Monday, February 25, 2013

The Catholicism I Love

With yet another accusation against yet another Roman cleric, I find myself in a strange position, beset by conflicting feelings and attitudes.  First, as a non-Roman Catholic - indeed, a proud member of that body of Christians the current, retiring Pontiff insists should return to the ancient faith for the sake of our soul's eternal peace - there's a large part of me that couldn't care less about the whole institution.  That a bureaucratic game-player with ultra-montane tendencies managed to finagle his way to the Throne of St. Peter is neither unsurprising nor disheartening (unless you are still one of those who believe the Papacy a divine institution, in which case you probably aren't reading this blog post).

Second, as a human being with normal moral and empathetic sensibilities, the on-going scandal involving the sexual abuse by the clerisy of those placed under their charge enrages me no end.   The absolute refusal of any part of the institutional Roman Church to address this in a manner that resembles anything Christian infuriates me even more.  Their latest gambit - Let's Blame The Gays! - is failing miserably, as it should.

Finally, in between insouciance and rage is a kind of sentimental fondness for at least part of what the Roman Catholic Church has been in its sixteen or so centuries of existence.  To whit, in a Europe beset by rival princes and panjandrums, rival paganisms and the rise of Islam, as learning and trade and communication withered on the vine, the Holy Mother Church not only held at least some ancient learning in its loving arms; through the hard, often dangerous work of monks - especially those from Ireland - that learning was spread to the rest of a continent struggling to escape the many assaults upon it.  Even in the Darkest of what was once called The Dark Ages, there were those who believed it their calling from God to spread learning and understanding far and wide.

When the Crusaders brought back the news that their Muslim enemies were both better-learned and more advanced, the Roman Church was at the forefront of investing in education, helping the growing cities and towns catch up, understanding that if Christendom was to compete with their neighbors, they needed learning and understanding of their own.

The Church was, while perhaps neither cradle or even the womb of the Renaissance and subsequent expansion of knowledge and understanding, and was certainly its sworn enemy at many points, I have often felt it was at least partially the seed-bed of those movements that awakened much of the European continent from its too-long slumber.

From St. Augustine and his predecessors in the West (as well as the Cappadocians in the East) through Erasmus, the great, level-headed humanistic opponent of Martin Luther, the Roman Church nurtured many scoundrels and scandals to be sure; it snuffed out reformers like Wycliffe and Hus and Peter Waldo; its Popes became Warrior-Kings, far more concerned with winning battles than souls to the One True Faith; those who disagreed, whether Jew or heretic, found themselves living a life of perpetual peril.  All these things are true enough.

If that were the only truth, I would perhaps not be worried so.  Yet there were other stories as well. St. Francis and St. Dominic.  William of Occam, opposing the papal division, writing tracts on the need for political unity on the European continent.  St. Thomas taking what he learned from Albertus Magnus and offering a view of God's Divine action that was both rational and grace-filled.

And still and always, the brother and sisters in monks and convents, their days ever circling the need for prayer and praise for the world to God; because of the peculiarities of geography and the insistent schedule of the Hours, each hour there are still monks and nuns praying for our world, lifting all creation up to the care of the Creator.  This is a marvelous, awe-inspiring testimony to the power of faith, a power that we Protestants have, I think, lost in our enthusiasms.

Perhaps the best thing for the Roman Catholic Church would be for Vatican City to dissolve itself as a nation-state and open its archives and books to outside auditors and inspectors; for the election of the Pope no longer to be about pretending to a tradition tracing back to St. Peter but the simple politics of maintaining the status quo, and for those outside the Church who are simultaneously fascinated and repelled by the practice of celibacy to recognize its worth as a spiritual practice as long as the Mother Church recognize the way it could lead to the horrors of abuse from around the globe.

There is a Catholicism I love.  For now, it is eclipsed by the Catholic Church I despise, ruled by men beneath contempt.  Perhaps, in my lifetime, it will understand that redemption begins with repentance.  At this moment, that is my prayer.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More