First of all, a disclaimer. I converted to Catholicism in 1975, while I was attending a Catholic college. Like most modern American Catholics, I have run hot and cold on the Church over the (many) years since then. About six or seven years ago, I decided to give the faith one more try: I attended a downtown Mass almost every day at lunchtime, and even joined my local parish. I found that it was more than enough, and that I couldn’t do it. There was just too much dissonance: so many good people trying to believe so many ridiculous things. I couldn’t bear to look at it anymore, and I left.
There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently about a parish in Wisconsin which is going through a miniature civil war. Some years ago, a couple of ultra-conservative priests were sent in to bring the local parishioners (considered to be a little too free-thinking) to heel. Four hundred of the parish’s nine hundred parishioners signed a petition to get rid of the new priests. The new priests were backed by the local bishop, who is now (gently) threatening the parishioners with interdict.
What’s interdict? you ask. Ah yes. I last remember reading about it in a book of English history: Pope Innocent III put all of England under interdict, back around the year 1200. In brief, it’s religious quarantine. Within the interdicted area, you cannot get married (as a Catholic), buried (as a Catholic), baptized (as a Catholic), et cetera.
Are you as amused by this as I am?
I am not an English peasant circa 1200. I am not frightened of a bishop throwing imaginary thunderbolts.
And here’s the thing of it: this was the Wall Street Journal reporting on this story. On one hand, the WSJ is a very conservative rag; it’s all about money, and tends to side (in a genteel way) with the whole Fox/right-wing coalition (no surprise, since the WSJ is owned by Murdoch, who also owns Fox). So the article is careful not to portray the priests and the Church hierarchy as anything but poor misunderstood bosses and owners.
However: the local parish is losing money. Church attendance is down one-third. Donations are way down. The parish is being forced to close its school.
And income is, after all, the bottom line.
So the hierarchy is trying to threaten the parishioners back into the church.
I say, without any intent at irony: dear Jesus.
I was discussing this with one of my student workers the other day. She was born Catholic, but has (like me) grown away from the Church, largely because of its various social attitudes – toward women, toward contraception, toward a couple of other issues. She was incredulous. “So the Church is basically saying that they’re going to fire their parishioners,” she said. “I know what I’d do. Just what I’d do if it were a job. I’d quit before they fired me.”
Which is exactly what many of the parishioners are doing, evidently.
Let’s finish with some of Stevie Smith’s poetry:
The religion of Christianity
Is mixed of sweetness and cruelty
Reject this Sweetness, for she wears
A smoky dress out of hell fires.
Who makes a god? Who shows him thus?
It is the Christian religion does.
Oh, oh, have none of it,
Blow it away, have done with it.
This God the Christians show,
Out with him, out with him, let him go.