Informal experiment: RCC priests much, much smarter than magisterium
John Hooper, Comment is Free on the Guardian (UK) website, courtesy of Madpriest
[Editor: I bet the same is true of laypeople.]
Everyone knows Roman Catholics often don't follow the guidance of their popes - just look at the birth rates in southern Europe. You might, though, expect that their priests at least would heed the Vatican's teaching.
Yet a report in the current edition of the Italian news magazine L'espresso shows just how far this is from the truth. Reporters posing as troubled believers sought advice on a range of issues, and were given counsel that was in many cases at odds with - if not diametrically opposed to - the church's official teaching.
Several points struck me as I read L'espresso's article. [Ed: link to article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/pope/story/0,,2002187,00.html]
One was the priests' acceptance of sex outside marriage as a fact of life. There is absolutely no sign in the magazine's long article that any of them expressed shock or disapproval at being told of the reporters' affairs with unmarried partners.
In one case, a journalist even posed as a man in his forties who had fallen for a 16-year-old girl and had sexual relations with her. As he himself commented in his section of the report, the friar in Palermo to whom he pretended to unburden his heart seemed quite unfazed by the physical side of things. He was far more interested in ascertaining whether the relationship was based on real love and told the reporter that "even if it is a negative thing, it could bring positive results".
Another confessor was warier, but for practical, rather than moral, reasons. He too accepted it could be true love, but warned the difference in their ages would soon create problems and advised the man that he would do well to "let this green apple ripen".
Which brings me to the second point: the sheer tolerant good sense of most of the priests consulted. The image of the Roman Catholic church is given day in, month out, is inevitably the one implied by the unbending orthodoxy of Papal pronouncements. But there is another, less certain and more engaging one, and it shines through L'espresso's article.
I was particularly struck by the account of a reporter who passed himself off as someone who had married a Muslim woman. She had been against their child being baptised and he had given in for the sake of a quiet life.
"Am I a bad Christian?" he asked the priest.
"No", came the reply. "I am in agreement with you on everything. Let me give you and your wife some advice: leave your son to choose for himself. Don't push him towards either of your religions. When he is 18, he'll find his own way."
The reporter feigned astonishment. Was the priest recommending total freedom?
You bet he was.
"Let him go to the mosque [and] the church. Let him go where he wants. You [the Christian man and his Muslim wife] must live in harmony."
And the third point that struck me? Well, it's more of question really: how did this institution - which has so, so many good and intelligent people in its ranks - come to be so hopelessly distanced in its teachings from the lives of the rest of us?