(This declaration was witnessed by 2 members of the grassroots community of St Thomas Aquinas of Madrid)
“Now is the moment for the Catholic Church and the Pope to ask for forgiveness”. This statement is contained in the document in which a thousand grassroots Christians, as members of the Catholic Church (CC), asked the victims for forgiveness, on 3rd September 2017 in Bogota, for the participation of their Church thoughout decades in the conflict in Colombia that caused about 300.000 deaths over the last 50 years. In it they demand that the Bishops' Conference asks for forgiveness in a nationwide gesture, as an example of reconciliation.
“With sincere grief -they state-but also with the hope that in our Church in this moment of grace the evangelical force of the “metanoia” or profound conversion is active, WE ASK FOR FORGIVENESS to God and our victims whilst sharing our longing for a more humane future.”
What are the reasons for which the Church must ask for forgiveness? Several investigations have documented grave actions and responsiblities of the CC., which can be summed up in 7 deadly sins:
1ST SIN: CONNIVANCE OF THE MILITARY DIOCESE. The obligation of religious assistance to the Military Forces and the National Police has led to situations in which many victims, especially peasants and male and female popular leaders, who suffered torture in military units, had to see how the Church turned its back on them and, in many cases, blessed without any qualms those who committed the crimes.
scandal of the wrongly named “falsos positivos”, with more than 5700 persons assasinated, who were presented as killed in combat, counted with the collaboration of bishops and priests, especially in Santander and Antioquia, who, invoking their “duty to give spiritual advice to the army”, supported the activities of paramilitary organizations.
2ND SIN: IDEOLOGICAL PERSECUTION OF LIBERALS. Colombia lived a bloody political violence against followers of the Liberal Party between 1899 and 1902. The figure of nearly one hundred thousand deaths is estimated. At that time the CC took sides inciting people to be “good sons of the Church, by being anti-Liberal”. Priests and bishops like Mons. Ezequiel Moreno promoted violence throughout the country, because, according to them, Liberalism was sinful. “It would be good if Catholics took up their rifles”, proclaimed Monsignor Moreno who, however, was canonized by John Paul II, in October 1992, as the saint of the 5th Centenary of the Conquest of America.
3RD SIN: PERSECUTION OF COMMUNISTS. The Communists were also persecuted and condemned by the CC. Many persons were excommunicated in the whole world for belonging to that ideology. "Communism is "intrinsically perverse", affirmed Pius XII in 1949. A few years later, in 1956, in Colombia a Decree was issued which ordered sanctioning and denying the sacraments to all those considered Communists.
Even recently, in 1994, the Colombian Bishops Conference published a “Manifesto of the Anticommunist Struggle” affirming that “...communist ideas are essentially materialist and anti-religious and everyone should know that the international Communist tactics have always been one of deception and falsehood”.
4TH SIN: COLLABORATION WITH THE PARAMILITARY. In the year 2016 a report of the Pacific School of Religion, of Berkeley University, California, disclosed the cases of 21 Catholic bishops and priests who maintained ties with the paramilitaries and who had supported or justified their crimes in several regions of the country.
A famous case is that of the “Twelve Apostles” paramilitary group, that carried out functions of “social cleansing” in 1993-1994, and which assasinated more than 30 people amongst peasants, traders, prostitutes..., etc. Associated with this group is Santiago Uribe, brother of ex-President Alvaro Uribe.
Another famous case is that of the parish priest of the church of “Las Mercedes” in Yarumal (Antioquia), Oscar Javier Palacio, who used to hide in his parish ammunition to deliver to the paramilitary group, whilst providing information to the army, landowners and traders implicated with the paramilitary, and provided information about persons for assasination. He, himself, recongnised that “his actions were focussed on his duty as spiritual adviser to the army in the area and also due to his anti-communist convictions”.
5TH SIN: IMPOSITION OF CATHOLICISM ON INDIGENEOUS PEOPLES. Everyone knows that the evangelisation of indigenous peoples was made by enforcement, not as a testimony of life. Both the Conquest and the Colonization that followed showed a close relationship between the Cross and the sword. Pope Francis, himself, in 2015, during a meeting with indigenous communities in Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia), asked for forgiveness for “the harm caused in the process of evangelisation”, during the Conquest.
In Colombia, the case of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada is remembered for the countless assasinations committed under his rule against natives, in order to steal their gold. It is incomprehensible that his remains are still enshrined in the Primate Cathedral of Bogotá. For this reason, many Catholics are asking the Archdiocese of Bogotá to remove the remains of Jiménez de Quesada from the cathedral, as a symbol of asking forgiveness to the victims.
6TH SIN: THE DEBT WITH WOMEN OF A MACHO CHURCH. The debt of the Church with women dates over many centuries and is related to the negation of their rights and the interference which the Catholic Church has made throughout its history in the lives and bodies of women. This historical debt has not been satisfied and for this reason the Movement of Women insists that the Church asks for forgiveness for so many years of submission and undervaluation of the role of women.
7TH SIN: PEDERASTY. Obviously this is not exclusive to Colombia, but it also exists there, and is a scandal. Although the Public Prosecutor is investigating a large number of cases, that are zealously hushed up by the Episcopate, only 5 priests have been condemned for sexual abuses against minors.
This document ends with a call to all Christians, as follows: “In a situation in which reconciliation becomes the paradigm for change, it is essential that the Catholic Church assumes its sins and is capable of building a reconciliation from forgiveness and complete redress. It is now open to the responsibility of the hierarchy to assume this but also of the male and female believers!”.
Echoing this call, we, in the community of St Thomas Aquinas, ask ourselves today:
a) Do we, as a part of the Church, has reasons to ask for forgiveness for actions or omissions, silences or connivances of the CC, that have caused physical or civilian victims in our country?
b) If the answer is affirmative, what initiatives of redress can we suggest?
Translation by Hugo Castelli Eyre, 6th November 2017