Sunday, April 4, 2010

Faith

It is a terrible shame that a growing group of perverts and child molesters is destroying the legacy of Catholic schools. Those of us educated in the Catholic school system know the value of that education facilitated by dedicated priests, nuns, brothers, and lay teachers, but that testimony will matter less and less in light of the current scandal.

To make matters worse, the Vatican cannot seem to stop shooting off its own foot, with Father Cantalamessa, senior Vatican priest, telling us that the world’s outrage directed at the pope and the Catholic Church over the sexual abuse of children is just like the persecution of the Jews.

Being Jewish is not a crime, and anti-Semites are a bunch of ignoramuses. The rapists-priests are criminals who victimize children, and those of us who find such conduct reprehensible, illegal, and morally indefensible are justified in our condemnation of those in authority—including Pope Benedict XVI—who failed to act on the sordid criminal behavior of those they were supposed to supervise.

The Catholic Church, a religion with a long established history, will not collapse overnight, but the end is near. Declining attendance in church, few candidates entering the religious orders, and this latest scandal will speed the process of destruction for the church. American Catholics have always been more liberal and forward-thinking than those in Latin America, parts of Europe, and Asian countries like the Philippines, and this spate of rapes and sexual abuse comes as no surprise to us because we have been dealing with this for years. Cardinals and bishops have resigned, and some may still face indictment for conspiracy and other related criminal behavior. But now we know that pedophile priests have spread their brand of evil to Ireland, Germany and other countries around the globe.

Catholic schools also suffer. Parish schools in particular have been hit hard by the scandals and the declining economy. Independent Catholic schools, many owned and operated by specific religious orders, have faired better only because they are not tied to Archdiocese systems that need money to pay out settlements in a number of multi-million dollar lawsuits.

Catholic schools were once known for the successful education of children, doing what public institutions could not, and doing it cheaper, more efficiently, and with better results. If parents wanted a good education for their children, the best choice was a Catholic school.

In the mid-twentieth century, nuns staffed the schools, and they worked for almost no salary. The church supported them, allowed them to live on campus, and provided for food and medical expenses. But as vocations waned and fewer young women were joining the religious orders, lay teachers took over the instruction. Many were paid substandard wages, received no benefits, and worked through year-to-year contracts, but the quality of student was better than those in public schools, parents cared about the education and involved themselves in the school, and the entire operation centered on the church and local community. The education was strict, by-the-book, rigorous, and intense. Some might argue the nuns and lay teachers were too intense: former Catholic school students all have stories of ruler-wielding nuns who were quick to smack the knuckles of a discipline-challenged student. But arguably, a Catholic school education opened doors for students, and many people will testify to the bedrock foundation of learning instilled by those nuns and lay teachers.

Catholic schools today struggle due to higher salary demands by teachers, increased costs of benefits and operating expenses as well as the declining economy. As tuition costs rise, many parents are unable to afford such an education, and whereas before the church could subsidize the costs, it is the church itself that needs funds to pay the legal fees and judgments rendered against it.

The church as a cornerstone of the community has also faltered. Many churches struggle to staff the parish with priests, and as religious orders face growing numbers of retirees, there are no new bodies to replace them.

So what will happen to the Catholic Church in America?

We need to empower lay people to take the leadership roles in the American Catholic Church. Already there are lay people working as parish administrators and assistants, performing many of the tasks of priests and pastors. It is time to allow married people to be ordained and to take full control of the church.

Catholic schools must continue to strengthen the education offered there, and develop ways of funding the schools for the future. At one school I taught at, almost half the student body was not Catholic, yet their parents chose to send them to the school. This is a testimony to the success of a Catholic education. Jews, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, Hindus and a variety of other students opted to enroll, take Catholic religion classes, and participate in religious services just to be part of that educational environment. In an era of budget cuts and entropic leadership in public schools, there is a market for Catholic private schools. Fresh, decisive, morally sound leadership in Catholic education will restore the system to its former luster.

I love and appreciate my Catholic school education, and there is not a day that goes by that I do not draw upon those memories of my teachers to inform my own instruction in the classroom.

I no longer attend church regularly. The last time I went, I felt verbally assaulted by the priest in the pulpit, demanding donations to defend the indefensible: the rape of a child. I find the words of most priests to be empty, vacuous, and lacking the moral determination that I expect from a spiritual leader.

What I do miss are the rituals, the comfort of congregational prayer and meditation, the taking of the sacraments, the spiritual renewal of participation in a religious service. I struggle with my beliefs. I have questions. I search for spiritual direction. But in the last few years, I have become certain that I will not find what I am looking for in the guidance of priests in the Catholic Church.

We need new blood, new vitality, a new leadership.

What we don’t need are skulking rapists victimizing the most innocent among us and hiding behind the cloak of the church to shield them from the law. The punishment for these predators, and those who defend them, should be swift, fiery, and decisive. Our faith demands it.

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