Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pope Benedict in Brazil

Pope Benedict is in Latin America, exhorting Catholics there, as in Europe, to return to an earlier sense of faith and morality. His visit has also encouraged a good deal of theological speculation about the decline -- or is it viability? -- of liberation theology, a movement he tried hard to discredit and destroy when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. This speculation has led to some good articles, such as this one from The Economist, about the future shape of faith and religion in Latin America, where American-grown Pentecostalism is on the rise and has spurred a counter-growth in the Catholic charismatic movement. Today, in an important speech at the start of 19 days of meetings with Latin American cardinals and bishops on the future of Catholicism in their region, the pope again denounced Capitalism and Marxism, saying that religion must stay out of politics, while still working for justice.

Perhaps the topic of the pope might help to open up some discussion on this blog. In Quebec, because of the strong French Catholic culture, many Anglicans have more than a passing interest in what the pope says and does: a number of Quebec Anglicans have come from the Roman Catholic church themselves, and many of those who have not are coming from an Anglo-Catholic background or are interested in Catholic Church politics generally. For others - both former Catholics and not - the pope is, or has become, irrelevant.

So, readers, how do you feel? Have you been following the recent coverage of Pope Benedict's trip, and the major articles about his theology that have appeared recently? How do you feel about the pope in general? As an Anglican, do you see the internal struggles and official positions of the Roman Catholic Church as relevant to your life, and to our church, or not? And why? (It would be interesting to hear from Anglicans both inside and outside Quebec on this topic - so please don't be shy, let's hear some comments below!

--Beth Adams

14 comments:

Earl said...

It's really too bad that the leader of the world's largest Christian denomination has to be disingenuous if not downright dishonest (e.g., the philosphy of Marxism (i.e., Christian) which has yet to be implemented anywhere properly on a mass scale, and the so-called welcoming of the South American indigenous peoples). And whatever happened to ecumenicalism? (lol) No wonder people are leaving his church in droves and he can't recruit priests! (and those he is are of the unthinking sort) And can we not have "human" values? Must it always be "family" values? (And he doesn't mean this in the context of a faith community.) Why doesn't he share his plan for improvement? Does he have one? He doesn't even ask us to pray. Just give up sex!



Also, I thought of an interesting twist on the abortion issue the other day. Since the Pope has abolished limbo (ok, ok - decided it doesn't necessarily exist), wouldn't any fetus aborted at the moment of conception go directly to heaven now?



Peace,

Earl

Beth said...

Thanks, Earl! I find a huge disconnect between the pope's desire to discredit liberation theology, and the actual message of the Gospels. But of course it doesn't stop there - his retrograde insistence on byegone sexual mores and "faithful practice" are perhaps understandable in a person his age, but doomed in today's world. It's interesting that his predecessor, who was actually quite conservative on some of the same points, found a voice, a following, and a respect worldwide because of his eloquent pleas for peace and the impression he made of being a compassionate man who understood suffering.

The world is not going backwards, but careening into the future. People need hope, and a positive, realistic vision of the future that has relevance and can actually be lived out in their own lives. If there church refuses to model that, people will do what they've been doing -- leave.

Latin American clergy, like church people everywhere, will be asking their leader to consider what Pentecostalism is offering that people seem to need. It would be more productive to start there, it seems to me, rather than focusing on celibacy, abortion, premarital sex and drugs.

Earl said...

It's good to see Karen Armstrong's paperback version of "The Great Transforation" on the NYTimes' bestseller list this week, albewit no. 32. I also saw a big stack of them on the floor of Chapters this week - an encouraging sign! (I'm halfway through it and it's great.) Buy it and read it! Hers is the type of reasoning that will lead the world to a true understanding of spirituality (and save us from fundementalism and the current pope!).

Bill said...

