Sunday, April 04, 2010

Death (and Resurrection?) of the Catholic Church

The Vatican's Holy Week of spin notwithstanding, public regard for the Catholic clergy, from the pope on down, has never been lower in the lifespan of anyone alive today. Yet the child molestation debacle could yet be an opportunity to remake the Church into something more in consonance with the gospel.

Once there remains no Catholic who attributes absurd powers to men who put on their pants one leg at a time like everyone else, it might be possible to suggest that the clergy is the least significant part of Catholicism or Christianity -- just as the "good story" of one Galilean woodworker says.

Keep in mind that in the gospel, Jesus' main response to religion is frustration and outrage with the legalism and hypocrisy of the religious professionals of his time and his religion. There is no command from Jesus to go to church. Pray in secret, do good without claiming credit, Jesus advises.

The one clear set of gospel commands that have unmistakable moral consequences are those concerning feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick and those in prison and so forth.

While the gospel story includes delegation of moral authority to the apostles, there is no incontrovertible establishment of a human organization resembling any of today's churches. Indeed, even in Catholic Christian teaching, the society of forgiven sinners who believe in Jesus Christ is an invisible entity of those imbued with the life-changing gift of faith.

In fact, there is already a vast army of people who do not bother paying attention to the latest papal utterance or Vatican decree. People who don't think they're smart enough to understand theology or interpret writings penned thousands of years ago. People who go about their prayers, their assistance to the needy and their struggles with faith quietly and without seeking the attention of others.

Aren't they the real Church, according to the gospels? According to the gospel, the heavens rejoice more over the repentance of one miserable wrongdoer than over the everyday lives of  church-going popes, priests or deacons.

Now granted, those who follow this blog know perfectly well that I, personally, don't even believe here was a historical Galilean woodworker named Yeshua bar Yosif who walked on water and was crucified. However, if there are people who believe not merely the historical facts, but the theological claims it would behoove them collectively to act and to be, as a group and as individuals, like a people who really believe.

If the pope really believed, wouldn't he be mortified at the thought that, because of his own personal error or omission or whatever, hundreds of boys were raped, some in the confessional? Wouldn't he and his minions be ashamed? Perhaps even fearful of the judgment to come?

Or do they really think that anyone wearing the priestly flea collar gets a Get Out of Hell Free card, valid no matter what they do, say or think? Or do they think that their God is intimidated by the harrumphs of the Vatican's cardinals, just as they assume ordinary mortals will be?

If people in the pews really believed, wouldn't they cease supporting the rotting and scandalous structure built in their name and with their money to the greater glory of the clergy? Just ignore it?

Perhaps, then the Catholic Church as we know it could die and rise in three days, as believers claim happened to someone long ago.
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