Fuck the Pope, I’m still a Catholic
At a very precise moment in 1966, the Québécois just stopped going to Church. Everyone understands that the Church had become moribund when the provincial government took over its education, health care and social service missions, but to this day it remains a sociological mystery as to why it happened so fast. In a few months Québec went from the most actively religious place in North America to the least.
The recent decision of a Brazilian catholic bishop to excommunicate the mother of a 9 year old rape victim and of the doctors who got her an abortion while letting the rapist keep his membership card convinced many people in Québec that ignoring the Church just wasn’t enough. People are getting paperwork done. According to Le Devoir, about 50 people have asked the Québec City diocese for their certificate of excommunication last month. There is usually about 20 such requests every year. The Montreal and Sherbrooke dioceses confirm they’re getting the same order of requests.
In the words of 26 signers of a formal apostasy request published in Le Devoir: “We want to liberate ourselves from the shame we feel when the catholic Church, often against our will, considers us members of this this institution.”
I don’t believe in God. Let’s make that very clear. But I do believe in the sacred, in sacraments, in rituals and in the importance of non-commercial institutions.
That is why I will be keeping my membership card.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as disgusted as anyone by the Church’s behaviour in this affair. Actually, I’m disgusted by the Church’s position on most issues. But I’m disgusted catholic. And I’m keeping my right to speak out as a catholic.
When I was a kid, our NDG parish was run by Dominicans, also know as the Order of Preachers. The Dominicans are a highly intellectual order who don’t usually do mundane priest duties like celebrate Sunday mass. Every time we went to church they would openly and explicitly invite divorces and homosexuals to take communion, it direct violation of official doctrine. At my father’s funeral they invited Jewish and Protestant members of our family to receive benediction with the catholics who came up for communion.
Most non-catholics think the catholic Church is monolithic, centralized and dogmatic, but you have to understand that in reality, the central command of the Church has no more actual power than the Académie Française or the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
They make rules and tell us what good and bad. We listen, disagree and ignore.
The catholic Church is actually one of the more synchretic religions in the world, with the possible exception of Hinduism. Anyone who’s taken the time to try to untangle it’s diverse roots has found a dizzying mash-up of Judaïsm, Roman Mystery Cults, Celtic paganism and Zoroastrianism. It even made the Budhha a saint. As the very word catholic implies, its aim is to be universal. And universality means embracing contradiction.
The Church is, to use a fashionable image, a Team or Rivals. On the right you’ve got the Opus Dei and the Congregation for the doctrine of the faith, on the left you’ve got the Order of Dominicans. On one side you’ve got roman bishops sleeping in gold-laced satin sheets, on the other you’ve got the carthusian monks living in isolation and poverty.
The catholic Church condemns homosexuality but in just about every city you will find a catholic church that flies the diversity flag. The catholic Church condemns abortion, but former Bloc Québécois MP and priest Raymond Gravel could stand up in the House of Commons to defend a woman’s right to choose. When he was eventually asked to choose between politics and the priesthood, it was not because of opposition from his parishioners or even his bosses. Until conservative (Conservative?) western catholics demanded his head, Monseigneur Turcotte was happy to look the other way.
There is a Québec way of being a catholic. Québec as a country was founded by missionary catholic orders and it is men of cloth like Curé Labelle that opened the roads to the hinterland in the name of occupying God’s country. But this was not a always a Church controlled by Rome. In fact, the first four or five bishops that administered the Church after the British took over New-France were appointed not by the Pope, but by the protestant King of England!
Cut off from the rest of the Church and living in a society where there really wasn’t any other option except Catholicism, many Québécois developed an extremely loose attitude toward dogma. When my grand-mother watched the mass on television on Sunday morning, she would mute the sermon because she didn’t think a 50 year old virgin should be telling her how to live her life.
That’s the Catholic Church I belong to. My Grand-mother’s Church. And if the Pope doesn’t like our Church, he’s free to leave.