As Tom McMahon perceptively writes, it is difficult writing about our personal experiences of sexuality especially on the internet. Society perhaps needs more authentic (honest), public discussion of this subject from people who do not carry all the baggage we "Catholics" carry. Vatican Two, Tom argues, was a plea to look at life as a mature adult but the "octagenarian Vatican Cardinals" fear "the camel's nose under the tent"!
The old fool is back … A few stories and where are we going … the dog's tail of internet sexuality … ROMAN CHURCH AND SEX ….
I offer some observations that have been of interest to me since I wrote EXTRA EXTRA, last Wednesday's Catholica commentary. I am not fooling myself when I throw a protective cloak around my persona in the above title "The old fool is back". Who wants to speak globally about his sexual development, perhaps in the eyes of some looking foolish? As a bioenergetics body orientated therapist I am well-grounded and I know where I take my stands. The old fool ploy is an attention getter, perhaps a cunning fox-like metaphor. Talking sex is difficult, esp. when such is personal and on the web. Western culture is filled with tinselly sex, surface stuff that appeals to our infantile understanding. Talking sex in the Roman Church is like a dog's chasing its tail, going nowhere in a confusing circle.
Two stories at the same funeral on last Tuesday follow; hopefully they illustrate the reluctance Catholics have to get into a discussion of human sexuality. I have a faith that sees a generous Creator starting the whole ball of wax. Catholic clergy and laity are wilfully innocent and choose to remain ignorant concerning sexual matters.
Two pathologies are endemic to Catholic people, their ability to be innocent (Webster: we take no notice) and to look innocent (Webster: without doing harm). These are games people play that are learned at a very early stage, for most Catholics at first communion time and are used throughout life to avoid mature thinking, judgments, and decisions. Roman Catholics just seem never to grow up, especially as long as the priest is around. Religiously I would say that most/many Catholics are educated religiously to a 2nd or 3rd grade level and this includes the clergy. Rote regurgitation of theological formula, bereft of understanding, was the name of the game in the educational youth centered Catholic system. As long as sexuality remains in the academic world the dog will never catch his tail. Vatican Two was a plea to think and look at life as a mature adult. Jesus and his teachings are not for kids. Question: Is Jesus really human?
I find Catholic funerals dreadful. Be aware that I am not in agreement with the theologies presented at the standard Roman Catholic funeral, specifically the central intermediary role of the priest with God (sky-god as contrasted to Michael Morwood's loving Creator) and the concept of heaven and final judgment. I go out of respect for the dead and the remaining family. I find clergy funerals brutally dishonest with their one size fits all liturgy. The deceased woman's talent was vested in religious education of public school children. Ruth was a charter member of Holy Spirit parish at which in 1967 I furthered my reputation as teacher of Vatican Two. A cadre of old timers gathered to pay their respects. I renewed old friendships. We are careful as to what subjects can be brought up. They are conscious I am the priest who married and they are not sure of what that entails, particularly as they knew me as a mature adult educator.
I mingled with a dozen, a brief memory here and another moment over there. Two men and I exchanged news on our children and grandchildren and one commented "Tom, I can't find your writings any more on the internet". I informed Fred of Catholica/Australia and he took note, asking what was the subject of my latest commentary. When I told him that I centered on the sexual development of myself as priest and informed him of the Bishop Lahey case in Canada the other man abruptly walked away.
The presider at the Mass was a bishop, 20 years my junior, always friendly, a people orientated and loved cleric. We greeted with smiles and genuine affection, exchanged pleasantries and I slipped in mention of my Catholica commentary on Bishop Lahey with a covering comment that I was seeking more information on his brother bishop. A complete body posture was instantaneous, the smile gone and the head shaking off my words. The bishop of San Jose, P.J. McGrath, at another gathering of old time clerics raised his hand in warning, while saying: "careful of what you say, lads, Tom McMahon is here". Tom here knows I am considered dangerous as I go where angels fear to tread and I ask heavy questions. Keep in mind I illusion myself as Hercule Poirot reincarnated.
Few are willing to contemplate what to do if the magic man disappears...
There are few comments in the Catholica Forum about the EXTRA EXTRA commentary and I am not surprised. The priesthood and human sexuality are like water and oil; the stakes are high for the Catholic people if the wooden feet of the clergy are exposed. After all, getting rid of St Christopher was tolerable but getting beyond heaven and the priest who lets us in or keeps us out of the heavenly abode is a more serious matter. Few are willing to contemplate what to do if the magic man disappears. Best Catholics not speak of these issues … and the Ryan Report haunts Ireland and the rest of Catholicism. Now we have: "It was learned yesterday that Richard Burke, the 60-year-old Archbishop of Benin, a city in southern Nigeria, stepped aside earlier this year pending the outcome of an ecclesiastical trial by the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith." [LINK]……. I delete seven reports on clerical abuse daily … too many for me to work with, yet I did note this one of an archbishop. There is some rotten cheese in Denmark and don't sell me the one bad apple theory.
For 12 years in seminary I daily repeated an ancient saying "GOLDEN PRIESTS AND WOODEN CHALICES AND THEN THERE WAS GLORY IN IRELAND; WOODEN PRIESTS AND GOLDEN CHALICES AND THEN THERE WAS WOE IN IRELAND". (I will send next week picture and discussion of my chalice given to me by my Mother upon my ordination.) As a boy and seminarian I knew lots of priests — well over one hundred — I knew clerical villains and heroes, good Jesus-like men, alkies, thieves and atheists, strong and weak of character, a few abusers and I never wanted to be just like any one of them; as much as I loved and admired my priest uncle and saw the human in him I saw his priesthood as often alien to modernity. I daily wanted to be a good human being much like that man from Nazareth. It just happened that I eventually became a priest after 12 years of fashioning the best human being I could be. The seminary priests did little or nothing to create the human priest I became. I am well aware that old time parishioners are confused as to why the Church has kept sexual abusive priests and dismissed those of us who joined the laity in marriage.
