Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

RELIGION: Bishops Talk About Cockroaches, Lesbians and Democracy

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Oct 18 2004 (IPS) - The Catholic Church will always be hierarchical, will continue to keep women out of the priesthood, and will never accept marriage between homosexuals, said bishops from around the world meeting in Mexico.

Some observers say these stances and others emanating from the Vatican alienate followers and are driving the Roman Catholic religion towards crisis.

“Christ decided that the Church would be hierarchical and not democratic, and although society is moving towards gender equality, the Church will hold to its precepts,” said Venezuelan Bishop Luis Márquez.

That position, along with others on questions like homosexuality and the best way to draw new followers into the fold, were discussed by the bishops in the 48th International Eucharistic Congress, held Oct. 10-17 in the western Mexican city of Guadalajara.

The Eucharistic Congress has been held every four years since the 19th century. This year’s was attended by hundreds of Catholics, who reflected on the meaning of the eucharist, the ceremony held in memorial to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and on how to encourage the faithful to remain in the Church at a time when thousands are leaving.

Roman Catholics currently represent 17.2 percent of the world’s 6.4 billion people, down from 17.9 percent of the population in 1978, when Pope John Paul began his papacy.

In those 26 years, there has been a marked decrease in the ordination of priests. According to the Pontifical Yearbook put out by the Vatican, the number of priests has shrunk 3.7 percent in that period, and the number of nuns 20.9 percent.

To help revert the decline, the bishops meeting in Mexico committed themselves to modifying the structure of the catechesis (the teaching of the faith) and prayer “so they respond to the yearnings and needs of young people,” Spanish Bishop Adolfo Petit said after the Congress.

Another aim is to get the faithful to regularly attend mass and receive the eucharist, said Cardinal Jozef Tomko, the president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.

It is estimated that less than one-third of those who identify themselves as Catholics around the world attend mass regularly.

According to the bishops, what the Church will never do to win followers is recognise homosexuality or same-sex marriages as “normal”. Nor will it admit the use of birth control, or accept women as priests.

“It is inadmissible to state that everyone living under the same roof is ‘family’…as some people who defend marriage between homosexuals argue,” complained Mexican Archbishop Javier Lozano, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.

“Even cockroaches are given the status of family because they live under the same roof. If a cat, a dog, and two lesbians live together, that’s a family,” said the archbishop, referring to a bill on marriage approved by Spain’s socialist cabinet, which does not mention gender. The bill, which would make homosexual marriages legal, is expected to be approved by parliament within the next few months.

“We will always defend natural marriage, which is between a man and a woman,” he added.

Elio Masferrer, president of the Latin American Association for the Study of Religion, said many churchgoers are leaving because of the Church’s “narrow-mindedness towards realities like homosexuality, divorce and the empowerment of women.”

In an interview with IPS, Masferrer said these positions originate from the “total lack of democracy” in the Church and the “authoritarianism within the Church hierarchy.”

If the Church fails to change, its followers will continue leaving, until it falls into crisis in a not-so-distant future, predicted Masferrer.

In the Church, the Pope is the central authority, and his orders cannot be questioned, because they are directly inspired by God. In the rigid hierarchy, he is followed by archbishops and bishops, all the way down to the faithful.

“The parishioners are the lowest rung in the precepts of the Vatican, although the bishops claim they are their raison d’etre,” Protestant pastor Miguel Ochoa told IPS.

“All Catholics can do is follow the line of their leader (the Pope) without questioning it.

“That is not exactly a religious community, but more like a dictatorship,” said Ochoa.

Referring to the status of women in the Church, German Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller said “The priesthood is not possible for women in the Catholic Church because the priest represents Jesus Christ as the husband of the Church, which is his wife.

“For that reason we must not lose the symbolic dimension, under which a man symbolises Jesus Christ, as the husband,” he added.

Mexican Bishop Onésimo Cepeda said women “must work a little harder on the question of total devotion, in raising their children mainly, and in catechistic and evangelical training.”

“I believe everyone has their place, their space, which is a very broad space in the Catholic Church where everyone fits. But each person fits in their own place and time, as it should be,” he added, to justify the fact that women cannot become priests.

The Vatican has kept women outside of its governing bodies, although a slight change has been seen recently.

In March, the Pope named U.S. Professor Mary Ann Glendon as director of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which advises the Church on social issues. No woman had ever before held that post.

Also in March, Sister Sara Butler of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois and Barbara Hallensleben, a German laywoman who teaches dogmatic theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland were appointed to the International Theological Commission, which is presided over by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Republish | | Print |