Friday, March 24, 2017
María Clara Bingemer: "This pope's theology isn't made in the sacristy, but gets down to the streets"
March 20, 2017
"If women leave the Church, the Church will fall to pieces. We're the ones who support the Church." Brazilian theologian Maria Clara Bingemer has demonstrated beyond a doubt the truth of this statement of hers with her own professional career, from her chair at the Pontifical University of Rio de Janeiro and other positions at several North American universities. She spoke to RD during the 1st Ibero-American Conference of Theology in Boston about how she sees Francis' papacy as a committed theologian and woman.
We are at Boston College with Maria Clara Bingemer, who will participate in the First Ibero-American Conference of Theology. What do you expect from the meeting?
A lot, because it's been a long time since there's been a meeting of this size seeking, precisely during the pontificate of Pope Francis, the questions that he has raised and brought back. Pope Francis has again put the Latin America Church in the spotlight.
And it's an opportunity to dialogue with the historians who experienced the whole genesis of Medellín, of liberation theology, of the option for the poor ... All that painful process that happened, of difficulties with the Vatican. And it's an opportunity to have them together with Europeans and people from the north who are in tune with this theology. And the young, who are the hope of the future.
Are you trying with this, in some way, to help the Pope with his reforms?
Certainly it's a way of making everything that Francis is proposing go further and be amplified. Of spreading it in the Church.
And there's an important point that I hope we'll be able at least to start addressing here. There's a lot of work ahead, first of English-Spanish text translation, because the people of the English-speaking world, if the text isn't in English, they don't read it, and don't even know it exists.
Very good theologians, Latin American and even Spanish ones, aren't even cited. I know because I spent a lot of time in American universities looking for their works and I didn't find them because they weren't translated into English. The great thing that made liberation theology enter the United States was that Orbis translated an entire corpus into English. So I think we have to do this work, both in the north and in the south.
From a woman like Dorothy Day, who is in the process of canonization and who was the pioneer of what could be liberation theology in North America, there isn't even one of her works translated into Spanish or Portuguese. It's totally unknown. [Translator's Note: Actually Sal Terrae/Loyola has published a couple of Day's titles in Spanish, including La Larga Soledad (The Long Loneliness, 2000) and Panes y Peces (Loaves and Fishes, 2002)] We did a symposium on her at our university and the book has just come out [Fé, justiça e paz: o testemunho de Dorothy Day by Maria Clara Bingemer and Paulo Fernando Carneiro de Andrade, PUC-Rio and Paulinas, 2016]. And people marveled and didn't understand how they knew nothing of her.
The book, are you thinking of translating it into Spanish?
Her texts are what should be translated into Spanish, because Brazilians read it perfectly. I don't know if it happens the other way around.
We manage too.
That, on the one hand. On the other hand, we have to learn to make more agile publications. Blogs, short texts, interviews, videos of people who are thinking, because sometimes that gets there faster.
But for that, theologians are very reticent. You want to qualify everything; you run away from the headlines. The media is scary to many. I'm not generalizing, of course.
It's the result of the thirty years we lived under censorship and under surveillance. Everything a theologian might say can be used against them. You might lose your chair. But today is a different time.
Do you now notice that different time, this freedom?
Yes, I notice it. And I'm from the most conservative diocese in Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro, which had Dom Eugenio Sales. You had to watch every whisper, because otherwise it might be interpreted as heresy. I made a video that the Paulines asked me for about the Holy Trinity and I had to go and talk with the auxiliary bishop. He said, "Why don't you talk about the Ingénito ["Unbegotten One"]?" I told him, "That's not language for a video." I thought, "People are going to believe it's a remedy."
I don't know, I tended to say the Father, not the Ingénito, because to speak in those terms ..., they were like crazy things. And of course, there was also a lot of self-censorship.
From Sales you went to Scherer.
Yes, Eusebio was more open. But today the air feels freer. It can no longer be said that the Pope is against it. You can cite it abundantly.
Has there been a change of tone?
Yes. Although I believe there are sectors in the Church that don't give much importance to what the Pope says. They continue in the previous pontificates. Precisely for this reason we must work to make this pontificate accessible.
Get in the dream car coming from Rome. But a lot of the hierarchy isn't getting in that car.
