Journeying to the Other Side: Beyond Previously Accepted Boundaries

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2005 »Volume 42 2005 Number 1 2 »Journeying To The Other Side Beyond Previously Accepted Boundaries

By Antoinette Gutzler, M.M.

Antoinette Gutzler, M.M. is Associate Professor of Theology at Fu Jen University, Taipei, Taiwan. She holds an MA in Theology, an M. Phil in Theology and a PhD in Theology from Fordham University where she held a Teaching Fellowship from 1998-1999. Previous to her studies from 1971-1987 she was misssioned in Tanzania. Several of her publications have appeared in theological journals. Presently, she is co-editing Ecclesia of Women in Asia: Gathering the Voices of the Silenced, to be published soon by ISPCK, India.


Virus Alert! Scan for Viruses! These are words that have become part of everyday computer life and they strike fear in the hearts of computer users everywhere. Viruses are dangerous; they harm computer programs and wreak havoc wherever they are placed. Ignoring a "virus alert" can result in the loss of the work of a day, month, or year in just the twinkling of an eye. One may be oblivious to the presence of an infection until an intended task is rendered impossible due to the presence of a virus. Applying the proper "patch"—computer language for "antidote"—rids the computer of the contaminant and guards against future infections. I propose that the ever present danger of computer viruses is a useful analogy from which to reflect on the situation of women—and by extension, the Church as a whole—40 years after Vatican II.

This essay suggests that the fresh air breathed into the Church by the Holy Spirit at Vatican II and which bestowed the courage to act, the courage to think, and the courage to speak (Rynne 1996:53) on the Council Fathers is tainted with viruses that paralyze renewal and inhibit the emergence of new models of Church. It gives a "virus alert!" I will scan for two particular viruses in our Church—clericalism and colonialism—and suggest the "patches" of humility and courage as antidotes to ward off future infection. This is not an easy task. These viruses come hidden in "attachments," that is, in long-accepted interpretations of scripture, tradition, and models of being Church and are therefore difficult to locate. The inability to find them and assess their damage to the community of faith may be due to the presence of what Bernard Lonergan calls scotosis.1 "Scotosis" prevents communities and the Church from receiving the gift of a new question, engaging in new experiences and entering a process of conversion. Acknowledging its presence enables the Church to take an honest look at the harm that viruses such as clericalism and colonialism do to our faith communities.

Clericalism

O’Collins and Farrugia define clericalism as "an approach to pastoral and theological problems that seeks to concentrate everything in the hands of the clergy."2 It minimizes active participation of the laity in the life and governance of the Church, silences women and relegates them to be passive observers of life in the Church. The current struggle against clericalism that the Church faces today is a continuation of the struggles that were part of the deliberations of the Council itself. Those familiar with the beginnings of Vatican II remember well the opposition that greeted John XXIII’s announcement of a coming Council. "Behind the scenes at the Vatican, the Council was looked upon with mixed feelings, ranging from passive acquiescence to outright alarm" (Rynne, 30). Cardinal Lienart’s courageous intervention at the first session of the Council called the assembled bishops to take ownership of the Council by choosing their own candidates for the various commissions. As the Council progressed, new understandings of Church emerged and stirred the hearts of the faithful. The changing situation and role of women as one of the "signs of the times," first voiced in John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, was but one example of the changing world in which the Church sought to be relevant and preach the Gospel.3 As Gaudium et Spes perceptively noted,

For, in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are not universally honored. Such is the case of a woman who is denied the right and freedom to choose a husband, to embrace a state of life, or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those for men. (GS 29)

A new day dawned for the Church when, after Vatican II, the doors of academia opened to admit women as doctoral students of theology and scripture.4 Through these studies, women discovered both their discipleship rooted in the gospels and their leadership role in the house churches and the early Christian communities. Those first women disciples were not passive recipients of God’s grace but rather active participants in the story of "God-with-us." Women became awakened to what had been denied them over the centuries in terms of their value, dignity, creation as "image of God," and rightful role in and responsibility for the community of faith and realized the staggering ecclesiological implications this would have for a clerical church. However, 40 years after Vatican II, it is painfully clear that women’s call to discipleship and leadership roles in the church continue to be actively resisted and the way of "being Church" remains basically the same.

