Saturday, June 3, 2017
Teresa Forcades (theologian and nun): "A theology that moves beyond any stereotype of women is necessary"
El Diario Vasco
May 23, 2017
The Catalan nun and theologian Teresa Forcades (1966) offered a lecture yesterday on "Spirituality and gender" in Portalea, in a convocation organized by a group of women from the Eibar church arena who have been meeting fortnightly in San Andres parish for more than 11 years. Forcades, a native of Barcelona, has a degree in Medicine. She moved to the United States to study Internal Medicine at the State University of New York. Back in Spain, she entered the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat. Her Theology degree wasn't validated by the Spanish Catholic schools because she got it from a Protestant school. Even so, Forcades published the book La teología feminista en la historia ["Feminist Theology in History"] in 2007, in which she places it in the framework of critical theologies or liberation theology, doing a historical review of women who throughout history have experienced the contrast between theological discourse and their experience of God. In 2013, she created, together with Arcadi Olivares, a populist platform to promote the self-determination of Catalonia. In 2015, Forcades left the Benedictine convent to run in the Catalan autonomy elections, though she hasn't stopped being a nun.
Don't you think that reading the Sacred Scriptures leaves women in second place? Don't you think that a very stereotypical and to some extent chauvinist image of women emerges from that reading?
It depends on how the Sacred Scriptures are read and interpreted. If the statement "women should remain silent in church" is taken out of its historical context, it's simply sexist. If you take the context into account, then that statement preserved in the Bible, in addition to being sexist, testifies that in the first centuries there were women who did talk in the Church and an image appears of the first communities that contributes to questioning the history of humanity as it has been told to us, and I'm not just referring to the religious environment. In Saint Paul's letter to the Romans, for example, appears the name of Junia, a woman apostle, whom Saint Paul regards with reverence. In the Middle Ages, the name Junia (female) was changed to Junias (male).
What work have you been doing in favor of the promotion of spirituality from a gender perspective?
In 2007, I published La teología feminista en la historia, where I've gathered the testimony of women theologians like Cristina de Pizán, Isabel de Villena, Moderata Fonte, Lucrezia Marinella, Teresa de Jesús, María Jesús de Ágreda, Juana Inés de la Cruz, Marie de Gournay, Bathsua Makin, Anna Maria van Schurman, Margaret Fell, Mary Astell, who range from the 14th to the 17th century. In 2015, I published Por amor a la justicia: Dorothy Day y Simone Weil ["For love of justice: Dorothy Day and Simone Weil"], a work focused on the lives and work of these two great 20th century women committed to workers' struggles who, after declaring themselves atheists and first living as such in their youth, experienced the presence of Jesus in their lives in a way that was surprising to them. My latest book, which will appear in October is Los retos del Papa Francisco ["The Challenges of Pope Francis"]. In it I address, among other things, the question of women in the Church. Apart from the books, I give courses and various talks about spirituality and theology done by women and especially about the need to formulate a theology that is able to move beyond any stereotypes.
Has it been costly for you to maintain such revolutionary positions in the field of spirituality and gender?
Up to now it hasn't been very costly. I have the support of my community and also my bishop who, even though he thinks differently, isn't an authoritarian man. In spite of that, during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the fundamentalist Catholic groups were strong and there was a lot of criticism of me on the Internet that now, with Pope Francis, has disappeared. My critical stance towards the interests of the big pharmaceutical companies and towards certain political interests in Catalonia has been more costly.
Have you gotten pressure to not work in the political arena?
From the Church no, none. What my community asked me to do was that while I was active in politics, I would ask for a period of exclaustration to avoid media pressure on the monastery and that's how we've done it.
What were the reasons that led you to study Protestant theology?
Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza is a Catholic feminist theologian known worldwide for her Biblical interpretation work. I translated one of her books and she encouraged me to ask for a scholarship to Harvard, which is where she is a professor. At Harvard, even though its origins are Methodist, they don't just teach Protestant theology, but there are Catholic and Orthodox professors and Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist ones too. What drew me to Harvard wasn't Protestant theology, but the quality of the teaching there. Then, when I was already a nun and after finishing my doctorate on the Trinity, I moved to Berlin to do the post-doctorate and they invited me to give classes in the School of Theology of Humboldt University, which is Protestant but has a chair devoted to Catholic theology. However, I didn't work in that chair but in the gender studies one.
