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4th Century Bishops Could Have Learned Something From The Wife Of Bath
Population experts estimate that about 100 billion people have been born during Homo Sapiens time—with just seven billion still alive and exercising free will. One would think that the 93 billion dead might have studied the species and come up with some answers to help us in our very short lives on this planet. Many answers are still in the “pending” office boxes at the Vatican, Mecca, and other religious capitals. Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church evidently thinks that the Catholic religion is at a fork and to survive must take one road. The Vatican claims 62 million Americans are on the Catholic Church rolls, making it the dominant religious force in the country. But Francis is seriously concerned about the second largest religious force in the country overtaking his church. That force is made up of ex-Catholics. Basically, the most important problems facing Francis are connected to what to do about sex. A few recent headlines will hint at what faces the Vatican:
• “Pope : ‘There’s No Need To Breed Like Rabbits’”
• “Pope Asks Forgiveness After Sex Scandals Rock Vatican”
• “Pope: ‘Sometimes Marriage Breakups Are Inevitable’”
• “France’s Gay Ambassador Nominee Poses Diplomatic Challenge For Pope”
• Why Pope Francis’s Fight In Rome Is About More Than Sex And Marriage”
• Five Ways The Pope Is Making Right-Wing Heads Explode”
• “Pope Francis Opens Vatican Synod On Family Issues”
• “In Catholic Church’s Holy Year, Pope To Allow All Priests To Forgive Abortion”
• “Pope On Gays: ‘Who Am I To Judge?’”
• “Catholic Women Use Contraceptives At Same Rate As Non-Catholics”
There are hundreds of similar headlines just in the American press—but I’m sure you get the drift of the many problems facing Pope Francis. A traditionalist observer of the recent synod wrote: “Catholics are facing a watershed moment. The oldest and largest Christian denomination in the world is undergoing an identity crisis so profound that it may well split the church irrevocably along theological fault lines….It is a crisis that …may engulf the church and scatter the faithful.” What planet has this guy been on? “May scatter the faithful?” What is the second-largest religious group again? Why, they are part of the “scatter”!
What Should Pope Francis Do About What Jesus Would Do?
With the synod just ended it will be fascinating to see what Francis does with the 94 recommendations coming out of the synod where men outnumbered women 57-1. Remember when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg? I think it is ironic that 270 bishops and cardinals in attendance couldn’t come up with just one more to tie Luther. American nun Maureen Kelleher served a non-voting role during the synod (Perhaps serving coffee or carrying messages?) and informed the National Catholic Reporter that there were “times that I have felt the condescension so heavy, you could cut it with a knife. I see a high level of non-acceptance of us holding up half the sky.” Did the synod discuss the role of women in the church other than running hospitals, cleaning bed pans, teaching kids, and serving meals and cleaning toilets for the male members of Opus Dei? Are the 400 Vatican bishops and cardinals so blind they cannot detect the darkening sky? The majority seems to have no idea what the millions of people in the pews and confessionals think. The European Catholic Churches are practically dead. As a member of the Roman Catholic Church for 27 years and the fact Corky and I were married at the altar of Fargo’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, I know a little about the Vatican and who sits in the pews. Before the 2015 session of the synod started, the Pew Research Center surveyed American Catholics about church issues. Here are some results:
• Only one in three Catholics believes that it’s sinful to live with a romantic partner outside of marriage.
• Only one in five believes it’s sinful to get a divorce.
• On the gays and lesbians issue, 44% did frown on sexual relations between two men and two women, 39% said it’s OK.
• A family headed by a father and a mother is best, but 80% are OK with divorced parents, single parents, or unmarried parents living together—and 65% are OK with gay or lesbian parents.
Other surveys indicate Catholic women use contraceptives at the same rate as non-Catholic women do—and get abortions at the same rate as non-Catholics.
Is Sex Only For Baby-Making? How Did Some Christians Ever Get On That Kick?
Sex has bedeviled Christians for 2,000 years. “Go forth and multiply” seems to be a direct order anyone could follow, but 32,000 Christian denominations have turned it into the quagmire of the centuries. In the 21st Century after Christ some Christians are still debating issues that should have been resolved long ago. Many Christians have left the church over these issues: (1) gays and lesbians, (2) same-sex marriage, (3) divorce, (4) annulments, (5) use of contraceptives, (6) Vatican Roulette, (7) abortions, (8) celibacy, (9) monogamy, (10) euthanasia, (11) in-vitro fertilization, (12) stem cell research, (13) the role of women in the church, 14) sex abuse by “celibate” priests and bishops, (15) communion to divorced Catholics---and the list goes on and on.