Yes. And they don't fight him; they just ignore him. There are some, not many, for whom the news was hard to swallow. And the four cardinals who fought openly.
Now we are looking at the University to hire new professors in the department. And admitting lay teachers is very difficult. When we remind them of what Pope Francis says, they don't listen to us much.
That is, there's old inertia that's hard to overcome.
Yes. But I think there's mobility on the whole. And people are becoming aware of the path Latin America made that was cut halfway along.
That is, Latin America is in fashion. Theology from the south, the Pope of the south.
Yes, it's in the forefront. And the good thing I'm seeing is that this pope's theology isn't made in the sacristy, but gets down to the streets. He talks about other subjects, his writings, Laudato si', Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia, are streetwise, as we say. They aren't made in a closed office, with five high up men legislating on the sexual relations of couples, which is absurd. You feel a different spirit. And I think we have responsibility towards this new situation. Not only to not let it die, but to make it grow.
You know the United States well. You've given classes here.
I've been here many times in the last ten years.
Hispanics, at the church level, how are they in the United States?
They're almost a majority numerically. But there are fairly conservative bastions, Hispanic ones as well. On the other hand, there is a large mass that fills the churches and is thirsting for ministry, for spirituality. And I think everything that is being organized here in Boston, in Chicago and elsewhere --Spanish-language theology courses -- is helping a lot for those Hispanics to become more active players in the church setting.
But this still isn't reflected at the hierarchy level, at future levels?
Not yet, but it will end up being so because there will be more Hispanic bishops, and more African-American bishops. We are in difficult times in the United States too.
Especially with Trump. What does Trump's coming into power mean for the Church in general and for the Church in the United States?
It's very complicated, because many bishops supported him when he declared himself pro-life. It's easy to say "I'm pro-life" when really I don't think it matters much to him. Here they're obsessed with things like abortion and they think that Hillary, since she's a feminist, was pro-abortion. I don't think she is. She has the view of Catholics for Choice. These things that are very American. And it seems to me, at least, that she is a better prepared, better qualified person.
That man, I don't understand how he managed to get so many votes. It's because of money issues. Talking with some Americans, for example the electrician, very American, very middle class, he told me he was going to vote for Trump. "But why?," I asked him. "Well, because I'm fed up with paying so many taxes, and the illegal immigrants don't pay them...," things like that. All because of money.
The Pope could become the other great world leader who might counterbalance this man.
He already is. He's a person who has input on all sides. He got the United States and Cuba back to talking. In the Middle East, he is listened to a lot. And in Europe. I think he's the positive figure, the positive leader in the world.
And can they slow him down?
No. That is, he has to know that he is going to get to a certain point. What they won't let him do, perhaps, is go further. But many things he can do. And his voice can be heard. And it is, in fact, because he speaks in various forums. He's not limited to the Church and talking about salvation and the Eucharist. He talks about that too, but he also talks about society, about the dictatorship of money, about poverty, about the excluded, about ecology.
Laudato Si' I think has been an influential element because the document is so good that it's respected by everyone. I read an interview with Edgar Morin, who's a French thinker, and he said it was the newest and most marvelous thing he'd seen.
But Trump's not that way.
But I don't know if Trump is going to become a world leader. He's president of the United States, and has that power. Obama was a leader. Trump is like George Bush, a fool who's sitting in the White House.
Are we going to a Star Wars scenario? The man of light and the man of darkness?
Yes, the two standards. A little like the two standards of St. Ignatius. He's a scary guy, who can shout, make edicts, and make life difficult for many people. Who's bringing suffering to the migrants, certainly.
About immigration, are the people now mobilizing against Trump?
It seemed that there was informal talk about that, but now, at the airports, I was impressed by how they checked the bags of those from the Middle East, of all those who seemed to be coming from Muslim countries.
We were greeted in Boston by a gentleman with a banner saying "Muslim = terrorist".
You see? In Europe it happens a bit too, but not so blatantly. In France, there's a lot of opposition to Arabs. I think the most.
Should the Latin American Church take a stand in CELAM, in its joint institutions, to fight against this?
I think it should be much more involved in the issue of migrants. I'm now gong back to Brazil, and on November 20th, I'll be in Rome with my husband, who works with the Scalabrinians, and they are doing a migration forum. A large forum, with many sessions. It's a congregation dedicated to that.