How do you draw the youth audience to religious faith in these times?
My experience with young people is especially in Germany (Berlin), which is where I've given classes in the university. I've observed that among them the tendency that was in effect a few years ago to separate spirituality (personal experience of faith) from religion (institutionalized experience) is diminishing. Young people of today are more sensitive to the limits of individualism and more open to community experiences. The best way to put them in touch with religious faith is still proposing experiences of silence, of encounter with oneself, and contact with credible testimonies to which they can formulate their questions and concerns.
May 18, 2017
The young teacher "Daniel" wrote a letter to Pope Francis informing him of the sexual abuses that he and other underage people had suffered since childhood from some priests and laypeople of the Archdiocese of Granada. Francis called him twice to apologize, show his support, and commit himself to investigate the case and to tell him he would make it known to the Archbishop of Granada who, to tell the truth, didn't show the same diligence as the Pope since he delayed in responding to the calls of the sexually assaulted young man. "The truth is the truth, and it shouldn't be hidden, whatever the cost," Francis said.
The Pope's solidarity with people who have been sexually abused by church people contrasts on the one hand with the silence and cover-up by a sector of the Catholic hierarchy that is obstructing the investigation of justice and seems to be on the side of the pedophiles and, on the other hand, with the absolving rulings of judges who doubt the testimony of the people who have been the object of pedophilia and who have even blamed them. There would appear to be a complicity between a sector of the judiciary, the church hierarchy, and pedophiles. Maybe judges in Spain still feel reverential respect for people belonging to the clergy at its different levels -- priests, bishops,...Let's leave it as a "maybe".
I'm not going into judging the sentences here, because it's not my job. I do want to make a theological reflection about pedophilia, which is my field. The root of such an abominable, violent and criminal practice is found, in my opinion, in the patriarchal structure of the Catholic Church and in hegemonic masculinity, even more, in holy masculinity. As the North American feminist philosopher Mary Daly states in her pioneering feminist theology book, Beyond God the Father (Boston, 1973, 19), "If God is male, then the male is God." God's masculinity converts the male into the sole representative of God on earth and into lord and master in all fields of human being and doing and especially within the church institution -- organizational, doctrinal, moral, religious-sacramental, sexual, etc. And not any male, but the cleric in his different degrees -- deacon, priest, bishop, archbishop, pope -- who is elevated to the category of holy person.
Holy masculinity legitimizes all the male's actions, however perverse they may be, as a representative and spokesman for God -- religious wars, patriarchal violence, religious, symbolic, and psychological violence, religious intolerance, authoritarianism, etc. With such behavior, God is converted into a violent being and, in the end, a murderer. Holy masculinity is turned into a necessary condition to exert power, all power, in the religious world. This power begins by the control of souls, continues with the manipulation of consciences, and even gets to the appropriation of bodies in a perverse game. It's about diabolical behavior programmed with premeditation and treachery, practiced on defenseless people who are intimidated, and exercised from a purported sacred authority over the victims, which is resorted to to commit the crimes with impunity.
Power over souls is one of the main roles of priests, if not the main one, as is reflected in the expressions "priest of souls," "shepherd of souls," etc. whose objective, they say, is to lead souls to heaven and assure their salvation, according to a dualistic conception of the human being that deems the soul the true and immortal identity of the human being, and that it must be protected from all contact with the body that contaminates it and makes it impure. This is a form of violence.
Power over souls leads to control of consciences. Only a clean, pure conscience, uncontaminated by what is material, guarantees salvation, it is argued. Therefore the mission of the priest, in the most classic conception of ordained ministry, is to form his parishioners in the right conscience that requires renouncing their own consciences and submitting to the moral dictates of the Church. Thus one arrives at the highest degree of alienation and manipulation of conscience. Violating personal conscience, twisting individual conscience, forcing someone to act against conscience is one of the most serious and subtle forms of violence exerted frequently by religious leaders and ideologues over believers who credulously follow their moral guidelines.
