God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Bias question?

On the flight back, a German reporter asked Francis about the use of condoms to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. The pope replied:
The question seems biased to me. Yes, it is one of the methods, the morality of the Church faces a bit of a predicament here. The fifth or the sixth commandment: defend life or a sexual relationship that is open to life. But this is not the problem. There is a greater problem than this: this question makes me think of the question they once asked Jesus: tell me Master, is it acceptable to heal on a Saturday? Healing is obligatory! Malnutrition, exploitation, slave labour, the lack of drinking water, these are the problems. We’re not talking about which plaster we should use for which wound. The great injustice is social injustice, the great injustice is malnutrition. I don’t like making such casuistic reflections when there are people dying because of a lack of water and hunger. Think about arms trafficking. When these problems cease to exist, then I think we can ask ourselves the question: is it acceptable to heal on a Saturday? Why are arms still being manufactured? Wars are the leading cause of death. Forget about whether it is acceptable or not to heal on a Saturday. Make justice and when everyone is healed, when there is no injustice in this world, then we can talk about Saturday.
I am sure this answer will not satisfy any part of the church. Those being in the conservative spectrum of Catholicism will see it as partly side-lining the official teaching, those who are battling HIV practically will feel all the shortcomings of such an answer.
There are reasons to feel the shortcomings:
First of all, millions of death people, mostly young and in the prime of their lives can never be part of a marginal question – and as we speak – more than a million people still dying every year as the result of HIV
Secondly – giving an old answer to a new question is never the right thing to do – answering the question of life and death with an answer dealing with procreation is a predicament, as the pope clearly and rightly identified.
Thirdly – “Humanae Vitae” has indeed received a very sharp and split response within the church – just think of the “Koenigsteiner Declaration” of the German Bishops and since then, it seems that this seemingly small piece of rubber became somehow in many quarters of the world a sort of litmus test on the credibility of moral teaching. Additional the question of taking seriously the sensus fidelium as a priority marker of church teaching arose and is waiting for an answer till today in this matter.
But there are also reasons to be grateful for such an answer:
Firstly – this pope does not think that popes have to have an answer on all questions – formulated nicely and to follow not taking the circumstances into account. What a difference to some of his predecessors.
Secondly he highlights the social teaching of the church, which is indeed more important than the question of a purely sexual matter.
And thirdly the answer calls for the own conscience to be followed – highlighting that at the end God’s word written into the hearts and minds of each person is the most intimate and decisive personal decision maker. Words, we have to explore more as life progresses – a dynamic, sometimes painful, but necessary way of coming closer to the personal calling as God’s son or daughter.
The pope’s answers on homosexuality, on taking communion as a Lutheran and others are all going in this direction of encouraging people to find their full Christian potential in a personal relationship with God. The church with the message of tenderness, unconditional love and mercy provides the framework and the reminder that living life to the fullest is the ultimate goal for everybody living on this earth. For this to happen, social justice and peace are prerequisite. And not to forget the freedom of the children of God – something, especially right-wing Catholics are very afraid of. Rightly so, as freedom paired with unconditional love takes away the possibility of power games – it turns the hierarchy – as Pope Francis said – upside down and transforms those in perceived higher positions into servants of all life.

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

What do I expect from the Family Synod?

The family synod is coming up and obviously every theologian has some ideas what should be achieved and how the Holy Spirit should guide the participants towards a development of the theology of families and with it some aspects of moral theology. The preparatory meeting and the time afterwards has shown that the gloves are off and that those insisting of keeping it as it has been since the beginning are fighting really hardcore to defeat any development in this field. It almost looks like marriage and sexuality are at the core of the gospel for some in the church and the rest of the message is not that important, hiding behind this epic battle of minds.

For me as a priest, knowing the battles, trials and tribulations of so many faithful including myself but also knowing the history and development of theology through times and ages, it hurts to see that faith is almost turned into an ideology to win this battle. On the other hand, we know from the Acts in the bible that Peter and Paul also had their fights during meetings with the apostle in Jerusalem. And if there would not have been new ways – for some unthinkable at that time – acknowledged, Christianity would still be a Jewish sect.
What is clear that for most people in this world the outcome does not matter anymore, Humanae Vitae has never gotten the “sensus fidelium” and the lonely decision of Pope Paul VI has alienated so many Catholics from the teaching of the church. And it is clear that those, who are still interested of what the church is saying, in their majority expect a development in the teaching, addressing the questions of our times and healing of those wounds, inflicted by a theology, which insists that the ideal is the norm and uses the most important sacrament as a tool of punishment rather than strengthening those in need of it.

