The Pope’s Remarks


Many people were probably politely surprised at the pope’s reticence toward judging gay people.  It did invite a stronger inquiry in the church’s formal perspective, and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.  The church has a public doctrine that it  maintains; and then there is pastoral practice, one framed by a monosexual group of privately gay – tolerant men.

The Anglican Church prioritizes pastoral practice:  we begin our understanding with prayer and relationship (or, as ++Rowan once said, doctrine must begin with joy).  Our lens is primarily liturgical rather than doctrinal, which is why some Anglican theologians have said Anglican “doctrine” is in the rubrics:  in how we pray together.  This makes creates an enormous leap to even start talking about sexuality:  how do we pray that, anyway?

Some are a bit upset that Francis remains intractable about women’s ordination.  I think he was simply stating his current vantage point, while also inviting an opening for deeper thinking.  Those outside the church continue to be irritated, but I’m not always sure why people think being a priest is a good thing.  Priests remain ignored by their congregations on most important matters.  Garry Wills even argues it’s a failed vocation.

Nuns, by and large, do a lot of the heavy lifting in the church, and although they have little ecclesial power, their institutions matter equally, if not more so.  Sometimes being seemingly marginalized gives one greater power.

Francis could still appoint a female cardinal.

Deliver Us From Evil

Greta Christina has a review of the movie.

Often I get visitors from the Roman Catholic Church. Many of them have been in congregations where priests have, in some way, abused their authority. A local pastor had a gambling addiction; the bishop had an affair; a priest in Croton had molested young boys. They say to me, “I love God and the church. I just can’t be in that family any more.”

Andrew Greeley once argued that the fundamental problem is pride and secrecy. The priests don’t listen to the people; the bishops don’t listen to their priests, and the holy see doesn’t even listen to its bishops. People can report to priests; priests can report to the church, but as long as the imperial church places itself above the rule of the state, without being held accountable, it will continue to harm people and open itself to further disaster.

In the early 1940’s a priest in my current church exposed himself to a young boy. He argued it was “sex education.” There was a local controversy. The wardens and half the vestry wanted to excuse the priest, but the bishop stepped in and in a letter argued, “what if it were your boy?” The bishop let the state handle it, and upon their verdict defrocked the priest. The bishop wrote a letter to the priest: “Our prayers are with you. But you have done irreparable harm to the family and to the church.” The case went to court. The bishop followed through.

Thus, my experience has been of bishops doing the right thing, even when parishioners themselves were convinced otherwise. The church is a wide organization.

I know the movie’s story. I get it a lot. I hear from people fleeing the church. Even my uncle, a Roman Catholic, joked with me after telling him about a break-up I’d had: “you aren’t the kind who likes little boys, are you?” He laughed, thinking he’d told an innovative, hilarious joke.

“Heh. Funny.” I replied.

I did not think it was funny.

Ms. Christina is an Atheist. She isn’t content to be a secularist or a humanist, a skeptic or a materialist. Atheism is the true way of understanding the world. Religion is for idiots. It’s really about the supernatural. Justifiably, she carefully unpacks the inconsistencies of particular propositions uttered by the religious.

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, but she does it with passion.

Here isher review.

And I have a couple complaints.

First, she believes she’s learned the entire nature of the church from a movie.

Yes, a movie. Not much reading on the early fathers, or Aquinas, a church historian or even the New York Times.

Here is what the church is about for Greta: When you teach people — especially children — that the only way to God and Heaven is through the rites of the Church, administered by Church authorities? When you teach people — especially children — that Church authorities have a special connection to God and goodness that ordinary people don’t have? When you teach people — especially children — that defying the Church and its earthly representatives will condemn you to permanent, infinite burning and torture?

The Children!
I thought this was the standard fundamentalist cry!

I understand: if you want to example the insanity of American Foreign policy, analyze Cuba; if you want to learn about graft, just examine how stadiums get built. We learn from lenses. And this is Christina’s lens. Is it the right one?

While she turns to the harm that religious institutions do, I wonder how empirically different it is than the eight years of mismanagement and real harm done to the entire world by the previous political administration. Were they religious? Not really. The religious right were their electoral pawns. Most of the neo-conservatives weren’t Christian, or religious. But she seems, however, to think the church behaves differently than other institutions that are shaped without checks and balances.

