Why Is Anyone Still Catholic?


If your softball league or your children’s school did what the Catholic Church is doing, you’d quit in outrage. So why haven’t you?

Catholicchurch For any Catholics who might be reading this, I have a question for you:

Why are you still Catholic?

Presumably, I don’t have to tell you about the rash of child-rape scandals in the Catholic Church. I don’t have to tell you about the cover-ups, the shielding of child rapists in the priesthood from law enforcement, the deliberate shuttling of child-raping priests from town to town to protect them from exposure — thus enabling them to continue raping children. I don’t have to tell you about the Church using remote, impoverished villages as a dumping ground for priests who raped children. I don’t have to tell you that this wasn’t a few isolated incidents: it was a widespread, institutional practice, authorized by high-level Church officials. Including Cardinal Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — who, among other actions taken to protect child raping priests, delayed the dismissal of a child rapist in the priesthood… for the “good of the universal Church.”

And presumably, I don’t have to tell you about the Church’s response as this scandal has been exposed. I don’t have to tell you that, overwhelmingly, they have stonewalled, rationalized, deflected blame. I don’t have to tell you about the Church’s “Come on, the kids weren’t that young, most of them were over 11″ defense, or their “Hey, everyone else is doing it” defense. I don’t have to tell you how they’ve equated the accusations against the Church with anti-Semitism. I don’t have to tell you how they’ve blamed the child-rape scandal on gays, the media, the Devil , even the rape survivors themselves. (No, really. From the Bishop of Tenerife: “There are 13 year old adolescents who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what’s more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you.”) I don’t have to tell you that the Church is opposing a measure extending the statute of limitations on child rape. I don’t have to tell you about the Pope’s dismissal of the child-rapist-protection accusations as, quote, “petty gossip.”

And I’m just focusing on the child rape scandal. I’m not even talking today about the other recent scandals in the Church: the gay prostitution ring, the Church banning the use of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS, the rape of nuns by priests and the ignoring/ concealment thereof.

You know about all of it.

So here’s what I want to ask you:

Why are you still Catholic?

If these scandals had taken place in any organization other than a religious one — would you still be part of it?

*

Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, Why Is Anyone Still Catholic? To find out why I’m exhorting Catholics who are horrified over the child rape scandal to leave the Catholic Church — and why I’m so baffled that more of them aren’t doing that — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Indigo says

    Remind me to never again listen to the little voice that says, “Read the comments! How bad could it possibly be?” Ugh.

  2. says

    Yup. I think I need to start putting warnings on my links to my AlterNert pieces. “Warning: AlterNet comment threads are a toxic snakepit of hostile and stupid. Enter at your own risk.”

  3. says

    I love that Count Me Out website – it’s great to have a procedure to leave, as the RCC kept the process very difficult to find before that.
    I’m at the end of the (still long) process to officially defect (as the RCC calls it). Cannot WAIT.

  4. Maria says

    This whole thing depresses me. If they won’t start question things at something like this… then what…?
    Pessimistic as I am I didn’t really expect a mass escape on a global scale from the Catholic church, but…
    It really drives home the point of just how harmful and scary this mind-virus is.

  5. says

    If you want to see the real bottom of the barrel look at the comments threads on Youtube or Cracked. They make these look enlightened. (At least most of these are coherent)

  6. Jack Bandage says

    A gross misrepresentation of the facts regarding the scandal followed by a tirade of lies on other issues.
    If it were targeting any other group it would be considered hate speech.
    Hate on, hater!

  7. cag says

    A gross representation of the facts regarding the scandal followed by a tirade of truth on other issues.
    There is no Bandage large enough to cover this festering wound.
    Write on, realist!

  8. Nurse Ingrid says

    Danu, my hat is off to you! I want to thank and commend you for staying true to your conscience and voting with your feet. If only more ex-believers were as brave and principled as you.

  9. DA says

    To be honest, I find comments at Pharyngula only slightly better than at alternet. A lot of PZ’s fans are clueless assholes.
    My Catholic mom recently visited me in China, which is awesome and I swore to myself I’d just keep my mouth shut about the church situation and enjoy her company, even found the local Chinese Catholic church for her so she could do mass. And my smart, liberal, pro-queer, pro-feminist mom mostly left it alone. Then we were in the car one day and she starts going on about all the sickos who support Roman Polanski. It was surreal, and THAT’S when my determination not to attack her religion went up in smoke. I mean, I totally think Polanski should be brought to justice, but c’mon, what he did is such small potatoes compared to decades (maybe centuries) of systematic rape and torture that I can’t even imagine how my mom can go to mass on Sunday and condemn a single rapist who did something 30 years ago without the sheer chutzpah manifesting a rip in space time or something.
    My mom actually agreed with me that most of the church leadership should be investigated and put on trial if necessary. Which brings us back to the main question-why on earth are you a Catholic?

