I wrote the following back in April of 2005, not long after the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. I wasn't quite a fully-blown atheist back then, but I was bordering on atheism as I looked at the RC church and the issues it was confronting then. I was well aware of the festering child abuse scandal and the church's poor response to it, as well as other issues related to their absolutist point of view. I look at now and read what I wrote then and can't help but note that not much has changed. I also find myself reminded of that definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
Anyhow, I thought it was timely to break this out, and as always, I'd like to hear your thoughts.
"Habemus papam;" we have a pope, specifically Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. White smoke billows from the Sistine Chapel chimney, bells ring, and people cheer and praise the new representative of a tradition which in theory dates all the way back to Simon-bar-Jonah, better known as Peter. "You are the Rock on which I shall found my Church," said Jesus to Peter in the latter days of his ministry. The Rock was clearly a metaphor for a foundation, that which will not be moved, and thus Peter and those who came after him were to be such immovable objects of faith and the articles of this then-new religion.
In the world where I live, rocks, while resistant to outside influences, do change. They shift with the displacement of the earth around them; water smoothes and polishes their surfaces, wearing away rough points and sharp discontinuities ... and given sufficient applied pressure, they crack. The Church, however, expects its Rock to be absolute, independent and non-responsive to the vagaries of relative life, social change, scientific development or human evolution. The fact is, the Church has changed, if unwillingly, over its 2,000-year history, though usually only after being confronted again and again with the reality of its error. Galileo was so challenged when he asserted the Copernican theory of a heliocentric solar system. While forced to recant before Pope Urban VIII, his life as a whole reflects a man who is less driven by the assertion of fact based on faith, but the proof of fact using the scientific method. Galileo may have been, if not the first, among those who first challenged the Church's belief-based teaching with experience and experiment. It was some time later that the Church acknowledged the truth of astronomical science, that not only was the earth not the center of the universe, but not even the center of our solar system.
Galileo's quarrel with the Holy See was an issue of verifiable fact vs. Holy Writ. Many other instances of Papal or Catholic intransigence are in fields where the evidence may be subtler and less self-evident, but still speak to an organizational superstructure more interested in absolutes and rejection of change than in logic or a consideration of the evolution of interpersonal relationships. The issue of women in the priesthood (or any position of authority) is a markedly striking example. In Jesus' day, women had no authority either individually or as a group, with very few exceptions. It is no surprise then that in that era, those in power, whether governmental or religious, were all male. Rather obviously, the times have indeed changed. Granted that the empowerment of women is largely a 20th century phenomenon, having taken over 1,900 years to find fruition, but it is a phenomenon which has ultimately been embraced by the vast majority of present day institutions, Christian denominations included, but with the notable exception of Roman Catholicism.
The issues of marriage in the priesthood, falling numbers of new priests and the American experience of child abuse by priests of the Church are very much related, in my opinion. Allowing priests to marry, if not monsignors, bishops and so on would relieve a very real source of pressure on those who choose this path as well as increasing the numbers of those who would consider it were marriage a possibility. It would have the further benefit of giving those priests the real-world experience to relate to married couples in their parishes, rather than relying solely on the rote concepts of church doctrine to counsel couples seeking advice. It might also defuse the lack of sexual contact which, in this writer's opinion, at least has the potential to give rise to the pedophilic behavior among priests which has grown notorious in the United States in recent years. Note that in the early days of the Church, marriage and non-celibate lifestyle were available choices for priests. The reasons above, added to others might be an inducement to a consideration of reopening such options to newcomers to the cloth, but thus far, the Church appears to be disinterested in such discussion.
Other issues, such as birth control, abortion, and the status of homosexuals in the Church may be too polarizing to add to consideration here, but they are beside the point. The real problem as seen by this writer is the issue of dialogue. Benedict XVI has said that he is interested in such a dialogue, but his statement seems more than a little disingenuous. He was, after all, John Paul II's primary advocate for orthodoxy for 25 years. Any dialogue that might be entertained will be meaningless if it does not intrinsically include at least a willingness to consider the logic or value of an opposing position with an eye toward the possibility of adopting that position. This is where the Catholic Church fails again and again. The hierarchy of the Church has consistently demonstrated a studied disinterest in opinions found outside of itself, but only in the absolutes determined within the walls of Vatican City. Indeed, the Church itself admits not to being a democracy but a patriarchal autocracy, where protest is tolerated, though only barely. Their dictum is simple: "We say; you do; that's it."
What we really have is a continuation of the same stance, the same reliance on dogma, an insistence on the status quo and a refusal to acknowledge man's social, technological and spiritual evolution from the days of the Carpenter to the 21st century. The Rock upon which the Church is founded is largely unmoving and unmoved, as of this date. External forces acting on that Rock have thus far proven mostly ineffectual. However, as people feel the frustration of lack of response from the Church, the escalation of pressure from those seeking change only increases in likelihood. Much as the Church thinks of itself as an Absolute in a sea of relativism, it is itself, an organization of men and as such, just as relative and potentially vulnerable. Given enough pressure, enough frustration, enough exasperation on the part of that part of the Catholic flock which desires change in the Church, that Rock will crack, with consequences unpredictable at best. Life is change, and if the Church does not reflect change with the times, is it a living Church, or an inert, changeless entity which will become more and more irrelevant as man progresses and evolves past it?