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Editor's Page

 

Necessary Reforms in the Roman Catholic Church
and the State of Israel

 

The Church of Rome

 

Are these two topics more than I can chew? Yes. Are they related? Yes and no. Let's start with the Church. The ongoing scandal of priestly pedophiles has finally reached the top of the pile of rotten apples – the “infallible Pope”, a.k.a. the Vicar of Christ on Earth. I'm not accusing Benedict of being a pedophile, but of protecting pedophiles and abetting pedophilia in the Church. He was archbishop in Munich when the now most infamous German pedophile priest, Peter Hullerman, was exposed (to the Church), sent to Munich for therapy, then reassigned to another parish where he continued preying on children. Joseph Ratzinger then advanced to be Prefect (boss) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – previously known as the Inquisition – and, in 2005, Pope. Then there's the case in the U.S. where a priest abused 200 deaf boys, some of whom complained, but it was hushed up. In his previous job as Prefect, he was responsible for doing something about the thousands of pedophile cases reported to him. His solution was to file them away in the top secret safe and protect the Church's good name – what was left of it.

But all this and much more is well known by everyone who reads the news. It's all so scandalous that one is tempted to say that the Roman Catholic Church should disappear. But that's not my viewpoint, because too many people, especially in Latin America, depend on the Church for spiritual sustenance, although many are converting to Evangelism – although I doubt if that's a more favorable option.

Let's look at the Church's raison d'être. It's based on a remark by Jesus in Matthew 16:17. Peter recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, the son of the living God, and Jesus answers: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah...and I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind of earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven...” It would seem, therefore, that Simon's name has been changed to Peter (Gk. “Petros”), although later in Matthew 24:25, Jesus again calls him Simon. The Greek for rock is “petra”, a feminine noun. Jesus of course spoke Aramaic, so what he actually said is debatable. The Aramaic word for rock is “kepa”, and St. Paul calls Simon “Kephas”, which is a mere transliteration. In any case the apparent meaning here is that the church of Jesus will be built on the rock which is Simon become Peter. The Greek word translated as church is “ekklesia”, meaning “community” – a far cry from what the Church has become. All this is, in my opinion, a weak argument for the Pope’s ( from “papa”, like “mama”) supremacy.

If the Church doesn't just wither away like an old soldier, what is to be done? Reform, of course.  The reform should include:

-        Eliminate the office of Pope – and of Cardinals.

-        Eliminate the trappings: medieval costumes, miters, etc. so they no longer look like grouchy emperors.

-        Allow women to become priests and bishops, the more the merrier.

-        Strike obedience and chastity, leaving only poverty in the priestly canon. Priests should therefore marry – or be eunuchs, as Jesus recommended. That's a bit harsh for our times, but chastity, if desired, should be an individual decision.

-        Drop the pretense that priests can forgive sins.

-        Do everything humanly possible to insure that pedophiles don't become priests, and if some do slip through, get rid of them. Married priests would go far to solve this problem. The rule against marriage and pro-celibacy in a male club is an invitation for perverts.

-        Give up the Vatican's status as a political state. Politics and religion do not mix. And if they try, it means disaster for both – if only in the long run.

More could probably be done in the way of reform, but the above would be a good start.

 

The State of Israel

                 

With the exception of the Palestinians and the Arab countries, Israel garnered much sympathy and support from the world at its inception and for many decades thereafter. First of course because of the holocaust, then because of its image as David winning (again) against Goliath. And how they developed the desert into a modern, technological, prosperous country. The Arab suicide bombers and the rockets lobbed on to Israel cities causes indignation in the west. The Israelis also have excellent PR people who spread the word that the Palestinians who lived in the area for generations at the time of the Israeli state's founding ran like rabbits from their homes, and the Jews took everything they left behind because, well, because it was there. And now those rabbits want to come back. Well, it's too late. We've already worked the land, developed the country, and now you want us to leave. You must be mad.

I recently finished reading two books. The first is A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz. The book recounts the history of his family, starting in Poland where they lived when the Nazis came to power. Some were able to escape to Israel in time; others weren't so lucky. Oz was born in Israel and has become one of its foremost writers – certainly the best known in the west. He describes what Israel was like in the early days, the trials and sufferings and loves of the first immigrants – and of the Palestinians.

The second book is The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, an American. This is the story of a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man (real people). The woman's family took over the man's family's house when the latter was evicted from the land by force. Yes, by force. Both books describe the forceful eviction of the Palestinians from their property and country and their subsequent living hell in refugee camps. The Israeli and the Palestinian come to know each other, symbolically united by the lemon tree in the house's yard. This isn't a love story though. They come to know, understand and respect each other.

Neither author recommends the return of the Palestinians to Israel, despite sympathy for the unjust treatment they received from the Israelis; they seem to consider this impossible in the real world. They do, however, believe that the Palestinians should have their own state and both sides should learn to live peacefully side-by-side. Aye, there's the rub.

This is where the similarity of Israel and the Vatican becomes apparent. They are both religious states, one a Jewish state, the other a Roman Catholic one. As long as Israel claims to be a Jewish state, one surrounded by Muslim States and with a Palestinian Muslim state as it closest neighbor, I fear that it's survival with always be in danger, especially since now many European countries – especially the U.K. –  have lost their enthusiasm for Israel's existence, if they ever had it. Remember that Israel's most feared enemy is another religious state: The Islamic Republic of Iran.

One of Israel's greatest advantages over its enemies is that it is a democracy. But this is a double-edged sword. With its parliamentary system, relatively small fanatical religious groups can and do possess political power which is disproportionate to their numbers. The same is true in Muslim countries of course, but there the power is coercive rather than democratic.

I can not claim to know Israel well. I have traveled there on business a number of times in the past, but never lived there and do not know the language, the sine qua non for real knowledge. But I must say that I have always admired and respected the people and their accomplishments (less so now because of the aggressive “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” policy). And the country is truly fascinating. I have the impression that many Israelis are not religious at all and the majority is certainly not fanatics. Their Judaism is more a function of history, tradition and suffering that piety. 

A Palestinian state is probably inevitable. So if Israel doesn't want a neighbor consumed with hate and the desire for vengeance, it will have to be a good neighbor itself, even a paternal one. It is economically, technologically and culturally so far superior that it can afford graciousness, to the extent of turning the other cheek, a policy once recommended by a certain Jewish rabbi. It is utopian, however, to assume that the Palestinians will ever be granted their demanded “right of return”. But then Israel must compensate those – or their descendants – who lost their property and homeland, which will require an open admission of Israeli culpability for the forceful evictions. I also think that they should gradually back away from the “Jewish state” label by recognizing that religious political states are a regression to theocracy and have no place in the modern world – whether they be Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. How? Above my pay grade. Sorry.                                                       

Frank Thomas Smith


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