I have a dreadful habit, one which I am endeavouring to keep in check. Arguing with complete strangers on the internet. Recently I’ve decided to leave a particular forum simply because the majority find my catholic views almost incomprehensible.
One of the most staggering comments I have encountered recently, both on a private website and indeed on a very public baby-orientated website goes along the lines of “I cannot take you seriously as you live your life by a set of rules determined by a celibate man in a frock in Rome”.
I could spend an age picking apart that particular sentiment, but it does strike me as a symptomatic of a mainstream view, one that is deeply prejudiced and intolerant. What worries me is that it was uttered by an otherwise highly intelligent person.
Firstly, it displays ingrained ignorance, in terms of the Catholic Faith itself, namely that Catholics follow a set of rules laid out by the Holy Father. This is categorically untrue. The Holy Father does not have that type of authority and is not some sort of cult leader demanding unquestioning acceptance. There are certain things he can declare as being part of the deposit of faith but he is unable to do this on his own authority. Precisely one of the things that seems to irritate many is that the Holy Father says that he DOESN’T have the authority to change teachings on issues such as women in the priesthood, in order to bring it into line with contemporary thinking. The Holy Father very rarely issues new teaching and if he does it is always in consultation with the bishops and in continuity with what’s gone on previously. Humanae Vitae for example was not an innovative teaching, it emphasised what had been previously taught. No Pope can just wake up one morning and think “I know, I think I’ll teach everyone that naked Morris dancing is an essential element of the Catholic liturgy”.
Secondly what that phrase implies is that somehow every Catholic is brainwashed, incapable of free and rational thought. We have somehow been bewitched into a cult of unquestioning obedience, unable and discouraged from exercising any critical judgement of our own. Nothing could be further from the truth. I speak as one who is not a cultural Catholic, who has a lapsed catholic mother, a formerly staunch Protestant now agnostic father, an agnostic sister and who despite attending Catholic secondary school received very little in the way of any catechism. I never participated in the sacrament of First Holy Communion, I was baptised a Catholic, attended a C of E church where my father was an organist and sang in the choir, then aged 11, I was asked by the Rector to make a choice, whereby my mother took fright and decided that we suddenly needed to attend Mass. I can’t even remember when I first took Holy Communion, but it was around the age of 10 and my instructions were to copy everybody else! It was only as an adult in my twenties that I began to explore cautiously and embrace my the faith of baptism, having previously totally rejected it. At no stage did I ever take the approach “the Catholic Church takes the position of xyz therefore that must be correct”. Quite the opposite. I had a belief in Jesus Christ and my viewpoint was “why does the Catholic Church state xyz, what’s their rationale” as opposed to “do not question, just obey”. In fact never once in all my journey did anyone admonish me for asking anything. As a person who attempts to always exercise critical judgement, I find the insinuation that my free will is somehow diminished or my intellectual capacity dimmed because of my faith, more than a little insulting, not just to me, but to millions of Catholics worldwide.
I was told this week that my blog is “dangerous”, an allegation that made me laugh. The reason being is that it is apparently well-written and thoughtful, it shows up on google, and it might mislead people as to the facts about NFP, because I can apparently “twist my thoughts in order to fit anything that the Catholic Church might say”. Surely if anything this shows that the teachings of the Catholic Church are, if nothing else, based in logic? It is not a case of my twisting or distorting the truth, but of explaining the rationality behind truth? Nothing I say is contradictory. I have my struggles, as we all do, but the fault lies in my own selfish will, it means that I am flawed, not the principles themselves. It is not a case of “this is difficult, therefore this must be wrong”.
The third problem I have with this statement is the pejorative use of the word celibate. The Holy Father is celibate as are the majority of Roman Catholic clergy. Why does the word celibate have such a negative connotation? Celibate actually means the practice of staying unmarried. Why is that such a bad thing? I suspect the word celibate is being confused with the word chastity, a common misnomer. To remain chaste is to behave appropriately and responsibly in sexual relationships with others. It’s a particular moral position, but it is not an inherently evil or negative one. Surely, regardless of religion this is a trait that should be encouraged? Besides the fact that one might chose to refrain from sexual relationships does not render one’s judgement inherently flawed. Indeed it might mean that one can speak more coherently on certain topics, free of the constraints of sexual desire. After all the more one has sex, the more one wants it. Besides, whether celibate or not, all of us need to avoid being driven by the desires of the material and physical.
My other issue is the distinctly offensive nature of the word “frock”. So by rejecting conventional western dress, the Holy Father is somehow attempting to masquerade as a woman, he is deliberately wearing female attire? I don’t need to highlight the ridiculous nature of this assertion, other than to point out that the garments that a priest wears harken back to the days of Rome in the early days of the Church. One of the advantages of clerical dress is that it draws attention to the office as opposed to the person. In any event the statement that the Pope is to be derided because he doesn’t, in public anyway, wear the traditional mode of western attire is a huge insult and slur against all of those who don’t, which I would estimate is over half the population. If I were to talk about Arab men wearing “frocks” and therefore this somehow diminishing their sense of reason or rationality, I would no doubt be arrested under the equalities or race-hatred laws.
It amazes and worries me in equal measure that so-called intelligent individuals proudly display such ignorance. This is why I am ceasing membership of an otherwise generally supportive and friendly forum. Because it is only by suppressing my Catholicism, it is only by not mentioning my faith and putting it away neatly in a little box and not alluding to any NFP difficulties or spiritual struggles am I to be assured of any sort of welcome. Any sort of defence of Catholicism or denial of Vatican conspiracy in the child abuse scandals renders my judgement flawed, illogical and brainwashed, because it does not conform with the mainstream mentality, namely that my faith is “batshit” and I am told what to do by a bloke in a frock in Rome.
The most amusing irony, was that a link to a Catholic Forum, designed to show quite how crazy these Catholics are, provided me with the spiritual answer which I was seeking. And where dissent/questioning from the mainstream view was accepted and welcomed, not dismissed as lunacy, the product of impaired free will or countered with ignorant spite.
It just saddens me that comments like this are deemed acceptable and funny in a country that traditionally prides itself on tolerance.