As I write these words, "His Holiness" is presiding over the 22nd celebration of World Youth Day in Sydney. The pope has already done what is expected and apologized for priest abuse in Australia. In that persons from 70 countries have left a carbon footprint by bringing themselves to Sydney for this "event" best seen on television, one has to ask: "Why Australia?" Well, Australia is special and unique in that slightly over one in four people are identified as "Catholic" and only one in five is identified as "Anglican."
Nearby New Zealand has far fewer Catholics as a percentage of total population, but it, too, is a former British colony, then commonwealth member. But Australia is special because it was a prison colony where many of the disenfranchised Irish and poorer class Catholics of old were banished, and now it has become a prosperous country; certainly wealthier than her "mother" country in agriculture, clear skies and open air. Australians are grateful not to be Americans. They say a prayer of thanks that their country was created by convicts rather than religious zealots. They take their bigotry seriously in Australia, but less so than Americans do. Still, this is a country that is a perfect place for the celebration of World Youth Day.
Years ago I traveled for three weeks with a tour group consisting largely of Australians, and they are among the least pretentious and friendliest persons in the world. I am glad for the considerable boost to their economy they will enjoy as all these people part with their dollars, escudos, pounds, pesos, euros and yen. It is interesting, and slightly sad, that after polluting the air from every corner of the globe, and spending a lot for the fuel, they then must spend much more on accommodations and food in the prime five days of "spiritual release" culminating in Sunday's papal mass, held in a venue usually reserved for racetrack betting. And the church will certainly have her hand out as well as she needs money badly, and long odds would not hurt either.
Papal infallibility aside (but it never is, now is it?), the church of my youth has just a few public relations problems. Add to that the present internal witch hunt she is performing on all priests, both active and retired, to root out any gay ones. She has not figured out the difference between a gay man and a child molester, and likely never will. In the rush to the bottom of the money, one diocese after another has been hit hard and deep in the pockets, forcing many into bankruptcy. A priest I have known well who served his community for over 30 years, retired with complete dignity, and continued to volunteer time to his old parish informally, until... From nowhere, a twenty-five year old claim of child abuse came against this priest. Abuse I know he did not commit. But the diocese of Peoria, Illinois was quick to pursue. Although "retired" and past 70 years of age, a man who was a major benefactor to his small town of Henry, Illinois was stripped of his title of priest in a sham show designed to insulate the church from responsibility of even false charges. I still call this excommunicated man "father" as he tells me of the injustice done to him by Mother Church: "They know they have no track record of success in going to trial and it is just easier for them to create a hell on earth for me rather than defend me." This man has stayed in his small town in a building he owns in his own name, still respected and loved by his congregation, but that does not undo this damage. I do not have disdain for Catholics, I have sympathy for them, but I do have disdain for the church that oppresses them and does all in her power to alienate her own truest supporters.
The church I was instructed to love as a child is now about to excommunicate three Catholic women who are to be ordained as priests in Boston. These women reject the notion that they have no right to be priests if the Roman Catholic Church (among other things) will accept married Anglican priests who convert to Roman Catholicism, wife and all. They reject the notion that women are property to be brought along into religion tied to yoke of male supremacy. Expressed thusly:
"As long as the church does not recognize full equality of women in religion, she cannot recognize the full equality of any woman around the world."
Happy World Youth Day Benedict XVI!