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Christoph Krauss & Gerhard Kruip {*}

Caught up in Self-blockades

Roman Corrections at the Final Document of Aparecida

 

From: Herder Korrespondenz, 9/2007, P. 450-453
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    Before Pope Benedict XVI gave his approval to the final document of the Fifth General Assembly of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (see HK, July 2007, 34 ff.) its text has clearly been dealt with. Altogether the document is miles away from the analytically sharp, future-open and vigorously purposeful language of the final document of the General Assembly of Medellin.

 

On 29 June 2007 Benedict XVI approved the final document of the Fifth General Assembly of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, which had taken place from 13 to 31 May in the Brazilian Marian shrine Aparecida. With it the impression was conveyed that the text of the resolution had been accepted without relevant changes. Anyway, so the Catholic press agency KNA had reported on 18 July.

Also the Pope in his letter to the Latin American Bishops' Council CELAM (Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano) wrote, he "authorized the publication of the final document". During a visit in Germany in the middle of June one of the presidents of the bishops' meeting, Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo (archbishop of São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil) had awoken corresponding expectations, and Bernd Klaschka, managing director of Adveniat, saw in the "speedy" and "unbureaucratic" release a "clear proof of confidence in the church of Latin America" (Adveniat press report, 10 July).

But a more exact comparison of the approved version (under www.celam.org) with the text passed, which already circulated among experts before the release and had been made accessible by the Brazilian Indian Missionary Council CIMI (Conselho Indigenista Missionário) on its homepage, shows that nevertheless 127 of the altogether 554 sections have been changed. Those changes are often stylistic improvements or more precise formulations suited to the general view of the textual statements.

It is not known who made those changes. Frequent insertions about the importance of the family let think of the Colombian cardinal of the Roman Curia Alfonso López Trujillo. Perhaps the later inserted reference that a good priest training requires also well prepared professors of theology (No. 323) comes even from the Pope himself.

Partly however it is about changes that - with a clear tendency of distrust and exaggerated protection of the position of the teaching authority of the church - very clearly intervene in the text, and this particularly in those statements that in first reactions after the conclusion of the conference had been appreciated as positive by many theologians (see e.g. www.unisonos.br/ihu).

As especially important had been stressed that the Latin American bishops had after the conflict-rich conference of Santo Domingo in 1992 again returned to the method "to see - to judge - to act" chosen in Medellin in 1968 and in Puebla in 1979 (see HK, July 2007, 34 ff). Well, the structure of the text kept to that pattern, but into No. 19, where reasons for this decision were given, the Roman final editorship inserted a sentence that because of all its dogmatic overload cannot be understood but as dissociation.

Here a final editor packed his collected reservations against the theological new departures of the last decades into a hardly readable monstrous sentence: "This method implies to see God with the eyes of faith through the revealed word and the enlivening contact of the sacraments, so that we see the reality embracing us in daily life in the light of his providence and judge it according to Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life; so that our actions take their starting point from the church, Christ's mystical body and the universal sacrament of salvation, in preaching the kingdom of God that is sown on this earth and will bring completed fruit in heaven." A good example that - as the document itself states in No. 100d, "in evangelization and catechesis as well as generally in pastoral care there is still a language little expressive for today's culture".

But also otherwise the return to this three-step model, which originally comes from the Belgian young working people (Cardinal Joseph Cardijn)

 


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and was in the encyclical Mater et Magistra taken over into the social teachings, has only partly succeeded. This applies also to the text before the Pope's approval. For the first part "Today's Life of Our Peoples" often lacks analytic sharpness. The statements about current cultural developments are coined by great pessimism; they are perceived almost only as threat.

Time and again there is indiscriminate talk of a culture of individual egotism (No. 46) and consumption in the logic of a "pragmatic and narcissistic individualism (No. 51) that is characterized as follows: "One leaves the care for the public interest aside, in order to make room for the immediate realization of individual wishes, for the creation of new and often arbitrary individual rights; one pushes aside the problems of sexuality, family, diseases, and death" (No. 44).

The present culture is particularly negatively represented in a later section about the training in seminaries (No. 314-327). Obviously one has not at all understood some prevailing trends, when for instance the "gender ideology" is criticized, according to which "everyone could freely choose his/her sexual orientation" (No. 40). Obviously one hardly consulted newer sociological findings, from which for example becomes clear how also in processes of individualization new potentials of solidarity can develop.

The economic situation is analyzed in a relatively differentiated way, the globalization is assessed with its positive and negative sides (No. 60-73), and the ecological problems, in particular those of the Amazon basin and of the Antarctic, are represented (No. 83-87, see also the recommendations for action No. 470-475). The indigenous peoples are even said to belong to the "first root of Latin American identity" (No. 88).

