Monday, April 26, 2010

Questions for Catholics

St. Stephens Catholic Church
Yesterday, I attended Mass at St. Stephen's Catholic Church, up on SE 41st and Taylor, with my sister, Chae.  (This is a year of great faith for me, apparently, seeing as I have now attended Mass twice in one year!)  The priest is a man of Asian descent, Father Petrus.  His sermon included two anecdotes, one humorous and one exemplary, both of which I enjoyed.  He and the deacon were friendly and welcoming.

This was the first Mass I have attended at St. Stephen's church.  Mostly, I attend the St. Philip-Neri Catholic Church down on Division Street (when I attend at all).  The congregation at St. Stephen was older and not nearly as numerous as that of St. Philip-Neri.  The church itself was spectacular, with its stained glass windows depicting various biblical scenes, and its vividly-sculpted (but not overly gruesome) Stations of the Cross.

In truth, although I am not a member of the Church, never having been baptized, I long to be a part of it.  I find the ritual and tradition associated with the Church to be beautiful.  I believe the Church can serve (has, in fact, served) as a vehicle to improve the lot of humanity.  I yearn for a way to express the brotherhood I feel and the love I have (or wish to have, anyway) toward mankind.  And, then, there is that my father, on his death bed, expressed his wish that I be baptized.  

During the Mass, one of the congregation, a tiny, prim, elderly woman with her head bent down between her shoulders, and her chin only just reaching the top of the lectern, led us in a prayer for the priests of the Church.  Of course, that got me to thinking...

The Catholic Church is currently enduring some (much-deserved) criticism.  Over the years, for the last several decades, pedophiles have penetrated the priesthood and have sexually abused children within the Catholic flock.  But, of course, pedophiles are everywhere in our society and there is no reason to expect that they would not be in the Catholic clergy any less than anywhere else.  The issue that Catholics and others find most egregious is that there seems to have been a cover-up of this activity by the Church hierarchy, extending all the way up to the Vatican.  Indeed, even the Holy Father is implicated in the cover-up.

The scandal is grievous.  But there is no question that the Church will survive it.  After all, the Catholic Church is the largest single institution in all of humanity, as measured by the number of people that claim membership. The Church has been shaped by some of the greatest minds that mankind has produced:  Thomas Aquinas, Michelangelo, Pope John Paul II, and many others.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church is guilty of egregious sins.  The pedophilia cover-up is not even the worst.  How about the Inquisition?  How about the slaughter and enslavement of indigenous Americans?  Or how about the systematic murder of pagans in the early days? 

Further, I am uncomfortable with many aspects of the Catholic creed.

I am uneasy with the concept of so much power resting in the hands of a single man (the Pope).  As today's headlines so often remind us, any man can fall.  Check that --rather, every man will fall.  And the process by which a pope is selected is highly-political, which will make wary any but the most blind of zealots.  So, why should so many people ever accept as "infallible" the words of a man, any man, who is capable of sin and who has attained his position as leader of the Church through political maneuvering? 

Then also, I have doubts about my own motives.  I can't say that I believe in the Virgin Birth, nor that Christ died for my sins, nor that He was anymore the Son of God than anyone else.  Can I truly be a Catholic without believing these things?  Must I will myself to believe them before I become baptized?  And, if so, how do I do that?  Do I simply accept them as true?  I'm not sure that is within my ability.
  
I've appealed to the clergy for help with these questions, but the priest seemed impatient with my queries.  (I don't blame him.  Priests have a lot of demands on their time.)  So, this time, I thought I'd appeal to the laity.  Are there any Catholics out there who have wrestled with similar questions?  How did you deal with them?  How do you reconcile your misgivings and your doubts?

In all sincerity, I'm asking.

6 comments:

Tim E said...

Hey Dade, I'll leave the official response for a Catholic to respond... but I'd really question the value of being baptized if you don't believe those the tenants of the faith. The reality of baptism is that you are representing an association with Jesus Christ.

Per our statement of faith @ SBC:
Baptism, first and foremost, is identification with Jesus Christ. It is publicly and openly identifying with this One Who died for my sins and rose again. It is a symbol of the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.
See Romans 6:3-5 for evidence of same.

Ray Holliday said...

