This Ash Wednesday I had to come out to my roommate. It had become clear that he and I just didn’t have the exact same interests. I had tried to hide it, and even tried to change myself with prayer, but I knew it wasn’t working. I was always sneaking around, especially on Sundays, without him. The tension finally reached a head when the time came to begin the Lenten season and get our ashes.
“Are you coming Thomas?” He asked me, with the typical Catholic guilt in his voice (A guilt I too had been raised to use at whim). I couldn’t hide it though, I finally had to just come and say it,
“I don’t think so, I have something to tell you, I don’t know if I’m Catholic anymore” In all fairness, my roommate is a lovely human being who accepted me instantly the first time I had to come out to him over Facebook when I told him I was gay. Funny enough though, this second outing was even more difficult than the first.
Since I’m Italian and Irish, being Catholic was something that I never had to question. Going to Georgetown was in itself a sort-of victory for my older relatives who always wished I would stop going to the pro-choice gay witch factory that is New York City public education system. But recently I’ve found my progressive beliefs to be too out of step with the hierarchy for my comfort.
Before I get political I have a quick disclaimer: I acknowledge that my convictions about dogma aren’t that strong, which makes the political role of a church important to me, perhaps more important than to others. The church’s stance on gay congregants is more important to me than say, the belief in the intercession of saints. Also, when I refer to “the church” I am referring to institutional policies that transcend local parishes.
First, there was the promotion of the vehemently anti-gay archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, to the College of Cardinals. Cardinal Dolan was my Archbishop, and during the gay marriage debate he put up many blog posts accusing Albany of behaving like Oceania, and questioning the validity of gay relationships. I wrote him, impassioned, and citing scripture, and received no response, and his discourse never blinked despite the outpouring of objections from his liberal congregation. It even got so bad that he appeared on a radio show with State Senator Ruben Diaz (D) who compared being gay to drug addiction, in order to lobby our state legislature. This church authority, who leads a congregation which mostly supports marriage equality, ignored his congregation and teamed up with an ignorant demagogue.
Then lately, the debates over contraception have demonstrated how even more out of touch the church hierarchy is with its followers. We have all heard that 98% of Catholic women use contraception. The church, rather than recognize that this belief has failed to stand the test of time, is attempting to spread adherence to its beliefs via denial rather than by genuinely changing hearts. I believe that this, denying individuals the choice to use contraception (to sin or not to sin, considering they still think it’s a sin), is not part of the spirit of Christianity. But moreover, I have to ask the question, does the hierarchy truly know better than 98% of their congregants? Why would the church prefer dogma over data, the information that shows us the importance of comprehensive family planning services.
I’ve spoken to many a Catholic friend about my internal conflict. They’ve all told me the same thing, that while the Church hierarchy can be awful; the people in the church are wonderful. I couldn’t even try to deny this, as my time here at Georgetown and my few conversations with the Jesuits have reinvigorated my appreciation for Catholics. But, is there something within the Catholic dogma that makes them uniquely charitable and awesome? Why then are the “biggest Catholics” not the same way? That said, if I love the people but not the hierarchy, then am I really Catholic? Does that make me Episcopalian? Unitarian? Who knows? I don’t want to have to make excuses for, or outright ignore, the leaders of my Church. I want a faith that is willing to engage its dogma with its congregation.
My ultimate objection is that I think that the beliefs of the Catholic Church have begun to interfere with their mission in a fatal fashion. The true goal of Christianity is, as Jesus said, to love thy neighbor as yourself. This is the greatest commandment. In fact, the homily at my last mass warned against letting the sacrifice of lent interfere with the goal of the season, which is to foster love and charity. This service, occurring while I was contemplating how ceremony has inhibited the church’s capacity to love, spoke to my conflict.
When pastors can find justification for denying lesbians communion, or Catholic schools can find cause to fire a gay teacher, then something is broken. This Lenten season, I’m beginning an exploration of my faith by exploring others. I may ultimately choose to remain Catholic, but for now, I don’t see a solution to the hierarchy’s progressive problem.