Saturday, May 28, 2011

Whitened Sepulchers

For 22 years, no institution gave me more material and subject matter to talk about than the Roman Catholic Church. They are still a gift, which keeps on giving. While I'm sure they believed my voice was silenced, and they didn’t have to worry about hearing from me ever again, I'm sorry to upset their plans or their psyches.

In Christian scripture, one of the best ways to incur Jesus' wrath was to be guilty of hypocrisy. In a confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy and called them "whitened sepulchers"...pretty on the outside but dead on the inside. A number of news items crossed my bunk recently, which cried out for comment and outrage; and I am only too glad to accommodate.

The National Catholic Bishops commissioned a study by John Jay University Law School investigating the cause or causes of the sex abuse scandals, which have plagued the Church for so many years. On the plus side, the study concluded neither celibacy nor homosexuality were causes of the scandal. The report pointed out as more and more gay priests were ordained, the incidents of abuse actually dropped. However, their main conclusion amounts to blaming the 60's for the actions of abusive priests. The report points out most of the priests engaged in abuse were educated in seminaries in the 40's and 50's and were not prepared for the world they encountered as the 60's hit full throttle. The change in sexual mores, the liberation of cultural standards, moral relativism, changing gender roles and an anti-authority ethos overwhelmed these priests and left them with few moral guideposts to depend upon. Most had gone into the seminary after the 8th grade at age 13 and were developmentally stilted and emotionally walled off and when you combined their naïveté with the free sex, no rules, sex...drugs...rock and roll milieu of the 60's, the resultant abuse grew. You can choose to accept their conclusions or not, but the bishop's money was well spent. The report at no time speaks to the real reason the scandal grew out of control. There is no mention of the role Catholic bishops played in covering up and hiding the actions of a few priests. We now know bishops paid hush money and threatened and intimidated parents and demanded non-disclosure agreements in return for monetary settlements. We now know they moved priests around from parish to parish and we now know they were more concerned with the Church's reputation than they were with the victims. Yes there would have been some sexual abuse in the 60's for the reasons stated. What is totally ignored is an examination of how the damage would have been limited and stopped if the bishops had not acted as they did. Where the hypocrisy rises to new levels is Pope Benedict XVI trying to quickly canonize his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, even though he turned a blind eye to almost every report and every accusation of abuse directed at priests throughout the world.

The Bishops of Wales and England are calling on Catholics in those nations to refrain from eating meet on Fridays all year round. As I grew up, we were not allowed to eat meat on Fridays. This was said to be a small sacrifice to honor the day on which Jesus was crucified. The reality is this prohibition was started in Italy as a way to bolster the fishing economy of the country. The practice was abandoned after the Second Vatican Council and is now only followed during the 40 days of Lent. The Welsh and English bishops are concerned with the drop in membership numbers of the Church and in particular the decreasing numbers of young people joining or remaining in the church. They point to studies, which show, as churches become less demanding of their members, membership drops off. They also point to the fact dietary restrictions are one way to set ones group off from others. Kosher rules distinguish Jews from other religions and these bishops want some practices reinstated to distinguish Catholics from Protestants. The Pope is adding his touch by making it acceptable to have Latin Masses throughout the church. The Latin Mass fell into disfavor after Vatican II because the priest stood with his back to the people, the language was foreign and the people were spectators. The Pope thinks returning to such practices will re-invigorate his church. If the Pope and bishops wish to know why there are fewer young people than ever going to church, perhaps they might look at the fact the average age of a Catholic priest in America and Europe is over 60. The average age of new priests is almost 40. There is no ministry leadership in the church, which has any idea how to appeal to or to cope with the world of my children and their generation. Young females have to participate in a church, which treats women as second-class citizens, and the Church's message to young people has little relevance to the world in which they are immersed. Rather than open the ministry to women, encourage a married clergy and speak in a voice relevant to the times, the leadership is rolling out meatless Fridays and unintelligible religious services.

Finally, House Speaker John Boehner has been invited to give the commencement address at the Catholic University of America. His invitation was approved by bishops and cardinals who sit on the board of trustees of the university. In protest to his invitation, more than 75 faculty members of CU and other Catholic universities have written a letter to Mr. Boehner accusing him of shepherding a budget bill through the house, which will hurt the poor, the elderly and the most vulnerable of American society. They remind Mr. Boehner, his budget fails to uphold basic Catholic teachings. "Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance with one of the church's most ancient moral teachings," the letter goes on to say "...from the apostles to the present, the magisterial (teaching) of the Church has insisted those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. They go on to say his record on this principle is one of the worst in Congress and they call his practices "anti-life". Now here is where the sepulcher gets a good white washing. A spokesman for CU defends the decision to invite Boehner by saying there are diverse viewpoints within the Catholic Church over these issues. I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning. It smells like cafeteria Catholicism.

Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, Senator John Kerry, Senator Ted Kennedy and many other Catholic politicians have been attacked, as has President Obama, for being invited to speak at Catholic universities because they support a woman's right to choose. Regressive Catholics call them anti-life. Some bishops have even called for them to be denied communion because they disagree with the Church on this issue. Apparently, there is no allowance for diverse viewpoints here. Catholic politicians voted to go to war in Iraq, despite the National Conference of Catholic Bishops declaring it an immoral war. What did the Church say about their vote to authorize the use of force and the resulting deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis undoubtedly including pregnant women? Were any of them denied communion or opportunities to speak at Catholic schools or institutions? The Church is opposed to the death penalty, but it has never excoriated a single Catholic politician who supports execution. Pope John Paul II said unregulated free market capitalism is immoral and yet regressive Catholic members of Congress and the Senate have worked for 40 years to deregulate our financial industry and the resulting depression didn't elicit a single word of criticism from Rome. The gospel of Matthew says if you want salvation you must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit those in prison. Whatever you do or don't do to the least of your brothers and sisters you do or don't do to God. In your lifetime, have you ever seen or heard of criticism of a sitting Catholic politician for supporting policies, which make the rich richer and the poor poorer? So, if you oppose abortion you are pro-life in the eyes of the Catholic Church and there is no allowance for divergent viewpoints. However, if you pass budgets which hurt the poor and vulnerable...if you vote for wars which kills hundreds of thousands, if you support execution, the building of vast stores of nuclear weapons and work to bust unions and drive down wages while passing tax cuts for the most wealthy, you are a Catholic in good standing because there are divergent viewpoints on the moral importance of these matters. Boehner, with the worst pro-life voting record in the House, is welcomed at by the bishops and cardinals running Catholic University; but Ted Kennedy is anathema.

I'm tired of the hypocrisy of the leadership of the Catholic Church. They sit back silently as more and more regressives, including people like Newt Gingrich (oh he of three wives), join the church because they feel at home and feel comfortable with its theology and policies. I'm tired of a church, which has strayed so far officially from the vision of its founder; and I understand perfectly why numbers are down. Young people spot hypocrisy faster than most and they just can’t stand it anymore. I watch as church leaders become the new Pharisees living as whitened sepulchers supporting a pro-birth movement while the quality of life of the nation's neediest and most vulnerable is eroding under the practices of people like Boehner and you don't hear a word of protest from them.


  1. Oh Bernie, it's good to hear your voice once again!

  2. Bernie, you have done a thorough detailing of the inconsistencies between theory and practice in the structure of the R C Church. It should not be a great surprise that church officials are subservient to the assumptions of the government in power.
    The 'enemie du jour' changes every few years.
    I can remember the Nazis and the Japs. Then the Wops were enemies too. After the big war, it was those atheistic Commies in the USSR, but most wicked of all were the Chinese Commies, the Red Chinese, and so we had to support the UN Police Action in Korea.
    Then the next Bad Guy: Ho Chi Minh, who was our ally in defeating the Japanese in Southeast Asia in the 1940s, but he had the 'nerve' to study in Moscow and became a Communist.
    So we cut Vietnam in half, Wasted almost 60,000 American dead and how many wounded, and THREE MILLION Vietnamese -- Well they didn't count, because they were Viet Cong or VC sympathizers. That makes everyone an enemy combatant who resists the takeover of their nation by -- by whom? Excuse me?
    You say if you don't fight and win in Vietnam then all the Dominoes will fall over in Southeast Asia. Strange, last time I looked, Saigon was Ho Chi Minh City and Thailand and Laos still have their kings and there's not a sign of Communism in Cambodia, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, ... but I digress. So keep going through the 1980s and 1990s, see how one president after another justified the activities of CIA (economic hit-men) , Black Ops of all kinds, School of the Americas, the military -- so that only the oppressive dictators are allowed to stay in power, not people like Allende of Chile or this president in Venezuela who dares to criticize the U.S. --- He can't be allowed to stay in power, can he?
    -- I notice I am rambling and ranting.

    It is just that we need to focus on the Mother of All Issues, because that is what led to this assumption that ANYTHING for 'National Security' is not subject to review, much less 'spending cuts'. That is unthinkable!

    SO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH will never speak out, but individuals like Phil and Dan Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Ammon Hennacy, the Sojourners, and many in the apostolic tradition, rather than in the Constantine tradition.
    Just try this one link, spend a few hours, and see where you go with it when you are willing to objective and not married to your preconceived assumptions...

    Then pass on to the world what you learn there.
    [It takes courage and the ability to get over being called names.]

  3. Douglas MacArthur should never have tried to take the whole Korean peninsula; the Chinese had already decided that they wouldn't allow it. 80 percent of the UN casualties were incurred after China sent in troops to save Kim Il-Sung.

    However, given the heinous nature of the North Korean regime since, the UN rescue of South Korea per se was noble and justifiable.