Sunday, July 07, 2013

I Worry for the Catholic Church

The New York Times would be enough to give many of my forebears a stroke, and its credibility would at the very least be questioned. I'm a devotee, and have been since college. Living in Boston in the 70s it was a big deal for me on Fridays to walk to a pharmacy a mile away from my student digs to by the newspaper of record...for 25cents. Said pharmacy was the only store around carrying the Times and you'd better get there wicked early.

Today's paper had two mentions of the Catholic Church that got me thinking. The first tells us that Pope Francis now actively discourages clergy from driving flashy cars, using smartphones and being chained to today's expensive electronic paraphernalia. The second is Frank Bruni's column expanding on the news of Cardinal Dolan's (Archbishop of New York)  correspondence recommending hiding assets from creditors, specifically those winning lawsuits against the church.

It's a mess, isn't it? The 21st century Catholic church seems to have self -destructed. The sins of the fathers-literally-were rampant for decades,  perhaps longer. I believe its only that prosecution and lawsuits are now insisted upon the the Church remains in business. They are too busy in court and too committed against their will to litigation to shut the whole place down.

(And if you think I'm anti-Catholic, think again. I'm pro-choice, pro-children, anti-abuse and pro respecting everybody.)

Why would a church dating itself back two thousand years (chump change to many other faiths) self-destruct. People not raised Catholic would have a devil of a time understanding this. (Sorry)
Here's some context.

I'm 56 years old, just old enough to remember pre Vatican II Catholicism. Pope John XXIII desired reforms in the early 1960s to bring the church closer to the laity. Mass in the vernacular and a relaxation of rules (meatless Fridays.) Sisters left schools and nursing for more active social work. No more habits. Priests had more opportunities for education. What did not change was the status given to the clergy by the faithful. I was raised to stand up whenever a priest entered the room. My mother's cousin was a Dominican and even after she left the Church it was all I could do to call her Helen instead of Sister.

This 'regalization' of the clergy I believe has to do with the immigrants who came here with nothing and made lives for themselves. To see a young Catholic man or woman in a habit elevated them and their communities. It was a mark of a better life. It seems also to have robbed the process of true discernment. Vocations were all about quantity. IT wasn't done to closely ask young people why they wanted to be priests or nuns.  In fact, you didn't ever ask questions. Being too bright marked you as an intellectual and a probable troublemaker. It was fine to be adept at Latin and be a good scholar, but you were trained to follow orders blindly and do everything to grow the church and the collection plate.

Were there good clergy? You bet. Thousands of them. Schools and hospitals served many a neighborhood in good times and bad. The educational requirements were rigorous and rote but you by God could diagram a sentence and work through a math problem . Vatican II began a shift in the Church because for the first time questions were tolerated and encouraged. I was in college when I told a classmate-a middle aged nun-that I still thought it sinful to touch the host. She said, "You put it in your mouth don't you?" Bingo. I was plastered into the dogma very, very young and not able to use my common sense. I believe, I hope, I am the last generation to be so chained.

I love the liturgy. I love the mass. I even accept the Virgin birth, or at least haven't the nerve for rockery. What I abhor is the backlash against Vatican II which has given us horrible degrees of intolerance and a breathtaking arrogance.

It  was easier to be Catholic when everybody believed the same thing. Now,  accepting such beliefs is not a sign of piety but stupidity, and blind obedience is dangerous. We should think. We should be critical and questioning. No organization survives on blind obedience.

But people need to understated a few things. For the Catholic church to flourish the old model has to be stamped out once and for all.  Giving lip service to the laity and parish councils doesn't cut it. The Catholic Church has never been a democracy. An apostolic church takes its orders from the Pope channeled down through the College of Cardinals into the bishoprics all the way to the parish priest. You don't get a vote.  The old edicts kept the public ignorant and poor. It was no joke, those homes with ten kids and insufficient income to care for them. It was no joke, discouraging bright young people out of secular universities. I doubt that happens much today, but happen it did, in my day. Boston  College rather than Harvard (and BC is a superb school) Power is the name of the game. Its little different than Stalin and the North Koreans starving their people.

If the Church would be truly open to all, if gender, color, wallet size and sexuality were all irrelevant I'm guessing the churches would be packed. If children were truly cherished and loved, there would be an endorsement of birth control. What does forbidding condoms in Africa do but further condemn a continent to AIDS? You don't want a lot of clergy.  You want the best clergy: mature, unselfish, ready for long ours and not a lotta reward, married men, straight men, gay men, gay women, married women, straight women...What a tragic waste of resources for the current church to be so limiting.

And finally, the very idea of power should be reorganized. Power belongs to the individual who should have every ability needed to join the community and help others. The pope in Rome, the flashy cars, the arrogance,  the silence, the ignorance of reproduction rights, the demonization of gay people, all of that is designed to keep the power base compact. And its ruining the Church. Remember, in terms of the sex abuse scandals, the image of the Catholic church has always been far more important the putting pedophiles away and protecting kids. "I'm sorry" from Rome isn't enough. Making an all inclusive church with a transparent leadership would be a beginning.

But the Catholic church won't be here in 100 years. I think that's sad. The Church insists on its old models that may have worked in the pre-information age. And there's nothing to be said about an organization that allows children to be abused except GO AWAY.

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