At the Belfast Telegraph, the columnist Sharon Owens has a heartfelt piece in which she describes all the things that she thinks are wrong with the Catholic Church, ranging from the insistence on Catholicism as the only valid route to salvation, through the incomprehensible difference in response to matters of abortion as compared to other offences, to the appalling record of the Irish church, on clerical abuse and on the treatment of women in the Magdelene laundries.
My 155 reasons why the church must change or it will surely die
Well, it gives me no great pleasure to announce that I was right, after all. And the Catholic Church in its current form is well-nigh doomed. And before anyone rushes to tell me to give over and wise up, I have every right to submit my opinion because I’ve done my time as a practising Catholic: more than 20 years of it. And I know what I’m talking about.
Here are some of the things I believed in when I was young and foolish:
The Catholic faith is the only valid faith in the world. It is a sin not to attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation. It is a sin to eat meat on Fridays. It is an unforgivable sin to have an abortion: punishable by excommunication from the church.
It is, however, a forgivable sin to plant a terrorist bomb in a town centre if you attend confession afterwards.
Birth control is allowed for Protestants, but not Catholics.
All men are designed to want sex all the time.
It is a woman’s duty to withhold sex before marriage. Women who do not withhold sex before marriage are shameful and subversive and a threat to social cohesion.
Women must not, under any circumstances, withhold sex after marriage.
Married women must bear all the babies that God sends to them and obey their husbands in every way.
Opinionated women were an embarrassment to their husbands and indeed to their entire family circle. Being a gay man carried such a terrible stigma it was rarely mentioned, let alone countenanced.
As for lesbians: well, obviously there were no such things as lesbians. Except maybe in godless England.
Isn’t this what we were all taught? Ms Owens goes on to say that luckily she was born with a rebellious nature, and “asked so many questions in RE, it was embarrassing“. These were good, sound questions, like:
What was the point in having a big family, I asked myself, if they all had to scatter to England or America in search of work?
Why did God bother to make women at all if they were so completely useless, except as skivvies?
Why did God make Protestants if they were all going to hell in the end? (This was in the days before we even thought about the fate of Muslims, Hindus, Jews or Buddhists.)
Why were convicted IRA men entitled to a Christian burial on consecrated ground, but any girl or woman who terminated a crisis pregnancy was not?
Why didn’t God just make the whole world Irish? And full of Irish Catholic men? Just remove all females and all non-Catholics and be done with it?
And shouldn’t sex have something to do with love, instead of all this withholding and pursuing and being pursued?
(Read more at the Belfast Telegraph)
The thing is, her questions are too obvious, the target is not “the Church”, but its institutional presentation and management, and she offers no answers, except to state simply that the Church is doomed, “in its present form”.
To an extent, I agree with her, but we need to go further. The Church is much bigger than the idiocies she protests. To set against the horrors, we must also consider the achievements, both in teaching and in achievement, in standing up for social justice and reaching out to the underprivileged and downtrodden.
Where there has been hypocrisy and inconsistency in the church, we who are also of the church, need to speak up and point this out, in terms of the church’s own proclaimed standards and teaching.
If the church cannot (and even should not) survive “in its present form”, we need to reflect on alternative models, on new forms, to replace the present one. For of one thing I am convinced: the Church that has already survived, in a number of changing forms and in the face of many past crises, will surely survive. The challenge is precisely in identifying, and bringing about, the optimum form for doing so.
I hope that this site will contribute to the necessary discussion that will lead tothis so obviously necessary change…