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This article was published 20/8/2010 (3436 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Above the Rest
Power, Sex and Sexuality in the Catholic Church
By Merv Michalyshen
Bendecido Books, 263 pages, $19
This book is not angry. Nor is it naïve. It is, however, frustrated. And hopeful. And calm.
In this locally published religious polemic, Winnipegger Merv Michalyshen offers quite a bit about himself.
At times, this is so much the case that it reads as a memoir of a self-confessed common Catholic, but it never fails to veer back to its central, grand thesis about the past, present and future of Catholic churches the world over.
One can piece together that Michalyshen was raised and educated in Manitoba, taught and administered in public education for almost 40 years, then retired.
He subsequently went with his wife on a three-year voluntary mission (with the Toronto-based Scarboro Foreign Missions) to Malawi in 2000.
Reflecting on his career and his mission, he has now found the courage to speak up politely on matters he — and hundreds of millions somewhat like him, he believes — has kept quiet for far too long.
Michalyshen describes himself as a "pre-baby-boomer" and is very sure to point out he does not write as an academic nor as a theologian. (He is obviously not a professional writer, since this book, his first, contains several errors of editing and proofreading and some sloppy and incomplete referencing.)
What he is is 70-ish, a Ukrainian Catholic who was fully aware before, during and after Vatican II, a Canadian, a missionary and a lay "dissenter" (not, he is careful to announce, a "dissident").
He loves his Church dearly but he wants to see it wake up and thinks it is entirely possible this could and should begin to happen in his lifetime.
The attempt here is to get a ball rolling. The ball is the voice of the average lay Catholic person, a group Michalyshen again and again tags "the 99 per cent."
His book makes yet again clear (to those within and without) how silly that is.
In nine even chapters, he takes up topics such as sexuality, gender and priesthood, peppering his discussions with personal anecdotes and quotations from both Vatican documents and infamous disputations of those documents.
Nestled among those chapters are two remarkable features, one a story, the other a stat. The story is of their three-year missionary work in southeast Africa. Michalyshen suitably taught in a Jesuit school, his wife worked as a nurse in a medical facility.
What they learned especially is that there is no romantic, more attractive Catholicism in the Third World.
On the contrary, the gap they found there between the 99 and the rest is even more immense and intense, with clergy dwelling in opulence and decadence immediately next-door to the fetid schools that are their charge. They found a global problem.
The stat relates to Canada. Surely everyone is aware that clergy populations are declining drastically in Canada but what Michalyshen reminds repeatedly is that the percentage of self-described Catholics remains more or less constant.
In other words, the ratio of priest to lay Catholic is dwindling astonishingly on a quite literally yearly basis. Three retirements for every lone recruit does not do well for shepherds and flocks.
Michalyshen's solution is simple and predictable: listen to and empower the 99. This means married clergy, female clergy and doctrinal acceptance of birth control (clear discussions of homosexuality and abortion are conspicuously absent).
If those above don't edict that, the call is for the 99 to self-empower. Liberal rogue communities are openly but cautiously lauded. Furthermore, it is whispered that coffers can go un-replenished.
In a sense, there is nothing new here. Calls for internal reform in the Catholic churches are a dime a dozen. But what is peculiar and fascinating emerges from the biographical elements that inform and lightly structure the book.
Laurence Broadhurst teaches in the
department of religion and culture at the University of Winnipeg.