last sunday, i was at a first communion. the first communion is a maturation rite for catholics that is as important as boys' circumcision for muslims or the bar mitzvah for jews, though it is a unisex affair.
normally, i would mourn for the dwindling catholic presence in istanbul but the occasion calls for a more comprehensive critique of religious practice. on the same calender day as the ceremony i attended, the pope was saying mass in brazil, on a trip he set forth in the hope of regaining the popular attraction the catholic church has long been losing.
the sociological reasons for the exsanguination of credence in the church are rather obvious: catholicism, as opposed to the far more strict and pervasive but mobile protestant cliques, is basically far more a rural faith. since the (catholic) reformation, it has done little to address the statistically and politically growing urban masses, preferring to appeal to the peasant masses in europe and its global extensions, mainly in the hispanophone third world and brazil. the rather reluctant secular move to legalize divorce in italy was one example of this obsession with the old, essentially rural practices despite the exigencies of a modernizing world. such fixations persist in other matters as birth control, the attitude toward gays and lesbians, "adultery" etc.
the catholic church makes it difficult to lead an urban, contemporary life without fear of divine retribution. however, since hollywood has come up with zillion more imaginary horrors than st. john the theologian (who, incidentally, rests in ephesos, in the basilica to his name in selçuk) could come up in the "apocalypse" while exiled in patmos, the fear of god can hardly stop an individual from adapting to modern modes and styles of living. man takes a shortcut between his self and his faith and ignores or excludes the church - exactly the protestant thesis.
in the 16th and 17th centuries, the catholic church remarkably renewed and reformed itself, in order to answer to the emergent needs of the remaining catholics in europe. that was done through disciplining the clergy, organizing revenues and finances, better public relations and the allure of vatican's immense cultural wealth.
such a move is again necessary if the church wishes to bring back its glory. true, there are a number of "renegade" priests out there, urging for a more active church that must get involved in society to alleviate hunger, suffering, misery, torture etc. yet that movement, apart from being only seedling if that, is only an extension toward the underdog of the same lord-to-peasant attitude that cripples the church's style. personally, i am very much for a socially active and vocal catholic church but i also resent the dominant style in the clerical hierarchy that views the layman as little more than an ox driving, cattle herding, superstitious and stupid medieval villager. i want a church that argues and debates its positions rather than impose truths based on dogma on ignorant masses who simply do not exist in an age of information. i need a church that can help me become a better, wiser and more adaptive person who can cope with the vagaries and cruelties of modern, urban, contemporary life through the knowledge of my soul in addition to my city-smart, informed mind.
pope johannus paulus II, who, in matters celestial was as dogmatic as his forebears in the middle ages, nevertheless put his stamp, as head of catholicism, on the history of the late 20th century. he made the world go round faster, the force of his personality thus attracting followers all over the world. johannus paulus II was revered all over the world, even in russia and turkey.
cardinal ratzinger, "god's rottweiler" who succeeded him as benedictus II was known for his harsh doctrinalism even before he ascended to st. peter's throne. he was reputed to have kicked out hundreds of people from the cathedral in cologne because reportedly he did not approve of the way they were dressed or their comportment. ratzinger might have been a good choice at a time when the church was bleaguered by decadence, corruption, heresy and desertion to bring order to god's house with an iron fist, albeit in a boxing glove. however, at a time when morality or the sense of good and bad is less explicable through imperious and unchallengeable maxims than the machinations of a far more complex society than the church was ever geared for, more urbane attitudes toward divine salvation might be in order.
and apparently, god's rottweiler would rather guardian an empty house than fetch the urban manna modern souls are craving and which can boost the catholic church on its holy road to eternity.