The Broken Church
A very good friend recently sent me an article by Phyllis Zagano from the National Catholic Reporter called Repairing the broken church. (You can click the title to go to the article, or it is also listed at the first link below this response.)
First, let me say for the record that I think it is outstanding that the NCR, or at least some of the people who write the articles there, are finally willing to step up and verbalize what every other person has said for at least the past 10 years. I know many who have talked this way for the past 20 or more years, but the point is that it is not only courageous and risky to openly criticize the Roman Catholic Church, but it is also about time the people within the church started standing to take notice their institution is in serious need of repair. It is hemorrhaging badly and has been for the better part of the last several hundred or so years – possibly longer.
Having said all that, there are a few key points in the article which seemingly go unchecked and to which I’d like to respond. I’ll try to take them in order as they appear in the article, but I may succumb to the occasional digression.
The first thing that struck me was the passion which is present in the article. I do love passion. I think it’s about time we started speaking from the heart, but having been in some awkward moments because of not filtering myself, I can also see the need to temper one’s self with a bit of decorum and restraint. Passion is great, but starting an article with “I’m sick of it, you are too. Let’s talk.” sets up an immediate adversarial relationship. It starts the article with a fight and not discussion even though it says, “Let’s talk.”
One of the other immediate issues I have with this article – well, with any article really – is the lack of credible sourcing. Ms. Zagano makes a few claims from the onset about the Irish and German Catholics, but she doesn’t cite any sources, give any numbers, nor does she attempt to give any credible studies for her claims. There are so many sources (like the ones below this article) that I’m surprised not one was mentioned. I often tell my students if they forget to cite their sources, they will fail my class.
Then Ms. Zagano goes on to begin a discussion about married priests, but ends up somewhere else, then comes back to this heated issue as she closes the article. I too think we should make celibacy optional, but then Ms. Zagano says,
“That’s the question at the heart of the complaints and many of the scandals. What married pastor, or his wife, would allow some weirdo to cultivate underage boys or girls? Not one. You know it. I know it.”
Pardon me? Has Ms. Zagano been living in a cloister without television or newspaper? Married men are abusing their own children AS WELL AS other people’s, and don’t even get me started on those parents that actually team up to exploit any child who happens by – their own or those belonging to other people. I think it is rather naive to make a blanket statement which has no foundation and which lulls people into a false sense of security. Having worked for a short time as a type of social worker, and being the husband of a 25+ year veteran of Social Work I can honestly say that being married does not preclude one from committing atrocities like pedophilia. I think her statement is irresponsible and downright dangerous given current happenings around the world and is probably the same type of thing said when the first accusations of molestation came out, “Father couldn’t have done that, he’s a priest and would never allow some weirdo to cultivate underage children.” As it turns out, Father was that weirdo as were other Sisters and Brothers, and lay people; let’s not forget them either.
The rest of Ms. Zagano’s article goes on to rant about what is wrong, but there is something which is really sticking in my craw – why is she only discussing MEN? Has Ms. Zagano not heard of the instances where the Sisters were having their way with children and each other? Why has Ms. Zagano left out the possibility of Woman Priest (something I think is desperately needed in a phallicly driven church, and something she mentions in her books, but not her articles.) Why is Ms. Zagano so singularly focused against a gender than trying to find common ground or trying to heal chasmic rifts?
While we’re on this subject, NO ONE is OWED the priesthood! I have been present at several protests where both men and women have claimed they deserved to be priests. Excuse me? Really??? Where in the hell did they ever get the impression they were OWED the priesthood? Talk about narcissistic!!! Talk about ego, conceit, and self-absorption! Wow! Are those people really entering into alternative groups because they really feel they are owed something? Would you want to receive the Sacraments from someone who felt they were “OWED” the priesthood????? I honestly made the simple mistake of thinking the priesthood, in any form, was about servitude. I thought it was about letting go of the self and focusing instead on other people’s needs. I thought the priesthood was a calling. Pardon me… my mistake.
Also – you know… I’ve met some truly beautiful Sisters, Brothers, and Priests. I’ve met wholesome and loving individuals who were truly holy – all within the Roman Catholic institution. Why are we so singularly focused on the illness. Perhaps we can use those who are healthy as an example?
