I am not Catholic, but I do teach in a Catholic school. It is not super Catholic, in that my principal hires teachers from all religions, or no religions (Exhibit A: me) and enrolls kids in the school without the reference of a priest. This is because we are an Independent Catholic school, not shackled to the Catholic Education Office (and therefore not vulnerable to the wishes of the Archbishop of Sydney).
We celebrate Mass. In the four years I’ve been at the school I have been involved with more Masses than most Catholics have attended in the last decade. We engage in prayer to Saints regularly (any time there’s a meeting it begins with prayer) and sing hymns about Jesus. There is a chapel on campus that students and teachers can come and go from as they please during recess and lunch time. It is a quiet place, and I have been known to sit on the pews and admire the afternoon sun streaming through the 150 year old stained glass windows, just because it is so much more serene than the bustle of the staff room.
In RE Classes, students are taught about Jesus the rebel, the teacher, the healer, the friend. The only version of Jesus that I stumble on, is Christ as embodiment of God on Earth. Every other thing he is said to have done: cared for the sick and the poor, spoken beautifully and inspired masses, refused to be told who he could and couldn’t hang out with, are things I hope to be able to do in my life. The RE curriculum presents the Bible as a set of myths and legends meant to teach us universal truths. Schools are not telling students that the Bible is fact, we are telling them that the messages are true. Just like how Orwell’s 1984 is not fact, but highlights the truth about the dangers of government surveillance, David and Goliath emphasises the truth that the underdog can beat the big guy. I think it’s important that young people know that.
Outside of the classroom, the students are involved with Catholic Mission, such as the St Vincent de Paul Night Patrol, where they spend their entire Saturday night (which is a big deal for Year 12 students) feeding Sydney’s homeless and offering them a friendly face to chat to. Every Christmas, each homeroom donates 3 hampers overflowing with food, to be delivered to families who will struggle to eat that holiday season. In the name of Catholic charity, the students give time and work for others in the community service program.
So this is why I am reluctant to give Catholicism a bad wrap. My school is not special, there are thousands in this country alone who do a better job of working in the name of Jesus, to better the lives of those who cannot help themselves. Of course you can say that it’s stupid that they’re doing these things thanks to some fairy stories and an imaginary God, but I don’t think the homeless guy who hasn’t eaten all day really cares that the kid who prepared his sandwich, when he could have been binge drinking with his mates, did it for a false belief in a false God. I don’t think the kids who are a little lost at school, who find solace in silence, stained glass and statues within the chapel at lunchtime, really care that it was built in the name of a guy who probably doesn’t exist. Christianity was built on the fundamental principles of bringing comfort and hope to those who did not have it.
I suppose this is why people get angry about Catholicism, because when it comes to the hierarchy of the Church, there are a whole lot of middle aged men in the upper echelons who take advantage of the hope and comfort so many millions of people seek from the organisation they are entrusted with. They abuse their power and the lack of education among their followers, and have been doing so since the Dark Ages. While the Catholic bishops and arch-bishops merely inherited a tradition of corruption and greed, so many people have made themselves millionaires by offering an alternative to Catholicism’s archaic traditions.
Beyond the hypocrisy of wealth within the Church, there is of course the hypocrisy of abuse that has occurred for centuries. Most publicized is child sex abuse, but unwed mothers and “fallen women” were also often systematically abused when sent away to convent schools before the women’s rights movement made it socially acceptable for women to have sex outside of marriage. Cruel men and women have taken advantage of their positions of power, and unleashed whatever sickness and hatred they have pent up inside them, onto the innocent people who seek from them the hope and comfort that was advertised.
So I don’t think Dix’s quote is a reflection on the Catholic church as a hotbed of evil and dishonesty, but rather on the corrupting influence of power on weak humans. There are dodgy bishops and arch-bishops, just like there are dishonest politicians and CEOs. Give anyone a position of power over people who are not as well-informed or well-fed as they are, and there is the risk that they will become a crook and double-cross the very people who gave them power in the first place. Power is not always abused, and the good leaders among us should not be tarred with the same brush, but rather watched and respected with cautious optimism.
I have seen too many good works initiated by the Catholic Church to allow anger over despicable acts to destroy my perception of their teachings as essentially good. Though I don’t believe in their God, their Bible, or their Church, as long as the Catholics I come in to contact with aren’t crooks, I sure as hell won’t be judging them for the beliefs that inspire comfort and hope within their hearts, and compel them to offer comfort and hope to those who need it.