I was raised an Italian Catholic in the 1950s and 60s. I spent sixteen years in Catholic school being taught by nuns and the occasional priest or layperson. And while I know that it is considered cool to snicker at that now, I have to say that those were some of the best years of my life.
Sure, I got some strange ideas along the way. For instance, it turns out the pope isn’t the king of the world and the president isn’t the guy who helps him run America. It’s not that I was ever actually taught that as much as I just assumed it based on what I could see from my desk at St. Michael’s.
And while I must suppose there is every chance my parish did not escape the horrors of the child sex abuse scandal now rocking the Church, the reality is that no one has ever come forward with any accusations. To me those priests were, and remain, warm, wonderful men who enveloped me in hugs that were perfectly appropriate because God was in essence hugging you and that was a blessing.
The scandal that threatens to wreck the moral authority of a church that has survived for 2000 years has now reached its apogee with the disclosure that the current pope may have helped to protect a pedophile and even allowed him to continue to have access to children through parish assignments. And so the final piece of my childhood’s moral authority comes crashing down.
The fact that in the face of the decline of vocations for the priesthood, and the almost complete absence of women entering the convent except in Third World countries, the Roman Catholic Church continues to insist that its priesthood remain an all male, unmarried group is nothing short of ludicrous. I can understand and respect that the church does not feel its moral teachings should change to accommodate the morality of any given age. But this has nothing to do with morality or the teachings of Christ.
Marriage was forbidden sometime around the year 1000 A.D. when the Church got upset that married priests were viewing their parishes as property and willing it to their offspring. The Church wanted all Church property to remain in the Church. And so the rule of celibacy became the norm – though, one must add, a norm most often honored in the breech. Otherwise we would not have had the spectacle of medieval popes making their bastard sons cardinals at 15. Just another way to insure their family kept the “family” property.
Even my mother, as conservative a Catholic as you would ever meet, understood when Father John, a priest who had helped her and my dad through a rocky patch in their marriage, left the Church to marry the woman he loved. Her explanation to me? “He gave twenty years of love and devotion to the church and now he deserves to be loved himself.” How does any institution justify depriving any person of that simple human comfort? Every married Christian minister who successfully devotes his life to his church is living proof that you can have a home life and serve your God without cheating either.
When I look at the Muslim world and see how backwards so much of it can seem compared to Western nations, my first thought is that when you keep half your population closed up in a room, allowed out only wearing a head to toe covering that makes women ghosts in their own communities, then you deprive yourself of 50% of the leadership and intelligence they can bring to society.
When the Catholic Church continues to shut the door on married and female priests, it limits its pool of applicants and opens itself up to the possibility of unimaginable abuses. Unimaginable, that is, until a few brave people come forward and speak the words, “J’accuse”.
For so long as the Catholic hierarchy remains a closed, dark, secret society, more interested in protecting its members than the congregations they purport to serve, for so long will their moral authority be viewed with something between derision and laughter.
Even though I now consider myself a recovering Catholic, I still want better for the Church that gave my childhood so much love, education, attention and joy.