Dade,

I came to the Catholic Church over 10 years ago after searching for a church and searching for faith. I, like you was called by the tradition and the rituals.
I disagree with your statements that the church did this and the church did that. The priests, as humans and sinners have done many things over the centuries. The "Church" is holy and will endure and survive. In reading your letter I believe what you are searching for is in the Catholic Church. I suggest you immerse your self in the church. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults or RCIA is where I truly heard the call from God. When my wife and I were dating, she was taking RCIA classes as a lifelong Catholic to learn more about her faith. We would talk about what she learned and I was intrigued and drawn to learn more. Two years later I was baptized and confirmed and my life has not been the same since.
The church historically has not been great about education about the details of the faith. Our church here in Klamath, St.Pius X, over the last couple of years has started teaching weekly classes about the catholic faith, now that I have learned more, I believe that if any semi-believer knew the details about the Catholic Church they would join immediately. I urge you to find a church that not only teaches RCIA but that has other educational opportunities, and learn about it. Faith is not easy there will be parts of church doctrine you will question, we all as humans are occasionally tempted as Jesus was, the goal is to be strong enough to resist. Immerse yourself and you will see.

Ray Holliday

Anonymous said...

Dade,
I have an addendum to the statement "pedophiles have penetrated the priesthood", that might serve to shed some light on the subject.

As you know, many years ago the Physicians Desk Reference deleted homosexuality as pathology and added a classification for pathologies associated with the effect of societal intolerance of homosexuals. Studies have shown that a majority of those convicted of hate crimes against gays have repressed homosexual urges themselves.

I think it's clear that the church's demand for celibacy is at the root of the problem. As a gay man, I know that many young gay men and women experience an enhanced spirituality throughout their lives and entering the priesthood is also a tempting "denial" of their unwanted urges and attractions.

I also know from experience that until I accepted myself, the effects of my suppression were showing themselves in various pathologies. Sexuality cannot be suppressed, only transmuted into love for another.

So, I say pedophiles are not born they are grown and cultivated by our society; at least with respect to gay pedophiles, which is what the church is having trouble with primarily. (BTW, it is worth mentioning that the vast majority of pedophiles in secular society are hetero's).

Many of these people never were able to have boyfriends and girlfriends as adolecents like "normal" people and they never get over it. The feelings they had for their secret lovers were never fulfilled and the imagery of those desires never left.

Rick C.

Dan Binmore said...

Dade, this is what I think is the issue. You correctly recognize that the Catholic Church adds community, meaning, solace, purpose, ritual and history to people's lives. It takes away the fear of death, it helps people to feel that there is a point, that we are all loved, and there is a foundation upon which to build a life.

However, you also recognize that the beliefs upon which the Catholic Church is founded is just bullshit. The basic story of an all-powerful, benevolent god sacrificing a part of himself to himself in order to forgive people is arrant nonsense.

My advice would be to do what my other has done over the years which is to go to church when you feel like it. Enjoy being a part of the ritual, and the peace, and the community, and the history, and following a family tradition. That's all possible while knowing, as my mother stated to me, that the "Whole idea is nonsense." My mother derived great satisfaction from the experience.

It's quite clear from your own post that there's no shortage of espoused catholics who believe what they want and take what they want from the church.

If you have to work at believing something over the course of months and years, then actually what you are doing is lying to yourself.

"Shusli" Baseler said...

Anyone who is interested in joining a christian religion ought to consider this scripture: "You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" Matt. 7:16, American King James Version

The guy in charge of the Catholic church right now is a former Youth for Hitler, and directly observed the atrocities of the Nazis. Did/said nothing in opposition that is on record. Then there are all those things you've enumerated in your blog entry that would be bad fruit.

All Catholics should demand that the priests and any others who have been involved in COVERING UP INSTITUTIONALIZED PEDOPHILIA, all the way up to the pope, resign at once.

On the other hand, I can see the attraction to the liturgy and community.

I'm sorry; you were asking for Catholics perspectives!

Rhonda/Shusli

Roger Buck said...

Dade,

As I said I am off to Spain ...

Hardly a moment to write.

But the intelligence of your search and your articulation of it is striking me ,,,

Yes this is very interesting that you are as you say "asking"

I am a convert who was very suspicious of institutionalised religion for decades, not to mention highly centralised ones.

A Catholic book called Meditations on the Tarot turned my life inside out.

There is a lot at my site about this ...

If you go to my label Abuse you will find a post On the Crimes of Catholics that may address some of the important questions you are asking.

Warmly yours,

Roger

PS. I guess you will know that favourite author of yours Tolkien was not simply Catholic but very very devout and traditionalist.

Like that sage of Oxford, I too am a Catholic Monarchist ...