Is the Catholic Church Out of Control?greenspun.com : LUSENET : Catholicism -- Uncensored : One Thread
The following essay was posted on the "Catholic" board by me and promptly deleted -- or "banned." It was considered "Catholic bashing," but in fact it is a well-reasoned, perfectly legitimate essay published in a legitimate magazine.
Here it is again, for any Catholic or non-Catholic to read -- free from censorship.
The Church out of Control
By Kathy Toner
This article appeared in the Winter 1996/97 issue of Conscience.
Sexual and reproductive ethics and the status of women have been perhaps the chief areas of controversy in the post-Vatican II church. During the eighteen years of the current pontificate, opposition to contraception, the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS, sexuality education, and legalized abortion, to name a few targets, has dominated the hierarchy`s agenda to an extent unparalled in church history. As the millennium approaches and dissent from church teachings on sexuality and reproduction increases, the hierarchy`s crusade to restore what it sees as a traditional moral order has intensified.
In a marked contrast to the Catholic church immediately following the Second Vatican Council -- when engagement with the modern world, concern for social justice and the poor, and the theology of liberation and ecumenism dominated the churchs agenda -- our current era is characterized by a leadership intent on controlling its people and regulating behavior in matters relating to sexuality, reproduction, and gender. An auxiliary bishop in Uganda, Mathias Ssekamanya, said, "It is wrong for married people to use condoms because it means one of them is cheating." In Kenya, a country that has one million people infected with the virus that causes AIDS, Cardinal Maurice Otunga burned boxes of condoms and hundreds of pamphlets promoting safe sex. In his native Poland, the Pope John Paul II started Pharmacists for Life, whose members across the country buy up and destroy Polands already meager stocks of contraceptives. The bishops of the United States have consistently opposed government support for family planning services and have advocated against television advertisements for condoms. The archdiocese of New York threatened to disrupt the distribution of RU-486, the early abortion-inducing drug recently approved for marketing in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration. Father John Bonnici, the director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the archdiocese, promised to "make the Boston Tea Party look like a picnic."
Dissent from church teaching on sexuality and reproduction brings swift and serious retaliation. An example is the case of Ivone Gebara, a Brazilian theologian and nun temporarily reassigned to Belgium for further theological studies because she dared question the churchs stance on abortion in light of her experiences working with desperately poor women in the slums of Recife. In a statement Gebara released in 1993, she wrote: "Legalizing abortion is merely one important aspect of a broader struggle within a society that condones the social abortion of its sons and daughters. A society that does not provide the conditions of adequate employment, health, housing, and schools is an abortive society.... A society that remains silent about the responsibility of men and blames only women, disrespects their bodies and their history, and is exclusive and sexist is an abortive society." The National Conference of Catholic Bishops of Brazil issued a response saying it hoped Gebara "would align her thinking in harmony and faithfulness to the doctrine of the church," and her reassignment to Belgium followed.
What motivates the church to invest such prodigious energy and so much of its moral authority in sexuality and reproduction? What is it about these issues that makes them the hierarchys "raw nerve"? Traditional Catholic teachings on contraception, reproduction, and women are intertwined with attitudes towards women and sexuality that are deeply rooted in a tradition of patriarchy, misogyny, and asceticism. The more these views are pressed, the more Catholic people debate them. More than simply a matter of conflicting moral principles, these debates involve the churchs more fundamental struggle to maintain power based on dominance of male over female, celibate over sexual, clerical over lay, and traditional over modern. At the root of todays struggle, then, is the unwillingness of an ascetic, patriarchal church to accept a modern understanding of sexuality and to recognize women as autonomous moral agents.
Who Is Listening?
Despite their consistent and concerted campaign, this pope and the hierarchy he leads have unquestionably failed in their efforts to rein in the faithful on sexual and reproductive issues. Catholic response seems inversely proportional to the popes demands. Catholics increasingly go their own way, relying on conscience and common sense to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives. Poll after poll shows that Catholics in the United States use contraception as much as their non-Catholic neighbors and choose abortion more than Protestants. And in Brazil, the largest Catholic country in the world, 1 million to 1.5 million women are estimated to have abortions each year, even though abortion is illegal (as it is throughout Latin America, except in Cuba). In Mexico, more than 57 percent of Catholics believe that you can be a "good Christian" and disagree with the church on abortion. Catholics around the world even more widely reject the Vaticans prohibition of contraception. Seventy-one percent of eighteen through thirty-four-year-old Irish Catholics disagree with the Vaticans prohibition of contraceptives. In the Philippines, 80 percent of Catholics approve of using condoms. In Costa Rica, 58 percent of women of reproductive age use contraceptives.
Recent events around the world provide further glimpses of the deep divisions in the church today. In France, on the eve of the most recent papal visit to the "daughter of the church," a spontaneous movement of dissenting Catholics grabbed the headlines. To protest the popes teachings on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality, a small but symbolically significant number of people contacted their home parishes and asked that their names be removed from all parish records, including baptismal registries, effectively "unbaptizing" themselves as Catholics. Despite intense opposition from the church, Poland recently restored legal abortion and took steps to promote sexuality education and contraception. European Catholics, as part of the "We Are Church" initiative, have gathered more than two million signatures calling for major church reforms, including achievement of equal status for women, a more positive attitude towards sexuality, and a rethinking of teachings on contraception. A similar "We Are Church" campaign launched in the United States in 1996 is seeking one million signatures calling for a Third Vatican Council to address these issues.
