My weekend column is about the Catholic Church, the Maryland Attorney General’s report about clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and the latest meeting of the U.S. bishops.
The first letter I received from a reader missed my point about the priesthood being the same – that essentially no fundamental change has occurred to bring a more diverse cohort of men and women into the holy orders – and the reader claimed that instances of abuse are ancient history, that the Vatican has established protections for children.
It must be nice to have such confidence and to feel at peace with the all-male church hierarchy.
I’m not there – in fact, far from there. I’ve fallen off, and not just because of the horrible history of abuse and coverup. I’m not alone. Gallup’s surveys of church membership between 1998 and 2020 showed an 18% drop in expressed Catholic affiliation, twice the decline among those who identify as Protestants. That time period tracks with all the soul-crushing revelations about the abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and the billions of dollars paid by the church to settle lawsuits. Many Catholics who were on the margins fell off, and, as I said, not just because of the abuse scandal.
Here’s a letter from another reader, Harry Pandolfino, in York, Pennsylvania, who explains why he transitioned to another church:
I left the church some time ago and it continues to hemorrhage people. I’m in the United Church of Christ now and I’ll bet 20% of the congregation are former Catholics. It’s not just the scandal, it’s the slow dawning realization that the church is fundamentally flawed and unrepentant about it or unwilling to change. They are locked in an authoritarian mindset that often seems at odds with the gospels themselves. Any church that decides who to keep out seems to me to have already fundamentally misunderstood the gospels. We are different from people in 800 AD or 1520 AD. We, as a species, have grown and come to understand better about things. Three of the biggest idiots on the right are Bill Barr, Steve Bannon and Bret Kavanaugh, all products of expensive private Catholic educations. Yet although they display questionable intellect and questionable morals, they are certain they are right and everyone else is wrong. That’s the legacy of that education. There is no real coherent church. It’s a group of feuding entities who constantly vie for power. They choose a Pope they mostly ignore. The laity have no real say in things. In the late 60s and early 70s a lot of the younger priests tried to reform the church, they wanted to do away with the absolutes. It was paradoxical to make abortion a sin and then make contraception a sin. It made no sense and began the slow exit of Catholics to other churches. I watched the vocations erode also. At least 3 UCC ministers I know were Catholics, one had attended a seminary. They [Catholic hierarchy, cardinals, bishops] still think we’re all a bunch of superstitious peasants who can be frightened. It would take a vigorous young man in his 50s with twenty good years ahead of him, and no reluctance to break down doors and windows, to reform the church and the system is stacked against that. The only certain thing about theology is uncertainty, we can’t be sure of everything, it must be, to me, a process of searching and questioning, not a rigid reliance on out of date ethics and thinking.
3 thoughts on “‘They still think we’re all a bunch of superstitious peasants’”
All the reasons why I have walked away from a church I held in high regard. Once I became a rationally thinking adult, I couldn’t “ explain away” their misogyny and total disregard for the well being of little children. Many of whom will never recover from their abuse.
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Dan, I really doubt I’d be a Protestant. I would go to a liberal Catholic Church if they ever sprout up. There is so much suffering due to wars, famine, sex assaults, bigotry, etc. and all that concerns the church is ….. abortion. No talk about eliminating the death penalty, feeding and housing the poor, and fighting injustice. When I was a teenage altar boy I realized the priesthood in a suburban parish is a great place to go to shirk all your responsibility. That was back in the early 70’s. I was lucky to know some very extraordinary priests, but most were overseas missionaries or workers in extremely poor areas. One was in a Chinese prison for 20 years, and he was an incredible genius getting only 2 hours of sleep every night. Another worked in Africa and Latin America and was constantly a victim of street crime. He was a 65 year old Swiss and blew me away downhill skiing. I named my two sons after them. I still admire them greatly, and we need many-many more like them.
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What a pity that Pope Francis was not able to initiate m ajor changes. I had hoped he would address the issue of women in the clergy and celibacy both of which fuel the abuse problem. A good man but constrained by the corporate hierarchy. What follows him may be more conservative.
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