Shocking awe in church

I'm not really much of a churchgoer. In fact, I'd estimate the total number of appearances I've made in any house of worship to be under 50 (this excludes work-related events, such as weddings and recordings, or tourist visits). Actually, to be completely honest, I 'd have to admit to being a confirmed anti-religious atheist.

Growing up, whenever I saw altar boys a disturbing unease would descend upon me. I felt there was always something of the militaristic Hitler-jugend about these newly indoctrinated soldiers for Christ, subservient to the patriarchal machine.

Given what we now know about the backstage antics, I'm delighted that I felt no desire to join their ranks, nor even the slightest envy for their exalted positions.

But having just come from a funeral where I witnessed a brand new (to me) phenomenon, I feel myself softening on the whole deal. Altar girls. They are just so sweet. With their cute little uniforms, lumbering under big heavy crosses. It gave me an idea.

Now, I certainly don't want to help the Catholic church to increase its membership, actually I long for the day they file for bankruptcy; disband; make the Vatican a museum; and the Pope has to work in an abattoir to make ends meet. But, even if it's the last sting of a dying wasp, here's a notion to boost morale. Pets.

Kittens and puppies in the church. Who could resist a little doggie with a collection plate in his widdle mouthy? The feelings of gooey-ness would spill over from the pets to the institution which lets them play a central role.

Did you ever visit a pub that has a dog? A bookshop with a cat? You LOVE these places because they feel homey and human. It can only help the Church to be associated with an anchor of positive emotion like this. Altar girls counteract the cold, distant maleness of the ritualised mass experience.

Now, off down to the Animal Welfare with you, Padre. Think about it, even with my titanic abhorrence, or to put it more mildly, my malevolent hatred of the Church, a lapsed sinner like myself managed to feel a certain 'Aww'!