Thursday, November 29, 2007

Some Religious Bias

(Warning: The following piece is somewhat critical of the Catholic Church. If you are a strident Catholic, easily offended, or dream in Latin, you might want to skip today’s blog and go have a beer – or three! --Pa Rock)

I have worn the mantle of several religions during my lifetime, but none have been as ponderous and burdensome as Catholicism. I became a Catholic during the 1960's at a time when the religion boasted a certain degree of coolness. It was a period of history when elements of the Church, primarily activist priests and nuns – and the occasional monk, were confronting segregation, the war, and social inequity. They were organizing and leading peace protests, boycotts, and campaigns to help the poor. They were ministering to those in need, and generally doing God’s work on Earth. The Catholic Church was also seen as a counter balance to the burgeoning right wing idiocy of the Christian fundamentalist movement.

The Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip, come to mind when I think of the Catholic Church in the 1960’s. They were both Roman Catholic priests and civil rights activists who gained fame for leading peace protests and occasionally destroying government property. Their artful lawlessness earned each brother a place on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

The Catholic Church suffers from the same ailment that keeps the United States Supreme Court from being a positive force for change – seniority to the point of senility. Occasionally both institutions can be surprisingly progressive, but, far more often, they accede to the worldview of the elderly. The Catholic Church had two new Popes during the 1970’s. John Paul I held power for only a few weeks until his sudden death. His successor, John Paul II, assumed the Papacy at the very young age of fifty-eight and held tight to the throne of Saint Peter for over a quarter of a century. While John Paul II was not elderly when he became Pope, he aged fast and took the Church with him.

Robert Drinan, a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, was elected to the United States Congress from Massachusetts in 1970. He quickly established himself as an activist liberal Congressman and thorn in Richard Nixon’s side. Drinan was also noted for his pro-abortion stance, a position not in sync with the geriatrics who were running Vatican City. In 1980 Pope John Paul II tried to silence Drinan and others whom he regarded as malcontents by issuing a worldwide directive that barred priests from holding public office. The Pope seemed to be saying that governance should best be left to those from outside of the Church. Father Drinan gave up his seat in Congress, but, to his credit, he never did let his Church completely silence him.

During the 1970’s there was a fairly young Catholic Bishop running the Diocese of Springfield and Cape Girardeau in southern Missouri. I had the opportunity to meet this man of God on several occasions. His name was Bernard Law. Bishop Law flew to Rome to meet John Paul I and John Paul II. He was well attuned to the intrigues and politics of the Catholic Church, and was determined to move up in the Church hierarchy. Bishop Law was appointed Archbishop of Boston in 1984, and the following year elevated to the College of Cardinals.

Cardinal Law was a man of immense ambition. Although he was careful not to say so, many believed that he envisioned himself as the first American Pope. Like many notorious politicians, however, his ambition became his bane. Cardinal Law “solved” the problem of pedophile priests by moving them from one congregation to another, sweeping them under the Church’s carpet until finally their sickness had needlessly contaminated thousands of innocent children. Cardinal Law was not the only one who turned a blind eye to the problem, to be sure, but he was clearly a significant player in the epidemic that almost destroyed the Church.

Today’s Pope was once a member of the Hitler Youth. He recently incited the Muslim world by quoting some arcane text that said Islam was spread by the sword. Whether that assessment was true or not, it is significant that the Pope thought it needed to be said while undoubtedly knowing that saying it would set off a worldwide religious and political firestorm. Why did he conveniently forget about the fine examples set by the Catholic Church with the Spanish Inquisition, the Rape of the Americas, and the Church’s collaboration with the Nazi’s during World War II? Oh, wait, he was a Nazi!

Yes, the Catholic Church did turn its back on its children. Yes, the Catholic Church has made bold moves to stifle dissent within its ranks. And yes, its leaders are still mired way back in the previous century – or the one before that. But the Church has had some bright points during this headlong rush into triviality. Mother Teresa walked the streets of Calcutta bringing comfort to the lowest of the low. Three nuns and an Archbishop were martyred while striving to aid the poor and forgotten in El Salvador. And every day priests and nuns and other frontline Catholics work hard to make life better for their parishoners. The flame is not out. The Church can once again become a major force for good in the world if it will stop behaving like a tyrannical government and get back to the basics of ministering to the needs of its people. And the Catholic Church must – MUST – protect its children from pedophile priests!

Now, don't even get me started on the concept of papal infallability!

Tomorrow night I am taking my daughter, Molly, to see the Phoenix Theatre’s production of Altar Boys and I felt like I needed to do some venting on this topic before we go to the play. If I have angered anyone, you are certainly free to pray for me.

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