Recently, I was talking with a close friend who is considering leaving the Catholic Church over the pedophile scandals. His wife, a cradle Catholic, works with abused children and is outraged at the Vatican’s craven indifference to the problem.
I read in Newsweek’s “A Woman’s Place is in the Church” by Lisa Miller that the rates of abuse in the Catholic church are no different than the rates of abuse found in other religious, social, and governmental organizations that serve kids. “Indisputable, though,” writes Miller, “is that the all-male Catholic hierarchy has responded to the crisis too slowly and—even after the revelations in the U.S.—in a way that has instinctively protected its own interests above those of the children.”
My friends will probably become Episcopalian. This is the choice a lot of Catholics are facing.
“After spending a lifetime in a church that wants to regulate everyone’s sexuality, while allowing a good deal of their own clergy and orders to defile children sexually, well, I just can’t be nice,” writes Anthea Butler in “The Wounded People,” after stating that she is seriously considering leaving the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church. “…This unending litany of sexual abuse has violated all Catholics, whatever side they are on.”
I’m a terrible Catholic. I don’t ever go to church. Maybe I don’t have right to feel violated, but I do.
Twelve years ago, I left the evangelical Christian church. At first I missed the spiritual community enormously, and, a couple years later, felt compelled to convert to Catholicism as a way to soothe my conscience, find community, and regain a sense of spiritual practice. The Catholic Church felt big enough to hold my doubts, to accept me as a member in the midst of those doubts—something that evangelicals seemed incapable of doing. As long as I wasn’t able to declare, authoritatively and loudly, my allegiance to evangelicalism’s core belief system, I was persona non gratis. Or, if welcomed, suspicious. Preyed upon. Someone to convert. Certainly not somebody to be friends with.
Alternatively, the Catholics who welcomed me into the classes for adults seeking initiation into the church said, “It’s okay, we all struggle with doubts in our faith.”
Thank God, I thought, and relaxed into my new-found identity.
Despite my adult conversion, I’ve never been a practicing Catholic. There are two core problems for me, recently a third core problem, and two major-minor problems.
The biggest problem for me is the Institution. Actually, I struggle with all institutional expressions of faith. So although the Catholic Church probably represents the pinnacle of religious institutions, this is one reason I haven’t started going anywhere else either.
Apparently, I’m not alone in this problem. Religion scholar Elizabeth Drescher writes that in recent years, people born after 1980 have increasingly moved out of institutional expressions of faith into what she calls “something else.”
“…For young adults, religious practice is much more linked to acts of social compassion, charity, and spiritual seeking than to traditional religious practices like prayer,” she writes. We seem to be moving “toward a more holistic sense of spiritual practice less connected to traditional religious institutions, their liturgies, and other rituals. Feeding the poor, housing the homeless, tending the sick, and exploring other religious and philosophical traditions seem…to incarnate whatever we might think happens in the practice of prayer within the economy of lived experience.”
That pretty much describes me to a T, except the born after 1980 part.
The second biggest problem for me and being Catholic has to do with their stupid policy on Annulment. I could get an Annulment for my divorce. I have “grounds” for one. (For that matter, so does my ex.) The problem is, I fundamentally disagree with the church that an Annulment is necessary. In fact, not only do I think it’s unnecessary, I think the whole concept is morally bankrupt.
The Church says I shouldn’t be allowed to take communion unless I get an Annulment. To that, I say, “Screw that. God accepts me, has forgiven me for the things I’ve done wrong, and if the Catholic Church can’t deal with it, goodbye Catholic Church.”
The third recent big problem is the whole pedophilia thing, the way the hierarchy is dealing with it, which I’ve already talked about. That’s pretty huge, in my book.
And then I have some major minor issues—like women and gays in the church. Although those are huge issues for me personally, I could let them go. I think. Maybe. Recently, I’ve been saying that I don’t really want to go to a church where gays aren’t welcome. I wouldn’t go to a church where people of color aren’t welcome. It’s pretty much the same thing to me.
I feel a certain loyalty to the Catholic Church, it’s true. It’s where I’d like to be. But I don’t think I can get over these things. They just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger in my book.
Getting back to my friend that I mentioned at the beginning of the article: like me, he is not committed to the belief that the Christian Church is THE vessel of absolute spiritual truth. “I just like being around people who are committed to it,” he said. “You and I should probably face it, we’re essentially Unitarians.”
I groaned. I can’t imagine going to a Unitarian church. I went once or twice to one in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but I had to leave after they started dancing in a circle and wagging their finger in the air, singing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!”
That’s okay for five year olds in a Sunday school class, but it sure looked cheesy when a bunch of adults did it. So cheesy, I started crying. And not because I was touched by the Holy Spirit. Crying in embarrassment. For them.
Which is probably why, if I ever do go back to church, I’ll be Episcopalian. But there is a little problem: After 12 years gone, I don’t miss it. I want something—I’m seeking something, that “something else” that Elizabeth Drescher mentioned—but I’m suspiciously certain I won’t find it in the place I left behind so long ago.
I just wish I knew where to find it.