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CELAM: in wake of Santo Domingo, political struggle between Vatican, local church continues.

Final Report: |Small but substantial changes'

OXFORD, England - The final document of the CELAM conference at Santo Domingo last October, "New Evangelization, Human Promotion, Christian Culture," was a compromise between what the Latin American bishops could swallow and what the Vatican sought to impose. It was accepted by the assembly only on the last day.

Brazilian Bishop Luciano Mendes de Almeida, chairman of the editorial committee, was credited with "saving" the text and producing one that his fellow Latin American bishops could live with. That looked like the end of the unsavory story of control and manipulation.

But there was one more stage before the document could be promulgated with papal approval: a final revision in Rome by CAL, the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, responsible for the ongoing liaison with CELAM.

Its secretary, Monsignor Cipriano Calderon Polo, was one of three copresidents of the Santo Domingo conference, along with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state, and Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, archbishop of Santo Domingo, who played host to the assembly and organized the military escort for cardinals.

The Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, let it be known that the changes in the text were merely stylistic, involving the correction of scripture texts quoted from memory and other minor adjustments.

That now appears disingenuous in the light of the changes that have been made. Though mostly small, they are not trivial, and they represent a further watering-down of a text that already had been robbed of much of its power. In what follows, italics will indicate the passages that, in the eyes of the Vatican, needed amendment.

It starts with the opening sentence: "Summoned by Pope John Paul II and impelled by the Holy Spirit of God our Father, we bishops of the Church of Latin America and the Caribbean, assembled at Santo Domingo ... were in continuity with Medellin and Puebla."

That became "the Bishops taking part in the IVth General Conference of Latin America...." The Caribbean bishops, mostly black and French- or English-speaking, with their distinct culture, were eliminated, and the authority of the text is reduced by attributing it only to those who were actually present.

CELAM declared: "Latin America, this religious and suffering continent, needs a new evangelization in which the gospel of justice will be proclaimed without ambiguity." CAL changed that to "the gospel of justice, mercy and love."

The Vatican showed itself particularly sensitive to any reference to women. The assembly accepted a strong statement: "New evangelization should involve the determined and active promotion of the dignity of women; that presupposes also a rethinking of the role of women within the church and pastoral work."

In the CAL version, it presupposes merely a deepening of the role of women in the church and in society." In this vocabulary, deepening means finding better reasons for supporting the status quo.

Santo Domingo went on: "In the reading of scripture, we have to overcome anachronistic interpretations that fail to recognize women's dignity, proclaim with force what the gospel prefigures for women and favor a reading of the word of God which, beginning from women themselves, discloses the contribution of the feminine vocation to God's plan."

That is paraphrased and emasculated, so to speak: "In the reading of scripture, we have to proclaim with force what the gospel means for women and develop a reading of the word of God which discloses the contribution of the feminine vocation to God's plan."

CELAM had this to say about ecology: "When man refuses to enter the alliance of love, to which he is called, his sin affects his relationship with God and with creation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ sets humanity before the new task of remaking God's creation into a new garden, which will be no longer the garden of Eden but the garden of the empty tomb in which Christ conquered death." The last sentence was simply excised.

CELAM's description of American Indian religion was likewise censored: "In the amalgam of elements that make up the indigenous community, the Earth is life, a sacred place, the feminine face of God, the integrating center of community life." The "feminine face of God" is struck out.

Where CELAM speaks of "influencing the agrarian policies of governments through the laity," CAL prefers to "remind the laity that they must influence agrarian policies."

A different type of change involves adding quotations. CELAM speaks nobly of marriage, which "signifies and realizes the love of Christ and his church, a love which goes by the way of the cross, of difficulties, of pardon and of weaknesses to attain the joy of the resurrection." CAL adds the warning in accordance with Canon 1055, 2, that "there cannot be a valid matrimonial contract between spouses that is not ipso facto a sacrament." CELAM quoted the 1991 encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, saying that "the task of inculturation belongs to the particular churches under the direction of their pastors, with the participation of the whole people of God."

CAL adds the next sentence from the encyclical: "The fundamental criteria for this process are harmony with the objective demands of the faith and openness to communion with the universal Church."

One last piece of watering-down. CELAM tried to introduce a mild note of repentance: "Unfortunately, with regard to slavery, racism and discrimination, there have been situations from which men of the church were not absent." CAL substituted "the baptized" for "men of the church." They were not making a point about inclusive language either. It is rather an apologetic attempt to let churchmen off the hook

Those are a sample of the changes that have been in the work of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean. No doubt it is still recognizable as their own - just.

Hints of ecclesial self-criticism disappear

BOGOTA, Colombia - The Vatican has made only a few revisions of the final document from the Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Bishops, held in Santo Domingo in October. However, changes that appear in "New Evangelization, Human Promotion and Christian Culture" - which was distributed in Latin America in December with Rome's approval - are of interest.

Rome's rewrite specifically included the middle classes" on the list of those people to whom the Latin American church's "new evangelization" should be directed.

