Teresa Forcades, who was born in Barcelona, is a Benedictine nun in the monastery of Monserrat in Catalonia. She is a theologian, a doctor, a social activist and the founder of the Procés Constituent political movement in Catalunya.
How do you see the Church of today? A Church “of” the margins, i.e. one that brings, or tries to bring, to the centre of her attention those who are ousted by power and wealth; or a Church “at” the margins, i.e. an institution that, at least in the European and Western part of the world, is no longer able to make an impact with her teachings and values?
Both possibilities are true. The Church is “of” the margins and is “at” the margins. Since the election of Pope Francis, it is clear that the peripheries receive his privileged attention. His way of talking about the “discarded” helps to understand that poverty has structural causes that depend on the capitalist system. Poor is not the same as discarded. I would say that “poor” is a neutral category and that “discarded” implies a social critique: discarded by whom, with what criteria, for what purpose? The capitalist system reduces man’s value to a commodity and discards goods that are not needed. The Catholic Church today promotes social consciousness on this point. The Amazon letter has strong passages in this regard, as does Fratelli Tutti. Last year I had the opportunity to participate in a project of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development entitled Doing Theology from the Existential Peripheries. It involved 40 cities on five continents and more than 500 people living in the peripheries were interviewed, not with the intention of listening to what they lack, but with the aim of listening to what they can contribute, in this case to theology. The results of this project are available at https://migrants-refugees.va/it/theology-from-the-peripheries/. At the local level, it is evident that organisations such as Caritas Diocesana, Manos Unidas, Jesuit Refugee Service and many others are increasingly active and present.
At the same time, it is also true that in Europe, Catholicism has gone from being sociologically dominant to being a minority and in practice clearly marginal. The majority of Europeans are not Catholic and most of those who are Catholic experience Church membership as something marginal in their lives, as a reality that does not influence their decisions much, either on a moral level (sexual relations outside marriage, contraception, same-sex marriage, divorce) or on a socio-economic level (what activities or jobs to do or support). Catholicism is growing in Africa and Asia, but on both continents, it is quantitatively marginal. Qualitatively it is not, as it represents an important link to Europe and Western culture.
What should the Church do to bring the outcasts of the earth closer to the centre, to make them protagonists in the life of the world and the faith? Do you think the pontificate of Francis has gone in this direction?
Support and, where appropriate, promote the men and women of the Church who work in the peripheries, prioritize the interests of the marginalised and give voice to their concerns and needs, represent them in international organisations. Yes, I believe that Pope Francis is working in this direction and that he is doing so in an open manner, that is, not to promote the ecclesial institution, but with the aim of really helping the discarded.
Let us talk about the Church “on” the margins. In large European countries, she is experiencing a deep crisis, I am thinking of France and Germany in particular. What are the reasons? Where are the responsibilities?
On the one hand, the fear of change and modernity, the dissociation between the magisterium and the practice of Catholics in matters of sexual morality, ecclesial sexism, homophobia, the scandal of sexual abuse; on the other hand, clericalism and the failure to preserve the sacramental vision of the world that gives it beauty and mystery. Beyond this, I believe the Catholic Church’s main problem is her loss of prophecy: her connivance with worldly powers, her failure to oppose fascism as well as communism, her failure to support the fight for social justice in Latin America or the fight for women’s equality or the workers’ struggle for decent conditions. Many people in the Church have supported these causes to the point of giving their lives, but not the majority, nor the vast majority of Church hierarchy. The responsibility lies with all Catholics who have not done so, each in his or her own place. As St Paul says, everyone must do the good as he intends. The question is, do we do so?
If we talk about margins, we cannot overlook the exclusion of women in the Church. I am not thinking only of the priesthood - although this is a problem in various parts of the world - but of the presence and influence of women. Has anything changed? Moreover, what can women in the Church today do to overcome the many forms of exclusion and ostracism to which they are subjected?
The most obvious and positive change is taking place in the government of the Church, in the curia. For the first time, there are women in positions of power, even above the bishops. The curia reform in March 2022 gave a legal basis to these positions, hitherto exercised in the shadows, and recognised for the first time in history the ability of women to exercise central government in the Church. The exercise of local government was already recognised in the early Church and in the medieval Church; for example, the mitered abbesses had ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the territories belonging to their abbey, which could be very extensive indeed. I also appreciate the fact that the working document (instrumentum laboris) published for the Synod includes the topic of ordaining women to the diaconate. In addition, I consider it good for women in general that the Synod is considering the suspension of compulsory celibacy.
You are a nun and you know the great renewal process that has taken place in the female religious world in recent years. Do you think it has been sufficiently recognised? Do you think we can speak today of nuns emerging from the marginality attributed to them?
I do not think we can say that in general the female religious world has become more visible. On the contrary, the large Catholic girls’ schools are disappearing in the big capitals. In these schools, the nuns educated the daughters of the elite and in many cases did interesting social work too. Even the large women’s monasteries with a tradition going back thousands of years are disappearing. In Europe and the United States, there are fewer nuns (much fewer!) and less influential. Apart from this general reality, there are nuns who distinguish themselves as theologians (e.g. Elisabeth Johnson and Margaret Farley, in the USA), spiritual leaders (Joan Chittister, also in the USA) or spokeswomen for women’s rights and church reform (Philippa Rath, in Germany) and it is also true that the self-awareness of nuns has changed. Beyond the singular figures, it is true that nuns are more aware of intra- and extra-ecclesial power dynamics, more aware of the scandal of sexism and clericalism, less willing to promote, support or tolerate it. (Ritanna Armeni)