I think the issue of migration is one of the key issues today. I think we are living in a world with a new geography and there are people, even Trump, who are wanting to go back to ancient geography. This could harm many things that have been done, for example, the whole dream of the united Europe. This could ruin everything. Dividing again, changing the currencies ... It was a huge advance; Latin America was to have done something similar with Mercosur.
The "great homeland" the Pope talks about.
Sure. And this implies a new geography and a new vision of what the border is. We have just had a symposium in Rome, with the University of Notre Dame here, the University of Perugia, the French one and ours in Rio on "The Stranger," the challenge of the migrant. It seems very important to me.
That's why the Pope stresses this theme over and over again. It's one of his causes.
He deals with the issue of migrants himself. It shows how important it is to him.
We aren't so aware of that. In Latin America we don't have as serious a problem as in the United States or in Europe. It's a tragedy.
I saw something interesting on Facebook. There was a photo of an embryo on one side and on the other a girl with a life jacket, as if she were drowning. The question was whether one life counted and the other didn't. It's about human lives.
This dynamic that both lives count has been turned over at the church level. Up to now, the embryo was assessed greater.
But we're in the process of change. It's already on everyone's mind. The process is taking place.
Do you think that the process opened by Francis is going to set in? Does it have time to set in?
I trust a lot. First, that God will give him health for at least a few years. In this situation you need a couple more consistories to guarantee the succession a little. He doesn't have the number of electors yet.
But on the other hand, his election was something so surprising that I don't think we have the right to doubt the Holy Spirit. I must confess that when they announced his name, I didn't know about his history in Argentina, sometimes not very positive, that they were talking about. But later, when he greeted us with his impeccable theology, and gave the blessing, he conquered the whole world. I met him in Buenos Aires and he was very serious. He didn't smile. And now, he's joy walking.
His face changed.
It changed completely.
Does he think he has a special mission?
I think he had consolation without a precedent cause there, like a good Jesuit, he went ahead and that is what gives him strength. Because imagine everything, all the work, all the brickbats this man must have every day.
And at 80 years old, too.
He's not a boy.
In Spain, there are many bishops and many priests who when you tell them to get on board, say "No, we're old, we're tired ..." And I always tell them, "Hey, the Pope is older than you and he's pulling the cart in an exemplary way."
Of course. He's awesome. When he was in Brazil on Youth Day, wow, it was a total success. Without security, with the window open, strolling quietly, drinking coffee with the Pentescostals and with umbandistas ...
In the middle of the favelas.
He's street savvy.
The Church in Brazil seems to follow him more. It was already on the road, wasn't it?
Yes. we have the best episcopacy in the world. There are 400 bishops. There were 300 in the era of John Paul II. There was a moderate majority, a small conservative group, and a very active, very strong and very prophetic group of progressives. And they set the tone. And the moderate majority followed it. The bishops were living life to the fullest. Everything the Bishops' Conference said was news. John Paul II undid it. He had 26 years to do so by naming, observing those from the movements in secret. Then it began to change.
Is it reverting back again?
Yes, but to reverse something of so many years, where the last of that generation are dying now -- Dom Luciano has died, Dom Pablo Evaristo ... Dom Angélico is still alive, but he's old now. I don't know how many Focolare members were named. Even, for example, the cardinal responsible for the dicastery of Religious Life, is a Brazilian. He's a Focolare member. What's he doing there? Why did they put him there?
Francis confirmed him. Maybe he's an easy man to work with, I don't know, but the appointment comes from before, it comes from Benedict. John Paul II kindled the movements. Religious life, he put to the side. I think that had a lot of influence on the configuration.
Now new good bishops are beginning to appear in the Church in Brazil. And open ones. I think that we're in a good times. But you need time. Let's hope Francis stays another five years or so. It would be ideal so he can name more cardinals.
And that someone along the same lines succeeds him.
Of course. Because all this is a political game. Gustavo Gutiérrez used to say that if John Paul had retired, being very sick, Martini would have been pope. And he would have been very different. When he died, Martini was already very sick, he didn't accept. And it was Benedict. Poor man, he would go down in history because of his resignation. A great gesture, recognizing that he wasn't able to cope, that he couldn't do it anymore.
