God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Gone with the wind…

When I visit Berlin in these days, one can see school classes standing at points where in previous times a wall had been erected to forcefully separate those in the West from those in the East. A bloody frontier where people lost their lives just for the sake of politics. And if one looks into the faces of those youngsters coming today there you can see blanks as it is almost impossible to imagine the old times or grasp the meaning of separation. It does not make sense anymore at all.
The same way, I think, our church will look back in the future of times like ours, where e.g.communion was used as a tool of punishment or God abused as a policeman bound to human ways of justice. Heads will be shaken reading statements from Cardinals insisting that nothing has to be changed in our church and that the unconditional love of God has to be conditioned by those not believing that the church has changed over time. It seems for those eternal in yesterday living that they not only deny the present to discover God’s love but that they even deny history to be looked at in a truthful way. Slavery was once ok’ed by the church, democracy and human rights damned as the devils tools to bring people down. The idea of freedom of religion came from Satan himself – all those changes seemed to be none existing in the minds of those whose church has never changed. The deepening of discipline, the development of theology, the constant dialogue between other sciences – all gone with the wind and faded away into non-existence when listening to those high up in the hierarchy of the church now defending almost violently orally and in writings  a static church. And what strikes me most: There is no trust in God walking with his church into new green pastures, there is no trust in the Holy Spirit guiding his church as the people of God through times and there is no trust being called like Abraham into the unknown future of existence. And there is a static hierarchy where those above have all knowledge and those called the laity are only called to be observant members of the church.
One could almost feel hopeless but there is always a ray of light somewhere coming. For me it was yesterday the speech of the pope marking the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops. It was a liberating speech – showing that after years, perceived by many as a babylonic time, some important fruits of the II Vatican Council have been brought back into the light.
The Pope in his own words after words of greetings and I know, it is a longer text, but worth reading:
“From the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome I intended to enhance the Synod, which is one of the most precious legacies of the Second Vatican Council. For Blessed Paul VI, the Synod of Bishops was meant to keep alive the image of the Ecumenical Council and to reflect the conciliar spirit and method. The same Pontiff desired that the synodal organism “over time would be greatly improved.” Twenty years later, St. John Paul II would echo those sentiments when he stated that “perhaps this tool can be further improved. Perhaps the collegial pastoral responsibility can find even find a fuller expression in the Synod.” Finally, in 2006, Benedict XVI approved some changes to the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, especially in light of the provisions of the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, promulgated in meantime. We must continue on this path. The world in which we live and that we are called to love and serve even with its contradictions, demands from the Church the Church the strengthening of synergies in all areas of her mission. And it is precisely on this way of synodality where we find the pathway that God expects from the Church of the third millennium. In a certain sense, what the Lord asks of us is already contained in the word “synod.” Walking together – Laity, Pastors, the Bishop of Rome – is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice. After reiterating that People of God is comprised of all the baptized who are called to “be a spiritual edifice and a holy priesthood,” the Second Vatican Council proclaims that “the whole body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief and manifests this reality in the supernatural sense of faith of the whole people, when ‘from the bishops to the last of the lay faithful’ show their total agreement in matters of faith and morals.”
In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium I stressed that “the people of God is holy because this anointing makes [the people] infallible “in matters of belief”, adding that “each baptized person, no matter what their function is in the Church and whatever educational level of faith, is an active subject of evangelization and it would be inappropriate to think of a framework of evangelization carried out by qualified actors in which the rest of the faithful People were only recepients of their actions. The sensus fidei prevents rigid separation between “Ecclesia” (Church) and the Church teaching, and learing (Ecclesia docens discens), since even the Flock has an “instinct” to discern the new ways that the Lord is revealing to the Church.
It was this conviction that guided me when I desired that God’s people would be consulted in the preparation of the two-phased synod on the family. Certainly, a consultation like this would never be able to hear the entire sensus fidei (sense of the faith). But how would we ever be able to speak about the family without engaging families, listening to their joys and their hopes, their sorrows and their anguish? Through the answers to the two questionnaires sent to the particular Churches, we had the opportunity to at least hear some of the people on those issues that closely affect them and about which they have much to say.
A synodal church is a listening church, knowing that listening “is more than feeling.” It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. Faithful people, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: we are one in listening to others; and all are listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), to know what the Spirit “is saying to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).
The Synod of Bishops is the convergence point of this dynamic of listening conducted at all levels of church life. The synodal process starts by listening to the people, who “even participate in the prophetic office of Christ”, according to a principle dear to the Church of the first millennium: “Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari debet” [what concerns all needs to be debated by all]. The path of the Synod continues by listening to the pastors. Through the Synod Fathers, the bishops act as true stewards, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, who must be able to carefully distinguish from that which flows from frequently changing public opinion.
On the eve of the Synod of last year I stated: “First of all, let us ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of listeining for the Synod Fathers, so that with the Spirit, we might be able to hear the cry of the people and listen to the people until we breathe the will to which God calls us.”
