Posts Tagged ‘homosexuality’

Once A Catholic

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

It hardly seems worth mentioning that the Catholic Church is out of touch with reality on certain issues. While the debate rages on about the US Republican party’s inability to redefine and refocus its message in changing times, there is this other conservative dinosaur lumbering along beside it, and it feels even less compulsion to change. The Catholic Church is ancient and insular and does not need to answer to any human authority, so why even bother challenging its many ignorant and dangerous proclamations? As far as most people are concerned, the solution to the Church’s problems is not to change the Church, but to dismiss the Church as irrelevant.

Yet the Catholic Church can change. It has  already made some changes in the last 50 years, and if it wants to survive it will have to change further. It’s because I believe that the Church will change that I continue to call myself a Catholic, and even if former Cardinal Joseph Ratzenberger (I just can’t seem to get into calling him ‘the Pope’) were to turn up on my doorstep and excommunicate me himself, I would continue to believe myself a Catholic.

I admit, I have a very idiosyncratic view of my Catholicism. I’m a gay man who believes in contraception, euthanasia, and a woman’s right to have an abortion, so if Catholic dogma is a great shining city, I would be living in a box behind a Happy Eater on a motorway exit somewhere beyond the ring road. My Catholicism is one that is proud of its heretics. I am a terrible, terrible Catholic. I cling a Catholic identity not just because I believe the Church can change, but because I want it to change. I also believe that, since the Catholic Church shaped my spiritual identity, it bears some responsibility for the conclusions I’ve come to.

All of which is just preamble to the subject matter I want to discuss. Today I read an extraordinary story about the Church’s decision to excommunicate the mother and doctors of a girl in Brazil who received an abortion. The girl was nine years old, and she had allegedly been raped by her step-father. It was thought that carrying the foetuses to term would have endangered the girl’s life.

In that one story you have all the inexplicable, enraging horror of the Church’s backward and inhumane views on abortion. The people, the government and the medical community of Brazil have all expressed either anger or disappointment at the Church for its decision, and the Church has responded without remorse. And here is where it turns from inhumane to outright diabolical; asked if the step-father would be excommunicated if he had indeed raped his 9-year-old step-daughter, the archbishop of the diocese replied that the abortion “was more serious”. 

It is astonishing to me that a man who believes he acts and speaks with respect to God could so readily make himself a channel for man’s evil. I find it staggering that this Church, or any church based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, could be so insistent on putting judgement and dogma ahead of love and compassion. Above all else, a Church of Christ must be about love. That is what God is, and if that is not evident in a  church’s teachings and actions, then that church is not acting or speaking with respect to God.

That’s my happy-clappy hippy-dippy view of things, but if the Catholic Church doesn’t buy that silly ‘God is love’ stuff, they clearly do buy in to the idea that some sins are, in the archbishop’s words, “more serious” than others. Through a series of ecumenical councils from Nicaea in 325 to the Vatican in the 1960s, the Catholic Church has arrived at a Top Trumps of sin - one in which the abortion of twin foetuses is apparently a graver sin than the rape of a child by her guardian.

This is where the Church has proved itself fatally out-of-touch. In the past two thousand years the Church has changed and adapted with all the haste of a Redwood tree trying to sidestep a continental shift, and it probably believes it did more than enough to stay relevant with the Vactican council of the 1960s. With the speed at which ideas and experiences are propogated today, that clearly isn’t the case, and the Catholic Church is not sophisticated enough for the modern world. The Catholic Church Top Trumps deck still looks distinctly Medieval, and it is in need of a radical update.

I think there is a legitimate place in our society for a moral and spiritual organisation that stands in opposition to issues such as infidelity, promiscuity, divorce and abortion. There is a reasonable argument to be made that these things are not desirable in our society. I also think that such an organisation would speak with more power if it did not complicate matters by staking arbitrary, anachronistic and even socially damaging positions on issues such as contraception and homosexuality.

Even if the church cannot make a volte-face on these issues overnight, if it were to sensibly review its hierarchy of sin and state, for example, that infidelity is more undesirable than contraception, or that promiscuity is more undesirable than homosexuality, it would save or improve millions of lives without eroding anyone’s soul. If the Church spent more time telling people that it is wrong to spread diseases, and less time telling people that it is wrong to enjoy sex, it would become a more powerful force for good in the world.

Abortion is the hardest issue to address. The prohibition against taking life is as grave as any doctrine can be (and that ought to be a good thing - the Church’s positions on war and the death penalty are fairly impeccable). Finessing the church’s position on when life begins is an enormous challenge - even if the Church were to defer to science, science has nothing useful to say about the soul. All that said, I think there is room for the Church to take a more charitable and more loving view of the challenges facing those already born when questions arise about the unborn. At the very least, the Church might exercise discretion when questions of rape or a mother’s health are at issue.

What this really comes down to for me is that neither God nor Christ conferred on any church the authority to pass judgement in God’s name. If there is a God, then that judgement is his right alone. Christ told us so. The role of the Church should be to offer charity and counsel, and to offer encouragement over condemnation. There is nothing irresponsible about a Church that places generosity and love at the centre of all of its teachings. My Catholic Church is strong enough to believe that.