Papal Enthusiasm

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This week is absolutely rife with enthusiasm for the visit of Pope Francis, and since I’m a blogging ex-Catholic, here’s my two cents.

I live in the northern east coast, and life here has been altered somewhat as a result of the Pope’s visit. Roads have been closed, bridges blocked, and buses have been hired to take visitors to Philadelphia. This is not a terrible thing. A famous public figure’s visit is definitely a big deal, and Pope Francis has a lot of power as the head of the Catholic Church. I respect him for who and what he is, and I’m really happy to hear that he’s been primarily talking about climate change and poverty rather than abortion and gay marriage. I’m liberal. I can get behind Catholic teaching on climate change and poverty.

With that being said, his visit has brought a new wave of articles like this one on how the pope is changing the church and making it more liberal. While there’s no denying that compared to his predecessors he’s significantly less conservative, Pope Francis is not liberal, and has never been liberal by any stretch of the imagination. This is partially because one of the selling points of Catholicism is that it’s resistant to change.

I can’t tell you how many times during my upbringing I was told that Catholicism was the right faith because it’s the version of Christianity that was supposedly founded by Jesus. The speech went, “It’s correct because it came first.” Never mind the fact that the church hierarchy and a lot of its traditions that are now rules developed later, Catholics see the lack of change in their faith as a sign of how right they are. Catholicism is known for its traditions, right down to details that the younger generations realize don’t matter, like what gender the person you marry is, or whether or not someone has been divorced. Even if Pope Francis does want to change some of those traditions, he’s going to have to do more than call for a synod to discuss them. He’s going to have to make decisions that could put his leadership at risk, because it threatens the “we never change” culture of the religion.

You know those big “changes” where a pope said the church was OK with belief in evolution (though it isn’t a mandatory part of the faith, just an option) and now Pope Francis says climate change is real and a problem? Both of those are issues in which the church could essentially claim that it wasn’t changing its opinion. Belief in evolution doesn’t change the belief that God created the world; many Catholics simply see it as an explanation of how God supposedly did it. Unlike many other forms of Christianity, they don’t take the entire Old Testament literally. As for climate change, belief in that is simply seen as an extension of the church’s teachings on “stewardship,” or care of the Earth.

Those changes both worked out fine when it comes to the religion, but changing the church’s teaching on much-discussed social issues such as abortion, contraception, divorce, female priests, and gay marriage would involve the church issuing some sort of mea culpa akin to the Mormon religion’s announcement in 1978 that black people could now become priests and would no longer be excluded from many temple activities. See how the Mormons had to make it seem like a revelation from God? I have trouble imagining anything short of such a claim would change Catholicism on these issues, though I hope to be proven wrong. It would be an obvious example of the religion changing with the culture of the world, and that would mean breaking the idea of “in the world, not of it,” which is of course a big no-no.

The way I see him, Pope Francis is a well-meaning person with a kind heart. Unlike previous popes, his priorities are in a slightly better place. I think if I met him on the street, I would like him, but that doesn’t change how I feel about Catholicism. He’s still the head of an organization that oppresses women–like me–by fighting against reproductive rights, an organization that can’t handle the idea of gay marriage even if it occurs in a secular setting, and an organization whose main purpose is to convince everyone that a myth is true and that the key to immortality is to get really involved in the organization. The Catholic Church, like the Church of Scientology, is still a scam, no matter how much charity they do.

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Weeping Mary Statue Dupes my Dad

One night a few weeks ago, my dad came home from work late, as he often does, and strode up to my mother. “Smell my forehead. Smell anything?”

My mother sniffed. “No. Should I?”

“I’ve been blessed by a special oil,” he said. Apparently a priest from the church he attends on work days found out about a statue of Mary–Jesus’ supposedly virgin mother–that supposedly is miraculously leaking oil, but sometimes also blood and tears. The oil is blessed, the priest said, and the priest acquired some from the statue, which resides at a church in a neighboring state, for the purpose of blessing people. Yes. He is claiming that a statue is literally leaking magic oil.

