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It's A Catholic Thing 

Sex, the Pope, and God Almighty

There's a lot people don't understand about the Catholic Church, especially in the South. Baptists in particular will assault you with their King James Bibles, full of the royally altered word of God, and attempt to explain to me, a person raised on Catholic history and a healthy dose of Benedictine doctrine, how Catholics are going to hell because they worship the Virgin Mary when they should be worshipping Jesus Christ. Gross ignorance like that usually offends me into silence, but occasionally I'll get into it with one of them, defending a religion I know well but no longer practice.

But they're usually right about one thing. The Catholic Church is falling apart, and the glue the Vatican once used to hold it together is no longer strong enough to overcome the moral pull of the modern world. Talk show hosts who aren't Catholic can't make sense of the pedophile priest scandals, the rampant homosexuality among others, or the church's inability to bend enough to resolve it all.

Why can't priests just marry? Why are gays and pedophiles attracted to the seminaries? Why did it take the bishops so long to acknowledge and condemn the sexual abuse? Why can't the church just bend, just change?

It's culture, baby, culture.

To understand that culture you have to understand one of the main things that sets Roman Catholicism apart from those that came after it: the infallibility of the pope. Catholics believe God is infallible, and when It speaks through the pope on matters of religion, the pope too is infallible. According to the Vatican, this is biblically based. In the Bible, when Jesus gave Peter the key to His church on the rock, he told Peter, the first pope, that what Peter bound on earth would be bound in heaven and what he loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven.

Ever wonder why it takes the pope so long to respond to things like the pedophilia scandals? It's not because he's insensitive. It's because he can't just shoot out politically correct press releases. He's got to think ever so carefully before speaking, because what he binds now could be bound for generations.

So for the church, the debate over whether priests could marry ended with an edict in the Middle Ages. To conservative Catholics who follow the doctrine of the church and the Bible, those like the ones currently running the Vatican, to deviate from an edict would be to obliterate the religion itself.

So unlike just about every modern religion, Catholicism can't bend or flex according to the whims of men, can't change its operating procedure with a majority vote at a caucus or convention, can't remake itself to appeal to modern people. And because of that, the church is having a hard time appealing to young people to become priests and nuns. The problem has reached epic proportions. There are so few people to carry on the running of the church that how it will continue to exist has actually come into question in some quarters. The sheer lack of ordained bodies, I believe, is one of the reasons certain bishops have overlooked the juvenile sexual predation in their parishes, although no one will ever admit this.

To understand what attracted these predators to the church in the first place, you have to understand Catholic culture. You can't just walk off the street, get baptized, pick up a Bible and begin preaching, as you can in some other Christian religions. A convicted pedophile would have a much easier time getting a job as a daycare provider than making the long and academically rigorous journey through the seminary and ordination process if his intent was merely to be alone with parish children.

No, priests sexually attracted to children, and those who are gay, come to the Catholic Church from families like mine who practice the original, infallibly unaltered -- and I would argue true -- version of the religion. They are people who live the Catholic religion, not just practice it. I should know. Two of my cousins are priests, one is a nun.

It is nearly impossible to practice hardcore Catholicism and be a part of mainstream culture at the same time, and so these Catholic families tend to cloister themselves out of necessity, dropping out of, or otherwise avoiding, the day-to-day world outside their church and family circles. Like my extended family, they farm, they home school and they socialize among themselves. Now imagine for a minute that you came from this tightly knit environment, that you grew up with a strong faith, and that somewhere along the way you discovered you were gay. Your choices would be difficult. You could abandon the tight and often loving circle of your family completely and pursue the gay lifestyle. You could remain single and terribly lonely within your family circle. Or, you could hide while retaining their love and acceptance by entering the priesthood. That's why the priesthood has become such a refuge for gay, as well as sexually deviant, Catholics from families like mine. Because sex is no longer an option for a priest, one is not forced to deal with or admit his homosexuality or sexual deviancy to himself or anyone else. Presto! Problem solved.

Or so they think. But the long-term reality is that for these people, the priesthood is nothing more than a further repression of their repressions of themselves. It doesn't work, yet at the same time, the church needs warm bodies to keep itself alive.

So yes, the church can reform itself. It can target the pedophiles in its ranks and expel them. But it can't change its own nature any more than the gay men who take refuge in it can. And the two cannot exist together without one destroying the other. *

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