KANPUR, (chhotebhai) — Three reports in the Secular Citizen of 10th September caught my attention. They are “Catholic Church Outdated”, “Pope Compares Disobedient Catholics to Judas”, and “Why are Catholics Good at Football But Bad at Business?” There is much to be learnt from them.
The first report on the Catholic Church being outdated is based on the interviews given by Cardinal Carlo Martini SJ, the Archbishop of Milan, who passed away recently. He had observed that the Catholic Church was 200 years behind the times, with big but empty churches, pompous rituals and cassocks! This Cardinal was reportedly empathetic to condom users, and Divorced and Remarried Catholics (DARCs). He had advocated a major shakeup in the Church, lest we lose future generations.
In sharp contrast, we have another report comparing disobedient Catholics to Judas. Here again the “disobedience” referred to is in the area of sexual ethics. This is an appalling statement from the universal pastor (shepherd). Who is he modeling himself on? The Pharisees who were sticklers for the unbending Mosaic Law; or on Jesus the Good Shepherd, who was willing to leave the 99 to look for the one lost sheep? He was the shepherd who was willing to lay down his life for his sheep; rather than abdicate his responsibility, or condemn them to their fate.
If indeed Pope Benedict XVI has made such a statement comparing “disobedient” Catholics to Judas and asking them to leave the Church, then it is high time for us to ask this insensitive Pope to quit the papacy before our churches become even more empty.
We should distinguish between the Dogmatic and Pastoral approach. An example will suffice. A man falls into the water and is drowning. The Dogmatist pontificates to the drowning man, “I told you not to go into the water”. But the Pastor rushes to the aid of the drowning man, heedless of the risk to his own life or reputation. I leave it to the readers to conclude in which category the Pope’s statement falls.
The Pope makes another unwarranted statement that “Judas remained with Jesus with the secret intention of taking vengeance on the master”. He compares “disobedient” Catholics to such secretive, vengeful Trojan horses! The Pope has pre-judged a vast multitude of Catholics, because of his own dogmatic Euro-centric prejudices. We don’t need the Pope to tell us to leave the Church. We love Jesus; we love his Catholic Church, warts and all. Just because the vast majority of lay Catholics don’t follow the Catholic Church’s assertion (not infallible teaching) that all forms of artificial contraception are intrinsically wrong, they cannot be labeled as schemers or betrayers. Such an attitude smacks of sanctimonious morality and supercilious snobbery. We cannot let it pass.
The same report carries a statement by one Msgr Ignacio Barreiro, Human Life International Director, Rome. He too endorses the Pope’s view that “it is better to leave the church than betray her”. He goes on to aver, “in some circumstances it was better to just obey the important teachings and sacrifice your will”. Is he advocating the blind obedience of the past, where novices were told to plant seedlings upside down, as an act of “obedience” to their religious superiors? Does he think that the laity are fools, with no capacity to think and reason why? Indeed one must agree with Cardinal Martini that the Catholic Church, or rather its hierarchy, is not just outdated, but obsolete, out of sync with modern reality. We don’t need cheap advice from some European Monsignor about who should leave the Church. On the contrary, the Catholic Church would be more robust if such myopic Monsignori kept their mouths shut.
I am now reminded of the Gospel reading of the liturgy of 2nd September. Jesus says, “How rightly Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites in the passage of scripture: This people honors me only with lip service, while their hearts are far from me. Their reverence for me is worthless; the lessons they teach are nothing but human commandments. You put aside the commandment of God to observe human traditions” And he said to them, “How ingeniously you get around the commandment of God in order to preserve your own traditions“ (Mk 7:6-9).
This brings me to the third news report, on Catholics being good footballers, but bad businessmen. The report of the Bombay Catholic Sabha, Kalina, observes that predominantly Catholic countries like Spain, Italy, France, Brazil and Argentina have been football champions. However, most of these countries’ economies are in the doldrums. The report quotes eminent sociologists like Karl Marx and Max Webber, to aver that it was erstwhile Protestant countries that ushered in the industrial revolution and economic prosperity. This is a view that I too have held for long, and am happy that somebody else has now aired it. About 25 years ago the Kanpur Catholic Association did a socio-economic survey of the community, and compared it with data compiled by a Protestant professor of Sociology, who used Max Webber’s tools. We found that only 7% of Catholics had their own houses, as against about 28% of Protestants.
