Monthly Archives: June 2012

Sins of the Fathers: The Original Sins of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy

If you are reading this column only because you want to see what those crazy religious people are talking about now, stick with me.  I intend to address why what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome and why Vatican policies and activities affect both Catholics and non-Catholics around the world.  And I warn you this blog is longer than usual.

When I was in junior high school my mother took me along to the wedding of one of her students at a Roman Catholic Church.  It was the most beautiful ceremony I had ever experienced and I felt drawn to the mass.  When I was old enough to drive sometimes I would sneak to Christmas Eve mass and allow my parents to assume I was going to a Protestant Church so as to avoid stirring their bigotry.  It was early middle age when I converted to Catholicism after many years of being one of those people who said they were “spiritual but not religious,” or “unaffiliated.”  After five sincere and dedicated years of not missing mass one week and putting money in the basket, I began taking mass with the Episcopalians, where I still participate.  (The details of all this are not pertinent to the column but you can e-mail me at goodreligionjb1@gmail.com  if you have any questions.)

Since I started this blog I have written very little about the Roman Catholic Church for several good reasons – but what matters more is why I am writing now.  I read online news every day.  I seek out mainstream media, as well as sources that feature religion.  I want to know what is being said, as much as what isn’t being said.  In the last month, it has been impossible to avoid news about Catholics, and it’s not good.  (I posted a select few of these on my Web site at http://allthingsreligiousonline.com/ .)

Though I hope it is evident in most of my blogs, I do not believe Christianity is the only path to truth, heaven, or anything else.  I embrace pluralism and work to be an equal-opportunity critic of religion.  There are two reasons I’ve gone a little easy on the Roman Catholic Church.  One reason is that there is so much deservedly bad press, it doesn’t require my comment.  The other reason I have been reluctant to comment is that I understand how very large the Catholic Church is and how many different Catholics there are.  The most important distinction for non-Catholics to grasp is the vast difference between the practicing Catholic laity and their supposed leadership.  In my view, the Catholics in the parishes are really the Church and the Rome-based leadership is as corrupt as any other large organization with wealth and power.

I was taught ‘once a Catholic always a Catholic,’ though there was always a difference between ‘Cradle Catholics’ and converts.  Many Catholics feel this way, so when their Church rejects them it is devastating and not as simple as just choosing a different church.  Like all other Christian denominations, the pews are emptier than they used to be and there’s less money.  Catholic schools are a source of revenue and retention for parishes, but with shrinking enrollment many are being closed, along with also shrinking parishes.  Most organizations would consider this a wake-up call.  Not the Roman Catholic Hierarchy.  It ruthlessly enforces authoritarian rule as the ultimate Good Ol’ Boys Club, clawing to survive in a world that has passed them by and now sneers at them.

Here’s what should matter to everyone else: do not forget that the Roman Catholic leadership, based in, well – Rome, is a political organization, and that is a literal definition.  People forget that the Vatican is its own country and functions accordingly.  Not only that, as the wealthiest organization in the world it claims influence on millions of Catholics around the globe.  All these things make the Boys in Rome very appealing to global politicians, and Rome wants to assert that influence in ways that shouldn’t be overlooked by any of us.

Please allow me a sidebar story as an example of our government’s willingness to pay attention to enemies of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy.  Meet late author Penny Lernoux, to whom I was introduced in Matthew Fox’s book The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s secret crusade has imperiled the Church and how it can be saved.  He cites much of her work and met with her prior to her 1989 death from cancer.  In her obituary, the New York Times said, “Ms. Lernoux, who had lived in Latin America since 1962, was a knowledgeable interpreter of religious and political changes in the Catholic Church. Her freelance work appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, The Nation, Harper’s, Newsweek, The Washington Post and other publications.”  She was an established and respected reporter and author.  When Fox met with her in California she showed him the CIA agents that were following her.  Your tax dollars at work, people.  She was of interest to the U.S. government  because she was an investigative reporter who wrote about the unholy alliance between the U.S. government, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and Latin American dictators.  (The stories she reported are very ugly and too complex for this blog.)

Rent the movie “Breach.”  This fact-based movie was about a CIA principal who was one of the most infamous traitors in recent history.  He was a member of “Opus Dei,” a secret cult within the Roman Catholic Church and whose membership includes priests and bishops, chosen and placed by the Vatican.  As Fox said, “Opus Dei has been called the ‘holy mafia,’” (p.115.).  It’s more than Dan Brown’s imagination from the Da Vinci Code.  This is the branch of the Church Hierarchy that gets its hands dirty for the Vatican.

The Original Sin of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy has been the intentional melding of governance and religion, using situation ethics and distorted theology.  The Roman Catholic Church Hierarchy needs to get out of governance, local and global politics, and tend to their own business, which should be spiritual.  Now I do not for one minute expect this to happen any more than I expect them to give up their wealth and influence, but while they cling to the things of this world, no one should take them seriously regarding things of the spiritual world.

