God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensée of a Catholic priest

The broader picture…the deeper questions

It was quiet a quick process after years of discussions in society and political circles: two weeks ago the German Parliament decided to allow the marriage between two adults of the same-sex and with it all the rights and duties of a married couple. Obviously churches were not impressed and until the very last moment, arguments were exchanged and traded in an effort to hold the vote or to convince members of Parliament to vote either in favor or against it. It was an open vote – and a sign of mature democracy that everybody could vote openly according to his or her conscience. As a church we have to deal with realities, and obviously not only the majority of parliamentarians but also public opinion in Germany was in favor of marriage equality.
Historically the question of marriage and its value for the state has been again and again a question of fierce debate between state and church. Ulrich Sander from the FAZ (German Newspaper) summarized from his point of view this debate in Germany in a piece published on 11.07.2017 and here is a loose translation*:

“The character of marriage and the family as a legally protected community of life is no longer adequately ensured by the present reform. “
This sentence of a Catholic bishop did not aim at the Bundestag vote of 30 June 2017 on the admission of same-sex couples to the legal form of marriage. It fell during the discussions about the change of the marriage and family law four decades ago, at the end of 1977 when the state divorce law was changed from guilt principle to the breakup principle.
The church protest had been even more severe when, in 1953, when the legal entity of the male as “head of family” (Familienoberhaupt) was abolished. Until then it had been stated in the Civil Code: “The man is entitled to the decision in all matters concerning the matrimonial life; He shall in particular determine residence and dwelling “(Paragraph 1354 of the Civil Code). Article 117 of the Constitution had given the legislator a period until 31 March 1953 to abolish or amend the legal provisions being in contrast of equality between men and women. The deadline passed without the legislator having sufficiently redrawn the marriage and family law. Thus, in December 1953, the Federal Constitutional Court stated succinctly that “since the expiry of the period laid down in Article 117, men and women were equally entitled to marriages and families.”
Prevent the destruction of the family
Representatives of the Catholic Church responded by proclaiming the “hierarchical assignment of women to man as their head” grounded in sociological and legal reasons. Although in the sphere of sexuality the husband and wife were equated with the permanent exclusive right to the body of the other, it was necessary to maintain the authority of the husband and father of the family in the sphere of life, for it was vested  in the nature of the conjugal communion.- And that this authority belongs to the man as the “first created” (before the woman): the first pages of the Bible contained – in its church official reading –  the doctrine of the irreversible, imperative dependence of woman on the man. To abolish this is not a legitimate equality of women, but “egalitarianism” and contradicts the divine natural law.
Episcopal commentaries saw the implementation of the basic principle of equality by the abolition of the male head of family as the destruction of the “Western order of marriage and family”. Therefore, the chairman of the Fulda Bishops’ Conference, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Frings, wrote to Federal Minister of Justice Thomas Dehler that the protection of marriage and family guaranteed by Article 6 (1) of the constitution would be undermined if the concept of equality was too much aligned to an individual understanding and so unequal was compared with equal. It is only when the equality of woman is limited to treat equal with equal, but unequal differently, then the destruction of the family can be prevented.
Marriage as a self-purpose
Theologically, such an objection was very ambitious reasoned: both revelation and natural law teaches the hierarchical model, and therefore fundamentally withdrawn from any legislature’s access. Friedrich Wilhelm Bosch, since 1950 full professor for civil law at the University of Bonn, saw now “anarchy” moving into the matrimonial home instead of the natural “hierarchy”. A glance into the “textbook of natural law or the philosophy of law” of one of his predecessors would have helped: “Natural law does not recognize an exclusive paternal power, although such a right is possible by natural law through positive law,” Clemens-August Freiherr Droste zu Hülshoff proclaimed as early as 1831 , Dean of Bonn University and nephew of the great poetess.
Similar argumentation such as 1953 is now introduced in the process of the implementation of the prohibition of discrimination with regard to sexual orientation in family law. “The equality law of the Constitution requires us to treat equality equal and inequalities unequal,” we read from the episcopal press. And the fact is stated that the marriage is not protected by the Constitution “because husbands stand in for one another and accept mutual obligations, but because they are designed to produce and educate children.” Thus the classical Catholic doctrine of marriage is made secretly a constitutional principle, but without its correction by the Second Vatican Council. Klaus Lüdicke, Professor at the Institute of Canon Law at the University of Münster since three decades, summed up the core of the transformation initiated by the Second Vatican Council: “Marriage needs no other purpose than to bind the lives of two people together. Marriage is an end in itself.

