Some of you reading the headline for this column will be unsure how the Latin Habemus Papam, the colloquialism “the Pope’s nose” and the atrocity of pedophilia connect, but for those whom at least two of the terms are familiar, you might think I’m going to offer an assault on the Catholic church and their very public sexual failings of some of its clergymen. I will not. What I will do is talk about how assumptions about religion are unhelpful and ignorant, especially for 21st century–students living in a so-called information age.
As I write this, Pope Francis (formerly Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina) has literally been the head of the Catholic church for an hour, yet scrolling down to the comments section of any major online newspaper reveals a throng of individuals decrying pedophilia, bureaucracy, and the stupidity of organized religion. Of course, the Internet “beehive brain” is not a microcosm of society’s opinion on most things, but as a religious person it is unsettling to see such a negative response to an otherwise exciting event, even if the negativity comes from, I suspect, a handful of angry Internet trolls. I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but if you have been reading my articles throughout the year, you know I also believe that unless your opinion is informed, you are not entitled to being taken seriously.
Jorge Bergoglio as you may know, is the first Pope from the Americas, and the first Jesuit Pope. Not only that, but this man has spent his whole life working with marginalized, impoverished people, even riding the bus to work alongside the people he ministers to. That is, he’s a normal person. Habemus Papam! cried one of the cardinals: “We have a Pope!”
I am not unaware of the failings of the Catholic church, and I have some thoughts regarding celibacy and sexuality, but I will not discuss them here. Over reading break I watched Deliver Us From Evil (2006), a documentary following the convicted pedophile Oliver O’Grady, an Irish priest who was grievously mishandled by the Catholic church, leaving dozens of sexually abused children in his wake. But the character who stands out in the film is not Oliver O’Grady, but Father Tom Doyle, a Catholic priest whose life’s work is holding the church accountable to the victims of sexual abuse by clergymen. The church has not taken this lightly; Tom Doyle has been dismissed from positions, marginalized by the church that, miraculously, he still believes in, and endures constant criticism for his commitment to the truth. (Search his name to see an excellent interview with him on Dateline.)
In our rush to write off Catholicism or Islam or any belief system at all, because of the actions of a very public few, we miss the people who are doing the work that is at the core of their belief system. I met a Master’s student in Tibetan Studies over the break who is passionate about opening schools in Tibet for children with Autism. He was telling me that Buddhists and the Tibetan society reject children with any kind of abnormality or birth defect, which leads to their abandonment, or worse, murder. His idea is that through education, he can help show Tibetan parents and children the unique abilities and insight that Autistic people have: “and,” he tells me, “I am on the Autism spectrum. I want others to know that Autistic people are capable of a lot of things. All people are capable of so much good.”
Stereotypes exist (and largely can make us laugh) because they are based in part on reality. That is what makes jokes funny: their rootedness in the truth of their commentary. The internet sensation, “Shit Girls Say” was so popular because it was, for a lot of women, bang on. I do say that shit. (Especially, “Did I lock the door? Yes.”) But some stereotypes or colloquialisms based on stereotypes are not really that funny at all. (Did Crash teach us nothing?!) As a minor example, the “pope’s nose,” or the “parson’s nose,” both medieval colloquialisms referring to that flesh bit on chicken’s butts where their tail feathers insert into the skin. Ostensibly, someone was carving a turkey one evening and as they went to carve up the butt portion, remarked, “Ha ha! This looks like Parson so-and-so’s nose!” Or so Wikipedia says. If you’ve ever carved a turkey, you can imagine that Parson so-and-so is one ugly fellow. Having been through five airports over the break, I know how people perceive Muslim males, or even Sikh males in airports. I don’t know how many times Muslim-appearing fellows in front or behind me have been selected for “random searches.” Really? Ten people really changed the way anyone wearing a traditional hijab or turban is perceived. In the same way, Catholic clergymen is synonymous with pedophilia, although the majority of Catholic priests are in no way pedophiles, yet are painted with that brush due to the horrendous actions of a minority.
For a society that prides itself on its tolerance, free speech, and open-mindedness, it’s appalling the amount of ignorance we can apply to any other belief system besides our own. “Yes, we are open minded and tolerant, but not when it comes to people who believe in karma, or the World Spirit, or a deity—they’re deluded and stupid.” It’s akin to saying, “Yeah, I’m not racist, but I hate the Polish.” As educated, informed people spending money and time to be taught at a university, let’s work to abolish this kind of misunderstanding.