What follows is a response to an earlier post, called The Paradox of Pro-Life Church Teachings . It comes from my sister, whom I invited to be a guest blogger. I suspect her experience is not uncommon, and I would hope she can inspire others to question their own church policies—whether Roman Catholic or other Christian churches—when those policies are antithetical to the teachings of Christ.
When Bertie Mushaw sat behind us in church one Sunday and blew our noses for us, holding her handkerchief under each our noses in turn, it made Mom mad for the rest of her life.
We were not so much raised as Christians, but sent to Sunday School with all the other kids for whatever reasons. Maybe just a few hours without everyone underfoot; surely that alone would suffice.
Being sent is different from going with, with huge implications for our futures, so I was free to choose areligion or not.
I chose Roman Catholicism, thinking that I was keeping the tradition of my ancestors in Ireland. It didn’t occur to me until years later it was possible my ancestors had been Orange men. I threw myself into my new church with my accustomed passion, even as I was questioning some of the diktats of the Vatican. Mary’s body was assumed into Heaven, they decided, sometime in 1945 or so, as if logic held no power in the spiritual realm of the Holy City.
When the College of Cardinals decided that Cardinal Ratzinger was to lead the church, I was immediately suspicious that God had not inspired them, as the church teaches He infallibly does. What was God thinking? This is the man who had decided that American bishops could refuse communion to Catholic American candidates for president who did not vociferously condemn the law granting women the right to a legal abortion. He either couldn’t grasp the difference between a democracy and a theocracy, or didn’t care about the distinction.
He demonstrated in speech after speech that he was certainly not a worthy successor to the great John Paul by putting his Prada-clad foot in his mouth time after time. He could have thought anything he wished about the prophet Mohammed all day without saying it out loud in front the whole world. He could have learned that one of the bishops who had been excommunicated was a holocaust denier before he let him back into the good graces of the church. He was not forced, in one of his messages about the scandal, to add the part about the church rule that a priest was not to be defrocked because he molested, even raped little boys, but a priest must be defrocked if he even attempted to ordain a woman.
His totally ham-handed response to the child molestation scandal became for me the final proof that the God whom I worshipped, and the church I had proudly chosen as mine, was not the church I had taken it to be. My church would have been horrified at any one of these clumsy mistakes, let alone the sum total of them in just a short period of time.
I wrote my priest, with a copy to the bishop, that I would not receive communion in the church until Pope Benedict announced a full-throated, abject apology to the many, many victims, to the world, to those of us who sit in the pews every week, and especially to those innocent priests who must put on collars every day and go out to do their work in a suspicious world–a world whose condemnation had been created by their own institution and its leadership.
When he whined in a speech about how the church had been embarrassed by the scandal, I decided that I no longer needed to sit in that pew every week. I have left the mass, but not my spiritual journey. I continue to separate the words of Jesus Christ from the rules of the Vatican. It is an arduous task, but made less so in the company of theologians and historians who are willing to question everything, and publish it all for me to consider. I am enlightened by them as I never was by the church.
I loved the ceremony, the music, the Latin words. I loved the traditions, and taught them joyously to my children. I miss it, profoundly, and I still struggle to discover what I believe. I miss the fellowship of my friends in the church. It is humbling to be out here on my own.
I remain steadfast in my criticism of the hierarchy of the church, which is clearly more interested in its power than its awesome responsibility to teach the world what Jesus told us over and over. Love one another, as I have loved you. It looks deceptively simple. We could use the leadership of a truly devoted church to make it work in a complicated world. Until we have that grace, I will try to do the work by myself.
P. S. That hospital in AZ which is no longer Catholic is blessed. It no longer must carry the burden of working with unscientific and unChristlike rules. Those doctors have as much knowledge and understanding as they need to care for their patients. They don’t need the church standing between them and their mission of compassionate care.