It seems that everywhere I look these days, I’m finding excellent analyses of the crises facing the Catholic Church (and yes, “crises” is deliberately in the plural). Everywhere, that is, except where we really ought to find such thoughtful, intelligent reflections – by the very men who will shortly entrusted with the task of choosing one from among them, entrusted to lead us out of the darkness. When I come across their simplistic, bland prescriptions, I’m reminded of that devoted Catholic Hilaire Belloc, and his common cormorant, and have a strong desire to shout at them – “Remember those unobservant birds!”.
I fear though, it would be of little use – like most people, they’ve probably not heard the story, or forgotten it, if they have. I, on the other hand, loved it at school, and repeated it endlessly to my children.
The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag
The reason, you will see no doubt:
It is to keep the lightning out.
But what these unobservant birds
Have not noticed, is that herds
Of wandering bears will come with buns
And STEAL the bags, to hold the crumbs.
What is that our unobservant bishops have not noticed? Where are the bears, waiting to steal the crumbs?
At National Catholic Reporter, there’s an interview with Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, touted as possibly the “most pivotal” of the senior American cardinals that will attend the conclave. Asked about the most pressing issues facing the new pope, he trotted out Benedict’s favourite bogey, “secularisation” – and his favourite tactic for protecting the sanctity of the church and ecclesial power and privilege, wrap it all up inside the paper bag of secrecy and opaque canon law, to exclude all possibility of secular light or lightning from corrupting the faithful.
I think the first, overriding one, and it follows in the wake of the Synod on the new evangelization, is the realization that the secularism of this age has so engulfed our culture and our people that whoever is pope is going to have to devote enormous energy, with all kinds of new ways, especially in the media, to refocus on the possibility of transcendence as a part of human experience. It’s reintroducing the experience of a relationship with God to people who are so absorbed in this secular culture that their horizon doesn’t reach that high.
- Cardinal Wuerl, interviewed by National Catholic Reporter
Cardinal Wuerl is right to emphasize the importance transcendence, of a direct encounter with God. For LGBT Christians in particular, I am convinced that this is by far the most effective means at our disposal to counteract prejudice or bigotry masquerading as religious principle. What Wuerl overlooks, as did Benedict, is that far too often it is not secularism that gets in the way of this encounter, or any deepening relationship with God, but the disordered and dangerous Vatican emphasis on doctrinal rules, especially over sexual matters, and on autocratic control over its clergy, women in consecrated life, and others directly employed by the church in schools, hospitals or administration.
Jesus Christ was not a great respecter of rules, and reduced the whole of the law to two simple commandments. If the Catholic oligarchs are truly serious about promoting that much – desired encounter with the risen Christ, they would do well to follow his example. To do otherwise risks the danger of simply driving people away, and into that secularism they are so quick to denounce.
This habit of driving people away by harping over gay marriage, or our supposedly “disordered” nature, is particularly relevant to LGBT Catholics. who so often have cause to feel they are under attack by a bunch of sexually repressed hypocrites. Deeply committed Catholics are talking back. At the Daily Telegraph, Peter Stanford, a former editor of the Catholic Herald (hardly renowned for beating a fringe, progressive drum), wrote in a piece about the resignation of Cardinal O’Brien, “Too many priests preach truth, but live a lie“. Stanford is mistaken, however, in his headline – for on sexuality, they are not in fact “preaching truth”.
It is impossible to sit in the pews and not be concerned by the present unhealthy state of affairs where a Church that in essence preaches that homosexuality is wrong attracts and admits so many gay men into its priesthood. It can scarcely make them effective as our future leaders if they are busy trying (and apparently failing) to suppress something at the core of their being.
One prominent cardinal, widely mentioned as a front runner in the betting stakes to move into the papal quarters, is the Ghanaian, Cardinal Peter Turkson, about whom Bill Lindsey wrote at Bilgrimage:
But there’s a serious problem with Turkson: he has made statements in support of the draconian kind of anti-gay laws now being promoted in Uganda, and has suggested that the abuse scandal in the Catholic church has been caused by gay priests. In fact, he seems to think that homosexuality is equivalent to pedophilia, and that pedophilia doesn’t exist in Africa because homosexuality doesn’t exist there.I’m told by friends who tell me that many peace and justice Catholics love Turkson that there’s a strong contingent of those Catholics who are angry that anyone is raising questions about Turkson’s stand on gay human rights. I’m not privy to the discussions about which these friends are sending me information, but as I’ve told them, they remind me very much of the kind of discussions that have gone on with the centrist faith-based Democrats who have tried in recent years to keep the Democratic party moderate on the issue of gay rights, by arguing that gay rights are a case apart when human rights are discussed.- read the complete post at Bilgrimage-
The whole point of human rights is that they’re human rights, not specialy interest rights, applicable to blacks, or women, or the poor but not to lesbians and gays, or any other defined group. Back in South Africa, I was fairly active in the work of the Catholic J & P movement, which had immediate and obvious relevance (especially at the tense time during the democratic transition). But I’ve struggled to see the same relevance in British J &P work, which seems to be totally focussed on problems “over there and far away”, very real problems of poverty especially in the third world – but pretty well ignoring problems of injustice nearer home, and especially in the church itself. Justice, like charity. should begin at home, but is very seldom in evidence in the internal workings of the vast global multinational corporation that is the modern Catholic Church.
But I sense that there is a very real opportunity with this conclave, for a sea change in the direction of the church. There seems to be widespread agreement that it is time for someone (inevitably, some man) form outside Europe, and probably outside the curia. That alone will add to what is also a widespread recognition that it is time to end the absurd ban on even talking about married priests. Discussion of women’s ordination will follow.
Once we start to lose the obsession with celibacy, we will also lose the absurd reverence for celibate clergy as inherently morally superior beings – and the entire clerical culture of top down clerical control will slowly start to fall apart. The erosion of the foundations of Vatican ramparts is beginning. The process should continue – and will become irreversible.
Unless – it is never wise to be too certain in predicting the outcome of a conclave. It’s always possible that another reactionary will emerge, with promises to stop the moral rot.
If that happens, then heaven help us – but the erosion could continue in another guise, as the exodus continues, with moderate Catholics joining the progressives, in a rush for the exits.
- Benedict’s Resignation, Priests in Panties Scandal, Cardinal O’Brien’s Resignation: Catholicism At a Teachable Moment re: Gay and Lesbian Human Beings (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- Hans Küng on Hope for New Pope Committed to Human Rights (and Implications for Papal Candidacy of Cardinal Peter Turkson) (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- Gay Catholics Giving Witness in the Teachable Moment of Catholicism’s Current Crisis: Michael Bayly and Andrew Sullivan (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)