When his wife sues him for divorce, his son turns out gay, his daughter has an abortion, and he falls in love with another woman, then the Catholic priest will smell of his flock, and taste its tears.
Fr Kevin O’Connor, the ghetto Catholic priest in my book Messiah of the Slums, is based on some of the priests I have met. He devotes his whole life to the people he serves, and shows astonishing physical and moral courage when he stands up to the drug barons who control the estate. He is the first one in the story to understand who the Messiah really is.
Let me emphasise that I am no enemy of Catholicism or priests or the priesthood. But I do believe that the Catholic Church is finished unless it undergoes a conversion as radical and absolute as Damascus-bound Saul’s.
Half measures will be of no avail. Any Vatican initiative or edict which does not tackle, head on, the Church’s INSANE ideas on human sexuality is as good as useless. As anyone with experience of the mental health field will tell you, once somebody is pronounced mad, anything they say is ignored. (I am not saying this is right.)The best they get is compassion and some help back to stability.
The Catholic Church’s noble words about social justice are not heeded, because the organisation is perceived by most people, especially those outside it, as mad.
The 19 new cardinals are older (at least 55, with three being over 80), celibate men, with no practical experience – that they can admit to, anyway – of heterosexual daily life. They will nonetheless make binding moral pronouncements on contraception, divorce, adultery, IVF, pre-marital sex and abortion.
Half measures avail us nothing…
The recently elected Pope Francis’s appointment of nineteen new cardinals, is the latest half measure which has grabbed headlines this week. Comment has included praise for choosing cardinals from blighted regions such as Haiti.
Red-robed Cardinals occupy the highest echelon of power in the Church, below the Pope himself. Only the Pope chooses the cardinals, known as Princes of the Church. Only these Princes can choose the Pope.
This is not a progressive formula.
In a church which venerates Jesus’ mother along with a legion of female saints, in reality not a single woman has any decision-making power.
The shepherd should smell of his flock?
The new pope’s words match his deeds as he strives for simplicity and connection. He has ditched much of the pomp attaching to pontifical appearance and process; and he makes a considerable personal effort to spend time amongst ordinary people.
Pope Francis has been keen to promote the Church as champion of the poor since taking office in March 2013. His first apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), was a round and refreshing condemnation of capitalism.
Unfortunately, this is another half measure. But it’s a good one.
In the decades since Margaret Thatcher sank Francis’s countrymen aboard the Belgrano, the only gospel preached by public figures and organisations has been the joy of the free-market. Yet now the head of the Catholic Church has joined the ranks of subversives such George Galoway and Russell Brand (hitherto dismissed as crackpots) and spoken up for the poor. The trickledown effect is a fantasy of the greedy, tax averse right, he says. The shepherd should smell of his flock, he exhorts his priests.
Francis’ ideas are so honourable and radical, and delivered with such conviction that he has been honoured as Time magazine Person of the Year.
But they are insufficient.
The shepherd should smell of his flock, but so noxious and pervasive is the RC Church child abuse scandal, that, for huge numbers of people, only a sense of moral outrage fires whenever the word Catholic is mentioned. All sight and smell of the poor is lost. This is because, despite Francis’s genuine efforts to do good, for too many people,
A Broken Church
The fact remains that, systematically and for decades, Catholic priests raped and abused children in their care, and got away with it because the Church hierarchy (including the recently beatified John Paul II) colluded with them, e.g. by moving them from parish to parish. The Vatican, under the current Pope, has recently refused the extradition of a Polish archbishop being investigated for alleged sex abuse. A depressing litany of child-abuse statistics damn the Church.
It is embarrassing these days to admit to being a Roman Catholic.
The Church refuses to acknowledge that it has sinned through its own grievous fault. There has been little more than shuffling of funds from Vatican to abuse victims’ bank accounts. Far from ridding itself of troublesome priests, the Roman Catholic Church sits safe in the Holy See busying itself with unnecessary jobs such as rewording bits of the Mass.
