I was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church. It was a curious upbringing because my mother was the Catholic but my father was a Unitarian. It was the odd confluence of an extremely conservative church, Catholic, with an extremely liberal church, Unitarian. And in those days, the 1950s and 1960s, marriage of Catholics to non-Catholics was discouraged, to say the least. My parents were married in 1946 in the Rectory of St. Michael’s Church in North Andover Massachusetts. Church weddings of that sort were prohibited in those days. My mother saw to it that I was in church every Sunday and in Sunday school immediately following. As I got older I was required to attend religious classes once a week after school. First communion and confirmation were a given and something we all actually looked forward to.
In the early 1960s Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI oversaw certain transformations in the Catholic Church. Prior to then the Catholic mass was said entirely in Latin. Latin was removed in favor of the language spoken locally. The American Catholic Church embraced the idea of bringing folk music into its services. It seemed the Catholic Church was embracing the idea of change and was becoming a friendlier and less feared church than it had been. In the years since the church also embraced the idea of having deacons, lay people who passed out communion, and lay people who assisted in performing the mass. Also, most nuns’ habits gave way to ordinary clothing.
Unfortunately, since the death of Pope Paul VI, the Roman Catholic Church seems to have reverted to its extremely conservative ways. In doing so it has once again turned its back on the needs of Catholics word-wide. The church seems to be in total denial of its responsibility to its membership.
The Archdiocese of Boston, one of the largest diocese by membership in the country, has such difficulty in attracting young men to its seminary that it usually graduates and ordains new priests in numbers less than 10. I suspect the reason for this is simple, the church still requires a lifetime promise of celibacy by its priests. This is contrary to every human predilection known. And of courses, priests cannot marry. Some years ago I had a good friend who was a priest who had just entered his 40s. He could no longer deny his attraction to women and observe his vow of celibacy. He was an excellent priest but found it necessary to leave the priesthood as he found the requirements imposed upon him to be untenable. I think this is a very common occurance.
Along this same line, I had to travel to Oklahoma City for business about 15 years ago. My stays out there became extended and encompassed weekends. I visited one of the 3 Catholic Churches there where I found an aging priest. He told me he could not retire because there was no one to replace him even though he was in his late 70s. I also found out that there are many small cities in the plains states that have Catholic Churches but no priest assigned. They are served by traveling priests.
The obvious solution to this problem seems simple enough, allow priests to marry. But for reasons which defy logic, the very conservative College of Cardinals steadfastly refuses to even consider such a change. Here is their logic as presented on catholic.com: “Theologically, it may be pointed out that priests serve in the place of Christ and therefore, their ministry specially configures them to Christ. As is clear from Scripture, Christ was not married (except in a mystical sense, to the Church). By remaining celibate and devoting themselves to the service of the Church, priests more closely model, configure themselves to, and consecrate themselves to Christ.” But this was a change the Roman Church made in 1139. The Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and others, never adopted this belief.
Pope Francis recently reminded, and reaffirmed, that divorced Catholics who had remarried and not gotten an annulment of their first marriage, are “living in sin” and therefore cannot receive communion! I believe the Catholic Church is the only major church in the world which prohibits its member from remarrying without getting an annulment. I once asked a priest about an annulment and he explained that in essence it is a declaration that an actual marriage never existed. For me to have pursued, and received, such a declaration would have been essentially perpetrating a huge fraud. I was married to that woman for 14 years and had 3 children by her. Of course it was a marriage! But the Catholic Church states it wants me to still attend mass but I just cannot take part in the most important part of the service. This is like inviting me to a birthday party but telling me I cannot have any cake and ice cream. The concept is absolutely absurd!
Next we have birth control and abortion. I absolutely understand the church’s stand on abortion, it is entirely contrary to its most basic beliefs. And while I absolute agree with the prohibition regardless of circumstance, I also believe it to be an entirely personal moral dilemma and that each woman needs to make a decision based on her on conscience and without the intrusion of outside influence. It is a discussion between her and the God of her understanding.
But other forms of birth control are an entirely different matter. The use of condoms and contraception are a modern day necessity. For a married Catholic to follow the church’s teachings exactly, they would need to go contrary to the basic and loving desires, forgoing all sexual contact out of fear of pregnancy. This is an absolutely absurd idea and prohibition.
Finally is the church’s stance towards gay people. Their stance is easy to understand in the light of what the Bible says. I have two problems with that however. First, all the various versions of the New Testament today are translations from ancient Greek. But the problem is that Jesus Christ spoke in the Aramaic language, not Greek. This means at the very least there was a translation made. But was that translation from an oral tradition or the written word? No one knows. But we do know that Aramaic had about 5000 words total. Now compare that with the over 1 million words in the English language today to get a feel for the problem. Noted writer, Dr. Isaac Asimov, related how the word for young girl and virgin in Aramaic are the exact same word. It is my belief that the first person relating the story of the birth of Jesus was referring to Mary as a young girl because we believe she was likely as young as 12 when she married the much older Joseph. That she was a virgin was a more important concept to 10th century Rome than 1st Century Palestine, Turkey, and Greece. The mysticism surrounding a virgin birth was more valuable to Dark Age church leaders than explaining a sexual congress between Mary and Joseph. By the 12th century the Catholic Church was all about putting even the mention of sexuality into the closet. What does all this have to do with being gay? Simple, it is my belief that large portions of the New Testament are both incomplete and incorrect translations. The Gnostic Gospels sheds some light on this with its Gospel of Mary, something the Roman Church has chosen to distance itself from. But more to the point, it could mean the admonition of one man laying with another may have originally been a prohibition of adult men bedding boys, something which happened frequently in those days, particularly in traveling merchants. That gay men existed at the time of Jesus is undeniable. But so did pedophilia and I believe Jesus saw that as a much more serious problem than man’s inability to understand gay love. One is an abuse of power, position, and children, while the other is a different sort of love. I do not understand love between same sex individuals but I do accept it. It just as real as any other sort of love and that is all I need to know.
To be fair, the Roman Catholic Church is not alone in favoring certain absolutes of human behavior. Evangelical and other conservative Christian churches in the world espouse many of the same tenants. But it is a requirement of any church to tend to the needs of its followers. The Roman Catholic Church is absolutely failing in this respect and that is likely the primary reason it has seen church attendance plummet and parishes closes even though the number of people who identify themselves as Catholic rises.
The Roman Catholic desperately needs to make itself more attractive to all its members, not just those who adhere to its rigid tenants. I suspect that if all those Catholics who regularly attend church today were to suddenly stop attending church because they violate one or more of these basic tenants, Catholic Churches worldwide would become empty. The Catholic Church does not lack for theologians, both lay and ministerial, who desperately want the changes I have mentioned. But as long as a very small and very conservative group of Cardinals are allowed to continue as they have, church attendance and membership will continue to fall. But worse, the church will continue to ignore many of the most basic teachings of Jesus Christ.