Why do we bother about what Pope Benedict XVI says or does? Obviously we do and it probably has a lot to do with who and what we are as Anglicans. Historically our Christianity came to us from Rome and our spirituality is essentially Benedictine. Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine off to Britain in 596 to refound the Church in England. Augustine was a Benedictine monk and prior of St. Andrew's monastery in Rome! Also the BCP draws heavily on the Sarum Rite, sometimes called "the use of Salisbury," a local medieval form of the Roman rite which was used at Salisbury cathedral and later became widespread in England before the Reformation. Archbishop Cranmer used it extensively because it was already familiar to the English people. There are strong links,then, historically, liturgically and spiritually with the Roman Catholic Church whose head is the Pope!

Beth said...

Bill, do you think most Anglicans know that history (or care about it) who weren't raised in an Anglo-Catholic tradition? In the low church of my youth, we Episcopalians thought we were much closer to the Methodists and Baptists and Congregationalists than to the Catholics, and the clergy (on both sides) made us feel that separation keenly! It's only in recent years that the Episcopal Church has reconnected - both liturgically and theologically - with its Roman Catholic roots. Is that the same in Canada? Does Anglicanism vary across the country - more Catholic and "high church" in some places than in others? But even so - I'm extremely glad we are separate from Rome and don't have a Holy Father we are supposed to listen to and obey, let alone an institutional hierarchy of obedience and strict rules-or-else. This is why I am so troubled by the idea of an Anglican magisterium, with a covenant and rules that determine who's in and who's out.

On the other hand, faith does incorporate certain aspects of obedience, and I think that is a good thing which is seldom discussed within Anglicanism. Some of what the Pope seems to be driving at is the abandonment of this idea of obedience to God. The question is - who decides what the rules are? If people no longer listen to the Pope because what he says is irrelevant or nonsensical, this doesn't mean people don't want structure, faith, prayer, and a sense of order and meaning in their lives. Christian fundamentalism is one answer, but clearly not for all of us - but we are not doing a good job of articulating alternatives.

Bill said...

Beth, I think Anglicans need to know more about the Roman Catholic Church than they do for the simple reason that it comprises the largest single body of Christians in the world today. There is the potential there to do so much good, if only its social teachings could be implemented. I am thinking here not only of Vatican II but of earlier papal encyclicals, for example, Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum (May 15, 1891), possibly one of the most important papal pronouncements on social justice and considered in its time to be both revolutionary and subversve!

Bill

Tim said...

I think that it's fun to have a Pope. It's like having a grandfather who is a little out of touch with the modern world but still likes to give his opinion about how life should be. It's interesting to hear what he has to say, but we don't take him too seriously.

I have never met a pope in person, but I have met many Roman Catholics clergy and lay people and count them as my friends. In my small town in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, we meet regularly to eat breakfast together, have meetings, study together, worship together... we have so much in common. In fact, I find myself in warmer company here than I do with my more conservative Anglican clergy who seem to be drifting towards biblical fundamentalism.

As Bill wrote, we Ang/RC's share so much in common, it's hard not to like one another and understand each other. I think that we each have difficulties with our Primates and Popes who seem more intent on saving the structure than saving the people. But why should we give up on the church because a few people in pointy hats seem to be dragging their feet?

In our Tuesday evening group, "Faith and Reason" we listened to Richard Rodriguez, author, and gay Roman Catholic, who has decided to remain within his RC church despite the fact that it officially condemns him. He stays because, as he says, it is as much his church as it is the Pope's.

I think we each need to claim our space in our church and neither abdicate our voice and authority to bishops, primates and popes; nor be quiet when it seems appropriate to praise or to question their actions and pronouncements.

Tim Smart

Beth said...

Bill, why do you think it is so difficult for the Roman Catholic Church (or any of our churches, for that matter) to implement the social teachings of the Gospel? Why is liberation theology so threatening to the Vatican?


Tim, thanks for the comment, it's great to see you here! You're totally right: *we* are the body of Christ and it's up to us to claim our place in the church - and that's probably easier within Anglicanism than in Catholicism. As a woman I would be very frustrated to be Roman Catholic right now. (In my younger days, influenced by Merton, probably, I thought of converting but realized I simply couldn't bear the church's attitude toward women.) My female Catholic friends have a hard time, but I also understand why they don't want to leave. It seems to me that we, as Anglicans, have an important role to play in providing solidarity and hope to our gay and female RC friends who want to remain Catholic. Do you agree? I wish we had more interaction in Montreal among laity as well as clergy - maybe that's something we could work on.