He ends of in asking what do we learn out of it – and he concluded that the term “nature” is a very expandable word. I guess there is more to learn if I take this question and bring it down to a more general debate, so the following thoughts are not arguing the case of marriage equality but underlying considerations:
Church has to engage with the modern world and its diversity in a constant and serious way. Church has to acknowledge and reconcile developments in academic research and teaching and faith – bearing in mind, that it was the very church now opposing or ignoring some of its findings has been historically the inventor and guardian and the driving force behind academics.
The world has become more complicated, the questions asked and debated through social media have been more demanding and rushed and time is of essence. On the other hand traditions are important – not so much the form but the content and the rush of the time can hurt the translation and passing on of core values to the next generation. It is a question of striving a balance between action and contemplation; it is a question of unveiling the inner core of a value and the finding of appropriate means to carry it over in changing times. It’s also acknowledging that an honest debate always sees all the grey attached instead of insisting in having only black or white. There will be matters ongoing and relentlessly debated: the relation between state and religion, the question of democratic decisions and liberties of faith communities. Those discussions must be robust, but with respect – while acknowledging the past the argument that it has been so since ages can’t be an argument anymore, but at the same time we have to have an awareness where we are coming from and where we are wanting to go and develop towards. Equality, human rights are never topics to be concluded, the mystery of human life, human love and the mystery of the divine demand that we continue to engage with each other, learn from each other, accept diversity amongst each other and allow for a tolerance and a legal framework which protects and celebrates love and life as much as possible and guarantees the liberties needed to live life to the fullest (John 10.10)

* Source: Katholischer Protest mit langer Tradition

Filed under: Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Durban2016 – a reflection on the World Aids Conference

durbanTomorrow ends the World Aids Conference in Durban – most probably the same way it started, with lots of encouraging words and hopes held high: treatment for all, equity, justice and equal treatment for those on the margins of the so-called society.

It was a week full of talks, presentations, encounters – a week full of demands, pleas, promises and a concert of different voices: researchers, activists, business people – all wanting to have a share and a say in the biggest HIV related global conference, taking place every two years.

The magic year 2020 and the numbers 90 – 90 – 90 were repeated and mentioned over and over: 90 % of the infected people should know their status; from those knowing 90% should be on treatment – and from those on treatment 90% should be undetectable.
Another magic year named very often was 2030 – the aimed end of the Aids pandemic.

But let’s be honest: all the tears, pleas and promises could not hide the fact: as the world stands today, we will not reach this goal. 16 out of 37 million people are in the moment on treatment – and the Global Aids Fund lacks promised money to reach all of the ones in need of treatment. The so-called “war on terror”, the financial crisis, the madness of politics let made financial pledges degrade into empty promises. The gap between what governments have pledged, what is needed and what they finally pay into the global fund is going into millions of US Dollars.

And it is not the lack of money – besides the madness of war and terror, perceived or real – it is the assumption that we have the Aids pandemic under control. It seems forgotten that every year 2 million new infections are still counted and 1 million people perish as a consequence of HIV, Aids and related illnesses.

But even the future looks bleak – conferences like this are needed: they serve as a public reminder of the injustice of poverty, sickness and premature death and the responsibilities of governments and public health sectors. They also bring people together one would not meet otherwise.
In South Africa without the activism we still would be told that HIV does not cause Aids and that antiretroviral treatment kills. Only activism, toi-toi and conferences as well as taking the government to court as civil society brought the much-needed results. But we should never forget those having died because Manto Tshabalala Msimang and others fought against common sense for a far too long time.

I am grateful that this conference brought me together with gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex people, with male and female sex workers and with drug users – encounters without the moral pointing finger – it was about meeting other human beings with their struggles like I have my struggles. It was about listening and giving everybody dignity and space to talk, to share, to explore, to feel loved and accepted. How much could also the churches learn from such encounters – understanding that the world is much more diverse and colorful than most allow themselves to accept in their small little world of daily and religious life.

Conferences like this also help to deepen the understanding of HIV and its related problems, it gives the chance to celebrate successes, mourn failures and last but not least to feel not alone in the battle against a deadly syndrome. 18 000 people from all over the world, united in an ongoing battle to save lives, to demand access to treatment, to put the fingers on human rights abuses and inhumane and unjust laws hindering our fellow brothers and sisters to live life to the fullest.

Conferences like this are energizing – they liberate one from the narrow views one automatically have working day in and day out in the same social and cultural environment – for me as a priest they open up to what “catholic” really means in the full sense of the word.

Churches are praised for their active role in the fight, but they are not very much appreciated when it comes to legal matters or global or national policy decisions. The anti-gay laws in Nigeria, the questions of sexual orientation and the women’s rights in matters reproduction are contentious issues which impact clearly also onto the fight against HIV and Aids. Sometimes it seems that moral considerations overshadow the life-and-death consequences, such stances have on grassroots level.
And obviously the long stance of my own church regarding condoms did not help either – and it took Benedict XVI’s interview to start open up this question in his acknowledgment, that if a male escort uses a condom to protect his customer it is the beginning of morality.

