FaithWorld

Gay marriage law in Argentina signals waning Catholic power in Latin America

gay buenosThe Catholic Church’s failure to derail a gay marriage law in Argentina shows once powerful clergymen losing their influence in Latin America, where pressure is growing for more liberal social legislation. (Photo: Gay couple in Buenos Aires,  November 25, 2009/Marcos Brindicci)

The law, which lets gay couples marry and adopt children, was approved last week to the cheers of hundreds of gay couples gathered outside Congress despite opposition from churchmen, who called gay families “perverse.”

“We shouldn’t be naive: this isn’t just a political struggle, it’s a strategy to destroy God’s plan,” Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the head of the Church in Argentina, said in a letter before the vote, urging lawmakers to reject the bill.  Mexico City and Uruguay upset the conservative Catholic hierarchy by passing similar legislation last year, and more liberal laws on social issues are likely in the region.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has vowed to give more rights to same-sex couples, and Dilma Rousseff, a leading candidate in Brazil’s presidential race, has said she favours the legalization of abortion in a country that has the world’s largest Catholic population.

“People are still Catholic and they still believe in the fundamentals … but they no longer agree with what (the Church) says regarding morality,” said Ana Maria Bidegain, a religious studies professor at Florida International University.

Pope says gay marriage threat to creation

gay marriage

Argentinans exchange rings in Ushuaia, 28 Dec 2009

Pope Benedict on Tuesday linked the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage to concern about the environment, suggesting that laws undermining the differences between the sexes were threats to creation.

Creatures differ from one another and can be protected, or endangered, in different ways, as we know from daily experience. One such attack comes from laws or proposals which, in the name of fighting discrimination, strike at the biological basis of the difference between the sexes,” he said at his annual meeting at the Vatican with ambassadors to the Holy See. 

  Pope Benedict addresses foreign ambassadors at the Vatican, 11 Jan 2010/Maurizio Brambatti

Pope Benedict addresses foreign ambassadors at the Vatican, 11 Jan 2010/Maurizio Brambatti

Prominent cardinal backs coup and rule of law in Honduras

ormMen touted as a possible next pope of the Roman Catholic Church rarely get involved in public debates over a coup d’etat or wars of words with heads of state. But that’s what Tegucigalpa Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has done recently in the the political crisis in his country, Honduras. Before the overthrown President Manuel Zelaya made his failed attempt to return home, Rodriguez issued a statement in a televised address declaring his ouster legal and warning Zelaya could spur “a bloodbath” if he came back to Honduras. (Photo: Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, 16 April 2005/Kimimasa Mayama)

The July 3 televised statement, signed by the 11 bishops of Honduras, exhorted Hondurans to seek a peaceful solution to the political crisis and rejected international criticism of Zelaya’s ouster even as it condemned the manner he was kicked out of the country.

Rodriguez, one of the Latin America’s most prominent Catholic leaders, was frequently mentioned as a possible next pontiff in 2005 when he and his fellow cardinals gathered to elect a successor to Pope John Paul. There was much talk at the time that a cardinal from the developing world, where the majority of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics live, took over at the Vatican. When the conclave opted for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the German was called “the last European pope.” The Latin Americans could win the next conclave if they could only rally behind one candidate, the Italian media speculated. Rodriguez, then a young 62, was often mentioned as the man with the best chances.

End of an era for the Amazon’s turbulent priests

Liberation Theology has long been out of fashion at the Vatican, but its effects have lived on in Latin America. One is a tradition of foreign-born Catholic priests who went to the region to preach its message of justice for the poor and oppressed. But the falling number of priests in Europe and the United States and a turn away from this activist view of the Gospels has taken its toll. The clerics defending peasants against landowners and denouncing child prostitution, drug trafficking and illegal logging are growing old and the flow of foreign priests is drying up. There are Brazilian priests, but with family members living in the country, they are often more vulnerable to death threats.

Stuart Grudgings, senior correspondent in our Rio de Janeiro bureau, travelled to Abaetetuba at the mouth of the Amazon in northeastern Brazil to visit Italian-born Bishop Flavio Giovenale and other members of this disappearing breed of priests.

Read the whole feature here. (Photo left: Bishop Flavio Giovenale, 11 Feb 2009/Paulo Santos) (Photo right: Sunset over Abaetetuba, 28 Sept 2008/Paulo Santos)

Debate over who’s a “real Jew” roils Argentine Jewish community

AMIA logoThe newly elected president of Argentina’s biggest Jewish community center sparked a firestorm when he was quoted in the press as saying he wanted the group to represent “genuine Jews” who live strictly by the Torah.

Guillermo Borger is the first Orthodox Jew elected to head the AMIA (Argentine Israeli Mutual Association) center in Buenos Aires, which was founded 114 years ago. Argentina’s Jewish community is the largest in Latin America with nearly 200,000 members.

Borger was quoted last weekend by Argentina’s biggest daily newspaper Clarin as saying he planned to “reinforce AMIA’s role in representing genuine Jews.” When asked what made a Jew genuine, he said: “It’s having a life based on all the Torah’s teachings.”

Papal succession speculation sweepstakes off and running

Cardinals file into the Sistine Chapel for conclave, 18 April 2005/poolThe papal succession speculation sweepstakes are truly off and running. The Paris daily Le Figaro started it shortly after Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States with an article saying he looked tired and pointedly mentioning possible successors. The Vatican promptly denied any health problems and veteran vaticanisti poured cold water on the story. While we mentioned this here on the blog, we haven’t done a story for the Reuters file because it’s way too early for such speculation. B16 looks like he’s in pretty good shape for 81.

But once the gates were open, two leading religion writers saw no reason to hold back. Henri Tincq, long-time religion correspondent for Le Monde in Paris, came out on Friday with a full-page portrait of the current favourite pick (here in French). The headline reads: Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, le cardinal tout-terrain (the all-terrain cardinal). Tincq starts off with an interesting lead: “There is no doubt that, if he is elected pope one day, he will allow cardinals and bishops to take the controls of a small plane or helicopter for their pastoral tours.” It seems he’s been told by the Vatican not to pilot aircraft anymore.

Tincq paints a lively portrait of the archbishop of Tegucigalpa who, apart from his religious vocation, is an amateur pilot, an accomplished musician (saxophone, organ, guitar, drums, double bass, marimba), speaks seven languages, has lobbied successfully for Third World debt relief and now heads Caritas Internationalis. And he’s only 65, meaning he has a long “window” of eligibility ahead of him.