Bill said...

Beth,

I think Tim has identified correctly the reason why the Roman Catholic Church has failed to implement its social doctrines, namely, the overriding concern of the hierarchy to protect the institution and to preserve the existing power structures.

The reason why the Roman Catholic Church has opposed Liberation Theology from the outset is that it makes use of the tools of Marxist analysis, including the work of prominent 20th century Marxist thinkers like the French philosopher Louis Althusser and the German philosopher Ernst Bloch, without necessarily making an ideological commitment to Marxism per se.

Marxism presupposes 19th century materialism and consequently is atheistic by definition.

Liberation Theology has given rise to base communities (Sp. communidades eccesiales de base), of which there are now 80,000 in Brazil alone! These are usually lay led groups("cells"), comprsing a number of very poor families, who get together to read and discuss the Bible with a Marxist take. They are not under the direct supervision of the clergy and hence without proper clerical direction or control. Reason enough for suspicion!

Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, used to consult the base communities regularly to find out what the real needs of the common people were. He paid the price for his actions, no doubt deemed by Rome to be, at best, "imprudent"!

Benedict XVI as Cardinal Ratzinger censured the writings of Jon Sobrino and Leonardo Boff, two very prominent South American Liberation theologians. It is not an accident, therefore, that the faithful were again cautioned against Sobrino just prior to the Pope's recent visit to Brazil!

Bill

Beth said...

Bill, thanks a lot for that explanation. I wonder what the bishops and cardinals told the Pope about these base communities. Do you know what form their worship takes? Do they tend to be more charismatic than the typical priest-led Catholic church? And how much are priests involved in the base communities anyway?

Bill said...

Beth,

Pope Benedict XVI does not need to be told about the base communities since they are simply a manifestation at the local level of Liberation Theology which he, as Cardinal Ratzinger, sought to eradicate. I suspect the subject was carefully avoided during his recent visit to Brazil!

The base communities (Sp. communidades eclesiales de base--I see that I misspelled "eclesiales" in my earlier posting, my apologies to any Spanish bloggers) represent Liberation Theology in practice. It is very much a bottom up movement.

The emphasis is always on "praxis", a term borrowed from the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci(1891-1937).

These small groups of peasants and urban day labourers gather regularly to read and to discuss the Bible. They exist outside the church, although priests who are sympathetic may occasionally come and celebrate mass for them. Since the base communities are often found in rural areas and in the slums of large cities in South America, priests are not always available. It is estimated that there are now 80,000 of these base communities in Brazil alone!

Because these people consider Christ as one of themselves (he,too, was poor and marginalized), they hold that their interpretations of the Gospel, based as they are on their own life experiences, are equally valid(if not more so)than those of the hierarchy or, indeed, of professional theologians and biblical exegetes. Obviously, this view is not shared by the hierarchy! I don't know about the professional theologians or exegetes. I guess it would depend on whether or not they were Liberation Theologians.

Pope Benedict XVI has "cautioned" the laity about overstepping their proper bounds. Lay presumption!

The base communities are part of a much wider phenomenon in the contemporary Roman Catholic Church, following Vatican II's emphasis on the Church as "the People of God."

What these movements seem to have in common is that they are grass roots and are led by lay people, with little or no clerical supervision.

Bill

Anonymous said...

One of the projects for which the Church senses herself responsible is to come to a fuller understanding of the meaning of Scripture, to approximate as best as possible within the world, a final understanding of what Scripture says.



This continuing dialogue within the Church is available to all believers to bring light and understanding to their relationship with God and their sisters and brothers.



But a serious problem exists. The whole Church and every individual are conditioned in their understanding by their creatureliness, their cultural situation, common sinfulness and personal sins.



All encounter God’s once and for all revelation spoken by the Word in every moment, calling to greater understanding and growth in God’s life. But, for the Church as a whole, for elements within the Church and for the individual person, that response must always be from the particular present in which one finds oneself.



