01 June, 2012

Why are you still a Catholic?

This was the question addressed in this article sent to me by my friend Foomeister (and if you’re not following her on twitter, then you’re a fool to yourself and a burden to others).  It makes some interesting points, but I’d like to answer the question in a slightly more direct way.

The continuing revelations of scandals within the Catholic church has produced a sense of Schadenfreude among anti-Catholics of all persuasions which is palpable.  It’s terribly easy to point to cover-ups of sexual abuse, suspect accounting and centuries of other misdeeds and wonder how anyone can possibly remain connected to such people.  I’ve written before that if you want to point to the crimes committed by the church and in the name of religion, you’ll get no argument from me.  So why am I still a Catholic?

Well, let’s apply the same thinking to different issues…

Why are you still Australian after what was done to the aborigines?
Why are you still American after the invasion of Iraq on false pretences and all the abuses that followed?  Alternatively, if you’re a crazy person, why are you still American after Obama and socialism?  (For the sake of time and space, I am restricting US examples to this century.)
Why are you still German after nazism?
Why are you still South African after apartheid?
Why are you still Irish after the IRA?
Why are you still Israeli after Palestine?
Why are you still Palestinian after Israel?
Why are you still Zimbabwean after Mugabe?
Why are you still Iranian after Ahmadinejad?
Why are you still Chinese after Tibet?
Why are you still Russian after Bolshevism, Stalinism and Putin?
Why are you still British after… I don’t even know where to begin?
Why are you still white after centuries of abuse of other peoples based on the assumption, both explicit and implicit that whites are the superior race?
Why are you still male after rape?

Truthfully, that last one is the one I struggle with the most.  In Trouble Every Day, Frank Zappa says, “I’m not black but there’s a whole lot of times I wish I could say I’m not white.”  Well, I’m not a woman, but there’s a whole lot of times I wish I could say I’m not a man.

Some may say that gender, race and nationality are simply accidents of birth, while faith and religion are acts of free choice.  Alright then, let’s go further…

Why do you still support St Kilda after Nick Riewoldt and Ricky Nixon?
Why do you still listen to Michael Jackson after the child abuse?
Why do you still watch Mel Gibson films after the bizarre anti-Jewish tirades?
Why do you support any team Michael Vick has been on?  (You know, I bet I could fill several pages just with football teams.)
Why do you still read Jeffrey Archer after he perverted the course of justice?
Why do you still watch Seinfeld after Michael Richards’ racist rant?
Why do you still listen to Phil Spector records after he killed someone?

The answer to any one of these questions is the answer to all of them.  Believe it or not, you don’t actually have to approve of spousal abuse to say that Ike Turner had some great riffs.  Some have said they’ll never watch a Mel Gibson film again.  Well, I hate to break it to you this way, but he’s already been paid for them so it won’t make a lick of difference whether you ever rent Braveheart or The Year of Living Dangerously again.

Whatever your cultural background may be, you don’t have to look too far to make a connection with shame and atrocity.  The only way to completely detach ourselves from it would be to evolve into a new species and find another planet to live on.  Even then, you’d run the risk of starting the whole cycle over again, and you have no idea what those Martians got up to.

Why am I still a Catholic?  Because I’m sophisticated enough to understand that there will be people who I agree with on certain matters that do bad things.  Likewise, there will be people who I agree with on certain matters who do good things; there will be people I disagree with on certain matters who do good things; and there will be people I disagree with on certain matters who do bad things.

Can you name a single person on Earth whose views and actions you agree with and endorse 100%?  Do you associate only with those whose views and actions you completely endorse?  If so, I would suggest that either you need to get out more, or you don’t know these people as well as you think you do.  I have serious disagreements with the hierarchy of the church, just as I have serious disagreements with the Australian government.  Frankly, I can’t think of any kind of hierarchy that I’m all that keen on.  It doesn’t change who I am.  I’m still Catholic, I’m still Australian, and dammit if I’m not still male.

There is a view that all Christians and particularly Catholics must publically denounce sexual abuse by the clergy or else be tainted with the same crime.  It’s a ridiculous affront to natural justice which, quite ironically smacks of another great shame of the church, the inquisition.  We don’t stand for Muslims being expected to either denounce terrorism or be presumed to support it.  If you need me to tell you I’m against child abuse lest I be presumed to support, or at least accept it, then I don’t think I have anything to say to you at all, for I don’t think it would make any difference either way.

If you are able to associate only with people you completely approve of, and completely dissociate yourself from all those who do any wrong, then I can only admire the simplicity of your lifestyle.


  1. Wow! Great post. I am sometimes a bit *scared* to admit I still find some solace in Catholic masses. We send our child to a catholic school and I have been involved in so incredible experiences that have been at Catholic retreats.

  2. Congrats on managing to articulate and justify in a very broad sense, Bill. On those occasions where I’ve been confronted by similar questions about Catholicism, (I’m a lapsed Catholic) I’ve had to turn to the micro rather than the macro – eg even set against the crimes of miscreant clergy and the doctrinaire stance of the overall church, and the extreme views of people like Pell, there are still a lot of wonderful parish priests strongly connected to their communities, and volunteers who visit sick parishioners and charity arms with progressive views and people who observe their faith to better themselves etc so I’m not going to trash the whole edifice.

    I feel similarly towards Germaine Greer when she goes into I’m-old-and I’ll-say-whatever-the-bloody-hell-I-like mode and gives right-wingers far too much ammunition to opportunistically beat up on her and feminism in general.

  3. I would probably be considered lapsed as well, but I still identify as Catholic because I see no good reason not to.

    There are misunderstandings about all faiths. Personally, I find Mormonism kind of creepy, but I also know a few Mormons and they are all the loveliest people. It's a mistake to assume all regular parishioners follow the pronouncements of the hierarchy.

