The question was posed to me some time ago by a thoughtful spiritual person who had read most of my blogs and books. The question is again in front of me in the face of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. Indeed why do I hang onto membership in such a dysfunctional organization?
I am still Catholic because I still believe in Jesus’ basic message although I agree with Wendell Berry who observed that current Christianity, although fashionable, has little resemblance to what Jesus had in mind. There are many things that Jesus said — his embracing of the poor and the migrant, his plea for non-violence, his special blessing for children — that are largely ignored by my Church. So I am still Catholic as a statement that I do believe his message can still transform the world and, if embraced, can transform my Church..
I am still Catholic because I believe that the redemption of my Church can only come from within and that the powers that be have lost their ability and their credibility in making that happen. We laity need to demand the reshaping of our church. Perhaps it is time to allow married clergy. Perhaps it is time to allow the ordination of women. Something about the way the Church is structured and governed is not working. Attention gets paid to minimizing damage and not to restoring trust. Yes, many diocese reach out to victims of clergy abuse. Yet the system of governance that gave rise to those abuses remains largely unchanged.
I am still Catholic because I believe that, although the dark side of power has almost destroyed my Church, there is still a potential for healthy power. I have met too many priests and sisters who are aware of the potential dark side of their power and work hard to use it in an affirming way.
I am still Catholic because I believe in the power of redemption. Any of us who are recovering addicts have received that blessing. Redemption can happen within organizations as well. Our Church desperately needs a redemptive experience.
I am still Catholic because of the examples of a few who got it right — Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, Teilherd de Chardin, St. John XXIII. These and others spoke up and suffered for a message much closer to what Jesus had to say. Some of them suffered persecution. They all suffered criticism.
The worst thing that can happen at this point is that the powers that be will “wait out” the current crisis. Indeed I have heard the comment “The Church has survived other such minor crises. The Church will survive”. As one insensitive Catholic said in the presence of a victim “This crisis is just a burp in the Church’s history”. That attitude will merely feed the disease.
The Church as it is may indeed survive. That’s what I am afraid of.
I am not Catholic, but I have great respect for the Catholics you mentioned as well as Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, and the radical nuns of the 21st century. I suspect that the Catholic Church desperately needs to fall apart so that remnants of those who truly get Jesus’s message can work with what is left (that they want to embrace) and create a new organism that is not patriarchal, meaning for starters, that women can be ordained as priests, priests can marry whomever they wish, and the new organism is just that: A body of the faithful instead of a religious corporation. I salute those who are willing to work with the dismemberment and descent and are also willing to midwife what wants to be born anew.
Well said Rich. I will always be Catholic in my bones. Unfortunately the Catholic Church powers that be have strayed away from what Jesus intended. Many Christian churches have. What we see now is more of man-made religion which is the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law. I believe this is a direct attack from the enemy to try to take down not just the Catholic Church but all Christianity from the inside. Thankfully the Bible tells us how this will end but it is going to be a battle! Believers need to suit up with the full armor of God! The fight is on!
Though a non-believer, I am still a Catholic. I am a Catholic because I was raised in the church and steeped through my family and my education in Catholic tradition. I had an uncle a who was a Jesuit, an aunt who was an IHM nun, and a great-aunt who was a member of the Mother Drexel order and spent her adult life, first teaching the grandchildren of slaves in the rural South, and later on an Indian reservation in South Dakota. If not for people like her, many of the kids she taught would have received no education at all. I am part of that tradition. It’s the tradition that produced Dorothy Day and Dan Berrigan, too (but let’s not forget that the institutional church marginalized them). If I was a believer, however, the pedophile crisis in the Catholic church would surely have sent away. Otherwise, I would feel that I condoned the church’s response to it. I would be part of it. But the pedophile crisis is not the only failing of the church that might have soured me on it. The departure from the very things you talk about as being at the core of Christ’s teaching – his embracing of the poor and the migrant, his plea for non-violence, his special blessing for children – would also, I think, have driven me away. Anyway, do we really need Christ to be sensitive to those things? Isn’t being human enough? I am still a Catholic. I can’t escape it. It’s part of who I am. There are things about it that I value still. They are the things that the Catholic church could be but is not.
Rich, your offering meant a great deal to me. I’ve been challenged by friends to defend my church. I now can do it more elequently.
I am not Catholic but two of the people who influenced my life the most are Catholic. One of them is a nurse and former nun. She told me, “You will be a very good nurse” when no one else believed that was true. She turned out to be right, although it took a few years for her prophesy to be fulfilled. It was the Catholic church who taught me that Jesus was mocked at the time of his murder. When I was scorned in Texas, it was easier to bear knowing that I was in good company. My point is that the actions that one takes as a representative of the Church have far reaching consequences for better or for worse.
I just found your blog today and have enjoyed going through some of your articles. Have you ever looked into the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? I feel like you would appreciate the perspective of restoring the Lord’s original church and clarifying the Savior’s Gospel and basic teachings that have been muddled over the years. Thank you for your example as a courageous disciple of the Prince of Peace.