Sunday, November 23, 2008

Seriously, Excommunication over Women’s Ordination?

The Vatican has threatened Father Roy Bourgeois with excommunication if he doesn’t take back his position that women be ordained priests.

The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith notified Bourgeois by letter on Oct. 21 and gave him 30 days to respond. The deadline seemed suspiciously timed to the annual weekend demonstration of School of the Americas Watch (SOAW). Since 1990 thousands of people have gathered at Fort Benning, Ga, to demand closure of the U.S. Army’s combat training school for Latin American soldiers.

Bourgeois responded to the Vatican on Nov. 7 with a letter refusing to comply because he said the Church’s teaching on this issue was wrong and he could not in good conscience support it.

Bourgeois, 70, entered the Maryknoll Missionary Order after serving as a U.S. naval officer for four years, including one year in Vietnam where he received the Purple Heart. In 1972 he was ordained and sent to Bolivia for his first mission. He has been an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America since 1980 after a Salvadoran death squad raped and killed four American churchwomen. In 1990 he founded the SOAW.

What led to this altercation between the Vatican and Bourgeois was his homily at the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska, 58, on August 9 in Lexington, Ky. She was the sixth woman ordained this year in the United States, according to the NCR.

Actually, the last slap down on women’s ordination occurred in 1994 when Pope John Paul II placed a gag rule on the subject after persistent calls for ordination were uncorked in 1979 by Sister Theresa Kane who pleaded with the pope to reconsider his position. It’s now timely to talk about it once again.

The Church claims that the priesthood should remain male because Jesus was a man, his 12 apostles were all men and the Church has never had women priests.

The Women’s Ordination Conference counters these arguments by citing two Scripture passages:

“In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” — Galatians 3:28

“Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them, female and male, God made them.” — Genesis 1:27

The early Church did not have an ordained priesthood. Breaking bread and doing good works for others was considered a shared responsibility of both men and women. Celebrating the Eucharist was a reminder of their commitment to be like Jesus—not in physical appearance, but in word and deed. Archeologists have even found images on frescoes, mosaics and tombs of women serving these ministerial roles dating from 100-820 C.E. in the Mediterranean region, according to the Women’s Ordination Conference.

Throughout its 2,000-year history, the Church has reversed its position on many issues so it’s entirely possible it could do the same with women’s ordination. For example, one of the Church’s most blatant blunders was its belief that the sun revolved around the earth. When Galileo (1564-1642) proved that theory inaccurate, the Church accused him of heresy and restricted him for the last 10 years of his life. In 1992, the Church publicly forgave Galileo for his “crimes.”

Corrupt bishops and priests and the practice of indulgences and other financial abuses led Martin Luther to launch the Protestant Reformation in 1517. The Church responded with the reform-oriented Council of Trent (1545-63), which founded seminaries for priest training, urged religious communities to return to their spiritual foundations and encouraged new spiritual movements that focused on the devotional life and personal relationship with Jesus.

The Church has also succumbed to change on its own accord. For example, the Italians seemed to have control over the papacy after four and a half centuries until 1978 when John Paul II, a Pole, and his successor, Benedict XVI, a German, started a “new tradition.” Some people think the next pope will come from Africa or Latin America.

The past 30 years have seen women all over the world make giant strides in taking on leadership roles. One almost made it to the U.S. presidency. So it was not totally surprising that on June 29, 2002, seven women stepped up to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood. Since then, over 60 others have followed, most of them Americans, according to the Women’s Ordination Conference. Four of the women priests are bishops and nearly 100 more are in a preparation program sponsored by the Roman Catholic Women Priests.

The idea of women priests is no longer an aberration, according to a September 2005 Gallup Organization survey where 63 percent of U.S. Catholics said they supported ordaining women and only 29 percent indicated that an exclusive male, celibate clergy was “very important.” The Associated Press-Ipsos poll taken in April 2005 found the same thing.

The Episcopalian Church can probably be thanked for much of this attitude change. It started on July 29, 1974, when 11 women forced the issue by finding three bishops willing to ordain them. Two years later, the 72nd General Convention in Philadelphia passed a resolution declaring that “no one shall be denied access” to ordination on the basis of their sex. In 2006 the Episcopalians elected their first presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

The Vatican is undoubtedly fearful that women’s ordination will further divide the Church. The dissension suffered since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) has been enormous and no one is in the mood for much more. Catholics left the Church in droves. Priests and nuns quit. Vocations plummeted. Recently, parish closings are affected by a priest shortage and the pedophilia scandals have caused mistrust and anger.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported last February that 28 percent of adults have left the faith in which they were raised with Catholics coming out as the largest group—about 10 percent out of a population of 305 million Americans.

Admittedly, it’s difficult for an institution to change, especially one as huge, as old and as steeped in tradition as the Catholic Church. But traditions are man-made, not God-made. And one might conclude that this confluence of events signals God’s call for the Church to renew itself yet again.

The Church has endured difficulties in the past and it has adjusted. Quite frankly, today’s problems are so great, we need every leader we can get. To eliminate half of the population from priestly leadership is to see the world with only one eye or to fix it with only one arm.

Gender shouldn’t determine whether or not a person is fit to be a priest. Neither should class, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation for that matter. The priesthood should be open to men and women who are called to it. And those who advocate for women’s ordination, like Father Roy Bourgeois, should not be punished for their public stands. We need to concentrate our energies on the things that matter!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Call to Hope and a Healing of the Past

Some people believe that forgiving the perpetrators of horrendous crimes is letting them off the hook. Victims want revenge. Families of victims expect retribution.