But an analysis of the growth of the new Free Churches is practically completely missing. That surprises in view of the Catholic Church's dramatic loss of members. Only in the second part (No. 225-226) there are some few, but interesting remarks on the Free Churches and on pastoral preventive strategies, as for instance to make easier religious experiences and the life in a community. But here too the final editorship intervened. The sentence not unimportant for an adequate attitude towards the Free Churches: "Actually many people who go to other religious groups do not at all want to leave our church, they are only seriously looking for God." was changed into: "They try, not without serious dangers, to get answers to some wishes they have - as it actually should be -, not found in the church" (No. 241 resp. 225).

Only in the third part, where it is about "action", there are some very inspired passages, e.g. about the topic of pastoral care in cities, which is to be developed anew (No. 509-519) or about the new media, and a positive assessment of the chances of the Internet (No. 484-490).

 

Basis Communities are no longer seen as Sign of the Churches' Vitality

Interventions of the final editors in some of the sections about the basis communities have already caused the "Continental Net of Basis Communities" to send a protest letter to the bishops. The formulation in No. 194, the bishops "resolutely wanted to confirm the life and the prophetic and sanctifying mission of the basis communities and to give them a new impulse" was completely erased.

The simple affirmative clause the basis communities were a "sign of the church's vitality" (No. 195) was transformed to the conditional clause that they would "turn" into such a sign "for the local church" if they held on to the unity with their bishop and the pastoral project of the diocese (in the approved text No. 179). The invitation to a "profound renewal of that rich church experience of our continent" (No. 195) is replaced by the sentence: "In their effort to correspond to the challenges of the present the church basis communities will be careful not to misrepresent the rich treasure of the tradition and the teaching authority of the church" (No. 179) - the future that is used here has in Spanish also the meaning of an imperative.

There was some fuss about those passages already at the conference of Aparecida, which otherwise was very much praised because of the freedom of the dialogue and the spirit of collegiality in comparison to the conference of Santo Domingo. As Carlos Francisco Signorelli, the representative of Brazil's National Laymen Council (CNLB) and guest at the meeting in Aparecida reported (release of the press agency ADITAL from 8 August 2007, www.adital.com.br), those passages about the basis communities had simply disappeared in the last plenary session on 30 May.

According to the rules of the conference at the last minute the vote of more than seven Bishops' Conferences was sought in order to again reinsert the text into the final document. But in the plenum Cardinal López Trujillo vehemently declared himself against a reinsertion. A ballot brought only a majority of 72 against 50 votes, whereas 79 votes would have been necessary (absolute majority). But the passages were then nevertheless in the final document. That was justified with the argument that the omission had been a mistake. But why then the whole discussion and ballot procedure?

By the substantial interventions of the final editorship the opponents of the basis communities after all reached part of their aims - though at the expense of the church's credibility

 


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and the authority of the approved text. Anyhow, Signorelli has announced he and the Brazilian Laymen Council would, in case the changes should not be cancelled, regard the originally decided version as the valid document of Aparecida.

A third, very positive element of the document of Aparecida is the clear confirmation of the "Option for the Poor". In his opening speech on 13 May the Pope had already smoothed the way for it by underlining that the priority option for the poor was implicitly contained in the christological faith in God, who became poor for us, so that we became rich by his poverty (2 Cor 8.9). The term is found in different variants 23 times. There is a section of its own in chapter 8, 3 where the passage from the Pope's inaugural address mentioned is quoted (No. 392).

Here too however the final editorship felt obliged to insert the sentence "Nevertheless this (option) is neither exclusive nor excluding". And in another place, in No. 100b, the final editorship added in connection with the option for the poor that it had often been affected by a "purely sociological and not at all in accordance with the gospel anthropology ".

But it applies also to this point that already the decided text deserves criticism. For just in view of the strongly christological qualification of the Option for the Poor it must irritate that in the section about the places where Christ can be met (No. 24 ff.) the poor are only found in the last place. The faith of the church, the Scriptures, the holy liturgy, the parishes and the personal prayer, as well as with reference to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council the pastors are mentioned first. Only after that, in a particularly impressive way, it is true, the poor are - with reference to Mt 25 - found as places where Christ can be met: "How often the poor and the suffering people convert us! In the acknowledgment of this presence and proximity [of Christ in the poor] and in the defence of the rights of the excluded the church's loyalty to Christ is at stake."

With the method 'seeing-judging-acting', the appreciation of the basis communities and the option for the poor there are also in Aparecida central results of the theological new awakenings in Latin America present, which are connected with the "theology of liberation". But a short look into the texts of Medellin (1968) is sufficient to feel that Aparecida is miles away from its analytically sharp, open for the future and courageously grasping language.

