What Would Jesus Do About the Catholic Church?

I was raised an Irish Catholic. Six a.m. Mass most mornings, Novenas every Tuesday, First Fridays every month and as many rosaries as could be squeezed in between. I was taught by the long-suffering nuns and was usually the debater they sent to Archdiocesan Religion Contests to compete on matters of faith.

Then I grew up. I studied other peoples' theologies and evolved my own connection to God. I've written about Him/Her from a Tibetan, Catholic, Mystic, Native American, Hindu, Jain and Kabbalist point of view in my books. I've penned a book of Uncommon Prayer.

So much for my bona fides.

I'm now an outsider who was once an insider, but I'm troubled enough by the ongoing and seemingly endless litany of scandals and coverups within the Church, to want to raise a few issues:

It's now well documented that the Church spent 25 years and more than a billion dollars to protect pedophile priests by covering up their crimes and moving them from parish to parish, allowing them back into the company of children, and denying their guilt until forced by law and the sheer number of victims, to admit it. Did you know there's now an insurance company that underwrites a policy for clergy that covers "any act of unlawful sexual intimacy, sexual molestation or sexual assault" available for $2,500 per cleric per year. Presumably such insurance policies would not exist without ample need for them. Insuring pedophiles? Really?

Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly called The Inquisition -- yes, that Inquisition) was tasked with collecting all data worldwide on priestly sexual abuse cases. Doesn't that mean he has possessed for decades all the data that was hidden from the law and the laity? Yet victims of these brutal crimes must still fight, diocese by diocese, and lawsuit by lawsuit to have the truth of the priestly sexual predators who abused them laid bare? Does anyone hold the Pope and his minions accountable for their complicity in the cover-up, I wonder? Maybe only God.

I'm also troubled by the pope venting his spleen on the few remaining nuns who exist in the world, their average age being 70, when their major function now that most Catholic schools have closed is to try to make the world better by any means possible -- in hospitals, in war zones, in impoverished areas, overworked, underpaid, under-respected, under-appreciated and now, it seems, under the gun by the Church hierarchy. Accused by the pope of espousing "radical feminist themes," their real crime appears to be that they dared to enter the 21st century and voice their concerns and convictions on matters of women in the priesthood, family planning, women's rights and same-sex marriage. Concerns and convictions shared, according to polls, with more than 50 percent of the Catholic Laity.

An American Archbishop recently suggested that Catholics who are "pro-marriage equality" are unfit to partake in the Eucharist. And now a priest in Minnesota has refused to confirm a 17-year-old who opposed an anti-gay marriage ballot measure on Facebook, and he's denied the boy's family the Eucharist. This seems to me such a jaw-dropping over-reach of authority that it begs the question: How can the hierarchy of the Church be so out of touch with reality, the 21st century and the legitimate and compelling needs of modern humanity? Can it be that they don't recall the compassion of Christ's ministry or His willingness to find new ways to enlighten? It certainly seems they don't remember that as a tax exempt religious institution, the Church is constitutionally bound to stay out of politics.

It's hard enough to forgive the Church for the villainy in its past -- torture, Inquisition, pogroms and the Crusades for starters -- but at least these atrocities took place in supposedly less enlightened times. But in 2013?

According to recent polls, 71 percent of Catholics now favor full civil rights for same sex marriage, 65 percent of Catholic voters support health insurance that covers birth control and 95 percent of American Catholics practice some form of artificial birth control.

I don't know what percentage of Catholics believe the priesthood should be opened to women, or believe that priests should be permitted to marry -- nobody seems to have polled that yet. But I'm pretty sure that 0 percent of Catholics believe priests should be permitted to prey sexually on children, or be protected when they do so.

And 0 percent of the Catholics I've ever met think nuns should not be permitted to speak their minds and their consciences. Indeed, as anyone who was ever taught by them can attest, speaking their minds is what nuns do best.

Maybe the Church hierarchy should broaden their ecumenism to take in an everyday concept from their evangelical Christian confreres and just ask themselves: What would Jesus do?

Maybe if the Church fathers measured themselves against that simple standard, they'd remember compassion, protection of children, respect for women and that the Eucharist is not theirs to withhold from anyone who seeks the solace of God and operates within the bounds of his own conscience. "He who acts against his conscience always sins," said St. Thomas Acquinas.

By being tone deaf to the voices of the laity, by protecting the egregious sins of priests, by continuing to marginalize the role of women and by meddling in politics, the Church seems to have become lost in a reactionary conservatism that does not rise to the needs of its 21st century faithful, nor to the gentle teachings of Christ.

Jesus' teaching was based on two powerful principles: "Love God, love your fellow man," He told the arrogant theological lawmakers who questioned him, "this is the whole of the Law." The Faith He envisioned was not the hierarchical structure of a Church that has so often in the past made wrong decisions and said it was doing so in His name. Can those who choose to be Catholic because of their love for Christ's teachings really be expected to take their spiritual council from a Church that seems to have lost its moral compass? "Soul speaks to soul" says the poem, but for that to happen, doesn't the Church have to display at least as much soul as its parishioners do?