The blonde and I got married in a Catholic church. I was less of a lapsed Catholic then than I am now, but that only meant that my conscience bothered me a little bit if I didn't go to mass at least a few times a year. Still, although it was the blonde wanted the church wedding and I was along for the ride, it didn't even occur to me to fuss. I couldn't imagine getting married anywhere but in church.
I still can't. When I let my mind wander into the future far enough---and I try hard to keep it corralled here in the present---and I daydream about what I hope is in store for our sons, I can imagine them not getting married but when I imagine them getting married I can't imagine them getting married anywhere but in church.
The odds that either one will marry a Catholic are...what? The odds that both will still consider themselves Catholic aren't much better. The thirteen year old is a believer but not devout. The ten year old is an avowed skeptic. Despite his straight A's in religious ed, he insists he's not a Catholic.
"I believe in something," he says when pressed by well-meaning relatives who think if he's not Catholic he's a little heathen. Rejecting the church in their mind is the same as rejecting God. His something sounds suspiciously to me like the "something" several scientists I know use as a synonym for "There are a lot of things about the universe we haven't figured out yet and I guess those things taken together might be God."
Still I can't imagine a wedding outside a church.
I can't imagine Christmas without snow, either.
I can't imagine the World Series without the Yankees, cars without gas tanks, books without covers, Greenland without glaciers, living happily in Dallas, shopping at a mall, keeping ferrets as pets, any social situation in which Joe Lieberman is taken seriously, anybody but Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, and a world in which I've been dead and forgotten so long that I might as well never have existed.
There's tradition, and there's what you're used to.
There's what is, and there's what you wish there was.
There's the world as it ought to be and there's the world as people have made it.
There's convention, there's culture, there's ritual, there's a right way and a wrong way, and then there are things people do because that's what people have always done and they're too stupid to imagine doing them any other way, even if an obviously better way has come along.
There's marriage, and then there's the desperately clung to notion of marriage of an unimaginative, ranting, and frustrated old man who sees the institution he has devoted his life to and in which he has now risen to the position of supposed ultimate authority disintegrating into irrelevance.
Pope Benedict is seeing the end of the world as he knows it in Italy's taking steps to legally recognize the unions of unmarried couples.
(Pssst, homosexuals are among us!)
The Pope is afraid that this will mean the end of marriage and the demise of families.
Now a word for a legally recognized union between two people who plan to live together as spouse and spouse is...um...marriage.
And if these couples start bringing other people under their roof, particularly small people called children, to care for, a word for what they've put together is...well...a family.
What it might look like to an anthropologist from another planet is that there are a lot of Italians who have decided to be married and start families and the Italian government is simply acknowledging that they exist. That anthropologist might ask the Pope, "Why so glum, your pontiffship? You're worried about the end of marriage and the family, and here are all these people getting married and raising families! You should be thrilled."
The Pope would reply haughtily, "But they are not married." He'd point to the blonde and me on our tour of the Vatican. "That couple, they are married."
The anthropologist would say,"They don't look any different from any other tired pair of tourists arguing over where to eat tonight. What makes them special?"
"God blessed their union."
"He did? He told you this?"
"God in the habit of talking to you?"
"I am the Pope."
"I am God's chief representative on Earth. I am his spokesman. When I speak, I speak for Him."
"Interesting case of megalomania you've got there, Ben, but we don't have to go there. Explain it to me. What makes that couple different?"
"A priest solemnized their union. They were married in the Church."
"And that's the difference? Some celibate in a skirt mumbled a prayer, signed a piece of paper, and took a forty dollar tip that he was supposed to use to buy new candles and probably used to put gas in his Lincoln?"
"That is not the way to look at it."
"I'm trying to look at it from your point of view, Ben, but from my point of view it looks to me that all that bothers you here is that there are some couples who don't think they need the Church's rubber stamp on their marriage. You guys relied on the tips that much?"
"I resent your impertinence. Priests take a vow of poverty."
"Yeah, I've been looking around your house here and I noticed all the poverty. Don't get all bent out of shape. I'm kidding around. I know it's all for show. None of those Michaelangelos mean anything to you. You'd be glad to give 'em away. What I'm asking here, is what's it to you that a few couples don't want a priest's autograph on a piece of paper they're going to put in a drawer and forget about? I take it that everybody on this planet's Catholic?"
