Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sex, pope, power 2

A pious soul goes to heaven and gets to visit with Mary. He asks, "Why do paintings always show you sad? Is everything OK?”
Mary reassures her visitor, “Oh, everything’s great. No problems. It’s just ... it’s just that we had always wanted a daughter.”

I guffawed when I read this in Nicholas Kristof’s column, A Church Mary Can Love. And his serious points mesh completely with mine. He compares the “old boys’ club in the Vatican” with the boys clubs trading on Wall Street who get “similar results.”
But there’s more to the picture than that. In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches. One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch when it bans condoms even among married couples where one partner is H.I.V.-positive. To me at least, this church — obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice — is a modern echo of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized.
Yet there’s another Catholic Church . . . the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day . . .
This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.

There’s a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans. After a number of encounters like that, I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.
I wish I’d written these words, because very cool nuns inhabit my daily world, and I inform people of that as often as I can.

Wayne Besen blogs from the gay perspective and also compares the Vatican with Wall Street.
Like the gargantuan firms in lower Manhattan, the Vatican believes it is too big to fail and demands a bailout from the faithful. However, the overpaid bankers and the clergy banking on infinite forgiveness from their flock are in grave denial. Major religions come and go--whether it is worshipping the unbridled corporate casino or a church that does not protect its most vulnerable members. . . .
The Catholic Church and its surrogates believe that spin and slander can distract the masses from impious priests defiling children. . . . They will blame gays, play the victim card and pretend that significant changes have been made to stop future child abuse. . . .
There are certainly many wonderful priests who feel called to serve the church. . . But one can’t deny that the institution is uniquely set up as a magnet for unhealthy men . . .
What is it about nuns and gays that gives both groups the outsider’s perspective? It’s that they ARE outsiders of the power grid. They get it when pious words try to cover up a wrong. They see when a fellow human being is wronged.

The opposite dynamic operates in Tea party hysteria. Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male and married, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. They are wealthier and better educated than the general public. It figures that they’re outraged by victories for the less privileged—women, gays, people of color, and singles. Like the Catholic hierarchy, they didn’t expect to share power with out-groups because, in their zero-sum perspective, that means less power for themselves.

Sharing the power—boosting democracy—improves both religion and politics. For this reason I experience Schadenfreude over criticisms leveled against the pope, justified or not.

Hans Küng, a Catholic theologian famously bold in disagreeing with officials in Rome, wrote that clerical celibacy structurally and decisively expresses “an uptight attitude of the church’s leadership towards sexuality in general.” He presents evidence that mandated celibacy has no support in scripture or history and traces the abuse crisis to a systemic fault in the Catholic Church—the celibacy rule. It creates a clerical caste
completely and utterly set apart from the rest of the Christian people, a unique, dominant social class, radically superior to the class of the laity but thoroughly subordinated to the Roman pope.
Richard Sipe, a former priest, a psychotherapist, researcher and writer about the celibate system, asserts in Sex, Priests, and Power, that the system maintains its power by a stance of secrecy, keeping clerics mysterious and isolated from ordinary people. Having interviewed 1500 priests and examined decades of data, he found evidence of sexual activity by almost 50% of Roman Catholic priests.

Sipe points out that the system of celibacy and all the sexual teaching of the Catholic Church receives theological justification through
the myth that women/sex/sin/pleasure are inextricably bound together. . . . The idea that the place of women is subordinate to men runs deep not only in the history and culture of the church, but also in the conscious fiber of many men and women who accept this bias as natural and sanctioned by grace. . . . Our understanding of human nature has progressed to the point that it cannot sustain an economic and power system built on blatant falsehood and a misunderstanding of nature.
The system insulating clerics from normal human scrutiny and maintaining the pope’s power cannot stand. With its eventual fall will come an Easter rising of spiritual renewal.

The uproar gives me hope that more Catholics will get over treating a pope's word like the word of God. Benedict's less than perfect judgment on clergy sex abuse challenges the ridiculous doctrine of infallibility. If a few media stories blame him unfairly, the entire body of criticism is a refreshing antidote to the past inflated reverence. If he has shown more integrity on this issue than John Paul II, he like all hierarchs valued the institution more than the victims.

