Saturday 3 April 2010

The Catholic Church: A stagnant star stuck within a vibrant constellation of change

Any institution must develop a proper set of principles to define its internal operational framework, and by doing so, this will be functional in clearly identifying it within a specific set of social arrangements, and it will, by comparison, reveal what particularly it is not, if by this we take into account other existing institutions with their corresponding caracteristics.

Thus establishing an internal configuration means clarifying who is who in terms of human chain of command, and how specific elements operate in terms of roles  that are accordingly ascribed, in order to lubricate social relations within that particular framework. On the other hand, and depending on their interests, institutions have to spread a set of values by efficiently conveying messages to a public that has been chosen as a target audience and which will act as recipients for them. People follow institutions for many reasons, but most are revered because they offer members possibilities that can hardly be fulfilled by individuals outside the roof that a collectivist organization provides. The only way to God is through the Catholic Church - according to them.

Institutions also stand for repetition of well-known practices and procedures. This means that in the interior of a religious organization like the Catholic Church, priests and other clerics will have to constantly behave according to established norms, rules and regulations that will constrain them within that particular composition. And this is also true for its external associates, as they must follow what the institution has prescribed for them, in order to more fully comply with the tenets that it has set apart and which distinguishes its followers from others. Behaving according to plan is also necessary in order to more efficiently convey a kind of leadership, which maintains institutional loyalty from within and from   outside affiliates. What everybody wants here is constant and permanent cultural reproduction of a particular way of life.

But the fact behind every institution is that it has to compete with others for the supremacy of hearts and minds, and in some cases, for the physical bodies of subjects themselves.  Monetary contributions of members, in the form of grants or taxes, upkeeps the organized infrastructure of the institution - like the State, the Army, or the Catholic Church. Whenever any organization claims that it has taken over by privatizing any idea, for example ‘God’, as the Catholic Church claims, then it will have to be extremely careful in its connection between its transcendent and human characteristics, as in the end, and regardless of the purported infallibility of its founders and contemporary leaders who are in every case mortal, it must keep in tune with the times that it inhabits in. As any business endeavour has come to understand, the only way of being completely on top without regard or recourse to anything else, is by becoming  the only existing player, with no competition whatsoever, by becoming  a  monopoly.

It is possible to argue that the first institutions brought about by civilization could have been free of influence from any other, as the first of a series is basically at liberty to create what it wants. In spite of that, the Catholic Church was not the first institution of its kind. It could have developed a particular message of universalism that could have been inexistent prior to its inception, but it too was adapted to a structure that was not original in itself.

 Today, it is virtually impossible to posit that any new institution could be created from scratch without taking into account influences from others, be it organizational, administrative or ideological. And if we travelled back in time to the establishment of Christianity as a corporate body of ethics and morals, we would have been witness to a fierce competition between it and the State, a political system and concept which finally succumbed in the end of the 5th century A.D., and which cleared the way for Christianity, who took over the private and public spaces of proto-Europeans for the following 300 years of obscurant and raw politics and society.

So the main lesson is that you become relevant as an institution if you are the only or one of the few alternatives offering any series of propositions. But in the end, people on the other side of the receptacle have to follow you all the way, in order for you to survive as an organization, in the cases in which you have successfully systematized whatever that you do. In every phase of life, institutions must transform themselves in order to successfully adapt to whatever social, political, and cultural circumstances they may be faced with. The issue with the Catholic Church is that necessary changes have not been even dreamt of because of the grandiloquent claims of its founders and actual participants. However, and in order to subscribe to the church, one must have faith not only in God, but one must build trust towards the masculine and patriarchal beings whom God has chosen (theoretically) to represent him. In this context, the repression of sexuality as celibacy was in a way of secondary importance, only a means to a higher end.

Having established celibacy as a rule since 1039 A.D., the church did not have to contend with a public that was sexually free in any way to do otherwise. The Middle Ages were still absent of a printing press that would, in due course, come to question the incongruous practice of a corporation which by then had grown enormously powerful in every sense, from otherworldly to worldly (at least European) matters. But the Church’s recalcitrance has been its main defensive weapon throughout instances where it has been doctrinally confronted - with vivid examples in the Crusades, the Counter-Reformation  and its wars of religion - that ravaged Europe between 1521 and 1648, and the outright negation of the sexual sagas that have imperiously surfaced since recent times.