Curious, I did some online research. I’d heard claims of statue-related miracles before, but this was the first time I’d heard of one crying. I couldn’t find anything that was definitely the same one my dad supposedly was blessed by, but look how many people really believe this shit! This blog post, for example, is absolutely nuts. A Mary statue exuding pearls and glitter? This quote is my favorite part:

We spent a couple hours in prayer, veneration and meditation before the healing service would begin that evening. During that time, we spoke with some lovely Christian ladies who had brought scotch tape. With it, we clumsily lifted a variety of colorful escarchas (a mysterious Gift of holy glitter) off our pews. It seemed, the more we lifted it, the more escarchas appeared.

It’s as if the writer never used glitter for art projects when he or she was a kid. Glitter gets everywhere. Seriously, it’s small, good at falling into crevices, and it sticks to things. I have no doubt that these people discovered glitter on the pews, however, I also have no doubt that said glitter was just the usual craft store type. For crying out loud, it might not even have been placed by anyone on purpose, but rather come off the outfit of a fashionable 8-year-old who attended an earlier mass.

The craziest thing about this weeping Mary statue phenomenon though, by far, is that the Catholic church, which is definitely not the most skeptical organization in the world, has rejected most supposed “crying statue” cases as hoaxes–but not all.

This (fairly long) “documentary,” for lack of a better word, on weeping religious icons, contains a fairly long list of them, some of which have been approved by the Catholic Church. The disclaimer at the beginning of the video reads:

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church makes all authoritative and final decisions regarding any individual or collective claims of personal apparitions of the Blessed Mother. The apparitions and/or lachrymations associated with La Salette, France; Fatima, Portugal; Akita, Japan; Syracuse, Sicily; Cochabama, Bolivia; and Civitavecchia, Italy; have been approved by the Church. Other sites and lachrymations cited in this program have not been formally approved.

What I get out of that is, yes, the Church does do some things to try to weed out the most obvious hoaxes. But as I watched the video, I kept noticing that while they used scientists to test the claims of the faithful about the religious icons, a step I definitely support, the scientists never seemed to be asking the right questions–the ones I, a person who is genuinely skeptical of these claims, would like to have answered. I almost wished they’d consulted Penn and Teller, or some other magician, because my main concern is not even so much that there needs to be a scientific answer to the situation. It’s such a bizarre one that I’m not even sure science is always useful except to maybe test the substance and see if it’s real. Really, my main question is, has a human being tampered with these statues and other icons to make them cry?

It wouldn’t be that difficult to take an icon, put it into a thick frame, and insert some sort of tube with olive oil in it right before the producers of the “documentary” came to view it. And I kept thinking, why blood and oil? Why are so many of these not actual tears? The first answer that comes to mind is that maybe those other substances are more dramatic (in the case of blood) or easier to come by (in the case of oil). It all seems so suspicious to me that I’m a bit disappointed in the people the documentary keeps bringing on to talk about it. Many of them go further than verifying that they believe the icons’ tears are real. They add interpretation to it, claiming that the tears are a sign that the religious figures depicted in the icons are sad, and concerned about some sort of horrible calamity to come. They see them as a “desperate call to holiness,” of course–but literally all they’re seeing are tears coming out of a religious icon. I’ve cried for reasons as silly as not being able to eat cheese when I thought I was lactose intolerant and as serious as being concerned because a loved one was in the hospital. Are these people really suggesting that they can interpret these tears? Because if a stranger told me they knew why I was crying, they’d probably guess wrong.

Also, concerning the ones involving blood, I’d like to see them test all the people who have regular contact with the statue–the priests, altar servers, what have you–and do a DNA test comparing the blood to each of those people. I’d be willing to bet that the blood from the statue belongs to one of them. There’s definitely a strong motive, especially for a pastor of a parish with an aging congregation, to fake a miracle. What better way to increase the number of your churchgoers?

Have any of you encountered miraculous claims? What are your thoughts on these?

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

A Message to Lukewarm Catholics

Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist blog recently posted the video below to his YouTube channel, The Atheist Voice. In this video, he addresses the people I’ve often heard called lukewarm Catholics: people who identify as Catholic but don’t really practice the faith, and often reject one or more of the church’s major beliefs.

In short, he’s saying if you support LGBT rights and/or a woman’s right to choose, if you believe that women should be able to become priests, or if you don’t believe that the silly little cardboard-tasting wafer becomes Jesus at consecration–why do you stay in the church? Check it out here:

As an ex-Catholic, I couldn’t agree more with the message of this video.

