Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Dysfunctional Church

As the product of a dysfunctional family I feel perfectly qualified to speak on the matter of family values and how it also affects the family we call Church.

When the Catholic Church speaks about the traditional family it immediately reminds me of the popular quote: You choose your friends but not your family!”  While the Church upholds the example of an traditional family as that of Mary and Joseph it hardly speaks to the millions of families that consist of a single parent the  mother who never married, the step family,  or of the foster family. According to statistics taken in 2003 some 69% of American youth are living in non-traditional families that represent a staggering 7 out of 10 families. Now the Church claims that homo-sexual couples and same-sex marriages do not constitute Traditional families and cannot therefore be accepted into the Church.  For the Church then the popular quote mentioned above holds true.  

Statistics on Children in Families today

1 in 2 will live in a single parent family at some point in childhood
1 in 3 is born to unmarried parents
1 in 4 lives with only one parent
1 in 8 is born to a teenage mother
1 in 25 lives with neither parent

(The State of America's Children, 1998 Yearbook, Children's Defense Fund)

It should be noted that there are no statistics that tell us that any of the non traditional families are any more or any less successful and loving than those made up in the accepted traditional style.  What statistics do tell us however is that many families today suffer from some form of dysfunction and this includes the so-called traditional family unit.  
It is estimated that more than 85 percent of families today experience some form of dysfunction.  If we are to learn how to deal with and minimize this destructive behaviour we need to recognize the symptoms.  Wikipedia lists at least five well known conditions that typically fuel dysfunctional behaviours:     

  • Families with older parents or immigrant parents who cannot cope with changing times or a different culture
  • A parent of the same gender never intercedes in father–daughter/mother–son relations on behalf of the child
  • Children who have no contact with the extended family of their mother or father due to disharmony, disagreement, prejudice, feuding, etc.
  • One or more children does not follow suit with demands to have the same sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, etc.) as that of their parents
  • Going beyond mere disagreement, an intense schism between family members regarding religion and/or ideology (for example: parents support their country being at war, while children do not).

Based on the foregoing statistics anyone who claims that their family does not meet any of these criteria is probably in denial. Today the Roman Catholic Church lives in complete denial.  The shame that was brought directly into the Church through the sexual abuse of minors by some unstable priest can also be found present in a many traditional and non traditional dysfunctional families. Dysfunction is certainly not limited to any particular segment of society.   Tragically the  various forms of dysfunction can continue indefinitely when such families remain in denial. When left untreated and unaddressed the pain and suffering from the dysfunction can be passed on for generations.  The cover-ups and failure by the Church to report, and act on its direct involvement in a worldwide sexual scandal proved its preference to remain in denial.  The overwhelming evidence this dysfunction has caused points to a serious breach in a spiritual responsibility to its 1 billion followers.  Its credibility to the rest of the world has resulted in a dramatic loss of members everywhere.    Yet, even today the Church remains in denial by failing to address the endemic and systemic causes which were clearly identified by experts more than three decades ago.

Again, typically to families in denial, the Church prefers to point fingers at others.  Rather than recognizing ‘the elephant in the room’ Its leaders have increasingly stepped up their attacks on homosexuals, women needing abortions, the question of same-sex marriage, birth control, etc.  Should we be surprised that a lot of Church criticism has to do with sexual issues while it  fails to see its own shortcomings in the same pelvic area?  Recent comments by Hans Kung suggesting that the Church may be seriously sick (dysfunctional) certainly seem appropriate at this time.  The Catholic Church appears to have a particular problem admitting its past mistakes. It was only in March of 2000 that Pope John Paul II took the unusual step of apologizing for past errors, faults, abuses, of Roman Catholics. Thus the Church had remained in denial for more than 800 years about sins in staging the Crusades,  execution or torture of heretics, and the continuous persecution of the Jewish people which began almost immediately with the establishment of the Catholic Church.  The questions that we all need to ask our self, regardless of our religious background, is what have we and the Church now learned from these dark periods of history?  How do we avoid a repeat?

Is it not time to return to the Good News?   Jesus came to save ALL not just a select few.  Jesus came to heal and bring understanding among those who we reject or those who are simply different from ourselves.  Jesus said we should not judge and when we do we are acting in a typical dysfunctional manner. Transformation can only come through understanding the pain that exist within each dysfunctional family and that includes the Catholic Church. Remember. Jesus also experienced lies and betrayal among his family of disciples.

Note: less than a week after this posting the BBC News services reported:

"the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has launched an unprecedented attack on the Catholic Church in parliament.He said the recent Cloyne Report into how allegations of sex abuse by priests in Cork had been covered up showed change was urgently needed.Mr Kenny said the historic relationship between church and state in Ireland could not be the same again.

He said the report exposed the elitism, dysfunction, disconnection, and narcissism that dominated the Vatican.
"The rape and torture of children were downplayed or 'managed' to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and 'reputation".

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