If at First You Dont Succeed
Having tried moral authoritarianism and then exhortation and persuasion to get Catholics to accept its teachings on family planning, sexuality, and women -- and having failed -- the Vatican has taken to the political battlefields, where it seeks to institutionalize positions and prohibitions rejected by a majority of Catholics globally. In addition to preaching around the world, this pope and his bishops have not hesitated to exploit the churchs political power to enshrine traditional Catholic teachings on sexuality and women in public policy. Unable to persuade Catholics to obey these rules, the Vatican instead seeks to change the rules for everyone, Catholic or not.
Witness the role that the Vatican has played in recent United Nations conferences. Romes political strategy became startlingly apparent in 1994 during the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), in Cairo. There the Vatican, taking advantage of its special status as a "state" in such UN conferences, with standing equal to bona fide nations, teamed up with conservative Muslims to curtail ICPD commitments to safe motherhood, including family planning services and nonpunitive health care following illegal, unsafe abortions. Vatican delegates managed to obstruct the conference for days with quarreling over abortion. Its campaign continued in 1995 at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing; in 1996 at the Second UN Conference on Human Settlements, in Istanbul; and, to a lesser degree, at the just-completed World Food Summit, in Rome.
A new low in these efforts was the Vaticans decision in November to withdraw its symbolic support for UNICEF, the United Nations childrens charity. Citing concerns about UNICEFs alleged provision of family planning services, the Vatican has suspended its annual donation, warned "the Catholic faithful" of UNICEFs alleged transgressions, and asked Catholics to reconsider their support of UNICEF. Despite its well-established record of caring for the worlds poorest and most vulnerable citizens, UNICEF is the latest target of the Vaticans obsession with enforcing its absolutist line on family planning. Once again, the church leadership has chosen to squander its moral and political capital on these issues. Where, Catholics ask, are the equally vociferous, consistent, and global efforts to oppose war and the proliferation of nuclear weapons? Where is the campaign to institute laws to protect innocent lives from economic injustice? In the United States, the bishops have issued stirring pastoral letters on these topics, but -- in comparison to abortion -- war and economic structures seem to be a distant second in importance.
Countless times the Vatican has used its enormous influence to promote justice and to focus attention on human suffering -- by no means has it abdicated this responsibility. But in its war against a modern understanding of sexuality, women, and reproduction, the Vatican will hold all else hostage. And as the Vatican and the conservative hierarchy lose their control and credibility in these areas, they only intensify their political pressure, which in turn leads to more dissent, more desertion, and more disaffection among a Catholic people no longer willing to blindly follow church teachings.
Even though Catholics largely ignore and reject the Vatican`s teachings on sexuality and reproductive health, the Vaticans promotion of this agenda still does harm. One only need look at the number of women -- roughly estimated at 100,000 -- who die each year from unsafe abortions in countries where abortion is still illegal and where there remains great pressure to bear many children. The churchs advocacy clearly takes a toll in lost lives and human suffering. Many Catholics wonder what positive strides might have been made had the Vatican and the hierarchy not squandered the churchs moral authority on an obsession with sexuality and reproduction, but focused instead on calling us to task for our failures to address the worlds grinding injustice and poverty. And many believe that a focus on social justice would lead to a deeper understanding of women and families, sexuality and reproduction, and to more compassionate sexual and reproductive ethics.
-- Frederick Sharpe (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 21, 2000
Catholics claim that God is all powerful and can do anything. I believe God has an exalted body and he has a wife, our Mother in Heaven. He has children of which Jesus is one of them.
Oh, now you say that God is a spirit and does not have a body. I say, if he is all powerful, and can do anything, there is no reason he cannot have a body and a wife, which is our Mother in Heaven.
If God the Father is a God and his Son Jesus Christ is also a God, the likelyhood exists that there are many Gods throughout the huge Universe, who also create Sons who become Gods.
Those of you who believe He is only a Spirit, what a sad perception you have of a God who is a Spirit just floating around throughout the Universe, lonely, wishing he could have a wife and family like us mortals.
Catholics, take off your blinders and stop thinking of God as a Spirit, who can do anything, but the one thing he cannot do is have a body and have a wife and family.
That is unbelievable thinking and total stupidity!
-- Put that in your pipe and smoke it. (email@example.com), August 21, 2000.
In addition to preaching around the world, this pope and his bishops have not hesitated to exploit the churchs political power to enshrine traditional Catholic teachings on sexuality and women in public policy. Unable to persuade Catholics to obey these rules, the Vatican instead seeks to change the rules for everyone, Catholic or not.
Many Catholics wonder what positive strides might have been made had the Vatican and the hierarchy not squandered the churchs moral authority on an obsession with sexuality and reproduction, but focused instead on calling us to task for our failures to address the worlds grinding injustice and poverty. And many believe that a focus on social justice would lead to a deeper understanding of women and families, sexuality and reproduction, and to more compassionate sexual and reproductive ethics.
Powerful essay. I have a hard time believing that anyone would consider this essay Catholic bashing. I, like you, consider this to be a well-reasoned, perfectly legitimate essay.
It is a very frightening thing to me that the Vatican would seek to use political power period. But to seek to use it to 'force' their teachings on non-believers, on my daughters and I, makes me extremely angry.
Thanks for posting the essay and I look forward to reading more here.
-- Debra (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 21, 2000.
Debra -- thanks for contributing. I like your essays on the other boards. I think too that there's nothing threatening or wrong about this essay -- yet it was deleted outright. Just erased. The Catholics on the "Catholic" board cannot bear to even be in the same room with legitimate dissension, especially when it's done as well as this.
Pipe, interesting concept. I don't think I've ever heard that particular belief before, but I like what you're driving at. The Hindus believe that god is in everybody, in every living thing. I like that concept as well. You're right -- why do we always spiritualize god so that it's something remote and unattainable, instead of something concrete and personal?
-- Frederick (email@example.com), August 22, 2000.