My father went to Catholic school and was raised in the Catholic faith. My mother was brought up in the Episcopalian faith, as were my brothers and I. We lived in a number of interesting places around the world growing up as Army brats and were exposed to a variety of religions and cultures.
After leaving the Army my father went to work in the private sector for a large multinational. This job kept us on the move as well, though we spent a number of years in a comfortable suburb north of Detroit. This particular area of the state was and continues to be a melting pot of religious and cultural factors. While my early experiences with world religions were characterized by peaceful coexistence, the same could not be said for many who suffered and continue to suffer religious persecution, whether caused by a government or another competing religion or denomination within a particular religion.
I remember wondering as a child if our God was better/stronger/smarter than the other God(s) worshipped by those in neighboring communities, especially after hearing about “holy” wars in history class and after reading the Bible and other historical texts. When asked, most adults would explain that it is the same God, that there is but one God who is worshipped from different perspectives or points of view, but I recall thinking that the explanation was weak and possibly incomplete.
Now that I’ve had a few more years to think about it my present understanding is that there is but one God, one source of Being from which all other differentiations of Being emerge. The trouble is that human beings have almost universally crafted a God in their image and likeness, rather than seeing that it is in fact the reverse.
People have conjured up Gods and spiritual leaders through the ages like Aladdin with his lamp in hopes that they might find spiritual or earthly purpose, meaning, wealth, health or happiness. The net result of such an approach is a world riddled with conflict and abuse: conflict that reaches to the highest level of human function – its patterns of worship – and abuses that touches the most vulnerable of the human race – its children.
All this said, I am deeply disturbed by the many allegations and revelations of sexual abuse within the Catholic church. It appears from the news reports that it is not only pervasive, but it reaches quite high in the organization, yet the Church is scrambling to cover it up, rather than purge it of its diseased and infectious elements and expose the wound to the light and fresh air so that it can heal.
The Pope’s recent retirement is shocking, even to a non-Catholic, and I have to wonder if those in positions of leadership in the Catholic Church will see this as an opportunity of a lifetime to rein in the improprieties, cleanse the church of its more toxic elements and get back to its central business of connecting God to the people and the people to God. Time will tell of course, but if history is a guide, it will take a lot more than a little shock like this to shake such a large organization to its roots.