Abolish the Priesthood
June 4, 2019 3:32 PM   Subscribe

To save the Church, Catholics must detach themselves from the clerical hierarchy—and take the faith back into their own hands.
posted by Bee'sWing (34 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
A power structure that is accountable only to itself will always end up abusing the powerless.

posted by medusa at 4:02 PM on June 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

People have done this before.

If you want to save the Roman Catholic Church by abolishing the priesthood, good luck. Best path to accomplishing that goal is... to become a priest. A first step of many. Many unlikely steps, most out of your control and at the mercy of priests who are not likely to agree with your goal.

You don't really change the Church. The Church changes you. You evaluate your beliefs and what it is that the Church means to you. If those things are in harmony with Church teachings, you deal with the weird realities and conflicting ideas that entails, and remain Catholic. If they're not in harmony with Church teachings, you leave. You find another faith. Start one up yourself. Maybe even give up faith altogether.

If you value the Church as the true path as given by Jesus Christ, you don't abolish the priesthood in any meaningful way. If you value the Church as a cultural mooring, you make peace with any moral conflicts and go on about your life. But if you can't deal with flaws, just leave. Let it die of its own necrosis. You won't be alone.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:21 PM on June 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

Make that guy Pope.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:25 PM on June 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thoughtful, and well-written; thanks, Bee's Wing. I appreciate the way Carroll has laid out the problems, though I foresee a future essay from him about the soul costs of internal exile.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:28 PM on June 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I found this essay quietly heartbreaking. I left the Church a long long time ago, but Carroll's words still moved me.

There's some kind of radical nun collective on the edge of my town. I thought of that when I read this essay, and wondered if this counts, if the work really has already begun, has been going on a while. The Church is not as catholic as it pretends to be, I think.
posted by eirias at 4:34 PM on June 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

I mean...maybe just become a protestant of some kind? I'm not trying to be flippant. I went from Catholic to non-denom right before my confirmation. For me it was a first step on the way to atheism, which I don't consider a bad thing. And, hey, the parable of the prodigal son states that it's better to leave/test your faith. It's not like you were ever going to see any of that Vatican gold.

[note: I was raised by a mother and three aunts who were all super Catholic and also New England liberals. They all pretty much disregaurded Rome on one thing or another. NBD.]
posted by es_de_bah at 4:40 PM on June 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

The theological basis of the Catholic Church is that the priest stands between you and god. You cannot get to heaven without the intercession of a priest. Priests are the bottom of the org chart below bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the pope. Unlike Protestant theology there is no DIY salvation. So getting rid of the priesthood? That would fundamentally change the theology instanced in the church. The Reformation already did that ages ago.
posted by njohnson23 at 4:50 PM on June 4, 2019 [11 favorites]

I mean...maybe just become a protestant of some kind?

Guy needs all the other Catholics to become Protestant too.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:03 PM on June 4, 2019

Most protestant groups have expanded, not abolished, the priesthood, theologically speaking. There is an alternative through:
Some groups during the Reformation believed that priesthood authority was still needed, but was lost from the earth. Roger Williams believed, "There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking." Another group, the Seekers, believed that the Roman Catholic Church had lost its authority through corruption and waited for Christ to restore his true church and authority.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:09 PM on June 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

From the piece: I carry an ocean of grief in my heart.

That’s how it feels being apart from the Church. But that’s also how it feels to see tweets like this and this, not to mention the endless and unpunished pedophilia, and then sit in a pew. So.
posted by sallybrown at 5:09 PM on June 4, 2019 [16 favorites]

I found this article kind of bewildering - the author's cultural identity as a Catholic is so strong that even as he is railing against core elements of the Catholic Church he never even bothers to dismiss the idea that there are other Christian denominations out there, much less engage with the idea that one of them might be a better fit for his beliefs.
posted by allegedly at 5:24 PM on June 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I would posit that the very concept of faith itself -- the concept that it is a good idea to deliberately attempt to believe something with more certainty than is warranted by the available evidence is an obviously bad idea in all cases, and is a vice to be discouraged, not a virtue to be encouraged.
posted by smcameron at 5:25 PM on June 4, 2019 [11 favorites]

