Holy Smoke

13 Mar

The election of a new Bishop of Rome by the conclave of cardinals is one of the more interesting events this month. A group of time-served administrators will try to find a candidate who can garner two thirds of the vote in closed session. Once such a candidate has been selected the decision will be announced by the appearance of white smoke. Once that happens God will be in his heaven and all will be well with the world. Or maybe not.
There have been various scandals affecting the papacy during the past decade and more. In the age of information sins will be found out, especially sins of omission. An alarming number of senior clergy have failed to remove paedophile priests from the flocks they were supposed to minister to but not exploit. The average age of clergy, especially in Europe, has increased to the point where it has become a great cause for worry. Congregations are diminishing over the years and fewer young people seem interested in becoming involved in any form of religious activity.
Given that a disproportionate number of the clergy are homosexual, active or not, and the prejudice from within the church on this subject being largely greater than the outside world it would seem that many potential candidates for office will be denying their sexual orientation. Others have been involved in scandals of one kind or another. It seems that the choice for the conclave might well be reduced to a choice between a queen or a knave.
It might be time to examine the role of the Catholic church in the affairs of the world, its history and influence. The word ‘Catholic’ indicates the universality of belief, except that there are many more non-catholic Christians than catholics these days. Add together the numbers of followers of the various protestant and orthodox sects and the truth is quite clear. It is difficult to be universal when you are in a minority.
My wife told me off for being a Mr Angry during the BBC News last night. This happened after a correspondent at the Vatican made the bland statement about the apostolic succession from St Peter. Only in reports about religious matters could such statements be unchallenged. That St Peter went to Rome is a tradition, not an historical fact. Personally, I think it very unlikely to be true, but whether it is true or not, the question of its veracity needs to be asked. The claim that such precedent entitles the church to claim authority is at the very heart of the issue.
Like all organisations which have developed over a long period of time the Catholic church has become a victim of its own history and bureaucracy. Lots of rules have been made, but very few are ever repealed, though the emphasis sometimes changes very slowly. This organisation has been in place for more than sixteen hundred years and that time-span alone means that immense amounts of baggage have accumulated. Many of the rules and doctrines in place date from long after the foundation of the church and have little or nothing to do with any historical Jesus or his teachings. This includes the necessity of priests to be single and chaste, introduced in the twelfth century. But the church has always had a problem with sexuality. The only situation in which it is not sinful is when it is for the procreation of more catholic children, and even then, you shouldn’t actually enjoy it. This fucked-up attitude causes many of the problems facing the clergy today. Sexuality is a part of almost everyone’s being and cannot be denied without damage to the person.
The notion of sin is also largely unhelpful, and the idea of original sin is the single worst invention of the church. It is at this point where doctrine is in direct opposition to the most basic of ethical tenets. In the Catholic church every child is born already laden with sin because of Eve persuading Adam to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Even before you have opened your eyes you are carrying an imaginary burden of guilt by association. Women have suffered a great deal of prejudice justified by this doctrine. I would ask who invented this rubbish if I didn’t already know the answer, (St Augustine of Hippo, 4th to 5th C).
Meanwhile a bunch of old, single men in dresses sat in a room with the greatest murals ever painted will be vying for the right to tell us what the word of God is. Talk about rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic!

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