This resistance, a symptom of the virus of clericalism, can be illustrated by the story of a university professor, a well-known scholar in Church history, who was asked by some of his female students why women were not included in his lectures on early Christianity and the formation of the Christian churches. After giving some thought to their question, he replied quite simply: "Well, the answer is that there are no women to include in this part of history. They were not there. If they were there they would have been included in my course; but there were none, so they are not included!" This story brings an unsettling question to the fore: what of this professorial response? Is it accurate? Or is it an example of the virus of clericalism which tells the Christian story from the perspective of male leadership. What implications does this type of thinking have for the future education and formation of young people in the Church? Forty years of advanced scripture research and study renders such a response unacceptable and yet it still survives within our educational institutions.

Another example is found in the Roman document Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World released in July 2004.5 While discussion of this document is not within the scope of this essay, some responses to its perspective on women, given from a clerical point of view, need to be noted. Beginning with the declaration: "The Church, expert in humanity, has a perennial interest in whatever concerns men and women," the document speaks with great authority about the situation of women—one-half of the world’s population—without, it seems, any consultation with that half of the world! It reflects on the roles of women and men from the perspective of a "dual anthropology"6—an anthropology challenged by many feminist writers—and addresses a form of feminism, popular in the early days of the movement, but not a guiding principle for feminist thought and theology today.

Among various feminist responses to the document, Regina Schulte claims that this document

consigns women... to the role of a passive partner, who does not initiate activity, but waits to be acted upon... Thus, as has been argued by John Paul II, women cannot be granted significant leadership roles in the church.... The document states that women, faced with the abuse of power, seek power.... This is not what women in the church seek; they seek a share of leadership" (Allen 2004).

One Christian activist in India argues that "Women are subjected to abuse of power, be it in a religious, social or a political institution. Women do not want to dominate here, but to dissolve the abuse. And that church has failed to see that,"7 while Joan Chittister claims that "the real problem with the document is that its sweeping condemnation of the rising tide of women’s claims to fullness of humanity, now clear in every part of the world, is that it will simply be dismissed for lack of insight, academic understanding and relevance" (Chittister 2004). The post-Vatican II Church desired to be one of insight and relevance to the world. It proclaimed that "the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men and women of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well." (GS 1) It is a matter for deep soul-searching if at this distance from Vatican II the Church risks being dismissed as irrelevant by the very world it wishes to be part of.

Other examples of the virus are too numerous to name here. The current sexual abuse scandal in the US Church is an especially powerful case in point8 as is the general silence concerning the sexual abuse of sisters in many areas of the Church world.9 Conversations with various groups of laity indicate the degree to which many Catholics—women in particular—are deeply offended by the way they are treated by the clergy—as "second-class" citizens and not as those who share the equality and dignity of baptism in Christ.

The "patches" needed to discover and root out the virus of clericalism and become the kind of Church envisioned by Vatican II are those of courage and humility: humility to ask the difficult questions and courage to act on the answers. It is the courage to acknowledge that the hierarchical culture of the Church with its own system of caste is antithetical to the Gospel; it is the humility to seek advice on how to remedy this situation if the gospel is to speak a word that is truly "good news" for its hearers. What kind of Church do we wish to be, or as one current author has put it, how do we wish to be Church?

In a 2003 essay in America, John O’Malley proposes five points of a new style of Church which give direction for a movement beyond clericalism. This new style of Church is one of true partnership and collaboration "between pope and bishops, bishops and priests, priests and parishioners—bishops and laity." The approach of those in leadership roles is to be "more consonant with serving than with controlling," it is to be inclusive, inviting all to active engagement in Church matters. O’Malley maintains that the Council imparted a style to the Church which is "oriented to the future and open to it" (2003:2). Women are a vital part of this future. Their equal inclusion in the Church demands an openness to the "signs of the times" and a willingness to live with the implications. This is the beginning of declericalization.