So what do I expect from the Synod dealing with family? This is a tricky one, as whatever one says, it will either be applauded or condemned and quick the box is ready to be put in and the key of the lock thrown away. Nevertheless, now is the time to speak out and hope for some development to avoid the same reaction within the still faithful as we have seen after “Humanae Vitae” – a second exodus of people out of the church would be a disaster and very regrettable.

Synod on the family – the first I would expect is indeed the strengthening of the family – the message that is great to establish a family based on Christian values, yes that it makes sense to love and have kids and pass on faith, hope and love to the next generation. Society needs families to grow and develop – families are the future of any society.
Secondly I would expect that the church recognizes that there might be different theologies possible – especially the African continent has much to offer with its traditions, heritage and ways towards marriage and family.  So an encouragement for the universal church to look into the rich treasures of possibilities to develop regional pastoral theology a would be a great achievement for the church as such.

Sciences have developed and there is a gap between theology and the knowledge of sciences when it comes to sexuality. This gap has to be closed because both, faith and the scientific world are two ways leading to God, they cannot contradict themselves. Acknowledgement of this fact and encouragement to talk more without anxiety would be another great achievement of the Synod.
This will certainly lead to a different approach concerning our LGBTI brothers and sisters, the word “intrinsic evil” should be scrapped from the books and at least an acknowledgement that God’s creation is much more divers than it was appreciated by the church until now would be a step in the right direction.
A further appreciation that where there is a committed and loving relationship in our society there is God present would go a long way to heal wounds inflicted of a church experienced as cold hearted by many.
In this context of sciences and faith the synod should also look again at the topic of artificial contraception, but it should not be limited to this framework. Several theologian have opened up venues to debate this question anew.

For the question of divorced-remarried I simply expect that we stop using the Eucharist as a punishment tool and that we look at the patriarchal theology of “oikonomia” in the Eastern Churches leading us to a changed approach and an acknowledgement that the unconditional love of God is especially important for those failing their hope of life-long marriage. Nobody just runs away, hurt, pain, tears and desperation need an encouraging answer as Cardinal Walter Kasper has made clear it with a brilliant consistency in his talks and books.

The Synod on the topic family cannot solve all problems or bring instant change to all what is debated, but it should open up venues to explore, cleaned up ears to listen to God’s good spirit anew, even a renewed way of reading the bible in the context it was written thousands of years ago.  A Synod has the task to strengthen all faithful, to encourage them to live their faith and to be recognized and acknowledged as trying their very best in the way they are created to live a life with hope, love and faith.
The Pope called a year of mercy – and it is not only the mercy for the individual person, but also a year of mercy asked for a church, which tries to make its way through the times as a crowd of sinners and saints, with successes but also failures. A time of mercy, a time of God’s mercy is a time where we are allowed to reflect on our way without anxiety, without fear and at the end there should be the encouragement to walk the way of life with God, to experience his kingdom already now . Church is not end in itself – church has the duty to show the way, to encourage, to love, to bring hope or as the first reading of next Sunday, the 23rd in ordinary time says:

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong”, fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
and shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Synod on the family

As somebody being involved in the portfolio HIV and AIDS since a longer time obviously I am observing the synod on the family starting today with utmost interest. The last days have shown clear lines between those wanting to move on with the people of God and those wanting to remain with the ” old restrictive ways” which have alienated so many Catholics and those otherwise sympathetic to the core values of our faith.
For me interesting is the latter ones always stress that there can be no change in the substance of faith. It shows clearly that either they don’t understand that nobody wants to change the teaching of the church or they try to sabotage a pastoral way which puts into account the realities of our century plus the neglected unconditional love of God. Listening to Cardinal Mueller or Burke I feel the ice of an academically preached unconditional love of God – a frozen faith towards a God who seemingly is not walking with his people. Too long, we had this climate of ‘you shall not…” – a very negative theology which killed the faith of so many of those touched by the gospel of Jesus.