The end of this control game is power over bodies that leads to the crimes of pedophilia committed by clerics and people who move in church and clerical circles. Those who exert power over souls and over consciences think they also have the right to appropriate bodies and use and abuse them. This, undoubtedly, is the most diabolical consequence of hegemonic holy masculinity. The greater the power over souls and the more tyrannical the control of consciences, the greater the tendency to abuse the bodies of the most vulnerable people who fall under their influence -- credulous people, boys, girls, adolescents, young people, disabled people, etc.
Pedophile violence is the greatest scandal of the Catholic Church in the whole 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, the one that has brought the most discredit on this 2000 year-old institution. Some of those who presented themselves as models of self-giving to others, gave themselves to crimes against unprotected people. Some of those who were thought experts in education, used their supposed educational excellence to abuse the boys and girls entrusted to them by their parents to receive a good formation. Some of those who presented themselves as guides of "innocent souls" to lead them along the good path of salvation, devoted themselves to defiling their bodies and nullifying their minds.
Did the Vatican not know about the widespread, programmed and perverse pedophilia problem and such humiliating practices for victims? I think it knew perfectly well, since reports and denunciations reached it that it systematically archived until it forgot about them. But it did not act according to the gravity of the crime. Quite the opposite. It imposed silence on the victims and informants to save the good name of the Church, threatening severe penalties that could lead to excommunication if they dared to speak. This way of proceeding created a climate of permissiveness, an atmosphere of obscurantism and an environment of complicity with the abusers, who were exempt from guilt while the blame was transferred to the victims, who were blocked from going to the courts before the image of authority given by the pedophiles.
The victims' loss of dignity didn't matter, or the often irreversible damage and sequelae, or the serious physical, psychic and mental wounds with which those affected had to live for life. It lacked compassion and sensitivity towards their suffering. There wasn't any act of contrition, or repentance, or intent to amend, or reparation for the damage caused, no act of rehabilitation occurred, justice wasn't done. Such an attitude was a new and more brutal aggression.
The permissiveness of the crime, the silence, lack of punishment, cover-up, complicity and refusal to collaborate with justice turned pedophilia not only into individual sexual aggression, but into a practice legitimized structurally and institutionally -- at least indirectly -- by the church hierarchy at all levels, in a chain of concealment that ranged from the highest ecclesiastical authority to the pedophile, passing through the intermediary links of religious power.
It also happens that most cases of pedophilia occurred in male-run institutions and training centers for men. This shows that patriarchy even resorts to sexual abuse in order to demonstrate its omnipotent power in society and in religions and, in the case we're dealing with, over the most vulnerable people. A power legitimated by religion, which makes men "vicars of God" and spokesmen for His will. It is the most perverse way to understand and practice masculinity, one which depersonalizes and reifies those who it has previously destroyed. Masculinity and violence, pedophilia and patriarchy are pairs that often walk together and cause more human destruction than a hurricane.
What to do in the face of the metastatic cancer of pedophilia spread throughout the ecclesial body? Zero tolerance, denounce it, collaborate with justice, bring the guilty parties to the civil courts, and, most importantly, that judges lose their reverential fear of holy persons and judge them according to their responsibility in the crimes, and the crime of pedophilia is undoubtedly of extreme gravity! We are not in a confessional state where people invested with sacred authority merit privileged treatment, but in a non-denominational state where justice is equal for all.
And within the Church? It is necessary to go to the roots of the pedophilia phenomenon, to the root causes of such diabolical behavior, found in dominating masculinity turned holy, in the equally sacred power of men consecrated to God, in the phallic-sacred power over bodies and the patriarchal system prevailing in the Catholic Church.
As long as hegemonic masculinity is elevated to the rank of holy and remains the basis of the exercise of power, as long as patriarchy is the ideology on which the ecclesiastical apparatus and the organizational form of it are based, this criminal behavior against defenseless people will recur. More sibylline methods will be sought, but things will not have changed.
Therefore it's necessary to change the current authoritarian mental, organizational, legislative, legal, penal and religious structure of the Church which is patriarchal, homophobic, and based on male hegemony, to one that is really egalitarian, inclusive, and one of parity. And change the image of God the Father and Master!
Juan José Tamayo is director of the Chair of Theology and Religious Studies, Carlos III University, Madrid.