Finally, the synodal process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called upon to pronounce as “pastor and teacher of all Christians,” not based on his personal convictions but as a supreme witness of “totius fides Ecclesiae” (the whole faith of the Church), of the guarantor of obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ and to the Tradition of the Church. The fact that the Synod always act, cum Petro et sub Petro – therefore not only cum Petro, but also sub Petro – this is not a restriction of freedom, but a guarantee of unity. In fact the Pope, by the will of the Lord, is “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops as much as of the multitude of the faithful.” To this is connected the concept of “ierarchica communio” (hierarchical communio) used by Vatican II: the Bishops being united with the Bishop of Rome by the bond of episcopal communion (cum Petro) and at the same time hierarchically subjected to him as head of the college (sub Petro). As a constitutive dimension of the Church, synodality gives us the more appropriate interpretive framework to understand the hierarchical ministry. If we understand as St. John Chrysostom did, that “church and synod are synonymous,” since the Church means nothing other than the common journey of the Flock of God along the paths of history towards the encounter of Christ Lord, then we understand that within the Church, no one can be raised up higher than the others. On the contrary, in the Church, it is necessary that each person be “lowered ” in order to serve his or her brothers and sisters along the way. Jesus founded the Church by placing at its head the Apostolic College, in which the apostle Peter is the “rock” (cfr. Mt 16:18), the one who will confirm his brothers in the faith (cfr. Lk 22: 32). But in this church, as in an inverted pyramid, the summit is located below the base. For those who exercise this authority are called “ministers” because, according to the original meaning of the word, they are the least of all. It is in serving the people of God that each Bishop becomes for that portion of the flock entrusted to him, vicarius Christi, (vicar of that Jesus who at the Last Supper stooped to wash the feet of the Apostles (cfr. Jn 13: 1-15 ). And in a similar manner, the Successor of Peter is none other than the servus servorum Dei (Servant of the servants of God). Let us never forget this! For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of the service, the only power is the power of the cross, in the words of the Master: “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their leaders oppress them. It shall not be so among you: but whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave” (Mt 20:25-27). “It shall not be so among you:” in this expression we touch the heart of the mystery of the Church and receive the necessary light to understand hierarchical service. In a Synodal Church, the Synod of Bishops is only the most obvious manifestation of a dynamism of communion that inspires all ecclesial decisions. The first level of exercize of synodality is realized in the particolar (local) Churches. After having recalled the noble institution of the diocesan Synod, in which priests and laity are called to collaborate with the Bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community, the Code of Canon Law devotes ample space to those that are usually called “bodies of communion” in the local Church: the Council of Priests, the College of Consultors, the Chapter of Canons and the Pastoral Council. Only to the extent that these organizations are connected with those on the ground, and begin with the people and their everyday problems, can a Synodal Church begin to take shape: even when they may proceed with fatigue, they must be understood as occasions of listening and sharing.
The second level is that of Ecclesiastical Provinces and Regions, of Particular (local Councils) and in a special way, Episcopal Conferences. We must reflect on realizing even more through these bodies – the intermediary aspects of collegiality – perhaps perhaps by integrating and updating some aspects of early church order. The hope of the Council that such bodies would help increase the spirit of episcopal collegiality has not yet been fully realized. As I have said, “In a Church Synod it is not appropriate for the Pope to replace the local Episcopates in the discernment of all the problems that lie ahead in their territories. In this sense, I feel the need to proceed in a healthy “decentralization.”
The last level is that of the universal Church. Here the Synod of Bishops, representing the Catholic episcopate, becomes an expression of episcopal collegiality inside a church that is synodal. It manifests the affective collegiality, which may well become in some circumstances “effective,” joining the Bishops among themselves and with the Pope in the solicitude for the People God.
The commitment to build a Synodal Church to which all are called – each with his or her role entrusted to them by the Lord is loaded with ecumenical impications. For this reason, talking recently to a delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, I reiterated the conviction that “careful consideration of how to articulate in the Church’s life the principle of collegiality and the service of the one who presides offers a significant contribution to the progress of relations between our Churches.”
I am convinced that in a synodal Church, the exercise of the Petrine primacy will receive greater light. The Pope is not, by himself, above the Church; but inside it as one baptized among the baptized, and within the College of Bishops as Bishop among Bishops; as one called at the same time as Successor of Peter – to lead the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches. While I reiterate the need and urgency to think of ” a conversion of the papacy,” I gladly repeat the words of my predecessor Pope John Paul II: “As Bishop of Rome I know well […] that the full and visible communion of all the communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells, is the ardent desire of Christ. I am convinced that you have in this regard a special responsibility, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a form of exercise of the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.” Our gaze extends also to humanity. A synodal church is like a banner lifted up among the nations (cfr. Is 11:12) in a world that even though invites participation, solidarity and transparency in public administration – often hands over the destiny of entire populations into the greedy hands of restricted groups of the powerful. As a Church that “walks together” with men and women, sharing the hardships of history, let us cultivate the dream that the rediscovery of the inviolable dignity of peoples and the exercize of authority, even now will be able to help civil society to be founded on justice and fraternity, generating a more beautiful and worthy world for mankind and for the generations that will come after us.”

