I turn 75 this year. I am a Cradle Catholic, educated for 12 years by the nuns, a regular church attendee, and a person in conflict not with God, nor even with the Church itself, but occasionally with the hierarchy. I fear that due to the clergy abuse scandal and the subsequent cover-up by the bishops, they have lost the moral high ground they once occupied so firmly. I do not trust them as I once did. Let me tell you why, and share a few key points from a lifetime of observation and personal experiences:
1. I learned that we all are “Cafeteria Catholics.” We select the beliefs we can understand and accept, that make sense to us, and rationalize rejecting the others. The bishops seem scandalized by this behavior and yet, I think they set the pace. The psalmist wrote: “Put not your faith in princes.” Jesus himself said, “Sell what thou hast, give to the poor, and follow me.” And let’s not forget Jesus’ observations that, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven.”
How do the bishops receive this instruction? They don’t. The exempt themselves from it. They call themselves “princes,” use regal titles to address each other, wear elaborate and royal robes, and live in comfort if not splendor.
Another example: In all the New Testament, I can’t find a single sin that so enraged Jesus as child abuse. Jesus said of the abuser who brought scandal to a child: “It is better that he have a millstone attached to his neck and be cast into the deepest part of the sea.”
How did the bishops receive this instruction. Not well. They covered up for the abusive priests, transferred them multiple times, and, in effect, empowered these rapists to continue their reign of terror among the Church’s most vulnerable members: Our children.
2. I learned that the bishops have a different priority than I do, and that me and mine can get crushed in the crunch. The bishops’ #1 priority is to protect the reputation of the institutional church, and themselves from “scandal” (which, in other areas of human endeavor, is known as “whistle blowing”).
“Scandal,” which I call the “manufactured sin,” has an interesting etymology. Originally, it referred to a sin, committed by the hierarchy, that brought shame upon the Church. Over the years it evolved into a sin committed by the laity, when they revealed a sin committed by the hierarchy, that brought shame upon the Church.
I was taught in religious education: “Touch not God’s Anointed (which, in the Old Testament, referred to the King), and “If you reveal the sin of a priest, even if true, your sin is greater than his.”
Some of the clergy confused Respect and Reverence with Licence.
3. I learned about the Primacy of Conscience long ago from my own religious education in Catholic schools. The nuns taught us that God gave us intelligence, education, experience, and (hopefully) a well formed conscience to test ideas and instructions before we accept them. Jesus didn’t accept all the pronouncements of the temple high priests and Pharisees. He thought for Himself, called a thief a thief, and encouraged us to do the same. He suffered and died for His honesty.
So, here I am at 75, still a believer, still a Catholic, and not about to be driven off by anyone. I am a “Tip O’Neil/Ronald Reagan/ Madeline Albright Catholic:” Specifically:
1. A Tip O’Neil Catholic, because Tip said, “All politics is local.” I think that “All religion is local.” As long as I’m with a pastor I trust, and a faith community that I respect, I don’t need princes, oversight, and overhead.
2. A Ronald Reagan Catholic, because Ron said,”Trust and verify.” I listen, receive the message in good faith, and then run it against my intellect, education, experience, and conscience as I was taught. Then I decide.
3. A Madeline Albright Catholic, because she said, “Be sure but not certain.” I believe in the Golden Rule, Jesus’ own “Love thy God…Love thy neighbor..” and the Ten Commandments. The rest, as they say, is commentary. These are the universal, timeless truths. Some of the others, as the kids say, “Not so much.”
In summary, I am hanging in there despite the disappointments, the indults, the “mental reservations,” the secrecy, and the threats, spoken and implied. I’ve been a Catholic as long, or longer, than many of the people cracking the whip. I’m not always right, but I’ll always give it my best shot, and I’ll try to admit it whenever I’m proven wrong.
If the Inquisition asks you where to find me, just say I’m in a cave, somewhere in Tora Bora. No further contact information is available. I don’t think the Holy Inquisition, as yet, has drones.