  10. fastthumbs says

    Corruption at the Papel level in the Catholic Church is nothing new, just that the ease of obtaining information is now a lot easier to expose it. From Wikipedia:
    The Borgias or Borjas were a Spanish-Italian noble family who became prominent during the Renaissance. They are remembered today for their corrupt rule when one of them was Pope. The Borgias have been accused of many different crimes, generally on considerable evidence, including adultery, simony, theft, rape, bribery, incest, and murder (especially murder by poison).
    Rodrigo, a cunning intriguer, was elected Pope in 1492, taking the name Alexander VI. He had several acknowledged children, of which Lucrezia and Cesare were best known.
    Cesare, with his father’s backing, tried to become the ruler of Italy. But in 1503, Pope Alexander died suddenly. (It was said that he and Cesare accidentally drank a bottle of their own poisoned wine, although malarial fever, which was spreading through Rome at the time, has also been suggested.) Cesare’s intrigues collapsed and he went off to Spain.
    Lucrezia was also rumored to be a notorious poisoner, though later historians started to consider her more a victim of the family’s plots. She married three times, and after the fall of her father and brother, remained the respected consort of the Duke of Ferrara.

  11. Valhar2000 says

    Well, a perusal of the comments left in Alternet, and the one left by Jack Bandage, suggests that, by and large, Catholics simply do not believe the accusations, and that’s that. This puts the whole situation on a very different light: to us they seem unbelievable hypocrites, but they aren’t really. They are reacting rationally, based on the axioms they have adopted.
    How to get them to abandon those axioms and to see what stands right in front of their noses? That’s more than I can tell you.
    DA: It seems the above does not apply to your mother. Why is she a Catholic still? Did you find out?

  12. Enslin says

    ok ok, lets all hate the catholics because we’re so much more morally superior blah blah. I know… lets hate the politicians because they’re evil and corrupt (everyone knows that) and therefore anyone who votes is guilty by association so lets hate them also. Teachers are mean bullies who abuse their pupils (everyone knows those stories too) so lets hate them and while we’re at it… lets hate the parents who send their kids to school because they’re allowing their kids to be potentially abused. Muslims all hate us, they blow themselves up in their hate (everyone knows that too) so lets hate the muslims too!! Who else, who else can we hate, we all know someone, come on… Oo I know, lets all cut the crap and look at what this is all really about, does Greta have Catholic issues??

  13. Snoof says

    I think two comments in this thread really demonstrate the Catholic-supporting attitude. There’s Jack Bandage’s outright denial, and there’s Enslin’s “yeah, well everyone else is doing it too”. Interesting, eh?

  14. Valhar2000 says

    Yeah, Enslin’s problem is rather more cryptic. In the case of people who deny everything, I can see that they are making a rational argument, based on weird premises, but Enslin’s thing… strange.
    Well, not so strange, since it is a common form of rationalization, but it does not follow any sort of rationality, not even a tortured one.

  15. Spacefall says

    Every time I read comments on something like this I get sucked into this senseless optimism that the people making idiotic arguments from denial or…or whatever kind of argument Enslin is making…that they will be swiftly corrected and realize their error in thinking. Perhaps, Indigo and Miss Scarlet, you suffer from the same unfounded optimism? I think my brain forgets the stupid on purpose, in a desperate bid to protect itself.
    Greta — I will definitely be dragging some Catholic friends this way and observing their reaction. I suspect something like DA’s mum’s reaction…

  16. says

    I don’t hate Catholics, but I’m confused by the blame deflection. If you feel you can’t leave such a corrupt institution because your local parish seems good, then what are you going to do to protest the cover up of decades of child rape? All the Catholics I know left the church in horror upon finding out this was going on – and this was decades ago. If you feel you must stay, stop telling us we’re mean, and start telling us what you are going to do to make the institution worthy of your support. Please?

