I am a Catholic and still proud of it. I love the hearty moralism of which Catholicism is a part. I love clear guiding principles.
I love liberal Catholicism, the strand of the church that borders on revolution, that carries incredible strength in its furrowed hands, that can venture and risk everything, even if does not always do so.
I am a man of words but my verbal capacity is stretched to its absolute limit when I try to formulate the disappointment I feel when reading about bishops and priests in the Catholic Church in Ireland, the United States, Norway, Denmark, and Italy, which is my second home. Their systematic, hellish, unrestrained abuses and violations have dragged my faith, my God, and my belief in humanity into the dirt.
The crimes committed by the Catholic Church are at the extremes of what may be forgiven. And as forgiveness lies at the very core of the Catholic faith, the church is currently being shaken to its very foundations.
These days are heavy with grief. What’s happening now could be enough to kill off the Catholic Church. But at the same time the Catholic Church now has an opportunity to tip its perversions overboard by means of a complete, and I mean COMPLETE, rethink.
Unlike other scandals that have emerged over the millennia, we now live in a time where information travels at lightning speed. People are refusing to submit to the mist of religion. As a believer, I think this is a good thing. We who believe in God must learn to be rebels. We must learn to laugh at a caricature. We must stand up for justice and solidarity and we must come to the unfortunate realisation that church and superstition, belief and double standards, are closely allied with clammy hands.
We who believe in God as a forgiving brother or sister in the pelting rain of life must raise our voices against oppression, desperation and terror in the realm of the church. We must unanimously, consistently and unreservedly condemn the systematic terror perpetrated in the name of our faith by bishops and others in the church.
Their shame is unparalleled.
I grew up in an atheist home. My dad should by rights have been a Catholic since he was born and raised in Italy, but the priests in his church said that communists ate their own young — anything to keep the oppressive feudal landlord system intact. So he moved to Sweden, fell in love, and stayed.
My faith has resembled groundwater: silent, low-key, alone.
My faith sidled up very close to me at an early stage. I pray to and speak to my God as I would to my best friend, who, like me, is always on the substitutes’ bench while the bigger, stronger boys get to start every match. We stand on the sidelines and watch our team lose, my God and me. It feels safe.
To me, God is part of life.
I travel to Rome and am taken completely by surprise by the power of churches, artworks, silence, holiness. I am struck by the sight of ordinary people falling to their knees before a cross; it makes my heart beat more calmly. When I arise, two hours have passed. I want to stay there. I light a candle, take communion, walk around in my suit in a city that has always lived close to God. It takes some time but after a while I realise I am praying again, and it is happening almost against my will. It’s not at all a conscious act; it’s more like a dream, like a caring spiritual caress, almost like sex, or like kissing maybe, a quick glance while boarding a train, a silent glance that says, “I like you, you’re beautiful, I am taken and faithful but here’s a simple calling card, and save this glance for times when all seems harsh, when the whole world is locked in reverse, save this glance until you really need it.”
The fire is burning now. The Catholic Church risks burning down. Sometimes I almost wish it would. Is the Catholic Church in Sweden enraged? Does it have a programme for how we can flush out these demons once and for all? No. All we hear is talk of how bishops and others in the church should not be left alone with children in tight spaces.
The time has come for action from the Catholic Church in Sweden.
Hard, consistent, dignified and clear action.
I am so incredibly furious at all the disgusting creatures who have systematically violated children in God’s name all over the world.
This will be the end of the road for my faith within the Catholic Church unless there is a serious realisation from the church that the God we believe in has actually been sitting among us here on earth in 2010, and we have to view the world around us, and ourselves, in a completely new way.
Here are some points that I believe the Catholic Church must take immediate steps to incorporate:
1. Abolish compulsory celibacy for priests. It is inhumane. It is hostile and loveless.
2. Women should be treated in the same way as men and should be afforded the possibility to become deacons and priests.
3. Stop the oppression of homosexuals.
4. Repeal the ban on contraception. It’s from the stone age and it’s inhumane.
These four points are not a recipe for a healthy church; they are measures that must be implemented immediately if our church is even to survive.
Sweden is a role model in many areas. Now the domestic Catholic Church has the opportunity to bear the flag for change. Speak out against Rome. There’s no guarantee that Rome will listen but that’s not our responsibility. It is however our duty to take decisive action in line with our conscience and ideals. We are a proud church, deep down. The Catholic Church in Sweden needs to display strength and unity by sitting down and composing a message to the Pope in Rome. Where are you? Why are you so quiet?
Despite its bad sides, my Catholic Church is a forgiving, revolutionary, candid, dignified, beautiful, and tolerant church. Within it lies a quotidian spirituality that enriches my life, that makes me a better person.
To me it is clear as day: God is in art, in literature, in mystery, in small everyday miracles. We choose different names for this unnameable entity that gives us strength when living life seems impossible, when we bury our parents or baptise our children, when we become free from alcohol or drugs, when we get married or attend a Christmas morning service merry on mulled wine. He is with us when we sit on a clifftop by the sea or lie on our backs in the open countryside that Ulf Lundell rendered as God in his song from 1982 that has almost become our national anthem.
To me, God is a mentor: a radical, principled, old-school Social Democrat. The way the Left used to be. Before all the radical forces bought houses and dozed off in plastic chairs under the apple tree.
Shame is digging trenches around my belief.
Catholic, poet, author
Marcus Birro’s article was originally published in Swedish by DN Debatt on April 10th, days before allegations of child abuse reached the Catholic Church in Sweden.
Translation: The Local