(Translation by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, English language media attaché, Holy See Press Office)

Filed under: Catholic Church, Networking, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

Changing the teaching?

I guess meanwhile even those far away from the Roman Catholic Church could not avoid to notice that a debate is going on about family and sexuality and how church should see, consider and tackle those problem areas of Christian fabric. There are those in favor of changes and the surveys in Europe show clearly that some of  the teaching is not only not understood but simply ignored even by those going to church every Sunday. Others resent changes and one of the loudest prominent voices is now Cardinal Mueller, heading the department watching over the right faith of the church. He is surely a controversial figure and I have the impression he likes like the late Manto Tshabala Msimang to be in that place of controversy and harsh judgements. But he is also an academic and I fail to understand why he argues in the matter divorced-remarried so non-academic and in my opinion simply wrong. Where ever I read about his comments mainly in the German press, he insists that the church teaching cannot be changed. He insists that dogmas can’t change and therefore divorced – remarried cannot receive communion until – so to speak – Jesus comes back and corrects it.
Maybe I am mistaken but I cannot see that this argument meets the request of changes at all. I see from all the surveys that people yearn for lifelong intimacy, faithfulness and most Christians would agree that this is the aim, even if times have changed since Jesus. But they also acknowledge that failure is an option and that in the light of the unconditional love of God there is the mercy factor the church holds dear in tradition and teaching.

