Dignity is an admirable concept. Rather like integrity or honor. These are not colors that you can see, a streak of red upon the lips or a blue t-shirt. They are not for tactile exploration, like rough or smooth or wet. However, they are slippery, not always easy to grasp or paste upon someone. They keep falling off.
I have been on a rant against the Catholic Church of the Philippines of late, occasioned by the battle about the proposed Reproductive Health bill, which pits those for women’s rights against those for creation of life. Anything that gets in the way of the creation of life is considered sinful by the Church, never mind that the priests put their Commitment to God between themselves and the creation of life, and it is declared good.
Celibacy is, in my opinion, unnatural and results in little quirks like men of the cloth chasing choirboys to satisfy some animal drive for ejaculation. That is the opposite of dignity, of course. And it rather proves that priests are not OF God, not an appendage of the Almighty, but are rather Man.
Is dignity important to the Church? I wonder. I see the squatters’ villages on the mud banks of the rivers, located there for ease of removing effluence from the neighborhood with each rain. I see young children running round downtown begging for pesos, read about the young girls traded like so much meat on the butcher’s block, hear the neighbor kid relentlessly screaming his lungs out for lack of nutrition or a hug, see kids being abandoned by their fathers and passed from family member to family member for caretaking, and see packs of boys roaming the neighborhood during the school term, never with a book in hand.
There is something undignified about these images. Yet the Church would appear to see nothing wrong with it. There is something hollow about their claim that these problems are due to the economy and poor government. It is like saying the Church has absolutely no responsibility for these things. That the most powerful moral voice in the nation is absolutely pristine, clean, apart from the undignified morass into which the millions of little lives are thrown.
I don’t buy it.
Church doctrine is a set of rules. It is manmade, and, like dignity is merely a concept, an expression. It may have meaning, or it may be 180 degrees apart from truth and wellness. It all depends on the reader.
I think the Church does a lot of good. It is an anchor for troubled souls. It provides spiritual refreshment. It teaches.
But I think the dignity it projects, of colorfully robed cardinals, of priests solemn and wise . . . wears thin and artificial against the real lives living down by the river, or sold for sex. It wears thin against young teens, pregnant for lack of education and availability of birth control measures, getting bloody coat-hanger abortions.
It does no good to simply say “this is bad”, “that is bad”, and, by making that pronouncement, somehow rise above the riffraff who must deal with the real pains of life. Somehow be apart from it. Somehow be able to claim celibacy in the creation of pain and sorrow for people.
The church is real, it is engaged with people, it cures ills and it causes pain. It causes pain by forcing women into the undignified position of having unwanted children or sneaking out in the dead of night to get an abortion. It causes pain by mandating the birth of mouths with no food to put in them.
Dignity is to be found in balance, I think. Weighing choices and doing the best we can. It is to be found in efforts to create wholeness of the human spirit and a fundamental happiness within, regardless of the travails one must face in life. It is to be found in accepting responsibility, not denying it.