Two passages expressing criticism by the church of its own practices, meanwhile, were deleted. The bishops present at Santo Domingo originally pointed out that "there exist out-of-date practices of clericalism and ritualism that impede the full participation of the community" in the Eucharist Rome shaved this passage, weakly stating that "little participation" exists.

In the same tone, the Vatican was also unwilling to let the Latin American church suggest that "anachronic interpretations that fail to dignify women be overcome" in the reading of the scriptures. This passage was sacked; the text now simply reads that pastoral agents should "announce with strength what the gospel means for women and develop readings of the Word of God that discover the features that feminine vocations contribute to the plan of salvation."

Incomprehensibly, women and children were written out of the list of those people whose human rights the church should make a special effort to defend.

Pastoral guidelines instead call the church to "promote, in the most courageous and efficient manner, human rights from the gospel and the social doctrine of the church, with words, actions and collaboration, and with commitment to the defense of individual and social rights of mankind, of all peoples, cultures and marginalized sectors as well as those people who have no protection or are imprisoned."

A previous paragraph, pointing out that "special violences" exist against children, women and the poorest groups of society (peasants, Indians and African-Americans), was maintained. More extensive changes were unnecessary, it seems, because conservative sectors of the Latin American church managed to scalp the bishops' document in Santo Domingo before it ever reached Rome (NCR, Aug. 28, 1992).

Prophetic elements of preparatory texts like the "Secunda Relatio" and the "Working Document" probably never even made it into the computer files of the Santo Domingo redaction committee.

For example, the "Secunda Relatio," SR, considered the text that most closely expresses the voice of those Latin American bishops committed to the poor, pointed out that "human rights are violated not just through repression, assassinations, torture and disappearances, but by the existence of conditions of extreme poverty and economic structures that stimulate inequalities between the rich who get progressively richer and the poor who get progressively poorer."

The SR also describes and criticizes the continuous practice of forced disappearances, and it exports the church to "defend people from the constant violation of their human rights, especially those who are most defenseless," and to "struggle to overcome structural poverty so that the impoverished majorities may begin to meet their basic needs of subsistence."

Meanwhile, the "Working Document," WD, a watered-down version of the SR that includes elements of the more conservative preparatory "Consultative Documents," CD, maintained the SR's list of causes of human-rights violations and added "militarism, which, as a doctrine of total war has left many corpses scattered throughout the recent histories of our countries and has violated the basic rights of citizens."

The text drafted by the bishops at Santo Domingo, ("Final Document" or FD), however, reduces the list of those who commit abuses, claiming that "human rights are violated not only by terrorism, repression and assassinations, but by the existence of conditions of extreme poverty and unjust economic structures that give birth to great inequalities."

Passages on Christian base communities, CEBs, received similar treatment during the conference, before they arrived in Rome for Vatican scrutiny. The SR states, "The Latin American church has had the precious experience of the CEBs. These small communities constitute the most powerful evangelizing structure of the present and the future."

According to the SR, the CEBs are "a model of church ... basic cells of the church," and they represent "a space of ecclesiastic creativity and of participation of the laity." The role of the CEBs, in part, is to transform reality.

CEBs, according to the WD, are "one of our most original evangelizing experiences." They represent "a form of being and of expression of the church, in the style of the primitive Christian community." he primitive Christian community."

They are "a sign of vitality of the church, instruments of formation and evangelization, valid points of origin for the construction of a new society founded on a civilization of love ... ferment of Christian life, sources and points of missionary radiation."

In comparison, the Santo Domingo document, FD, before it passed through the Vatican's filter, had already reduced the CEBs to "live cells of the parish, which is understood as the point of organic and missionary communion." The CEB, which is "usually composed of a few families," is called to "live as a community in faith, in worship and love." According to the FD, laypeople, "men and women adequately prepared in community processes," should promote the CEBs, but always "in community with the respective parish priest and the bishop."

Such differences have prompted many religious, bishops, theologians and laity throughout Latin America to promote the Santo Domingo documents as a package - emphasizing the importance of the "Secunda Relatio" and the "Working Document."

For example, "Understanding Santo Domingo," an educative pamphlet about the Fourth General Conference, written by theologians Carlos Zarco and Pablo Richard, suggests that the "Final Document" "should, in the future, be broadened and discussed using as starting points the |Second Relatio' (February 1992) and the |Working Document' (April 1992), both texts officially published by the Latin American Conference of Bishops (CELAM)."

The Paulist Press in Bogota, meanwhile, has published a guidebook to analyze the Santo Domingo "Final Document" that recuperates the practice of ver-juzgar-actuar or "see-judge-act," one of the basic tenets of liberation theology and the methodology used to write the documents of the bishops' conferences at Medellin (1968) and Puebla (1979).

In Santo Domingo, the method of ver-juzgar-actuar, which begins with a profound analysis of reality, was abandoned. But the Paulist publication is a sign that the practice will remain very alive in the Latin American church despite attempts by conservative sectors to diminish its importance.
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Title Annotation:Latin American Bishops Conference, 1992
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter; Wirpsa, Leslie
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 22, 1993
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