Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Johann Hari's Challenge to British Catholics on Eve of Papal Visit: Where Do You Stand?

Johann Hari's question to British Catholics (and here) on the eve of the papal visit is a hard one, akin to the hard questions the gospels place before Jesus's followers: where do you stand, they ask?  And Hari asks.

Hari asks British Catholics to reflect on the legacy of the current pope, and then to ask themselves where they stand:

I know it may cause you pain to acknowledge this. But it is nothing compared to the pain of a child raped by his priest, or a woman infected with HIV because Ratzinger said condoms makes AIDS worse, or a gay person stripped of basic legal protections. You have a choice during this state visit: stand with Ratzinger, or stand with his Catholic victims. Which side, do you think, would that be chosen by the Nazarene carpenter you find on your crucifixes? I suspect he would want Ratzinger to be greeted with an empty repulsed silence, broken only by cries for justice – and the low approaching wail of a police siren.

Hari will enrage many defenders of the papacy and of Benedict, particularly in the United States.  He will be charged with anti-Catholicism.  He will be accused of spouting over-the-top rhetoric that does nothing to promote the kind of sane dialogue the center imagines itself promoting, while it keeps progressive critique at bay and enshrines even ultra-right wing ideas as normative.

But when the dust settles, the valid question Hari asks all Catholics to consider will still be there: where do you stand, people of God, as children are raped and priests who rape them do so with impunity?  Where do you stand as your gay brothers and sisters are treated as less than human?  Where are you, when the pope is suggesting that condoms accelerate the rate of AIDS infection, rather than diminishing the spread of AIDS?

How do you want history (and God) to record your vote as you observe the current pope remaining absolutely silent when the nation of Uganda, with a large percentage of Catholics in its populations, deliberates about the death penalty for gay citizens?  Where do you think Jesus would have you stand as one woman after another is dismissed from ministry and excommunicated for supporting women's ordination, and as women religious are subjected to a demeaning investigation in the U.S., while bishops who have sheltered priests raping minors are not only allowed to continue in office, but rewarded?

Where do you stand?  Where does Jesus stand?  

These questions will definitely not go away.  They are at the very heart of the dialogue I keep pushing to promote--in the face of fierce silence from those I hope to engage with these questions--about why so many of us have now walked away from the church in its institutional face.

Because we have to do so.  We have to do so, if we wish to preserve our faith.  We have to do so, because what the church has instilled in us by its teaching, with its central focus on God's unlimited mercy and love for all, requires us to find our way around an institution that not only obscures that focus but repeatedly belies it at present.

With Anne Rice, many of us have found ourselves with no option except to distance ourselves from Christianity at this point in history, to retain our veneration for Christ.  I hope at least some Catholics in the British Isles will receive Hari's questions with the serious consideration they deserve.

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