One of my favorite parts of the video is when he addresses people who may want to change the church from within. As an ex-Catholic who was pretty devout and knows a thing or two about church hierarchy, I’d like to expand on this point.

As a lay person (a non-clergy church member) you may think you can change the church from the inside, and that’s extremely admirable, but at the moment, there is simply no way for you to do that at the scale you would need to in order to really make an impact. Even if you were a priest, you couldn’t do much. The only people inside the church hierarchy with any power to change the way the church approaches a political or spiritual issue are the cardinals and the pope. Worse, even if you were in one of those positions, the church is generally not supposed to change its position on things. Don’t believe me? Just look how long it took for the church to apologize for its treatment of Galileo, and acknowledge that the earth revolved around the sun. Your eyes aren’t fooling you. The above New York Times article saying the pope was making it official was published in 1992. The pope who did it was John Paul II, who was pope during my lifetime. (In case you’re wondering, Galileo lived from 1564-1642). That’s how long it took for one individual to change the Catholic teaching on something as basic and scientifically obvious as heliocentrism. Pope Francis, the current pope, has been facing harsh criticism since he called together a giant meeting of Bishops and encouraged them to have an intelligent discussion on issues like treatment of divorced Catholics and (gasp) gay people. The church is so resistant to change that its high-up members literally can’t handle even a discussion of the idea that some of its habits concerning certain groups of people need to be evaluated objectively.

On a different note, as an ex-Catholic I have some points of my own, specifically directed at lukewarm Catholics pushing their children though Catholic religious education and sacraments. I’ve heard some family members explain why they push their children through the Catholic initiation rites of baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation even though they aren’t Catholic themselves, and the reason is absolutely ridiculous:  “It’ll make it easier for you if you marry someone who’s Catholic if you’ve been through all these things.”

This is a crazy argument. I don’t hear anyone saying the same thing about literally any other religion, including protestant Christianity. No one has ever told me, “You should participate in Jewish/Hindu/Muslim initiation rites in case you marry a Jew/Hindu/Muslim.” The advice also doesn’t make any sense within the context of Catholicism, because newsflash, the Catholic church does not specifically forbid Catholics from marrying non-Catholics.

I’ve heard several adults tell friends of mine (and my little brother) that even if you don’t consider yourself Catholic, receiving confirmation specifically (which in case you don’t know is like a Catholic bar mitzvah, a coming of age ritual)  will make it easier for you down the road if you marry a Catholic, since there are so many Catholics around. Since I like to fact check these things, I looked it up: the only sacrament that makes it easier to marry a Catholic isn’t confirmation; it’s baptism. The church believes that it’s important that both parties be Christian, and will accept a Christian baptism as a real baptism.

Does this mean a Catholic and a Buddhist can’t get married? No. If you check the link in the paragraph above, you’ll see that although it’s frowned upon, a mixed-faith couple can get permission from a bishop to marry. This does mean it’ll take more time, but so does taking the classes necessary to prepare for confirmation. My mother, who is a church musician, has attended multiple weddings between a Catholic and a person of a different faith–even an Eastern one like Hinduism. Furthermore, with the current rate at which young people are leaving the Catholic church, often replacing it with no religion at all, and considering how easy it is to just have a non-Catholic wedding with a non denominational officiant or even a humanist one, it is extremely unlikely that putting yourself through extra Catholic religious education and rituals will reap any benefits for you aside from making your conservative parents happy.

(Besides, Catholic weddings require MORE ritual. There’s a mandatory 6 month waiting period, and you have to go through special meetings with the priest called “Pre-Cana.” For crying out loud, marry in a non-denominational church, or outside, or in a fancy hotel. Catholic weddings are way overrated.)

The bad news is, since most of the big Catholic sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, confession, confirmation) typically happen to minors, you may not have much say in the matter if this is currently the position you’re in. The good news is, if you do have some say in it, you now have some useful arguing points.