Mueller has only to look to the Orthodox Church – the sister church,the other lung of the church as John-Paul II has put it. They have the same teaching and still, there is a way via “oikonomia” to remedy situations of failure. In excluding such an option Mueller indirectly accuses the Orthodox Church of being unfaithful to the teaching of Jesus, which I find quite amazing. Or he maybe is ignorant and has not understood yet, that the letter of the law kills, but he spirit of the law gives life. The Orthodox Church has given room to the spirit and there is a clear feeling in the Western part of the church, that the spirit should govern the whole church and so overcome the split of the 11th century. I can’t remember which Cardinal from South America it was, but he pointed out in an interview, that  Cardinal Mueller has to learn that the German way of seeing things either “black or white” does not apply to real life, also therefore not to the life of the church. We all live in shadows of grey. And this gives the light of mercy the special attractive sparkle when seen from outside.

So, I don’t think we need to change the teaching, but we should stop declaring an ideal the measurement for our daily life. And we should not use another sacrament to punish people. The grace of God in the Sacrament of the Eucharist is in my eyes often a comfort for those going to the trauma of shattered dreams. If the “spiritual communion” has the same effect of God’s closeness as the “real communion” , so John – Paul II, then there is indeed no need to differentiate between them. Let’s keep praying that the Synod of Bishops in October experiencing the spirit which liberates and gives life.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Religion and Ethics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Discussions about family

Within the church and society there are major discussions how to define family and how to define marriage. As seen in France, violence seems to be the last resort for opponents of “same-sex” marriage and family life. Having myself problems with the word “gay marriage” on one hand but seeing the need for equality regarding the legal status of a same-sex couple in the legal framework of a country, I found in the recent Southern Cross two articles which in my understanding are underlining the need for further discussions on the subject without any hostility pro or contra the opposite position. With the permission of the editor of the Southern Cross, Guenther Simmermacher, here the two pieces, which can be seen also on the original website of the Southern Cross. All copyright is with the Southern Cross.

The revolution of family (link to Southern Cross original text)

May 1, 2013

In recent weeks several Church leaders have indicated that they might not oppose legislation that would extend civil union rights to same-sex couples, with the legal prerogatives that apply to traditional marriages, but without characterising such unions as marriages.
“In practice, the function of procreation has been diminished as the primary purpose of marriage, and not only in the West”
In early February Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said that while the Church cannot consent to anything that treats other unions as equivalent to marriage between a man and a woman, “private law solutions” for protecting people’s rights could be permissible.This view has since been echoed by influential prelates such as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Cardinal Rubén Salazar of Colombia (where same-sex legislation is pending) and Archbishop Piero Marini, liturgical master of ceremonies under Pope John Paul II. Under Pope Francis there seems to be an increasing openness to saying such things. Indeed, these statements might reflect the pope’s thinking: a senior official in Argentina’s bishops’ conference has confirmed that the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio favoured civil unions as an alternative to the legalisation of gay marriage in his country in 2010.

These comments will be welcome by Catholics and others who have supported the extension of full civil rights to homosexuals, but are opposed to changing the traditional definitions of marriage. However, an acknowledgment that the legalisation of same-sex civil unions is not irreconcilable with Catholic teaching and represents a tolerable alternative to the redefinition of the traditional family might be coming too late in stopping the inexorable move towards the legalisation of gay marriage in many countries. Worldwide, 13 countries have legalised same-sex marriage, including South Africa.