It’s a fairly pedestrian view: our culture doesn’t support sex and children. Blame the Catholic church! It just seems a little more tawdry than when it’s done in a public school or the boy scouts.

Why doesn’t she ask what the church really says about itself, and what its intentions are? I learned it was motivated by a love of the world and all people, not merely political power, working for their interests. It may be that the two are intertwined, and that it is difficult to tell one from the other. It is a view that can, and should be challenged. But all the evidence should be laid out, not just the ones of the detractors.

Arguing she understands the true maliciousness of religion through this movie is a lot like saying we know a lot about Germany by watching movies by Leni Riefenstahl. Or, saying that Stalin is a good example of Atheism in power. Is it absolutely true? Probably not. Did Germans participate? Are there atheists who would like to round up the dull and send them to Siberia? I’m sure a few. As she condemns the entire church, rightfully, for the coverup, there is an insinuation that somehow sexual abuse is worse because the church is the church. It reminds me a bit of how Michelle Malkin critiques Obama.

It’s not as if atheists are the only people critiquing the church. So is the church. Plenty of Roman Catholic priests are already critiquing the institution. Ms. Christina overreaches in implying these terrible events represents the entirety of religious work, or that finally damns the religious “experience.” There is no doubt that the secrecy and lack of accountability destroyed the lives of many. Where as she might say it is all too religious. I would argue, it is all to human. Alas.

Obama at Notre Dame

The problem is not abortion: it is capitalism. Although I am pro-choice, it is because I disagree that criminalizing women would actually encourage restraint. I post this as someone who believes, also, that a commercial society is a free society. But the biggest threat to churches is capitalism.

From the conservative commentator Patrick Deneen.

Catholicism is a religion of memory and tradition: at every mass we recall the saints and martyrs, the founders of the Church and its greatest heroes – inculcating as if by second nature a familiarity with past generations and our expectation for ones that follow. As Chesterton wrote, we must inhabit a democracy of “the living, the dead, and the not-yet-born.” A Catholic culture is replete with stories passed down from the past and conveyed to the future – after all, we have all the best storytellers, from Dante and Shakespeare (yes, he was) to Percy and O’Connor – and, of course, Chesterton. All this is to say, the dead and the not-yet-born live among us – they are not forgotten or ignored, but among us as sure as the people who share our lives in neighborhoods and communities. This was precisely the point of Jody’s fine essay on why we need to live near cemeteries. Most of us, however, are in living arrangements where the dead are kept distant and apart from us – just as we separate all of the various aspects of life, disaggregating shopping from work from recreation from home. And even in the home, we are likely to be texting or emailing Facebook “friends” or hanging on the edge of our seats to see who gets kicked off American Idol. Much of the time, we are not even home when we are home.

A Catholic culture would inculcate a certain kind of character: one of respect, self-restraint, responsibility, humility, thrift, moderation, self-sacrifice. Courtship and marriage would be encouraged among the young. Divorce would be well-nigh non-existent. Such a culture would not valorize materialism, but understand that things of this world is not to be wholly embraced. At the heart of our culture would not be – as Jody suggests – opposition to abortion – which is, after all, negative – but rather the things that abortion is not: family, Church, community, memory, tradition, continuity of past, present and future. Culture is affirmation, not simply denial.

Our culture is driven by a different ethic altogether: mobility, markers of material or political success, a fetish for technological innovation and distraction, a media that is almost wholly visual and which portrays no past and no future (Read Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, especially his chapter “Now, this…”), a valorization of choice in ALL things hourly reinforced by advertising that is ubiquitous and insidious. Our culture is one in which previous generations are forgotten – an acceptable price of progress – and even the relationship of parents to children is either chummy friendliness or marked by the knowing sarcasm and irony of youth toward obsolescence (just watch an hour of the Disney channel for confirmation). The abortion of children is to be expected as a consequence of THIS culture: in a culture in which I define my own future in accordance with will and desire, and in which that which is personally inconvenient to me is as disposable as most everything else I use for my convenience everyday, sex is a consumer product and abortion is the trash. Disenchantment and utility defines my relationship to ALL things, in the end.