I mean...maybe just become a protestant of some kind?
I found this article kind of bewildering - the author's cultural identity as a Catholic is so strong that even as he is railing against core elements of the Catholic Church he never even bothers to dismiss the idea that there are other Christian denominations out there, much less engage with the idea that one of them might be a better fit for his beliefs.
That's not at all strange to me, as that's the way I was raised. If it were solely a matter of religious practice I think many less observant "Catholics" might leave the Church for a different one but it's much more complicated than that. For people from many backgrounds, identification with Catholicism is not simply a matter of religious affiliation but also includes complicated ties to familial, community, political, national, and other types of relations which are not easy to disavow.
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:35 PM on June 4, 2019 [21 favorites]

So why doesn't some sharp DA come out and slap these bastards with RICO Act. These men are criminals -- I don't give a damn that they wear silly hats and/or robes and/or wave censers around spouting magic mystical smoke -- none of that matters a bit. These men are criminals, these men are rapists, these men are preying upon the most vulnerable in our society. They are preying upon our future. They are destroying lives. And they are being protected by criminals higher up in the hierarchy of this massive crime family.

And that is exactly what RICO is about -- you can't get away with it just because you're higher up the line, and didn't do the act yourself. If you know about these criminal acts, and do not take steps to stop these criminal acts, then you lose your nice churches. You lose your tax-free enterprise. You get fined, big-time. You go to goddamned prison, which is where you belong.

So I'm not an attorney, but couldn't this be done? Something *has* to be done. These pieces of human garbage have proven again and again that they are not going to mend their ways, they are not going to change, the bosses are going to keep protecting the line criminals. I'm astonished that parents and other family members are not going after these sex offenders, who have destroyed their brothers lives, who have destroyed their sisters lives.

So I'm asking this seriously, knowing that there are a lot of lawyers here -- could not these people be hit with RICO Act? Or some act? Is it that no attorney wants to take on that huge criminal organization, with their deep pockets, their deep roots into our society? Do we have to just wring out hands again here, or is there someone able to do something about this.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:40 PM on June 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Building a RICO case requires a lot of very specific things, and one of them is a series of predicate criminal acts that are limited by the statute—only certain crimes can qualify for RICO. I may be wrong but I don’t believe child sexual abuse is one of them (as opposed to something like gambling). But there are a ton of other complications including probably some kind of international law stuff I don’t know about, given the enterprise is run by a quasi-nation (the Vatican).

This is a funny basic overview by Ken White (aka Popehat) of why That Thing in the News is not RICO.
posted by sallybrown at 6:30 PM on June 4, 2019 [14 favorites]

and it's ludicrously overused by a hundred million jackasses on the internet with an opinion and a mood disorder.
and waved around by morons like a big foam finger at a ball game.
Guilty as charged. Painfully obvious that I know not of what I speak.

So, back to wringing of hands here, more helpless than before.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:55 PM on June 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

The truth, I think, about the various Catholic scandals (sexual abuse, Magdeline laundries, etc.) is so much more banal and depressing than people want to think about.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:19 PM on June 4, 2019

Everyone will need to recover from their local culture at some point. Only a lucky few were let down easy over a few generations. I would recommend starting with strict moderation in everything. It will let most people recline from the addiction of guilt and self-rghteousness, and not contribute to the addiction to drugs and alcohol which follows most disillusion, as an emotional substitute. It will also help deflect the any extreme replacement cult dogmas that appeal to the lost, which promise to replace or supply the high self-image.
posted by Brian B. at 11:15 PM on June 4, 2019

The theological basis of the Catholic Church is that the priest stands between you and god.