So lastly conferences like this put the finger on open questions, on answer demanding questions, they make the bridge between teaching, sciences, research, religion, faith and real life palpable and it’s the conversation between all parties which could bring solutions adequate to the life of the ordinary person plagued by all the challenges on a daily base.

So thank you to the organizers of the conference for making it possible once again to meet, to greet, to exchange, to laugh together, to learn together, to fight together, to discern together, to disagree with each other in the quest of the best answer possible.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, HOPE Cape Town Association, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Farewell “Christliches” Abendland (Christian Occident)

Arriving back from Europe with lots of fond memories about the HOPE Gala in Dresden and all the other great events I have had the pleasure to participate or contribute, I can’t help but feel a very deep unease regarding the so-called refugee crisis I have seen first hand and the reaction of my German brothers and sisters. Knowing that we Germans always have been blind on the right eye it is nevertheless appalling to see how many people suddenly shift their emotions and reactions loudly into a corner of anxiety and protection of the so-called German identity. History seems suddenly to be static – as if the present state of affair has always been and will always be the only one possible. Creatio ex nihilo – Germany existed since eternity and is now overrun – historic developments never took place… ?

The idea of Europe was officially founded on values like human dignity and human rights and a decent life for all, but it seems in practice it was all about finances and markets but not about people. While the “Christian roots” of Germany and Europe are mentioned at every demonstration against those fleeing to Europe, practically the value of welcoming the stranger, especially the one searching refuge seemed to be scrapped from the holy book and it’s heritage. There are too many coming, I hear again and again.
And yes, I do agree, there are indeed many coming, but has nobody been able to read the signs prior to the stream of desperate people building up in recent months? Has nobody noted that selling weapons and looking on while a country is completely destroyed in the case of Syria can’t go together for long? Has Germany thought with the Dublin agreement that Lampedusa and all other places in the South of Europe will remain nicely far away from the German way of life? Has nobody noted that cutting the funds for the refugees of the Syrian civil war in Jordan has given them no other chance than either dying in Jordan or trying their luck somewhere else?

It is appalling how especially people in politics carrying the “christian” and “social” label in their party name suddenly seems to have episodes of Alzheimer when it comes to all those hard questions – and there are many more to ask. And no, lets clarify that also: it’s not about being a “Gut-Mensch”, a softy wanting to do always good. It is about the question how ethical it is to have built up wealth by exploiting other countries, earning money on weapons sale, giving Sunday sermons in Parliament and then declaring practically that human dignity only is afforded to those who had the luck to be born in Europe. It’s about an attitude of the rich and mostly white West which touches ground with and is related to the discrimination of black people or South American refugees in the USA. It simply touches on the often outspoken discomfort, African people have when they deal with Europe – somehow related to skin color.
But it obviously also touches on the very basic fact that world politics seemingly dictates the European support for incompetent autocrats or dictators in developing countries as long as they keep quiet about the exploitation taking place or even are complicit to it.

The refugee crisis is a watershed for Germany and for the united Europe – and if they not find adequate and humane answers it will proof again that human mankind has still a long way to go before it recognizes how much it is interlinked, depend on each other and cannot afford to build walls and fences but must invest in the dignity of every human being. Otherwise let’s bid a final farewell to our European Christian roots.

 

