Friday, August 20, 2010

Replotting the Course Toward Iona

Today I read an article in the Irish Times, "Church's Sexual Theology in 'Deep Crisis' "

Like so many news reports, articles, and comments coming from Ireland these days, it got me thinking. What happened to create the monster that evolved in the motherland? I grew up in an Irish family and culture transported to the USA, in an Irish neighborhood, or ghetto in NYC, and was educated by Irish sisters--great ones, and we had mostly all Irish priests--also wonderful. The Faith was a lived Faith, not an empty ritual. It was also very communal--people knew one another and cared about each other...yes, NYC in the 50's was community oriented! The word "ghetto" is not always a negative term as is used today. Our ghetto, or neighborhood preserved some wonderful things, and passed them to me. So I grew up knowing and loving my Faith as I practiced it in my religion. It was real, not empty. It is still real.

Yet, all the horrors we have heard about these past several years are also true. There were among us, in our communities, sick leaders, men and women who should never have been in priesthood or religious life, but they ended up there (many fleeing abuse, and sexuality, and in some way needing to gain a power over their own lives again, and others just seeking power), and they did tremendous harm to many innocent people, many of them very young.

But, nobody is born a monster. Monsters are created! Look at Frankenstein's creation! If one works hard at it one can create a monster. One aspect of the Church worked particularly hard at it--that theology of human sexuality which ended up perverting innocent believers, some who truly loved God, into individuals who were either so obsessed with forbidden sex, and/or so stunted in their maturation as humans--and as Christians--that they became the poster men and women for what today is called "arrested development." Today's headlines, and those of the past several years have told us all about their legacy in the Church.

But wait! Surely not the Irish Church! Not the Church that brought the Faith to much of the planet! Not my Church! Not the Flagship, looked to by so many as so holy! Well, it seems so, and those who understand that the American Catholic Church was dominated by the Irish hierarchy and clergy until about 15 years ago might see the knotwork of history at work if we look closely at it, and the dynamic at work in oppressed people.

I call it the "kick the dog cycle" and it can be found all around us where violence takes hold in many forms. Mom or Dad yells at or smacks the child, and the child--totally without power but needing some form of power as all humans do--kicks the dog. Dogs often just take it. Some may bite back or become vicious, but dogs generally just take it. People generally do not. People find ways of letting out the rage. When an entire people are kept down, without power of self-determination, politically or spiritually, when they are smacked around by Mother Church, or some other authority figure(s) in power over them, they may appear to just take it like dogs--but there is a rage within.

Where does that rage go? Some obviously are healed by other forms of love in their lives, and they may go on to direct the strong emotions, and even righteous anger into calls for justice. They may become prophets or heroes in their own societies, or Churches. Or, if there is not enough love to help them heal, they may just become monsters, kicking the "dogs" in their power to kick. Some rage in frustration on themselves. Alcohol abuse in the past and present, and today drug abuse or other addictions--to kill the pain and free something inside. Others rage against family, or society. Prisons are filled with unresolved victims of abuse and of grief. Some find a legitimate outlet in various forms of power, for good or ill. The movie about the Magdalenes brought the negative dynamic out--young women confined and mistreated, then remaining to become religious in those same institutionalized convents--with subsequent power over the next generation of "prisoners." The same can happen with those abused in their homes, or schools. They, if not healed, can go on seeking some form of power over their own lives, and it may lead them into careers where that power is over others. The ultimate power in Ireland (after the English government) was to be had in the Church. When the English government rule ended, the Church was then on top, and rather than being the ally of the people, they became the rulers (not unlike what happened in Poland). The Church then became a great place to turn to gain power in some form, at some level--if only to be revered as a "good sister" or "good priest."

The United States saw some of this when settlers and missionaries who had lived through attempted genocide, the murder of their culture and language, came to the United States and did the same to the Native people in this land that they has suffered in Ireland. They kicked the dog when they had the ecclesiastical and civil power to do so! Surely they were not the only ones to come! Of course not--good people came too and tried to share the Good News, or just live descent lives to make things better for themselves and their families, but still the Christian Faith was often imposed rather than shared, and the Natives who resisted the settlers and the American army were murdered, and the result is the Native population today that we see in the United States. And they brought the American and Canadian form of the work houses seen in the Magdalenes...and many American and Canadian Native people are STILL trying to heal over all that went on in them, with the approval of our governments--just as England, then, later, the Republic of Ireland were in bed with the Church and used the work houses as virtual prisons (even when intended for education). Power can and does corrupt, if it is not the Power of Love.

In the background of the clergy and religious sisters and brothers was the religious formation which was drilled into every Catholic about sex and sexuality. Add repressed sexuality to the need for power...and there before you is a particular kind of monster: the one we read about too often today . The sexual predator seeking various prey of various ages or gender.

So, the article I read today in The Irish Times actually made me happy. "Church's Sexual Theology in 'Deep Crisis' " What could be better? What could help more than to reevaluate the horrors passed to so many of us by the guilt-ridden repressed teachers who themselves knew nothing of healthy loving sexual relationships? How could they know? These relationships were forbidden them.