James Carroll, the author of TFA, was a Catholic priest. It’s safe to assume he knows this. His argument seems to be that, in fusing the administrative and spiritual hierarchies, the Church corrupted both into a self-perpetuating quasi-feudal structure that is incapable of carrying out its central mission as directed by Christ. The criminal conspiracy to protect child rape is part of the surface of an edifice hollowed out by institutional rot that may have missed its last, best hope to reform itself and live up to its ideals.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:36 AM on June 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

The only reason to save the Catholic Church is to keep the familial and ethnic bonds strong that rely on the One True Church. I was raised Catholic, and the Catholic Church really encourages an isolationist hegemony. You're only friends with other Catholics. You shop at the Catholic store if possible, you use a Catholic accountant if you need one. You don't go outside the community for anything unless you have to. It's never stated, but you can kind of pretend Protestants don't exist.

And you really have to, because if you thought much about it, you'd realize that you could become an Episcopalian and have every practical Catholic thing but Rome with the bonus of seeing women and gay people as actual full human beings. Actually Pope Benedict let this slip a little, because he wanted liberal catholics to leave so that a stronger, more conservative core could remain.

It's really a horrorshow, to be told as a child how evil you are, how an innocent man had to be tortured hour after hour and killed just to give you a chance and here you are screwing it up anyway. Even those of us who weren't sexually abused were emotionally abused. The Catholic Church is so focused on the emotional abuse of children in a way that's justified for the same reasons hazing is: I got through it as a kid, so my kids will go through it; it makes you stronger and bonds us together.

I truly cannot fathom how smart people, especially women, stay in such a toxic institution. Even if leaving would estrange you from your family, friends, and community, you have to leave to break the cycle of abuse. There's a whole world out here! A hierarchy cannot reform itself, and the people of the Catholic church have literally no standing against the hierarchy. Burn it to the ground and salt the earth.
posted by rikschell at 5:53 AM on June 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

I get that the author of that piece is a former priest, but I read the article and just kept thinking, “Why bother?” I grew up Catholic - it was a condition placed by my uber-Catholic grandfather in order to approve of my mom’s marriage to a Lutheran. But I grew up splitting my church time between my grandparents’ ultra-conservative, rural Wisconsin Catholic churches (plural because if you were going to miss Sunday morning service in one town you went to the Saturday evening service with the same priest at the next town over) and a liberal, suburban Catholic mega-church in Minnesota. The differences between the parishes were so ridiculous, it made Catholicism a farce. In Wisconsin, the creepy old priest who literally gave First Communion to my mom preached every week about sex - the quote that burned itself into my middle-school brain was “to encourage a young person to wear a condom while having sex is to encourage a thief to wear rubber gloves, as to avoid leaving a fingerprint.” Parents covered their kids’ ears during his sermons! In Minnesota, the priests declared that we should love our neighbors regardless of sexual orientation and then cracked parting jokes about the upcoming Vikings/Packers games. My liberal Catholic confirmation classes involved two afternoons of motivational speeches by radical nuns - we never opened the Bible. My cousins in Wisconsin had to go to Wednesday evening Bible study classes for years. It was such obvious bullshit to me.

When the rapist priest scandals hit the news, my mom stopped going to church. I immediately thought of the creepy priest in the town where she grew up.

I have never gone to mass as an independent adult. I have a kid now who has been to church twice for funerals and only understands that church is boring and “I have to keep holding my breath because you keep saying ‘ssshhhh’” (breathing = talking to that dude, it is the story of our lives). He really wants to celebrate Hanukkah like his nanny’s family. He likes the idea of staying up late and eating at night for Ramadan like his classmates. Why would I sign him up for a lifetime of Catholic bullshit? What is the point?
posted by Maarika at 10:11 AM on June 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

I mean...maybe just become a protestant of some kind?

Religion, like sexuality, is a highly, highly personal thing, and if the dogma/theology of a given faith has resonated with you for years, changing that because of the actions of that faith's followers is not as easy as you would think.

In essence, you've said "If you're suffering from homophobic attacks, then, I mean...maybe just be less attracted to guys?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on June 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

I want to tread very lightly here because I am part of a movement that requires very, very little tinder to explode into full-blown anti-catholicism. And insofar as Catholicism viewed through the lens of folk religion often intersects with ethnic identities this kind of talk can lead to virulent acts of collective punishment.