A new style of Church—courageous and humble—reclaims the right and duty of the laity, especially women who have been silenced for so long, to participate in the theological task. The exclusion of women’s voices and experience in "God-talk" cripples the theological task and renders it incomplete. The "patch" against clericalism wards off "attachments" that convey the message that only the "ordained" are able to speak a credible word to say about God. A new style of Church unmasks the many hidden faces of those outside the clerical system whose voices are needed for theology—the voices of the poor, destitute, and dispossessed. Sri Lankan theologian Aloysius Pieris highlights the importance of the poor in the task of theologizing. He notes that a great number of the Church’s theologians have been educated in an elitist culture and, like the hierarchical Church, speak of the poor in the third person—demonstrating that they, themselves, are not poor. "The Asian dilemma, then, can be summed up as follows: the theologians are not (yet) poor; and the poor are not (yet) theologians" (1982:84). The "patch" against clericalism engenders a spirit of mutual learning and teaching and of mutual encouragement and correction between the Church of Rome and the local churches, women and men. It is the "patch" that leads to an inclusive discipleship of equals.

There is Gospel warrant for movement into such a style. One of the most powerful encounters in the gospels takes place in Matthew’s gospel (14:13-21) after the feeding of the 5,000 people (Jewish) when Jesus journeys to the "other side" of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. There he has an encounter with a Syro-Phoenician woman who begs healing for her daughter (15:21-28). Her request faces Jesus with the disturbing question of who are included in the Reign of God—only Jews or are Gentiles also invited to sit at the table and receive all that God wants to give? This unnamed, non-Jewish woman challenges and shatters an exclusivity present in Jesus’ ministry. Through her persistence Jesus goes beyond his previously accepted boundaries; he truly journeys to "the other side" and meets a new understanding of what God is effecting in the world and seals this new understanding with a second feeding of 4,000 people (Gentiles) [15:32-38]. Seeking the same "patch" that Jesus received would enable the Church to "get into the boat" and "go to the other side" of previous understandings of Church. It is a call to conversion. It is a struggle to see people and situations the way God sees them. It is a call to humility and courage.

Colonialism

The second "virus alert" scans for colonialism. Colonialism is an extremely difficult word to explore in relation to the Church. This may be due to the common understanding of colonialism as the system by which a country maintains control over others mainly for the purpose of exploitation of natural resources, etc. and therefore seems to imply that such a situation does not exist in the 21st century Church. What is important to note is that at the root of colonialism is an attitude of superiority in which one party has power over and knows what is best for the "other." This virus is present in our Church and shows itself in forms such as the persistent "western" face of Christianity, religious superiority in preaching the gospel, financial assistance from Rome to nonwestern local churches which renders those churches dependent on Rome for their continued existence, etc. The virus is easily detectable but may be denied because of scotosis.

In a 1998 essay "Decolonization of Theology," Samuel Rayan scanned for this virus within the Asian context. Writing about the situation in India (and by extension the rest of Asia), he argued that Catholic theology has been "colonized" by western thought patterns and is in need of decolonization so that the Gospel can become truly inculturated in Asian soil. He writes that

Our situation is that either the theological soil of our Christian existence has been used to grow foreign crops which we do not need or use; or it has been left fallow while theologies raised abroad were imported, and were borne by us as a burden, and not assimilated as nourishment nor welcomed as a force for social change (1998:297).

Rayan’s argument brings to mind Karl Rahner’s observation that Vatican II was "in a rudimentary form still groping for identity, the Church’s first official self-actualization as a world Church" (1979:717). The realization that the faces of those present for the Council deliberations were no longer solely the faces of the West but those of a worldwide indigeneous clergy engendered a qualitative leap in the Church’s self-understanding. Rahner argued for the coming of a true world Church—one composed of local churches of many different areas of the world and not branch offices of Europe or America—and challenged that "either the Church sees and recognizes these essential differences of other cultures for which she should become a world Church and... draws the necessary consequences from this recognition, or she remains a Western Church and so in the final analysis betrays the meaning of Vatican II" (1979:727).

