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How Rome Didn't Decline and Fall (Yet)
Bill Annett Salem-News.com
(DAYTONA BEACH, FL) - That the Church nurses a preoccupation with sex, intentional, inferred or by default, is so self-evident, given our almost daily saturation in news stories about child abuse, that damage control and cover-up are necessary. It's apparent also in the wide range of responses within the Roman Catholic world, ranging from the almost total denial displayed by organizations such as the American Catholic League, headed up by the aggressive William Donohue, to the opposite extreme occupied by the publication U.S. Catholic, which adopts an editorial stance often surprisingly critical of Catholic practice.
Another glaring example of this wide disparity is in the recent political controversy that has revisited birth control and contraception, topics that most of us had thought to have been resolved 50 years ago. Most recently, the 19th Century morality of contraception as evil has been exhumed and dusted off by a seemingly tunnel-visioned presidential candidate, indicating that for a huge tranche of our population and electorate, the world may still be flat.
From the top down, the Vatican's sexual fixation seems to have evolved into three distinct sources of power, manifested in control. They are, in sequence, (1) the control of the clergy, priests and nuns; (2) the direct control of lay persons; and (3) the political and social control of nations, and by implication their populations.
The latter, historically has been a simple quantitative issue of numbers. In order to dominate, the Roman Catholic Church has quite simply bent all its efforts to out-producing its competitors in the universe of religions. Ergo, if human reproduction is the means of conquering the world, sex becomes the center-piece, the ultimate solution to the problem.
During the early centuries of it's existence, the Church had a semblance of being basically a democratic institution, but evolved into an absolute monarchy with the demands for growth and power, with the imperative of central control of priest and peasant alike. The simplest solution lay in tweaking human sexuality. This was brought about by simply re-engineering morality.
Virginity, even in primitive society, has always been a winner. The Catholic Church adopted it as a central virtue, and made celibacy in clerical leadership the evidence of superiority and therefore control. The leadership extended downward, but it also was inherently subservient: exercising devotion, loyalty and obedience upward in the hierarchy, at all levels.
The result is summed up by Hilaire Belloc, the British Catholic writer of the last century: “The religion of the Catholic is... essentially an acceptance of the religion of others... and all the proceeds from the authoritative voice of the Church. For the Catholic, it is not he himself, it is the Church which can alone discover, decide, and affirm.”
Given this attitude, the parish priest, says Belloc, becomes primarily the voice of authority, “a member of a special caste,” military in its severity, he is known as “Father,” to underline his paternal authority. And, he pays off through his ability to forgive sin and grant absolution.
In such a hierarchy and system of control, where democracy or the needs of the people conflict with the needs of the hierarchy, guess which is given short shrift?
In turn, control of the laity is manifested by the need to exploit sexuality for the single purpose of out-producing the Church's competitors and the non-Christian world. As a result, anything running counter to flat-out reproductive output has been declared to be immoral.
(By the way, in a world seemingly turning away from man-made religion, the Catholic formula still seems to be working, if only marginally. In a recent report by the National Council of Churches, while all other major denominations in North America seem to be declining in numbers, ranging in severity from Southern Baptist (down 1%) to Evangelical Lutheran (down 5.9%) in the latest year, the Roman Catholic Church alone showed a growth rate, albeit something less than 1%.)
The anvil chorus of sexual imperatives goes about like this:
1. Since reproduction is the only acceptable purpose for sex, sex among the unmarried is obviously immoral. (In the event, the single exception to the caveat appears to be the activity of clergy and altar boys.)
2. Homosexuality is also a no-no, again with the noted clerical exception and special dispensation.
3. Contraception is out in contemporary Catholicism, although of course it's been around since the cave man, and mysteriously and visibly it seems to be illegally practised by 98% of all Catholics (because families with 15 children, apart from rural Quebec and vast stretches of Latin America, are quite rare).
4. Abortion is frowned upon, in fact among the more violent opposition to it, it is the justification for detonating abortion clinics and assassinating practising physicians. In 21st Century America, incredibly, it has even been dressed up and presented as a presidential election issue.
5. Divorce is considered immoral although grudgingly allowed with special dispensation (especially to wealthy Catholics) because it was seen historically as a detriment to reproduction. More lenience may be allowed after menopause.
