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He may not have been lying—he may merely have been ignorant. But to be uninformed about the long-simmering Magdalene scandal was just as bad. The wire had begun to stretch a quarter of a century ago, when I was starting out as a Boston Globe columnist. Twenty years earlier, I had been a Catholic priest, preoccupied with war, social justice, and religious reform—questions that defined my work for the Globe.

One of my first columns, published in September , was a reflection on the child-sex-abuse crimes of a Massachusetts priest named James Porter. So it took some doing to bring me to a breaking point, and Pope Francis—whom in many ways I admire, and in whom I had placed an almost desperate hope—is the unlikely person who brought me there. For the first time in my life, and without making a conscious decision, I simply stopped going to Mass.

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I am not deluding myself that this response of mine has significance for anyone else— Who cares? I have not been to Mass in months.


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I carry an ocean of grief in my heart. The virtues of the Catholic faith have been obvious to me my whole life. The world is better for those virtues, and I cherish the countless men and women who bring the faith alive. The Catholic Church is a worldwide community of well over 1 billion people. North and South, rich and poor, intellectual and illiterate—it is the only institution that crosses all such borders on anything like this scale. The Church is the largest nongovernmental organization on the planet, through which selfless women and men care for the poor, teach the unlettered, heal the sick, and work to preserve minimal standards of the common good.

The world needs the Church of these legions to be rational, historically minded, pluralistic, committed to peace, a champion of the equality of women, and a tribune of justice. After the death, in , of Pope Pius XII—and after 11 deadlocked ballots—a presumptive nonentity from Venice named Angelo Roncalli was elected pope, in effect to keep the Chair of Peter warm for the few years it might take one or another of the proper papal candidates to consolidate support.

Vatican II advanced numerous reforms of liturgy and theology, ranging from the jettisoning of the Latin Mass to the post-Holocaust affirmation of the integrity of Judaism. The declaration, though it would turn out to have little practical consequence for the clergy, was symbolized by liturgical reform that brought the altar down from on high, into the midst of the congregation. I was a teenager at the time, living with my family on a military base in Germany, but I paid close attention to the impression Pope John was making in Rome.

He ordered the anti-Jewish adjective perfidious deleted from the Catholic liturgy.

How to save the Catholic Church

In one area after another, the council raised basic questions of ethos, honesty, and justice, setting in motion a profound institutional examination of conscience. I was very much a part of the Vatican II generation. In due course I would become a priest—a member of a liberal American order known as the Paulist Fathers. The Paulists redefined themselves around the vision of Pope John, and made me an advocate of that vision.

What Vatican II did not do, or was unable to do, except symbolically, was take up the issue of clericalism—the vesting of power in an all-male and celibate clergy. My five years in the priesthood, even in its most liberal wing, gave me a fetid taste of this caste system. Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, its sexual repressiveness, and its hierarchical power based on threats of a doom-laden afterlife, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction.

Clericalism is both the underlying cause and the ongoing enabler of the present Catholic catastrophe. I left the priesthood 45 years ago , before knowing fully what had soured me, but clericalism was the reason.

Are Roman Catholics saved?

Christianity was very different at the beginning. The first reference to the Jesus movement in a nonbiblical source comes from the Jewish Roman historian Flavius Josephus, writing around the same time that the Gospels were taking form. But under Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century, Christianity effectively became the imperial religion and took on the trappings of the empire itself.

A diocese was originally a Roman administrative unit. A basilica, a monumental hall where the emperor sat in majesty, became a place of worship. A diverse and decentralized group of churches was transformed into a quasi-imperial institution—centralized and hierarchical, with the bishop of Rome reigning as a monarch.

Church councils defined a single set of beliefs as orthodox, and everything else as heresy.

To paraphrase the grim Pennsylvania report: can the shepherds stop preying on the flock?

Augustine painted the original act of disobedience as a sexual sin, which led to blaming a woman for the fatal seduction—and thus for all human suffering down through the generations. This amounted to a major revision of the egalitarian assumptions and practices of the early Christian movement. It also put sexuality, and anything related to it, under a cloud, and ultimately under a tight regime. The repression of desire drove normal erotic urges into a social and psychological netherworld. The celibacy of priests, which grew out of the practice of ascetic monks and hermits, may have been put forward, early on, as a mode of intimacy with God, appropriate for a few.