However, I have recently been caught completely off-guard by the number of life-long, practicing Catholics who are now joining my church. We are a large and growing congregation and we attract a ton of angry Methodists (over lgbtqia inclusion) and a fair share of Presbyterians (over a thirst for more direct-action style justice ministries) - both groups who enjoy our relatively traditional style of reformed worship. They like holding a hymnal, gazing into the stained glass windows, listening to the pipe organ.

But Roman Catholics - they were never part of the growth demographic. I can think of two spikes when Roman Catholics became separatist or Congregationalist - first during the anti-immigrant sentiments of the 1930s, and this mainly in coastal cities, and again post-Vatican II when the church failed to lift some of the restrictions on divorce - creating a bind for people who wanted to get remarried.

Anyway, I keep seeing catholics in the new member classes, wide-eyed and somewhat blinkered when I explain our style of ecclesial authority (membership as Bishop, council as subservient to congregation, clergy as subservient to everything including the congregation and the Bible). It's a huge leap to go from catholic parishioner to Bishop, and that is what is asked of folks who become congregationalists.

The other weird thing is the level of respect they show me. My lifelong congregationalists (sometimes) treat me like a glorified janitor. And I'm actually cool with this and it is what attracted me to this model in the first place. The RCs who join treat me like my very presence in their home is some kind of corporeal blessing by the hand of Almighty God and they fall all over themselves to thank me and it's confusing.

I don't know what's going to happen, but this is a very weird time to be serving in a traditional reformed protestant setting. And I love many things about the RC church and I try hard not to contribute to its harm - while balancing that against telling the truth about how God feels about people and institutions that harm innocent people.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:43 AM on June 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

like, seriously, why don't they become episcopalians?

i like episcopalians. i'd fancy myself one if i didn't have to preach on sundays.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:47 AM on June 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos, I think your analogy only works if you assume that religion is inborn. That has been historically true of Jews (practicing or not, it's a racial term as much as a religious one). In many parts of the world, Catholicism is much more of a choice. Certainly moreso than sexual orientation. In many countries there is a proliferation of Christian denominations that are likely to be closer to your belief system and less systemically abusive. But it is worth keeping in mind that there are places in the world that abandoning the faith of your birth can have very dire consequences.
posted by rikschell at 11:34 AM on June 6, 2019

Upon reflection, you're right about how clumsy a comparison sexuality to religion was, and my apologies for that.

I still suspect that for many especially devout Catholics, simply hopping over to a similar belief system is not quite as easy as you suggest, however. Other denominations that look "close" to Catholicism to a third party may still seem very different to someone who has been born into Catholicism and raised in that faith, and has found the dogmas and practices themselves to resonate with them. There are many Catholics who have indeed gone that route, but there are also many who haven't, and can't accept that as a viable option because "closer to your belief system" isn't the same as "equivalent to your belief system".

Religion is indeed a choice. But it can be a highly, highly personal one.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:39 PM on June 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Surely I cannot be the only Quaker whose meeting is utterly filled with ex-Catholics who love the social justice vibes (the Venn Diagram of Dorothy Day Catholic Worker types and Quaker anti-nukes protesters is nearly a circle) and the mysticism, but were looking for an escape from the hierarchy and clergy...
posted by mostly vowels at 7:14 PM on June 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

The theological basis of the Catholic Church is that the priest stands between you and god. You cannot get to heaven without the intercession of a priest.

Well, priests would say that, wouldn't they? But there's more to Catholicism than that and I don't see why it should be the defining characteristic of it from the laity's point of view.

I consider myself "culturally Catholic" even though I'm now an atheist. And I'm only half being facetious- it shaped my early years profoundly. I'm actually really thrilled to hear anecdotal evidence that Catholics are trying other denominations. If someone really believes in a god, but the organisation has proved itself unworthy, then why not try another church? It's not easy, but it's got to be worth a try. And if there is something worth saving in the Catholic belief, then it will survive in its new form.

