12/25/2005

Messages From On High?

'Tis the day of the message; the day of the greeting; the day when leaders from around the Western world get to show their compassionate side as they give us their Christmas cheer. No matter how venal or corrupt they've been for the previous year, any politician worth his stripe will be in front of a camera today dolling out tablespoons of Christmas syrup in the hopes of chasing away the bitterness of the previous year. With the advantage of Midnight Mass and the time difference the Pope is always able to get his in first. One thing you can say for him is at least he's not as dowdy as the Queen or as boringly dressed as the politicians who follow him latter in the day. The Catholic Church really knows how to put on a show. From the choirs to the rituals, from the architecture of St. Peter's Basilica to the camera shots of Vatican Square filled with the teeming masses come to hear the words of wisdom uttered by the leader of their religion. The music swells and the central players take their positions upon the stage awaiting the entry of the star. Once the business of the ritual is out of the way it's time for the homily, or message for today's service. Usually this a good indication of what the tenor of the year's going to be like under the current Pope. Since this was Benedict's first midnight mass it was interesting to see what he would talk about. Would he seek forgiveness for the sexual abuse of who knows how many children in the New England Diocese? Would he like other Popes use this as an opportunity to reach out to other communities with the hand of friendship? None of the above! After a token plea for peace in the Middle East, he made it perfectly clear that he is no more sympathetic to a woman's right to choose as any previous Pope. In fact by deliberately likening the unborn to the symbol of the baby Christ in the manger he used his airtime to push the anti-choice agenda. It strikes me that this tradition of giving airtime and press coverage to one religion's beliefs and practice has become somewhat archaic. We live in a highly pluralistic world made up of many beliefs and life choices. To give one sect of one religion special treatment has begun to smack of inequity. Certainly there are plenty of Catholics in the world, but so are there Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists. When do they get airtime to celebrate their highest holidays and propagate their beliefs? Why do we allow someone who has no elected office outside the one voted on by his peers, make comments about social political conditions without being rebutted? This man has been quick to condemn homosexuality, same sex marriage and anything to do with birth control, yet we give him access to potential audiences in the millions and let his remarks stand as law. Certainly some people are willing to accept his word as being law, and that is their choice, but the rest of the world doesn't. But by showing him on television vested in his robes of pomp and power he is made to appear important out of proportion to reality. How is it that this man's words escape the editorializing that usually accompanies comments made by clergy of other faiths? How is it that only Muslim clerics are referred to in a derogatory manner when they say things that westerners might disagree with? There are just as many people who support choice for women and same sex unions as those who oppose them, some of them even Catholic, yet the Pope or other Catholic clergy who speak out against them are never called radical or reactionary. Why does the media cede this office power and give weight to the opinions of its occupant? He's only as important on the world stage as he's allowed to be outside the Catholic faith. Why should the majority of the world's population that isn't Catholic care about what he has to say, or made to feel that it has any import? This is an organization that has been active over the centuries in cultural genocide; the persecution of woman, Jews, and even Christians that have expressed differences of opinion. They worked to suppress knowledge if it ran counter to the their teachings as seen by their suppression of the works of Galileo in the 1600's and the continued existence of a list of proscribed works of literature. This is an organization that believes itself to be above the law of the land in which they have established sites of worship. They protect pedophiles from arrest by the simple expedient of moving them to other dioceses where they are free to re-offend and often do. They are more concerned with protecting the offenders than offering any compensation to the victims and in fact do their best to discredit those who would dare besmirch the church's good name. In spite of this history of power's misuse and venality, pronouncements from the Vatican and the occupant of St. Peter's throne are still treated by the media as sacrosanct. For a supposedly liberal press they seem to be easily overawed and intimidated by the trappings of power. When a Catholic Archbishop in Canada called on the federal government to use its powers to outlaw homosexuality not one critical word was published in any of the articles I read about him. His words of hatred were allowed direct access to people without any editorial comment. While some may say this is objective reporting, in the minds of many when a newspaper prints something verbatim without censorship it is tantamount to approval. We live in the twenty-first century where one of the corner stones in our system of government is a separation of church and state. Do you not think that means it is about time we outgrew our feudal fascination with pronouncements made by religious leaders? Why lend credibility to those who fondly remember when their word was The Word and all would tremble before them? Do not be fooled by the pretty clothes, the wondrous surroundings or the beautiful music. This is still the organization that would rather see people die in the streets of Calcutta from starvation than advocate birth control, have collaborated with oppressive regimes if it suits their purposes, and killed people for not believing the same things as them. The next time a report of some pronouncement or other of the Pope's comes across the airwaves or appears in newsprint, you might want to keep those things in mind. It takes a lot of the shine off the chalice.

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