Some horrors have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity—the Crusades of the Middle Ages spring to mind—and Christianity has had a significant impact on our society. Our calendar comes from Pope Gregory XIII and uses the Anno Domini system of dating from the incarnation of Christ. Is it any wonder that the church is occasionally under attack particularly when church leaders make ill-advised statements or actions—Pope Benedict on the use of condoms against HIV/AIDS in Africa and a Brazilian archbishop’s excommunication of those who helped save the life of a pregnant, nine-year-old girl?
The word ‘catholic’ means ‘including a wide variety of things’ and indeed the church we know shows enormous diversity in its beliefs according to the culture of its adherents. So it is not surprising that the church has been under media attack lately.
Rather than try to defend the indefensible, it is worth putting these cases in the context of the work the church does throughout the world.
We are coming to the end of Lent when we remember and support Caritas’ programmes which aim to help people to improve their lives and to challenge the societal structures that stand in the way of this. Church agencies like Caritas are often among the first to respond in an emergency and, through long-term programmes, Caritas supports people to full recovery long after fly-by-night agencies have left with the media.
Similarly, religious orders respond to a need in society with effective, long-term programmes that help people to eventually help themselves.
Catholic education has always had an excellent reputation for producing scholars. Many current and past members of Parliament were educated in the Catholic system.
These days the religious orders tend to concentrate their energies on specific education needs. In Auckland the Marist Brothers have recently established a learning centre to educate young people at risk. The centre’s latest newsletter features student Corey who credits more one-on-one contact with teachers for his success in gaining NCEA credits in English, Maths, PE and computers. Corey was expelled from Birkenhead College where he says there was a staff ratio of one to 25 compared with the centre’s one-to-five ratio.
‘It’s cool how we go on lots of outings, too, like go-karts and the beach.’
Similarly Wellington’s Challenge 2000 was started by Catholic woman Kitty McKinley to address the needs of troubled youngsters.
Catholic social teaching has provided an impetus for much effective union work throughout the world on behalf of poor workers struggling to support their families on low wages. CST is packed with principles which are a blueprint for the Kingdom of God—for Jesus’ exhortation to love your neighbour as yourself, see the CST principle of working for the common good, a shining goal in a time of greed-driven individualism which has resulted in the current economic recession.
We are not asked to agree with every statement the church makes but we are required to follow our informed consciences and to defend the right of any individual to a hearing. Jesus challenged the rule-bound high priests not because he hated Judaism but because he loved it and could see its potential for good.