Simon Heffer writes powerfully on the subject of tolerance here. He even writes from an appropriately self-confessed position of theologically absent participant. Worth reading. Even if you really cannot find it within yourself to agree with everything he says.
If I argue so strongly against taking pyramidal positions in politics, how can I be comfortable in a church which requires adhesion to a rigid hierarchy any tinpot dictatorship might be perfectly proud to run with?
Before you fume, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the Catholic Church is a tinpot dictatorship, though these words from Heffer are priceless. Firstly, he says:
[...] The Pope and his adherents are entitled (at least, so far as I am concerned) to their view that secularism is bad. I even had some sympathy with the cardinal who called us a Third World country, though my reasons are, I suspect, not the same as his. However, countries far less secular than ours are not inevitably happier, safer, more settled places than the United Kingdom.
Only to go on to point out that:
Mexico is a country of devout and active Roman Catholics. It is also one of the world’s most criminal, dangerous and failed states. Italy, the home of the Catholic Church, is half controlled by the mafia, half by its sleazeball of a prime minister, who despite being the wrong side of 70, drives a coach and four through his Church’s doctrine of sexual morality.
Elements of the Catholic Church were actively supportive of IRA murderers in Northern Ireland and turn a blind eye to organised crime by the American mafia.
And all that is before we get on to the hideous scar left on the lives of countless people by paedophile priests all over the world, whom the Church has only disciplined when absolutely forced to do so – and then inadequately.
What I object to most, however, as is my wont, are the structures of impositional power so casually and unquestioningly employed by the Church’s hierarchy through what I would see more as hidebound tradition than a desire to understand and apply the Word of God.
I do not use the word “hypocrisy” lightly – but the behaviours our attention has been brought to are undeniably hypocritical.
As well as, quite precisely, in bad faith.
At least with respect to those individuals whose misdemeanours – through diligent reporting alone – have crept unwillingly out of the woodwork.
I believe the Pope has now described the crimes of child abuse in question as being of an “unspeakable” nature. I do wonder, however, if that has been precisely the problem: if only someone had cared to speak out in time, then surely so many of these “unspeakable” crimes could have been – and indeed would have been – prevented.
Unhappily, the Church has shown itself to be in no way anticipatory or proactive in its desire to rid its body of scandal. Indeed, some of the earlier stories that surfaced in the media seemed to lead one to believe that the Church’s main objective was more to rid itself of those it might define as scandalmongers rather than attempt, in any meaningful way, to root out underlying failings.
A typical reaction of a corporate organisation is to want to do away with the whistleblower before the public finds out.
The Catholic Church is no different.
Heffer then argues that:
I can understand why this makes atheists angry. It makes many who believe in God angry, too. And I know the Pope has, both as pontiff and in previous roles in the hierarchy, been culpable, especially in the matter of child-molesting priests. But none of this merits the silly over-reaction by self-advertising unbelievers that has greeted his visit, and which has threatened to compromise our reputation as a civilised and hospitable country.
But even so.
The very fact that we have a mastodontic organisation where the private good of the many is lost in amongst the actions of the now very public few is reason enough to feel more than a little inhospitable to the Pope. It’s not the numbers of rotten cardinals, priests and nuns that count – but, rather, where exactly on the strata of hierarchies they are found to be abusing their trust.
For that is the real weakness of a pyramid. Where it goes bad anywhere near the top, it goes very quickly bad. Self-interest and a desire to defend what is actually a hugely fragile superstructure overtake any latent instincts to do good. And if you are at the top, you count for far more than any “nobody” below you.
You get used to believing it, in fact.
What’s wrong with the Catholic Church can be summed up in this exchange from Twitter tonight. First my own:
@Phillip_Blond I think any Catholic is brought up to trust rigidly hierarchical structure quite absolutely. That trust now shattered.
And perceptively, Phillip Blond’s rejoinder:
@eiohel agreed that’s why catholicism itself must blend hierarchy with democracy it must become more civil
For that is precisely where the Catholic Church needs to learn its most broad-ranging lessons. If, that is, it is ever to rescue itself from that incessant blight of both figurative and literal navel-gazing.
Yes. The lessons it must learn are from that secular society in all its glories which the Church is so happy to easily condemn.
Of course I’d hasten to add that I would never dare to suggest it should acquire from secular society a quite foreign set of dogmas and beliefs – though it might be nice if the Church could (for example) occasionally see its way to understanding other ways of loving as just another example of the Lord’s own desire for life’s experiences to inhabit areas of difference, change and honest experimentation.
A journey with uncertain but sincere destination rather than a blind belief in a fixed state of mind.
In general, that is to say, an acting in good faith.
Love, after all, simply is.
Wouldn’t you say?
So it is that I would argue where the Church must learn from the secular is not in relation to its attitudes – for attitudes cannot change without changing systems.
If the Church cared to simply transplant a 21st century set of ways of doing and seeing into a medieval power structure such as it – in common with many other corporate bodies – employs, we would get absolutely nowhere.
In fact, we would probably take several steps backwards.
Dogmas and beliefs, no. At least not yet. But organisational tools, yes. Here we have a fighting chance.
This is where the Church must learn from the secular: in how it marshals power – how it structures relationships and organises its adherents.
In this, those of us who find ourselves in the political adventure that is the Labour Party and its current process of renewal are perhaps not all that removed from those who would profess the faith of Roman Catholicism.
Both groups of followers have been abused savagely by their leaders – morally and institutionally.
Both groups of followers have exhibited a far greater appetite to do what is right in times of stricken conscience than those in charge have ever cared to exhibit. In the case of the Labour Party, we have the Iraq War as a clear example. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, all those examples of child abuse so consistently covered up.
Pyramids are not safe ways of organising grand institutions. They create and encourage foolish and destructive behaviours. Bad practice can spread rapidly. Good practice leaves by the front door – sickened by what it sees and by what is permitted.
Lip service gets paid.
Those “yes men and women” rule the roost.
And all this time, the grassroots learns it must go about its business supinely.
So it is that I am a lapsed Catholic.
And even now my socialism finds itself a little guarded.