Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Further Proof of That Long Arc of the Moral Universe Thing …

Funny how things happen. Just last week we got a letter from the pastor of our local Catholic Church (I know the man and he’s a genuinely good guy – albeit a White Sox fan, but there’s no accounting for taste), in which he observed that “[t]he extreme divisions that have been the hallmark of American politics in the last few years seem also to have crept into church life, so that differences are often debated with anger and disrespect …” and that “many people have stopped coming to Mass and participating in the life of the church because of such issues.” He went on to invite former churchgoers in the community to contact him or his staff to discuss whatever concerns they may have, saying “we miss you and we care about you.”

Now it may be coincidental or it may be because he just saw us a few of months ago at my mother’s funeral and realized we hadn’t been there for awhile; but either way, his correspondence was undoubtedly a sincere attempt to reach out to disaffected Catholics in the parish. And as an attempt at fence-mending, it wasn’t bad. But as I’ve mentioned before, the Catholic Church and I don’t really see eye-to-eye anymore, except for that bit about its and my unbending opposition to the death penalty; so my immediate reaction to the pastor’s invitation to hash things out was along the lines of: Be careful what you wish for, my friend.

Because I’m not altogether sure he’d want to hear the particular litany of complaints (see what I did there?) that I happen to have, not the least of which revolves around the efforts then-Cardinal Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – to get Pres. George W. Bush reelected in 2004. That the Catholic Church – once the foremost practitioner of torture in the world; more recently, a frequent target of brutal torture by dictatorial thugs in South and Central America – would support a man who not only started an illegal war in Iraq but also openly embraced torture and expressed no regret about it was simply beyond the pale. With due respect to the genuinely decent people who practice the faith in good conscience (and we’ve got our share of priests and nuns in my family, so I mean that quite sincerely), that was pretty much the tipping point for me.

But my purpose isn’t to proselytize against the Catholic church but to point out that as all these things are running through my head – as I’m imagining the letter I might write to the pastor explaining how I felt and how, respectfully, I can’t come back – a fellow Chicagoan, Frank Chow, writes a blog post in which he demonstrates that even in the Catholic church the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice:

It's icky, but not oh so icky as it once was.

Political Wire:

American Catholics Supportive of Gay Marriage

In the latest poll showing increasing support for gay marriage, the Public Religion Research Institute finds 43% of Catholics in favor of allowing gay and lesbian people to marry, 31% in favor of civil unions, and 22% who said there should be no legal recognition of a gay relationship.

Key finding: 39% of Catholics approve of the church's treatment of the issue of homosexuality, and 56% of Catholics believe that homosexual sex is not a sin.

This is promising and a sign that times and people are evolving in their thought of teh gay. Maybe the U.S. will give up discrimination for Lent...

I am Frank Chow and I approved this message

As an aside, check out Frank’s blog – there’s lots of messages I approve over there. Or, as we used to say in my old neighborhood: Over by there.

But so here’s the thing: This is pretty astounding. Despite having a very conservative Pope (a Pope who, as Cardinal back during the 2004 presidential election in America, “pleaded with the Vatican to pressure the bishops to step up their activism againstgay marriage”), a plurality of American Catholics support equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians, and a huge majority – 74% in fact – favor legal recognition for committed gay and lesbian relationships, with only 22% opposed.

I mean no disrespect to my friends and relatives who still adhere to Catholicism, but I never would have expected results like that. The phrase “pleasantly surprised” doesn’t quite cover it.

I’m not about to go back to church anytime soon, but this proves a universal and uplifting truth: That people are often better and smarter than their leaders, and that no leader and no institution can suppress the moral evolution of their people.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.


  1. Personally, I respect the Church's teachings. But I think the Church, no matter what version, needs to move out of the middle ages and get with the people involved in the 21st Century. That's why their membership is dropping off.

  2. Thanks – and Tim, you know I respect that. My reasons for leaving the Church are long and complex, but I wholeheartedly respect your beliefs.

  3. I'd like to say I left the Church out of principle, but it was more youthful "I'm in college and I want to sleep in on Sundays after Saturday night football games/keggers" than anything else. I might have gone back at some point, but then principle did start to kick in.

    When the Church recognizes that women have a right to as much autonomy as men do, then I'll consider it again.