If the Roman Catholic churches are "empty" in Quebec, the most committed and loyal of all the Canadian provinces to the Roman Catholic faith, one has to wonder if Francis is not a decade behind at least the parishioners who inhabited the many pews in that province, and filled the coffers of those churches for the last two centuries. While there is evidence that the Roman Catholic church continues to grow in some parts of the world, in the "west" and especially in North America, like other Christian denominations, it is suffering from anchor-like drops in attendance by the faithful and even larger declines in enrolment by candidates for holy orders. Ten years ago, there were 60,000 Roman Catholic priests in the United States: today there are 39,000.
And while Francis may be openly considering ecclesial permission for priests to marry, and a more receptive and welcoming faith community for gay men and women, there is such a history of the church, Roman and all other Christian faiths, having fallen into the trap of the "zero tolerance" zone of the anal perfectionists.
Anal perfectionists, by definition, are not exclusive to any particular Christian denomination. They have planted and grown their breed in them all, under the clearly conscious eye, if not the active support and approval, of too many in the episcopate. And those conscious eyes, if not through pro-activity, then through criminal negligence, have fostered, encouraged, aided and abetted a sweeping broom on all matters of sexuality, inside and outside marriage, between consenting adults and between members of both genders.
The churches have indeed fallen prey to their own addiction to a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently, in words quoted from the Pope's interview, (excerpted below), in a headlong pursuit of perfection, as their most recent incarnation of holiness and the sacred. Thousands of people, (souls to use the church's perception of those people,) have been thrown under the bus as part of many over-commitments to too many vocal and subversive interests.(One such interest is the virulent form of feminism!)
Having been raised in a fundamentalist, evangelical, literalist interpretation of scripture, I have fought this kind of obsessive religiosity for at least the last half century, under various guises including Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Mormon, Brethern, Orange Order, and even Episcopalian...
Elsewhere in these pages, I have documented by split with my original Presbyterian church, whose clergy was a bible thumping miniature of both billy graham and ian paisley...the former generating hundreds of converts and the latter spewing anti-Catholic invective from every pulpit he encountered. Prosletyzing, in that church, consisted of a marketing business, supported, even lauded by those so easily seduced by the flow of bodies and dollars into the pews and coffers respectively. Numbers of converts, however, cannot and will not mask an underlying bigotry and hatred for others of different faith backgrounds. And it seemed to me in my adolescence that the stronger and louder and more "productive" the recruitment harangues became, the more virulent was the bigotry, in this case against Roman Catholics.
Some of these denominations attempted, however thinly veiled were their attempts to generate brotherhood and community, to bridge the divide between the "fundies" and the liberals (which latter group I considered it an act of faith to join and support, at all costs).
However, just as is playing out in the U.S. House of Representatives today, the "fundies" were always louder, more rifle-like in both their teaching messages and in their assassination of anyone who did not agree with and conform to their anality.
And quite frankly, Francis today is talking about anality in his own church, clearly an act of courage, for which some segments of his laity and clergy will pillory him.
We are all, fortunately, sinners, even including the bishops and the priests and the Archdeacons and the Pontiffs and the Primates and the church's hubristic blindness to that reality, including as it is expressed in church dogma, doctrine and tradition (which naturally includes ex-communication, exclusion, alienation, rejection and abandonment of those other and different sinners from those in power) has been, and will continue to be its "Achilles heel" in terms of both the longevity and the sanctity of the institution.
Needed are so many "commissions of reconciliation" between the transgressors and the transgressed, (and the church is, as are we all, both) that it will take a century to heal the wounds inflicted in the name of God, in the misguided pursuit of purity, holiness, perfection and a faux approval of God, who after all, if the faith is to stand for anything meaningful and worthwhile, has no need of such pretense, does not seek such false humility and such 'apple-polishing' of our reputations.
If we use God as a model of healthy relationships, and the last half century of human attempts to "please" (or appease) God, through the judgement factories that the Christian churches have become, it is little wonder that too many women continue as "victims" and too many men operate as "bullies" because, is that not, after all, the duelling archetypes that dominate North American culture...and is the church not at the heart of the formal and informal education of millions on this continent?
We wish Francis well in his ministry of healing...clearly there are gaping wounds and open tumours of hatred, bigotry, abuse and alienation that Bishop Tutu would be hard pressed to attend to, even with his long and persistent attention to the misdeeds of the government of South Africa through apartheid.
Without having necessarily different coloured skin tones, the church has practiced apartheid for centuries, with immunity. Perhaps, Francis wishes for his tenure to be one of atonement...wouldn't that be a miraculous reversal?
From BBC website, September 19, 2013
His (Pope Francis's) vision for relegating the Catholic Church's reliance on rules marks a contrast to the priorities of his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who saw doctrine as the paramount guide for clergy
"The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently," Francis said.
"We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel."
Instead, he said, the Catholic Church must work to heal the wounds of its faithful and seek out those who have been excluded or have fallen away.
"It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars," he said. "You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else."
He said the Church had become tied up in "small-minded rules" and risked losing its true purpose.
"The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all.''
His remarks are could generate dismay among clergy in the United States who have already expressed disappointment that Francis has not pressed Church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexuality.