God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No crime ever deserves the death penalty

It is amazing for me that I had to wait that long in my life to hear the clear words of a Pope condemning without reservation not only the death penalty but also “life without parole”. Even the Catholic Catechism was still a bit ambivalent about those matters. The Pope wrote that capital punishment is “inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed by the convict”. For him it represents a “failure” in nations governed by “rule of law” “because it forces you to kill in the name of justice”. Human justice is “imperfect” and “fallible”. Quoting Dostoyevsky the Pope said: “To kill for murder is a punishment incomparably worse than the crime itself. Murder by legal sentence is immeasurably more terrible than murder by brigands…. …No matter how serious the crime committed by the convict,” Francis stated, the death penalty “is an affront to the sanctity of life and human dignity. It goes against God’s plan for man, society and his merciful justice and prevents any just end to the punishment from being reached.” According to the Pope, the death penalty “does not bring justice to victims but encourages revenge.” Francis emphasized that “there is no human way to kill”, even there are debates around the world about “the way to kill, as if it were about trying to ‘do it well’. Throughout history people have defended mechanisms to kill by reducing the agony and suffering of the convict” but “there is no human way to kill another person”. Similar the Pope rejected also the punishment of life without the possibility of parole: “As with all sentences that make it impossible for an individual to plan their future because of the length of the sentence, life imprisonment can be considered a hidden form of capital punishment” because it does not deprive the person only from their freedom but also of “hope”. The criminal system can take some of the transgressors’ time away but “it must never deprive them of hope”
The State kills when it applies the death penalty but also “when it leads its population to war, when it performs extrajudicial or summary executions” and can also kill by ‘neglect’, when it does not guarantee its population access to the essential things they need to live.”

The sanctity of life is always the underlining reason for all, Christians are called to do when dealing with fellow human beings or even creation as such. All existing is graced with the spirit of God and we believe that all human being are brothers and sisters or sons and daughters of God. This protection of life from birth till death is also the baseline for all done in the world of medicine. It also applies when HOPE Cape Town focuses on children and their families infected or affected by HIV, AIDS and related illnesses. It is the sanctity of life which gives them the right to live their lives also to the fullest. It applies to all working in the field of poverty relief as a decent life with all the essentials they need to live in dignity is essential if we don’t want to fall into the neglect the Pope is pointing out. Seeing the state of affair in South Africa and the obvious neglect in various fields of government and society attributed to corruption and absolute ignorance for the plight of the people the words from the Vatican are a reminder of the long way we still have to go in our rainbow nation. And it is a reminder that we have to work tireless to get the message to those in power and assisting them to get it right in time for this generation now striving to build an equal society around the Cape of Good Hope.

Filed under: Catholic Church, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Criminalization of HIV – AIDS

Bad criminal laws...Poisoning  –  terrorist attack  – bio-attack  –  murder  — attempted murder  –  assault

 

the labels of law are unbelievable – sometimes even if there is no knowledge of the infection or no transmission occurred

 

Did you know that giving birth, breastfeeding, spitting as a HIV positive person can bring you into jail in some countries?

 

In Sweden, even consent is declared invalid by law if transmission occurs

 

It is not those who know their status who drive the pandemic but those who don’t know. But would you go for a test when you know that a positive result might bring you in jail through your sexual activities, even if it is protected sex and no transmission occurs?

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

18.09.2009 Criminal HIV?

“Nick Rhoades, an Iowa man sentenced May 8 to 25 years in prison for failing to disclose his HIV status to a male sexual partner, had his sentence reduced to five years of probation without jail time in a September 11 reconsideration hearing, The Iowa Independent reports.”

It is indeed an interesting question on whether disclosure of a HIV status can or should always be judged by legal means. In the existing climate of stigmatization and discrimination it is very unlikely that all people infected will be willing or able to disclose before being sexually active with somebody else. Punishment for non-disclosure, often even if no infection took place is growing in the legal systems of nations and I tend to disagree.
I would argue that the onus lies on both parties to protect and if I want to engage in sexual activities where the exchange of body fluids is likely, I have to treat every unknown and maybe even every known person as if he/she is carrier of the virus.  It always takes two to dance one says – and this applies also to such cases like the one above.
I personally don’t think that the tool of the criminal code is a very good tool to prevent infections; I think it will rather make it more unlikely that people get tested because at least they could argue then, that they did not know at all.
I see with concern that more and more also African countries develop laws in that regard, even punishing people when they did not know of their infection and no infection took place.
Extra criminal laws in this regard puts people living with the virus very quick into the criminal corner – that is not what we need to stop the stigma and in doing so,  creating an environment where we are really able to stop the spread of the virus.

Filed under: HIV Prevention, Politics and Society, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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