Content warning: mentions sexual abuse, paedophilia
After last week, when Pope Francis II defrocked Cardinal Theodore McCarrick due to accusations of sexual assault and called for action at the Vatican summit on sexual abuse, I believe that the Catholic Church is moving one step closer to becoming an institution that practices what it preaches. In my understanding of Catholicism, its base values are love, tolerance, and mercy – all rituals and customs are interpretations in one form or another of such values. However, alongside these values, the Bible does instruct its followers to stone rebellious sons and those who use the Lord’s name in vain. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Leviticus 24:16) Perhaps such edicts were a product of the more physically barbarous times in which it was written. Perhaps these teachings aren’t meant to be taken literally, but contemporarily adapted. However, after hearing of such rules, I could not help but be thankful I lived in the United States, a country with (at least nominal) separation of church and state.
Pope Francis’s recognition of clergy members wrongdoings and the acknowledgement of rampant sexual abuse within the Catholic Church that has plagued it for decades has been a massive step forward. First reported by the Boston Globe in 2002, which exposed over 500 victims of sexual abuse by clergy-members in the Boston area, similar reports of rape and paedophilia were reproduced over the next decade. One such report was commissioned by the Catholic Church itself, and alleged that over 4,000 priests had been accused of sexual abuse over the last 50 years. 10,000 of such cases involved children. In my own home state of Pennsylvania over 300 clergy members were revealed to have sexually abused over 1,000 children in the past 20 years just last summer.
At this point, such scandals are all too common for the Catholic Church, as they are for many other facets of society – from musicians to educators. To those who are devout Catholics, these reports become less and less of a surprise with every report, with more people feeling unable to wholeheartedly support the Church as an institution. In 2007, 13 per cent of young millennials identified as Christian, however by 2014, only 7 per cent of young millennials identified as Christian.
Though material changes have yet to occur, Pope Francis’s summit is a good first step. His kindness, coupled with continual reporting which shine a light upon abuse, can perhaps lead to changes in the Catholic Church. I can only hope that the Church becomes an institution which truly embodies the values it preaches. However, in the meantime, my roommate has stopped going to church.
I have always thought that Christianity, and particularly Catholicism, is often at odds with itself. While its holy text espoused one set of rules, its followers seemed to live by another. “It’s a pick and choose religion,” my roommate once acknowledged in one of our copious conversations where she tried to explain her faith to me. She was born and raised a devout Catholic, even joining the Catholic Ministry when she arrived at university. Quite opposite to the way that I was brought up – I hadn’t even realised what Christianity was until around my 2nd year of primary school.
Religion subtly pervaded the lives of many of my peers growing up. There was always an event, a ritual, a rule that impacted their daily lives in a little way. I’d hear things like, “oh I can’t, I go to church on Sundays,” or “I have youth group on Tuesdays – want to come?”
As someone who grew up without religion, in a household that was governed strictly by science, I have always been fascinated by such a lifestyle. As an “outsider,” I fancied myself someone who had a relatively unbiased and objective view of religion. I studied them with the same fascination I had when reading books like the Harry Potter series. I started with the D’Aulaires big book of Greek myths, moving on to Egyptian and Norse mythology after I reread it for the hundredth time. Even my Chinese School curriculum often included reading stories about the origins of Buddhism and Chinese mythology. I then came across a children’s Bible with stories of prophets who could rise to the heavens in a fiery chariot, another benevolent chosen one with powers to cure people of leprosy, and could magically multiply the amount of oil in a jar. I consumed it as quickly as I had my other stories.
After this initial contact, I learned about the history that came alongside these tales. The wars fought in the name of religion, the ostracisation of certain communities, the colonisation that had used it as a justification for their domination. In modern day, organisations like the Ku Klux Klan and so-called Islamic State still both use religion to justify their action. During the 17th century, European countries used Christianity to justify their colonisation and the subsequent decimation of indigenous peoples. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Rohingya crisis – all these tragedies have their root directly in religion.
As I grew older, I continued to disdain the institutionalisation of religions and abhor all the violence that has been (and is being) done in the name of religion. However, I recognised the happiness it brought to the lives of my friends and the light it provided in dark times for many people.
Image: Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia via Wikimedia Commons