According to Reuters News, a parish church in Austria last Sunday was full for the first-Communion Mass. Shortly before Communion, the presiding priest announced that only Catholics who were in a state of grace should come forward to Communion. Anyone who was divorced and remarried or who do not attend Mass every week was living in sin and was not worthy to receive the Eucharist.
When Communion time came, not a single adult came forward. The entire congregation remained seated in stony refusal to acquiesce to this application of the Vatican’s policy.
Only the children received Communion.
My first thought when I read this news report was that the Catholic laity around the world are changing. I was raised as a liberal Catholic, but I never expected this kind of resolute stance against Rome’s diktats to occur within the Roman Catholic Church.
Then we have the Catholic laity not just ignoring some of the sillier mandates from Rome. We have rebellion on the part of the American Catholic laity in response to Rome’s attempt to bully American nuns into submission.
And yesterday Martin McGuinness, the Sein Fein leader and former IRA fighter in Northern Ireland called on the head of the Irish Catholic church, Cardinal Sean Brady, to resign for his failure to defend children he knew were being abused by one of his paedophile priests.
But this kind of thing isn’t just happening inside Roman Catholicism. It’s happening all over the world. There is the Occupy Wall Street movement in cities in America and Britain. There are the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, in Bahrain and Syria, and there are demonstrations on the streets of Russia. For the first time ever, shareholders in Citibank, in Barclay’s Bank, and in the Trinity Newspapers are refusing to sanction the huge bonuses being paid to their company directors and CEO’s at the same time as the value of their own shares is plummeting. There even is the Tea Party, with whom I must admit I disagree, but who are saying along with the rest “We won’t take it anymore.”
Worldwide, people are no longer giving authorities the benefit of the doubt.
Part of me is cheering.
But part of me is aware that this is a dangerous time. I was a protester arguing for open universities and against the Vietnam War in the 1970’s. We thought we knew it all. We thought the answers were obvious, that making a better world was easy if people (by which we mostly meant the older generation) would be less selfish, less afraid of sex and drugs, less racist, more open to sharing our riches. The Communists certainly believed they were going to create a better, more just world when they overthrew the Czar in Russia. Every utopia-maker believes in the dream.
But it isn’t as easy as that. Knowing what’s wrong is not anything like the same thing as knowing how to make it better. Systems that work in theory have a way of developing the same human limitations that they were meant to replace.
The entire history of earth shows that when the tectonic plates shift, and the old order thrown into upheaval, both the worst and the best are often lost.
But it is inevitably when something new and better can also grow.
I’m not prescient enough to proclaim that authority the world over is facing an unrelenting onslaught of demands that it be held accountable to those it is meant to serve. Though I do wonder. Global communication has changed a lot more than the cost of international telephone calls.