Part of the tension which exists between the universal Roman Catholic Church and members of base communities in Latin America is that the Church says, after centuries of reflection and discussion, that it is concluded that the basic gospel message is such and such: Jesus said and meant this. The members of the base communities, on the other hand, say that they know nothing of all of that, so much of which is erudition and scholarship, but that it is clear, from their perspective, how they are forced to live their daily lives, that listening to the Word speaking within them and to their community, the basic gospel message is rather this other.



Both the magisterium of the universal Roman Catholic Church and base communities are where they are on their journey of faith. Neither one can abandon their stance while remaining faithful to the Word as they understand the Word to be spoken and heard.



What is, therefore, needed in the Church today, within the Roman Catholic Church and indeed the whole Church, is an openness and sympathy to where we all stand on the journey of faith. Instead of authoritative rulings, rejection, condemnation, departure, what is needed is loving understanding, an attempt to pass over into the position of the other, to grasp the perspective of the other, and then to kiss, bind up one another’s wounds, and assist each other on the continuing journey of faith. Further fraternal dialogue as we walk along together cannot help but bring additional light and understanding as we move towards the only absolute Answer, our one true Future who is God himself.

Beth said...

Anonymous, thank you so much for this illuminating comment. It's so difficult to know what to do when different interpretations of the Gospel, for example, are held by different groups, and a natural human discomfort with uncertainty seems to push us toward rigidity rather than "living with difference." We are certainly experiencing a similar clash of interpretation in the Anglican Communion at the present time. I found your remarks here about "openness and sympathy to where we all stand on the journey of faith" extremely helpful and to the point, and am sure others will as well.

Anonymous said...

GUESS I AM JUST ONE OF LITERALLY MILLIONS OF "EX-ANGLICANS" WHO HAVE EITHER OPTED FOR CATHOLIC-CHRISTIANITY OR NOTHING AT ALL.HARD FACTS PEOPLE THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IS ON IT'S DEATH BED, PARTICULARLY IN NORTH AMERICA & THE U.K. WHAT PART OF VIA MEDIA DOESN'T WORK DON'T THE REMAINING REACTIONARIES STILL SITTING IN ANGLICAN PEWS NOT UNDERSTAND. THE CUMBYA EPISCOPAL ESTABLISHMENT AKA CLERIC STILL OWN THE BUILDINGS BUT THEIR PRIESTS & PRIETESSES LOOK OUT OVER DANK AND EMPTY BUILDINGS. THE LEFTIST ESTABLISHMENT HATES THE PRESENT POPE QUITE SIMPLY BECAUSE HE HAS STOPPED THE BULLSHIT OF 40 YEARS OF LEFTIST INTERPRETATION OF THE SECOND ECUMENICAL VATICAN COUNCIL. THOUSANDS OF CATHOLIC CHURCHES ARE PACKED TO THE RAFTERS WITH PREDOMINATELY YOUNG PEOPLE AND IT'S THE TRADITIONAL (LATIN) LITURGY THEY ARE DRAWN TO. SINCE THE ADVENT OF POPE BENEDICT THE 16TH MANY HAVE RETURNED TO THEIR CATHOLIC ROOTS AND SEMINARIES AND RELIGIOUS HOUSES THAT ARE ORTHODOX ARE EXPERIENCING A FANTASTIC INCREASE IN VOCATIONS. SADLY ANGLICANISM, AND THE OTHER SO-CALLED MAINSTREAN PROTESTANT SOCIAL CLUBS ARE EITHER DEAD OR DYING. LIBERALS HAVE SCREWED YOUR CHURCHES INTO OBLIVION. 1.5 BILLION CATHOLICS AND HALF A BILLION ORTHODOX AROUND THE WORLD ARE NOW AFTER 40 YRS OF LIBERALISM AND 75 YEARS OF MARXIST LENINISM EXPERIENCING FANTASTIC GROWTH WORLDWIDE. YOUR BLOODY RIGHT THE LIBERAL LEFTIST ESTABLISHMENT HAS SOMETHING TO FEAR AND THAT'S THEIR FINALLY ELIMINATION FROM THE MEMORY OF HUMANKIND.