pope from the developing world because that is where the church is growing fastest.

– AP

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Networking, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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