The kingdom of God starts here, but is never in full present here and now and so the church has to listen to the signs of the times, the church has to listen to the academic research about sexuality as sciences is another way of knowing God. The church should listen to the voices of those, who are like the old prophets have been persecuted because the elite of a religion was not able to repent and see the new dawn God is providing. And not to forget the old and ancient and proven traditions of Africa which for example put sexuality time-wise before marriage but in an orderly way after lobola is paid.

Maybe it is too much asked to overcome the part of Humanae Vitae which was the downfall of Catholic moral theology; never accepted by the sensus fidelium. But it might be not too much asked that those synod participants, guided by the Holy Spirit may acknowledge that next to the form of the traditional family, there are other forms of love, of commitment and that failure of human love never means failure of God’s love towards them. And that sacraments never can be used to punish people but that they are especially needed in the times of the trauma of a love being destroyed for so many reasons. Let’s look at our sister church: Her ancient tradition of oikonomia is surely the key for changing our pastoral approach.
And let’s also recognize: where there is love between two people there is definitely God present. LGBTI people deserve the same love and respect – there is nothing intrinsic evil at all. To recognize this does not mean to change the theology of the sacraments. Let’s avoid these broad brushes which do not justice to different situations. Looking at each and everybody with the loving eye of God will help and being open to God’s good spirit and his guidance will do the rest so that justice prevail.

I hope and pray that the Synod on the family this year and next year will have appropriate answers to the questions of our times and that there will be no winner or loser but all feel guided by the God’s good spirit embracing and including all those who struggle and fail. We remain a church of saints and sinners – and God’s unconditional love shines over all of them in the same way.

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

Humanae Vitae syndrome

I am used to page every morning I do have access to internet to browse through all the news, obviously as a Catholic priest also through the Catholic news world. And somehow reading through the last months or so brought up the thought that our church is suffering of a sort of “Humanae Vitae syndrome”.  I don’t think I have to mention how ill received the decision of Paul VI was with most of the faithful and generally around the world and even years and decades of Catholic teaching did not change it. It is a reality even our Pope Benedikt XVI acknowledges that Catholics around the world do not obey the rule not to use contraception and have this kind of family planing.
This is by now means a dogma nor put it in doubts the essentials of Christian teaching, believing in God, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit. But it seems that this topic is distracting us as the church from being heard or taken seriously in other moral or ethical matters and as a matter fact: never has the majority of faithful embraced or adhered or accepted this vote of Paul VI. The latter makes the teaching even more difficult from a theological point of view. At the end it all has to do with sexuality and it’s connection with sin as proclaimed by Thomas of Aquino and before St. Augustine.

Reading now through the news I just realise how much this question of sexuality is still bordering us as a church and leads us to fights which might be preventable if you just listen to science and new research, the other way of finding God according to our pope  and both cannot contradict each other for this reason.  Melinda Gates, a Catholic is under heavy fire for her campaign to bring contraception and family planing to those areas in the world where poverty is prevalent. The US American Bishops go to court and do a “fortnight for freedom” to battle a health reform which brings so many blessings to Americans. But the questions of contraception overwrite it all, it seems.

Seeing it in the context of sexuality – Scotland’s bishops are gearing up for a fight against same-sex partnerships on the civil side and declaring, that “marriage is under threat and politicians need to know the Catholic Church will bear any burden and meet any cost in its defence”. In Australia one can read the same story and in Uganda, the Catholic Church sites with people, who demand the death penalty in the context of same-sex love.

Have a look at the USA again and the battle of the Catholic nuns, specially the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). About 80% of the 57,000 U.S. nuns  and sisters belong to the LCWR. The Vatican announced that the group’s leadership and programming would be taken over by three bishops because their stance on sexual issues are not identical with the teaching of the church. The same applies to the case of Sr Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M and her book”  Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (2006). The Congregation of Faith wrote to the most respected Catholic theologians in the United States: “”Among the many errors and ambiguities in this book are its positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage,”

For myself, I also just want to mention the field of HIV and AIDS where the stance of the Catholic Church does not win her friends despite the fact, that our church is doing so much in this field which is good. To give answer meant to different questions like the condom question which can be in the cases of HIV and AIDS a question of life and death is simply not good enough anymore. And to mention, even as a sideline remark, that condoms aggravate the problem is more than questionable.

