I am voting with my feet.
As a 62-year-old practicing Catholic, one would think my religious adherence has been well and truly set. To an extent, that is correct; I love my church’s rites and, most especially, the beautiful sacraments that have helped to sustain me throughout my life.
I appreciate the redemptive power of confession, when used in appropriate circumstances and with the freedom of surrender.
Despite this deeply felt connection, I have concluded my only way forward is to turn away.
For many years, I have been disturbed by the Church’s failure to connect with real people seeking solace of a loving Christ. I’ve been appalled by widespread pedophilia and more appalled by callous cover-ups of those ruinous crimes against children. It seems this Church has forgotten the warning of Jesus against anyone who would harm a child.
Despite the soul-sickness of knowing the depravity to which Church Fathers had descended, I stayed. There was hope of genuine remorse and healing. There was hope this enormous scandal would serve as a clarion call to a transformative renewal.
Instead, after great resistance, grudging admissions were made and cheques were written. There was no renewal.
Still, I lingered, unable to tear myself away from a Church that was seared into my heart. One day, perhaps, I thought, it will come, even as I listened to priests, bishops and cardinals preach against same-sex unions. These men were clear about the sins of those born with bonds of attraction for their own gender, yet they mired themselves in the muck of tepid excuses toward Church child-sex offenders.
Any respect I had for Rome disappeared under the weight of disgust at this hypocrisy.
My heart breaks to think my Church denied millions of African women (along with all the rest of us) permission to use “artificial” birth control methods that could have saved thousands of lives and transformed many thousands more. Even in situations of dire poverty and the subjugation of women to the role of breeder, the Church chose to tote the old adage that “unnatural” birth control was against God’s plan.
The Vatican only recently began to loosen (slightly) this evil edict that consigned so many to misery. That was how African women were thanked and honoured for their great devotion.
I began to think I must leave. My heart still couldn’t quite give up on this institution that, while gripped by systemic corruption thirst for power, still had capacity to instill awe and wonder.
The Second Vatican Council disappeared like a blip under conservatives who now held command. I suffered as the Church’s doors clanged shut and the air, for a few precious minutes fresh with promise, became stale again with the musk of the power lust of the world’s most elite Old Boys’ Club.
I halfway convinced myself I could ignore the foolhardiness of Rome and concentrate on my own little parish, where I felt at home and loved. How could I leave this small congregation that held my heart? It was like a family to me.
Then Pope Francis was elected. A light shone through the cracks to illuminate the darkness, just enough to awaken hope once more. Here was a Holy Man. Here was a follower of the Jesus I perceived when I read His words. Here was the Church’s future, her chance at renewal.
It could have been the beginning of something truly beautiful. If the power brokers had held true faith, they would have knelt before this man of God and followed him to the ends of the Earth. They would have seen he understood the message of Christ and was touched by His love.
Instead, they worked against him and have effectively shrunk his influence. His voice, at first so clear and strong and shining with humility, has been muted. His intentions have been sabotaged. The Club remains untouched and, sadly, seems intractable.
I have loved Pope Francis but I no longer expect he can lead the Church to the kind of renewal so desperately needed. Given his refusal to grant a simple apology to our devastated First Nations for the Church’s large role in the horrors of the residential schools, it is clear he cannot rise above the wagon-circling of the hierarchy. If he cannot prevail against the forces that hold this Church in thrall, then who can?
A priest I respect refused my request that our church bulletin announce a social action walk in support of diversity that some of our local high school students were organizing. “What kind of diversity?” he wanted to know with knitted brow.
Our youngest priest recently said the Church would never allow women priests because “there were none at the time of Christ.” Of course there were none at that time, but there were slaves and horrible executions and all manner of unjust practices, so where is the valid comparison in this line of thinking?
There’s also the issue of celibacy. In North America, churches are closing, not just for lack of parishioners, but also for a dearth of priests. Few men are able to accept a doctrine that denies them the comfort of a family and of a healthy, sanctified fulfilment of their sexuality. While the Church lauds “the sanctity of marriage,” it taints the idea by requiring those who administer sacramental duties to refrain. Such doctrinal ambiguity is leading the Church to self-destruction.
I have come to the point where hope has died. I cannot ignore Rome, for she reaches into my own parish. Her power permeates every nook and cranny of Catholicism. If I stay, I am complicit. If I take my spot in the pew and put my money in the collection, I perpetuate the rot.
I have a daughter and a granddaughter. I cannot bear what my staying would say to them. I can’t stand to know I have modelled a belief that women are secondary humans who have no place as decision-makers or teachers and aren’t equipped to be shepherds in the name of the One we love.
I feel great sorrow in having to accept my Church has deviated far from the simple, loving path of my Saviour. If, as I continue to hope, the great heart at the core of “Mother Church” remains pure, then the power brokers have shut that heart away from her people. The holiness of that heart is love. And love has too seldom guided decisions and doctrines of the Church, a momentous tragedy.
To whom shall we turn when our Church obeys the dictates of power-seeking men rather than the love-giving of God? The answer, for me, cannot lie in accepting the status quo any longer.
At age 62, therefore, I have finally and sorrowfully accepted that my Church will not listen to my voice or the voices of countless others in similar distress. She will not bend her rigid preconceptions, even in the face of precipitous decline. Under her present masters, she is blind and, though I tremble to write it, no longer worthy of loyalty. As the only self-respecting option left to me, though it tears my heartstrings, I am going to vote with my feet.
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