Friday, September 09, 2011

Catholic Change

I don't talk much about religion.  It's not because I am afraid.  That's not generally a reason for me to be quiet.  It's more because I am so fundamentally unsure. 

But as a child I was raised a Catholic.  After a more humanistic beginning to my education, I attended Catholic grade school, Catholic high school and a Catholic college.  Each of those choices was a lot less about the religious nature of the schools and much more about the best choice given the available options. 

I knew as early as grade school that I had some problems with the Catholic Church, at least as I could see it from where I was.  I remember being confused about collecting money to send to African orphans while no one was mentioning the huge social justice issues right next door in Chester.

By high school, where I saw tragically flawed priests and brothers transferred from parish to parish despite clear knowledge of their drunk and abusive behavior, I realized the issues in the Church were far deeper than I could have ever suspected.

I knew priests who solicited boys in convenience stores, who drunkenly drove their cars into walls and I knew priests who later lost their collars for their molestations, finally publicly challenged for criminal behavior spanning decades.  I knew others who covered up for them, both in the Church and among my friends.  As boys we did it mostly because we knew that we would be ignored.  If the monsignors and bishops were ignoring the problem and transferring these guys around, who would care what we had to say?

Yet something still drew me in.  A sense of belonging to something, a feeling from deep inside when I heard the music or smelled the incense.  I briefly flirted with the idea that 'a vocation' was in there somewhere, before turning back to more mainstream pursuits for a teen in Delaware County: dance music, cruising all night, trying to get a date for the prom.

In college, I developed into a secular humanist, arrogantly arguing against the need for religion, while still drawn by the hymns, rites and ceremony.  I went to college at a time when social justice was developing as a movement on college campuses and I joined the cause intellectually without really doing all that much.  I was crushed when the Archdiocese closed my high school and largely turned its back on the City of Chester.

And, as so many do, I suppose, I fell fully away from the Church in the years after college, attending Mass a few times a year for major holidays and family funerals and friends' weddings.  It took years to get my children baptized.  At moments of stress in my life (9/11, the death of my grandfather, my divorce) I considered the role of religion in my life, but always came away unfufilled.

And then the quiet drumbeat of priest molestation cases became a firestorm.  I moved from "lapsed Catholic" to "recovering Catholic."

I read ravenously of the the names and misdeeds of the accused.  I saw people I knew named, victims interviewed, their lives detailed in anonymous statements I recognized from context.  I watched the defensive response of the Catholic heirarchy.  I became sickened that I had ever been a part of any of it.

I watched all levels of the Church cover up, conspire, minimize and even attack the victims.  I saw a head in the sand approach to addressing the issues and a criminal defendant's approach to dealing with the alleagations.  Not what one would usually expect from an organization purporting to represent God on earth.

Recently thought, once again in a time of great personal stress, after talking to faithful friends, and with the anniversary of 9/11 looming, I considered the Church again. 

Until that is, I heard the new Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, minimize the systemic criminal activity within the Church as a "stumbling block," even while asking for forgiveness from the faithful.  Listening to his interview on WHYY radio on the eve of his elevation to Archbishop, I realized that there was nothing there for me in an organization who can appoint a man as blind as Chaput clearly is to lead in such a troubled tie and place.

I am reasonably certain there is a God.  I am more certain than ever thoughm that the Catholic Church does not represent God on Earth.  I'm sorely tempted to brand it out of hand as a criminal organization, designed to seperate people from wealth and to enrich the princely few who inhabit its higher echelons.  Surely the Church does good works, from feeding the homeless to championing for the rights of the poor. 

Sadly however, the sins of the Church and its leaders outweigh its good deeds, and it will take an amazing turnaround to rescue this refugee Catholic's faith in the organization.


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