 The Church might be experiencing a cataclysmic shift today with a public scrutiny being undertaken by an ever-increasing informed civil society, in times where television has taken by storm both public and private arenas worldwide. The last time that the Church faced an issue as contentious as the present one was the sixteenth century Reformation, a phenomenon that was only possible, not only because of the socio-economic changes (rise of middle classes) that Europe was going through, but because of a new technology that spread the event like wildfire, Gutenberg’s printing press.

The contemporary world has definitely changed into one that would have been unrecognizable throughout the initial stages of the Church. Today we live in an information age that has up to a point questioned previous modes of economic development that preceded it, the agricultural and industrial eras. Socio-cultural changes have accelerated dramatically. If industry was a giant leap from agriculture, the Internet and telecommunications of our times have catapulted our societies in quantum terms. Belief today has to compete today with countervailing versions to the transcendent offered by other religions, scientific enterprises, the media, the State, and civil society itself, who to a large extent has been kept under pressure to maintain the dogmatic values that the Church has blindly professed throughout the various periods of global transformation. The Dark Ages gave way to the Renaissance, and from there we transited into Modern waters, but the Church has remained stolid ever since.

Now, this paper is not designed with the aim of questioning the Catholic Church’s claims of being the ideal way towards the transcendent. Its only goal is to question a belief and practice that has definitely come of age, celibacy. And it has come in a time of poignant sexual behaviour from within its core, not from without it. So it has become easier to quantify claims of absurd hypocrisy from within its rank and file because of the spectatorial quality of contemporary media and events that have thrown the institution into a tailspin. With over 5000 priests, bishops, and other orders and clergy positions involved in sexual abuses,we could say we are not dealing with  isolated cases of abuse (according to more. Spanning a territory of at least sixteen countries - Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Mexico, USA, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, The Vatican, Italy, England, Ireland, Netherlands, Australia, South Africa -  the Catholic Church is in dire straits because of this infamous chain of sexual abuses.

And it is in trouble not because of its foundational myth, one that has nevertheless become increasingly harder to sustain in a world as rational and diverse, and that ricochets ideas more quickly. No, it is stuck as a cosmology because of its insistence in a convention that is supposedly a pillar of Catholic sacramental faith, but one whose realistic main motive is blunt social control, both internally within its structure, and externally for among its members: Celibacy. It is not easy to come to grips with the reasons (besides the obviously political) that moved the Church to impose it upon its members since the 11th century. But we today can easily understand why celibacy is not only archaic and anachronistic, but also surely cruel and inhumane, and an encumbrance for personal development. What does seem to be plausible is that sexuality and morality in the Middle Ages (to a great extent influenced by religion) more closely resembled back then what the Church still wants it to be today, the means for an end  of human reproduction.

Sexuality today means many things, besides Catholicism’s monolithic version of it. In addition, this latter position can’t be defended today on the grounds that the churchmen maintain a distinct status as a corporation with speciality in other-worldly affairs.  Be that as it may, this claims clash with other public contemporary social interests, like the predominance of the State, the rule of law, civil society, an informed public opinion, and a contemporary culture, which has certainly transcended the idea of a sexuality as exclusively instrumental for reproduction.

For our understanding of what Catholic suppression of sexuality could represent, we could follow Michel Foucault, in his view that ‘sexual discipline’ in turn implies control of inner drives, that is, control that takes place within the individual and of his life, and one which in the end shapes internal characteristics of human beings, which hence result as losers, in a game of power relations. But we could posit, on the other hand, Anthony Gidden’s idea of reflexivity in order to better comprehend what has taken place in the context of modernity. Individuals are using up their ‘sexual capital’ so as to say, in order to more freely express individuality and particular lifestyle choices in an age of more relative freedom for the body vis-a-vis the society they find themselves in. Essentially, sexuality is no longer an issue for the Catholic Church only, as it has become contentious for other social spheres of cultural life like family, communitarian, and State relations in an everly increasing globalized political world.

