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I’m in an abusive relationship…with a church. I was reminded of this during Holy Week, when our pastor made a point of choosing twelve men for the ritual of the washing of feet, because only men can represent the apostles. Except that’s not true. Women have their feet washed by the clergy all the time — the Pope himself does it.

Then, on Good Friday, I went to another parish (ours didn’t have a Mass scheduled at a time my husband could fit into his schedule) only to find an even more antiquated service. There were seven people around the altar. All were male.

Growing up, I was always top of my class. So when someone said something silly like, “Only boys are good at math,” I could laugh it off. I was proof that they were wrong. I was fortunate to receive sixteen years of Catholic education, being taught by great thinkers and being told that I, too, was capable of great thought. I planned my first mass at nine. I narrated The Passion Play at 13. I’ve spent a lifetime as a faithful Catholic. And somehow, I’m still not good enough. I can’t be good enough. I haven’t got a Y chromosome.

“How many times,” I asked my husband after Friday’s ordeal, “do I have to be slapped in the face by my own church?” “All of them,” he replied sadly.

I know, I know. I really ought to leave. Except that I have nowhere else to go. The church that honed my soul and sharpened my thinking is still my home — my bigoted, outdated home. Why should I have to leave?

On the other hand, why bother baptizing girls if we can never, ever have full participation in the church? Why bother with Confirmation, unless to make sure we understand that we’ll never be fully wanted? Why let us in the door if we can’t be trusted to make policy or even determine what happens to our own bodies? Why not just be honest and come right out and say it: “The Catholic Church: We’re not big on chicks”? At least we’d know what we were getting into.

I brought my husband into this church. At some level, I must think it capable of change (just like every other woman in an abusive relationship am I right?). But what I won’t let it do is hold me back.

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My friend Marilyn, at age 83, is afraid of changes in the Catholic Church. Not because the Church is moving forward, but back — to pre-Vatican II thinking and acting. She doesn’t want to go back. Neither do I.

I don’t remember the Church pre-Vatican II; it was over before I was born. But I know the Church of my childhood, and it is the Church I love: open, welcoming, modern. Enough with the pomp and circumstance! Let the people be a true part of the celebration of their faith! Primacy of conscience! Right to legitimate dissent! Sensus fidelium!

Many parishes, alas, are regressing. There is a patina of lost glory around things like Latin masses, altar boys in red cassocks with censors and incense, and the clergy being elevated to a pedestal unreachable to the rest of us. Funnily enough, this pining for the old days occurs less in older people — who remember those days well — than in younger people, particularly younger priests. They like the idea of being cloaked in mystery, of being above and beyond the people of God. It makes them more important.

I read some comments by a German nun this week questioning, again, the regulation against women priests. (Here’s a hint: It basically comes down to “the wrong plumbing.”) You should have read the responses on Facebook from the so-called faithful! “Your job is not to doubt; it is to obey.” “The bishops and cardinals know best.” Do they? Is it? Primacy of conscience. Right to legitimate dissent. Sensus fidelium. All of these things back the nun, not the Facebook commenters. Is no one being taught the lessons of Vatican II?

I am hoping this regression to the “good old days” will lapse into obscurity. Just as the ‘80s brought back the ‘50s — and then promptly forgot them — I hope that the shine will come off the apple of the pre-Vatican II church and that the precepts of Vatican II will come back into the spotlight again. Because going backward has never been the answer, in any human endeavor. We can only move ahead. Even if that means leaving some people behind.

When I read Lori’s absolutely spot-on post, I was right there with her, saying “Amen!” out loud. It seemed promising to hold a summit in the Vatican to address sexual abuse in the church. What was accomplished? Nothing in particular. The Pope is still noncommittal about making substantive changes and no action plan was made. In a way, he’s become a trope. A symbol of The Oblivious Guy in Charge. Of the One Percent, living opulently as others struggle. Of the patriarchy.

Every so often, I feel I’m slightly psychic. My late mother did, as well. When I’d visit her, she’d talk at length about Nostradamus’ and Edgar Cayce’s predictions. Recently, I found something interesting from twenty years ago in a folder of her effects. It’s a list she wrote, describing the specific sequence of events that portend the end times!

One of the things she wrote was this: “The news media declares The Pope dead.”

Notice it doesn’t say that he died, but was declared dead by the media. So many people are so fed up with his lack of leadership during this crisis, it’s as if he doesn’t even exist for us anymore.

In normal times (remember those?) I would never throw a stone at a respected religious leader. But these times are decidedly abnormal. And respect has to be earned. I pray for the Pope’s safety and would never wish ill to befall him.  Now if only he’d make safety in the sanctuary his highest priority as well.