The statements about the option for the poor remain rather on a spiritual level, even when abstractly often structural changes in the society are demanded. The social (and also internal-church) conflicts, one must incur when one really wants to stand up for the poor, are not at all brought up.

The speech about the Latin American Saints remains similarly abstract (also about the not yet canonized), who even gave up their lives for their faith. In this connection e.g. Bishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and others could have been mentioned (see No. 98 and 275).

But the Latin American bishops obviously have still trouble with catching up with the conflicts that in the hard times of the seventies and eighties provoked strong fronts also within the church and still wait for reconciliation, because they, as they themselves hint in No. 36, left many injuries that have not yet healed". Possibly also the absence of statements about the commitment of Catholic laymen in political parties has to do with the fear of conflicts, although just that was necessary to change the society.

 

The Remarkable Self-criticism of the Bishops has been Erased

Beside the strong parts of the document already mentioned still further ones were to be appreciated. So the decidedly positive judgement on popular piety is conspicuous (No. 258-265). It is also remarkable with what clarity one stands up for education as public good in general (No. 481-483), and for a better education of all members of the church (No. 276-283) and for a better catechesis also for adults (286-300), where one had also to take into consideration the processes of personal development (No. 281) and to aim at a genuine personal faith conviction (No. 312). Starting point of the catechetic work are then not theological contents but the living meeting with Christ (No. 24 ff.).

The proclamation of a general "condition of mission" is particularly characteristic for the General Assembly of Aparecida (No. 213). The Catholic Church of Latin America realized that it can no longer assume that people share, as it were, automatically the Catholic faith and remain members of the church. It rather needs great efforts to keep faith and church alive there, respectively to make them ready for the future. The Fifth General Assembly wants to awaken the church in Latin America to a great "missionary impulse" (No. 548) in form of a "continental mission" (No. 551).

Before the background of that powerful appeal one may regard the mentioned changes of the Roman final editorship as unimportant. But alone the fact that a small group of editors saw itself entrusted to work in such a way before the papal approval on a document decided by 162 representatives of all bishops' conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean is not a sign that the Catholic Church arrived in a modern culture, to the characteristics of which

 


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after all belongs that legitimacy and credibility are achieved if not by democratic so at least by transparent procedures.

If the Catholic Church in Latin America in the modern resp. post-modern context wants to maintain today its strong position, it cannot but think about which old ruts must possibly be left. In Latin America too the vocations of priests go down, the celibacy for secular priests is more and more questioned, people react with lack of understanding to authoritarian structures, and there is an increasing distance between what the faithful themselves regard as allowed and demanded and the official moral teaching of the church.

Also in Latin America less and less, in particular younger women understand why priesthood remains closed to them. With it central conflicts, which already longer preoccupy the Catholic Church in Europe, arrived also in Latin America. Will the church have the strength constructively to deal in the next years with those topics so important for its future? In Aparecida it did not succeed yet with it.

That is why just the final editorial changes of those passages in which the bishops critically reflected their own church situation make one feel sad. So the complaint over a "certain clericalism" was just in the same way erased as the statement that the "sense for self-criticism" was missing. The complaint about a "moralizing that weakens Christ's central role" falls likewise victim to the censorship as the criticism of the "discrimination of women and their frequent absence in pastoral organisms" (No. 109 resp. 100b). The confession that "we Catholics" had "often" gone away from the gospel becomes a confession for "some Catholics" who had "occasionally" gone away from the gospel (No. 115 resp. 100i).

Who - in the best sense of the word - wants to convert by missionary work must also be ready to let convert himself; that means also to be open for learning processes, for necessary partings from certain habits, for courageous new departures. There it is not enough only to continue more energetically the way gone so far. If that process is to become a successful one, if Christ is again to become more present in a Latin American society, which increasingly becomes more and more modern, then all Christians and the Catholic Church will change in a way which even their boldest representatives don't imagine yet.

The church of the Council and the Latin American church of Medellin had at that time at least in large parts the openness and the vitality for it; that was also their attraction for European Christians. In Aparecida the good will for it was proclaimed. But it is to be feared that large parts of today's Catholic hierarchy in Latin America and in Rome remain caught up in self-blockades, which in the foreseeable future make impossible for them the necessary conversion of their own as precondition for a missionary repercussion.

 

    {*} Christoph Krauss (born in 1975) studied history, political science and theology in Mainz and Granada. Since 2006 he has been assistant in the department for Christian anthropology and social ethics at the Catholic-Theological Faculty of the University of Mainz and has been working on a thesis project on Ethical Justification of Conditions in the Development Co-operation.

    Gerhard Kruip (born in 1957) holds the chair for Christian anthropology and social ethics of the Catholic-Theological Faculty of the University of Mainz and is director of the Research Institute for Philosophy Hannover.

 

Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'