Monday, March 18, 2013

Ivone Gebara on the Papal Election: "Official Coverage" and Stoning Dissonant Voices

Sister Ivone Gebara

I'm really happy to discover today that National Catholic Reporter has published Brazilian theologian Ivone Gebara's meditation on the papal election process, the new pope, and the geopolitics of secrecy. I had read a précis of the article somewhere else a few days ago, and thought it was powerful. It helps me keep any hope I can muster with the new papacy grounded . . . in the real world, beyond the world of carefully crafted images and media hype that so many of my fellow Americans eat up with such naive, uncritical alacrity, as if we ourselves, we Americans, have become people of the easy image and not of hard thought and careful critical dialogue.

Images and not reality. Images that often distort reality. Images that often deliberately distort reality because they're fashioned by the powerful to do precisely that: to mislead us into thinking we're seeing demonstrations of compassion when what lies beneath the images is actually cruelty. Images that make us imagine we're seeing demonstrations of humility when power is being amalgamated with ironclad secrecy behind the scenes. Images that tell us we're seeing new demonstrations of concern for the poor when what's being veiled by the images are devils' bargains made with those who ruthlessly oppress the poor.

Gebara tries to lift the mask to ask what lies behind the images, and in that way, offers me, at least, ground for hope. She offers me hope that is grounded. She begins by asking who benefits from the huge media fanfare surrounding the selection of a new pope, and why this fanfare is beamed around the world during the selection process. There are, as she notes, the stunning images and then the reality the images fail to disclose--the reality the images actively conceal:

This is that the process itself is closed, secretive, deliberately excluding from the dialogue involving the selection of a new pope almost the entire people of God. This is that the selection process as it is configured and as its reality is veiled by the mass media is actually about suppressing critical dialogue and alternative viewpoints.

Here's the heart of Gebara's essay:

There is no criticism of this perverse system, which continues to invoke the Holy Spirit in order to maintain ultraconservative positions clothed in the pretext of religiosity and docile submission.  Official coverage allots no space for dissonant voices to be heard (even at the risk of being stoned).   Once in a while, light criticism is allowed to surface, but it is quickly drowned out by the “status quo” imposed by the prevailing ideology. 
They repeat that Pope Francis uses public transportation, that he is close to the poor, that he cooks his own meals and that the name he has chosen as pope shows his similarity to the great saint of Assisi. He was immediately tagged as a simple man, cordial and friendly.  The Catholic press says nothing about many people's suspicions regarding his role during Argentina’s recent military dictatorship, or about his current political stands against gay marriage and the legalization of abortion. Neither do they mention his well-known criticism of liberation theology or his disdain for feminist theology. 
The image of a kindly and modest figure just elected by a group of cardinals assisted by the Holy Spirit veils the reality of a man who in fact embodies numerous contradictions. More recently the Brazilian newspapers (Folha de Sao Paulo, Estado de Sao Paulo) have offered differing profiles of the new pope that give us a more realistic idea of who he is. 
In this light it becomes clear that his election was, beyond doubt, part of a geopolitical offensive involving competing interests and a balance of forces within the Catholic world. An article by Julio C. Gambina published via Internet March 13 in Argenpress, as well as information coming in from alternative groups in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Brazil and especially Argentina have confirmed my suspicions. The See of Peter and the Vatican State are positioning their pieces in the world game of chess in order to empower political projects championed by the North and its allies in the South. In a certain sense, the South is being co-opted by the North.  A Church leader who comes from the South will help balance the forces in the world chess game, which have been displaced a good deal in recent years by left-leaning governments in Latin America and by the struggles of many movements -- among them Latin America's feminist movements, whose demands annoy the Vatican. 
If something new is happening politically in the South, there’s nothing better than a Pope from the South, a Latin American, to confront this new political movement and preserve intact the traditions of family and property. Such an affirmation undoubtedly dumps cold water on this election's charm and on the thrill of seeing the multitude in the St Peter’s square breaking into applause and joyful cheers when the figure of Pope Francis appears.  Many will say this criticism dampens the beauty of such an emotional event as the election of a pope.  Perhaps, but I believe this critique is necessary.

If we seek grounded hope and not the fizzy, insubstantial kind that vanishes with the first strong wind that comes along in this period of a new papacy, I think we'd be well advised to listen to Sister Ivone Gebara (and many other liberation and feminist theologians and those struggling for social justice in Latin America, who have long had their finger on the pulse of their church and culture)--even as we also take seriously the testimony of Leonardo Boff, Hans Küng, and other theologians.

I believe this critique is necessary . . . .

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