Matthew Fox on Being Silenced by the Vatican
Categories: New Release Spirituality & Religion
With today’s release of the revised edition of Confessions, North Atlantic Books is kicking off Matthew Fox’s month-long blog tour celebrating its publication with a Q&A about his experience being expelled from the vatican.
Confessions tells the inside story of what it was like “standing in front of the train” when the Vatican was on the attack and highlights the major accomplishments of Fox’s work—to bring spirituality and prophetic warriorhood back to society and religion while standing up for ecological, gender, economic, and social justice.
Q: What was it like being silenced for a year by the Vatican?
A: Well, it was the only Sabbatical I have ever had! (Though they offered no stipend and took away my livelihood, fortunately I was able to receive a grant from a “secular’ source to survive). I visited Nicaragua at the tenth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and also Brazil where I met with Fr. Leonardo Boff, the liberation theologian also silenced that year and with Bishop Casigalida, a poet and mystic whose diocese is the Amazon and spent a week there learning a lot about the fight to retain the rainforest and protect the indigenous people there. (He too had been silenced by the Vatican.) I also met with Cardinal Arns, a prophetic churchman also who stood up to the military junta in Brazil; and other leaders of base communities. From these experiences I wrote my book, “Creation Spiritualty: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth.”
Q: What was it like being expelled from the Dominican Order after 34 years?
A: It was a political act and I took it as such (they drove Fr Boff from the Franciscan Order and condemned Father Eugene Drewermann, a psychologist priest in Germany the same year). The three of us were the most read Catholic theologians at the time on each of our 3 continents. So it was all about striking fear into the hearts of theologians. Of course there were personal feelings as well, number one being the lack of courage of many of my brothers to stand up for thinking in the church—especially when “truth” is the motto of the Order. The Dutch Dominicans supported me fiercely however and I will always appreciate that and admire them for it.
Q: What were the issues that got the Vatican so riled up about your theology?
A: The Inquisitor General, Cardinal Ratzinger, gave a list of so-called “heresies” which tend to read like a Rorschach test about the Vatican under Pope John Paul II and later Ratzinger himself as Benedict XVI. I think they say more about them than about me as they lay bare the fundamentalist virus that took over the hierarchical church for thirty-four years, a disease I laid out in detail in my book The Pope’s War: How Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Imperiled the Church and What Can Be Saved.
First among the objections was that I am a “feminist theologian.” Is feminism a heresy? A Christianity that seeks basic rights and parity for women and that respects their stories and their wisdom is not heresy. It is following in the footsteps of Jesus.
The second objection is that I “call God Mother.” I have demonstrated how all the great medieval mystics called God Mother, from Saint Hildegard of Bingen to Mechthild of Magdeburg to Meister Eckhart to Julian of Norwich and more. How ignorant of their tradition were the last two popes? Eckhart says that “all the names we give to God come from an understanding of ourselves” which means that if we picture God as masculine only we are depriving ourselves of the feminine side of ourselves. And our children too. In short we are busy creating a patriarchal society that is not good for women OR for men, for girls OR for boys—or for other creatures either.
Another objection is that I prefer “original blessing” to “original sin.” That is true—I certainly do for the truth is that we are born into a universe that is “good” and “very good” (according to the Bible, Gen 1) and to teach otherwise is to encourage self-hatred, guilt, shame. Jesus never heard of original sin—no Jew has—indeed Elie Weisel says that the idea of original sin is “alien to Jewish thinking.” How then can a movement supposedly in the name of Jesus be pushing original sin, a concept he never heard of? The idea comes from St Augustine in the fourth century, the century that the church inherited the Roman Empire.
Another objection is that I don’t condemn homosexuals. Of course not. Neither does nature or the Creator of nature since science has now demonstrated that about 8% of any given population is going to be gay or lesbian—and we have counted 464 other species with gay and lesbian populations. Sounds like the Galileo case all over again when religion refuses to listen to science and prefers its own prejudices to the facts of life. St Thomas Aquinas warned that “a mistake about creation results in a mistake about God.” God is not homophobic. My Bible says “God is love,” not that “God is heterosexual love exclusively.”
Q: Why has so much controversy dogged you all these years?
A: I am a bit surprised, actually. I thought people would be delighted to hear about our often hidden spiritual geniuses such as Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, the tradition of the Cosmic Christ, the relationship of mysticism and prophecy, contemplation and justice-making and more. Was this naïve? Actually, lots of people have responded favorably and it was that visibility that brought others out of the woodwork to create a backlash. Some people do not want to wake up and find their freedom; they are content wallowing in old doctrines like “original sin” that reinforce their bad image of themselves unfortunately. Some are quite content living in a patriarchal world and are profiting from it even if it does damage to women, girls, the environment and their own souls. It’s sad but it’s true. I guess this is why people like Jesus and Gandhi and King and others run into plenty of fierce opposition.Tags: Matthew Fox Christianity