Adherents and non-adherents alike manage to ignore a major contradiction at the heart of modern Catholicism: The church functions as a patriarchal medieval organization within and alongside our secular social democracy. Unlike protestant churches that democratically decide on organizational structure and call or dismiss pastors as needed, Catholics have their leaders thrust upon them without their say or consent. Certainly the laity have a voice within the church, but that voice is only consul, and the final word rests always and exclusively with the hierarchy.
For the most part people politely ignore the odder aspects of modern Catholicism. We tend to put out of our minds the images we have seen of powerful community and business leaders, as well as elected Senators and Representatives, genuflecting before robed bishops and cardinals to deferentially kiss their rings. We dismiss this submissive medievalism as simply an expression of cultural identity, like the Scottish kilt or Canadian politeness. Only occasionally are we confronted with the full force of the true anti-democratic, anti-Enlightenment values espoused by the Catholic hierarchy, and even then we only seem to really get it when there are kids involved.
When Father Rocky Hoffman took the stage at Prout School as part of a Relevant Radio program to answer kid’s questions about Catholic doctrine, medievalism clashed with our modern values as regards our children’s wellbeing. Catholic teachings around divorce, adoption and LGBTQ issues openly clashed with the real world sensibilities of Catholic parents who do not agree with the totality of the Church’s teachings. Perhaps even more put out by Father Hoffman’s appearance were those non-Catholic parents who send their kids to Catholic schools for reasons that are not religious. Catholic teachings, it turns out, are not as innocuous as they were lead to believe.
Hoffman explained the current church teachings on such things as divorce and homosexuality. It turns out, surprise! that the conservative Catholic Church is against these things. They are also opposed to woman being ordained as priests, birth control, abortion under any circumstance, and masturbation.
A lot is being made of the fact that Hoffman is a member of Opus Dei, the secretive ultra-conservative branch of the Church featured as villains in Dan Brown potboilers, complete with Albino assassins and personal torture devices. Though it would be convenient to say that Hoffman is an extremist and that his views are far to the right of what the church believes, the truth is that Hoffman’s views are only extreme when compared to those of modern Americans. His answers to students seem doctrinally correct. As one Catholic blogger noted, “Another ‘c’atholic High School blows up when they hear the truth about Catholic teaching.”
The real truth, however, is that most Catholics are better than the teachings of their church and better than the views that are expressed by the Catholic hierarchy. Most Catholics are accepting of their LGBTQ brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. They know that prejudice and ignorance have destroyed families and ruined lives. Most Catholics not only believe that birth control should be legal and available, well over 95% of Catholics have used it. Most Catholics also believe that abortion is a decision best left to the woman dealing with pregnancy.
I understand when Catholics with more traditional mindsets dispute the validity of Catholics who deviate from the church’s official teachings. I sometimes hear such people referred to as CINOs (Catholics in Name Only). I prefer to call such people Cultural Catholics. They usually have deep family histories in and appreciation for the trappings of the Catholic Church. They attend mass every Easter, and mark important life events, such as birth through baptism, coming of age through confirmation, the beginning of a family through weddings, and the end of life through funerals via the traditions and liturgy of the church.
Cultural Catholics might openly dispute the entire mythology of the church. They may doubt the divinity or even the existence of Jesus, and they may well be atheists. It might be difficult for those who, like me, left Catholicism long ago to understand why those who dispute the church’s teachings and reason for existence continue to support their local Catholic Church financially and socially. Likely, there is no one reason, but a stew of the following by no means exhaustive list: the concerns of immediate and extended family, a sense of tradition, a sense of hewing to public perceptions and shared community and experience.
On the other side are the more traditional and conservative Catholics who have no problem with the church’s teachings and would prefer those who only attend mass sporadically and do not really agree with some of Catholicism’s social teachings to either get with the program or get out.
Caught in the middle of these two extremes are the cafeteria Catholics who muddle through, picking and choosing what they want and leaving the rest. This works for some, but for others this situation becomes impossible when it involves children. Few parents want to raise their children as anti-LGBTQ bigots. Few people want to throw away a lifelong friendship because a friend or family member is engaged in an LGBTQ relationship or lifestyle. Few of us want our children to be bullied, or become bullies.
So when Rocky Hoffman brought his doctrinally sound message that LGBTQ people are sinful and that divorce destroys not only a family but the love of a parent for a child, he is attacking a set of values that run deeper than those the church wants to represent. These are the values that link us to our family and friends in ways that are deeper than any relationship to some distant God. These values are humanistic: the love of a parent for a child, the bond between friends that cannot be broken based on how we pursue our sexual attractions, and our commitment to having the right amount of children for our family, properly spacing pregnancies and limiting the total number of children we seek to have.
Deep down, when it really counts, the vast majority of us are better than our church, better than our faith and better than our Gods. It sometimes takes an event like the one at Prout to make us realize that.