Posts Tagged ‘Church’

The Pope Resigns! Uh, No Big Deal

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI .. stepping down

By Bob Gaydos

Kings and popes don’t resign.

Except when they do.

In the case of popes, that’s every 600 years or so, it turns out. Pope Benedict XVI proved to be the exception to the socially accepted truism about kings and popes when he announced his retirement Monday, stunning a billion-plus Catholics worldwide.

Benedict, who is 85, is one of but a handful of the 265 recognized popes to resign and the first pope since Gregory XII in 1615 to do so.

Gregory faced a serious challenge to his power, since three other popes had also been elected by different factions of the church. Benedict faces no such challenge. Indeed, if anything, in his eight years in the papal chair he has created a collegiality of doctrinaire conservatism among the cardinals he has appointed and who will select a successor from their midst.

The point being, if the accepted wisdom proves to be correct and a conservative European cardinal is elected pope, nothing will change in the Roman Catholic Church. That could be a serious problem for an institution that has adamantly resisted adapting to the modern world and which is losing parishioners and financial support at a troublesome rate and is seeing ever-declining numbers of men entering the priesthood.

Benedict cited his declining health as the reason for his resignation, saying he felt he could no longer properly handle the demands of the position. He wasn’t talking about saying Mass or issuing decrees. The Church has been rocked by a series of scandals and challenges from within and Benedict himself has been central in some of them. That might lead a skeptic to wonder if his leaving for health reasons is the equivalent of an American politician stepping down to “spend more time with my family.”

Pass the grain of salt, please.

Next month, all cardinals under the age of 80 will meet to select their new leader. Whoever it turns out to be will have to deal with these major issues Benedict leaves behind:

  • The sex scandal. Most of the sexual abuse of young boys by priests apparently happened on his predecessor’s watch, but Benedict has been implicitly connected with the church-wide coverup of the abuses. To this day, revelations and lawsuits plague the Church and some leaders still try to avoid taking responsibility for their part in the scandal. No whitewash will cover the stain. Only full revelation and penance.
  • No place for women. This is beyond comprehension. That a bunch of old men don’t want to relinquish any power at all to women, refuse to accept women priests, to allow altar girls, to, in fact, deny women of any meaningful say in the celebration of their religion or how it is interpreted is, in my view, sinful. American nuns have tried to force the Vatican’s hand in this regard, so far to no success other than not having been punished for their uppitiness. The new pope will have some very curious nuns — and women parishioners — to deal with.
  • Contraception. The Church refuses to accept it even though 90 percent (or more) of Catholics practice it. Benedict himself infamously worsened the situation by going to Africa and urging residents of AIDS-plaqued countries to shun condoms. Doctrine over common sense and, some might say, humanity. Surely, none of the original fathers of the church could have foreseen such a situation in writing the Gospels. The fact that acceptance of contraception in general would significantly reduce the need for abortions, an outcome people of all faiths desire, has not persuaded the Vatican either.
  • Homosexuality/gay marriage. If the church chose to ignore the pedophiles in its midst, it has not been silent on homosexuals — who represent no threat at all to it. They are unacceptable.
  • Divorce, married priests. The one would make life for thousands of Catholics more livable, the other would swell the ranks of new priests immediately. Don‘t bet on either.

There are other issues, such as how to meet the needs of a church whose members are increasingly from the southern hemisphere when the majority of the cardinals are still from Europe and endorse Benedict‘s conservative philosophy, and when much of the non-Catholic world views the Church as hopelessly behind the times. It all points to the likelihood that, while the resignation of a pope might seem like a momentous decision historically, in the real scheme of things this one might be no big deal. That could be the saddest outcome of all.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

Years Later, the Pain Remains

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

A protest in Boston on Mothers Day, 2002. Reuter's photo by Jim Bourg.

By Bob Gaydos

This is going to be personal. Not just online blog personal, but in your gut, or should I say, in my gut personal. If you’re looking for politics, you won’t find it here. Our political institutions are a sham, self-serving and deceitful. This is about that other major institution you’re not supposed to talk about at polite dinner parties: religion.

