What More Will It Take?
“Hate the sin and not the sinner” is an expression that I loathe. It disconnects people from their actions and expunges culpability for transgressions and creates a tool to selectively vilify human nature. For me it also seems anti-human. I mostly first heard this expression in my early teenage years in relationship to homosexuality. I was wrestling with whether or not to go to church and I recall hearing these words and thinking “well that kind of sucks.” I was clear then as I am now that I don’t want any part of me to be hated and being gay is and has always been a part of me. Moreover, I’ve grown over the years to believe that this kind of thinking (“hate the sin…”) is in part what has enabled the Catholic church to continue to allow sexual abuse on an institutional scale; it is the built in “out”…the “get-out-of-sex-offender-jail free” card. Ultimately, it is as if there is an unspoken belief that it is possible to separate the pieces of what it means to be human from how those pieces function in the real world all in an effort to achieve sanctity.
I’m taking specific aim at the Catholic church here, but I am also aware that there is no religious institution in this world that is free from sexual scandal. As I’ve continued my study of human sexuality and religion, it has become clear to me that religion and sexuality (along with wealth) are highly volatile expressions of power that are the most frequent locations of abuse and systemic dis-ease. As such, they have the capacity to be in direct and devastating conflict with each another and they also have the capacity to amplify each other’s influence for good and bad.
What I find most remarkable however is how the Catholic church and many religious bodies have sought to make their leaders literally holier than thou by holding them to standards that are in absolute denial of how these basic systems of power actually work in human community. It is not just a question of the glib statement that “power corrupts”, it is more about how the power present in religion, sexuality and wealth define basic elements of human character that are universally intoxicating and exhilarating to the point of the loss of both reason and often physical control. As human beings, none of us is immune to their lure, whether or not we are clergy and holding any human being to standards that deny this is foolhardy.
What is more, I struggle when Christian faith leaders speak of being called to emulate a “purity” based on Jesus. As I read scripture, (which I’ve done since the second grade) I find that the most important thing Jesus did was not about purity, but about humanity. Specifically, Jesus did the single most human thing any of us can do: he died…in pain. I’m obviously not Catholic and only tangentially Christian at this point, but I’m convinced that if the Catholic church and other Christian sects took more time embracing and exploring the “humanity” of Jesus as a model to emulate, they might start to see their faith as less of a high and unattainable bar to surmount and more of an anchor in the storm of living.
I grew up attending church, surrounded by Christian language and teaching, navigating through several church traditions before deciding that I needed to spend time discovering my own needs without the guilty and shame based influence of the churches I had been exposed to at that point. Over the next 25 years, without a specific faith identity, I dabbled and explored even spending a few years self-identifying as an active and practicing Catholic. Later, I investigated monastic life and also worked to understand if I could live a life that included celibacy as part of my faith practice. In the end, I found myself in Unitarian Universalism, where I serve today as ordained clergy, not because it is perfect, or because its organization immune to the temptations of religious zeal, sexual predation or financial abuse. Indeed, Unitarian Universalism struggles with all of these as well as a history that is intertwined with the origins and propagation of white supremacy in the United States. Rather, I am in Unitarian Universalism because what I required most of a faith community was spaciousness to be my most human self. I believe that the spaciousness to be human is the greatest gift that any faith, non-faith or tradition can afford its followers/adherents and it is what I seek to affirm in my interfaith interactions as a minister.
The sexual restrictions placed on Catholic clergy have their origins in the early church desire for prominence and stability and eventually in the struggle for power and prominence . The result of this practice today is obvious and there is no excusing the sins of abusers to excuse the sinners. My great hope is for some kind of peace for all of the victims known and unknown in the Catholic church and for those in other religious communities around the world who have been victims of abuse…physical and otherwise. I also hope that the Catholic church and Pope Francis are willing to evolve and work toward revealing more of human wholeness within their interpretation of Christian doctrine. I pray that they seek and affirm a Christianity that regards the whole human being, sins and all, as unique creatures who should first be loved and celebrated unconditionally. Maybe then, those who are called to lead within that community will begin with love and be less tempted to destroy the lives of others in their effort to fill the desolate void of humanity that opens up in a life of constant denial.
 A fairly decent piece on Priestly celibacy that has good sources – History News Network