That man in a frock in Rome

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.

13 thoughts on “That man in a frock in Rome

  1. i’m sorry you’ve left again Caro, and judging by this thread it seems to be down to one comment. In context, the person (I can’t remember who said that btw but do remember the thread) said that the last person to take family planning advice from was ‘a celibate man in Rome’ etc. I think that’s a fair comment, though i agree the whole frock thing is just inflammatory. Also, the purpose of the link to another forum was to show that you aren’t alone in your struggles, not to say ‘look at the crazy people’.

    I dont want tosay anything else much because you’ve shared a lot with us over time and i don’t want to break your confidence, but I do want to point that you come to us, you tell us your problems and 95% of what you get is support and concern and attempts to help. you seem to court our opinions when your confidence in your approach waivers, probably because you know some people will call you brainwashed and then you can regain your confidence by revolting against that. I can understand that but please don’t portray us as leaping on you with insults as the mood takes us. You’ve always had a welcome and there are plenty of other Catholics there.

    anyway, take care xxx

  2. I’m sorry to read this.

    I agree totally with what Gemma said above. I understand why you need to feel like this, but we’re not the enemy. I would never break your confidence but we’ve been there for your struggles in the past, and I don’t think it’s fair to brush away the genuine love, concern and support you’ve received – despite the absolute disagreement with your (at times fanatically zealous) beliefs in concepts which are causing you unnecessary pain and harm in many of our opinions (opinions which are no more or less vaid than yours I might add.) I’m a bit miffed that we are being lumped into the same category as those who have so offended you. I’m genuinely sorry that you now feel so defined by Catholocism that you are unable to participate in or enjoy a forum (which contains a variety of people, both religious and non religious, including other Catholics) which has brought you lots of love, laughter and support in the past.

    Anyway, you know where we are should you ever need us. I hope you have reached the end of your struggles now, truly. Much love xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  3. I understand completely. The level of support given in the private site you mention makes it all the more difficult when you are on the receiving end of unpleasantness. And it’s not helped when you are going through a tough time (as you are with feeling poorly). It’s crazy, but it’s true. It’s one of the reasons why I can never go back there. Even though the support is excellent, I just didn’t like what I felt when things went wrong.

    As for the comments made – remember that the only way to combat prejudice is by speaking out. I don’t think you and I will ever see eye to eye on many issues, but that doesn’t mean I think your opinion is any less valid. What you have written about NFP, for example, has made me think again about my opinions on the subject, and whilst I’ll never be able to see it as a reasonable option, I can understand why you feel the way you do about it.

    TBH, I think you’ve got enough going on in your life without worrying about the opinions of people who are writing from the comfort of their settled lives with their 2.4 kids around them. But don’t stop speaking out. It’s important that every faith has people who can speak out about them in a rational manner – however uncomfortable that might be for those who don’t believe in the same thing.

    Good luck. xxx

    1. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the majority of people on there have settled lives with their 2.4 children. How dismissive and rude of you. The picture you paint is unfair Rhi, but I understand why you need to see it that way. I don’t think you’re helping Caro by patting her on the back.

      Caro, you can dismiss us as nasty,ignorant bitches but it won’t make the issues you face any more bearable. And it’s also upsetting to be tarred with that brush when personally,I’ve done nothing but be kind to you and have really tried to understand where you’re coming from. I don’t think your opinion is any less valid either but I don’t think you could say the same about the opposing view and for that reason, I’m done. You’ve done nothing but take support and love from people who want to help, and then turned on them when it suits you to fit in with the picture you wish to paint about how badly you’ve been received and treated.

      1. I said nothing about the majority. And I’ve a fair idea of what’s been said, I’ve seen some of it.

        I disagree with a lot of what Caro says, but I know why she says it. and I know what it’s like when you’re struggling, and one person sends you over the edge. There are an awful lot of supportive people on there, but sometimes it’s not the best place to
        be. You and Gem overreacting about my comment shows how easy it is to let your emotions get in the way.

  4. to be honest Rhi, you’ve no idea what has been said and by who so should probably save your opinions on who has a settled life and assumptions about how uncomfortable they are about Caro’s faith.

  5. Look Caro, it’s nothing to do with anyone wanting you to stop whinging. People just want you to stop trying desperately to justify your point of view. Can’t you understand that it’s almost incomprehensible to most of us that you are prepared to risk your health, your prospects, your marriage, your sanity in this way? That’s not the point tbf anyway. It’s incomprehensible to me, but I didn’t feel the need to endlessly challenge you about it, I just wanted to be there and support you. Some people are like a dog with a bone though, and frankly, you are cut from the same cloth. Just let it be, let them think what the hell they like. Why can’t you do that?!

    1. That’s fine Immy, and also the point of my blog. So I can say what I want to! I can engage in some apologetics if I fancy it, have a rant and state that I am irritated and disturbed by attitudes such as the one in my post. It’s a place where I can put forward my POV and where other Catholics and non-Catholics can engage if they want to or just ignore.

      A part of it is attempting to make sense of what seems incomprehensible
      to others in a way that is not otherwise possible.

  6. I was the person that posted that link and I was quite surprised to read here my supposed reasons for posting it. It wasn’t to prove that all Catholics are crazy at all, that would be ridiculous (as would be the assumption that Catholics are messed up about sex due to NFP, as every other Catholic I know doesn’t actually practice NFP). I posted it as I found it when googling NFP to find out more about it. The issues that the people on the thread were going throuch seemed identical to yours and your husband’s. It usually helps to see that someone else is going through what you are and I thought it would be good for you to read. The fact that you have twice mentioned completely erroneous reasons for my posting the link when you couldn’t possibly have known my intention, and when I have given you support in the past, speaks volumes.

    1. I apologise Katie, I forgot it was you who posted the first link. I was specifically referring to another person who also posted a link to a Catholic forum and commented that it proved that Catholics were obsessed about sex. I had forgotten you posted the first link. I was not referring to you.

  7. I understand that Caro, that’s what a blog is there for, it’s not what I was saying.

    I just don’t understand why you are now unable to participate in a forum which has brought you a lot of love,support and laughter in the past. It really does seem that your Catholocism now defines you to an extent that you are finding it difficult to co-exist there with those who disagree with you, or even those who don’t ACTIVELY agree with you. I find that a bit worryingly zealous, and sad too. You could just not post things about your Catholic dilemmas and keep them for your Catholic forum rather than invite opinions you may not like on the fb forum. If you post something unrelated and someone crops up to say something genuinely disrespectful (I don’t mean just disagreeing with you) then just leave it! They’d show themselves up to be ignorant arses, everyone would see it. Just don’t rise to it. Turn the other cheek. Grow a pair and just leave it! Who cares what someone you don’t respect or particularly like thinks about you? There are plenty of people on there offering you genuine friendship.

    I’d much rather be doing this via pm by the way, but obviously cannot pm you any longer since you deactivated.

  8. And ps, I hope the fact that I’m saying this – me, who believes in God and is fully supportive of all faiths and the right to practise religion – will give you pause for thought, even if only for a minute. I have always said that prejudice against religion is one of the last tolerated prejudices,but Caro,lovely, lovely Caro, you’re circling the perimeter of fanatacism here. I know you’ll probably now blog about how you are not unthinking, but you are edging towards it. You weren’t like this when I first “knew” you. And I don’t think it’s bringing you happiness. I know it’s not.

    All of the above is meant with love, and you will have a warm welcome from me if you ever decide to come back. But stop and think outside the box for a moment, please.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s