Well, one religion. Catholicism. The one I was born into and eventually left. My intent here is not to offend or anger anyone who practices the faith or to challenge its teachings. In a sense, it’s not really about Catholicism at all. As religions go, I think it’s as good as any other if it fulfills one’s spiritual needs.

This is really about the people — the men — who control the Roman Catholic Church and who are, I believe, supposed to be spiritual role models. Instead, like politicians, many Church leaders, I also believe, are largely self-serving and deceitful. Driven by ego. Unlike politicians, they have the benefit of confessing their sins to each other and being forgiven.

This uncomfortable feeling about some of the good fathers of the Roman Catholic Church is not new. It has, however, been dormant. It was awakened with suddenness and surprising force for me recently as I read a story in the Middletown (N.Y.) Times Herald-Record written by my colleague, Steve Israel. It concerned two predators who had sexually abused many young boys while serving as Roman Catholic priests in local parishes in the mid-Hudson.

Steve had written about these men years ago when, no thanks to the Church, their behavior became public knowledge. Likewise, as editorial page editor of The Record at the time, I had written opinions about the priests and the manner in which the Church mishandled their cases. Yet as I read Steve’s recent article (prompted by the impending sentencing of Penn State sex predator Jerry Sandusky), I found my eyes welling up with tears and feeling a profound sadness and anger bordering on rage. I felt personally offended.

The sadness was for the victims and their families who, as they told Steve, must carry the hurt and humiliation, the angry memories, with them every day of their lives.

The rage was not for Edward Pipala or Francis Stinner, the local priests who betrayed their positions of trust. They are what they are. Pray for them, or not, as you choose. Rather, it was for their superiors, those bishops. monsignors and cardinals who knew what the priests were, what they had done, what they would continue to do if not stopped, and still let them do it, for no reason other than to protect the name of the Roman Catholic Church and, not so coincidentally, their positions of influence within it.

Thanks to someone’s merciful god, Pipala, Stinner, and dozens of other sexual predators in the priesthood around the globe, were eventually exposed. Some, including Pipala, served prison time. But this only happened after many years of the church paying millions of dollars in hush money to victims for their promise to remain silent, of moving predatory priests from one parish to another, often to positions that involved mentoring teenaged boys, and of refusing to report the sexual assaults as crimes to local police. Many years, many more victims. And many denials by Church spokesmen.

Where, in any testament or gospel or papal edict — never mind universal, common decency — is such collusion and conspiracy to conceal thousands of sexual assaults against young boys not to be considered the gravest of mortal sins as well as a crime? How in any god’s name do church leaders continue to preach against such perceived “evils” as homosexuality or contraception — both of which are widely accepted by Catholics — while they are still cleaning up the very real mess of decades of priests having sex with young boys and the Church doing nothing about it? Is hypocrisy not in the Vatican’s dictionary? Shame? Sorrow? Repentance?

I was an altar boy in my youth, but our church was of the Byzantine rite. When that church merged with the Roman Catholic, priests who were married, like ours, were allowed to remain married. Some suggest that allowing priests to marry or allowing women to become priests would reduce the number of sexual predators in the priesthood. Certainly diminish the tendency to cover up their crimes. But when the nuns who do the in-person works of faith of the Church have dared to encourage discussion of these topics, as well as same-sex marriage or contraception, they have been threatened with punishment by the Vatican. Still, the heavy veil of silence rules. The mere discussion of important social issues is seen as a threat to the Church and its all-male leadership.

One thing politicians do find out is that credibility is an invaluable commodity. Lose it and you lose the voters. The Church is losing parishioners in droves and few young men are flocking to join the priesthood. The reasons for this are right in front of their eyes, but many of the leaders of the Church continue to ignore them and to act as if all will be well if they do so.

The sex scandal will remain a sordid, unfathomable chapter in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, certainly as long as the victims are alive and, one hopes, so long as people of good conscience are around to make sure history is not rewritten.

Sincere acts of contrition by those responsible for committing and perpetuating this crime against humanity would certainly be welcome. As for those men of the cloth who see no need for such displays of humility, fortunately, their religion is one that believes in Hell. Personally, an eternity there seems fair.