Thursday, June 14, 2012


losing team
Now I can no longer ignore the stories of abuse at the hands of priests, the criminal misconduct of church leaders, and the stony response from the top. So today I will write on my own reactions to this ongoing tragedy, and some positive responses that it could eventuate.

Sometimes I feel like I play for a losing team. That is to say, when talking about my place in the Church (and church) I use a lot of underdog rhetoric. A friend taught me how to talk in reference to Christian environmentalism - namely, that Christians are blindly anthropocentric in ways that ignore major elements of Christ's message, the Old Testament histories, Christian metaphysics, and reality. She has said that she no longer identifies with the institution that has failed so miserably, so consistently, so perennially. Now I know exactly how she feels. It is hard to make excuses for this institution that has regularly promoted injustice, inequality, ignorance, and evil since the time of ancient Rome. To zoom out, the ancient monotheist traditions all have more blood on their hands than purification clothes.

Unique, new evil.
But our disaster is unique. Our religion's evil is intimate, personal, and sexual. This evil is in our bedroom, in the sheets next to us. This evil contradicts our last ounce of hope in personal, inexplicable trust. Oh, but this evil is not just localized or singular, it is also systemic and global. Today's religious evil is the worst of both worlds - personal and universal violation.

Overshadowing my sympathy for the abused, my reaction has been vocational, challenging my assumptions about what I want to do with my life, and what I think is important in this world. I have lived on certain premises since middle-school, when I wanted to be a priest, to graduate school in theology, to currently searching for work in churches. But now - what the hell am I doing with this organization!? I am pro-women to the point of philogyny, very pro-queer, sexually liberated, environmentally aware, postmodern, and democratic. Sure I fancy some aspects of traditionalism, but that's mostly in the menswear department, not in theological sensibilities.

Lets see. I appreciate the way tradition, connects us with ancestors (philanderous racists that they were) and with a global community (millions of whom are caught in mortal power struggles in which religious institutions are almost uniformly in the pocket of the persecuted). I deeply appreciate ritual, as this blog exhibits. The Eucharist is occasionally a powerful action. Um....

Whenever I 'do theology', whenever I talk or read about religion and spirituality, or whenever I take part in rituals, I do not focus on the positive. I see myself as an agent of change within a dilapidated ship. And I am not alone - a dozen or more weekly magazines, and countless academic journals, are following the Catholic response with rabid criticism. Respected theologians across the globe (but overwhelmingly in NATO member countries) are being equally aggressive. Leuven taught me that that the movers and shakers in theology are pushing the boulder with me.

What comes next.
So what do we want? This dramatic evil could stoke two centuries-old fights. First, the sexual identity of priests as celibate men. It has been thoroughly shown that married priests are 1)more aligned with the tradition; 2) one of the endearing aspects of the Orthodox and Protestant churches; 3) practically unassailable. Female priests is a fight I see for another 150 years, but this fight might be won in a decade. Assuming, that is, the pope wants it.

Which brings us to the second front - hierarchy. Papal primacy (the Pope having unique and superlative powers compared to other bishops, contrasted with 'collegiality') is a tack on everyone's ass. It is THE impasse of EVERY ecumenical dialogue (that is, the big reason that Anglicans and Lutherans and Catholics and Orthodox aren't one big church with a lot of imaginative parts is almost entirely because of the Vatican's immovable and very Italian position on the role of the pope. yeah really). Papal primacy is also a major blindspot for Christian metaphysics, which had to invent and prop up a ridiculous notion of Truth that allowed Truth to be known specially and infallibly by one person. The pastoral management of parishes, dioceses, regions, countries, and continental churches is sometimes coordinated by, sometimes hindered by, Rome's interference. And, as the Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands demonstrates, even when the ritual and theology are entirely intact, the centralization of authority on Rome is the sole reason we do not have married and female Bishops in every dioceses that wants them. Hans Kung Hans Kung Hans Kung.

B16 has taken some unique steps to deal with the situation - the unprecedented, intensive visit of the Irish bishops, the pastoral letter to Ireland - so there is some hope that he recognizes this as a watershed. And, encouragingly, even uber-Catholic Ireland is not taking shit from Rome anymore, and will civilly prosecute priests as sex offenders, extraditing them from wherever they are transferred to as if they were criminals on the lamb (which they are) (AWESOME PUN!) I hope this spark for Vatican III, the type of council that reinforces VII and dusts off the explicitly unfinished agenda of Church reform that has haunted us since 1965. Well, since 0035.

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