6. Sex education has traditionally been considered bad because it results in common sense control by the participants. A modern broadminded Vatican allows limited sex education as long as it doesn't mention contraception.
7. Prostitution is bad, of course, being anathema to sex and child-bearing among married couples. (Child porn, child abuse and trafficking as suitable substitutes are permitted, albeit only in the upper echelons of the Church and lay society.)
The obvious disparity between the official list of immoralities and common practice provides the church with one of its principal sources of cash flow (which in church corporation finance is synonymous with net earnings, because of course it is tax-exempt). Since everybody is guilty of some or all of the seven deadly sins listed above, the interplay of sin and forgiveness and their adjudication by sales-minded priests constitutes an enormous profit center at both the local and international levels.
Catholic education, as well as being a contradiction in terms, is the Peter Principle, (“on this rock will I build my Church") the base on which the Church continues to perch. The Peter Principle simply means that Catholic students aren't permitted to complete their thought process in assimilating knowledge, wherever and whenever the Church itself might be threatened. Instead, they are taught and conditioned through kindergarten to Catholic university, always to cite some dogma or other. This is noticeable to a thinking non-Catholic observer even among the most liberal-minded and seemingly rational Catholics, noticeable in the mainstream among the Catholic talking heads, celebrities, commentators, politicians and civic leaders in contemporary America.
In most public schools, however effectively or otherwise, the intended emphasis is on encouraging children to think for themselves. Given empirical knowledge, for example, they are taught the meaning and value of the U.S. Constitution. In Catholic schools, children are taught that they owe “complete submission and obedience of will to the Church and to the Roman Pontiff, as to God Himself.” The Catholic Church is a sovereign power.
According to Dr. Stephen Mumford:
“As far as the hierarchy is concerned, the acceptability of a form of government depends upon its attitude toward the Church. As Leo XIII said in his encyclical on Human Liberty, 'It is not of itself wrong to prefer a democratic form of government, if only the Catholic doctrine be maintained as to the origin and exercise of power.'"
If a democracy favors the Church, then the hierarchy tolerates it; if it opposes the Church, then that proves that the government is godless and lacks the necessary divine authority. If a democracy in Spain expels the Jesuits and seizes Church property, then it is a murderous outlaw. If a democracy in The Netherlands supports all the Catholic schools with taxpayers’ money and pays the salaries of the priests, its divine right to govern is recognized as authentic.
“The American Catholic bishops," Mumford again, " who praise democracy always utter their praises with an important mental reservation, that the real source of the authority of the American government and of all governments is God and not the people. And when the bishops use the name of God in this connection, they do not mean a genial or nondenominational deity of all the people; they mean the particular Catholic Deity who established Roman primacy through St. Peter, whose vicar on earth is the pope.”
The assumption of Catholic education is that the government has no primary right to educate and that such a right has been given by God, the source of all governmental power, to the Roman Catholic Church. “Religious freedom,” that ubiquitous watchword, is threatened by any opposition to the dogma of the Church, and it is available to men only through the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
We should all, it's assumed, be so lucky.
Next issue: we conclude this three-part series with “The Vatican and The Numbers Game”
Bill Annett grew up a writing brat; his father, Ross Annett, at a time when Scott Fitzgerald and P.G. Wodehouse were regular contributors, wrote the longest series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post's history, with the sole exception of the unsinkable Tugboat Annie.
At 18, Bill's first short story was included in the anthology “Canadian Short Stories.” Alarmed, his father enrolled Bill in law school in Manitoba to ensure his going straight. For a time, it worked, although Bill did an arabesque into an English major, followed, logically, by corporation finance, investment banking and business administration at NYU and the Wharton School. He added G.I. education in the Army's CID at Fort Dix, New Jersey during the Korean altercation.
He also contributed to The American Banker and Venture in New York, INC. in Boston, the International Mining Journal in London, Hong Kong Business, Financial Times and Financial Post in Toronto.
Bill has written six books, including a page-turner on mutual funds, a send-up on the securities industry, three corporate histories and a novel, the latter no doubt inspired by his current occupation in Daytona Beach as a law-abiding beach comber.
You can write to Bill Annett at this address: email@example.com