(I know this isn't technically about Italy, but I have to get it off of my mind.)
This past weekend has been a little disheartening for me because of decisions made yet again by bishops of the Catholic Church. Born and raised Catholic, I believed because the nuns and priests in charge of my education told me I had to believe. I believed because my mother was a good woman who believed. I believed because I was afraid I would go to hell if I didn't believe.
One of the nuns I had in elementary schools told us that only Catholics could go to heaven. She was not alone in saying so. Friends of mine who went to different schools in different cities and states heard the same thing from their teachers.
"Sister is an idiot," my father bellowed. He overheard me telling a Presbyterian neighbor/playmate that she was condemned to purgatory (or worse) since she was Protestant. He yanked me into the house by my ponytail and whacked me. "God loves everyone, even sinners, even Protestants, even idiots who tell their friends they're going to Hell." My father could be blunt.
Around the same time of that whacking, Sister also told us that babies and children who died without being baptized could not go to heaven directly. Instead, they went to Purgatory, the place where Catholics who don’t die in the state of grace go for temporary punishment and cleansing of the soul before they can enter Heaven . . . a waiting room, if you will. Purgatory was filled with these children, and we prayed daily to build up “indulgences” (a get-out-of-Purgatory-free card) to send a child to his/her heavenly home.
It was probably at that time that I started to question the Church. I started to wonder why God, who is all-knowing and all-loving, would send a helpless child to Purgatory for years if the child had done no wrong, had been born innocent, had been made in His image. As I got older, I grew uncomfortable with Church teachings on, among other things, priestly celibacy, birth control, divorce. Over the years, I continued to become increasingly distressed over some of the words and actions of “leaders” of the Church and its many organizations. I wanted to know how the Church could retain its credibility when it condemned homosexuality yet ignored the sexual abuse of young boys by its priests. I didn’t like the fact that the Church teaches that we have free wills and are responsible for how we live our lives, yet it is quick to censure and ostracize anyone who disagrees with Church doctrine. I was annoyed that, with the number of priests is continually declining, the Church leadership would not consider allowing married or women priests.
Election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, to the Throne of St. Peter encouraged me. I thought that the Church might be turning a corner. Pope Francis, a truly spiritual and catholic man, said, " If a person is and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…they’re our brothers." Good God. Previous administrations, Benedict and JPII among them, had no room in the Church (or churches) for "intrinsically disordered—persons—aka gays.
Traditional Catholics, religious and lay alike, did not like Pope Francis's tolerant and progressive attitude. I've read many letters and essays written by said traditionalists in which they whine that Francis is ruining the Catholic Church. How, you may ask? Allow me to list a few of their complaints:
• On the night of his election, Pope Francis refused to wear the ermine and red-velvet cape and to accept the gold Papal pectoral cross.
• Instead of living in the Papal apartments, he chose a more simple apartment.
• He does not wear the heavily brocaded vestments during Papal Masses.
• On Good Friday, he dared to wash the feet of two women, one of them a Serbian Muslim.
• He stopped the backward moves to pre-Vatican II days that his predecessor allowed.
• He was compassionate towards gays.
Simply, Pope Francis wants to restore the Church, to get back many of those who have left. Yes, he got the attention of the fundamentalists, but he also got our attention. We were hopeful.
During last week's Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, Francis urged the acceptance and inclusion of gays and divorced Catholics saying that they have a lot to offer the Christian community. Basically, his blessing follows what he said during one of his first appearances last year: "A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”
The traditionalists believe otherwise and voted to change the language of the text. Gays are still disordered, but the Church will now treat them with respect and delicacy (WHAT?). Remarried Catholics are still adulterers, but the Church will do more research before coming up with a final solution. In interviews, American Cardinal James Burke, usually critical of Pope Francis, denounced the original wording saying that it did not follow Church doctrine, that it gave a the impression that it was changing—which it was not, and that a change in doctrine was "impossible."
Apparently God's directive to "Love one another as I have loved you" applies only if you toe the line, aren't gay, divorced and/or remarried, or are progressive in thought.
The good news is that the final synod is a year away, so the Pope has time to develop the teachings and to change the synod's membership. Here's hoping that he can also open more than a few minds by that time.