When I was a boy during the fierce Michigan winters, I looked out my bedroom window when I got up at seven. The window glass was covered in frost, but I could see below the empty rectangular space in the snow where my grandparents parked their car. They'd left for the six o'clock Mass. They did so six days a week, only taking Saturday to sleep in for the fifteen years we lived in the same house.
There was nobody more "RC" than my family. Gramps did the wills for the clergy and erected statues to saints and potential saints around Detroit. I saw my grandmother pray the rosary at her kitchen table most nights when I came home from school. Years later, I'd discover the scrapbook of my great great grandma Maggie telling the story of the family's efforts to found the church in the state. Eventually I'd visit the church they built in the tiny town of Deerfield, near the Ohio border with stain glass windows donated by members of the family before Michigan became a state.
That's what really mattered. Not the fact that I went to Catholic school until the eleventh grade, taught only by Dominican nuns or the fact that my father was only educated by Jesuits. For much of my childhood I believed I'd go to hell for eating meat on Friday or missing mass on Sunday. It was gram and gramps who put the faith into the marrow of my bones. Now, I often wonder what my ancestors, including many who were members of the clergy would say about the latest scandals. Would they deny it entirely or say it was an aberation caused by the failure of the latest generations to believe in the faith the way they should?
I don't think one of them would agree with me that it's endemic--that the old paradigm has reached its nadir and now is in decline. The collective "shadow" of the establishment is eclipsing its intentions. I am reminded of all this by the recent admission of Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland as quoted in the NYTIMES on 3/18--the day after the national celebration of St. Patrick who chased the snakes and serpents out of the "pagan country". The Cardinal was a young priest in 1975 when he took part in concealing the crimes of Rev. Brendan Smyth who has since admitted to molesting and raping over 100 children in Ireland and the US. That's a lot of betrayed innocent victims.
To explain his actions, the Cardinal said: "We had no guidance. We were in uncharted territory, and now we have higher standards, thankfully." Rape and molestation were no less a crime then than they are now and yet the Cardinal is so removed from the conscience of the society he is a part of that he only acknowledges the church hierarchy as his moral compass. Obviously, the young priest didn't lack loyalty and was rewarded for it. He makes a devastating case without a clue that's what he's admitting.
Hans Kung, one of the greatest contemporary Catholic theologians, whose license to teach Catholic theology was revoked in 1979, has said: (I am paraphrasing) "The church is now run for the benefit of the third world where its dogma better serves the consciousness of the faithful." Clearly, there's nothing that can be said in criticism of the faithful who live honest and righteous lives--the same as is true of those of any faith.
It is their betrayal by the leaders and the institution that is supposed to serve them that I am speaking about. The price paid for the authoritarian structure of the church has reached a new bottom. It's a structure that gives no indication it is ever going to change despite the fact that through the centuries the church itself invented the dogma that now is its foundation.
It has led to a definitive worldwide descent into what may easily be defined as "depravity" by all but the true believers in the existing paradigm. One after another archdiocese is declaring bankruptcy, the hospitals are being closed down, the infrastructure taken apart bit by bit, the Irish and German Churchs have been turned on end--and the only question left is where it will be "discovered" next and how bad will it be? It's world-wide "phenomenon", and hard not to attribute something more substantial than "bad leadership." It's even reasonable to conclude all that devotion to the virginal, the sexually pure, and celebate doesn't have a dark, dark, side.
The ruling body as led by the Pope have made it clear in terms of actions, such as rescinding the policy that clergy cannot marry, letting women into the hierarchy, accepting sexuality, marriage to non-Catholics, divorce, or the right to die at our own discretion, they're not conceeding an inch. They elected one of the most conservative of the hiearchy their leader. Hence, the churches grow empty, the pews no longer creak, the preacher's voice is hollow--the faithful are being abandoned. What was once an institution whose purpose was to raise the communal conscience and still is in some parts of the world simply is no longer in the advanced cultures where it began.
George Will, a conservative and himself a practicing Catholic has said the church has become the "hiding place for hypocrisy". It begs the question: if that is so and religion is where mankind turns for its values, how can these policies be justified other than an appeal to authority rather than reason, common sense and the rule of law?
Both of my grandparents lost their fathers at a very young age and came from large families. Theirs was an irrevocable bond built on a common loss and a shared faith. They lived on the cusp of survival for most of their childhood--not unlike those in third world countries where the church is embedding itself. Unwavering faith became their refuge in the need for a "structure" that supplanted all else. If it hadn't been Catholicism, I suspect it would have been any other faith they had been born into. They believed until their dying day in return for the security of knowing there is some relief for their suffering. That is the secret of the "gift of faith," as I have often heard those fortunate enough to believe otherwise say.
In my case, I decided to bring up my daughter in the "old faith" for no other reason than she'd know the structure that helped our ancestors survive. That way the "mystery" of faith wouldn't be so strange to her should she wish to adopt it in a time of need if she so desired. I believe that was my duty and obligation in tribute to the legacy of our family.
Unlike me, she did not have to face disinheritance at the age of 18 when I left the faith in the form I had been taught. The choice is hers. I still have the letter from my grandfather when I said I wouldn't go to a Catholic college. "Fine," he typed. "Go to a heathen school, but don't ever expect a dime from me to pay for it."
My daughter now practices another religion and so do I--one where the definitions are my own and my conscience remains intact. After all, the reformation that allowed me to do so is now 500 years old and the nation I live in has granted this freedom for over 200 hundred years. I'm not looking for a dispensation from any of the members of the hierarchy.
Count me among those who have decided to take advantage of faith in mankind rather than thinking of humanity as born in sin and unable to discriminate between right and wrong from someone who explains their own lack of conscience as "We had no guidance. We were in uncharted territory, and now we have higher standards, thankfully."