The following open letter from Basque theologian José Arregi was published in Spanish on his blog on 11/6/2013. English translation by Rebel Girl.
Dear Pope Francis:
As everything goes so fast today, the questionnaire on the family that you just sent to the bishops all over the world has already come into our hands -- 38 very specific questions organized into 8 thematic blocks. We understand that we are not just the subjects, but also the ones to whom these questions that affect -- and hurt -- us, even more than the bishops, are addressed. Therefore we are allowing ourselves to answer them directly, because of the affection we have for you and the trust you inspire in us. Thank you, Pope Francis, for asking us about so many uncomfortable issues that have been, and still are, taboo. And thanks for listening to us, for receiving our voices speaking from the soul, with their certainties and doubts.
1. Whether the teachings of Sacred Scripture and the hierarchical Magisterium on sexuality, marriage, and the family are known and accepted among the faithful.
Perhaps they're not well known, and certainly they are poorly accepted or simply ignored. We note that in recent decades the gap, or rather the rupture, between official doctrine and the feelings of a wide majority of believers, has grown to a critical degree. It's serious and it grieves us. But we sincerely believe that the reason for the growing break is not the ignorance, much less the irresponsibility of the believers, but rather the hierachy's being locked into patterns from the past.
Times have changed a lot in a short period in everything that has to do with family, matrimony, and procreation, and with sexuality in general. We know they are delicate subjects, that what is most holy is at stake, that the utmost care is necessary. But you can't care for life by repeating the past. We believe deeply that the Spirit of Life goes on speaking to us from the heart of life, with its joys and sorrows. We believe that the living Ruah cannot be closed in any doctrine, or document, or words of the past, and that it goes on inspiring the feelings of all believers and all men and women today. Nothing should ever remain closed.
Pope Francis, we congratulate you on your willingness to listen again to the voice of the Spirit in the men and women of today, and we dare to ask you to keep speaking words of mercy and encouragement, to not go back to obsolete and meaningless "truths" and "norms". In the name of Life!
2. On the place that the concept of "natural law" in relation to marriage has among believers.
We will tell you simply and frankly: For the great majority of thinkers, scientists, and believers in our society, the concept of "natural law" no longer has any place at all. Yes, the nature that we arehas a wondrous order, some marvelous laws, and thanks to them, science is possible. But the supreme law of nature is its capacity for change and novelty. Nature is creative and inventive. The fruits of that creative and inventive capability, of that holy creativity, are all the atoms and molecules, every star and galaxy. All of us living beings, all languages and cultures, all religions are fruits of it. For billions of years to come, infinite new forms yet unknown to us will be the results of it.
Nature is inhabited by the Spirit, by the holy Ruah that blew on the waters in Genesis, that goes on vibrating in the hearts of all beings, in the heart of every atom and particle. The family too has been changing unceasingly, from the first clans to the nuclear family, through the patriarcal family we have known until recently.
Before our very eyes, the model of the family is still changing: families without children, single parent families, families with children of different fathers and mothers...And it will go on changing, we don't know how. It's all very delicate. There's a lot of pain. We ask the Church not to speak ill of the new forms of family, since they already have enough living day to day and getting ahead amid the greater threats that come to us from a cruel, inhumane economic system. It's not the Church's job to dictate but, first of all, to provide accompaniment, relief, and encouragement, as you yourself have said.
3. On how faith, spirituality, and the Gospel are lived out and transmitted in families
A crucial question. Yes, we note with sorrow that families have stopped being "domestic churches" where there is prayer and where the good news of Jesus is nurtured, felt, and transmitted. But we don't believe it's fair to blame the families for this. The crisis in religion and the transmission of faith in the family has to do in the first place with the deep cultural transformation we are going through. And a big challenge not only or perhaps primarily for the families themselves, but for the church institution itself, is accepting the new spiritual keys and religious forms that the Spirit is inspiring in the men and women of today.
4. On how the Church ought to face certain "difficult marital situations" (couples who live together without getting married, "common law marriages", divorced and remarried people,...).
Thanks again, Pope Francis, just for wanting to raise these questions again! Thanks for wanting to listen to us and for showing mercy through your questions! You know well the complex and changing history of "the Sacrament of Matrimony" since the beginning of the Church. The history has been quite variable and will go on being so. Look, for example, at what is happening among us, in this ultra-modern Europe. Our young people have neither the houses nor the economic means to get married and live with their partners until their 30s in the best of cases. How can the Church ask them to abstain from sexual relations until that age?
The forms change, but we believe that the criterion is very simple and that Jesus would agree: "Where there's love, there's a sacrament, whether the couple get married or not, and where there's no love, there's no sacrament, however canonically married they may be." Everything else is extra. And if the couple is having difficulties, as happens so often, only God will help them solve their difficulties and love each other again, and only God will help them separate peacefully, if they can't solve their problems and go back to loving one another.
Eliminate, then, we beseech you, the canonical impediments so that those who have failed in their marriages can remake their lives with another love. Let the Church not go on adding more pain to their pain. And let it in no way prevent them from sharing the Bread of comfort at Jesus' table, because Jesus did not impede anybody.
