December 7, 2009
I just watched a five-segment debate as done by BBC World (and posted on YouTube) that featured four panelists (two for the motion, two against) debating on whether or not the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. I have to say I was immensely disappointed.
The two panelists for the motion were the Archbishop of Anuja, Nigeria, John Onaiyekan and Ann Widdecombe, a British MP who converted to Catholicism after protesting the ordination of female priests in the Church of England. The two panelists against the motion were Christopher Hitchens, who writes for Vanity-freaking-Fair, and Stephen Fry, an accomplished British TV personality and actor.
Let me reiterate. The two panelists for the motion were a well-known (to Africa) clergyman, an archbishop of the Catholic Church, THE Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, and at a glance the hope of an entire church to sufficiently and masterfully represent the church in its entire complex, gruesome and blessed history; and a stuffy, old British female politician staunchly rooted (or self-embedded, as it were) in staunchly traditional Catholicism (by which I mean personally [to her] fundamentalist principles.)
And the two panelists against the motion were an extremely well-articulated and accomplished writer, well known for his radical views, and frequent contributor to a haute couture magazine, among several other publications; and a perky, cheeky, left-wing television/radio personality who, to add to the controversy (or the ratings of said debate), is also homosexual.
Why could they not have chosen more articulated spokespeople for the pro side? Better yet, why did they not seek out as equally eloquent and vocal representatives for that side of the argument? It's an argument you at least know is going to heated, and at most will require adequate (matched) artillery, why not give both sides a real, running, gunning go?
Yes, I'm saying the side against the motion far outweighed the side for the motion! They did so by what appeared to be leaps and bounds. What's more is that I am personally a huge proponent of the motion that the church CAN be (and has been) a force for good in the world and was holding onto my breath waiting to hear what the rest of the world was (in theory) waiting to hear.
The sheer lack and disregard for a 'fair fight' by all those involved in assembling the debate notwithstanding, the debate itself began with the Archbishop at the podium, trying in what seems to be all earnestness to open up the doors to all the watching eyes of the world by delivering a dutiful opening statement that quickly dissolves into the all-too-familiar rhetoric by the Church. And then followed by Chris Hitchens, against the motion, back to Ann Widdecombe, who was for, and then closed by Stephen Fry.
The opening statements by both speakers opposing the motion were precisely articulated, clear and concise, eloquent. The points brought up were emotional, appealing, and spoke for a secular truth in the world. Raw emotions were brought up here.
But the opening statements of the two supporting the motion were not. They were the very stereotypical rhetoric by which the Catholic Church has been grievously known for and is perceived in current times, which only adds insult to injury in the eyes of a waiting world and, more namely, this believer. Especially when there have been motions and actions by people of the church, well-known and barely known all over the world, to have made a positive difference in the lives of others and significant impact on the history of the church (which I will get to.) None of which was mentioned.
There was little to no acknowledgment for past sins, compensation, explanation from a historical perspective, or delivery of what to hope for, what the message is (which I will also get to), what the church has done and is doing to do to progress, change and improve, what the church is sorry for. There was no mention of the past, present, or future, and furthermore, no acknowledge by either speaker of the repercussions the opposing side brought into view.
What of the emotions of the members of the church whose beliefs and vocations were betrayed by the monstrously sick actions of others--the members who have believed and acted in good hearts and real faith only to be slapped in the face by the evildoers, misrepresenting one in the same church? What of the points made by the opposition: the compensation for four ages of inquisition, for the epic horrors of slaying, brutalizing, ostracizing, and judging those with different beliefs over the centuries? What of the responsibility the church holds for its members acting out of ignorance, hate, intolerance?
There DOES need to be full-on acceptance by those most in place to own it--the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the people who committed the crimes, and more than anything, the very souls whose dark, shrouded, and debauched judgment were the hands of these grave, grave sins. There should have been statements in the debate by the supporting side demonstrating that extensive research concludes that massive reparation must be made, that a vital, integral element of that full contrition, expiation and absolution of that reparation must include the unfailing transference of knowledge by the church to her members, so that what is known by the world can (and should have first been) known by its members and there can be NO excuse for ignorance.
But there should have been statements that showed where the church has owned up to the sins of the past (past popes' apologies, Pope John Paul's request for forgiveness in his March 2000 address in addition to an apology.) There should have been statements by the supporting side that full and extensive research shows a full history of good in the church, that the majority of her members from the top down are working toward a more reconciled church (worldwide missionaries in third world and war-torn countries), that old, dated teachings of a wrathful God are currently and continuously being replaced by teaching a message of a loving God in a sweeping, unifying movement (vast changes in catechism curriculum, worldwide sermon content, the direction of vocation education, clergy and lay newsletters circulating with a variety of Catholic authors acknowledging this much more peaceful, loving message); and that IN that new message is one of tolerance. Of love. Of peace. Of freedom to live in the love of God. A message which teaches us to not judge because we are ALL God's people. ALL people. And there could have been specific resources of these changes and movements named, referenced, called into light, presented.
