by Kate Dugan
I keep waiting to know what to say about the recent flurry of “sex scandal” (I hate that term, by the way; it makes it seem like there is something salacious and attractive about what is going on—as if there might be something worthy about priests abusing their power). I seem to be one of few around me lost for words.
My husband—a non-Catholic—is convinced this is this is the beginning of the end for Pope B16. A die-hard believer in democracy, he doesn’t understand how something like the pope being a part of sex abuse cover-ups couldn’t be the pope’s downfall. He sees the pope like a president and the pope-defender Catholics as the loud, but still minority Christian Right. To him, the equation is simple: our leader has offended in one of the worst possible ways. But he doesn’t realize what one of the authors in From the Pews in the Back articulates: I don’t live in a religious democracy. I don’t think this is, in anyway, the end.
A friend of mine—a life-long Catholic who has weathered several personal religious storms and keeps deciding to be Catholic—is wondering if she really can still do it. Will the be the proverbial straw that breaks her Catholic back? She simply shook her head about the whole thing; I assume she was disgusted, saddened.
My email bops with news articles and blog commentaries about this scandal—everyone from Maureen Dowd to Hans Kung has an opinion about this recent flurry of news.
And so what do I want to say? I have to admit that I am responding with a surprising amount of detachment to this news. Of course, I am disgusted and frustrated; rather astounded that all this has gone on. But I wonder if there is a small, sad part of me that isn’t surprised at all. I remember how hopeful I was when B16 was named pope. I attended a lecture by a gay British guy who talked about the significance of Benedict’s first encyclical being about love. He argued that Benedict’s love theology opened the door for conversations about homosexual love and possibilities for reinterpreting love as between man and a woman. For months after, I defended Benedict against the onslaught of critics around me.
But I have lost my hope. My cynicism about the church institution has been revived and I no longer expect anything different than disappointment and frustration to be stirred in me by the institution. This, of course, does not mean that I don’t still find beauty in so many things Catholic—in a well-orchestrated (usually Benedictine) Catholic liturgy or in the way being Catholic attunes me to the sacred surrounding me or that I feel rebirth in the intermingling of Easter and Spring seasons in a way that resonates with my Catholic sensibilities.
I usually try not to write negative things about the Church on this blog—I think it is important to maintain optimism and see the beauty in things Catholic if I am to continue (as I do) claiming allegiance. But sometimes I can’t see my way into that beauty with as much ease as I can in less disgusting moments in Catholic history. So I hang onto my memory of hope in these moments; wonder how I will reclaim it, worry that I won’t.
Kate Dugan is a co-editor of From the Pews in the Back and a PhD student at Northwestern University.