How do we judge a religion?

Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune
By the people who follow it? By what they are required to believe and do? Or by the fruits of their everyday life?

By Maramis

Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune

I am very saddened by all the reports of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. It is not at all necessary for me to mention all the many charges that have come to light of late against all those who chose to turn their life over to the Lord by means of going into the priesthood (taking their Holy Orders), and from there, progressing up within the ranks of said priesthood to become bishops or even cardinals. I’m sure most priests don’t ever really have hopes of achieving that highest level of the Catholic hierarchy, that of Pope.
By way of disclaimer, I used to be Catholic; my parents were Catholic and baptized me into that religion. Babies obviously don’t know what they’re getting into, and can’t possibly agree or not agree to what it means to be Catholic. However, somehow, over the years, I got very attached to being Catholic and become overly attached to it. While my parents were not at all religious and didn’t even go to church, I went to church every day I possibly could, and I found myself wanting to become a nun, a missionary.
While I was Catholic only because I was born to Catholic parents, my parents didn’t teach me anything about the religion. I took it upon myself to learn everything I could on my own. Back in those days, we didn’t have the internet, and even the library didn’t have much to say about living the Catholic life, so I learned what I learned from my local priests and nuns, from catechism classes, books about the saints, and from a couple of hundred pamphlets from the various Catholic organizations I was familiar with. My father was always upset with me because he didn’t like the look of my bedroom, which he claimed was starting to look like a church.
The important thing to get from this is that I was VERY Catholic, and even as a teenager, I found it hard to understand how anyone who claimed to be Catholic wasn’t more like Jesus, meaning kinder, more loving, more understanding and such. It seemed that it didn’t really matter if someone was Catholic, they would lie as much as anyone, say unkind things as much as anyone, and not stand out in any way to make me see that being Catholic was something to desire, even aspire to. Even some of the priests in my life along the way did not seem to emulate Jesus.
The first priest that I ever met that reminded me of Jesus was a gentle yet strong priest of a small parish in Virginia Beach. We invited him for dinner at our home, and it happened to be the day we heard on the radio that JFK had just been assassinated. After we got past that conversation — which was not an easy thing to do — we phased into the reason I had invited him to dinner. It had to do with finding a needy family with whom we could share our bounty since Christmas was coming up and it was something I especially wanted to do.
My husband at the time wasn’t interested in that but didn’t object to my wanting to do it. Father Ted, as we called him, had just the family in mind and we made our plans for a Christmas visit to that particular family.
Everything about Father Ted reminded me of Jesus. He was everything I felt a priest ought to be. While I had long since given up my idea of becoming a missionary or nun (married you know, and by this time the mother of three), I finally had the experience of finding a genuine Catholic priest who was a true inspiration to me. He went on to become a chaplain in the U.S. Army (and I’m sure he was able to offer comfort and guidance to all who came in touch with him) while I went on to give up being Catholic since I could no longer believe in the dogmas of the church.
I never regretted my decision to do so, since I could not feel comfortable calling myself a Catholic when I did not believe in most of the 258 dogmas (or possibly more) that are required beliefs for being Catholic. And what I discovered along my journey is that most Catholics don’t know what those 258 dogmas are; nor do they even know what some of them are. And I know why that is—at least back in the day when I was Catholic — the church doesn’t really dwell on them, teach them, or have them written up somewhere in a booklet that adherents to the faith could pick up and read.
But while ordinary Catholics ordinarily aren’t — or haven’t been — exposed to everything that they are supposed to believe, one would think that priests are very up on all that. And if they’re not, I’m sure that kind of information is available to them and even possibly required reading. Perhaps it’s even required prior to their becoming priests, because if those would-be priests don’t believe what they’re supposed to believe to qualify as “hardcore” Catholics, how are those ordinary everyday would-be Catholics supposed to know what they are supposed to believe?
Well, at least those joining the priesthood under the Roman Catholic Church know that they’re supposed to take those three vows—of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Apparently, those priests in the church who have been sexually abusing children (or those of any age) have been breaking two out of three of those vows. Do they not believe in the vows they voluntarily took? Do they not know the wrongness of their deeds? Do they not know that such actions are both sins AND crimes? I know they do know what they have done, and possibly even what they are still doing. None of that can be reconciled with the teachings of
Jesus.
Perhaps they all feel guilty and sinful, but that in no way helps the children whose lives they may have ruined. Some children never recover from the act itself, let alone their trust of the clergy, or men in general. Some may even turn against God, who had nothing to do with such horrors. Thank goodness some priests have gotten caught and let that blessing either call a halt to their behavior or at least cause them to rearrange their lives and their assignments to avoid children, especially those of an age to whom they would be attracted.
It’s really sad that a religion that claims to be the one true religion (as I was taught back in the day) gives such a bad example to others these days through the behavior of the very men who are supposed to be the guardians and the teachers of the faith.
If the Catholic faith helps anyone, and they can get past those unacceptable sexual behaviors, knowing or believing that none of us are perfect and we’re all more or less subject to the lust of the flesh, and knowing that no one priest is ever the epitome of what the church stands for, even while we might meet a really good one now and then, and we wholeheartedly believe what we’re expected to believe, or at least wholeheartedly believe all the things we’ve always believed
that made us Catholic, then as a whole religion goes, the Catholic Church is here to stay.
When it comes to all the priests (bishops, cardinals, et.al.) we’ve been reading about, and all the people we’ve ever met, I happen to hold to that particular teaching of Jesus — no matter how it’s worded in the book of your choice—”By their fruits you will know them.”
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email
her at maramis@lasvegastribune.com.

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