I think it is important to start this post by saying I am agnostic and a recovered Catholic. I left the Catholic church long before the sex scandals broke. I watched how the church ostracized my Mom after her divorce and was appalled. I started to see cracks of hypocrisy in what they preached and wanted nothing to do with the religion. As an agnostic, I believe in God, but don’t connect with him/her through any formal religion. I fly direct. I respect all religions and have seriously considered both Episcopalian and Judaism as two religions for personal affiliation.
To say the Catholic brand image has taken a beating is like saying Tiger Woods had a fleeting moment of indiscretion. Catholicism gives new meaning — both figuratively and literally — to the term “fall from grace.”
A brand is a brand is a brand. Whether we wear it, drive it, hit a ball with it or kneel before it, the brands we associate ourselves with says a lot about who we are and what we value. I have watched a tsunami of my friends leave the Catholic church lately. I have also watched many friends struggle with their decision to remain a Catholic even as they recite a laundry list of the Church’s views that they disagree with. That short-list is usually pretty consistent: response to the sexual abuse scandal, treatment of gays, marginalization of women, stance on abortion, opposition to the use of contraception and the required vow of celibacy. The magnitude of that short-list makes it jaw-dropping that the Catholic Church still exists. It’s like saying, “Yeah, I’m a member of the KKK, but I really like blacks.” I find it difficult to see how the two can be separated with any credibility.
It takes tremendous courage to speak out or act in disagreement with something as powerful as the Catholic Church. I applaud the East Longmeadow priest who called for the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Reverend James Scahill stated, “Any who deny the truth deny Christ, and we, as people, must reclaim our church. Those in authority must be willing to admit to the truth, admit their horrific crime of cover-up, and beg for forgiveness, and until that happens, there will be no healing.’’ Amen to that! The Vatican knowingly allowed hundreds of thousands — possibly millions — of children to be molested over 100+ years in virtually every country and deliberately chose to protect its pedophiles. Let’s net it out — children were raped. The Church knew it and did nothing about it. I am not sure how people can reconcile the rape of children. What if it were the rape of their children? Would it be different? I hope not. A child is a child is a child. They are innocent and defenseless at the hands of a sexual predator and we, as adults, need to protect them and be their voice when they need to be heard.
I have heard people argue that Muslims are in the same boat as Catholics because their religion is being tarnished because of a handful of terrorist. I don’t see it that way. In the case of Muslims, a few extremists are causing the bad image. With the Catholic Church it is the Vatican — the leaders of the Church — who are responsible for the laundry list of rationalization points cited above. These knuckleheads actually went as far as to blame child abuse on homosexuality. Excuse me? Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who also serves as the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said, “Many psychologists, many psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relationship between celibacy and pedophilia but many others have demonstrated, I was told recently, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia.” Way to go Cardinal….when in doubt, blame the gays.
What is the Catholic brand to do? I’m with Rev Scahill — be accountable, ask for forgiveness and evolve the religion to make it more relevant in today’s world. Gays are not evil. They are creatures of God. Celibacy is absurd. It goes against nature. Women should be treated as equals. Contraception is a reasonable form of birth control. Abortion is a personal choice; put it in the context of rape or incest and it should be viewed as a viable option. And, pedophilia is wrong. The world changes and thinking needs to change with it. There was a day when slavery was considered OK. Thankfully, people stood up against it and perceptions evolved. There has been absolutely no evolution of thinking in the Vatican and it is long overdue.
The essence of goodness that was the foundation of Catholicism is what keeps many of my friends with the Church. They believe and have faith in that essence. The Vatican owes it to them to evolve the Catholic brand. To give them a religion that is 100% reflective of their values and does not need to be communicated with an asterisk of disclaimers. A recent Pew Report cites that most Americans have changed religious affiliation at least once and that within this dramatic religious churn, Roman Catholicism is the biggest loser. The study also finds that four times as many Catholics are leaving the faith as are joining it. The Catholic brand evolution needs to start immediately. If it doesn’t, twenty years from now crossing paths with a Catholic will be as rare as crossing paths with someone who is wearing Vidal Sassoon jeans and a Members Only jacket.
Many brands have successfully evolved and even risen from the ashes. When Martha Stewart finally took responsibility for her issues, the brand began to recover. Tylenol hit a wall with the cyanide poisoning scandal, but the brand quickly recovered based on the immediate actions implemented by Johnson & Johnson. Hell, I think Tiger Woods will rise again — no pun intended. The common denominator in all these cases is accountability. It is rare that accountability is usually not followed by forgiveness at some point. Judging by my friends who remain devout Catholics, the religion still has worshipers who are exceptional human beings but who remain conflicted by the hand the Vatican has dealt them. The Church needs do the right thing and make Catholicism a source of pride again.
What do you think of the Catholic brand image?