Towards a Catholic Spring?

I sent this letter nervously to the Guardian Weekly back in June, was relieved when they didn’t publish it. Now I think, “What the heck?” Silence is collusion. To not speak is to betray those courageous women and men risking their lives, not just their comfort-zones, for truth and freedom in Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Libya…


Towards a Catholic Spring?


How is it that the Vatican still gets away with such moral, political and spiritual  skulduggery? (Vatican engulfed by whistleblower wars, 8 June). Its abuse of power is as rank, opaque and unaccountable as any junta’s; it infantilises Catholics by usurping the primacy of individual conscience and gagging dissent; in order to corner the God-market and control consumers, it uses guilt, fear and shame generated by anachronistic, redemptionist theology; its denial of the basic human right of contraception to women is a crime against humanity and the planet; its virulent misogyny differs only in degree from the Taliban’s.


    What the hell am I doing in such a church? Yet Catholicism is as innate in me as race or gender; I can’t extirpate it. What’s more, I’m a convert. For within the corruption lies a pearl of great price I’ve found nowhere else in a lifetime of searching. The Eucharist – living water, homoeopathic God, the fractal moment when the finite and infinite touch – is still radically amazing me after fifteen years.


    The dysjunction between form and substance, between the institutional and sacramental church, is so extreme it’s schizoid; going to Mass is both beloved home-coming, and collusion in intolerable injustice. As the Berlin Wall and apartheid have crumbled, so must this moribund and corrupt theocracy undergo the very death and rebirth it preaches. It’s time to liberate Christ as iconoclast; as exemplar of justice and mercy; as embodiment of Gandhi’s satyagraha – autonomy and compassion in taut, truthful dance; as transcendent potential struggling to be born in each of us.


    I yearn for congruence; for a passionate, creative, authentic, inclusive, questioning, mystical spirituality. All power to the whistleblowers. Occupy the Vatican? A Catholic spring in St Peter’s Square? Why not?


Peace be doughtily with you all.




3 responses to “Towards a Catholic Spring?

  1. Thay Thong Phap

    Maybe there is something wrong with me but having spent 40 years in the church and the last twenty in Buddhism, 8 of it as a, to some extent, freelance monk, I have no real faith in religious institutions or any other institutions either. You say: “I yearn for congruence; for a passionate, creative, authentic, inclusive, questioning, mystical spirituality. All power to the whistleblowers. Occupy the Vatican? A Catholic spring in St Peter’s Square? Why not?” The lust for power strikes me as greater than the lust for truth. I don’t mean a lust for power by really greedy people. I mean the I-me-mine thought that arises quietly in each one’s heart. The answers don’t lie in institutions for me. They lie in the letting go that comes with solitude. They lie in the more informal gatherings of like minded people. Even in both solitude and community there has to be some kind of awareness of the I-me-mine thought. There is no straight forward answer for me. There is simply the living of a life in which we do the best we can. The closest I can get to your optimism is the thought of Catholic anarchists occupying the Vatican. But that doesn’t eliminate the I-me-mine thought. Yes we need a good skillet, the right flame, just enough oil and a light hand to cook a perfect omelette, but we also need good eggs. They seem not to manifest en masse.

  2. Hear hear.

    • Thay Thong Phap

      I agree with you too. Even if we cannot believe that the world of what Buddhists call samsara will ever be completely truthful, loving and just, we should still aspire to it. That is why we need to ‘pray’ for peace even when it seems a waste of time. If we don’t aspire to peace, if all aspiration for peace disappears due to despair, then peace has no chance whatsoever. Within the good heart of truthful loving aspiration samsara can be transformed into nirvana.

      I am a great believer in an interdependent relationship between realism and compassion which Jesus expressed on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He is in no doubt about the greed, fear, ignorance and hatred that drives people’s lives, that which needs to be forgiven, that which we need to forgive in ourselves. However he asks for that same greed etc to be forgiven. He knows that it is very difficult to be fully human, to attain what Paulo Freire calls our “ontological vocation”, which is to be the best human being that is possible. Realism and compassion.

      And like Freire, we need to ask whether that same realism and compassion can be equally applied to the oppressor – the one who is so deeply enmeshed in their own I-me-mine deceit. Having said all of that I still agree with Rufus Jones, the Quaker mystic when he says: “I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles in which vital and transforming events take place.”
      Best wishes
      Thầy Thông Pháp

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