Sacred Paths – Opposition to ‘Bodies’ Reveals Regrettable Judgement by Church

I?m really bothered by religious authorities who say that women should never be in positions over men. I?m troubled by those who say it is bad for a woman to referee a boys? basketball game. I?m thinking, of course, of what happened last month at St. Mary?s Academy, 25 miles northwest of Topeka, when Michelle Campbell, a retired police officer, was told she could not referee a game for the school, though she had refereed many other games for other schools.
This same religious mentality says that women cannot be priests. Women cannot be proper role models because Jesus was male. What, then, gives these authorities the idea that in their celibacy they can be proper role models for married life? They may be excellent family counselors. Expertise in this area certainly does not come from personal commitment to a partner and parenthood. Celibacy can be an honorable calling, but pushing the idea that each gender has specific, limited roles has certainly been challenged by LGBT people; and to greater or lesser extents, the rest of society is coming to agree that such sexism is evil.

Historically bound with sexism is the abhorrence of the body. Many Christian theologians have considered the body evil, and sexual acts were condemned because they gave pleasure. They were allowed only to produce children.

Most contemporary theologians are more enlightened, but perhaps not the local hierarchy, which has declined to support the ?Bodies Revealed? exhibit now at Union Station.

The Most Rev. Joseph F. Naumann, archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas, and the Most Rev. Robert W. Finn, Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph jointly said, ?We regard the ?Bodies? exhibit as an unfortunate exploitation of that which is ?real? to teach something that could be accomplished by use of models. As such it represents a kind of ?human taxidermy? that degrades the actual people who, through their bodies, once lived, loved, prayed, and died.?

That these church authorities should confuse the respectful dissection and preservation of bodies with taxidermy, which involves removing the interior of the body and stuffing the skin to appear life-like, with the removal of most of the skin to show obviously dead bodies and body parts in this remarkable exhibition, shows how uninformed their judgment may be.

Their moral judgment is even more regrettable. It appears to allow little sense of the sacred for people like me. I have viewed anatomic models before without any great sense of awe, but seeing the bodies of actual human beings, and holding the brain that once housed sensations, ideas and desires, and a heart that once circulated blood in a real person, gave me a far more profound experience of the miracle of life than the models the church authorities recommended instead.

As I said in my Kansas City Star column recently, ?Just as a cathedral or temple is designed for worship but is not violated by tourists who may be inspired by viewing it when the worshippers are gone, so the body, the temple of the spirit, when vacated by the person, can inspire profound appreciation for the sacred gift of life.?

Although ethical questions have been raised about the source of the bodies, Union Station officials have seriously examined such questions and resolved them to my satisfaction, and those questions are not the reasons the church authorities here have emphasized.

In other places, similar exhibitions have been welcomed by religious leaders. In Pittsburgh, for example, the Catholic Diocese prepared a marvelous study guide for those visiting the exhibition.

One wonders whether it is the fact that penises and vaginas are on display, or that vivid evidence of fetal development is presented, that inhibits the local church leaders from endorsing what most people report is an educational and spiritually uplifting experience.

Although the process used for the exhibition that makes the preservation of the dissected bodies possible is new, exhibition of bodies date back at least to the 1300s in Padua and Bologna, and the 1500s in Amsterdam. The great dissector Vesalius, 1514-1564, is often considered the founder of modern human anatomy.

Surely we can agree with the church officials that the bodies of the dead should be respected. But except for organ donation, could my body receive any greater posthumous honor than the sharing of my humanity in reverent intimacy through such an exhibit?

The Rev. Vern Barnet, DMn., does consulting, teaching and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each Wednesday.

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