  17. CC says

    I don’t (really) want to talk about the arguments of “everyone else is doing it” and it’s no worse in the Catholic church than anywhere else. They fall short because – who the helll cares? Child abuse is wrong. We should ALL be above wrong, but religioius leaders especially. The Church has handled just about everything about this scandal horribly poorly. Yes, there are SOME defenses that can be made (many, as you noted are very poor), but I won’t bother with even the very best of them because they don’t really matter. What happened was wrong.
    So why am I still Catholic? Actively, dogmatically, faithfully Catholic?
    Because I follow a God and a faith and I still believe the dogma of the Catholic church – and none of those things did anything wrong.
    Look, the church is made up of people. And people screw up. In this case horribly and heinously. I won’t deny that. But I’m Catholic because I believe the *teachings* of the church, which are not affected by the human failings of those leading it here on earth.
    Does this scandal make me sick and sad and so many other emotions? Yes, absolutely.
    Do individual priests tick me off sometimes? Oh, definitely. I live in a super conservative diocese – they tick me off all the time! ;)
    Do religious leaders do things I disagree with? Sure.
    But does that affect my relationship with God and what I believe (dogmatically) is the best path to Him? Nope. Not at all.
    I know you don’t believe in God, so that may all seem stupid to you. But I’ll try my best for a comparison. It’s not great, but here’s what I’ve got – does anyone suppporting a cause or group you associate yourself with ever embarrass you with their actions? Say you’re democrat – there are plenty examples of corrupt politicians involved in any number of scandals (totally caught with their pants down). Would you say -even though I still totally agree with the party’s agenda, I can’t be a democrat because that democratic leader his disgraced the party?

  18. says

    CC: My problem with what you’re saying is with the word you keep using: “dogmatically.” Catholic Church dogma doesn’t let you just have your freedom of conscience and your personal relationship with the God you believe in. It requires that you participate in the organization and its rites: confess, take communion, etc.
    And therefore, they have you over a barrel. Your position on the necessity of Church dogma gives them your personal consent for then to do absolutely anything they want. That’s exactly what I was talking about when I said, “If you stay in the Catholic Church, even after this scandal, you are essentially telling them, ‘Go ahead and protect child rapists. I don’t care. As long as I personally get to keep taking Communion and go to Heaven when I die, whatever you do is hunky-dory with me. Your spiritual extortion — your indoctrination of the idea that I will be tortured with burning and fire for all eternity if I don’t drink your wine and eat your cracker — has worked. You can do anything at all that you like. You won’t hear a peep out of me.'”
    Your belief that you need to participate in the structure and rites of the Catholic Church means that you have essentially conceded your own conscience, and are telling the Church that they can do anything at all that they want as long as they let you, personally, take Communion so you can go to Heaven when you die. Is that really a moral position you want to be taking?
    Again, like I did in the piece, I would ask you to view your faith the way you would view someone else’s faith. If someone belonged to a sect that worshiped Zeus, and that sect systematically protected child rapists and then offered a pathetic series of stonewalling and rationalizations and deflections of blame when they got caught — but this person sincerely believed that they had to keep participating in the rites of the sect in order to go to the Elysian Fields when they died — would you say, “Oh, well, that’s okay then, the sincerity of your faith lets you off the hook”?
    Finally: It is more than simply “the leader” of the Church that is to blame here. The child rape scandal is an institution-wide culture of actively resisting accountability for what happened. If the Democratic Party had systematically protected child rapists so they could go on raping children, and then offered a series of excuses and defenses and blame-deflections when they got caught? You are damn well right that I would no longer be participating in it.

  19. Quinapalus says

    CC: ok, very eloquent, we get it, you don’t like it one bit that the Church protected its rapists. Allow me to supply the question conspicuously missing from your little dialog: what are you, as a dissatisfied lay catholic, willing or able to do to hold the hierarchy responsible for its crimes? (Yes, much as you would like for the hierarchy’s protection of its felons to be a “horrible, heinous mistake” for which they need not suffer any consequences, it is still a crime.)

  20. DSimon says

    CC, wouldn’t it be possible for you to continue to observe your Catholic faith without supporting any particular earthly institution, particularly one that’s done heinous things in the name (and with the money) of you and your fellow worshippers?
    I’ve talked with a number of Catholics about this issue, and opinions vary, but mostly the opinions I’ve seen about the earthly organisation of the church mirror yours: it’s composed of regular, flawed people. Given that that’s so, why is so important to stick with that particular organisation rather than going with another one that fulfills the same religious purposes but doesn’t abuse its authority?