This post was all over the place, but ultimately my message to lukewarm Catholics is, you already suspect that this religion isn’t for you; if you didn’t, you’d be more dedicated to it. Maybe you’re really some sort of Christian. Maybe you’re atheist, or maybe you just don’t know. That’s all OK. But stop pushing your kids through rituals you don’t even believe in. Stop calling yourself Catholic in polls, giving the church more power by making it seem way bigger than it really is. There may be a religion out there that you’ll believe in wholeheartedly, or maybe there won’t be. Maybe you don’t care enough to search for the answer to the question of God, and that’s OK too. Just admit to yourself that that’s where you are. Trust me, letting go of Catholicism isn’t the pile of guilt Catholics like to say it will be. It’s a breath of fresh air.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

As usual, feel free to leave a comment! All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

The Strangest Homily: “Gay Marriage Means No More Babies”

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Instead of discussing the ridiculous situation regarding Kim Davis, a Kentucky County Clerk who has refused to do her job and issue marriage licenses in light of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, I’d like to go back to the root of her contempt: anti-gay preaching by Christian ministers, pastors, and priests. One can argue that the Bible, with its anti-gay verses, is the root problem, but ultimately it all comes down to interpretation, and while there are plenty of Christians who eat shellfish despite Biblical rules against doing so, too many consider fighting against marriage equality to be their moral duty. Worse, when they try to give secular arguments against marriage equality, their inability to apply reason to the issue becomes apparent.

The homily I’ll be discussing in this post is one that I remember from back when I was in 9th grade. I was homeschooled for the majority of my education, but I attended Catholic High School for one year, and during that year, every month, there was a day when the entire high school (roughly 800 students) would be marched a few blocks away to the nearest Catholic church in order to attend mass. We sat down in our uniforms on the hard, wooden pews in rain or shine, and the same priest would walk in, say mass, and give the same homily (sermon) he had given the month before. It jumped around a lot in topic, but one topic he always discussed for several minutes (after a lecture on how inexperienced high school students are) was gay marriage. It was a bad thing, he insisted. His argument against it, however, was ridiculous.

“What we’re seeing with gay marriage,” he would say, “is that it’s spreading. More and more people want to do it. I shouldn’t have to tell you all why it’s bad for society. It’s bad because gay people can’t physically have children. The biological components that unite a man and woman through God to make a child aren’t there. So what’s going to happen? As more and more people become gay, there will be fewer and fewer children being born. We can’t have a gay society. It’s not sustainable. The church’s stance on gay marriage is clear, and it’s logical, because without heterosexual unions, humans won’t survive.”

Even back then, when I was strongly opposed to gay marriage, this argument didn’t make much sense. I knew not everyone was gay. I was straight! I had friends who were straight. My parents were definitely straight. Why did he think being gay was such a temptation for everybody that if given the freedom to be openly gay, everyone in the world would do it?

Then it hit me:

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I realize this is a fairly common accusation from liberal people, but in this case I really do think it’s true. It’s the only logical explanation. A straight person considering his argument could stop and think, “This doesn’t make sense. I don’t fit that rule,” and most would be intelligent enough to conclude that they aren’t the only exception. Either he’s not bright enough to make that obvious intellectual step, or he was simply using the experience he spent so much time raving about to us, and applying it to gay marriage. In his experience, being gay was a real temptation because it was part of who he was, and he was suppressing it because of the church’s teachings.

That’s one of the strangest and saddest things about gay Catholic priests, and other gay active church members. They buy into a lot of the nonsense even though it actually applies to them. For all of his rants about high school kids being inexperienced–a fair point–he had a lot to learn about himself. Like many priests, he was starting to really advance in age. I wonder if he’s still around, and if so, I wonder how he took the news of the SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality.

What’s the craziest argument you’ve heard against marriage equality? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome, just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

My Parents’ Bizarre Response to the Child Molestation Accusations in the Catholic Church

church withmaninpewYou may recall from previous posts that my dad used to be the youth minister at my family’s church. He was great at it–way better than the youth minister who took over for him. I know because I used to visit during the retreats he ran, and they were awesome! Their itinerary was filled with fun and games and positive affirmations. But when I was in middle school, before I was old enough to join youth group, my dad stopped running youth ministry at our parish. I’ve always wondered why.

I assumed it was from lack of time. My dad, like me, tends to get involved in too many things. He works full time, he teaches religious education, he’s a lector and a Eucharistic minister at church, he’s involved in the men’s retreat group there too, and he even finds time to do volunteering every once in a while. I figured youth group was just one activity too many. So at the end of year picnic when I was in 7th grade, the youth group bade my dad farewell, and today, many years later, my dad told me why he left:

“There were too many youth ministers getting accused of bad things, and the church was getting sued and good people were losing their money. I didn’t want to risk that.”