Benedict hasn’t been criticized enough for speeding up the process of saint-making for John Paul II. This is the supposed “saint” who whisked Archbishop Bernard Law away from Boston to Rome so he wouldn’t have to face the legal consequences of covering up sex abuse. He's the "saint" who with Ratzinger/Benedict covered up the sex crimes of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionnaires of Christ. Making saints is dumb anyway. It and infallibility are misunderstood by most people, but explaining the distinctions doesn’t make them any less dumb.

I like reminding Catholics that God does not obey the pope. God doesn’t even agree with him any more than with an ant or a weed. It’s time for thinking Christians to stop reducing God to a human-like individual whose proper names are “Father” and “Jesus Christ.” Benedict XVI as chief enforcer at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has done as much as anyone to imprison Christians in that small-minded box of thinking.

The Vatican is trying to revise history, states this author in another good take on the sex scandal. I hope “attacks” on the pope, as the Vatican calls them, continue, because most of the consequences are sure to be healthy.

Celibacy
Thanks to a friend’s alert. She pointed out that celibacy has been chosen since ancient times as a means of spiritual growth and is not specifically Christian.

Readers, please notice the word “mandated” in the sentence saying that celibacy has no support in scripture or history. Celibacy causes no problem when it’s a personal choice (religious sisters are a great example). The problem in the Catholic Church rises from its rule imposed on all priests. Whether or not they are up to it, they have to abide by a way of life not personally chosen—at least outwardly. Many fail in fact. The latest figure I heard is that, not only 50% as I stated in a previous post, but closer to 80 to 90 percent of all Catholic priests engage in sexual activity.

In the Church’s celibacy problem I see a parallel to Prohibition. In January of 1920 the U.S. Constitution was amended to prohibit the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating beverages, a rule impossible to enforce. It unleashed a torrent of illegal activity and was repealed in 1933 because it spurred citizens to lawlessness and not to sobriety. Would that the Catholic Church could learn from secular society!
This example comes to mind because I wrote about Prohibition in my local histories and now my student teachers are teaching it.

Celibacy as a personal choice existed in paganism. There were Vestal Virgins required to be celibate for thirty years. Priestly practice in mystery religions included chastity and celibacy. Pythagoras, a philosopher and mathematician who lived 500 years before Jesus of Nazareth, founded a community whose practice included abstaining from sex. Bodhisattvas in the Buddhist tradition practice it, as do some Jewish rabbis and Hindu sages.

But celibacy commanded from above in Catholicism touts sexual abstinence as a superior way of life, in the words of Richard Sipe, “heightened the arrogance of the clerical caste,” and excludes women. This unnaturalness breeds a sick clerical culture that inevitably produces troubled members. It was used to control non-clerics in a line of power leading up the top, but now we finally have significant challenges to the formerly sacrosanct pope.

Appropriately, the challenges to papal authority arise over a sex scandal. This is not an accident.

2 comments:

Florian said...

"I experience Schadenfreude over criticisms leveled against the pope, justified or not. The uproar gives me hope that more Catholics will get over treating his word like the word of God."
-Jeanette

Perhaps Jeanette should get over the fact that that the Catholic Church has a pope, and that he is regarded as the vicar of Christ. That fact is what makes it catholic, as opposed to Protestant, Orthodox, or something else.

It is ironic that Jeanette seems more driven to push her beliefs on Catholics than the pope.

Karen Tate said...

I too have serious problems with people who can hear what the Pope says and be so disconnected from reality, people and society that they can obey him, take him seriously and/or consider his dogma the word of God. If that's the word of God - then give me Goddess! On second thought - give me Sophia, Holy Wisdom, or Goddess anyway. Jesus is okay - he's cool. He wouldn't be pleased with all the sexism, homophobia and pedophilia so rampant in the church. Just sign me....

Recovering Catholic
Karen Tate
Voices of the Sacred Feminine Radio