Thursday, March 09, 2006

Vatican: It's business, not personal

Crisp comparative analysis of Roman Catholic and Conservative Jewish actions and policies highlights some surprises. In the current Boston Phoenix' Not Kidding, Michael Bronski starts with the adoption stupidity of Sean and his boys, but broadens to other social issues.

We goyim seldom pay attention to policy and practice of conservative Jews of any stripe. Yet as similar as the RC and Jewish roots are in social services, they differ dramatically in wider liberalism.

As he puts it:
While the American Catholic Church has historically been liberal in its pursuit of social and economic justice and fairness to immigrants, and in its opposition to capital punishment and unjust wars, the same can hardly be said of its approach to sexuality —— especially gay sexuality. Indeed, with its active campaign against same-sex marriage, its prohibitions on celibate gay seminarians, and even its injunctions against safe-sex education and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, the Catholic Church has become increasingly reactionary — especially over the past three years. This digging in of heels, of course, helps the church distance itself from its clergy sex-abuse scandals, but it also reflects the Vatican'’s geopolitical situation: the Catholic Church's real growth is taking place in underdeveloped countries with more-patriarchal sexual mores. Meanwhile, Conservative Judaism has become increasingly liberal — in 1985 it sanctioned the ordination of women to stem the defection of congregants to Reform Judaism (which made this decision 13 years earlier). Even so, from 1990 to 2000 Conservative Judaism's share of the nation's Jews shrank from 43 to 33 percent, with most of its former members opting for the more liberal thought of Reform Judaism. Not surprisingly, Conservative Judaism already lost its most deeply conservative adherents to Orthodox Judaism over the gender issue.
Note of Apology: Please pardon the laziness. He wrapped the issues so nicely; I just delivered them.

So, both 19th Century American Jews and early 20th Century Catholic Charities have long established and supported same-sex care orphanages, foster care and adoption. As the article states, "In these institutions, both Catholic and Jewish, the line between homo-social and homosexual often grew fuzzy — that much was widely understood, if implicit— but it didn'’t really matter, as long as they were doing God's work."

Keying off the article (the following is from here; don't flame him), yet now on the RC side, God's work suddenly include smiting and shaming homosexuals, even if that means letting hard-to-adopt kids languish without caring families.

Meanwhile, local Catholic politicians, a.k.a. Bishops, actively campaign to make Pope Benedict's policy into secular law. It's quite different for the Jews. Consider:
  • Their Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (Conservative Jews' religious law body) this week debated dropping the proscription of homosexual behavior.
  • There's a good chance it will shortly recognize same-sex unions and permit homosexual rabbis.
There's no question not all of the increasing social and religious liberalizing is pragmatic. American Jews have been migrating from Conservative congregations for decades. Many of the same issues that drive Catholics away have done the same with Jews, ordination of women has been huge and rejection of homosexual congregants has played in.

Of course, in addition to women-aren't-worthy, the baggage the RC Church carries is much heavier. The last two popes have insisted that clergy and congregants trudge on with it all. There's that no-birth-control atavism that many self-identified good Catholics ignore and disdain. The no-divorce carryover requires all kinds of games to finesse. Of course, there is the anti-gay policy and theology that will take quite a gutsy pope to reinterpret. Then there is the whole often unworkable celibacy issue. Some priests and nuns can sublimate their whole professional lives, many, many cannot.

Fact is, the RC Church has a business side as all large, in this case, multi-billion-dollar, multi-nationals do. The P&L side has teetered and staggered for years. Millions of congregants have left or lowered their financial contributions in response to the hard-line popes, the cheap politicking, oppressive policies disguised as theology. Many others have been stunned by the rampant sexual abuse by RC clergy and the likely billions of dollars they contributed going to settlements.

When the Vatican hierarchy and Cardinals swap their miters for business hats, one clear bright light is that growth is very strong in Third World nations. These countries are almost entirely culturally old-fashioned, much like Benedict XVI. As managers, they see their new income stream and profits coming from the most conservative areas.

Think. Think. Think. What to do?

Well, doing the Jesus thing of welcoming and blessing everyone is flat out. That won't play in South America and Africa, particularly if you are talking same-sex marriage, women clergy, or adoption by homosexual couples.

It's nothing personal. This is just business.

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