Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Guess what? In spite of all the hype, the Pope's a traditional Catholic after all (Opinion)

http://cdn4.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/colette-browne/article29917115.ece/ALTERNATES/h342/NWS_2014-01-15_OPI_032_30296411_I1.JPGIN an extraordinary turn of events, newspapers yesterday revealed that the Pope is Catholic -- apparently, he's opposed to abortion.

In his annual State of the World address, Pope Francis railed against our consumerist "throwaway culture" in which people, as well as food, are casually discarded. 

"Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food or disposable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as if they were unnecessary.

"It is horrifying just to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day," he said.

Making something of a leap, he even implied that abortion, along with famine and human trafficking, was a threat to world peace.

Now, I'm no expert in armed conflict but I'm pretty sure that religion can be blamed for more wars than abortion -- but one can understand the Pope's reluctance to labour that point.

In any event, regardless of the Pope's rather idiosyncratic theories about international relations, the only notable thing about his comments is the surprise with which they've been greeted.

Francis himself bears some of the blame for this having recently urged the church to abandon its prurient "obsession" with sexual morality and prioritise its pastoral work with the poor and disenfranchised.

His comments sent liberal Catholics into paroxysms of delight. After decades of dogmatic conservatism emanating from the Vatican, the Pope's conciliatory language has been hailed as the precursor to a more liberal interpretation of social doctrine.

One prominent gay magazine, 'Advocate', even named Francis their person of the year, after he said: "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with goodwill, who am I to judge?"

The plaudit is premature. Francis may have dispensed with the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric of his predecessor but his underlying message has remained the same.

The church still thinks that abortion is evil and homosexuality is an objective disorder, the current pontiff is just couching these sentiments in more palatable language.

In fact, a couple of weeks after being given the gong by 'Advocate', the Pope was quoted as being "shocked" by plans in Malta to legislate for same-sex adoption.

While the Pope has certainly done much to rehabilitate the image of the church from judgmental and dogmatic to caring and compassionate, his decision to baptise children from unmarried couples being a case in point, the changes have largely been cosmetic.

The biggest puzzle of this papacy has not been the Pope's softened stance on issues of sexual morality but the fawning reaction of liberal commentators to his every genial utterance.

The fact that the Pope appears to be a nice man has been interpreted as signalling some seismic change in church doctrine.

'Advocate' magazine, explaining its bizarre decision to nominate the head of an inherently homophobic institution as its person of the year, said: "LGBT Catholics who remain in the church now have more reason to hope that change is coming".

Really? There is no evidence of that. The Pope may have conceded that gay people are humans who have the right to pray, but he still believes that they should renounce their sexuality and live chaste lives.

Personally, I don't understand the determination of some to remain a member of an antiquated organisation that treats them with such contempt. Liberal Catholics draw a distinction between the church in Rome, which they ignore, and their local church where they worship and feel a sense of belonging.
But surely being Catholic means more than having some kind of nebulous faith or drawing comfort from its rites and rituals. Presumably, members should also support its fundamental doctrines.

So if you use contraception, think that women have the right to choose, believe that divorce is sometimes necessary or don't have a problem with homosexual relationships then you're either not a very good Catholic or not a Catholic at all.

How many people really believe that sex, whether it's homosexual or straight, is a sin? How many who profess themselves to be Catholic return to the confessional box every week to seek absolution for loving, but unmarried, relationships?

The problem with a-la-carte Catholicism is that it means something different for every adherent, but surely the whole point of belonging to a church is to experience a shared faith in its fundamental tenets. Otherwise, what's the point?

Although I would prefer if the church wasn't as homophobic and misogynistic as it is, I accept that its adherents have the right to proscribe their own rules of membership.

The church, for its part, should equally accept that citizens of a secular republic, which protects religious freedom, are just as entitled to excise Catholic dogma from our statutes and constitution.

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