Back to the point…
Ms. Zagano’s article is very passionate – and angry – but closes more doors than it opens, and doesn’t even begin to deal with the very real issue of power, control, and domination by an organization which is supposed to preserve, uplift, and serve the people of God. And why is she drawing more attention to fighting from within the structure of the Roman Catholic Church than she is to finding health and wellness for those who have been devastated?
The Roman Catholic Church, like just about every other church out there, is a business. It brings in money to build elaborate and well appointed churches where people can come together in celebration of the Divine (while the poor and impoverished go hungry.) These churches pay it’s “employees” very well for the job they do. They receive free medical, free dental, free retirements, free housing, free cars, free food, free everything, AND receive a paycheck. They become very comfortable in their almost impossible to get rid of position. In fact, it’s probably harder to fire a priest than it is a government employee!
Then of course Joe and Jane Pewwarmer have to elevate Father (or Sister and Brother, but never on the same level as Father…) by placing him or her on such a high pedestal that they begin to believe they are above reproach. When do we realize these people are human and prone to the human condition? When do we wake up and start treating these ministers as real people with real faults and issues? I just can’t help but wonder if perhaps some of the fault lies with the people who looked the other way, or never wanted to speak up because their children were receiving great educations, or with those laity or religious who worked for the “Councils” but chose to remain silent rather than rock the boat. Too many people have remained silent, but even worse, through their silence they allowed it to continue.
No child ever wants to be abused. That much I KNOW for sure. I too was (notice the word WAS and not IS) a victim, but I chose to remove myself from harm. I chose to see through open eyes and not with the clouded judgment of anger and retribution. Finally, I chose to stop fighting. All fighting ever did was create more anger and animosity. Instead I held people accountable and moved on with my life. I let go, sought the emotional healing I needed, sought the spiritual healing I needed, FORGAVE (but never forgot), and walked in another direction.
Revenge of the Church
Does the Roman Catholic Church need to change? NO. The people in the pews have to change. They have to wake up from their slumbers and see there is more to spirituality and church than just the recitation of memorized prayers. They have to see the Church for what it is and then move beyond the stereotypical pewwarmer to engage their spiritual practice head on, and not relying on everyone else around them. They have to stop closing their eyes to pedophiles of ANY sort and be willing to go to the police rather than the Bishop. But most of all, they have to be willing to stand up and take responsibility for their own spiritual growth. Until they take ownership of their own spiritual development, they may never grow beyond the oppressive governmental-type control the Church has on its members. And finally, they have to stop taking their religion and practice for granted. They have become far too complacent.
In the long run, the church owes the people NOTHING. It is a business and more people need to see it for what it is. The Bishop of Rome sits in his comfortably appointed mansions while the people toil beneath his feet. Do you really think the Church thinks it owes anyone anything?
The PEOPLE owe themselves! This isn’t about standing up and fighting. This is about growth and personal responsibility for one’s spirituality. This isn’t about the destruction of a synthetic and gravely ill institution. This is about following the teachings laid out by a wise and loving Soul 2000 years ago. This is about practicing what we preach. This is about rising up out of the depths of despair and finding the strength inside ourselves to hold those who harmed us accountable, but then we must also find the fortitude and grace to realize when it’s time to let go and find healing within. I think our primary concern – our primary responsibility – is to find healing, and then to find a way to help others find that same healing.
“All aboard are carsick from the bumps and fumes along the way?” “Coupons for anti-depressants?” Why don’t people just get off the ride? Then they won’t need the anti-depressants. There are other “catholic”, and even some wonderful non-”catholic” institutions out there which are loving, compassionate, healing, and well deserving of support. They have very strict policies on abuse, as well as openly allow married priests, women priests, gay unions and so many other things. Maybe it’s time to refocus rather than aiming at the “enemy” with heat seeking missiles.
One last thing, anger only begets more anger. Violence only begets more anger. Hatred will only ever grow more hatred. “An eye for an eye only makes the world blind.” (M. Gandhi)
Choose how you heal very carefully. The repercussions may last a lifetime.