  21. CC says

    Quinapalus: Oh, don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting that no one should suffer consequences for the wrong doing! Absolutely not. I totally agree that multiple crimes occurred and they should be examined (tried) and there should be punishment. And, I know many people will disagree – but I think that is STARTING to happen. Not enough yet, but it is starting.
    Greta: Participation in the rites of the church does not mean I can’t have a personal conscience or relationship with God. Yes, this is the path to God I’ve chosen – but I don’t believe I need to choose it blindly. I’d not only be a fool if I did that – I’d be a bad Catholic (I am obligated to question and understand my faith).
    Before I go further, I think maybe we need to stop and answer – what is dogma? Dogma is a set of religous tenets – belief in God, Jesus, the holy spirit, the position of Mary, etc. Dogma does not mean social issues – women’s rights, gay’s rights, other issues of sexuality, etc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_Dogma
    My position is NOT that the church can do whatever it wants if I get to take communion and go to heaven. Turning a blind eye to wrong doing and sin isn’t a very good path to heaven. I realize it is VERY hard to change things in the church and it takes decades, but over time the church does actually respond (the counter reformation, the vatican I and vatican II).

  22. CC says

    DSimon: I know this won’t seem to make any sense if you don’t believe it (and I only have a short comment to respond), but while many may laugh and call it juice and crackers, yes, I do believe in transubstantiation / holy communion.
    While I know I can’t express this here, all I can say is – while you don’t believe, try to see the perspective of believing in the true presence in the eucharist – believing that God is really there with me on Sunday – which isn’t just about putting my comfort or warm fuzzy feeling over someone else’s well being, but an actual true connection with the divine.
    I am not asking anyone here to believe this or trying to convert anyone. But the question was why would anyone still be Catholic and I’m trying to answer it honestly. Simply put – because I believe.
    Yes, other there are other earthly organizations also filled with flawed people who do bad things in the name of good (some religious, some not). But they’re not just interchangeable – they actually believe different things.

  23. says

    CC: Two questions.
    One, since I’m not quite clear on what it is you believe: Do you really believe that you have to participate in the Eucharist, performed in and by the Catholic Church, in order to experience true connection with the divine?
    And two is an echo of Quinapalus’s question: What are you, personally, willing to do to hold the Catholic Church accountable for its crimes? What actions have you already taken, and what actions are you willing to take in the future, to make them change? And if they don’t change — if your actions, and the actions of other dissatisfied Catholics, have no effect — what are you willing to do then? If they continue indefinitely to stonewall and rationalize and blame gay and the media and the rape victims and anyone at all other than themselves — are you going to continue to participate in the Church?

  24. Talisker says

    A question for CC and Catholic believers more generally (and one which might have been good to include in Greta’s original post): Why not take action, short of leaving the church? Why not organize, campaign, demand accountability, and generally make it clear that (to purloin a phrase) you’re mad as hell and not going to take it any more?
    I realize that this is against Catholic tradition, which generally encourages the laity to assume the hierarchy knows best. But still, why not do it? If you believe some aspects of the Church have value, then why not try and rescue the institution as a whole? This is an alternative to simply leaving.
    It’s happened before, after all. Martin Luther comes to mind.

  25. Valhar2000 says

    CC: To bang the point in a little more: are you doing anything to hold the church hierarchy accountable for what they have done? If you continue to tithe, and continue to cheer the Pope when he comes to visit, and you continue ignore what the priests are doing until non-Catholics find out about it and make a stink… well, what can I say, except that you are enabling their crimes?
    You probably don’t do these things (I hope), but plenty of your fellow believers do, which does not help things at all.
    You say it takes decades for the Church to change, but that it does change. Well, you what would accelerate the process, as well as serving to very effectively whitewash the image of the Church even in the eyes of people like us? Turn ALL the rapist priests in to the secular authorities, and let them be prosecuted.
    Sure, the hierarchy would be rather thin for a while, but it would not take decades, and the rank and file Catholics of the world would get mad respect from me, if no-one else.
    Indeed, I would go back to thinking of the Catholic hierarchy the way I thought of it when I was a child: a group of good-natured and kind, if a little weird, old men in funny hats who try to help people. If you knew what I think of them now you would be amazed by my moderation in the use of the written word.

  26. CC says

    I’m going to try to make this my last comment b/c I don’t want to hijack this, but I also don’t want to ignore your questions.
    Basically, you’ve set this up that there are 3 possible answers as to why anyone is still Catholic – a) they’re stupid / uniformed / etc., b) they are informed and morally reprehensible or c) they are drones.
    My response of d) faith falls short here because in prior posts you’ve said faith is the silver bullet answer that believers give to avoid explaining themselves. I don’t agree with this as my faith is based on a process of discernment and is not an easy answer, but “why faith” is far too long an answer for a comment.
    So let’s look at pragmatic responses – e) it’s changing now – yes, slowly (too slowly), but it’s happening:
    1. There were 6 credible cases of sexual abuse in the church in teh US last year. http://www.newsweek.com/id/235885 Yes, that’s 6 too many! But, as the attached article notes it’s amazing in a community of 68M people.
    2. The church is (finally) starting to take ownership – last week Pope Benedict stated that the abuse was caused by sin within the church http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/may/12/pope-blames-sin-within-church-for-sex-abuse/.
    Yes I realize this slow and there’s a long path to go. But you previously stated that the reason you are an atheist activist now is because now is when it matters / when you can make a difference – this is the exciting time. I feel the same way about Catholicism now. Changes are coming and now is the time to be part of the change.
    Really quick, what I’m doing – admittedly not enough. But I’m not shutting up. I’m not standing by. And I’m not defending reprehensible stands. Right now, I can’t be very active in the church for personal reasons, but I have volunteered with youth, served on parish councils and worked for change from within.

