So, Cardinal O’Brien has admitted that his behaviour over the years has “fallen beneath the standards expected of me”. It is unclear what this euphemism really means, as Catholic views on sexual standards don’t seem allied with those of the mainstream i.e. sex is not ok if you are not married, gay, or a member of the clergy. Suffice to say it is not clear that O’Brien has broken any laws, just some stupid internal rules, so I won’t dwell on the nature of the offences.
This blog post is not simply the rantings of a disinterested atheist. I have my own beef with the Catholic Church. Those who know me might be surprised to know I am actually a Catholic, at least I think I am, I’m a bit hazy on the rules. My parents are lapsed Catholics and both sets of grandparents were fervent Catholics. I was baptised in the Catholic Church. Apparently despite being an atheist now the event of my baptism makes me a Catholic for life, and beyond presumably. Like I said I’m not clear on the rules of membership, so I am happy to be corrected, but it seems to me that being a Catholic is a bit like being signed into to a spam newsletter, you don’t remember signing up, and despite looking around the website you can’t find the instructions for how to leave. They make it deliberately difficult, requiring a written request to take you off their mailing list, which quite frankly you are never going to get around to. You can put them in your spam folder but somehow they keep getting through the filter.
I said my grandparents were Catholics, so you can imagine how it went down when my 19 year old unwed parents announced my impending arrival. My paternal grandparents refused to acknowledge my existence until I was about 10 or 11. That is not the only negative impact the church has had on my life and that of my family. The Catholic Church and its hypocritical dogmatics have wronged my family in other devastating ways, so my disenchantment goes beyond my feminist and moral principles.
But I can’t really claim to be an insider in the Church. When insiders start to question the value and morals of their own long supported organisation it is a sign that institution is really in danger. Joanna Moorhead is a journalist and long time member of the Catholic Church, about as much an insider as a woman can get in the Church. She has written and edited religious publications, and today she has publicly professed her dissatisfaction with the leaders of her faith. You can read the full article here but I wanted to pick out some of what I think are the most important points:
…our church has come to be seen entirely in terms of the men who run it. That, of course, is understandable: not only do they hold resolutely on to the reins of power, but they are also the ones who have perpetrated the crimes. One of the more unsettling moments of the pope’s UK visit in 2010, for me, was when he called on “the whole church” to atone for its crimes. But those were not my crimes, Pope Benedict: I am not one of the ordained men who has abused children or helped cover up their abhorrent behaviour, and I resent being treated as one.
In fact, all around me I increasingly hear these words from my fellow Catholics: not in my name. These crimes that have been committed, this power that has been abused, this trust that has been betrayed: not in our name, Your Holiness, has it happened. Guilt has dogged my church through the centuries, and it’s a guilt that has often been planted most deeply among the lay people: every week at mass for many years I have heard the priest in the pulpit reminding and cajoling and persuading us to go to confession, to repent, to bathe in our guilt and be freed from it. Well, not this time: this guilt is not mine; this is the guilt of the hierarchy, the guilt of the priests, the guilt of the ordained men who run my church and who have been determined for centuries that they would not share the running of the church with anyone who was not one of them.
Lay women, the biggest group within the church, are the most silent of all silent majorities…They are also, I believe, its wisdom, its common sense and its conscience. If the Catholic church had done as most institutions have done over the last 30 or so years, and invited women to become its leaders alongside men, it would have discovered – as institution after institution has discovered, the world over – that it could not run itself properly without them.
There is not much left for me to say, Joanna has made her eloquent plea to the Church. I don’t expect them to listen to me but I can only hope they start listening to their members and make radical changes than mean that people’s lives are no longer devastated by the acts of men who abuse the power they hold.