Why I am a Catholic
by Ted Lambert
Why would a man who was baptised a catholic as an infant, who boarded for four years at a Christian Brothers' College for secondary education, who joined a Missionary religious Society and became a priest in it, leave after 33 years as a Religious, 30 years a cleric and 27 years a priest? Must be a woman, many would say. (Actually not, although he is officially laicised and now sacramentally married in the church.)
Having left, why would he bother to devote his energies to church reform and become a founding member of Australian Reforming Catholics (ARC)?
It began with Vatican II. A workaholic for the Order, it took me a decade to catch up on what the Council had done. Then it seemed that the future had been opened up, offering so many new approaches that were corrections of the past.
The invitation to think broke the strictures of unquestioning obedience. The church had protected slavery, engaged in gross persecution of the Jews, held women in subjection, violated love in the crusades and other wars, kept the faithful in bondage to a million petty rules (the 5000 Canons of the 1917 Code held over 2000 penalties!), frustrated true science with dogmatism, etc. The church had also worked enormous good when it followed the Gospels.
Ideas and intellectual convictions frequently are burned into us because of personal experience. That is certainly true in my case. This is how I was radicalised about the way in which society, and the Church, unthinkingly treated women: let us go back to my first work after leaving College. Naive, I was used by the boss who asked me to speak to a female employee who sometimes turned up five minutes late for work. (He did not tell me she was the Union rep). She explained that her bed-ridden mother had to be set up for the day before she could leave the house and catch the tram. One tram got her to work on time, the next five minutes late. I sympathised but said she must get in on time or have her pay docked. Like the Church which taught me, I favoured the law, not the person. It was another thirty years before I cried over this.
The over-arching authority the Church used was now logically in the balance. I still believed in God, Jesus as Divine Saviour, Eucharist and the church. But the authority systems, in justice to the truth and the people, needed radical reform. The maleness of the authority began to stink. Nothing in divine or human nature gives males the exclusive power. And I was in it up to my neck! By the mid-1970s I told others: "The clergy should now self-destruct". But not until 1985, aged 59, did I find the courage to follow my conscience and resign from the clerical state. This had the consequences of dismissal from the Order and loss of priestly practice.
A 59 year old priest is practically unemployable (to dig I am not able) so I anticipated living in a caravan park on the dole until entitled to an age pension. On the dole for nine months, I wisely married a multi-skilled woman (teacher and enrolled nurse) who worked heroically at both her professions until we were comfortably off. I was myself an 'Avon lady' for several years!
I founded "In God's Name" or IGN to protest and correct the baneful almost universal practice of male-naming God. IGN grew to eight members!
It seems almost impossible that Catholics will cease to use father, son, king, he, him, almighty, etc. now in use with dinning particularity, teaching children to image God as a male. But the first Jewish Christians came to believe something that was abominable to their fellow Jews. The one true God was a Trinity!
Now slavery is gone, anti-Semitism is unacceptable, Christian wars are eschewed, women have rights previously undreamt of enshrined in law. Surely we can abolish male-god language and image. Womens' rights enshrined in law will be granted them in practice. Men will lose their swelled heads. Better still, girls and boys will know that their bread is equally buttered, different from the present perceptions that their bread is buttered on different sides, because boys are the same gender as God, but girls are different gender from "Him" (sic).
Do I regret my journey? Not really. We wasted time and intellect on outmoded studies in the seminary, but we grew into scholarly and caring men there. Our freedom as human beings was partially compromised by the notion of unquestioning obedience. The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart kept me, trained me, nurtured me and joined me in their missionary work in the service of people. I resent nothing of their gift to me.
Still, I am travelling well as a 'prophet for change' and a member of Australian Reforming Catholics. Peace be with you!
Ted Lambert is a co-convenor of Australian Reforming Catholics a grassroots initiative by some Australian Catholics seeking reform in the Catholic Church in Australia.
On 23rd-24th October at Mary Mackillop Place in North Sydney, Australian Reforming Catholics will hold its second National Conference, ARC Campfire 2004, with the theme, "Conversations around Jesus Christ our Friend". Contact Australian Reforming Catholics www.e-arc.org