We can call for the pope to resign, bishops to resign, etc., but the atrocities that the Roman Catholic Church has been committing will not end until there is change at the level of the members of the church.
The child-raping isn’t the beginning; it’s the latest. Other scandals include the treatment of unwed mothers, possible collusion with the Nazis, popes fathering children … the list goes on and on.
To put the current scandal in perspective, the church has paid out nearly $4 billion in settlements to victims. This is not new information. We were all appalled at the Pennsylvania grand jury report, but there’s no reason why this should have been a surprise. The media have been saying the “scandal hit” in 2002, but it’s been largely knowable since the mid-1980s. Sinead O’Connor tried to warn us in 1992 on “Saturday Night Live.” Nobody listened. Parishioners just kept putting money in the collection plate.
It takes courage to speak out against an institution with power and influence. This is very well illustrated by the commentary in the Post-Dispatch by Linda Briggs-Harty, “Catholics who speak up are often shunned” (Aug. 28). It is particularly hard when you’ve been led to believe this institution is the face of a being that determines your eternal destiny.
The root problem with religion is that it is based on a foundation of faith. A foundation of not asking too many questions, or only asking benign ones. This leaves the religious leaders with the latitude to answer very serious allegations with responses such as, “pray about it” or “trust God.” When challenging church authority means challenging one’s core beliefs, it’s a really hard thing to do. So, often it isn’t done.
I became an atheist in my early 20s. While I had some positive experiences in the church, I simply couldn’t ignore plain logic and common sense any longer. Over the past several years, I’ve discovered spirituality, which to me is a recognition that there is something beyond what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. For me, that does not take on the form of anything called “God,” and I find little meaning in the story of Jesus, but I recognize there is some good stuff in the Bible. There’s also a lot of nonsense.
The Bible was written thousands of years ago by humans. Mortal humans like you and me. The Bible was written by some folks like you and me who thought they’d figured a few things out. They wanted to share what they figured out. They meant well. I’ve figured out a few things, too. I’m sure you have as well. I’m sharing a few of them here. I hope in 2,000 years, people don’t read what I wrote here and call it “gospel.” I hope they read it, say, “Well there’s some good stuff there and there is some nonsense there.”
What I hope most of all is that nobody takes this nonsense I write down and creates an institution out of it that prohibits it being questioned, brainwashes people into believing that bad things happen if they question it, and ultimately creates so much fear around it that it leads to extensive corruption.
Many will say, “But Jeff, you are ignoring all the good the church does.” The church indeed does good through its charities and community. And there are many other organizations that do much good, without also committing horrific atrocities against children. The good people in the church must go and do their good elsewhere.
When you look at all the things that our society frowns upon, harming children tends to be, rightfully, at the top of the list. While we don’t know the number of children harmed for sure, we know they have paid out $4 billion in settlements. $4 billion.
Those who were not abused had something else very sacred taken from them: trust in the institution they held as sacred. While probably not as bad as being raped as a child, that’s a big deal.
The dynamics in the Catholic Church that caused this exist in every faith-based religion. While many factors differ, mark my words, this issue is not limited to the Catholic Church.
The positive things you find within the church exist outside it. Leaving the church isn’t leaving behind your beliefs, your community or your values; it’s protecting them.
If Jesus’ story is one that is meaningful to you, by all means, do what he would do. Leave the church or fight with all your might to rid it of the corruption that has plagued it since the beginning of its existence.
Jeff Steinmann is a St. Louis-based real estate developer and writer.
This post originally appeared on the Saint Louis Post Dispatch.
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