This challenge is yet to be taken seriously by the West with the result that even after many years after Vatican II, the Church still retains a Western "branch office face" which renders it and the gospel message "foreign" to most of the nonwestern world. Despite some cosmetic changes (liturgy in the vernacular, lay women and men as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, etc.) the Church is still western in style and ways of articulating Christian faith. Forty years after Vatican II, Synods of Bishops continue to be held in Rome rather than in other "centers" of Christianity. The preparation for the Asian Synod of Bishops held in 1998 is one "case in point" that exposes this virus and points the way to the "patch" of humility and courage.

When the Bishops of Japan received the proposed agenda for the Synod (Lineamenta), they rejected it complaining that the tone was offensive and the content not in touch with Asian realities. They sent a list of their own concerns and questions culled from years of working together with other Asian bishops in the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) which were not adequately represented in the Lineamenta. They challenged the suitability of the questions of the Lineamenta which were composed in a Western context and proposed a "study of evangelization that includes a look at the limits felt to the ‘Western-type’ of missionary activity used up to now."10

The need for the Church to shed its image of a western religion and purify itself of its colonial heritage was articulated clearly at the Asian Synod. In the post-Synodal document Ecclesia in Asia, John Paul II acknowledged that "despite her centuries-long presence and her many apostolic endeavors, the Church in many places was still considered as foreign to Asia and indeed was often associated in people’s minds with the colonial powers" (EA, 9). However, Peter Phan notes that the document "uses the past tense and fails to recognize that the foreignness of Christianity in Asia and the perception of its association with colonialism are present realities, and this is not simply ‘in many places’ but in all parts of Asia" (Phan 2002:83). Prior to Vatican II, bishops and theologians would not have given such noncomplementary feedback to the Vatican. The courage to claim one’s voice is the beginning of a successful "patch" against colonialism.

The virus of colonialism also rears its head in an attitude of "religious superiority." Forty years after Vatican II, the Church must continue to assess its relationship to/with the religious traditions of Asia and discover the most effective way to preach the gospel to those who come from religious traditions that have their own paths to salvation. Paul VI, during his 1970 visit to the Philippines, encouraged Asia’s theologians to

let the seed, which is the word of God, put down deep roots in the fertile soil of Asia. Let the Church draw nourishment from the genuine values of venerable Asian religions and cultures. Her own contribution to Asia will surely be welcomed by your peoples, who are accustomed by centuries of spiritual formation to recognize and acknowledge what is good in others (1976:570).

When the FABC was formed in 1970, part of its initial work included determining the place of the Christian Church of Asia:

The underlying question was this: what did it mean to be the Church of Jesus Christ in Asia, as a new era in the history of Asian peoples was beginning? What did the Church’s mission, seen in the renewed understanding of Vatican II, mean at that particular moment, when the history was being "newly returned" to the Asian people themselves (Arévalo and Rosales 1992:xviii).

For the past three decades, the various FABC commissions have fostered a spirit of service and dialogue in the local churches with all the peoples of Asia and with their religious traditions. Ecclesia in Asia recognizes Asia as the cradle of the world’s major religions. It expresses the Church’s deepest respect for these traditions and affirms

an innate spiritual insight and moral wisdom in the Asian soul, and it is the core around which a growing sense of ‘being Asian’ is built. This ‘being Asian’ is best discovered and affirmed not in confrontation and opposition, but in the spirit of complementarity and harmony. In this framework of complementarity and harmony and Church can communicate the Gospel in a way which is faithful both to her own Tradition and to the Asian soul" (EA 6).

