Saturday, April 7, 2012

What the Catholic Church needs

For many years I had a fascination with the Catholic Church. I liked its beautiful liturgy, the formality of its worship. I was often taken with the elaborate, ornate atmosphere of their sanctuaries and cathedrals--the burning candles, the Holy Water, the Stations of the Cross, the ever present and large crucifix, the famous scenes of Jesus captured in brilliant stained glass windows, the Eucharist at the center of the altar, the burning incense, the cloistered confessionals, the priests colorful robes.

I loved that they had such high regard for Mary. I was moved that they didn’t take Jesus off the Cross but left him there as a reminder of the agony and passion of his love. I liked that their priests often smoked openly and would have a drink outside the church. I related to their humanness. And I felt a kinship with their concept of the homily, the brief sermon, the message of Christ’s care for us and interest in us told in quiet words spoken in a matter of minutes.

Then we started hearing the hideous scandal of priests, endless numbers of them, sexually molesting and physically violating boys for years. It became clear that many in the Catholic hierarchy—from Bishops to Cardinals to Popes—had simply ignored the reports of abuse from dedicated priests and nuns devastated by what they knew was happening, by frightened wounded victims pleading for help, and by outraged parishioners asking for justice.

Today there is a curious and unseemly dismissal of all of this by many Catholic priests and Bishops. Now they are heavily into politics. Now they want to be left alone to be given the right to tell their non-Catholic employees, thousands of them, that they will not provide health insurance for them from companies that provide contraceptive coverage.

And we’ve seen and heard the huge fight over that, and Rush Limbaugh’s now infamous and vicious attack on Sandra Fluke, the young woman protesting the Catholic Georgetown University’s insurance company refusing to cover the cost of contraceptives even though it is included in their policy. Fluke is a law student at Georgetown University.

And recently, Pope Benedict XVI, has declared there cannot be women priests. Ever. He has been petitioned by various priests and church leaders who have asked that women be welcomed into the priesthood. But he has refused and considers it a closed issue.

The Pope argues that Jesus appointed only men as apostles and so he believes that Jesus established an exclusively male ministry that serves as a permanent structure for the Catholic Church. Women will never be allowed into the priesthood.

What a loss.

I did my post-graduate work at The Mercy Center, a Catholic spirituality center that served as a satellite campus for The Graduate Theological Foundation, a seminary for professional, career ministers seeking a more liberal and open approach to theological study and ministry.

The Mercy Center is located in a beautiful setting off Long Island Sound in Madison, Connecticut. When I was there the operation and administration of the Center was led entirely by nuns or other Catholic women. The nuns were always dressed in the traditional religious habit, as it is called, the white head piece and the black vestment. They were quiet, often shy, but amazingly organized and efficient. There was a soft, reserved atmosphere in the place. The nuns created a perfect mood for serious study. They knew how important our work was.

I often thought of the simple duties they performed and yet how powerful their presence was among those of us visiting as students. Bright, caring, many of them well educated themselves, they could have easily served as dedicated ministers and religious leaders.

I believe the Catholic Church, like so many other traditional Churches, has lost its way. It has been corrupted by money, consumed with partisan and petty politics, disgraced by dysfunctional and often deeply disturbed clergy, and stuck in outdated thinking that doesn’t even reflect the Christ they supposedly follow, worship, and offer to the world.

The gifted Catholic worker and journalist, Dorothy Day once said, “The greatest challenge for each generation is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart.”

The Catholic Church desperately needs that. We all do.

© 2012 Timothy Moody

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