I wonder why those topics with sexual connotation are really that important to the faithful that we spend so much time and energy and money and dedication to it. Are there no more important issues? Isn’t it time to reconsider and reconcile our non-dogmatic teaching and put love, faith and hope to the front of our sermons. And acknowledge that we part of civil society, but that civil society is more diverse and has other obligations then we as a church. We can voice our concerns, we can contribute to discussions and we should do so. And otherwise we should concentrate on all those topics where the world is in flames: human rights, dignity, enough food for all, ethics of politics and economics, bio-ethic… – just to name a few.. It is not that those involved and silenced and ignored have the intention of throwing out the whole of moral theology and teaching. Their intention is clearly to enhance the way we see and judge situations in life and to develop our theological and pastoral standing. Or simply to give honest answers to the questions of todays faithful.

And within this context one has to mention the Sensus Fidelium; that is  what the Christian people believe, accept, and reject. The Sensus Fidelium is connected to the promise of Christ to protect us from error with the guidance of the Spirit. Church hierarchy have taught what to believe, accept, and reject, but always with acceptance or a corrective response by theologian and the faithful even from the very beginning, as described in the Act 15. Obviously there has been in increase of faithful till today – so the Sensus Fidelium is a challenge. In conjunction with”Ecclessia semper reformanda” (The church must always be reformed” the challenge becomes even bigger. And maybe here lies the biggest question mark: Is the hierarchy willing to listen, to recognise and honor the fact, that the faithful and the theologian have a major role to play in developing of the theology. And is the Role of the Congregation of Faith not also in facilitating this process instead of only marking where freedom of speech and academic teaching with in the Catholic Church is at it’s very end. So a transformation from “watchdog only” to facilitator of serious dialog in the framework of the Sensus Fidelium.

And nobody should say that the church is not able to change the decision of previous popes. Slavery, democracy, freedom of religious choices are examples how much the church has changed. And Benedikt XVI has done it just now with the words “pro multis” in the Eucharistic prayer – and he argues that we have learned more and most put it into practice. I salute him for his courage and I hope that this also applies to other topics.

We need a serious dialogue, which it looks to me, parts of the German episcopate in their “Dialogprozess” have started. I salute them for this.

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

No second “humanae vitae” effect please

Preface:
Please note that this entry is my personal opinion. As theology also is linked to the topic of HIV and AIDS I guess it is important to see it in this context too.
Like it or condemn it – whatever you do, first please read the whole text, reflect on it and then you are welcome to comment on it too. If you like it, share it – if you don’t like it, you most probably will not share it, but you still can pray for me and leave the last judgement to the Lord himself . 🙂
Don’t do it now
Following the discussions in my church about the integration of the Pius XII Society and reading their website and publications I can only plead with my church not to wipe over the fundamental differences but to keep an open door policy fur further discussions without taking them in yet. The time is not here yet. We might close formally a separation but I fear for another division amongst the faithful like we have seen and still is to be seen on the issue of “Humanae Vitae”.
Even if we formally do not acknowledge it as a church: This encyclica was the beginning of loosing ground as church being taken seriously by major part of the faithful and societies. We don’t need within one century a repeat of this effect which divides people again within the church.
Let’s acknowledge:
The world is not flat but round and traditions develops and God is calling us into a future – he is always ahead of us and he is not asking us to turn back to the good old times – if they ever been so good at all. And there is indeed salvation possible outside the church. We don’t need amongst us more in-fights (we have more than enough), no internal crusades, no creeping back under the modder of old plush vestments.
Please church I belong to: most of us, of our members are living in the 21st century – and we have to overcome poverty and hunger and other obstacles; we have to contribute towards justice and peace and a healthy environment. We have to catch up with all scientific developments and the related moral teaching instead of inviting people to discuss celebration styles, Latin wording or if God’s good spirit is allowed outside the church to go and do his work.
I wish for the church to be relevant in this world, in this time for those living and struggling now.
I wish a church spelling out the unconditional love of God understandable – it is so much needed and wanted.
Therefore: Keep the door open but don’t unite under these circumstances. God has time and he does not mind diversity at all. We should follow his example…

Filed under: General, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

14th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenNovember 16th, 2019
4 months to go.

Ball of HOPE 2020

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 23rd, 2020
11 months to go.
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