  27. says

    CC: It’s not hijacking if people are asking you questions. If you don’t want to pursue this, that’s fine — I’m not the keeper of your time and energy — but I’m happy to pursue this a while longer.
    It’s true that, when it comes to questions of “why do you believe what you believe?”, I think “faith” is an evasion of an answer rather than an answer. But I’m willing to set aside the question of “is what you believe true or plausible or supported by evidence?” for now, and look at faith from a different perspective.
    I keep asking, and you keep not answering, “If someone else in a different faith said the things you’re saying about yours, how would you react?” I think this is a very important question. Look again at the example I gave above of the Zeus sect. If you wouldn’t accept the answer of the person who belonged to the Zeus cult — that they sincerely believed they had to keep participating in the sect in order to get to the Elysian Field when they died, no matter how consistently abhorrent the behavior of the sect was — why should you accept it from yourself?
    I’ve asked what it is, exactly, that you believe. It is actually relevant, and I’ll explain why in a second. Do you really believe that you have to participate in the Eucharist, performed in and by the Catholic Church, in order to experience true connection with the divine? And a follow-up: Do you really believe that you have to participate in the Eucharist, performed in and by the Catholic Church, in order to go to Heaven?
    If the answer is “Yes” — then my argument about spiritual extortion holds. The Church has you over a barrel. They can do anything at all that they want to. You can complain and write letters and work for change from within all they want to… but if ultimately they know that you won’t leave because you’re afraid of losing your connection with God and burning in Hell for all eternity if you do, then they can do whatever they want, with complete impunity and no accountability whatsoever.
    And if the answer is “No” — if you think good people who don’t participate in Catholic rites can still experience connection with the divine and go to Heaven — then your defense is completely shot. You don’t need to participate in the Church. You can go to other Churches. (There are even other churches that do communion.)
    In other words: If you think the Church is spiritually necessary, that proves my point about spiritual extortion and the ultimate lack of accountability. And if you don’t think the Church is spiritually necessary, then I once again have to ask: Why are you still in it?
    (And I’ll believe that the Church is finally taking serious responsibility for this when they start (a) firing or demanding the resignation of the people responsible, including the higher-ups who deliberately turned a blind eye, and (b) completely co-operating with law enforcement, including turning perpetrators over to the authorities. And yes, (a) includes the Pope, who was one of the people documented to have deliberately turned a blind eye.)

  28. says

    I see many, many Catholics still rationalizing the reprehensible behaviour of the church in general, and most obviously the Pope (not just his reprehensible behaviour in the past, but his ongoing moral bankruptcy…)
    I think the question that must be put to them is this:
    What would it take? What, in fact, could the church *do* that would make you say “Enough!”.
    Name what it would take, or admit that there is nothing that they could do that would make you leave.

  29. says

    Greta Christina:
    Thanks for writing this. I remember leaving a comment along similar lines on a post on Miranda Celeste Hale’s blog.
    One of the arguments that seems to be made is that the Church (and other denominations as well) can reform themselves if the people speak up about it. While that does happen, it seems to take a long time. (Plus, since the Church is not a democracy, even if many Catholics are angry about the actions of the leaders, the leaders are still the ones who get to make the decisions.) I especially agree with your last point — that the Church will only realize that it has to improve its actions if its leaders realize that they will lose members if they don’t clean house.
    -Sharmin

  30. Jason Failes says

    CC:
    The very same flawed, corrupt, and stupid people in the Catholic church you despise now are, for all intents and purposes the same ones that filled your once-innocent head full of Catholic Dogma in the first place.
    And it’s not just the Catholics of today. It’s flawed, corrupt, and stupid people all the way back through history, up to and including the anonymous writers of the gospels.
    The philosophers’ or deists’ ideas of god we could go on all day about, but Catholicism is clearly man-made (as are all sectarian beliefs).

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