5. On same-sex unions.
The harm caused by the Church to homosexuals is huge, and someday it will have to ask their forgiveness. Let's hope that Pope Francis, in the name of the Church, will ask forgiveness for so much shame, contempt, and feelings of guilt that have been laid on them over the centuries.
The vast majority of men and women in our society today can't understand this obsession, this hostility. How can they go on saying that homosexual love isn't natural, being that it has been so common and natural, for biological and psychological reasons, among so many men and women of all times and on all continents, and in so many other animal species?
In this case, as in many others, the Church should go first, but society precedes us. We celebrate that there are increasingly more countries that recognize that persons of the same sex have the same right as persons of the opposite sex to form unions. What prevents us from calling them "marriages"? Aren't heterosexual unions that, for whatever reason, aren't going to have children called that too? So, let the dictionaries and canon law change to conform to the times and meet the needs of the people.
And what is stopping us from calling homosexual marriage a sacrament? It's love that makes us human and makes us divine. It's love that makes the sacrament. And everything else is gloss and human tradition.
6. On the education of children in irregular marital situations.
We believe that this language -- regular, irregular -- is inaccurate, even harmful. It's harmful to a child to hear that he has been born into or lives within an "irregular" marriage or family. And it hurts their parents, whoever they be. What hurts is not being an exception, but being censured for being an exception. Moreover, we all know that it is sufficient for the cases to multiply for the exception to become the norm. In any case, the Church is not here to define what is regular and what is irregular, but to accompany, encourage, and support each person as they are, where they are.
7. On the openness of spouses to life.
Fortunately, there are very few among us believers under 60 who have heard of Humanae Vitae, that encyclical by Paul VI (1968) that declared it a mortal sin to use any "unnatural" contraceptive method, any method other than abstinence or adjusting to the female fertility cycle. But it made almost all our parents suffer a lot. That doctrine, adopted against the advice of much of the episcopate, was unfortunate in its time and it is no less regrettable that it is still maintained today.
Today no one understands it and almost nobody complies with it among Catholics themselves. And few priests or bishops dare to lay it out these days. It no longer makes sense to state that sex has to be open to reproduction. It no longer makes sense to distinguish between natural and artificial methods, much less to condemn a method for being "artificial", since for the same reason one would have to condemn any vaccination or injection.
Nowadays we are witnessing a momentous change in everything that has to do with sexuality and reproduction: for the first time after many millennia, sex is no longer necessary for reproduction. It is a technological change that brings with it an anthropological change and requires a new moral paradigm. Sexuality and life remain as sacred as ever and it is necessary to care for them with utmost delicacy. But the criteria and standards of Humanae Vitae don't help in this, but rather make it harder. Let the words of the Church be light and comfort, like the Spirit of God, as Jesus' words were in his time and would also be in ours.
8. On the relationship between the family, the individual and the encounter with Jesus
We believe that Jesus comes out to meet us on all paths, in every situation. In whatever model of family, in any family situation. We believe that Jesus doesn't distinguish between regular and irregular families, but tends to each situation, with its grace and its woundedness. We believe that being closed in on ourselves (our ideas and norms, our fears and shadows) is the only thing that separates us from others and from God. And we believe that humility, clarity, and trust bring us closer each day to others and open us every day to the Presence of the Living One, being where we are and being as we are. And we believe that a Church that would proclaim this, like Jesus, would be a blessing to humankind in all its situations.
[Arregi follows his letter with this poem/prayer by Jesuit José Enrique Ruiz de Galarreta on which to meditate. I have included it in both Spanish and my English translation - RG]
Bendito seas mi Dios, mi aire,
que estás ahí, tan cierto como el aire que respiro.
Bendito seas, mi Dios, mi viento,
que me animas, me empujas, me diriges.
Bendito seas, mi Dios, mi agua,
esencia de mi cuerpo y de mi espíritu,
que haces mi vida más limpia, más fresca, más fecunda.
Bendito seas, mi Dios, mi médico,
siempre cerca de mí,
más cerca cuanto me siento más enfermo.
Bendito seas, mi Dios, mi pastor,
que me buscas buenos y frescos pastos,
que me guías por las cañadas oscuras,
que vienes a por mí
cuando estoy perdido en la oscuridad.
Bendito seas, mi Dios, mi madre,
que me quieres como soy
que por mí eres capaz de dar la vida,
mi refugio, mi seguridad, mi confianza.
Bendito seas, Dios, bendito seas
Blessed are you, my God, my air,
who are there, as sure as the air I breathe.
Blessed are you, my God, my wind,
who encourages, pushes, and steers me.
Blessed are you, my God, my water,
essence of my body and my spirit,
who makes my life cleaner, fresher, and more fertile.
Blessed are you, my God, my healer,
always near to me,
closest when I'm feeling the sickest.
Blessed are you, my God, my shepherd,
who finds good fresh pastures for me,
who leads me through the darkened canyons,
whom comes for me
when I am lost in the shadows.
Blessed are you, my God, my mother,
who loves me as I am,
who is able to give your life for me,
my refuge, my safety, my trust.
Blessed are you, God, blessed are you.