Does that justify him before history?
Quietly. An intelligent man.
Is the new trend that Pope Francis is setting irreversible? Is it impossible for it to be reversed, at least in the short term?
No. Nothing is impossible. The conservative footprint is still very much alive. Very lively and very active. It has a lot of power. Cardinal Burke, with his train ... That attracts some people. It even attracts young people. The young clergy are impressed sometimes. The young diocesan clergy love the trappings, the ornaments, the power. Most of our students are laypeople and in graduate school we have many young Protestants and they're excellent. They're married and have to support women and children. The young priests are ...
That is, that one of the solutions to this might be optional celibacy? Would it make them more human, more "real life"? Or not?
I think for diocesans that would be something to seriously consider. First, the Church needs it. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world. 70% of Brazilians don't have Eucharist on Sunday. Not because they don't want to, because there are no clergy. It depends entirely on the clergy to do the Eucharist. So there are women ministers with Celebrations of the Word, which the people consider Mass. They even say that they prefer the nun's Mass to that of the priest.
I think they could call the married priests back. Some would be delighted to return. There would be a way. I think Francis has thought about that.
How is that movement in Brazil? In Europe, they say that Francis told Cardinal Hummes, "Open ways in this territory. Go forward." Is anything being done in that sense?
There are various fronts. First, reinforcing the theme of permanent deacons, who can become priests. They have training and half of them are already married.
Another is allowing the relationships of the viri probati. Maybe first for some regions that need it the most. Not in the urban areas that have a lot of clergy.
The Brazilian Bishops Conference already brought that question to Aparecida. They took up the problem but not the solution. All the Christian churches allow married priesthood. Even the Orthodox and the Anglicans.
The subject of women in the Church interests you as a woman theologian, I suppose.
Poor women. Well, many people were angry with Francis when he said that women's ordination was very hard to do. I didn't get angry, first because it's true, John Paul II tied things up. There may be some canonical path, but it must be very difficult.
And second, because I don't think it should be a priority. I know that for many women this is a sore point. They know they can offer a service, sometimes much better than the priests. But I think there's a long road ahead.
He's done some things; he put some women in key posts, he included more women on the International Theological Commission. In April, I'm going to Rome to participate in a meeting of a group of women that's going to be a theology seminar to put into practice what Pope Francis says is lacking, a theology more from women. There was a first encounter and in this second one, the theme is "Tears."
He's also created the Commission on Women Deacons.
Can this commission get anywhere? Or was it opened just to do something?
Sure it can. It was a specific gesture, we'll wait to see what comes out. The American who's there is a warrior, Phyllis Zagano. She wrote a book on the diaconate for women. She's very open and a fighter. She isn't there just as a figurehead. I think she's going to fight.
But aren't there some issues, such as this women's one we're talking about, that are so urgent that it's inevitable and inescapable to work on them? Facing the people. My 24 year-old daughters don't understand it.
I totally agree with you. But even among the laity, according to the mentality, it's macho. Machismo is a plague. It's something very ingrained. Especially in Latin culture. This has to be said in favor of the gringos. Women have won many things, for example, in the teaching bodies of the theology schools, there are many women. In important positions, as directors.
Once, the Jesuit provincial went to the Cardinal of Rio to propose my name as department director and it almost gave him a heart attack. What? A woman? It couldn't be.
The first time I went to speak at the Bishops' Conference about John Paul II's document Dominum et Vivificantem, Dom Luciano who adored me and was a friend of mine, when the nun who was organizing it said, "The one who's going to come is Doctor Maria Clara Bingemer," said, "But how, sister? To talk to the bishops about a pontifical document?" Then he embraced me and told me, "I believe it's a matter of getting into spaces, isn't it?"
But it's like a foreign body. They think women are beings from another galaxy, I think.
There's fear. The fear of Eve, always.
Fear-panic. Women who have a profile, scare them like crazy. And the criticisms begin: she's butch, she's not feminine ..., thus they're marginalized.
Not here. There's respect here. They have, in the theology schools, so-called tenure , which is stability. You can't throw them out because the bishop gets in a bad mood. And there are women who have stood out a lot. That, in the theological field; another thing is what happens in the parishes. Because this thing of not having access to the levels of coordination and power, really plays a role. Women are never at the altar.