I wonder what the Church’s sex crime victims think about the switching out of one being in favour of consubstantial in the new Creed, for instance? For the Vatican to be preoccupied with such insubstantial matters in the face of an international criminal sex scandal is a scandal in itself.
Pope Francis is winning hearts. But he will not win minds unless he addresses the real issue facing the Catholic Church in the 21st century: its absolute loss of reputation.
The Catholic Church must do two things, immediately and simultaneously, or it will die an ignominious death. It is already dying, for all Francis’s charm and energy. New Age magic, psycho-babbling gurus, twelve-step cults and celebrity worship are setting up camp on the rock to which the Church still clings. Nothing less than a revolution is needed if the Church is to establish itself as a worthy conduit for the message of Jesus of Nazareth.
A Two Step Recovery Program for the Catholic Church
First, the Roman Catholic Church needs step out of the Vatican and onto the mass media highway, chanting, me culpa, mea maxima culpa. A sackcloth and ashes public repentance should be the Vatican photo-story for months, perhaps years.
The Church’s readiness to accept, squarely and wholly, ALL responsibility for the sex crimes committed in its name, must be clear to everyone, everywhere.
And, of course, the Church must expel from office not only the perpetrators but all those who enabled them; and it must cooperate fully with the criminal courts of the countries concerned.
Second, and in tandem,
the Church needs to finally acknowledge the causal link between its priests’ sex crimes and its INSANE ideas about human sexuality.
Without any delay, the Vatican should abandon its teaching on the celibacy of the clergy.
The exclusion of women from not only the priesthood itself, but from the personal lives of priests, means that from the seminary onwards, the world in which these men find themselves is unbalanced. Personal growth is harder to achieve if half the world is forbidden to you. The greatest creation myth of all – the Book of Genesis is on any priest’s reading list – tells of how the forbidden fruit teases and tempts until we bite, to hell with the consequences.
Priests who are living with women, with whom they have sex and maybe children, will understand the non-viability of their employer’s teaching on contraception, homosexuality, pre-marital sex and divorce.
When his wife sues him for divorce, his son is gay, his daughter has an abortion, and he falls in love with another woman, then the priest will smell of his flock, and taste its tears.
Until then, there will be much gnashing and grinding of teeth because the Catholic priesthood has long been a hiding place for men with sexual problems they cannot face. Life in the seminary, a homogenously male, religiously proscriptive environment, is more likely to amplify or warp, rather than resolve, these troublesome proclivities.
Although I hope that the Catholic Church will go for my Two Step program, I’m not holding my breath. For all the hopefulness and humility of the new man at the top, I expect that the Church will commit yet another sin of omission and do nothing. Commissioning (another) internal review of child protection, or study on lay people’s attitude to family life, is rather like me saying, I’m thinking of having the bathroom done or I would like to relocate to Manhattan. Although I genuinely would like, a lot, to do both of these things, the fact is I am sat here at my desk writing this, after which I will not be actively seeking either of these outcomes.
On any given Sunday, Catholic churches are full of families with two or three kids – seldom more than four, which is a very large family size even for Western Mass-goers today. This is because virtually all of us ignore the most recognisably crazy idea of all in the Church’s sexual teaching: contraception is bad.
Not all heterosexuals who have sex want babies every time they have sex.
If the Catholic Church wants to recover – and the aforementioned half measures indicate that it does – then it needs to recognise that heterosexuals have sex, and have always had sex, and will always have sex. This is because sex is natural for a number of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with procreation. Not all heterosexuals who have sex want to have babies every time they have sex. Or at all. This is why contraception is necessary. The Church-approved natural birth control methods – a farce of fallibility involving vaginal mucus and thermometers – are, in any case, contraception.
At the heart of Step Two is the following singular and revolutionary idea which must be taken to heart and acted upon if change, and therefore rehabilitation, is to occur. From it will follow an understanding of wider human sexual issues, including the fact that some people just are gay, bisexual or transgender.
For the first time in its 2000 year history, the Roman Catholic Church must face and accept,