"Well, no, actually."
"Ok. So most people are Catholic. Catholicism is the dominant religion..."
"No? You mean there are millions of people who aren't Catholic?"
"Billions, to tell you the truth."
"Wow. And none of them get married?"
"Don't be silly. Of course many of them get married."
"And they invite priests to marry them even though they're not Catholic."
"I think you are being willfully perverse."
"So they get married without the Church's blessing?"
"But you guys don't consider them really married."
"Well, we used to not. But we've learned better."
"So they are married."
"Can't you learn to consider all these other people's unions marriages?"
"These people are Catholics!"
"Doesn't sound like being Catholic means that much to them."
"What did you mean by that, Ben?"
"Nothing. Nevermind. Did you see that statue of Moses over there?"
"I get what this is all about. It's not the decline of marriage and the family that's got your cassock in a twist. It's the loss of your authority over marriages and families. You want to be able to tell people what's what and they don't want to listen anymore. If I were you, Ben, I'd be asking myself why that is."
"It's the godless sexualized secular culture that's corrupted them!"
"Or maybe...maybe it's that they decided you don't have anything useful to tell them anymore about what's what. Maybe times have changed and you need to change with them. If I were you, instead of sulking about what used to be, I'd be looking for ways to get more involved with the way things are."
"Excuse me, I'm tired of being a straw man of God in a stacked deck argument. You may continue to make your point without me."
"Oh. Ok. Thanks for your time, your holiness. So, where was I? Oh yeah...maybe..."
Maybe if the Church hadn't spent centuries imposing and enforcing an idea of marriage that was horrifically unfair to half the people getting married and a trap and a curse to many among the other half. Maybe if it hadn't spent the last fifty years teaching that children are the result of Divine whimsicality and mood and allotted to families with what looks like malicious randomness so that this woman wears out her life and her spirit giving birth to fifteen she doesn't have the strength or the time or the money to take care of, while that woman, who has a surfeit of all those and love to spare, goes childless. Maybe if it hadn't spent the last forty years teaching that the simple application of science and common sense that would allow women to decide how many children they would have, allow some to even have them, is a sin. Maybe if it had been teaching a definition of marriage as something other than a very inefficient way of producing lots and lots of little Catholics, people would think the Church had something useful and helpful to say about marriage.
And maybe if over the last forty years it hadn't revealed that it is the thoroughly Pauline construct we all suspected it was and despised and loathed marriage, sex, sex in marriage, sex with women, and women in general by refusing to allow its priests to marry when they wanted to, instead preferring to drive them from their pulpits and rectories, to be replaced by...hardly anybody.
And maybe if they hadn't spent all that time defending celibacy as an ideal at the expense of all others to the point that it made itself hospitable to no one but the closeted, the hypocritical, and the perverse, especially the perverse, so that it became a criminal organization of pederasts and their enablers. And maybe if when the scandal was revealed church leaders had responded with courage and honesty and admitted its guilt and taken the one, easy, intelligent step to ending the problem---allowing priests to get married, making the rectories homes for real adults and their families instead of hideouts for creeps and villains---instead of reacting with a hypocritical and self-defeating purge of homosexuals. Maybe if the Church acted as if it cared about its own survival, then people might think it had something to say about anything.
Here's the truth, your Holiness. No Catholics were ever loyal to the Pope. They were loyal to the one or two Pope's representatives that they knew personally---their parish priests. And there are fewer and fewer of those guys. The Church is closing parishes because it doesn't have the priests to man them. The parish is where Catholics connected to their Church. No parish, no connection.
If the Church cared about its own future, it would be doing what it needs to do to attract more young people to the priesthood, not offering them a life of weirdness, loneliness, hypocrisy, and shame. If the Church cared about its own future, it would be taking steps to increase the number of parishes and priests not further diminish them.
If the Church cared about its own future, it would be taking steps to bring families into the fold, not telling them they aren't families.
But the Church doesn't care about its own future. The Church, the Church has made plain, is not the people in the pews. It's not the communion of saints. It's the old men in skirts who run the show, and those old men have shown that they don't care about the future.
They care only about the present and their own power in the present to make people's lives miserable.