They’re meeting at the Vatican right now. They’re calling it the Protection of Minors Summit. And they’re addressing the elephant in the room — or, more fittingly, the sacristy — sexual abuse by priests. So far, the Catholic Church has addressed this scandal in fits and starts. There has been some transparency, as various dioceses publish lists of “credible accusations.” Nuns, too, are finally having their #MeToo moment. There have also been some bitter disappointments, like cardinals who blame homosexuality for the crisis, or the leaked regulations governing priests who break their vows and father children.

Will this summit do anything to really address the grotesqueries that have occurred in the Church? Maybe. But only if true root causes are examined. Chief among them? Clericalism. You know, the whole attitude of “only I can make bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ; only I am special; therefore, whatever I do cannot possibly be wrong.” It’s a poison that too many “men of God” have swallowed whole.

I am waiting to hear the results of the summit, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m also not leaving the Church. My faith isn’t in people. It is in God. The community I choose to practice my faith with is, by and large, a good group of people. Bad priests don’t represent my faith any more than Hitler represented patriotism. But I want to see my Church do right.

Jesus set the table at the Last Supper, and I know Him to be inclusive. It’s time to add a leaf to the table. Let clerics eat humble pie, and allow new voices to be heard. Invite married folks, women, LGBTQ. Let them speak. If not, the Church is sunk. And no summit on earth will bring it back.

 

 

We’ve seen protests of all kinds in the last few years: Black Lives Matter, MeToo, immigration. To be honest, I’m astounded that there aren’t daily protests in the streets over the global scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.  In truth, it’s a crime against humanity. Those responsible should be brought to the Hague before the International Court of Justice.

The MeToo movement, in particular, started a seismic shift in the world. I’d like to propose another idea: EtTu. A rallying cry for the survivors and families of these horrific acts, perpetrated by priests and buried by bishops. The cover-up is still happening, even now. Catholic bishops at a recent conference were told by the Vatican to “delay voting on measures to hold bishops accountable for failing to protect children from sexual abuse.”

Retired Catholic University Professor Stephen Schenk believes that the bishops “can’t be trusted to police themselves. I think the ultimate solution, especially here in the U.S., is going to require an active, permanent role for the laity, because of the problem of oversight.”

These issues are difficult to discuss, but when I saw this victims’ statement video, their toxic effects became clear. An 84-year-old man described his experience from 1947. If even one bishop had spoken up instead of covering it up, it could have saved all the subsequent children from becoming victims. One survivor said, “It’s very lonely. Especially when it’s your word against God’s.” But as our Lori wisely said in her post, “They are men of God. But they are not God. The Church would do well to remember the humility of its founder.”

I just read an interesting article: “NASA Chief Wants to Send Humans to the Moon – to Stay.”  Well, now. I can think of a few people I’d like to give the old heave-ho into the heavens right about now.

I’m out of patience, for instance, with the pope. Forgive my bluntness, but how long should we expect to wait until he makes real reforms in the wake of multiple sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church? I hear him saying a lot of words, but nothing is changing. Could it be he’s not sure what steps to take? Let me help, if I may.

  • Defrock all priests proven to have abused children
  • Give them no retirement plan or benefits, just cast them out
  • Same goes for the bishops who covered up the abuse
  • Removal of statute of limitations re: long-ago abuse
  • Class action to remunerate all victims
  • Criminal action to put offenders in jail
  • Global database documenting all confirmed abuse cases
  • Total transparency and public access to the data
  • Sweeping reforms to protect children in the church

So. All of the above. Or, option B: Pope Francis resigns.

This may sound harsh, but I’d also like religious leader Joyce Meyer to retire. In a sermon last week, she recounted the sexual abuse by her father she endured for years. She said, flat out… wait for this one… “I’m glad it happened.” She said it had made her a better person.  

Well. Okay. She’s canceled!

Where to begin? What a disservice this is to victims of sexual abuse. Some child is going through this right now. And her abuser, who probably thinks he’s a good Christian in all other ways, hears his preacher say it’s actually not such a bad thing after all.

I know I’m probably just in a mood from the recent doings on capitol hill,  but someday, we’ll look back in shame on this era of the innocent being hurt by those in power. Maybe the next generation will come up with a way to make sure it never happens again. If it means sending offenders to a colony on the moon, well, I’m okay with that, too.

I can make myself believe
that voting still matters
that good will win out
that women will be heard
and people of color respected

I can make myself believe
that redemption is possible
that no one (even me) is useless
that justice is a-comin’
and blue waves can save

I can make myself believe
all manner of fairy tales:
Father knows best
blind obedience is my duty
and we can pray away the pedophiles

But I cannot believe in America
(not really)
or in my Church
(not absolutely)
until men believe in change.

