Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

While the rest of the world has been doing their thing in the past few days, the local paper here in the wilds of the Queensland Bible Belt has been reporting on the surprise (and supposedly "forced") retirement of the Bishop of the Toowoomba Diocese.

What might cause the Vatican to look so scornfully upon the head man of the local franchise? Was he caught with his hand in the till? Or with his hands down someone's undergarments? No. If anything, it appears that the local Bishop is, by all accounts, a decent man who seems well regarded across his diocese.

His apparent sin was that a small group of his parishioners took exception to his thinking for himself. Back in 2006, in what I reckon was probably a pragmatic evaluation of the future of his institution's priesthood, he circulated a letter in which he said that perhaps, due to the difficulty in finding priests for regional areas such as western Queensland, the church may need to consider - in the future - the ordination of (gasp!) married men or (uh-oh) women. So some ultra-orthodox members of the church cried "Heretic!" and wrote letters to the Archbishop in Brisbane and to the Vatican. Since then, the Bishop has been under investigation, in secret and according to the reports, he has been under pressure from the hierarchy. I assume that the pressure is for him to "Confess!" and "Repent!". Apparently, the Bishop felt that his only option was to retire.

We are always told that Bishops and priests are educated men. That they are to show leadership and to guide their charges. It seems that this is not what the orthodox of the parish want. They want a guy (and it must man) in a dress to recite the liturgy precisely as prescribed by God's representative on Earth, to preside over weddings and funerals in the prescribed way and to in no way exhibit independent thought. Ah, give me that old-time religion! Who knows what these holier-than-thou parishioners think of the recent survey that 98% of American Catholics ignore the teachings of the church and use contraception. I'm sure that these people aren't "real Catholics" either, for thinking for themselves and admitting the realities of the modern world. And who knows what the orthodox would make of the latest bunch of god-wallopers to set up shop in town.

The religious like to charge that atheists, secular society, or whatever is the evil of the day are to blame for all of society's ills. That if only the country would turn to God, our mortgages would be paid, children would respect their elders, and unicorns would crap rainbows. And then something like this comes along to illustrate the hide-bound nature of orthodoxy. The danger to belief of thinking for oneself. Of rejecting the dogma. Some so-called cults shun members who stray from the path. Mainstream churches claim that this doesn't happen, that their faith is welcoming and tolerant. Well observe exhibit A of Bishop Morris. A small clique clubs together to dump their own leader of 18 years. He's not one of us. We reject his ideas. Not his actions. His ideas. And yet these self same people will defend their institution against allegations of much more heinous abuses.

I saw it first hand, attending a Lutheran Church as a kid. The groups, the cliques, the whispering campaigns. Judging your piety against the standards of mine in violation of the teaching Matthew 7:1. It reinforces to me that organized religions are a power structure like any other. Where status can be gained by tearing down others. Where the prideful can flaunt their humility. But above all else, where thinking for yourself is the greatest sin of all.


  1. Very true, and very well written as usual (well, apart from the "A then" rather than "And then" just after the rainbow crapping unicorns). But this was big obviously big news! It was one of the few things that made it on to google news on the day they got Osama. In fact it is still making the page!