Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

My Photo
Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

May 11, 2007

Benedict XVI Arrives in Brazil

On Wednesday, May 9 the Pope arrived in Sao Paulo. He addressed the welcoming party by praising the long loyalty of Brazilians to basic Christian values and to the Holy Father. He indicated that he had come to preside at the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American bishops. He referred to his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, and declared that the Catholic Church primarily was to be a witness to the love of the Father. The conference was to reinforce this identity of the Church through the promotion of respect for life from conception to death and through stressing the moral values "in each situation" and forming the consciences of the people.

At a news conference on his flight, he was questioned about the abortion debates in Brazil. He proceeded to expound on this and said that he agreed with the Mexican bishops who had declared excommunication on those who supported abortion. Actually, the Archbishop of Mexico City had declared that he would never directly impose an excommunication, but that the
abortion supporters excommunicated themselves. The matter was clarified on the plane with the conclusion that such supporters should not present themselves for communion.

Unfortunately, the reporter's introduction of the notions of abortion and excommunication created an infelicitous cloud of negativity over Benedict's arrival instead of the bright message of God's love, which Benedict had clearly intended. The pope, with his scholarly and reclusive temperament, failed to diffuse the question and somehow establish Jesus and God's love as the primary concerns of his mission. Imagine diplomats or politicians being interviewed by the media being faced with a question that would turn the discussion in a negative or unpleasant direction. The interviewee would have carefully planned beforehand the various points he wished to make, would quickly respond to the question, and immediately move on to his own agenda. It is to be regretted that our Church can have its identity distorted, even unwittingly by its own members and officials, and come to be perceived as primarily "the Church against abortion everready to excommunicate". We are much more than that; we are the Church of Jesus the Savior, come to bring a more abundant life!

May 7, 2007

Benedict XVI and Liberation Theology

This Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI will visit Brazil, the world's largest Catholic country. He comes to a Brazilian church heavily influenced by liberation theology, where bishops, priests and laity have seen the Church's mission as adopting "a preferential option for the poor". The Church is not merely to provide individual or institutional gifts of food to the poor but also to work for structural change in the systems, widespread in Latin America, that create wealth for the few while leaving the many in poverty and hunger.

All of this involved conflict with those who wished to maintain the status quo. On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador was murdered while offering Mass because of his identification with the efforts of the poor to change the system. In 1989, six Jesuits were gunned down in their residence in San Salvador for the same reason. But such social activists had other opponents. John Paul II with his bitter experience of communism and the then Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF saw strains of Marxism in liberation theology and took strong action against the Church's social activists, including Romero. It has been credibly reported that the Vatican had decided to remove Romero but his murder occurred first. Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, an exponent of liberation theology and activist for social justice, was undercut in many ways by Rome, including the carving of several dioceses out of his diocese of SaoPaulo and appointing conservatives bishops to head them. Ratzinger silenced liberation theologians Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutierrez, together with Brazilian bishop Pedro Casaldaliga on the same grounds.

An analysis of Benedict XVI's actions and statements, before and after his designation as Pope, shows that his view of the Church's role is to foster individual piety and to shun social justice activism. Benedict will meet with Brazil's President to discuss current economic and social problems. The Church has been at odds with the government because of its free distribution of condoms to combat AIDS. The Church's position on this issue has been widely criticized by a number of Catholic theologians.

One is reminded of the Church's experience under Pius X (1903-1914). A secret society was organized to inform the Vatican of persons who did not share the pope's vision. He investigated many and excommunicated several of the intelligentia for what he deemed unacceptable views. His campaign against "modernism", which he saw as an American problem, resulted in the silencing of many individuals and the suppression of periodicals including the highly regarded "New York Review" published by our New York archdiocesan seminary. Many left the Church.

David Gibson's excellent "The Rule of Benedict" recounts how the then Cardinal Ratzinger took steps to eliminate liberation theology as articulated in Brazil and Latin America. Gibson suggests a similarity between Pius X and Benedict XVI in their opposition to "modernists" on the one hand and the liberation theology types on the other hand. The successor of Pius X ended the inquisitorial processes and drastic bans and prohibitions of his predecessor and moderated the conflicts that had resulted. The speeches of Benedict XVI on his coming trip to Brazil will be listened to quite attentively.

A bottom line question: aside from essential matters of faith and morals, to what extent must the personal vision and preferred policies of a particular pope be accorded complete acceptance by all?