The Catholic Church is so busy absorbing the shock of the Holy Father’s decision to quit, it is missing the point. Holy mothers are quitting too.
I’m a Catholic. Was a Catholic. Am a sort of Catholic. Am hardly a Catholic? Is there a word for what I am anymore? I’d like to be a better Catholic but it is just not cutting it for me. And why is that? Because the Catholic Church has nothing to say to an educated woman with socially liberal views – nothing, except “Please give us your children.”
I have so far – given them my children. Two of them – the boys, have taken their First Communion in red ties and polyester sashes, in part to keep my elderly and very Catholic parents happy. Now the Church wants my daughter. She is seven, and somehow, I am more reluctant to put her through the whole fandango of instruction. Why is that? Perhaps because I have to take instruction too, and it is dull, the church is drafty and I am busy? More likely, there is the small matter of “the future” because my daughter may well have children herself. Boys are boys. The chances are they probably won’t marry Catholics. They probably won’t have Catholic children. But my daughter might. Am I just perpetuating the cycle for the sake of it, because I was brought up on tales of Catholic martyrs crushed and racked, hung and quartered? On stories of priestholes and secret masses and “No Catholics here”? Because we were taught we were different, knew better, lived better, because we were “other”. Because I was educated by nuns who wore hearts spiked with nails, and because a perspex crucifix still hangs on my wall adorned with a silver, drooping Christ?
But in reality what does the Church offer me in return for the children it claims – the children we agreed to raise as Catholic when my Protestant husband and I went for marriage preparation with our then priest Father Kit Cunningham (Father Kit whose paedophiliac behaviour in Tanzania in the 1960s was the subject of a documentary not so long ago.)
I disagree with the Church’s prejudices against homosexuality. I regard as laughable – and tragic - its position on contraception, and as a woman who believes in equality in all things, I struggle to keep faith with a faith which reserves not just the top job but its priesthood for men. Because there is one thing we already know for certain sure about the next pope – black or white, traditionalist or liberal, Italian or not so Italian – the next pope is an old man. Money on it. So I am telling my daughter she can do anything, all things, that she can be anything – anything that is,except a Catholic priest.
Moreover, the next leader of the Catholic Church and its 1.2billion congregation, will not only be another old man just like the last old man, he will of course never have married and never have had children, with all that means in terms of life and love and humanity. Children mean everything. We mothers know that and not because we were taught it in a seminary.
Arrogance and insularity fed the church’s position on child abuse, the delays, the obfuscation, the reluctance to blame their own, punish their own, make some kind of recompense. Make no mistake, the scandal of child abuse in the Catholic Church puts the anachronisms, the illogicalities, and the stuff they get plain wrong into the shade. In a letter sent some months after news broke of Father Kit, I warned the head of his Rosminian order, Father David Myers, that if the Catholic Church lost the mothers “the game is up and you lose everything.” He reassured me as a mother that is to say "our hope for the future and...the ones who provide the next generation with a wonderful vision of the gospel of love."
The Catholic Church - Christianity itself - makes much of fishermen and of shepherds when fishermen and shepherds are far removed from this high-tech modern life. Then there is the ultimate mother - Mary, but this particular and almost faithless Catholic mother takes small comfort in the example of the innocent speak-no-evil virgin with her hands clasped and stars around her head, her naked foot upon the serpent, appearing then disappearing in her now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t kind of way. The priesthood was for men, motherhood for women, well motherhood carries responsibilities - not least to ourselves.
My message to the old Pope: Live long and prosper.
My message to the new Pope: Allow women to be priests, allow priests to marry, change your position on homosexuality and contraception, maybe then we can talk. You’ve got my number and I’ve certainly got yours.