As a Catholic, the best thing I can ever hope for from the news media is that they will completely ignore my religion. That's right. A good Catholic news day is one in which there is no news.
Because the second there is news about the Church -- like now, with the conclave going on -- it seems like every newspaper and TV personality thinks, "Oh! Catholics! That reminds me about the personal bone I have to pick with them."
Reactions I've heard lately:
1. "There's a conclave going on! Bet all those cardinals are pedophiles, snicker snicker. Nothing so funny as sex abuse." (Jon Stewart said that, more or less.)
2. "Ah, Catholics! They're so out of touch about sex. Don't the cardinals realize that most Catholics don't believe Catholic sexual teachings? Time to rewrite the Catechism!" (The Washington Post said this one.)
3. "Oh, those woman-hating Catholics. If only there were a female Pope, we'd finally get the kind of Catholic Church we'd all like to see."
4. "Wait, I don't get it. How is X person I respect a Catholic? Don't they know their tithes support sex abuse?"
5. "...the Pope, one of the richest and most powerful men in the world ..."
Because I have some remnants of good sense, I have not been commenting on this crap. That's like wandering into the wrong pub in Scotland during a soccer match, wearing the wrong team's colors. Not gonna do it.
But these statements do deserve answers, so here goes.
1. Sex abuse is not funny. It will never, ever be even a little bit funny. Is the Holocaust funny? What about ethnic cleansing? Slavery? No? Okay, what makes sex abuse any different?
This doesn't mean we shouldn't be angry about it. Or that we should ignore it. But it's something that should be taken seriously. Those responsible should most definitely be punished; I feel quite strongly about that. But those who are not responsible in any way -- like most priests aren't -- don't deserve to be treated as if they are. Try this parallel on for size: "Oh, you're German? I'd better not borrow your soap then -- it's probably made from the corpses of Jews!"
Is that funny? No, it is not. It's not funny, first, because the bodies of Jews and other Holocaust victims being turned into soap is not funny. And second, because you just assumed that a person, purely by virtue of being German, is responsible for the Holocaust.
Most Catholics are opposed to sex abuse. Most of us are horrified and sickened by it. You might not hear this so much because Catholics can be afraid to talk about it at all. But believe me, we are. And it's really, really hard on priests to be suspected of abusing children solely by virtue of their vocation. Imagine how you might feel if you dedicated your entire life to serving God and others and as a result, had people eying you with suspicion or openly insulting you and calling you a child molester. This is one reason why it's important to dig deep, uncover every guilty priest, and punish them. Only when we're sure we're rid of all the bad eggs can we stop suspecting all priests, all the time. (Though don't get me wrong. People still will suspect all priests, all the time, probably for the next hundred years at least. But at least it won't be justifiable.)
2. I'm sure it must be uncomfortable for the modern world to find itself so out of touch with an organization that claims to be in possession of the truth about human morality. But I don't think it's true that simply because most people nowadays disagree, our doctrines are wrong. In AD 100, most people thought gladitorial games were okay. In AD 1000, people thought it was okay to oppress the poor, if you were lucky enough to be in a position to do so. In AD 1965, pretty much everyone decided birth control was a-okay. The Catholic Church is always the stick in the mud that refuses to get with the program.
Our sexual ethics are difficult and in contradiction to basically everything that modern society is based on. But that really doesn't affect the possibility that they might be true. I believe that they are true, that the Church has the authority to tell me they are true, and that they are unchanging. Following the Church's teachings on sex has not always been easy in my own life, and yet I can clearly see how fidelity to those teachings has shaped my life into the beautiful thing it is today. I don't want those teachings to change.
But even if I did, it wouldn't matter. Even if 100 out of 100 people in the pews thought contraception was okay, that wouldn't make it okay, and it wouldn't make the Church suddenly declare that it was. There was a time when two thirds of bishops thought that Jesus was a lesser creation of God the Father instead of his equal. They even elected a heretic bishop as Pope. And the second that Pope took office, he proclaimed to everyone the teaching the Church has always held and still holds today, that the Son is consubstantial with the Father. That tells me there's more to this dogma thing than a bunch of old guys making stuff up. God is really, somehow, in his mysterious way, guiding the Church.