There is so much history at work in all this...this obsession with sexuality, this negativity in the Church, which spilled over into society in various ways. (An interesting read on this history is Gary Macy's book on THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF WOMEN'S ORDINATION, which outline just how it all fell, or was shoved, into place within about 100 years--how a deliberate imposition of universal celibacy required an entirely revised theology and attitude toward women and sex imposed on the Church.)

So, what about this current crisis? We can bet the solution is not going to happen overnight, and most likely never going to come down to us from hierarchy or frightened clergy. There is so much to lose and they can't see what it is they will gain, that we will all gain. But there is hope because there are some bishops and priests who "get it" and are truly trying to reform the Church. And even more hope comes from what we are seeing in Ireland and Europe, as we have seen in Canada, the USA, Australia over the past 25 years--passionate reformers among the laity. People who know the difference between their Faith and the corruption of the clergy and religious and the Church leadership. Indeed, this entire reform flows from the laity's outcry, like those weeping over their children whom we read about in various parts of Scripture. Those biblical wails are heard around the world now, shaking the very heavens, and have begun the reform of Christianity, and they have come from mothers and fathers wanting their children safe, and from victims wanting more for themselves and their children.

I have my own ideas regarding what might help heal the Christian Church generally, the Roman Catholic and all other denominations suffering from the negative attitudes toward sexuality. I think the solution is in a better understanding of human sexuality as God's gift of life, rather than as tainted by original sin as Augustine taught (and is still taught). Augustine's thoughts on concupiscence just may be wrong, and a projection of his own guilt, rather than how God sees things in the creatures God created and allowed to evolve as we are still evolving.

I have a personal interest in reading the Augustine/Pelagian disputes and those that continued after Pelagius. I recently read an interesting essay "Saint Augustine and Conjugal Sexuality" well-written by Msgr Cormac Burke (a priest in Opus Dei, & a judge of the Roman Rota who also teaches at the Roman University of the Holy Cross), and although Burke is clearer than one might read in Augustine's own words, the teaching remains that sin is tied to sexual desire and activity. The dark clouds over the Church's teachings, and even worse--over the stupid and clearly distorted versions of those teachings given by ignorant religious and clergy over the centuries have done even more harm than Augustine, imo (and I can hardly believe I just wrote that given my own opinions on Gus).

But, how many people REALLY care about being truly educated on the moral teachings of the Church? Sure, some have just given up sensing the stupidity of some attitudes in the Church, or weary of trying to find Christ amidst the corruption. What about the others--those who are still "in the Church" the pay, pray and obey population? In fairness, even today when the Church no longer has the power to stop us, how many REALLY bother to go beyond a 6th or 8th grade elementary school religion class (although they may themselves be high school, college, or university educated in other areas), which leaves them with only the milk, the child's understanding of religion? Surely we have our dedicated laity who do care, but many just do not and are satisfied to be herded into Churches and never question. THAT, imo, is the greatest challenge of Christianity in general--the education of adult believers into the meat of adult Faith. Again, in fairness--not all religious (in the past) had the greatest of religious education before they were put in the classrooms to teach religion--so they passed on what they themselves were given--often only from their parents who themselves had the fear of God beat into them, repeating an ignorant cycle. Many religious were only sent to normal schools, then later to college in the last 50 years, so it's only with more recently educated Catholics that questions are REALLY being asked and answered.

A dear member of my family was lured by the extremes of distortions by ignorant Roman Catholics because he was NOT educated beyond the limitations of childhood religion, yet he had been to college. So, rules and regulations were canonized, rather Charity. It happens more than we know, and to those we love--not because they are bad, but for lack of advanced education in their OWN Faith. People seek the security of rigid law and order when they think they need it, rather than the security of placing the emphasis on participating in advancing a rule of Charity in this world (the reign of God). And there are ALWAYS religious leaders happy to be those rigid law-enforcers! People then remain in childish FEAR of God and religious laws when they do not take responsibility for maturing in the Faith as they would in civil affairs. Most people, even less formally educated people, read the news papers and keep up as best they can on current events--yet many of the same individuals have no idea what the Church teaches, have no real familiarity with Vatican II (or any other council), and depend ONLY on the Sunday sermon at best, if at all.

Those societies who have been even more brow-beaten by the clergy (i.e. Ireland and others) may have profound faith and a spirituality that goes deeper than any religious laws that were used to subjugate them, but they are only now coming out from those chains of guilt and power. It's all going to take some time. Personally? I rejoice for all that has gone on in the past 25 years as people cry out, and grateful it continues in Ireland. Part of me hears the echo of Moses "Let my people go!" I have said, and now I think wrongly, that "the Flagship is sinking"...rather, I believe it is truly setting course in the right direction AGAIN, and the Faith will be stronger for it. The flagship is free to face Iona through the storms! Ireland is ripe for to reclaim Celtic Christianity, not to depart from the historic Faith, but to embrace it in that native spirituality that gave us the best of the Faith, and shared it with the world. As my old mother said of Celtic Christian spirituality after reading about it in Philip Sheldrake's book LIVING BETWEEN WORLDS: "Sure, now we have a name for what we've always been!" It's time to reclaim it.

Solution to the crisis? Education and an emphasis on the Gospel mandate as the primary focus for Christians.

O Lord, You have struck the mighty from their thrones and have raised up the lowly.