    I've often said that if all you know about Catholics is George Pell and Tony Abbott, then you don't know much about Catholics.
    I don't doubt that the same applies to other faiths.

  4. Ex-Protestant current-atheist here. Arrived via a friend's tweet.

    People can be Catholics because they see Catholicism as something defined by the community, not by the hierarchy. That's fine.

    However, the hierarchy still claims to be an authority on religious matters. And it was in the context of discerning whether someone who claims to be a religious/spiritual authority is actually worth listening to, that Jesus allegedly said "Ye shall know them by their fruits".

    Those words, it seems to me, are blatantly contradicted by the notion that it's possible to be morally corrupt to the core and yet still reliable as a religious authority. The Catholic church's stockpile of rotten tomatoes may not make you stop being a Catholic, but it must give you pause.

    Pointing out that we don't ever agree with anyone 100% just sounds disingeneous to me.

    1. Pick any hierarchy, and they will claim to speak for the masses, but speak to any real people and they'll tell you something much different. As some of the other comments have pointed out, grass-roots Catholics don't look to Rome for spiritual guidance so much as their local parish and community.

  5. Like to think I'm a humanist these days. Religion of any kind just doesn't make sense to me. Yet I'm grateful for the years I 'got religion' as a teenager with a Baptist chapel which had a youth club in an outer-London dormitory town a few miles from my very deprived suburban village. Those years carried me through to a time I could start to think for myself. I really appreciate all those very earnest talks from self-appointed moral preachers who tried to enlist me in their ranks. After a considerable struggle I fled. Only now, more than half a century on, do I begin to understand why.

    1. I think that's a very balanced view. It's one thing not to partake of religion but to suggest, as some do, that nothing good ever comes from it is demonstrably untrue whether you're a believer or not.

      I have to admit, I don't really know what humanism really is.

  6. I got an email this afternoon asking me to sign a petition to strip someone of an award from the Royal Humane Society for bravery during the Black Saturday fires.

    The person in question was in jail for bashing his wife when the award was given. So he's an arsehole wife-basher and nothing whatsoever justifies or mitigates that. That isn't to say though that an arsehole wife-basher is not still capable or great bravery during a disaster.

    I'm not making any comment on whether the award should have been given, but it's really tempting to brand people as all-good or all-bad when reality is rarely that simple.

  7. I was a Catholic for a long time, but I'm not any more. Because, unlike the fact that I'm a woman, that I'm fairskinned, or that I was born in NZ, I can and have changed that. I don't follow any sport, and I rarely watch popular movies, so hardly any of your second set of questions apply to me.

    Some of my oldest friends are staunch Catholics, and I admire them for one reason: they are horrfied by revelation after revelation, and they are resisting the rot and fighting for change in how the the church heirarchy deals with abusers. If I were still there I'd like to think I would be doing that too. For me that's the only justification to stay, not finding solace in mass or wanting your kid to go to a cheap private school (seriously - I've heard that given as a reason for staying in the church).

    No person, or no organisation, is all good or all bad. If you're staying you need to be really clear what it is you're staying in and why you're there.

    1. I'm not making any comment on whether people should or shouldn't stay in the church. That's a personal decision which shouldn't be influenced by anyone else, including the church.

      It would be nice if more progressive Catholics got more credit for working to change the institution for good rather than being presumed to blindly follow Rome.

    2. I must have misread your post. I thought that it implied that leaving was the lesser choice, because even though the organisation isn't perfect, you should support it becuaSe of what you get out of it. You last paragraph seems to me tyo sum it up: you have to put up with the bad in order to get the good, right?

      Wrong. I don't have to put up with anything in an organisation that offends me. That's what being a grown-up is all about. That's what my comment said. No-one should just 'put up' with what's happening in the church. How could anyone, in conscience, stay in the organisation and not fight the rot?

      I'm not implying, by the way, that you personally are or are not doing anything; I don't even know who you are. :)

    3. No, that's definitely not what I was getting at. It's not a question of having to put up with anything - it's more about having the right not to be tarred with the same brush as some well publicised practitioners, and being allowed to make our own decisions

      Another part of being a grown-up is realising that the moral values of any organisation we may be associated with are rarely as black and white as we would like them to be. What we do about that fact is entirely up to the individual. I am not be prescriptive in any way.

  8. What I don't know about Christians could fill several books. But from what I know of the Catholic church, it's a pretty big beaurocracy that likely doesn't listen to cries and protests from the little people.

    Blaming everybody for the crimes of a few individuals is stupid. Even if those crimes have been going on for centuries. Unless you are personally raping children or you somehow have the ability to control the actions of people on the other side of the world, I don't see how you could be responsible. You could e-mail the pope, but I'd imagine you're probably not on his friends list.

    I could be wrong. Maybe you are fast friends. In which case ask him how I can get one of those pretty hats.

    1. Well, on the off chance that I ever get to speak to him, at least now I'll have something to say.

  9. Just one comment, Mia. It isn't 'the crimes of a few individuals' that upsets people; it's the way these crimes were handled by the church as an organisation. They were covered up, and the perpetrators were moved around, exposing more victims. And in a most bizarre twist, many victims were not only not supported, counselled or compensated by the church, they were told that it was THEIR resonsibility to contact the police. If you're working for a company and you break both the law in the execution of your job, that company will refer you to the police. Apparently the church has considered itself not bound to obey the law of the land in that regard.

    That's what I mean by the rot: it's the structure of the church, not the actions of a few pathetic individuals.

    1. Recent history has shown that there are many companies that give you a bonus if you break the law.