When Religion Goes Sour


The tsunami of clerical sexual abuse, now flooding the contemporary Roman Catholic Church, highlights the irony of religion. While religion can bring insight, care and redemption, it can also debase, abuse and reinforce, as well, the sinister aspirations of the human spirit. All in God’s name.

It is not surprising that unhealthy religion goes hand in hand with religious fundamentalism which is becoming the hallmark of the current papacy.

Fundamentalism is fundamentally flawed because it takes one element of the truth and proclaims it as the WHOLE TRUTH. Religious fundamentalists place such a high priority on doctrinal conformity and obedience to doctrinaire spokespersons that they sacrifice the very values which are basic to the great religious traditions: love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and caring. In their overwhelming seriousness about religion, fundamentalists do not hesitate to intervene in political and social process to ensure that society is forced to conform to the values and behaviors the fundamentalist worldview requires.

Writing in the Boston Globe on this Monday after Easter 2010, James Carroll, argues that we need to rescue Catholicism from a fundamentalist Vatican.

“The whole Catholic Church seems to be in crisis,” he writes “but what is really at stake here is the collapse not of Catholicism, but of Catholic fundamentalism.”

Carroll continues:

Fundamentalism is the raising of religious barricades against tides of change. Protestant fundamentalists use the Bible (quoting verses of scripture) as both sword and shield. Catholic fundamentalists use the papacy that way (quoting encyclicals). Today’s Vatican presides as center of a command society with global reach, attempting to exert absolute control over all aspects of Catholic life, from the major (doctrine) to the minor (altar boys). Despite the impression that even many Catholics have, such papal dominance is a modern phenomenon. The Vatican was not always a corporate headquarters, with the world’s bishops as menial regional office managers, priests as messengers, the laity as mere customers…

Surprisingly, no one saw this distortion more clearly than a pope — John XXIII, who called, yes, a council to correct it. His Vatican II (1962-65) aimed to restore the “collegiality’’ of bishops (the pope only as “first among equals’’); to reinvigorate local expressions of belief (hence worship in the vernacular); and to retrieve the “priesthood of all believers’’ as a check on clericalism. Vatican II was a step toward the democratizing of the Catholic Church, which is why Catholic fundamentalists have been seeking to undo it ever since. Fundamentalist-in-chief has been Joseph Ratzinger.

Across three decades, Ratzinger was key to the appointment of bishops whose overriding commitment was the protection of pope-centered clerical authority. Terrified of acting on their own, they had one eye eternally on Rome. “Scandal’’ was their nightmare. Between an abused child and a predator priest, their choice was always simple: protecting the power structure meant protecting the priest. That structure is the problem, which means the pope’s resignation is not the issue.

An example of what must happen now came from the American nuns who recently defied the Rome-obsessed bishops to support President Obama’s health reform bill. The nuns acted as if the reforms of Vatican II are real. Now priests and lay people must do the same, rescuing the Catholic Church from its fundamentalists, including the present pope.

2 thoughts on “When Religion Goes Sour

  1. We need to be accurate and stop discussing conservatism and address the problem of Catholic Fundamentalism for that is what conservatism is. They give more literal weight to Church decrees and encyclicals than required in the interpretation of the Bible. Perhaps Islamic fundamentalism has discredited the attitude enough to make Catholic Fundamentalism a distasteful notion and we can make some progress toward restoring the spirit of Vatican II.

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