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

From Internet worries to gay conversion – moments of a week’s work

Often when people make contact with me or it comes to a meeting they ask what a  typical week looks like for me as a priest and AIDS activist and the only thing I can say is: There is no typical week. A lot of time this week was spent on HOPE Cape Town affairs: we getting used to a new computer system which records every meeting, every result thereof and to do so, one needs some training and motivation to get used to it. How much bits and pieces of information gets lost when one not religiously records encounters, offers and follow-ups during the day? I can tell, it is amazing and the older one gets, the less one remembers with all the information streaming in every day. But HOPE Cape Town also changed this week service providers for the internet, email, web hosting etc. and as expected, there are some problems arising until everything is settled. Not being able to access email and information is very disruptive in our days and once again one is reminded how much we depend on it. Connected with this was a meeting with TBWA – a well-known marketing / advertising company in South Africa which does pro bono work for us. After re-designing our flyers it shifts now to our webpage which will be the next object of reflection and changes. All has to do with branding and getting the brand “HOPE Cape Town” known and identifiable in using all instruments available in this department. Doing good and getting the message across is so important , from an informational point of view as well as from the fundraising aspect. Another aspect of work this week was to go through the new employer handbook for HOPE Cape Town – we have to adhere to the South African labor law and this is indeed changing again and again. So the newest version was checked by labor lawyers and now we have to finalize it before it is handed out to the employees of HOPE Cape Town and forms then part of the work contract. On Wednesday I also met with all HOPE Community Health Workers on the issue of the “bonus” to be paid out at the end of the year. Obviously everybody likes a bonus to shop for all the Christmas presents, but a bonus is always at the discretion of the board. It also is a result of merit assessments – and once in a while one has to remind employees that a bonus is paid for exceeding expectations at work; not for doing what one is paid for anyhow. On the other hand it must be clear-cut how an assessment is done and what tick boxes are important to receive a bonus. Surely all important discussion points. HOPE Cape Town also secured it’s first official HOPE Cape Town Ambassador – watch the space, I will not tell here and now who was chosen and accepted gladly.
What else happened the last week?
The Southern African – German Chamber of Commerce and Industry hosted a luncheon with MEC Alan Winde. As a member of the Regional Council I attended this event and listened carefully what Alan had to say about the state of affair when it comes to business and investment in the Western Cape and in South Africa. As new legislation comes into effect regarding BB BEE coming year it is also important for HOPE Cape Town to know the next changes we are BB BEE approved and we would like to keep it that way.
Bavaria and the Western Cape celebrating 20 years of partnership next year, so a meeting to find out how HOPE Cape Town can participate in these events in Bavaria and showcase its contribution towards the partnership.
A meeting with Rev Ryan from the Philippines saw discussions about HIV / AIDS support groups in this part of the world.  I learned that the Catholic Church in the Philippines supports conversion programs trying to get gay people straight – quite shocking for me – as this runs counter all academic research and adds to the burden to people anyhow threatened by HIV and AIDS and the difficulties to come out in a very Catholic environment. It surely adds to the shame people feel as being HIV positive and gay at the same time as it implies that there is something wrong with them besides the punishment of HIV. Somehow the expression “dark middle ages” came to my mind. Conversion as a possibility to get rid of being who I am is on an ethical level as bad as criminalizing is on a legal level. I once again realized how much is still to do….
Exhalation of the Cross – the Catholic Feast celebrated with the Catholic Community in Belgravia ended a week – being reminded of all the crosses people carry and are burdened with and celebrating our believe that the good message of the kingdom of God is told to all and everybody – unconditional love, that’s what we are called for.  And that is a good starting point for the coming week which will bring me to Europe again for a couple of days.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, SA-German Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

USA and the complexity of the world

11 days of traveling in the USA coming to an end.  Since 2 years HOPE Cape Town tries with the help of friends to establish itself as a fundraising NGO in the States. Finally this time things are coming together and it seems a way is found to start in earnest with our efforts to raise funds for the work in the Western Cape. Having an offical representative in New Jersey voted onto the advisory board of the HOPE Cape Town Trust helps a lot. The USA is not South Africa – laws and requirements are different and since 9/11 the trauma of the US nation dictates a lot of scrutiny channeling money from one of the 50 states to Africa or any other part of the world.

It is worth noting that the Catholic Church also plays a big role in this, assisting in setting up and bridging the time until the process is finalised and HOPE Cape Town Trust (USA) will be established in the first of the states. It was great to see how an entity like my church can be of help with its structures and abilities and so speeding up the process of helping others in need. There is still a long way to go but what are 2 or 3 years more compared to eternity :-).

In the time I have visited the killing of an 18-year-old black youngster through a white police officers were not only constant headlines but also led to unrest in St. Louis (Mo). The little suburb of Ferguson brought again onto the light the problem of race and justice. As somebody living in South Africa, where race is often still determining how a person sees himself, it was somehow eye-opening to understand that the question of injustice does not stop at a certain nation. It seems to me that the perceived inferiority of Afro-American or the perceived superiority of white people is a worldwide problem manifesting itself quite harshly in the “great nation on earth”. It is a clear expression and outcome of a cruel world order, especially when it comes to economic justice or the power balance in our world. And having visited the National Museum for Indian History in Washington, I have learned anew what I already have somehow know before: How much also my church has contributed to eliminate old ancient tradition and forced people to take over the white European lifestyle. While Christianity absorbed so much from the European (Greek and Roman) habits and tradition and converted its meanings, it failed to do the same often on American or African soil. This is indeed a problem we have until today and whoever is observing the reactions on Pope Francis from the neo-conservative side will pick up that his “latin-american” style is seen as a treat to European structured theology and hierarchy.

I am always thrilled to see and learn how inter-connected the world, it’s past, present and future, is and how important it is to learn from the past to understand the present time. It is indeed also the only way to prevent from injustice happening again even if it seems that humanity does not learn and has to go through all the trials and errors again and again.

What has survived through history is for most people the compassion and will to better the world – and that brings me back to the beginning and the fundraising efforts which would not be possible without this life line of hope. And it is indeed the only hope we have, that despite all the failures, of the systematic injustices there have been always people and there will be always people who care about their brothers and sisters near and far away.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 27th, 2018
11 months to go.

Ball of HOPE 2018

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 12th, 2018
5 months to go.

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