Thursday, September 17, 2009

Faith and Oppression

I am a Catholic. Catholic convert, Catholic all the way, Catholic till the grave sort of Catholic. I am the kind who will wake up early for Mass if I can't attend any other one, I always carry a rosary, and I am known to utilize words like "transubstantiation" in every day conversation. I truly love my faith and for most people, it's probably the first thing they learn about me. Over the years, I've wrestled with doubts and questions, only to emerge from them stronger.

Yet, there's something that troubles me about it. Not my faith in and of itself, not the doctrine, not the liturgy, not even some of its harder moral teachings. No, what troubles me is how the leaders of the institution based off my faith have gotten away with impunity for so many crimes committed against humanity.

The Crusades and the Inquisition are the two most common examples thrown around when it comes to faith and violence, but these are not the ones I'm speaking of. It could be argued, for the Crusades, that there was a genuine need to protect the pilgrim roads (not defending the Europeans but there was violence and horror on both sides). The Inquisition was horrible enough but we all know about this. No, I'm speaking of acts such as the maltreatment of peoples in the Americas and of the cover up of child molestation. While the Church has apologized for the former two, it still has not done anything about the latter two. As a Catholic woman, activist, and believer in justice, this sickens me.

The child molestation case speaks out the strongest. While there have been clergy who've been arrested and subsequently defrocked (the latter by the Church), the Church has not spoken out against this widespread scandal. While it's true, the Church is taking extra precautions, the fact that we have not heard an apology or condemnation for these crimes from the Pope or Bishops speaks volumes to me. It's almost as if they would like to protect the Church's reputation more than they would the children entrusted into their care. I've always been bothered by the fact that there's already little in the way of ministry for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, a sick part of my gut wonders if this is why.

Another case, a case that receives little attention, is the maltreatment of the original peoples of the American continent. While, yes, we hear about the genocide at the hands of the Europeans, the forced conversions, the destruction of civilizations, the raping of women and pillaging of cities, there are some things that go unnoticed. In this case, I'm speaking of the mission schools, where children were torn from the embrace of their families to be civilized and "saved" by people who did so in the name of God and the Church. These children were physically abused for speaking their language or praying the way they knew how, molested by school employees (many of them clergy) and forced from their families for long periods of time. While the Church does not bear sole responsibility for this (indeed, the government does as well, as do many other institutions), we have not heard a public statement from the Church either in apology or in condemnation of these crimes. Why?

Jesus taught justice, mercy, kindness, and spoke in defense for the least of these. I want to know how an institution supposedly based in Him had strayed so far from this calling and why those who claim to speak for Him won't speak in defense of the people He entrusted to love and protect. I understand we cannot undo these crimes. Yet I demand my leaders to remain accountable to the people. If they cannot do this, I question whether they are really on God's authority or their own.

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