Brent: Religion is fine. The Catholic Church is just totally effed-up.

First, let’s start with a little background.  I’m a Christian. Have been all of my life.  Baptized, confirmed, Sunday school educated…the whole holy to-do.  One of my favorite things to do is to explain Christian holidays to Lila, usually to her shock and horror.  She struggles with Easter specifically, but is generally okay with its existence since it’s a huge candy-related holiday.  Seriously, when would all of you non-Christians be able to eat Peeps if not for Easter?  You should be thanking us.

Having grown up in the church, I wholeheartedly disagree with Lila that a blind faith is the cause of the ills of the Catholic church.  In my opinion, the problem runs much deeper than that.

She is right that it’s this blind faith that binds all Christians (and religions in general) together.  After all, the definition of faith is “the firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”  No proof?  Sounds crazy right?  Sure, I get it,  but for me and most other progressive Christians, it’s the knowledge that we don’t have all the answers that allows us to consider how we act on our faith and helps us strive to follow Jesus’ teachings in a meaningful way.  After all, Jesus was a huge progressive.  If you think otherwise, you haven’t read the gospels.  (I’m looking at you Pat Robertson, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Westboro Baptist Church, Pope Francis, et. al.)

I could go on in defense of a Progressive Christianity, but we’re here to thrash the Catholic Church, so let’s get to work.  And no, the irony of judging of another religion is not lost on me.

To be clear, the problem with the Catholic Church, isn’t actually Catholics at all.  It’s that the church itself is a bloated bureaucracy wherein the moral leaders, specifically the pope, are 100% detached from their followers.  Why should anyone, Catholic or otherwise, care about a supposedly infallible man elected in secrecy in a $20M resort-like structure in the Vatican?  It’s irrelevant, even to Catholics who have long moved past the teachings of the church.  A recent poll shows 62% of Catholics think the church should change course on contraception, 62% on marriage among priests, and 62% on the ordination of women.

Guess how many of these things the pope has any intention of changing?  None.  So why is he even relevant?  Can you imagine what would happen if 100 some-odd old (mostly white) men elected our presidents in secrecy and they chose someone who 2/3rds of the country disagreed with on just about everything?  How engaged would you be with your government?  How effective would his leadership be?

The former Archbishop of Milan (and papal candidate until his death in 2012) Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini recognized this and left some words for the church as he died:

“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous.  The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops”.

So there are members of the church leadership who are beginning to realize this, but all signs of the election of Pope Francis point to the church sticking with the same old thing…again

But it’s not just a bureaucracy.  It’s a business.  And a BIG one at that.  Much like Mitt Romney, the church doesn’t release financial data, but thanks to a study by the Economist, we have some pretty staggering details.  Annual spending by the Vatican and church-owned entities in the U.S. alone was around $170 billion in 2010.  Yes, billion with a B.  Slate notes that for some perspective, in fiscal 2012 Apple had $157 billion in revenue.  In fact, only 16 companies have over $170 billion in revenue.  This is not to say that a lot of this spending didn’t go to Catholic Health Care networks, charity and the thousands of people it employs, but that’s not the point.  The point is that once the Pope is becoming of a CEO of a billion dollar business (and that’s just in the US),so that  it makes it hard to seem like you’re doing the work of Christ.  Reading the above doesn’t immediately scream “humility” or “meek” does it?

Ultimately, it’s not blind faith in religion that’s the problem, it’s the disconnect between a bloated hierarchy of a billion dollar business and it’s people.  Like so many institutions, the people move faster than their leaders.  Our country is currently doing this with gay marriage.  The government is WAY behind the actual people who elect them on this issue.  Why?  Because the government is a bloated hierarchy of a zillion dollar business, just like the church.  But unlike the American people, Catholics don’t need a “government” to tell them what to think, or to lead them on their faith journey.  They’re worshiping and praying in their own way without giving a second thought to the Pope, and they’re doing this worshiping with gays, lesbians, people on birth control, divorcees, etc…

So unless the Pope and the church as a whole catch up to their people on the issues and show some humility, they, like Mitt Romney (I had no idea how similar the Catholic Church and Mitt Romney were until this blog) are headed to irrelevancy.  Also, people, until they do this, can we stop blabbing about the Pope so much?  I know it will be hard, but I have faith that we can.