In Europe, in the center, for example in the Cathedral in Amsterdam, they have a Eucharist every six months. There are many women who give homilies. In Europe, these things are starting to happen. In Germany. And here, the Americans invent anything. There are mixed churches.
But in the Catholic churches and the traditional Catholic parishes, I think there's still a long way to go. And I think it's a very urgent subject because women are fed up with always being subordinate, always in second place, always treated with condescension.
And the image we give at the social level.
Yes, which is horrible. This gives rise to something which I don't think is very positive. For example, women here are a bit bitter. You go to help them carry something and they say, "No, I can do it by myself." But it's a reaction just to reaffirm equality.
I'm more aligned with the feminism of difference. We are different, but because of this we have to be together, to enrich humanity. If women are out, humanity is impoverished. The Church remains a bastion of celibate males who understand nothing about certain life issues. And you have to legislate about everything.
And do you think that the institution will be able to get on that bandwagon that's going faster and faster?
Martini used to say that we were 200 years behind and I don't know now. Pope Francis is accelerating the process of adaptation and updating -- the aggiornamento -- but even so it seems to be going so slowly ...
It's going very slowly. For example, last semester I was on sabbatical here at Boston College and my research was on an atheist French thinker, an agnostic. Julia Kristeva. They call her a lot to speak at Notre Dame Cathedral about humanism.
I remember her in Assisi.
She has some thoughts about motherhood that are the most lovely I've ever seen. And her symbol is the Virgin Mary. She says that the West lost the discourse about motherhood. That it must regain it. And Catholicism has a fantastic contribution with the Virgin Mary.
She gives a very lovely interpretation of Mariology, and very different, but very respectful, of faith. She is a representative of the secular world. Of the world without beliefs. And I'm afraid that we woman are also losing what is ours -- the power of women to be mothers. It's a power, although it's also a vulnerability.
And a privilege, of course.
Yes, the power to feed the child with one's own body. I've written a lot about this. It's a Eucharistic gesture. So, [a woman] can't celebrate it but she can be Eucharist.
That's where the Pope is aiming, I think.
He's hoping for that a bit. That women's theology not be so vindictive. That it not be a female version of machismo.
But in the end one has the impression that the institution always makes half-hearted attempts -- that this type of outcome, invariably, is to justify why they are not considered on equal terms.
Yes, it will take millennia to recover. In the early Church women had a more active role.
And -- this is also important -- there were women in the Church who are now beginning to be recovered, the mystics. Because you can't mess with mysticism. What are they going to do? Deny it? no.
Before it was a bit like there was just Teresa of Avila, but there are many more and contemporary ones.
For example, that Benedict XVI quoted Etty Hillesum in his last homilies as Pope, an agnostic Jew who had four hundred thousand lovers, and one day she fell in love with a psychologist and he told her, "I think you should pray." And henceforth she was a mystic. She went voluntarily to the concentration camp, she left two diaries and incredible letters. Everyone is studying her all over the world. She is an inspiration for Catholics, Christians of all shades, atheists, for everyone.
She was a very womanly woman, very aware of her body, of her sexuality. She had an abortion along the way. Imagine, during the war...
This abortion thing is a very delicate subject. Very serious. I'm against abortion. But as Ivone Gebara says, sometimes we start talking about abortion and not about the abortion society that pushes women, especially poor ones, to get abortions, because the men don't take responsibility, they abandon them. That was the root of her conversion, she suffered a lot. Because her boyfriend told her, "If you have this child, I'm leaving." She loved him a lot and she lost the child and the man. She thought she'd never get pregnant again, but then she had a daughter, and she converted. [Translator's Note: Although it's not indicated in the transcript, Dr. Bingemer seems to have switched back to talking about Dorothy Day here.]
In the end, I do see that you're an optimist, and that you have hope.
You have to have hope. If the women leave the Church, the Church will fall to pieces. We're the ones who support the Church. In the film about the life of Francis, you see the importance women had in his life. A Communist who was his boss when he worked as a chemist, then another who was a judge and who helped him get people out ...
I think women are the pillars of the Church. And I hope that we become aware of the need for action and a more effective presence of women, because thus we'll go far.
Thank you very much, a pleasure.