The second sin is a result of the first.  Patriarchy.  The institutional misogyny and systematic exclusion of women from church leadership has been a negative and destructive force within the Church.  Make no mistake there is no solid theological basis for this.  I strongly believe that if women were an integral part of leadership, not just nuns treated like slaves and servants, the global pedophile scandal would not have existed.  There would have still been some sick bastards abusing their power (that exists in every organization – religious and secular), but it is less likely they would have been so protected or that it could have been so wide-spread.

To the real, everyday Catholics, I encourage you to stop letting go of your money to such a corrupt hierarchy.  To others I encourage you to distinguish between the hierarchy and the human beings.  For every story of gluttony, I can offer you a story of sacrifice.  There have been many priests, nuns and laypersons who have died trying to help protect the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people, for example.  And that has been to help them survive as human beings, not to proselytize.   As Father Riegler told me, “The Catholic Church has a rich and colorful history.”  I’m looking forward to history and karma catching up with the Hierarchy.

Catholics and Episcopalians say the “prayer of contrition.”  Here is an excerpt I would offer to Rome as a reminder: “Father forgive us.  For what we have done and what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.”

– J.B.

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The Mean Streets of Capitalism

When I think about how many bad bosses I’ve had, I lose count.  One of the worst was a seemingly non-threatening short, middle-aged white female who was a cross between the Snapple Lady and Darth Vader.  She would interrupt me whenever I tried to speak in a meeting, though usually she just excluded me entirely.  She lied about me to her supervisor – and you can bet that it wasn’t flattering.  She routinely requested reports from the database with criteria that didn’t exist and when I miraculously pulled something together (after working late) she either didn’t read the report, or asked for endless modifications.  Of course she was pleasant to everyone else in the department, so they thought she was “sweet.”  While I worked there the organization had a hiring freeze that made it impossible for me to transfer out of her purgatory.  My husband was scheduled for life-threatening/saving surgery, so I could not do anything to jeopardize our health insurance.  It was at this point I begged my doctor to please schedule a colonoscopy so I could get two days out of work – better a camera than her foot.  And I believe there are many people out there with similar stories.

A 2010 study by MetLife (“Study of the American Dream,” April 2010, reported on MSNBC) reported that 55 percent of Americans were worried about losing their jobs.  At the time of that survey 9.5 percent of Americans were out of work.  The numbers are only slightly better now.  There are many Americans who feel they are permanently unemployed or painfully underemployed (which I think is a euphemism for a low-paying job that sucks).  There are also people who may not live in daily fear of job loss, but have awareness that it could go away at any time for no reason related to their own performance.  Then there are the hard-working folks who get an undeserved bad review so the organization doesn’t have to make good on a promised raise or bonus.  If you want to keep your job, check your conscience at the door and don’t question authority.  May I just say this is no way to run a country?

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38417262/ns/business-personal_finance/t/many-fear-job-loss-have-no-savings-it/#.T8L3p1J0mSo

When corporations were originally established in the last century it was considered a “privilege.”  A worthwhile viewing on this is the 2004 documentary, “The Corporation.”  In it Richard Grossman of the “Program on Corporations” said, “In both law and culture the corporation was considered a supported entity that was a gift from the people in order to serve the public good.”  Ah, the common good.  Remember that notion from antiquity?  We don’t need Old Time Religion, we need Old Time Capitalism.  We need the kind of patriotic capitalism where corporate executives are ashamed of layoffs and see a diminished workforce as personal and organizational failure, not shrewd cost-cutting.

As entities, corporations are amoral.  In practice, situation ethics emerge as the elite of the organizations work to protect their own interests.  People without conscience are more valuable to these organizations, and exercising one’s conscience may mean demotion, alienation, or job loss.  Though some attention is paid to public perception (have you seen the new BP tourism ads for the Gulf Coast?), I believe that is to insure we are distracted from the ugly truth.  Corporations relentlessly pursue quarterly profits – even at their own long-term expense.  That pursuit is at the cost of jobs and the health and welfare of our country’s resources and the human beings who live here.  It’s just plain mean out there.

Many people make the mistaken assumption that morality comes from religion.  Religions are just one source for ethical guidance.  This is a secular country and we need a stronger common moral code to keep corrupt and unbridled capitalism from trampling us.  Even in a pluralistic society, that is not an impossible task.  The following are selected ethical suggestions I’ve extracted from several mainstream religions, with the helpful review of Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions.

  • Buddhism – The Eightfold Path: Right intent, Right conduct, Right livelihood
  • Islam – The Five Pillars: Guide us on the straight path
  • Judaism – The Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness
  • Christianity – The Greatest Commandments: Love your neighbor as yourself

The majority of people in this country believe in God and the majority of religions have a valuable moral code.  If we look to how we are alike rather than how we are different it should be possible to reinforce commonality and morality.

It’s just not too much to expect any corporation to serve the common good.  That is not Marxism or Socialism, it is common sense.  Real patriotism is about taking back the Mean Streets and remodeling this country so it is not only there in the future, but more fit for all of us today.  Ranting about abortion or gay marriage while the everyday work place is mean and immoral can’t possibly be what any God wants any of us doing.  Respect your own religion, or respect Secular Humanism, but going to work or finding a job should not be at the expense of our dignity or our soul.  -J.B.