September 20, 2018

Putting Priests on Pedestals Permits Perpetration

Protestant reformation church
I was raised in a mainstream Protestant denomination of Christianity, and I was required by my family to attend the church near our home between the ages of 9 and 17. My attendance at this particular church started about age 9 because that was when we moved to this location from another state. My attendance at this particular church finally ended at about age 17 because my family had finally tired of having to fight me every Sunday about how much I hated it.

For this post, I want to focus on the years between about 9 and 13 because this was before I was experiencing any significant doubts about gods or religious dogma. During this time, I was a believing Christian. I also want to focus on this time because it was a time when I was fairly impressionable, especially at the younger end of it. Whatever skeptical tendencies I had been developing had not yet been applied to religion.

There were some important things I never believed during this time. I never believed that our minister (that is how we were taught to refer to our clergy) had magic powers. I never thought he could cast out demons, drink poison and survive, or heal the sick. I figured he knew a lot more about our religion than the average layperson, but I never believed that he had a better relationship with the god in which I believed than did the average layperson. That is to say, I did not think that his prayers were any more potent than anyone else's (well, except maybe for mine which were never answered).

I didn't believe any of this stuff because I was not taught to believe any of it at church or by my family. None of this was part of the dogma of our particular religion. As a result, the respect I had for our minister was a result of his position and not because I thought he could perform magic or had the ear of the god in which I believed. The anxiety I felt around him had more to do with his personality and demeanor (he gave off a creepy vibe) than fantasies about him having divine powers. It would be fair to say that I put him on a pedestal; however, it was a very short pedestal and was mostly because he was the one standing on the stage that everyone was listening to.

I mention this because I recently found myself thinking about how different my experience was from what I regularly heard from my Catholic friends. All of them put their priests on massively tall pedestals, idolizing them to a degree I struggled to understand. Of course, their priests were different. They could do magic, and they were divine representatives that were far closer to our god than anyone else (except for their superiors). At least, these were among the things I heard from my Catholic friends. When I attended Catholic mass a few times, I saw little evidence of this. On the other hand, I do remember thinking that their church put on a much better show than mine did.

It has long occurred to me that there are some aspects of Catholic doctrine that likely facilitate the sexual abuse of children by clergy. Beliefs that priests are something more than ordinary humans who deserve not just respect but reverence is a prime example. With the size of the pedestal on which my Catholic friends elevated their priests, they could do no wrong. Reporting abuse could imperil one's soul. And if allegations of abuse did surface, there would be great reluctance to believe the victim.

I sometimes feel lucky that I was not raised Catholic. It seems like an awful lot of extra baggage to overcome, and the process of escaping religious belief was difficult enough without it.