As I've mentioned before, I have an ambivalent relationship with religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular. Suffice it to say that I'm usually a heretic among the faithful and an apologist among non-believers. The latter position--never easy to maintain--has recently become even more difficult due to an impressive streak of three news stories in two days which have revealed that the biggest threat to Roman Catholicism is the abject cluelessness of its own leadership.
The incident most attractive to the international media took place in Brazil, where the life-saving abortion of twins from a pregnant nine-year-old rape victim resulted in the excommunication of her mother and doctors.
The story most immediately troubling for Americans consists of a Chicago bishop threatening to close Catholic hospitals should the Freedom of Choice Act be passed.
And finally, remarkable for sheer absurdity, the Vatican's official paper, L'Osservatore, celebrated International Women's Day by publishing an article (which I can't find in its entirety anywhere) declaring that the washing machine is the invention most responsible for liberating women.
So, in the interest of saving children's lives, the Brazilian bishop punishes a group of people for saving a child's life while the rapist (the girl's stepfather) escapes excommunication, which should not surprise anyone familiar with the Vatican's procedure for handling child molesters within its own ranks. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the church cleverly denies its clout and plays the victim, vowing to engage in civil disobedience to the great detriment of millions of real victims. Its many mouthpieces are quick to point out that these are private hospitals, but neglect to mention that they receive public funds and seem to have forgotten that this same qualification has historically been the argument for refusing care based on race, inability to pay, and other no-no's for the Holy See. Then of course there's the washing machine, which liberated women much in the same way that Eli Whitney's cotton gin lightened the workload of southern slaves, or that the guillotine helped create a climate averse to capital punishment, or that the atom bomb has succeeded in deterring war since 1945.
What bothers me is not that I disagree with the church's positions--that's nothing new--but the belligerence with which it has suddenly decided to express its views. In these instances the church has picked its battles for the express purpose of provoking confrontation. From the absolutely disgusting display in Brazil to the vindictiveness of the threat in Chicago to the downright idiocy of the washing machine article, the Catholic Church has decided that its best chance at survival in the twenty-first century is to emulate the Jerry Springer show. Continuing to employ such a strategy will not only destroy the church in the long run, it will take a whole lot of credulous sheep down with it.
photo credit: Samsung