Most people concede that the death penalty or lifetime imprisonment is the only viable way to handle such criminals. Anything less would be seen as acting irresponsibly to society. The assumption is that such punishments teach criminals a lesson and stop would-be criminals from committing crimes. That’s what the criminal justice system is designed to do.

However, the criminal justice system can’t address perpetrators of nation-wide, systemic crimes, which is occurring more frequently in more countries all over the world. While the law might call for justice, which is usually interpreted as “punishment,” such a strategy tends to reproduce an unending cycle of violence. So where can governments turn? What can grassroots people do? The answer is: forgiveness.

The world expected violence to break out in South Africa when apartheid ended in 1994 and four million white Afrikaners lost control over the country’s 40 million blacks and coloreds. However, as Episcopalian Bishop Desmond Tutu, head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said: “It didn’t happen.”

Tutu has also pointed out that if peace could come to South Africa where the crimes against humanity were “so ghastly,” it could happen anywhere.

So, how did it happen in South Africa? How was it possible that after so much tragedy, the victims of apartheid forgave their countrymen of heinous crimes that were not only government-sponsored but sanctioned by church theology? How could healing and peace take place among people whose friends and families had been killed and where whole cities were terrorized?

Clinical psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela of South Africa has made it her charge to find out. She has facilitated countless encounters between victims and their families with the perpetrators of apartheid through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She even interviewed and counseled Eugene de Kock, apartheid’s death squad chief who was often referred to as “Prime Evil” itself. (She recounted her encounters with him in her 2004 best-selling book, A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid.

Gobodo-Madikizela’s work has led her to believe that a human response aimed at healing the wrongs of the past go beyond what the law can provide because it calls for care and compassion for both the victim and the perpetrator. Moreover, sustained and truthful dialogue about the past among those involved in criminal acts is the ONLY strategy for a lasting peace without a backlash of violence.

What occurs in forgiveness is a “transcendence of the heart” that begins with a recognition that gross human rights violations were committed. This is done by telling—and listening—to stories about what happened to individuals in a particular incident.

“It is only when the story can be heard and integrated into the individuals that the past traumatic events can be worked through,” said Gobodo-Madikizela. Then, an “empathetic repair” takes place as those involved begin the process of working through something that was broken. In this way, both perpetrator and victim are able to encounter each other’s humanity and form a connection. This is possible because each person has exposed him or herself “to the naked face of evil” that is within him/her.

The perpetrator who is able to express remorse suddenly finds an opening to his conscience that was silenced long ago because he was driven by something that allowed him to do these evil deeds. In effect, he had dehumanized himself! In asking forgiveness, he wants to re-engage himself with those he wronged.

Gobodo-Madikizela says that there is something innate in human nature that connects us to others when we are in pain: we want to rescue them because we can feel their pain. This is not a cognitive response but rather an emotional one where victim and perpetrator are present to each other and suddenly mirror each other’s humanity.

What is key in this process is that the truth is spoken and perpetrators acknowledge that they have done something wrong.

It is also significant that the Truth and Reconciliation Committees took place in a public space instead of being hidden in private. Revealing the truth in public “validates” the participants’ horrific experience, said Gobodo-Madikizela.

Likewise, each person became accountable for his/her actions by listening to each other’s story and the “truth of the heart.” Such is the difference between the law and reconciliation.

In law, the perpetrator attempts to deny and escape the truth as his defense. In reconciliation, the perpetrator remorsefully lays himself bare to tell the victims and their families what he did and to ask their mercy for his crimes. In this way the victims, who already know pain, are able to connect with and reach out to the very person who caused it.

Gobodo-Madikizela illustrated how this happened in an American setting she witnessed with Kim Phuc, the subject of the Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph taken during the Vietnam War in 1972. Kim was the naked girl running down a road, screaming in pain from the napalm that was burning through her skin. Kim has since become an international speaker and an ambassador for UNESCO.

One day Kim met with a group of U.S. veterans and recalled the napalm incident. She admitted that while “we can’t change history, we can work together to change the future.” She added that someday she hoped to meet the man who dropped the napalm.

Soon after her speech she received a note that said: “I am that man.” He came forward and the two of them embraced with her sobbing: “I forgive. I forgive. I forgive.”

Gobodo-Madikizela noted that this encounter was “a gesture of so much grace.” Here was a woman reaching out to the man who had done an evil deed. And “there was no training involved, no 12-step program.”

After this encounter, other American Vietnam veterans arranged to return to Kim Phuc’s village to meet with the people there, to tell stories and to share each other’s pain.

“This is [an example of] the turning point of transformation,” said Gobodo-Madikizela.

Clinical psychologist Edward Tick who has worked with Vietnam veterans since 1978 (and now is seeing Iraq and Afghanistan vets) relates a similar experience with men who have suffered PTSD in his book War and the Soul. Among his treatments are return trips to Vietnam as well as invitations for the men to participate in Native American sweat lodge rituals.

Gobodo-Madikizela is quick to point out that forgiveness does not mean that the evil deeds committed are forgotten. Instead, forgiveness means that “the spirits of vengeance must be transcended.” That allows a “moral humanity” to set in where care, compassion and empathy are seen as freeing oneself—and a nation—from the past, which is what South Africa has strived to do.

“This is the beginning of hope,” she said, “that the past can be healed.”

As our country moves on to a new presidency and with all the terrible baggage of our history behind us, may we begin this new era with hope and truth, forgiveness and reconciliation.