A Harvard-educated Catalan radical feminist anti-capitalist nun and her political inspirations and aspirations

Published September 14, 2013 by Katy J Went

A Harvard-educated Catalan radical feminist Christian anti-capitalist nun – Sister Teresa Forcades, who is also a medical Doctor with a Master’s degree in theology, has a quasi-political campaign that is fast gaining momentum. Oh and she’s pro-openly LGBT people ministering in the Roman Catholic Church alongside her support for women to be priests. She’s pro-women in other ways too including abortion and a woman’s right to decide.

A Christian heroine of Sister Teresa is the 12th century German St Hildegard von Bingen, also a theological and medical polymath, though the “Sibyl of the Rhine” was, in addition, an artist, botanist, musician, playwright and poet. last year, Hildegard was made only the 4th female Doctor of the Church for her theological contributions. Forcades is unlikely to get similar approval given her open critique of the Roman Catholic church as “misogynist and patriarchal in its structure” and needing urgent transformation.

Hildegard was also critical of aspects of the Church, especially its Temple-moneymen-like selling of access to the Sacraments, something Jesus was infamous for combating when he drove them out of the Jerusalem Temple, whip in hand. She has also been regarded as something of an early feminist. Though willing to admit her “weaker vessel” sex status, much perhaps due to her sickly state of body, she, nonetheless, used that to her advantage in her attempts to gain political autonomy for her nuns. She invented a modified Latin alphabet, the lingua ignota and neologisms, perhaps for secrecy and community bonding with her nuns.

Like Hildegard, Sister Teresa says that “everything she does is born of deep Christian faith and devotion” but many question how a left-wing feminist can reconcile taking orders within the sexist homophobic institution that is the Roman Catholic Church. In 1971, when Mary Daly was the first woman asked to preach at Harvard Memorial Chapel she denounced Christianity as “irredeemable for women” and called for an exodus from the Church. Almost all those attending the service, men and women alike, joined her in walking out of the Chapel, so why is Teresa in it?

The Sister has, however, written on Christian feminism – La teologia feminista en la història (“Feminist theology in history”, Fragmenta Editorial, 2007) and just as with her famous opposition to Swine flu vaccine, which subsequently went viral, she researched for months before opposing its scientific basis – she has a PhD in Public Health – so too, she examined the Benedictine order before admitting herself to them. This she did by presenting to them a talk on a community of gay Catholics who celebrated their homosexuality as a divine gift – their positive reaction led her to put her doubts aside and take the sacrificial vows. She acknowledges that this has not stopped her falling in love three times.

The Second Vatican Council – The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, 29) on human community, says that:

“with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion is to be overcome and irradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”

So the religious is political but do religion and politics mix well? Most people recoil at the expressions of faith from Parliament rather than pulpit of Bush or Blair. Most recently, the shock coming out of Gorbachev as Christian, shows that he was wise to keep his faith quite when President of Russia. Faith for politicians can be a millstone around their necks but the Church gets as much criticism for failing to be political and certainly for not keeping up with the evolution of society, sex and sexuality.

Forcades, though, doesn’t want to run for political office or start a Party – she already has a ministry and political leader in the Church and Jesus, though also cites Gandhi and Chávez as inspirations alongside the radical left wing Greek, Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party “alliance of leftists, greens, Marxists and Maoists” (Guardian). 

In like manner, Forcades has drawn political support – tens of thousands from a spectrum of political and religious beliefs, and has an agenda: one with with Marxist, socialist, green economic and social policies. As much liberation politics as liberation theology.

She also stands for the regional independence of Catalunya (a 2014 referendum is possible) and is a fierce nationalist in the sense of that region’s self-rule. Though she is no xenophobe of other peoples, regions, countries nor indeed of immigrants and would see immigration controls ended. A slight hypocrisy perhaps in that the Catalan region is Spain’s wealthiest and can afford to go it alone, isn’t Spanish unity, Christian generosity and the Benedictine-rule ascetic poverty better served by that region assisting the poorer ones amidst Spain’s current austerity climate that includes 30% unemployment, rising to 55% amongst the young.

Her blend of hard-left (as someone recently opined why is it “hard-left and far-right?), is more far-left but with a soft-heart and wise intelligent capable and captivating head, despite its nun’s coif and veil headdress. There appears to be no contradiction between her state-led re-nationalising socialism, anti-capitalism and more individualistic nationalist independence and strong democratic values that espouse every member representation and a transparent democratising takeover of utilities including public ownership of the Internet. Her vision and version of modern freedoms is more communitarian than either communism and capitalism.

Her political manifesto was co-authored with Spanish economist Arcadi Oliveres, and has 10 demands:

  • A government takeover of all banks and measures to curb financial speculation
  • An end to job cuts, fairer wages and pensions, shorter working hours and payments to parents who stay at home
  • Genuine “participatory democracy” and steps to curb political corruption
  • Decent housing for all, and an end to all foreclosures
  • A reversal of public spending cuts, and renationalisation of all public services
  • An individual’s right to control their own body, including a woman’s right to decide over abortion
  • “Green” economic policies and the nationalisation of energy companies
  • An end to xenophobia and repeal of immigration laws
  • Placing public media under democratic control, including the internet
  • International “solidarity”, leaving Nato, and the abolition of armed forces in a future free Catalonia

BBC World Service – Heart and Soul, Sister Teresa Forcades

https://www.facebook.com/Forcades

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