Why I am no Longer a Catholic
My mother had made my dress out of a white Swiss dot pattern cotton, but I will be allowed a new purse, a new veil, a new missal and a new rosary, a windfall of new white items. The veil is important, because we are little brides of Christ, dressed in white. We marry the church before we marry any others in life. I have craved this since first grade, even though I didn’t believe till now. The God of the old Testament seemed like a surer bet for a girl like me, a girl who didn’t get other children, a hitter, a stealer and a mess at the art of socializing. Stuck with the rowdy boys, squashing toys on the sly and punching each other in the gut, a strong punch was currency in the boys’ club at Saint Jane de Chantel.
I was a convert to the New Testament. I lovef the idea of turning the other cheek. Jesus had the look, in all the pictures, of an anti-war protester from the sixties. He was handsome, pale and blue-eyed. My mother told me that Jesus would look Semitic like the native people of Israel, that his hair would be curly, his skin light brown and his nose long. She scoffed at the blue-eyed, blond Jesus. I secretly had a crush on that image of Jesus, so marrying him sounded ‘dreamy,’ at least to my eight-year-old self. I believde and belief is a powerful thing.
I saw lights during communion, lights around the priest. I believed that I was ingesting that white moon of holiness and that it would make me a better person. I worried when it got stuck on the roof of my mouth. I went about for an hour once trying to dislodge God from the roof of my mouth. I did not think he passed through the normal digestive track, but that he was absorbed like a nutrient to the soul. Still, that God bit must pass the mouth and go down the throat or else it would not work. Maybe if it stayed lodged in my mouth, it would lose efficacy.
Do I still believe that simple bread and wine can make one ‘good.’ I believe that belief can make it so. I believe that the rite of communion goes back before Christianity. In the Catholic religion are symbols that predate the historical Jesus: chalice – cross – lamb – halo – angel. The saints are often stand-ins for old gods. They intercede on our behalf, as do Jesus and Mary, with that smiting God-Father of the Old Testament.
These images and teachings run deep in me and I will not give them up. Still since my adolescence I have been unable to say the creed without choking. I believe in God, the son and the Holy Ghost, yes I do. I do not believe in the pope or his underlings. I have a Protestant belief in interpreting the bible for myself and acting based on my own conversation with God. Interestingly, my mother, who was Irish, had a contempt for priests. One had tried to rape my father when he was in high-school. She would often say how glad she was we weren’t boys, since many priests were over-fond of boys.
Once when I was twelve stayed home from church and we talked about religion. She never went to church, but she did converse with God. I told her I thought she was a Protestant. I had never seen her so livid. She insisted she was Catholic through and through to her very marrow, banging her fist on the side of the sofa for emphasis, her face red with rage. I realize now that through the lens of the Irish experience, she was culturally Catholic with all that entails. Calling her a Protestant insulted her deeply. It was as if I had said she was British and not Irish.
I am also culturally Catholic. I long for mass and incense – all the saints I grew up with and still know so well – St. Agnes, whose hands were too small for the chains, St. Cecilia who could not be moved and St. Joan, who fought for France and was burned by Protestants for witchcraft. Give me those stories any day, along with the New Testament’s praise of gentleness. Give me the Passion of Jesus to weep about.
Still it is the bloody history of the Church, both past and present, that keeps me away from what I love and know in my marrow, just as it kept my mother away. We stand on the outside looking in and hoping one day the Church will change; that it will keep the ritual
and remove the slavish dogmatism, the misogyny, the homophobia.
Giordano Bruno was a Dominican friar and an early proponent of the Copernican System, the belief that the sun is the center of the universe. He was eventually condemned to burn at the stake for refusing to recant. As recently as 2000, Cardinal Angelo Soldano declared Bruno’s death to be a “sad episode” but, despite his regret, he defended Bruno’s prosecutors, maintaining that the Inquisitors “had the desire to serve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life.” (Wikipedia) We now all know that Soldano did his utmost to shield child abusing priests.
Years later Galileo recanted and saved his life, fortunately for the world of science. In my adolescence it was this history and the violence of the crusades, which led me to doubt that God speaks through such men as those who burnt people at the stake and speared Muslim children on swords.
In seventh grade, I became aware of my attraction to other girls as well as boys. I thought Joan of Arc might be a lesbian, after all she was a military leader, although she paid the heaviest price for it. Mrs. Hannon was the lay-teacher who taught religion and my nemesis. I was very good at memorizing text by that point and was able to ace the tests, but I was unable to sit quietly by as she condemned non-Christians, save the Jews from the Old Testament, gays and murderers to hell. I raised my hand often to ask, “Shouldn’t we just get some faggots (I knew that meant wood also) and burn them now?” She became used to this question and would respond with a sigh “Oh Lucy..”
I talked to God, but I did not respect those in authority, those who were supposed to teach me. Today, the sex scandal that I always knew about, has blown wide open. I do not believe that priests are more pedophilia prone than reverends. I’ve heard enough stories regarding reverends to rival those I’ve heard about priests. The Church steadfastly refuses to accept gays and lesbians. It opposes birth control and abortion. Abortion I can understand, but the opposition to birth control upsets me as much as it did my mother.
A new pope, Pope Frances, promises to look after the poor, though he did little to stand up to Pinochet. Would he be here, if he had done that? I have long been attracted to Liberation Theology, the defense of the poor in the world. This pope may help the poor, may welcome the Liberation Theologists that Benedict hounded out of the Church, back. This is a start. Those Nuns on the Bus are also a start. These women are cheek to jowl with the poor of the world and they show Christ’s love directly, skin to skin. They are asking the Church to change, to allow women priests, to allow contraception and to open it’s arms to gays and lesbians. Will the Church change. Maybe not. It has a strong base in more socially conservative and repressive Latin America and Africa.
Do I miss the Church. Yes. Do I want to go back. No. I sit on my Sundays reading and writing or I go on a long walk in God’s greatest church.