Very few Catholics were in business. Let us look at the “football crazy” states in India – Kerala, Bengal and Goa. None of them are business friendly! Even in Kerala, most Christian businessmen, entrepreneurs or industrialists are Orthodox, Jacobite or Marthoma. Catholics belong to the “service class”, or become priests and nuns!
The obsession with football is only a symptom of a deeper malaise. It is another “opium” for the asses, just as cricket mania is in India. It is no coincidence that the football nations of southern Europe, along the Mediterranean coast from Portugal to Greece, are all Catholic or Orthodox. They are among the poorest, most corrupt and crime prone. In contrast north European countries, that are Protestant, are economically better off, have more social security, honesty and lower crime rates. The Scandinavian countries are considered the best, despite their sexual liberalism.
The same goes for America. Compare the “White Anglo Saxon Protestants“ (WASPs) of north America with the poverty, over population, slums, drug cartels, etc of the south American Catholic countries. The conclusions stare us in the face, the “decadent culture or the sexually liberated west”, notwithstanding. The Philippines, the only Catholic country in Asia, shares the same fate of other Catholic countries.
For too long a celibate controlled Catholic Church has seen sex as the biggest sin and scourge; and extolled the virtues of being poor, “to inherit the kingdom”. This is a lopsided spirituality. We should not judge a nation or a society on its sexual ethics alone. What about poverty alleviation, social security, population control, social justice, etc? Can we turn a blind eye to them?
The Pope wants “disobedient” Catholics to leave. There is not light for the DARCs. There is no place for dissenters’ contrarian opinions. There is no forum for open dialogue. This has already resulted in the French Revolution (France is now a fiercely secular State), and empty churches across Europe. Our young people will stop coming to Church, because they find it out of sync with their lives and legitimate concerns. But the universal Church is not perturbed; because it is still able to rake in enough “vocations” from large families in Africa, the Philippines and now Vietnam.
The story is repeated in India too. “Vocations” earlier came from the west coast, from Kerala moving up to Mangalore, Goa, Mumbai and Vasai. With economic prosperity, and small families, “vocations” have dried up. So the focus has shifted to the comparatively impoverished east coast, moving up from Tamilnadu to Andhra and Orissa, and remote tribal areas. I do not wish to cast aspersions on any community. But we must accept that demographic changes affect the church, and we need to respond accordingly.
If we impartially study demographic change, we find that in erstwhile Christendom, there is an inverse proportion between economic prosperity and dependency on the Church for both spiritual and material relief. Now that most modern societies are becoming welfare states, the role of the Church in its core area of charity and welfare is steadily diminishing.
Ironically, though Catholicism and Hinduism are theologically poles apart, their spirituality is very similar. The Catholic pious devotions come very close to the Bhakti Marg of Hinduism. Both are strongly cultic, and have fed on fears of divine displeasure, guilt feelings, atonement for sin and placating the Almighty.
With economic independence the fear element diminishes, as does cultic spiritual dependence. From atonement for sin the emphasis is now on pseudo-psychic spirituality that offers freedom from stress. Several new age gurus and tele-evangelists have made this their mantra. The old formula of sin, death and damnation has been rendered redundant by social change. If the Pope and his Monsignor continue to judge dissidence the way they are, it is a sure shot recipe for disaster, with even more empty churches. Would that they heeded Cardinal Martini’s warning for a large scale shake up in the Catholic Church
We need to discern the signs of the times (cf Mat 16:3) and what the Sprit is saying to the Churches (Rev 3:22). If not, we will indeed be reduced to a church of “sign of the cross making“ footballers. That would be an entirely different ball game, not envisaged by Jesus the Good Shepherd, “disobedience” notwithstanding.
* The writer is a veteran lay leader and activist.