Saturday, July 3, 2010

Remembering the Responsibilities of Political and Religious Independence

Sometimes it is unique to see how dates on the calandar compliment one another.

This weekend our national family celebrates the anniversary of our July 4th Independence. For the family of the Evangelical Catholic Church, we celebrate the Memorial of the Vocation of Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa on July 2nd.

In both celebrations we remember the meaning of embracing the responsibility that comes with independence - independence that his sought and also independence that comes for rejection and ejection.

American history books have detailed all of the dynamics which culminated with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on Juy 4th, 1776. The ongoing responsibilities which comes from our political independence continues to challenge us on a daily basis. Every generation since 1776 has had to contribute to the cause of making this country a "more perfect union." In order to accomplish this, it remains necessary for us to reflect and to question issues pertaining to the collective welfare of our national family.

What has remained unknown to the general public has been the vocational journey of Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa (1888 - 1961). Bishop Costa was the Bishop Ordinary for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Botucatu and later as titular Bishop of Maura. Bishop Costa was the social and religious reformer of Brazil in his day.

Bishop Costa was one of the first catholic bishops to espouse that which was later to be called "Liberation Theology." Bishop Costa was devoted to the social and pastoral needs of those neglected by both Church and State. Bishop Costa's compassion for their needs won him no friends from the secular government nor from within the Vatican.

In the 1930's Bishop Costa became deeply involved in the social ad political changes taking place in Brazil. Brazil's ecomony had collapsed in 1929 as a result of the Great Depression and a military regime had taken over the government in 1930. In 1932 Bishop Costa became a leading spokesperson for the Catholic Electoral League, which as organizaed by the Roman Catholic Church to lobby for Christian principles in the laws and acts of the Government. In 1932 Bishop Costa played an active role in the Constitutional Revolution, a failed attempt to restore constitutional government to Brazil. He formed a "Battalion of the Bishop" to fight on the side of the Constitutionalist troops, and helped finance the rebellion by selling off most of the diocese's assets, along with his own possessions. Bishop Costa's support for the Constitutionalist Revolution earned him the animosity of President Vargas.

In 1936 Bishop Costa made his second ad limina visit to Rome, meeting with PiusXI. He presented to Pius XI with a list a requests for the clergy and people of his diocese, including:

1. Celebration of the Mass and administration of the sacraments in the vernacular.
2. Permission for the Clergy to marry.
3. Replacing auricular confession with general or communal absolution.
4. Distribution of the Communion under both kinds.
5. A permanent diaconate for married persons.
6. Celebration of the Mass facing the people.
7. Creation of a Council of Advice.
8. Lay in the administration of the Word, Eucharist and Evangelization.

These suggestions were denied, although many were implemented by the Second Vatican Council twenty-five years later.

In 1937 President Vargas, fed up with Bishop Costa's denunciation of the government, petitioned the Holy See for Costa's removal from Botucatu. The Vatican was unwilling to do so directly, so the Apostolic Nuncio in Brazil entered into an agreement with the Secretary of the Diocese of Botucatu to obtain the resignation of Bishop Costa. In a act of deception, a resignation letter was placed into a stack of documents which Bishop Costa had to sign in short order. He signed the letter, but upon realizing what had happened, he informed the Holy See that he had signed the document without reading it, but the resignation was accepted by Piux XI on October 6, 1937. After acceptace of his resignation, Bishop Costa was appointed titular bishop of Maura, an extinct diocese in Africa.

After is "forced resignation," Bishop Costa resumed his vocal criticism of the government and the national church administration, which he saw as an accessory to the mistreatment of the poor in Brazil. He openly criticized certain papal periodicals and encyclicals, including Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo and Divini Redemptoris.

In 1944 Bishop Costa was accused by the Brazilian government of being a communist sympathizer. He was arrested on June 6th, 1944 and imprisoned in Belo Horizone. The following month the Ecclesiastical Chamber forbade him from preaching or hearing confessions. He remained imprisioned until September 6th, 1944, when we was released in response to pressure from Mexico and the United States.

After continuing years of tensions, the Vatican finally laid against him the penalty of excommunication on July 2nd, 1945. Upon being informed of this act, Bishop Costa responded by saying, "I consider today one of the happiest days of my life." Despite having "independence" forced upon him, Bishop Costa remained true to his committment to his vocation to the priesthood and continued to celebrate the sacraments and to remain with the people. In time, others came to him and Bishop Costa began to ordain priests and created the Independent Catholic Church of Brazil.

The roots of the Evangelical Catholic Church are anchored to Bishop Costa by what is known as Apostolic Succession, thus providing the sacramental validity for our Orders and to celebrate the sacraments for the People of God. Rather than being crushed by independence, Bishop Costa recognized this gift and embraced it. This was his example and it is now our chosen obligation to continue forward with it.

This weekend, we pause as a national family and give thanks to the Founding Fathers of our country for what have today. As a family united within the Evangelical Catholic Church, we give thanks to Bishop Costa for his example of faith and dedication.

Makes for a great weekend.

Sincerely Yours,
+James Alan Wilkowski

Evangelical Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of the Northwest
Chicago, Illinois

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