Asia’s distinct voice challenges what was a "given" in the past: that western articulation of the faith is understood universally. At the January 2000 meeting of the FABC, the bishops respectfully acknowledged the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia but did not make it the centerpiece of their discussions. Rather, they continued with their theme "A Renewed Church in Asia: A Mission of Love and Service" and wove pertinent points from Ecclesia in Asia into their final document. They maintain that: "To evangelize, the Church cannot be religiously superior. She has to be a humble companion and partner of all Asians in the common quest for God, in the struggle for justice and harmony, for a better human life."11

The voices of women that emerge from the heart of Asia 40 years after Vatican II continue to be a "transforming grace" for the church. These voices—both humble and courageous—form a "patch" to combat the virus which not only takes a people’s land but also their minds and hearts giving false memories of who they are as a people and condemning them to live in the shadows of life. This has been the experience of many women in the Church and so it is fitting that women’s voices be heard. Notable among these voices are those that come out of the Asia-Oceania Meeting of Religious (AMOR) and the Ecclesia of Women in Asia (EWA).

AMOR was begun in 1972 as a response to the challenge of the 1971 Synod of Bishops that "action on behalf of justice is constitutive of the Gospel." The priority of AMOR is the promotion of justice and peace of the Reign of God in all involvements and in religious life-styles. Over the years this meeting of Asian women religious has engaged topics such as the changes in religious life, prophetic discipleship, ecofemism, reconciliation among the peoples of Asia, and new forms of services and ministries to the poor. The theme of the recent AMOR gathering (2003)—"Reweaving the Network of Life: A Dream for Communion of Heaven, Earth and Human Beings"—reflected on the vows as needed elements for reweaving a broken network of life among the peoples of the world. These gatherings are important steps in creating a "style" of religious life that, while grateful for what the West has offered in terms of its tradition of religious life, still grows out of Asian soil and is distinctly Asian.

It is clear that so many years since Vatican II there is yet to be a truly inculturated form of religious life that springs from the depths of Asian religiosity. This movement into inculturation brings many challenges into formation for religious life such as: requirements and qualities of those seeking admission to our communities, what type of formation programs are needed and where are they to be located– in "sanitized" houses of formation or in living with and sharing the life of the poor, what ways of prayer touch the Asian heart? There is also the question of how to negotiate the diversity and face the racism present in our communities as women and men from different races, cultures, and ethnic groups endeavor to live a gospel-centered community life.

Another vibrant example is found in the first meeting of the "Ecclesia of Woman in Asia: Gathering the Voices of the Silenced" (EWA) held in Bangkok, Thailand in November 2002. The keynote address, by Sister Evelyn Montiero was a guiding inspiration for the whole conference. She clearly set out the hopes of the conference: to bring together Catholic women doing theology in Asia and to provide space for Catholic women theologians to have their voices heard and their thoughts and reflections articulated. The conference invited Catholic women theologians to develop their potential and articulate a theology from the perspective of Catholic Asian women and be silent no more! The meeting aimed to encourage more Asian Catholic women to become engaged in theological research, reflection, and writing and to create networks with different Asian feminist movements in society, Church, and academy which are Catholic, ecumenical, and inter-faith.12 These women have the courage to speak; leadership in the Church needs the humility to hear. Both are needed to come together to make a difference in our Church and our world.

As with clericalism, there are Gospel warrants for this decolonization. Samuel Rayan points out that "Jesus made it a point to decolonize the religion and the theology of the people" by his teaching and actions, by his concern for the poor and widowed, by preaching that it is mercy, not sacrifice, that is required by God, by challenging the priestly class. Rules of purity and pollution, amassed wealth and systematic oppression of the poor are not permitted in the Reign of God. Rayan writes that "Jesus’ work of decolonizing and revising traditional religion and theology was so far-reaching that, while the liberated people rejoiced, the powers that be decided to rid society of the radical prophet" (Rayan, 304). The work of decolonization is prophetic work with serious consequences.

Conclusion

This essay began with the claim that the Church needs to scan for two viruses—clericalism and colonialism—that are harming its life and impeding the renewal of Vatican II. It also proposed the "patches" of courage and humility as possible antidotes. The truth of this claim has been demonstrated through various examples which show not only the presence of the virus but its invisibility to those who are not sufficiently alert. Gospel warrants for attending to these viruses was given for the Gospel of Jesus is the real "patch" needed to confront the different viruses that delude the community of faith so that they see "as man sees, not as God sees." I have also brought to the fore the voices of women who courageously speak out in a Church that continues to marginalize their voices.

