And the Moral of the Story is: “We can – and must

The content originally appeared on: The Barnacle News
Arley Gill

By Arley Salimbi Gill

The ongoing saga between Fr. Gerard Paul and Bishop Clyde Harvey, in the St. George’s Diocese, may have raised eyebrows and brought public embarrassment to the Catholic Church and its members. However, it also may have caused an awakening and a reassessment of the role of the R.C. Church and of its shepherds, given today’s global political climate. I reckon that this awakening is needed in the Catholic Church and all Christian denominations.

The Catholic Church is accustomed to revolts and reformations. Throughout history, it has experienced a fair share of upheavals and protests from within and from outside of the church.

For example, in the1600’s, Martin Luther (not Martin Luther King, Jr.), a Catholic priest, vigorously opposed the abuses and corruption within the Catholic church. In protest, on October 31st, 1517, Luther nailed his ninety-five (95) treaties on the Wittenburg Castle Church in Germany.

Martin Luther’s action led to what we now know as the Protestant Reformation, which inspired the Catholic Reformation. Luther’s theological positions were deemed heretical at the time and led to his excommunication (“read out”) from the church by Pope Leo.

The Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther focused on his core principles. Central among his principles were his arguments that the Bible was the central source of religious authority and that faith, and not deeds, saved people.

At the time of Luther’s protest, the Catholic Church engaged in the practice of paying money for the forgiveness of sins; maintained that only Catholic priests should read, interpret and teach the Bible; and claimed that the Pope was infallible. It was these – and other teachings – that Luther took issue with and encouraged a debate with church theologians. Luther’s actions, as said earlier, resulted in him being “read out” of the church.

The Catholic Reformation, also known as the Counter Reformation, was a response to the widespread support Luther received in Europe during the Reformation period. There were critics before Luther, but none had the impact that he engendered in reforming the Catholic Church. It is important to note that Luther did not set out to break from the church; but, he wanted the church to correct the abuses, excesses and errant teachings that were prevalent in his time.

Is Fr. Paul following in the footsteps of Martin Luther?

In recent years, the global Catholic Church was forced to confront several uncomfortable truths. For example, the allegation of widespread sexual abuse in the church and the conviction of church leaders and lay priests, who failed to report or address the issue in a timely fashion.

The allegation rocked the core of the church globally and raised issues of morality and ethics of its senior leadership. Archbishops responsible for overseeing the accused priests were alleged to have turned a blind eye to the abuse. Some Archbishops later became Cardinals.

I would argue respectfully that the issue Fr. Paul is raising is an important one; it’s something that all religions should be addressing during these troubling times. And, there are questions that one must ask and seek answers to; for example, should the church—its priests, preachers, pastors and elders speak out about political issues affecting the world? In this case, we are talking about the slaughter and unfolding genocide of the Palestinian people by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and by extension, the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. Genocide, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados reminded us recently is happening in real-time, right before our very eyes. Carnage is broadcast live on our television and on social media all day long.

Fr. Paul made it clear that his church, the Catholic Church, was not saying and doing enough on the Palestinian issue. Bishop Harvey, as head of the Catholic Church in Grenada, in response to Fr. Paul’s protest—noted that the church was indeed speaking out. The notion of what is “enough” is up to one’s interpretation, in this case—Fr. Paul’s.

However, as Bishop Harvey noted—there is a time and a place—a season under heaven for everything. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this maxim in the New Testament. Bishop Harvey reminds his flock that Fr. Gerard Paul’s “diatribe”, as he describes it, happened at the height of Holy Week, and days before the holiest day on the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday.

Now, I am no expert on Catholicism, but I will dare to pose the question on the minds of onlookers: When and where is the right time to stand on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, and the homeless? Of course, it is not for me to say who is wrong or right.

Mark 12:31, in the Bible, states: “The second is this ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.” There is no greater commandment than these (the first is the love for god). I have always wondered, who is the neighbour referred to? Is it just the person next door, or is it all of humankind? If it is the latter, then the thousands of Palestinian children, women and men that are slaughtered every day by the Israeli army— aided and abetted by world powers—they, too, are also our neighbours. As are the Cubans whom the United States government has implemented a decades-long blockade against, causing an entire nation to suffer. Let us also remember Ukraine, Sudan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and other places dealing with military conflicts. Speaking of neighbour and next door—how dare we forget Haiti!

Churchgoers—Catholic or not—should be asking their religious leaders, what does it mean to love thy neighbour as thyself? Who are the least of these among us that we must protect and defend?

In my respectful view, the church needs to do more. And by doing more, I mean, more than praying about these matters. According to the New Testament scriptures, Jesus of Nazareth was about faith and action.

When I was young, most churches— especially Protestant or Ecclesiastical churches—held crusades in the villages. Crusades lasted for days and weeks at a time. Church members would seek and find villagers and minister to them wherever they found them— on the street corners and even on the blocs. After the crusades, converted villagers would join the church and get baptized; and, as expected, many would fall out or backslide, as we say in Grenada.

Now, there are still crusades but certainly not as many as before. Today, many churches are fully air-conditioned; I speculate, the reason being that churches are feeling the effects of global warming. So now, church doors and windows remain closed and so-called “sinners” who are outside— cannot even hear a sermon or the singing happening inside the church.

Years ago, after church, boys on the block would say to churchgoers: “Pastor well get on today.” The truth is, even villagers who were not going inside the church, and those who chose to stay outside the church, liming— still listened; or, at least overheard the “Good News” teachings. Things are not the same. The church doors and windows are closed—who is in, stays in; and who is out, stays out!

I am of the considered view that the church needs to do more to address matters confronting our society today. Issues that the church addresses should be more than conversations on social and moral issues such as sex, alcohol consumption, drugs, and what people wear to church or during carnival. I understand that the burden is not on the church alone. As history has shown us—one group cannot do it alone. However, churches must do more than remain silent or speak in hushed tones.

Specifically, I want to hear the Catholic Church speaking up on matters such as colonialism, slavery, the slave trade, indigenous genocide, racism and reparations.

In March of 2023, the Catholic Church repudiated the “Doctrine of Discovery”. This doctrine was used to justify the stealing of Indigenous People’s land, treating Indigenous People as heathens and uncivilized, and forcibly imposing Western cultural values on them. Ultimately, justifying murder and plunder in the name of conquest and sowing the seed for the notion of a superior people and culture and conversely an inferior people and culture—the grounding for racism.

Recently, The Church of England (Anglican Church) apologized for its role in slavery and the slave trade. I must say that I do not agree with their approach to reparations. But they have acknowledged certain truths. This is a small step in the right direction. What say ye, the Catholics?

And, as we watch this saga between Bishop Harvey and Fr. Paul unfold, we must remember that this awakening and protest must not stop at the doorstep of the Catholic Church. Every religion must look in the mirror and ask, is it doing enough at this important juncture in world history?