Thursday, 14 March 2013
We Francises welcome the newest member of our clan with certain reservations.
When I was a catechumen, I learned some beautiful and life-enhancing truths. I am thankful for Catholic teaching on the primacy of Love as the true expression of God, on social justice, on the power of the sacraments, and for an interpretation of the Scriptures that didn't force me to believe a dozen impossible things before breakfast.
Thank You Mother Church. When I needed you, you were there. These gifts will bless me for the rest of my life.
There's a 'but' coming isn't there? There has to be.
Yes, and it's a big one.
The Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman famously said,
“I shall drink to the Pope, if you please, still, to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.”
This is quite shocking in a way, especially that, since the nineteenth century, the Pope has taken upon himself the mantle of infallibility, where faith and morals are concerned. This, of course, to maintain church order, at least as much as to stifle debate. Famously, Pope John-Paul II forbade that there be any more discussion on the ordination of women to the priesthood - as if THAT worked.
Back to the Blessed John Henry Newman. The Church has a neat little side-step around this rather awkward spark of individuality ... You will be told, if you ask, that, naturally, your conscience must come first - but it must be an INFORMED conscience. You can see where this is going can't you? How do you think you inform your conscience? By following the teachings of the church, of course! Gotcha!
This HAS to be nonsense. There are other, legitimate, ways of informing your conscience that have nothing to do with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I am thinking of three.
Firstly, direct experience. Woman afraid to have, and unable to enjoy, sex because they have no wish to become pregnant, homosexual men and women who are persecuted because of their sexuality, children born into dire poverty because their parents cannot afford to feed them... . To enforce a moral code that brings these evils into being, you have to break the first rule - that God is love. And yes, I have confronted all three in my rather limited experience, you will be able to add your own.
Secondly, the application of science. To return to the issue of sexuality, because this is where the church really marginalises itself, and let's it's people down: I know, because I have read the literature, that there are over two hundred different combinations of chromosomes that determine gender. So the strict male/female dichotomy is incorrect, and to carry on as if it were not, is, frankly, unethical. It is not true, either, to say that homosexual behaviour is unnatural. Watch most things with David Attenborough in them, and you will be convinced of this, even if you weren't before.
What IS unnatural, is to try to force a way of life on others, that is not natural TO THEM.
Thirdly, look at the history of the Church and see practices that were once commonplace, therefore considered, one supposes, correct, or ethical, that have now been abandoned - I can think of four immediately, the castration of boys to sing in the great renaissance churches, the excesses of the Inquisition that burned man and women alive ' for the love of Christ', and more recently, the punishment-led regimes in Catholic schools that aimed to ' beat the devil out of the boy' and the virtual imprisonment of unmarried mothers in the infamous 'Magdalene Laundries' in Ireland.
Church, you cannot say to intelligent men and women, ' Oh yes, well we got things wrong THEN, but you have to believe everything we tell you is true NOW.' We are not children, even if children are to be treated so, we WILL exercise our consciences, we WILL determine what is and isn't compassionate expression of God's will for his creation.
Surely this is the The Holy Spirit speaking through His people? The Indwelling One is not silent.
Listen to us Papa Francis. Hear our prayer for compassion, for sanity, for a voice in matters that intimately concern us.
Recognise the edicts of the church that lay burdens on our backs that are too heavy for us to bear- of sin, of guilt, of shame - Lighten them we pray.
Or we will leave.