Before I was ousted from the pastoral office of caretaker of the New Almaden Roman feudal system properties in 1980 because I was found to be married and the father of two sons I had made my peace with my God about priests being married. I knew the history of clerical marriage and the Roman Church's medieval purging of women. My own mother was my female spiritual model of service ministry. I was disgusted with the wilful ignorance of my clerical peers. My God was on my side, rooting me on to be more fully human. I have often smiled as the chancery office scurried around finding family evidence on me (which the people who fought me over Vatican Two were happy to supply) while priests who had been in seminary around my time were being shuffled around to other parishes as reports on their pedophile conduct came to the archbishop's attention — the archbishop moving one offending cleric from a parish to hide him as a teacher in the seminary. What a secret jolly time was being had by all … but for sure the chancery officials got the right guys, those of us who dared to have human relationships with women. Women were the evil that would destroy the male power dominated Roman Church — they must go for the glory of an all-male god and a dysfunctional male system. The issue that disturbs me greatly is the immature way the clergy handles sex crimes. Bishop Lahey, no matter what his motive, sneaking thru customs with child pornography. Some 27,500 American priests avoided being "sinful" by leaving ministry, most getting married. I have often mused that many left because they no longer believed in the Roman system, not necessarily to marry. Women were a most welcome addition to their human development.
The camel's nose under the tent...
Pope Benedict has begun to solve the priestly shortage by opening the doors of welcome to Anglican ministers to come on board the Roman train. I can imagine some gnashing of teeth by the octogenarian Vatican Cardinals as they sense the camel's nose under the tent — that is the return of women to legitimate clerical marriage. Benedict today has put Pope Callistus 2, 1123, in his place, showing how the medieval pope had erred. Allow me to copy from Vicars of Christ by Peter De Rosa, page 408.
"Even Catholics are under the illusion that clerical celibacy was introduced in the 12th century. This is a common mistake. Celibacy, however badly kept, is several hundred years older than that. But something monumentus did occur under Pope Callistus 2. He summoned the First General Council of the West in the year 1123, known as the First Lateran. A thousand prelates decreed that clerical marriages should be broken up and the spouses made to do penance because those marriages were invalid. For the first time celibacy was proclaimed to be the strongest spiritual reality. By it the priest was marked in his soul as a man set so far apart from the laity that he could not even validly contract the sacrament of matrimony. This teaching was new; it went against centuries of tradition. One has only to quote Gregory the Great who, in 602, made it plain that a priest's marriage was valid but he had to choose between keeping his wife or his ministry. Callistus withdrew this option. A priest's marriage was invalidated by his ordination." [Vicars of Christ, p408]
Allow me to put before you some dates of significance that will influence us as we continue through the Middle Ages:
882 Marinus is first bishop to be elected pope.
1046 Henry 3 is crowned King of Germany, Italy, and Burgundy and in 1047 deposes Pope Gregory 6.
1054 Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople is excommunicated (JP2 undid this biggy).
1073 Pope Gregory 7 insists that word "pope" be used only of Bishop of Rome.
1074 Gregory insists that all ordinands pledge themselves to celibacy.
1095 Pope Urban 2 preaches First Crusade.
1123 (repeat) Callistus declares clerical marriage as invalid.
1215 Magna Carta (thank God)
And so my friends we journey on our magic carpet computer into hostile times of long ago, violent moments of history that are swept into our generation by the DNA of the human race. The chaos of the MIDDLE AGES is stupendous and is with us today. When we were leaving our Senior Center after our History Club had discussed much of the above one of my long-time friends remarked to me: "Now, I know where you are going, Thomas; it's all in our DNA and you're doing a job of psyching it out".
There are times when contemplating the mystery of life and the wonders of my body and brain that I feel the past sweeping thru me, as if I were a Templar Knight, a follower of and listener to Francis the Poor Man of Assisi or, better still, the haunting awareness that I am able today to see Jesus of Nazareth sharing fish and speaking to the crowds on the shores of Galilee. Oh, human you are a glorious creature! Why do you waste your time on accumulating possessions and fighting wars of destruction. You have the pearl of great price in your own self. What a gift to discover one's own self.
Who was this Jesus? and what does he have to offer to me today?
Was Jesus around during the Middle Ages?
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. (27/10/09)
P.S. in my daily life I am aware that I am becoming cynical. Perhaps it is because I am becoming more deaf … perchance by choice to what is going on in a violent society. I have created an enjoyable world for myself with genuine contacts of friends who keep me busy and happy. I admit to being cynical about the Catholic church and the priesthood. I am tired of pretending that "things" will improve and we will get back to normal, the good old days. I view the Roman priesthood as a duck shot from the sky by the hunting guns of a vigilant and educated people, never to fly again … and yet I have my friends and classmates who still have hope. The bishops offer nothing but impotency to modern society as it struggles for meaning and the episcopal concentration of self-survival is pathetic … and yet this is where Jesus has come to peoples' salvation over the centuries, the mysterious power of renewable life who never dies. I see him in the emergence of women as they offer to the world that love, life, and forgiveness can be a saving grace. The questions that lie before us are: is Jesus alive today? and where do we find him?
What are your thoughts on this commentary?