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This isn’t bridge building

One of the Latin titles borne by the Roman Catholic Pope is Pontifex Maximus. Today, that title is translated as Supreme Pontiff, or even High Priest. Pretty accurate, right?

But Pontifex is of much older vintage than that. The word actually comes from the ancient Roman  religion – the one where they worship Jupiter, Neptune, etc – and literally means “bridge-builder.” This was important on two levels. First, in the physical sense as it related to the worship practices of those times, it was only the priest – the pontifex – who was able to address the river god to “get his permission” for the erection of bridges. And bridges were critical to the financial and political well being of the Roman empire.

Second, on the symbolic level, it was the pontifex who was expected to “bridge” the gap between the gods and men. This is the sense of the word that prevails now and makes “Pontifex Maximus” such an apt title for the Roman Pope. He – Pope Francis today – is the one who bridges the divide between the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom; he is the one who brings billions of Catholics in communion with the one God.

Breathtaking responsibility, isn’t it?

Over the last few years, however, more and more Catholics have been feeling more and more alienated from that one God who is supposed to welcome them with open arms. And the fault is often laid at the feet of the Catholic Church and its Pope – particularly the unpopular Benedict XVI – due to its policies on reproductive health, homosexuality, and child abuse by priests.

The Church’s hardline positions on these issues have been driving a deep wedge between itself and the faithful, causing the latter to drift away. Now if you were to take the hardline stance, that isn’t such a bad thing. After all, there have been bishops who have shrugged of the dwindling congregations by saying that those who remain are the true Catholics. There is a certain amount of sense in that. Religions are, by their very nature, meant to be exclusive clubs open only to those who believe in the core faith. It follows therefore that if you don’t believe, you’re welcome to leave.

But the inescapable fact is that these issues – RH, homosexuality, and child abuse – cut across religious boundaries because of the Church’s preeminence. Let me explain.

Today, the largest non-government healthcare provider in the world is the Catholic church. Considering the state of government run health facilities in many countries outside of the developed world, this means that even non-Catholics basically have no choice but to go to Catholic institutions for health services.

Now imagine going to a Catholic clinic and asking for condoms because you already have more children than you can feed? Or asking for a morning-after pill coz you’ve been raped and don’t  want to get pregnant? Nope and Nope. Condoms are prohibited, and contraception and abortion are strictly verboten. Abortion actually results in automatic excommunication.

But beyond health services, consider also the effect of 1.1 billion Catholics on public policies regarding non-discrimination against homosexuals, and the treatment of priests found to have molested minors.

These are real-world situations that, by rights, should have nothing to do with religious beliefs, and yet the very pervasiveness of the Roman Catholic Church practically define how they are professionally and officially addressed.

As a result, many people – finding their religion being used to deprive them of service and solace – end up losing their religion. Remember how I said that isn’t such a bad thing for purists? Yes, well, the Roman Catholic Church is also pragmatic and the fact is, the Church pulls down at least 4 billion US dollars a year in donations, from the American churches alone! If the number of faithful diminish, so too will the collections. It really is as simple as that.

Now this isn’t to say that it’s just a money-grubbing industry. While the Church has its share of embezzlers, much of that money still goes to funding the thousands of hospitals and missions maintained by the Church in developing countries.

Nevertheless, that’s the quandary the Church is in right now. It’s hemorrhaging believers and losing dollars. Downstream, this will mean less money for charities, hospitals, and missions. Everybody loses.

The proximate cause of this exodus of believers, everyone agrees, is the Church’s stance on reproductive health, homosexuality, and the treatment of child abuse cases. Ironically, these are the very same issues that the Church refuses to  give ground on. Again, understandable from a strictly purist point of view, but murder on the pragmatic side of the Church. In a very real sense then, the bridges of the Church to its flock are crumbling and, as a bridge builder between men and God, the Church is failing miserably.

Which is why many Catholics – and Church observers – are over the moon with Pope Francis now. This affable, selfie-taking, Argentinian has taken the world by storm with his humility and no-nonsense attitude. Many hail him as a breath of fresh air, and people are just quivering with excitement at his decidedly forward-looking statements.

In 2013, his statement “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”  had everyone and his gay uncle jumping for joy. Here in the Philippines, formerly implacable critics of Benedict XVI were suddenly more inclined to give the Church the benefit of the doubt.

And certainly, doubt we should.

Here are the other things Pope Francis says, compiled by Salon.com

Here, a collection of his very worst quotes on the issue.

1. A Senate vote on gay marriage is a destructive pretension against the plan of God

From a letter to the Carmelite Sisters of Buenos Aires on the perils of marriage equality:

“Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

2. Gay marriage will destroy the family

More from the same letter to the four monasteries of Argentina:

“The Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family… At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children.

3. Gay parenting is a rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts

Again:

“At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

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4. The political struggle against marriage equality is war

And finally:

“The bill will be discussed in the Senate after July 13. Look at San Jose, Maria, Child and ask them [to] fervently defend Argentina’s family at this time. [Be reminded] what God told his people in a time of great anguish: ‘This war is not yours but God’s.’ May they succor, defend and join God in this war.”

5. Gay adoption is discrimination against children

According to the National Catholic Reporter, Francis called gay adoption a form of “discrimination against children.” A comment that resulted in a public rebuke from Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who said that Francis’ remarks suggested “medieval times and the Inquisition.”

This isn’t bridge-building. Not in the least. And the worst part is that this dark core of anti-gay thought is now being clothed in the purest white and being sold to an adoring public, and for the most cynical of reasons – money.

 

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