If you don't believe that, then at least believe this: the Catholic Church is not now and will not ever be a democracy. We base our teachings on what, historically, our teachings have always been. We don't change our doctrines ... ever. And the teaching on contraception is one of those unchangeable things. It is hugely inconvenient sometimes and requires a great deal of personal sacrifice, but it does appear that it comes from God, so there's no helping it.
3. I think people confuse the priesthood with power. This is called clericalism and it's bad. Priests are intended to be servants. Their job is to act in the place of Christ to provide us with sacraments. Actual decision-making -- insofar as there are decisions to make, because as I said above we don't change our doctrines -- could be done by anybody. There are lots of women who are theologians, abbesses, parish council presidents, and so forth. If these women don't have enough power, that might be a problem. But ordaining them isn't the solution. The solution is to give the women who are already working within the Church more authority when it comes to decision-making.
But the decision to allow birth control or ordain women or marry gays or whatever the world would like us to do, isn't actually an option at all. The magisterium's job isn't to decide things or to make things up. Its job is to look into the teachings we have always had, and to continue saying the same stuff. That's not a position of power. It's a position of humbly doing what you're told.
4. First of all, "tithing" is kind of a Protestant thing. Catholics are not required to give any particular amount to any particular thing. We're supposed to support the work of the Church according to our means ... that's it. Some people like to give to various independent Catholic charities. Most of us put at least something in the collection basket on Sunday, but that goes directly to our own parish, no one else. To give money to the diocese, we have to give to the bishops' appeals. To give to Rome, we can do Peter's Pence once a year. Anyway no one follows up on this or keeps track, so if a Catholic is concerned about his diocese's handling of sex abuse accusations, he can simply not give them any money.
But if you do give money to the Church, odds are that most of it is used to pay the priest, pay the organist if you are lucky enough to have one, buy vestments, keep the lights on, keep the heat on, repave the parking lot, buy bread and wine for Mass, support retired priests, keep the soup kitchen open, buy blankets for the homeless shelter, and so forth. If you are a Catholic who is concerned about this -- find out! And then donate only to those parishes/dioceses/charities that are completely above-board about where their money is going.
5. Pope is actually a pretty thankless job. Yeah, the Pope has a fairly nice apartment, and nuns to cook his meals for him. My guess is that it's not as nice as the White House, with its professional staff and chefs. But what most people mean when they say "the Pope is rich" is St. Peter's and the Vatican Museum.
I personally think that St. Peter's was a waste of money to build. It's beautiful, but was it really worth the Protestant revolt? But it's here now. Bulldozing it would also cost money at this point. But the Church isn't making money off St. Peter's. Unlike many historic churches owned by the Italian government, it's always free to visit. The Vatican doesn't have big hotels, restaurants, or gift shops around to make money off tourism. Even the bathrooms are free, which can't be said for many bathrooms in Rome. The Vatican Museum does cost -- 16 euro I think -- but it's cheap for entrance to one of the world's major museums. It's also free once a month. You know who profits off all the tourism of the Vatican? Italy. Italy is where there are hotels, restaurants, gift shops, street vendors, and so forth.
The Pope is only powerful in the sense that everything is his fault. But Church teaching is unchangeable, so again, his job is to humbly keep repeating the same stuff we've always believed. Doesn't matter if the Pope happens to disagree with it. He can't change it. He has to keep saying the same stuff regardless. That doesn't sound like power to me.
Pope is not a paid position, and though it does come with benefits, it also has a lot of downsides. Benedict was a virtual prisoner of the Vatican. With the level of fame he had, the excitement people had about meeting him, every trip had to be a state trip. It's not like he could just fly home, coach class, to Bavaria to visit his old home. Imagine the fuss that would cause. Meanwhile he gets to be reviled and hated by large numbers of people and considered directly responsible for every priest that abuses a child, every bishop that covers it up, every official in the Vatican bank who launders money. That's all on him.
I have seen the boss's job, and I do.not.want it.
Anyway, I'm just looking forward to things settling down in a month or two. We'll have a new Pope, who hopefully will be okay, and maybe people will get tired of talking about my religion and go on to mock someone else. Just leave me to worship my God in peace.