The other argument regarding the indefensibility of their celibate stance is plain and common sense. If criticism is rife it is because what it implies is social outrage, and what public discourse has branded as abuse and depravity is no misnomer. How will it be possible to conduct future Church affairs, whilst simultaneously maintaining and attracting more folk, on the grounds of congruency towards sexuality, if the main proponents of restraint have insidiously flouted the idea? Hence, there is no longer a defensible case for eschewing criticism on the grounds that sexual abuses represent isolated phenomena. The Catholic Church is drowning inside a tidal wave of empirical evidence against it.

Furthermore, what is needed is the opening up of spaces of representation for a subject that has been misunderstood for ages. Sexuality is much more than bodily intercourse, social control or self-engineering. It is also a gross, but fundamental energy that sustains the well being of the body, both personally and collectively, and certainly one that could overpower any physique if it is misunderstood or categorically repressed, as in the Catholic Church's case.

From the recent manifestations of homosexual paedophilia among the clergy, we could draw evidence to illuminate the previous claim by saying that what is really happening goes beyond confused sexual preferences and the legality of victims. Men within this hierarchically patriarchal institution and organization are faced with a reality that cannot be addressed in matters of faith and belief in God alone.
Males inside the Church are experiencing what any other gendered human being faces from his teenage years to full-blown adulthood, sexual urges which tend to surface in bursts of sexual energy. This vitality generally seeks satisfaction or at least comprehension, but it is also true that one can abstain from it, or even more, that it could be harnessed by transforming it into the essence of spiritual growth like a myriad of tantric sages have pointed out. We do not have to necessarily follow Abraham Maslow when he states that in order to access higher levels of awareness we have to satisfy the lower to begin with. But we can safely say that blocking sexuality outright by withholding it and repressing it will tend to backfire as negative consequences for the individual.

So, in the bulk of cases, sexual energy will find an outlet in physical sexual acts, be them personal/individual and or in participation with others. If those others are men, boys or children, it is because that is what is physically available inside an institution where women have been deliberately left out, not only of religious symbolism and tradition, but of the Church’s tangible location in the form of a cathedral, a church, a basilica, or whatever edifice acts as a roof for them around the world. On the other hand, there is also a relationship between this patriarchal vision of an all-male club and power relations that are established in horizontal and vertical ways within its structure, and that which to a point develop a sort of ‘cult of maleness’ that is surely unnatural. Members of the church are in a sense ‘Church property’ and young males will tend to hold respect and admiration for figures of higher standing. But vested authority has been flagrantly abused in the case of the sexual misfortunes that I am referring to, thus this alone threatens the cement that has held their internal coherence in working order for generations.

The average Catholic today has to cohabit with a large public in the contemporary world who increasingly has come to see personal development and transcendence as all-inclusive, in the sense of utilizing all available resources - especially the most intimate and personal like sexuality - as part of an action plan for humane dignity and growth. Many practicing Catholics themselves form part of this group. Moreover, sexual energy and action is impossible to repress without direct consequences for individuals, so the Catholic Church must be very careful with public reactions against it. If the priesthood is seen to be recklessly squandering the moral capital of the institution, people will shy away from it in every sense, ranging from physical absence to symbolic retraction. The Church must be especially cautious in an era were the letter, the scroll, and the book have been transcended by an information and media technologies phase of civilization which could annihilate any long held reputation in a few minutes.

Ultimately, it could be stated that what happens at the individual/personal level is mirrored at the social/collective level of any organization or collectivity. In this sense, individual repression of sexuality is replicated at the communal, thus making sex a problematic issue for the institution as a whole, including its constituency. So what is going on here is that the Catholic Church is in danger of affecting the more sublime and elevated aspects of its creed (liturgy, sacrament, theology) for failing to extinguish out a fire that is burning inside the edifice’s basement. The Catholic Church today is not the dominant institution that it once was in antiquity. It must revise its policy towards sexuality and celibacy if it wants to successfully keep its monotheistic God myth perpetuated. Modify, Change, Transform, Metamorphose, --- or perish.