Saturday, July 17, 2010

Truly Disappointing Tone Deafness From the One Institution I Feel has an Absolute Duty to do Better

I very much wish that the Catholic Church could come to terms with modernity by seriously reflecting on Christianity's own history. There is a strong tradition of a prominent female role in the early church, condemning the ordination of women so strongly, especially when the Catholic Church has such real problems as the sexual abuse scandal, is so shockingly tone deaf that I am left completely baffled as to any possible explanation. I find it impossible to read Christian history without thinking that over 2000 years the Chalcedonian versions of Christianity made some serious missteps and would be well served by going back to the very early Christian traditions to reflect upon how they can deal with modern life while remaining true to their traditions. There are more than ample precedents in the church's own history to deal with modern challenges, why making these changes remains so difficult is beyond my powers to rationalize.


  1. The Church's proclamation is complicated as far as the sexual abuse scandal goes. The Church won't cooperate with state police agencies as an official policy, because it has been subject to so much abuse and discrimination and likely will continue into the future. It can't defrock every priest that is accused of abuse, since it might be false. All it can do is proclaim that its a very very bad thing and promise to do better. Eh. At our diocese everyone that deals with children has to take a course on how to deal with sexual abuse. All accusations must be reported to the police. This is America, so there's no problems with doing this. But you might see the problem if you are in Africa where the Church is subject to martyrdom in some places...
    The pope has done a good job explaining the issues here.
    Anyway, as for the women priests. I think it's stupid too. They have started going back to the original sacraments as practiced in the early Church. Women deacons were part of the early Church. Soo, logically, they should ordain women deacons. Yes?? The Church's excuse is that Jesus didn't talk about women too much. But, the Church picked the scriptures and the early Christians decided on women deacons before there was even a Bible. The early Christian knew better what Jesus would have wanted and they saw a place for women as priests. The Church is afraid of change. I don't see why this change can't only happen in places where it would already be accepted. In Africa, there are married priests, since this is more socially accepted. I think it will happen with time.

  2. SirW, I agree with everything you said, especially about the differences between areas where the church is active. Much of the criticism of the handling of the sex abuse scandals ignores that the church is a global institution and so any general policy is likely to have unintended consequences where it fits poorly with local laws. They've still handled it atrociously but the issue really has to be dealt with below the Vatican level.

    My real frustration is that they're handling the message extremely poorly by coming out so strongly on what are really minor doctrinal matters when they do have a real scandal. They have to make it clear they take the sex abuse scandal much more seriously than issues like female ordination or married priests. Instead, they are certainly doing a good job of making it seem like the sex abuse is, at best, an issue of about equal importance to these.

    Also, I had just finished reading MacCulloch's Christianity minutes before posting this. It's frustrating to be reminded of how conservatively Vatican II was implemented, though I think even this could have gone farther, the contraception issue remains baffling to me.

    What I'd really like to see is for organized religion to gain some confidence in its actual spiritual message and to confront its own history. Its impossible for me to read about Christianity's history and look at modern church's and not feel that in addition to preserving the central spiritual message it also preserves cultural adaptations that were necessary to survive in otherwise hostile cultural climates. For instance, Roman patriarchal attitudes (and probably attitudes towards homosexuality which were part of the patriarchal and anti-Greek Roman attitude, though I don't believe we know what the early church thought of this) that don't seem present in the early church. We're better informed now, separating the actual message and teaching of the religion from the accumulated cultural and political compromises made to that message seems like a task that should be doable now. I think it would do a great deal to revive the religion at a fairly low point in its original base too (it's doing wonderfully outside its roots in Europe, though very poorly in its real roots in the mid-east), any reading of the Bible that tries to read it in context and to take the early church into account ends up with a reading far more palatable to modern ears than one that seeks to preserve the cultural preoccupations of rather brutal and pagan civilizations like the Romans.