But over time the cult of celibacy and virginity developed an inhuman aspect—a broader devaluation and suspicion of bodily experience. It also had a pragmatic rationale. In the Middle Ages, as vast land holdings and treasure came under Church control, priestly celibacy was made mandatory in order to thwart inheritance claims by the offspring of prelates. Seen this way, celibacy was less a matter of spirituality than of power. The conceptual underpinnings of clericalism can be laid out simply: Women were subservient to men.

Removed by celibacy from competing bonds of family and obligation, priests were slotted into a clerical hierarchy that replicated the medieval feudal order. When I became a priest, I placed my hands between the hands of the bishop ordaining me—a feudal gesture derived from the homage of a vassal to his lord. In my case, the bishop was Terence Cooke, the archbishop of New York. Following this rubric of the sacrament, I gave my loyalty to him, not to a set of principles or ideals, or even to the Church.

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Or that they might find it hard to break from the feudal order that provides community and preferment, not to mention an elevated status the unordained will never enjoy? Or that Church law provides for the excommunication of any woman who attempts to say the Mass, but mandates no such penalty for a pedophile priest?

https://xn----7sbbfgc7eemfc.xn--j1amh/cli/xagopyw/4295.php Clericalism is self-fulfilling and self-sustaining. It thrives on secrecy, and it looks after itself. Now, with children as victims and witnesses both, the corruption of priestly dominance has been shown for the evil that it is. Clericalism explains both how the sexual-abuse crisis could happen and how it could be covered up for so long.

If the structure of clericalism is not dismantled, the Roman Catholic Church will not survive, and will not deserve to. I know this problem from the inside. Ironically, the Church, which sponsored my civil-rights work and prompted my engagement in the antiwar movement, made me a radical.

I was the Catholic chaplain at Boston University, working with draft resisters and protesters, and soon enough I found myself in conflict with the conservative Catholic hierarchy. My priesthood. I heard the confessions of young people wracked with guilt not because of authentic sinfulness but because of a Church-imposed sexual repressiveness that I was expected to affirm.

Just by celebrating the Mass, I helped enforce the unjust exclusion of women from equal membership in the Church. I valued the community life I shared with fellow priests, but I also sensed the crippling loneliness that could result from a life that lacked the deep personal intimacy other human beings enjoy. My relationship with God was so tied up with being a priest that I feared a total loss of faith if I left. That very fear revealed a denigration of the laity and illustrated the essential problem. If I had stayed a priest, I see now, my faith, such as it was, would have been corrupted.

Still, the fact that Vatican II had occurred at all, against such great odds, was enough to validate a hope, half a century later, that the Church could survive the contemporary moral collapse of its leadership. That was the hope kindled by the arrival, in , of the pope from Argentina.

Pope Francis seemed to me, in the beginning, like a rescuer.


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  • He cradled and kissed the blistering feet of a Muslim inmate in a Roman prison and made a pilgrimage to the U. He opened the door to Cuba and shut down the ancient Catholic impulse to convert the Jews. He has argued that religion is not a zero-sum enterprise in which the truth of one faith comes at the expense of the truth of others. The pope began as a man of science, which scrambles the old assumptions about the clash between religious belief and rational inquiry. The chemist turned Jesuit is presumably familiar with the principle of paradigm shift—the overturning through new evidence of the prevailing scientific framework.

    Settled ideas are forever on the way to being unsettled. So too with religion. But he holds to the fundamentals loosely. In his book The Name of God Is Mercy , Francis explores the connection between specifically religious ideas and the concerns that all human beings share. But today such longing for transcendence exists beyond categories of theism and atheism.


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    • Francis somehow gestured toward that horizon with innate eloquence. He offered less a message that explains than an invitation to explore. He has been attacked by proponents of unfettered free-market capitalism and by bigots who despise his appreciation of Islam. Steve Bannon, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, has attacked Francis for his criticism of nationalist populism and Francis draws fire in some circles as the embodiment of anti-Trump conviction. But inside the Church, the fiercest opposition has come from defenders of clericalism—the spine of male power and the bulwark against any loosening of the sexual mores that protect it.