Last year, something momentous happened to our country. For the first time in history, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), an agency who reviews and rates countries based on their democratic values, dropped our ranking from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy.” For those who need a translation, that takes America from its rarified position alongside Norway and Canada and plunges it down into the ilk of countries like Chile, Italy and Botswana. This year, the EIU confirmed its earlier analysis: Americans don’t live in a genuine democracy anymore. If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

It has been suggested of late that people who complain about our government — or, worse, protest against it — are somehow “un-American.” They don’t respect our flag! They don’t respect our military! That’s a load of hooey. Protest is as American as apple pie. It’s our origin story: Rebels leaving their homes to come to the New World so they could rebel against England, against each other, against religious tyranny, government control, racism, sexism — you name it. We’re the agitated, red jacket-wearing James Dean of countries.

Rebels are patriots. They understand that the only way to keep the system honest is to challenge it, constantly. They love their country not despite its flaws, but including them — but they know their country can do better. They should be commended for that.

So should people who speak up about the flaws in other institutions, like the Catholic Church. If the Church can’t fix itself (and God knows it needs fixing), it becomes irrelevant. And it dies. Think of protesters as people who care enough to demand not just what is but what could be — if we were all at our best.

A person who loves blindly doesn’t really love at all. It’s the person who sees all the blemishes and scars and ugliness of something and still chooses to love it who really understands what love is.

It’s the way God loves us: Warts and all. And our loving response should be to fix our warts as we are able. Otherwise, love is just a one-way street, and God deserves better. So do we.

Even though we live in different parts of the country and have varying spiritual beliefs, Lori, SueBE and I tend to agree more often than not. I was nodding in agreement and Amen!-ing as I read  Lori’s timely post on the recent clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

Hmm. Didn’t I just see an article about the Pope that I wanted to read later? Yes. It had the words “outrage” and “action” in it. As it turns out, it wasn’t about the abuse scandals, but plastics in the ocean.  So I searched online to see what his response was to the abuse scandals, and what he’s pledged to do to change the culture that allowed it to happen.

“It is my hope that the gravity of the abuse scandals, which have cast a light on the failings of many, will serve to emphasize the importance of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults on the part of society as a whole,” he said, according to a transcript published by the Irish Times.

The failings of many. Nowhere did I see him say, The buck stops with me. I’m the head of this church, and it’s up to me to atone for the past and find a way to make it right. Heads are gonna roll!

Contrast that with what he said about the the environment:

“In a message focusing on the ‘precious element’ of water, Pope Francis has called for urgent action to combat the “emergency” of plastics littering seas and oceans.

“At last year’s climate talks in Bonn, Francis rebuked those who denied the science behind climate change, and urged negotiators not to fall prey to such ‘perverse attitudes’”.

What is wrong with this picture?

Although I don’t belong to the Catholic Church, I do belong to the human race. With all due respect to the pontiff, if our children aren’t protected in houses of worship, where can they ever be safe?  

Much has been written about the Catholic Church’s most recent scandal — the report out of Pennsylvania outlining years of sexual abuse by the clergy and the effort that was made to cover it up. Does more need to be said? Maybe not, but as a Catholic, I AM the church, and so I will endeavor to navigate these tricky waters as best I can.

The problem is not Catholicism. It is not a matter of faith. It is also not merely a problem of sinful men doing sinful things. The problem lies in the structure and hierarchy of the Church — the men who perpetuated the abuse by actively striving to protect the perpetrators. They didn’t just do nothing. They worked tirelessly against the abused and for the abusers.

This problem is so endemic, so deeply rooted in the Church, as to extend to every level of it. It manifests in the local priest who becomes the new pastor of a parish and unilaterally changes everything about parish life to suit his own likes and needs. The people are the Church. A pastor should serve his flock, not the other way around.

I’ve struggled since youth against a culture that declares, “priests are better than you. They know more. You must do what they say.” And that’s at the most basic level. The adulation given to bishops and cardinals increases exponentially. I’m not saying these men don’t deserve respect. Most are hardworking shepherds who genuinely wish to tirelessly serve the people. They are men of God. But they are not God. The Church would do well to remember the humility of its founder.

Any institution that protects its own against its own deserves scrutiny. The Catholic Church deserves every bit of the anger and inquiry being directed at it in the press and around the world. As my husband (a new-ish Catholic) remarked: “People sin and people can be forgiven. Institutions cannot.” It is true. Institutions can only be torn down and rebuilt. It has happened to the Church before, and the Church survived. I believe they can do it again.

On the other hand, this: Men have proven they can screw up every major institution on this planet — from churches to governments. Isn’t it time they move aside and let women give things a try? Just sayin’.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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