I nearly flipped my shit. It doesn’t take much guessing to infer what he meant by “bad things.” There have been many accusations of child molestation in churches, particularly Catholic ones. Usually it’s priests who get accused, but youth ministers have had their fair share of accusations. I asked if that was what he meant, and he said yes, adding, “People want to get money from priests and youth ministers. They’re accusing good priests for the money.” This was followed by a rant about our sue-happy society and how that’s apparently affecting the church.

A priest my dad knew was once accused. He has since passed away. My dad always insisted the accusation was false–but I’ve always wondered. (To my knowledge, he was not convicted.) It’s hard to know what people do behind closed doors. Even if he is innocent, that’s only one person–not exactly a large sample of the population of accused. Yet my dad honestly thinks that the vast majority of the accusations are false.

While the number of false rape accusations nationwide is not a knowable number right now–we simply do not have the data to give a number with confidence–because of how under reported rape is as a crime in general, I have a hard time believing that the majority of accusations are false. In fact, while the percentage of false accusations is not knowable, the data we do have seems to suggest a low number, which is logical considering how rape victims are treated in this country.

It’s definitely not a situation fraught with wanted attention for a false accuser. Bringing a rape accusation to this criminal justice system involves a lot of questioning, some testing to put together a “rape kit” if the rape was recent enough, and a high possibility that there won’t be enough evidence to even have a trial of the accused. Rape victims are generally not believed, and even face a great deal of scrutiny regarding details that have nothing to do with whether or not a rape occurred. Questions like “What were you wearing?” and “Have you two had sex before?” plague rape victims to this day. Many victims, like in the case of Bill Cosby, are so worried about not being believed that they don’t come forward for YEARS, allowing the statute of limitation to expire, and making it impossible for the accused to be tried for the crime.

This is not to say that the innocent-until-proven-guilty model doesn’t apply to rape. It does, and should. It’s constitutional that everyone deserves a fair trial. With that being said, my dad was talking about child molestation–a situation in which, by definition, the younger party cannot give consent. When my dad suggests that the majority of church child molestation charges are false, I get very defensive, because we’re usually not talking about sue happy adults here, we’re talking about children. There have been many, many accused who have been convicted, often of serial rape, and who were moved from one parish to another by superiors who knew what was going on but decided letting more children get raped was worth it to keep another precious priest from being defrocked and arrested.

Something that I don’t see covered much in stories about this widespread child abuse and their cover ups is that the church has an incentive for moving child molesting priests around instead of punishing them. There’s a severe shortage of Catholic priests right now, which has been worsening for as long as I can remember. There simply aren’t many new priests coming in, and the old ones are dying, retiring, or leaving the faith.

My generation is possibly the least religious one in all of American history, and it’s part of a continuing trend of decreasing religiosity. Throughout my childhood, I was told to “pray for vocations” and young boys were encouraged to consider priesthood. Yet one could quickly see that for most children, unmarried life was not appealing. They didn’t even know about sex, and they still didn’t want to be unmarried. I for one always viewed priesthood and religious life–whether of a cloistered nun or even an non-cloistered sister– as lonely and unnecessarily strict. I wanted more freedom than religious vows allow. More than that though, I wanted to get married. I think Catholic boys, even religious ones, often do too. It’s part of the American dream, after all.

So when the church realizes it can’t get new priests easily, it clings desperately to its old ones. Even, sadly, to the disgusting child rapist monsters the faith organization has been protecting.

I love my parents. I sincerely hope that this delusion my father has about the rape accusations being mostly false is isolated to him. Unfortunately however, I’ve never seen any indication that that is the case. As long as the church maintains this idea, it will keep on protecting the accused from investigation, clinging to its priests instead of protecting children and youths. If you’re Catholic and you’re reading this, I implore you to keep your eyes open. Your parish priests may be perfectly wonderful people, your youth ministers the epitome of piety, and I hope that’s the case. But if you find out that that is not the case, don’t alert the pastor, or the bishop. Go to the police immediately, because as we’ve seen in recent years, the church authorities can’t be trusted to take this problem seriously.

As always, feel free to leave a comment. If you want to defend the church or argue against its actions, go ahead. Just be respectful to other people and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking

-Nancy