In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches. One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch when it bans condoms even among married couples where one partner is H.I.V.-positive. To me at least, this church — obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice — is a modern echo of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized.
Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.
This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.
This is the church of the Maryknoll Sisters in Central America and the Cabrini Sisters in Africa. There’s a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans. After a number of encounters like that, I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.
So when you read about the scandals, remember that the Vatican is not the same as the Catholic Church. Ordinary lepers, prostitutes and slum-dwellers may never see a cardinal, but they daily encounter a truly noble Catholic Church in the form of priests, nuns and lay workers toiling to make a difference.
It’s high time for the Vatican to take inspiration from that sublime — even divine — side of the Catholic Church, from those church workers whose magnificence lies not in their vestments, but in their selflessness. They’re enough to make the Virgin Mary smile.
We can try to elect leaders who will, we hope, help us. That method has been spectacularly unsuccessful. Or we can help other people. That method hasn't really been tried yet. It's very slow and much less pleasant, but it is the right thing to do and in the end it will get us what we want--a society that works together to help those who need it. Empower the poor. The only power we have access to is the power of numbers. Trying to grasp a tiny smidgen of power from politicians, servants of the corporations, is a waste of time and money.
It is because I was raised in the second version of the Church that I can't leave, no matter how monstrous the Vatican gets.
If I may paraphrase Office Space, why should I have to change when he's the one who sucks?
As I've complained elsewhere, Kristof has it exactly backwards.
The horror people have seen from the Catholic Church isn't from the leadership—they weren't buggering young boys in Boston and Ireland or raping Minnesota girls.
It was the run-of-the-mill local Church leaders who were committing the atrocities.
The cover-up may bring down the Pope, but it is the Acts of the Apostates Themselves that have left scars and fears.
Can I just say that every time I hear about the sterling work of the Catholic Church in the Congo I'm reminded of King Leopold's Ghost? I mean, is all that killing, raping, and looting by the Catholic laity and priesthood rendered moot by the struggles of a few modern day religious?
I admire the work of the various missionary groups who have done good work--but since they have been defenestrated along with liberation theology I don't see any reason to associate them with the Catholic Church as such. I hate the romanticization of nuns and nunnerys--you have only to read the accounts of women in those communities before vatican II to know that they were an integral part of crushing the spirit of young women. As the rights and opportunities of women in the outside world have flourished the raging nun with the lead foot on the pedal isn't really that much more astonishing than, say, Hillary Clinton or Janet Napolitano--women with some real power and determination who don't collect dues for the Catholic Church.
I'd rather leave the Church out of it altogether, but you have to go with what you have. People are open to helping others in the name of God--although the right is trying to change that. Imagine, going in public and saying that churches shouldn't concern themselves with social justice. If it werent' for the fact that everyone ignores what Jesus said anyway, I'd be amazed at the gall.
I'm a recovering Catholic, and from time to time I spy in on folks' comments regarding the Church these days, just to see how the wind blows.
This is one of the better posts I've seen in a while.
The Church, as a institution, has done some really sucky things... lately, and over time.
That there are people who do good works, inspired by the teachings and understanding of the core of the Church's beliefs is what makes me optimistic.
Institutions suck. The Church has done some f-ed up things, throughout it's history.
I don't look to Rome to judge the fruits of Catholicism. This, in part, is why I'm an 'apostate'.
What I -do- look to are the works of those who labor to make things right, motivated (at least in part) by the teachings of their faith to make things better for their fellow man.
The Catholic Church is so often seen as 'the enemy' largely because it's been mythologized by both itself and by the people. If this sort of scandal had been occurring by the Mormon Church or the Moonies or whomever, it would have garnered much less attention in our press, I believe, for various reasons; for one, because the 'Church' is seen as somehow monolithic and as having an essence of infallibility... an image and idea that the Church itself has nurtured throughout its history.
What we're seeing here is an -institutional- failing. On a grand scale. It's heinous. Really. What it's not, though, is an indictment of the faith itself.
What have you. I'm a bit drunk this afternoon, so I'm being a bit terse. I guess what I'm trying to add to the dialogue is that it's nice to see a measured commentary about this tragedy. It's refreshing to see someone recognize the good works done in the Church's name, seperate from the perversions done by way of the adminstrative bullshit that is the Vatican.
As I mentioned, I'm an 'apostate'. Still, I recognize what my Catholic upbringing has done to inform my conscience, and I'm forever grateful for that.
I applaud your maturity on the subject, Susan.
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