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Monday, April 7, 2014

Testing the Faith

I've always been of the opinion that faith, at least as it is expressed in a religious context, has to be bigger than a single person.  Put another way, if you religious faith is depend or contingent upon a single person (or even group of persons), then you are simply asking to be disappointed.  Why?  Well we humans are tragically flawed creatures, prone to the kinds of failing that make us ill-suited for adulation.  God may be perfect, but this creation human is not.

As a side note, the above is one of the reasons why I find it distasteful that the late Pope John Paul II will be canonized a saint.  Was he a great man?  Well I didn't know him, but he certainly could fit the bill for the title "great".  Was he a Saint?  I'm not so sure, but I am sure that the rush to give him the official saint seal of approval probably has more to do with Roman Catholic Church politics and a desperate need for modern day role models than it does actual saintly acts.  Let's also not forget that, as great a man John Paul II was, he also basically led an organization that was actively covering up the abuse of children by members of his clergy.  He also lived in splendor while many lived in squalor.  Neither is what I would consider saintly behavior.

Anyway, I'm not writing about the pending sainthood of John Paul II today.  Instead, I'm writing about something far closer to home, namely allegations of sexual misconduct made against Father Philip Altavilla, the rector of Saint Peter's Cathedral in Scranton.  You can read more about it HERE.  Now before I go any further, I'll I have before...the following:

I was raised a Roman Catholic.  I was an altar server for 10+ years.  I attended Catholic high school.  I was the president of the Catholic Student's organization during my senior year of college.  In all of that time, exposed to dozens of religious men and woman, not once...ever...was I touched in an inappropriate way nor was I ever even made to feel uncomfortable in a physical/sexual way.  In fact, many of the priests I met in my life (Father Yarish, Father Miller, Monsignor Lewis all come time mind right off the top of my head) were wonderful men of God and outstanding human beings.

I also realize though that others have had experiences not like mine.  The article I referenced above is very distressing in the sense that there are people who may in fact feel their religious faith is in jeopardy over what is happening within the Catholic Church.  While some may find this cause for celebration ("freedom from religion"), I don't, for the simple fact that I know the pain this will cause for those who are indirectly impacted*.  Now maybe some of these individuals were aware of the priestly abuse scandals that were reported in the news, but never really "felt" the impact, until now.  It must be a horrible feeling.

I don't have an religious equal to the above, by the way.  My falling out, if you want to call it that, with the Catholic Church wasn't the product of sudden jolt of an event; rather it was the end product of years that past when I realized that I simply never felt welcome in the Church.  It was a place where I would go, but to actually feel a sense of welcoming and belonging?  No, that only very rarely occurred.  Basically it was always this kind of club where I felt tolerated, at best.  There's also always been issues of dogma that have bothered me about the church.  For example, on one hand you have some proclaiming "pro life", but yet on another turning a blind eye towards anti-life policies such as the death penalty, needless war and poverty.  I appreciate the zeal of the anti-abortion movement, but let's be honest, there is a fair degree of hypocrisy at work in that area (for example, supporting candidates such as Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a man who has arguably harmed the poor, education and the environment, but who is never the less supported because he is "pro-birth"**).   I also have this nagging sense that the Church exits, in some degree, to simply perpetuate else could anyone describe the covering up of sexual misconduct of priests and scandals such as those involving the Vatican Bank?  Jesus chased the money-changers out of the temple but in the case of the Vatican, they actually run some of the money-changing business.

Now what I will not do is simply surrender all of the faith that I learned and which is a part of me.  That will never change.  I will always pray in times of need.  I will always keep a few very special religious artifacts close to me.  I will always find a sense of beauty in church building.  I will always believe that, in some way or form, this existence we all have is simply too complex (and important) to just be some random result of molecules coming together.  There has to be more to this reality that what meets the eye.

In the final analysis, coming to terms with the fallibility of what you once considered infallible is a painful, all be it necessary, part of life.  I truly hope that the recent events noted above, while painful over the short term, will result in a real growth of spirit and understanding over the long term.

(*) The pain of those directly impacted...the abuse of course far greater.

(**) In reality, I suspect there are a some in the pro-life movement who are actually just "pro-birth".  They want babies born on one hand, but on the other, they deride the poor who have children as being "takers", "welfare queens", "lazy" and the like.  Newsflash:  if you want to claim to be pro-life, then you have to be pro ALL LIFE, not just the pre-birth kind that you find cute and innocent.

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