Holy Water Closets
Like 10% of the US population, I am what is commonly known as a “lapsed” Catholic, making me part of what would be the third largest denomination in America. Although I’m probably not all that representative of my brethren, given that from about age 8 on I didn’t believe a word of what I heard in church (with the possible exception of the gossip, that is), I can certainly sympathize with them. It must be hard when the religion of one’s baptism, family, and cultural milieu turns into (even more of) a corrupt, authoritarian, crime-tainted, unaccountable political actor as bereft of any moral authority as it is actively hostile to one’s most deeply held convictions.
There were few hints that the Roman Catholic Church would turn into a tawdry, costumed version of the Family Research Council back in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s; we had a kindly old Monsignor who visited my mother in the hospital when she had cancer even though she had long since stopped going to Mass after her divorce and remarriage rendered her a slut in the eyes of the church. We also had younger priests who were outspokenly opposed to the war in Vietnam and South African Apartheid. I served as an altar boy three days a week at 6:25 am Mass, went to Catholic summer camp, and attended CCD religiously (pun intended) until well into high school. The church was opposed to abortion and birth control, of course, but due to the fact that nobody listened or cared, chose to be more outspoken about the death penalty and such.
When I became an adult, I basically adopted Alexander Cockburn’s attitude about religion: he supported compulsory prayer of the sort to which my atheist self had been subjected, because it provided ammunition to debate the faithful and was “an inoculation against future religious infection.” My Catholic upbringing meant I could visit the great cathedrals of Europe and tutor my Jewish traveling companions about making the sign of the cross with holy water and genuflecting, so as not to appear boorish when we were really only there to look at the architecture. When they asked me about the wisdom of spending so much money and centuries of work on buildings that served no purpose compared to something really useful like a library or museum, I had no good answer for them, but I wasn’t, well, embarrassed.
But then things changed. Just as the child abuse scandal began sweeping the globe, the Church decided to become part of the Religious Right, and worse, just another offensive mouthpiece of the Republican Party. Not that I blame them; had they been a business, such a move would have been eminently reasonable. They could clearly see that while freer, more secular countries were abandoning the Church in droves, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia were far more patriarchal and socially backward, and when you’re faced with hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts for despicable crimes, something called “tort reform” has undeniable appeal. But to claim that God would approve of such mercenary cravenness is a stretch at best.
By the time the church hierarchy had joined the worst cracker bible-bangers in their opposition to equal rights for gays, and began meddling in US elections by threatening to deny Communion to pro-choice Democrats, my amiable indifference turned to something closer to loathing, where it remains today. The sheer chutzpah, if you’ll pardon the expression, of an outfit up to its cassock collars in an ongoing sexual abuse scandal running around denouncing the supposed immorality of others about whom it has no knowledge was bad enough; the audacity of being so brazen about it was, to me, nothing short of evil, at least in the way I was taught to understand it.
Last week it was revealed the the Los Angeles Archdiocese emptied $115 million from a fund dedicated to “perpetual” care for the buried remains of its duped flock’s loved ones to pay out abuse judgements at the same time it was spending God knows what to push antigay Prop 8 (in league with the Mormons, no less!), which ought to have been the final straw, but I know I need only wait another week or so for the next, equally horrifying, shoe to drop.
Sadly, the overdue retirement of the Church’s SECOND Nazi-loving Pope is unlikely to change this dreary and repellent dynamic, given that the entire hierarchy, including the recently installed Archbishops in both San Francisco and even here in Portland ought to be wearing black armbands as well. The ship is still sinking, and there are plenty more rats where he came from.