Forty years after Vatican II, the fresh air of the Holy Spirit that covered the Council has yet to be fully realized. Nevertheless, there have been many positive developments. The voices of women and laity are becoming stronger. Women are becoming more confident of their rights and responsibilities in and for the community of faith. Synods of Bishops are speaking out. Scripture study and research continue and the emerging theologies in the Church witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit and the diverse ways of proclaiming the faith to people in many different parts of the world.

The new faces coming into the light in our Church today are not those of a colonized, male clergy but rather the faces of women and men of different races, nations, cultures, and nonwestern local churches. They have been baptized in Christ and their faith and vision calls for transformation from a clerical and colonial way of being Church to a new model. The need to scan for viruses and the challenge that brings is clear: Either the Church recognizes the different gifts that these new faces bring to the Church and searches out new models of Church or it will remain forever western and clerical and thus betray Jesus’ proclamation of the Reign of God for all. The task before us is to pay attention to all "virus alerts!" lest in the twinkling of an eye the new questions and insights brought to the Church as a result of Vatican II be lost forever.

 

NOTES

1. Elizabeth Johnson maintains that "It is not uncommon for those whose certitudes and securities may be threatened by women’s emerging theological speech to relegate it to the periphery of importance. Such a hardening of the mind against unwanted wisdom can be called a scototis and the resulting blind spot a scotoma, in Bernard Lonergan’s pointed terminology." Johnson 1992:12. See Lonergan 1978:191-92, 22-23.

2. See O’Collins and Farrugia 2000:45. Although there are many forms of this virus, the one in the forefront of this essay is the form of clericalism that systematically denies women the practical living out and flourishing of their equal dignity in Christ.

3. "Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong them as human persons." See John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 41.

4. It was only after Vatican II that women were allowed to pursue doctoral studies in scripture and theology. Before the Council this pursuit was denied to them.

5. Document can be found on the website of the Vatican Information Service.

6. A "dual anthropology" regards women and men as opposites with their own special characteristics that are denied the other and complementary to the other.

7. India News, New Delhi, 20 August 2004. Web page: www.newkerala.com.

8. The San Diego Union Tribune maintains that "During the scandal, dozens of reports emerged of abusive priests who had been moved from parish to parish rather than being punished. Victims groups accused the church hierarchy of favoring the protection of priests over their victims, and many faithful were infuriated by the response of Catholic leaders," 11 September 2004.

9. See Jane Eisner, "Abused Nuns Get Scant Attention," www.centredaily.com; Wendy McElroy, "Catholic Church Faces New Sex Scandal," sss.zetetics.com; John Allen, Jr. and Pamela Schaeffer, "Reports of Abuse: AIDS Exacerbates Sexual Exploitation of Nuns, Reports Allege," National Catholic Reporter, 16 March 2001. On website: www.natcath.com/NCR_Online/archives.

10. "Official Response of the Japanese Church to the Lineamenta," The Japan Mission Journal 51 (1997):198.

11. Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Papers, "A Renewed Church in Asia: A Mission of Love and Service," The Final Statement of the Seventh Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Samphran, Thailand, 3-12 January 2000 (Hong Kong: FABC, 2000).

12. More information on the Ecclesia of Women in Asia (EWA) can be found on their website:www.geocities.com/ecclesiaofwomen. The proceedings of EWA "Ecclesia of Women in Asia: Gathering the Voices of the Silenced" will be published in November 2004 by ISPCK, India.

 

REFERENCES

Allen, John Jr.

2004 "Vatican Document Rejects Combative Feminism, Seeks ‘Active Collaboration’ for Men and Women," National Catholic Reporter, 31 July on website: www.nationalcatholicreporter.org.

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Chittister, Joan

2004 "To the ‘Experts in Humanity’: Since When Did Women Become the Problem?" National Catholic Reporter, 2 August on website: www.nationalcatholicreporter.org.

Johnson, Elizabeth

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Phan, Peter

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Pope Paul VI

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Rahner, Karl

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