Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Populate or Parish


So the Holy High-Roller has jetted off into the sunset and 430,000 young acolytes have had their spiritual yearnings extorted, their idealism manipulated, and their naive altruism affirmed by the shared experience of sleeping on artificial grass at a commandeered and temporarily renamed race course. Predictably, the Prime Minister in his best, shallow spiritual shirt and altar-boy smile has deemed it a success not only for the Church, but also for the nation, conferring on the Pope the status of ‘honorary Aussie’.

He must be thrilled. I know I am.

The Church has triumphed, bringing it the status of international top brand once again. While the Anglicans squabble over gay priests and women bishops the Church of Rome has displayed it’s gorgeous apparel, it’s peerless theatrical ritual and it’s ability to bring sufficient of the numinous to public drama while maintaining the position of it’s priests as the only bridge to God, however you may experience Him. Or Her. Or It. You have to hand it to them, they know their stuff. And they ride the bumps of temporary criticism secure in the knowledge that the Church endures no matter what.

Woy Woy - so good they named it twice.

A of M was in Woy Woy, NSW over the weekend (for his sins) and took the opportunity to visit a spanking new Catholic Church for Saturday’s evening mass. The handsome interior is circular, eschewing the traditional cruciform. The ghastly aluminium exterior looks like a beer can savaged by artistic tin-snips to make a rudimentary UFO.

It could be the home of any millennial cargo-cult, waiting for their spaceship to come and take them away. But in fact it’s a statement of absolute faith in their future by the Catholic Church. Saturday's 5pm mass filled all the seats and all the alcoves set into the walls. Over 200 attended, by my count, with 90% over 60 years of age. But the Church spent millions to build this church, absolutely certain that this tiny parish will grow. For the Catholic Church thinks in terms of hundreds, even thousands of years when it plans for the future. Can any other organisation claim this degree of foresight?

For those of an inquiring bent: Yes, A of M did take communion. Feeling certain of the state of his soul, he accepted the biscuit from the priest, but on the advice of his affianced he didn’t sup the wine.

“All those lips - very unhygenic.”


Populate or Parish.

The resident priest was one of the most monumentally dull speakers I’ve ever wasted 20 minutes on, rambling on about bugger all, sharing his personal experience of World Youth Day: He went. He got lost. He didn’t see anything. Yet the Church can’t afford to lose him. One of the three major themes of the Papal lectures at WYD was the ‘lack of vocations’. That’s Catholic-speak for not enough men wanting to become priests. Given the other career opportunities available for sexually confused lads who like frocking up in sumptuous robes this isn’t surprising. You only have to attend Sydney’s Gay Mardi-Gras to see some of the other options.

The second Papal pre-occupation was the waning of the West through declining Christian numbers. As Cardinal Pell put it, no Western country is producing enough babies to maintain current population levels. Which is fine talk coming from someone doing nothing to pass on good Catholic genes. Would he be interested in being a sperm donor do you think? Does the Church have a position on this? Or will they stick to the old method of naughty priests having sex with the lay flock?

What the Church really worries about is the rise in Islamic numbers in the West. Aging Christian baby-boomers are being replaced by young Muslims, many of them immigrants, who are taking up the lesser places in society once filled by itinerant ‘pig-in-the-parlour’ Irish Catholics. This Islam-isation of the West – particularly in Europe – is a genuine problem for Catholicism. The success of this World Youth Day will be very encouraging, as it’s the appeal of single-minded, angry young-turk Islam to disaffected youth that’s the big threat. No doubt the choice of Madrid for WYD 2011 is in part due to this, and the hope that dreamy-eyed, ‘kumbaya’ chanting, beardless Catholicism can save the West from weirdy-beardy, radical bomb-throwing that once was the province of atheistic left-wing extremism .

- Ah, those were the days!


Take your hand off my knee, Vicar!

Which brings us to the dirty dog in the manger, the un-trousered elephant on the carpet: Priests who rape and abuse children (and adults) and the Church’s dismal record of dealing with this problem honestly and openly. There are two things to address here: the nature of the problem itself, and the Papal response.

The Pope made a formal apology, including the word ‘sorry’ for the sad history of priests abusing. This in itself is remarkable and historic. It’s only in recent years that the principle of Papal infallibility was dropped, and for the global head of the largest Christian Church to (a) acknowledge the problem, and (b) apologise in person, is remarkable. That it came while the host Cardinal, George Pell, was downplaying, obfuscating and hair-splitting on specifics significantly undercuts it’s effect. A blanket apology from the distant, hallowed father-figure makes good press but cuts little ice outside the hail-Mary media and Catholic apologists. The Church is still fighting secretly and fighting dirty behind the scenes.

It has not recognised that it’s self-appointed holy status does not and cannot be accepted unquestioningly by broader society. Calling yourself pure, ‘a special case of God’ and entitled to special treatment does not work anymore. Any evidence of legal sin, ie: a crime, demands open, public and equal treatment before the law, and the world (and the world’s media). The Church’s motives have time and again been shown to be self-righteous, self-serving and squalid. It constantly and consistently hides the truth, protects and hides the perpetrators and reserves to itself the right to forgive and forget. This is not holy, Christian or righteous among the faithful. It is a long-term pattern of sins of omission, commission and conspiracy.

- J’accuse, Cardinal Pell.
- J’accuse, Church of Rome.

Before the Pope left the country he met with four victims of raping priests. They prayed together and celebrated mass together. The victims spoke privately with the Pope. Two of the victims released a carefully worded public statement. That they celebrated mass together is the key point here. It indicates that the victims were reconciled to the Church and it’s authority. They were willing to kneel before a priest once more.

While I do not begrudge them this, or wish to detract from their choices they are not representative of the wider population of victims of rapist-priests. They are, however, entirely convenient for the Church.

That the Pope can publicly restore the Church’s public good-name with an apology, and then follow up with an example of ‘all’s well that ends well’ is a slimy stratagem. And it’s been used before, notably in the USA. The publicly stated concern for the privacy of the four ‘victims’ involved neatly hides the identity of the guilty priests, obscures the specifics of the crimes, and relegates all to a sad history from which we can all now move on. The victims may be healed, reconciled, have closure, or whatever else they can quietly have. But the Church has used them, exploited their pain, capitalised on their weaknesses, and absolved itself of sin and guilt. The Church has washed itself in the blood of these lambs, and restored itself by swallowing up their souls.

It is highly unlikely that the true numbers of crimes, victims and predatory priests will ever be publicly known. The Church will do everything in it’s power to prevent it. What is certain is that the majority of priests who abuse will go unknown, unchallenged and unpunished. The Church does not have the right to protect them, but it will do so anyway. What it fails to see is that all priests will be suspect if the guilty are allowed to hide behind the dog-collar. Of course, a Church that thinks in terms of hundreds, even thousands of years knows that the more it hides, the more it downplays, the more it minimises the easier it will be to slip everything into a neat file marked ‘History – Restoration of the Church’s good name’.


PS: A news snippet just in from the Central Coast's journal of record, The Woy Woy Times Courier Tribune Herald:

The Gosford City Council has announced plans to move one of it's major waste-recycling and garbage collection areas to the Woy Woy Municipality. Apparently the first move will be a public awareness campaign built around the following slogan:

"Woy Woy- A great place to take a dump!"


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