LET’S START WORK
If you have read the Foreword you have all the information about me you need to get started. If you haven’t may suggest that you go back and read it now. It contains much very useful information. What I have written covers my 15 years working as a Roman Catholic Priest. In year seven I had volunteered to work for five years in South America.
Right now we need to get down to work. The first thing I have to ask of you is for you to take on and become accustomed to an important mental distinction. It is the distinction between The Vatican and the Church. This is important to Catholics and other Christians Let me explain why.
It is important to Catholics because The Vatican and the Church have different functions: the Vatican makes the rules: the Church is the people who live under the rules. The people have no say in what rules are made, or how they are made, or how they are enforced. This applies to most forms of Christianity.
That is why we should avoid saying, “The Church teaches… the Church believes.” No, the Vatican teaches and the Vatican believes. What the Church, the people, believe differs considerably. It’s called Census Fidelium, the mind of the people. It is supposed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Strangely it seems to be inspired only when it agrees with the Vatican. The major example of this divergence is birth control but it is not the only one. “I don’t believe the Vatican
gobbledegook about transubstantiation. We are just Christians doing what He told us to do to remember Him.”
The speaker was a mother of a child about to make her first communion as was our son Luke. We were receiving instructions in preparation for the big day. I wondered, if this woman said it, might there be ninety nine others who thought it?
“Father if I have to believe that masturbation is a mortal sin, I can’t become a Catholic.” Those words were spoken by a brave, honest woman who was under instruction to become a Catholic because she desperately wanted to share the faith of her husband and two sons.
It landed me with a problem because I did believe that it was a mortal sin at that time. I said I would give her an answer the next week. I asked myself repeatedly, “What would Jesus have said? Surely what He said to the woman taken in the very act of adultery, “Neither will I condemn you. The instructions continued.
But the statement which comes to mind most vividly was made by a lady sitting in her house in Peru, made of mud thrown against platted cane, a house cool in summer and warm in winter. We were discussing sexual morality, and specifically clerical celibacy.
Having dismissed celibacy as a ‘tonteria a ‘foolishness’ she said: El sexo es tan natural como el aire que respiramos, tanto para la mujer como para el hombre. Sex is as natural as the air we breathe, as much for the woman as for the man. All occupants of the Vatican should be required to recite that piece of census Fidelium wisdom, daily.
As we have already seen, most if not all versions of Christianity have been formed and shaped by the Vatican’s centuries of dominance. Religions are shaped by humans who usually claim divine authority. In the Christian past that has meant exclusively by men in the Vatican
Now we confront another reason why we need to distinguish between the Vatican and The Church. The Vatican is not a religious organisation. It is a political organisation which has as its subject matter, religion
Politics is about the acquisition, retention, expansion and defence of power and control. Anyone who has worked in an organisation knows the jockeying for position which takes place to gain influence with those who hold power.
Some people are what we call ‘political animals’ by which we mean they have a natural instinct for politics. Two people may look at the same job. One thinks, ‘How can I do that job better, make it more productive?’ The other thinks. ‘How can I use that job to gain influence? The latter often gets promoted over the former.
THE RUTHLESSESS OF POWER
Perhaps we have also seen how ruthless those who hold power can be if their power is threatened. In these circumstances truth and justice go out the window and the end justifies whatever means are needed to retain and defend power. The game is politics, not religion.
My friend Fr Roy Bourgeois supported women and nuns in their campaign to be allowed to be ordained as priests. In his seventies, he was reduced to the lay state and just for good measure excommunicated; this after half a century of loyal service.
By contrast to the Vatican, the Church is politically naïve, as Fr Bourgeoisie and the nuns demonstrated. If the Vatican were a religious organisation it would enter into religious debate. It doesn’t debate because it isn’t a religious organisation. It is a political organisation which, unlike Jesus, deals in religion.
So if anybody wants to reform a political organisation they have to get their hands on some key leaver of power. Having done so, they have to use it like a tough, ecclesiastic politician, ruthlessly. That is totally alien to Church members, which is precisely why early Christianity was wiped out. More of that later.
A LEVER OF POWER CAN MOVE THE VATICAN
Let me give you an example of the use of political power. When I returned from Peru in 1972 I decided to leave the active priesthood. I applied to the Vatican for a dispensation which would allow me to marry. I was summoned for an interview with the Vicar General of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. I was studying Social Anthropology at Sussex University at the time.
At one point the VG said, “The picture which is emerging here is of a successful and fruitful priesthood.” I nodded. “Why do you want to leave?” “I can only say that I have done all the things you mention, but I don’t want to go on doing them for the rest of my life.”
He said, “I don’t think I will be able to get you a dispensation. I had a similar case to yours recently. He was refused. I had to go to Rome anyway so I went in to the Vatican and told them that this man was well known and the refusal would be in all the papers if he made a fuss. I came back with the dispensation and instructions to shred the refusal.”
“In that case I can help you,” I said. “In 1968 I was interviewed many times on TV, radio and in the press concerning birth control and about a book I had recently published, The Experience of Priesthood. I wouldn’t hesitate to use my contacts in the media to make a fuss if I were refused.” “That will help greatly,” he said writing furiously. I got my dispensation.
AN INVITATION AND YOUR TEXTBOOK
Right now I want to invite you to join me in finding out what exactly happened in the first three centuries of Christian history. I doubt if even 1% of Christians have ever had that opportunity which will make you better informed than 99% of Christians when we finish. But fear not. This is not going to be a PhD course; rather I want it to be fun.
Here’s your textbook. The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. You can buy it on Amazon for a modest sum. Is it the best book on the market? Decide for your self. There are 60 reviews on Amazon. 31 are five stars, 14 are four stars, 9 are three star, 2 are two star and 7 are one star. I have read them all.
I have also read Freke and Gandy’s book four times. The text is 80,000 words and the notes are another 70,000 plus a who’s who of early Christianity and an index
Is it the best book on this subject on the market? I am not a scripture scholar so I will leave that judgment to others.
But I will say this: it brings together between one set of covers a greater breadth of information than any other book I know and as such it is the best text book for Early Christianity Beginners like us. Buy it now and we can get to work in earnest very soon.
My task is to extract the essence from this book, leaving behind the scholarship, presenting it to you in an easy to assimilate form, leaving you to read the more scholarly text if you have an appetite for it. I want the learning to be fun. Not everybody has a taste for scholarly reading.