One might think that the question “Where do unbaptized babies go when they die?” would be relatively easy to answer by religious authorities. As life begins at conception and the Church professes the doctrine of “Original Sin” (That nothing so impure as an unbaptized baby can enter Heaven), we presently have billions of unbaptized persons circling the earth in Purgatory, otherwise called Limbo. They have not been cleansed of original sin by baptism. The question has such noted Catholic theologians as Saint Augustine (5th Century) and Saint Thomas Aquinas (13th Century) on opposite sides. The Vatican began to take another serious look at this “doctrine” when Pope Benedict led it. I thought it might be a subject this synod of Francis might discuss. Evidently the subject didn’t make his bucket list. Stuff happens when you have rules that are not rational. Evidently the billions of unbaptized persons lost through miscarriages, deaths of mothers and babies at birth, abortion, and the absence of baptizers will continue to circle in Limbo until the Vatican solves the problem.
Geoffrey Chaucer Of England Had Some Answers For Popes And Bishops 800 Years Ago
Chaucer was a 14th Century English writer who had friends in high places, so he could write about sex and religion without fear of ending up on the London chopping block. In 1400 he was buried in Westminster Abbey, the place of kings. He spent ten years writing his Canterbury Tales, a collection about 29 pilgrims who were on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral where St. Thomas Becket was murdered on the altar by King Henry II’s knights in the 11th Century (Really! That’s a true story). The Catholic bishops of the day could have learned a great deal about women, sex, male-female relationships, and the role of women in all churches from Chaucer’s entertaining tales. If they had read about The Wife of Bath, her tale could have taught them about sex and marriage: “Bold was her face, handsome, and red in hue. A worthy woman all her life, what’s more she’d had five husbands, all at the church door, apart from other company in youth.” In other words, she evidently had a lot of pre-marital and marital sex in her life, starting at age twelve. (When I took Chaucer as a class at Moorhead State our English prof split the females and males into separate sections so we could discuss the wife of Bath’s role and story “without embarrassment!” We had married women and Korean War vets in class at the time. Well, it was the “innocent” 50’s.) Here are her observations about King Solomon, sex, and her five marriages:
• “Look, here’s the wise king, lordly Solomon; I do believe his wives were more than one (1,000 wives and concubines according to the Bible.). A gift from God he had for all his wives,/ God knows, this noble king, if I am right, had many a merry bout on the first night./ With each of them, he was so much alive./ And God be blessed I have married five…the sixth is welcome if he comes along.”
• “That God on high forbade that we be wed by any word express? Please answer me. Or when did he command virginity?.../ For I will bestow the flower of my life in all the acts and fruits of being wife./ And tell me for what reason, if you can, were organs made for reproducing man…they were not made for nothing safe to say. / gloss over whoso will, tell all creation our little things both are for urination, and that they are made so different in detail so we can know the male from the female…I mean to say they were made for both—that is –both for relief and for our ease to procreate, so God we will not displease….that’s why all creatures these are set, to urinate and also to beget.”
• Her pledge to her five husbands about their sexual relationship)) “I’m not fastidious, In wifehood I will use my instrument as freely as my Maker has it sent. If I hold back, God bring me misery!/ My spouse shall have it day and night, when he desires he may come forth and pay his debt./ I’ll have a husband—I’m not quitting yet—and he will be debtor and my slave,/ And in the flesh his troubles will be grave as long as I continue as his wife; for I will have the power all my life over his body, I and never he.”
• (A quick summary of her five husbands) “I’ll tell the truth on husbands I have had, as three of them were good and two were bad./ The three men who were good were rich and old, indeed were scarcely able to uphold the contract binding them (they needed lots of Viagra!)…So help me God, I laugh to think, all right, how pitifully I made them work all night, though, by my faith, it meant not much to me; they gave me so much of their treasury I didn’t need to practice diligence to win their love or show them reverence./ For they loved me so well, by God above, that I put little value in their love. The woman’s wise who’s busy till she’s won the love she wants, or she will be left with none….There’s no man who can falsely swear and lie as half as boldly as a woman.”
Pope Francis Doing The Devil’s Work As Charged By Conservative Cardinals?
The New Yorker has a cartoon by Kanin that is appropriate in summarizing the life styles of today’s Catholics giving the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops such fits. Two winged angels complete with halos are strolling through the heavenly clouds. One says to the other: “When you get a chance, remember to ask God the meaning of life–it’s a riot.” The bishops have lost—or are in danger of losing—every major issue facing the Catholic Church in this country: The “intrinsically disordered” gays and lesbians have fought and won the battle of same-sex marriage and may soon attain equal legal status in every jurisdiction. Although 85 to 90% of Catholic women use contraceptives or birth control pills, the bishops haven’t surrendered to science and rationality yet. How brave will Pope Francis be in deciding what to do at the fork in the road on all of the other issues mentioned? It’s fascinating stuff. Valerie Tarico of Alternet covers the issue succinctly: “It is conservative men making damn sure women get punished for failing to keep our legs together… for daring to pursue intimacy and sexual pleasure on our own terms and without their permission…we don’t want to be pregnant and (they are) denying us the ability to resist impregnation…as if they had our arms pinned.”