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.



  1. Ché Pasa says:

    Exactly. I don’t think anybody has written about it as succinctly and coherently as you have, Hag.

    I can only imagine that Ratzi is a sacrifice to preserve the institution of the Church — whether by his own choice, forced out by some Divine Agency, or by the infernal Vatican politics, I don’t know and don’t much care, but his going is a necessity if the Church is to survive.

    And since the Church is the model for so many other sacred and profane institutions…. there’s no telling how this saga will end.

  2. cocktailhag says:

    Thanks, Che. I was stewing about it all day and I could think of no way to make a post about it even slightly funny. Cynic that I am (and not for nothing), I think Ratzi leaving is like Eric Cantor “rebranding” the Republican party. It’s just changing the hood ornament on the Edsel.
    The church is just going the way of all religions when they become politicized to such a gross extent: somewhere between the Taliban and Scientology. The tolerance of the former and the business focus of the latter.

  3. nswfm says:

    The LA abuse, in one of the world’s largest media markets, the vatican bank scandal, the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland AND his other scandals against gays, women, etc and pretty soon the power players are saying, “dude, you gotta go before the butler’s cache comes out and blows all of us out of the water”.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Trouble is, the next one will almost certainly be just as bad, so they’ll just continue to bleed support from nearly everywhere. Glad I’m not them.

  4. dirigo says:

    Well if Fox News had been covering the Vatican’s Diet of Worms in 1521, it might have incited Pope Leo’s factotums right there to call for Martin Luther’s head.

    Instead, Luther was merely excommunicated. He went home, and there, under the protection of German dissenters, he kept agitating, mostly about a somewhat less sensual exchange offered at the time by Roman clerics.

    What set Luther off on the path of reformation was not so much sexual peccadilloes (though he was concerned about Leo as an alleged debaucher-in-chief), but rather the phony sale of indulgences: pieces of parchment stuffed with all sorts of sacred promises, tied neatly with red ribbons, that only rich men could afford because, well, the price was the price.

    These big daddies, while thinking they were buying tickets to heaven for the whole family, also dealt in arranged marriages, which sent many a reluctant daughter (gorgeous or ugly) off to a forced lifetime partnership with this or that prince of darkness, duke of earl, or royal toad – sometimes even to a reformed Viking long boat captain.

  5. mikeinportc says:

    Ol’ Ratzi was 18 when he was in the army, and became a POW. At that age, I can’t really hold it against him. One point about that is instructive, and apparently lost on his friends, the Bushes. He has a positive feeling for the U.S., because of how well he was treated as a POW. I expect that some of our recent prisoners won’t be nobodies forever, such as in Libya.
    One thing , along with all the rest you mention, he can be faulted for, is being (personally) in business with the Bushes, including Neil. Still is, last I knew. Of course, given who is involved, you can correctly assume that many were fleeced, in various ( and still ongoing?) shady deals. Also, of course, that all the trouble sort of faded away, with no VIBs paying any price.

    Religiously, I ( & my sister) had almost the same childhood, and ended up at the same place, CH. :) Then a couple things changed. We moved to where the nearest church was about six miles away, and my mother became illegitimate . :) )) ( I remember her grumbling about it, and still does occasionally). My grandmother had her first marriage annulled (Mom considers it a casualty of war [WWII]), so that she could take communion. My brothers missed out on most of the program. Now , of course, my brother ( not your look-alike), that was the most rebellious, and least religious, is becoming Mr. Catholic, prone to angry ( for him) moralizing rants about the declining virtue of “people, these days”. * rolled eyeballs, all around* On the positive side, odds are that when they get older, at least half my nephews and I will have something to bond over. ;)

    My doubts came at about the same age as you, CH. I had just watched a National Geographic special, the night before, on the discovery of the Tasaday people in the Phillipines. Our priest seemed fairly progressive, in the same vein that you mention. That day, however, he apparently felt compelled to give a sermon on heaven,hell, and belief. I sat there thinking about the juxtaposition of how the Tasaday thought, and lived , vs many of the believers around me. They had no words for the singular possessive, hate, anger, war, and such things. So…. why is it that these people, who seem to live as close to Jesus’ ideal as humanly possible, are going to hell, for not believing in some guy that lived thousands of miles away, 2000 years ago, that they’d never heard of? Meanwhile believers, who also believe in war , and all the other vices humans are prone to, can go to heaven, if they just believe, and perform the proper rituals? Nope!

    • cocktailhag says:

      I remember sitting in church, listening to some errant nonsense from the bible (which struck me as no more believable that Greek mythology, of which I was a fan), and thinking something was wrong.
      Surely, I thought, all these grownups, in our parish almost universally educated professionals, couldn’t really believe such horseshit. To my third grade mind, it was either A) They all really were gullible fools, or more likely, B) They’re just pretending to believe it because they were conformist drones. “B” seemed more likely.
      The same thing happened in my family with the recidivism, too. My aunt and uncle, who were not just mean and abusive, but also smoked, drank, and swore a blue streak, had one thing going for them when they were younger: they weren’t holy singers. Then, as they got older and more and more right wing, they started to get more and more devout. Of course, their own children loathed them even more than I do. Once they stunned their daughter by informing her that it was no longer “done” for children to dress up on Halloween as witches or devils. She hung up the phone, turned to her daughters and said, “Which one wants to be a witch, and which one wants to be a devil?”

  6. timothy3 says:

    had they been a business, such a move would have been eminently reasonable.

    They are, of course, and like other businesses they seek market share; voila! The Philippines, Africa, and so on.

    Additionally, in search for analogs, they’re much like the banks, the SEC and the credit rating agencies in that they first denied there was a problem regarding (in this instance) molestation, then they, penitent and all, promised they were addressing that non-existent problem in-house (so much for pagan law) , followed by paying out untold sums scratched from the faithful (including the dead; and to think the GOP has the patent on the dead re: voter fraud!).

    I suppose the Catholic Church is, generally and historically, the template for our financial system.

    Probably overreach — although maybe not — but it makes me feel better to say it.

    • cocktailhag says:

      It could be like any pariah industry; the tobacco and fossil fuel purveyors come to mind. First, outright denial, then, “uncertainty,” followed by, “well, it’s bad but it’s not our fault” or “yeah, but it’s too late to do anything.”
      During the process, they get more defensive and insular, not to mention shut off from reality.
      Last stop, taking their show on the road, to the third world.

      • mikeinportc says:

        Yeah, that’s where most of the priests come from now. In the last ten years or so, I think I’ve only met one American priest under 50, and the next youngest was probably in his late 60s. (& I have met all of them in the area, or just about , in one venue or another.)

  7. mikeinportc says:

    OT, a message for Oregonians . Seems like a case of the Oregon Department of Agriculture following the edicts of lobbyists, rather than scientific advice – their own !. ( Btw, I grew some of Frank’s kale last year. It got rave reviews for both its gorgeous appearance, and for culinary properties. It was good even raw – sweet , crispy, but tender, not leathery.)