Questions may be raised whether the concept of same-sex civil unions is actually acceptable to those who advocate same-sex marriage, and whether the Church can keep intact its definition of marriage and family if it consents to same-sex civil unions. In a broader context, can the Church’s model of the traditional family retain currency in societies where the meaning of marriage and family has been thoroughly revolutionised over the past half century, with divorce, cohabitation and raising children outside marriage increasingly being seen as acceptable and normal? In practice, the function of procreation has been diminished as the primary purpose of marriage, and not only in the West. It is within this context that the notion of same-sex marriage has become acceptable to so many people throughout the world. These realities merit open and candid discussion as the Church seeks to formulate its response. It may also be productive to study the effects of the tone in which Church leaders state their opposition to gay marriage. For example, have the more strident forms of rhetoric—on either side—precluded reasonable dialogue and compromise?
It must be acknowledged that in its engagement against gay marriage, the Catholic Church has inflicted wounds, and sustained some itself. The Church has been accused of homophobia and hypocrisy. While opposition to same-sex marriage obviously is not intrinsically homophobic, some of the trenchant rhetoric has been interpreted as being hostile to homosexuals. Sometimes the lines between defending marriage and attacking homosexuals have appeared to be blurred. Some intemperate protests from Church leaders have been hurtful to the LGBT community, in contrast with the Catechism of the Catholic Church which demands that homosexuals be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (2358).

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who himself has offered ferocious opposition to gay marriage, acknowledged this failing last month when he said on US television that the Church must ensure that its “defence of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people”. He acknowledged, with admirable frankness, that the Church has not “been too good at that” and has failed to be consistently welcoming to gays and lesbians.

This failure to fully extend Christ’s embrace for all requires correction. The discussion about how to do this must begin now.

Learning from Germans (Link to Southern Cross)

By Mphuthumi Ntabeni on May 1, 2013

In April the Justice and Peace (J&P) Commission of the archdiocese of Cape Town was fortunate to have an information-sharing session with a visiting German Church delegation, led by Bishop Stephan Josef Ackermann of Trier. Bishop Ackermann is the chairman of J&P in Germany, and also the bishop assigned to deal with sexual abuse cases in Germany. Pilgrims pray at last year’s “Katholikentag”, the biennial German Catholic Church assembly which is organised by the national laity council. The German delegation was impressed that in South Africa we have J&P commissions in our parish commissions.  In Germany J&P exist only on a national level, under the Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken (ZdK), the official council of the German Catholic laity.

The ZdK was founded in 1848, was banished under Bismarck and again under the Nazi regime, but gained public respect mostly during the Cold War. Its secretary, Dr Stefan Vesper, was among the visiting delegation. The ZdK is a representative body of lay people. It unites diocesan councils, Catholic associations, institutions of lay apostolates, lay movements and communities. It serves also as a forum of opinions on political issues and the Church. From what I understood, the ZdK represents the concerns of Catholics in the public arena. It has a division that operates like our Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office in participating in public dialogue and in the houses of legislation in shaping public policy. It advises the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference on issues of social, political and religious life. Most of us showed deep interest in ZdK works, especially in the light of the media reports about some of our church leaders on topics such as sexual abuse and homosexuality. The ZdK seems to be a good forum for dialogue and a fountain of sharing ideas between bishops’ conference and general laity, so that the Church can truly speak with one voice. It was refreshing to notice that the bishops and ZdK actually speak with one voice, albeit from different perspectives, about the social teachings of the Church, and that no noticeable tension exists between hierarchy and the lay body.

For instance, I had a short discussion with Aloys Buch, a leading professor of moral theology and a deacon, about the gay marriage discussions that are currently a hot topic throughout Europe. Apparently the German Catholic Church makes a distinction between civil unions and marriage. Prof Buch argued that the widespread demand for gay marriage, as opposed to civil unions, is not about natural justice, but about the desire for a “biopolitical tyranny to destroy marriage and the family as the most basic and crucial mediating social institution”.  I later discovered that Bishop Ackermann holds similar views. So there is a clear distinction made between gay marriage, which the German Church—like the Church everywhere—opposes, and same-sex civil unions, which would give homosexual couples all the rights of matrimony, except to call that union a marriage. While the legislation of gay marriage is not acceptable to the Church, for the reasons Prof Buch outlined, the legal construct of civil unions of same-sex couples appears to be tolerable.

I was embarrassed to admit there is a certain squeamishness about talking about these things as openly in the Southern African Catholic Church

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

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