My mum-in-law told me recently that she's embarrassed now to say that she's Catholic. I might send her this article. I'm not convinced it has a guaranteed solution. But if all the laity start exploring their options for leaving this toxic organisation behind, surely something positive can come of it?
posted by harriet vane at 6:11 AM on June 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I agree with the article. The Vatican should try to adapt to at 20th century, at least, if not the 21st century. But that change is a painful process. I feel some sympathy for Pope Francis when he's being attacked by those hypocrite conservative Archbishops who blame him for all the issues. They are crappy.
posted by ovvl at 5:46 PM on June 7, 2019

In light of some of the conversations that are happening elsewhere, I'm going to be more honest than I normally would be in a thread like this.

North American and European Catholics are only 32% of the world's Catholics - it would be really nice if an article focusing on Catholicism, a global religion, spent at least equal time on Africa, Asia, and Latin America - where most of the world's Catholics live - as it did on Europe and the US, rather than just giving it a few lines in a very, very long article.

The very real and terrible sexual abuse problems cited in this article are also problems that occur in Protestant churches. Sexual abuse by men in extreme positions of power and its coverups are not unique to the Catholic Church.

Because of that, when I see people focusing on the sexual abuse of the Catholic church rather than in churches more broadly, especially when they say things like 'Just leave the (majority brown) Catholic Church, join the Protestants, especially the majority-white variants of it (Episcopals, Quakers)', it is really hard not to read that as racially (and often nativist) tinged. I at least experience it is as a suggestion for erasure and assimilation - especially in the age of Trump where anti-Catholic sentiment is on the rise.

I'm not asking anyone to change their opinions, but I'd appreciate it if people would consider how those opinions are sometimes heard.
posted by corb at 8:11 PM on June 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

> I was raised Catholic, and the Catholic Church really encourages an isolationist hegemony. You're only friends with other Catholics.

I can't be the only non-Catholic reading this and thinking about their Catholic friends. Maybe that was true once, and might still be true in some places, but I'd be very surprised if it were common now.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:42 PM on June 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

"I propose a kind of internal exile. One imagines the inmates of internal exile as figures in the back of a church, where, in fact, some dissenting priests and many free-spirited nuns can be found as well. Think of us as the Church’s conscientious objectors. We are not deserters."

I'm still noodling over Carroll's idea of internal exile. If you have dome this, I'd like to hear about that experience.

Years ago, a friend told me he was sticking by the Boy Scouts, and would push for change from within, and I doubted; he is thrilled that they're now accepting girls as Scouts, and feels as though he has been vindicated, but I look at the recent sex abuse scandal (speaking of not unique to a particular church) and I am unconvinced that remaining a (dissenting) participant out of personal virtue is an effective counterweight to institutional corruption.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:07 PM on June 9, 2019

'Just leave the (majority brown) Catholic Church, join the Protestants, especially the majority-white variants of it (Episcopals, Quakers)'

Your broader point stands, but Quakers are also majority brown, with a breakdown that's not too far off. Here's a 2017 survey: 31% of Quakers live in North America/Europe/Australia. 49% of Quakers live in Africa, 15% in Latin America, and 5% in Asia. That said, with significant differences in practice between the Quaker churches in question, and no single organization tying them together, it's not the same situation as it is for the Catholic church.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 9:31 PM on June 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

I truly cannot fathom how smart people, especially women, stay in such a toxic institution. Even if leaving would estrange you from your family, friends, and community, you have to leave to break the cycle of abuse. There's a whole world out here!

I have thought about this a fair amount, albeit more from a Jewish perspective. But where I've got to is that the "world out here" can also be terrible for women, and often is. From a historical perspective, the world out here is really not very far ahead of traditional religious institutions. Women are still abused, disbelieved, disregarded. While I have plenty of qualms about indoctrination of children, I pretty much have decided that if a grown woman decides that she prefers her conditions/odds on the religious side of the fence, who am I to day that I know better what's good for than she does? It's not my job to question her judgments about her own life, but to keep doing the work on my 'side' to build a world is more egalitarian and kind and safe (including financial and health safety nets).
posted by Salamandrous at 8:10 PM on June 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

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