Thursday, August 18, 2011

Media take note: Catholic does NOT equal Roman Catholic!

I confess. I feel a deep resentment, even anger, when I read headlines or watch news report that say "the Catholic Church" as though this is automatically and exclusively the Roman church. Now, I was born and raised a Roman Catholic, went through parochial school, Catholic high school, even got all my degrees at Roman Catholic college/universities. Technically, I suppose, I was still a Roman Catholic when I got my PhD in Theology...although at that point I went to RC churches only when compelled (i.e., weddings and funerals - and I very nearly walked out of one funeral!). We attended an independent Catholic church 70 miles away...getting home from church around 2pm, which cut severely into our weekend and grandkids' events.

On the other hand, I'd supposedly "excommunicated myself" a couple of times by then...I just recognize that the very concept of excommunication is theologically untenable, so I ignore those.

Since last Fall/Winter we've been members and liturgical ministers at an independent Catholic church in St. Louis. Again, this isn't local - the 40 minute drive, each way, and Saturday evening service make it pretty awkward at times. But we love the community, find challenge and nurture in the liturgy, so we're satisfied until an independent church forms on our side of the Mississippi.

It seems to me some simple definitions are needed for the media...and probably for a good number of Catholics, Roman or otherwise:

Church: a building dedicated to worship of the Judeo-Christian God, or the institutional structure of a religion embodying that community's politics, governance and legal system.

Religion: The codification of a community's beliefs, values and mores..

Faith: A quality of believing without "scientific" proof; the beliefs of a person or group, sometimes but not always embodied in a statement of belief (i.e., creed).

Look at "Church" as the U.S. government, encompassing the federal, state and local levels. "Religion" would compare to the U.S. Constitution, and our "faith" would equate to the beliefs about that Constitution held by one and/or more citizens.

Now, a basic tenet of our government is that our democratic republic (we are not, in fact, a democracy) is the best form of government; we wage wars to force it on other nations/cultures. We are not, therefore, the only democracy (okay - democratic republic). Other nations adopt that basic form - more or less set out as a "creed" in the Declaration of Independence - without being named, or tied to in any way, the United States.

So it is with being "Catholic." We claim a particular faith - that of the Nicene Creed, the Christian faith. We also claim a particular form of that faith - the Catholic form, or religion. However, that's where the unity ends! When religion forms an institution - politics, governance, laws - differences arise, and identity is defined.

I don't mean to be overly simplistic regarding the aspect "faith." All those claiming a Catholic faith accept the teachings of the Nicene creed - but not all understand those teachings the same way. All accept "God, the Father Almighty," but while some Catholics see God as very nearly a literal Father (compete with penis), others understand this as defining a loving relationship with all that God has created, one as "motherly" as it is "fatherly," and totally non physical (as John's Gospel names God as Spirit, therefore without a body). All accept "true God, true person." Some, however, believe that the divine is overarching, so that the human 2 year old Jesus would never throw a temper tantrum (a natural process of human development, as the toddler separates self from parents - especially the mother, which is why she's most often treated to them :D). Others see "true person" as indicating Jesus of Nazareth grew and developed as all other human beings - temper tantrums, puberty, learning to speak and read, stubbing his toes, and getting splinters as he learned the carpenter's trade. So, while claiming the Catholic faith means embracing the teachings of the Nicene Creed - whether one is Roman Catholic, Coptic Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Greek Catholic or some other form of the Catholic faith - Catholics understand those teachings in a wide variety of ways.

And all this leads to....independent Catholic churches are no less Catholic than the Roman church (Latin rite is the proper name), or than the 21 Catholic churches (rites) which Rome accepts as "authentically and validly Catholic," although the pope has no authority in these - he is one among equals with the heads of those churches.

There are something like 200 forms/institutions (more or less formalized as such) of the Catholic faith around the world. Roman Catholic may be the largest, but it's neither equivalent to "the Catholic church" (even worse, "the Church"!) nor exclusively "the Catholic church."

We need to keep educating the media on this. Maybe enough voices would begin the change... and send a message to the Vatican.

Blessings on this lovely morning,

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