But there were none.
I even watched the Archbishop's argument twice because I had to stop watching and come back to the debate to see if a second chance would reveal something I missed; and still nothing.
There could have also been statements to direct attention to the fact that there is access to all kinds of information on spiritual enlightenment, that all souls no matter their station or religion are responsible for their own levels of personal and spiritual maturity, that we as a church have suffered the humiliation of those members but don't have to be defined by those imbeciles; and that anyone who is willing is able to harness that information. As well, the fact that there is awareness of this information and complete and total access to it at all is a step in the positive direction.
There could have (should have) been more references to the motions Pope John Paull II made to work on bridging the gap between the old, staunchy, rhetorical idioms and rituals of yore and current times through his significant contribution as pope and one of the most influential leaders in history and the hope that that offers. There should have been more references to the late pontiff's remarkably nontraditional steps outside of the Vatican circle, his contribution to aiding the end to communism, his unprecedented request for forgiveness of the church's sins, his profoundly humble address in the Novo Millenio Ineunte, which urged a universal call to holiness, all of which was delivered in the spirit of hope and reconciliation between ALL peoples.
The problem with the church--or the perceived problem by all those struggling to accept the church in its entirety (from her painful past to its blessed output and everything in between)--is that in the the true deliberation of any given topic (especially in regards to change, hope, and goodness) under a true sense of the divine accompaniment which is in true communion with the Holy Spirit also needs pure minds and pure hearts, free from any influence, to come to a deeply holy and spiritual decision; but these minds and hearts belong to human beings, who are far from perfect and even in the holiest of states, are not perfect and cannot make perfect decisions. We, as the watching masses dissolve under pressure and timelines, struggle to accept (if not right out deny) that there are reasons for deliberation. I know as a parent that the best way to make a decision concerning the children is to deliberate with my partner. Sometimes making a decision involved asking other parents around me. But I have learned in my short life that the best decisions are not made hastily and for the ones that are, it was more luck than love that made them good.
This kind of deliberation takes time and almost immediately incurs doubt because there is lack of patience. Impatience for time creates the perfect loophole for all those resisting anything the church has to say/offer/extend and it justifies the doubt which seeps into the minds of those fed up with the entire entity and gives those resisting the critical value of the church to write off the whole church. These thoughts and feelings are very human, but it must be said that one cannot judge simply because those imperfections are license for one human to judge another, or a group of humans to judge another group. If we are all trying to be better people, then better people we all must try to be, in its very principle.
To be fair, no priest, bishop, archbishop, nun, lay person ALIVE, no person, no human being on earth could have come that far and answered for the monstrosities and abhorrences that belong collectively and historically to the Catholic Church. No one person could have stood under the barrage of fire, no single human being anyway, intelligent or witty, charismatic or otherwise, and answered for the single most humanly corrupted entity of religious authorities on earth. But we did not have intelligent and witty or loving OR emotional representation of any kind. We had no way of relating to the pained masses because we did not have adequate spokespeople, nor was there a basic, unfettered acknowledgement OF that pain in the debate, of those sins, of the wrongs of the church.
There were no clear, demonstrative answers of relenting and contrition, no mention of the late pope's recognition, apology, and asking of forgiveness for in an unprecedented move towards the beginning of the millennium (though he realized, as do many Catholics the world over, that that is only the beginning of the road to healing and reconciliation), no mention of the enormously different kind of pontiff Karol Jozef Wojtyla was at all, no mention of all the good that has been done in the church by its members, no mention of the hope its upstanding and holy members gives us. Doing so to the contrary might have proved more by action than lofty rhetoric that the Church DOES see its mistakes, that the Church DOES want to move toward whole and complete body of virtuous members, toward whole and complete contrition (from the act of apology all the way to compensation for victims to perhaps a suggestion of far stricter, faster, and swifter punishment for the violators--I'm thinking isolation in a dark dungeon far below the Vatican for all perpetrators and bread-and-water-only diet), and that there are already motions and actions in place (a wide host of documents I'm far too spent to amass containing that information, but that anyone curious enough this late at night could surf and read for themselves) for showing that the Church CAN move and is moving toward a brighter, more healed future, and that the Church CAN be and is a force for good in the world.
Update: those videos are no longer posted on YouTube. The owner removed them.