why I decided to leave the catholic church this election year


///Note: I wrote this in letter form to my choir and some friends earlier this year, but wasn’t really ready to share it with the world until now. As the election looms, I think it too important to ignore the fact that the Catholic Church has no business interfering in the political process./// 

After months of soul-searching, I recently decided to leave the Catholic Church, perhaps forever, but at least for a time.  I sat through Mass not long ago, and realized that I have reached my threshold, the point at which I cannot, in good conscience, continue to call myself “Catholic.”

The Church has done, and continues to do, untold good works in the world – it educates, heals, feeds, comforts, befriends and loves. But it has historically also perpetrated great harm, a legacy replayed, unfortunately, by men like Archbishop Nienstedt, who attempt to rule it with absolute power, and corrupt it into something resembling a Soviet oligarchy, forcefully imposing hateful, retrograde policies and practices and sending out spies into parishes to ensure they are not opposed.  Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the “house of God” here in Minnesota is a noxious blend of fear and loathing — priests and church staff fear to speak up for the sake of their livelihood, and parishioners become evermore disaffected and hopeless.

Is this a spiritual home? Is this where God lives?  Our Archdiocese has become to me the antithesis of a “Christian” institution, ignoring abuse, promulgating exclusion, enforcing bigotry and preaching hatred in the guise of love.  I can no longer sit in complicit silence while the local Archdiocese feeds its people a toxic gruel of fear and hypocrisy, inappropriately (and, frankly, illegally) participating in the political push of a wrongheaded, amoral policy – one I believe would be far more damaging to society than a solemn commitment between same-sex partners to love one-another, raise a family, volunteer in schools, make their communities safer for their children, etc., etc., could ever be.

It is true the Catholic Church is an archaic and arcane institution that changes at a glacial pace, if at all. That has always been the “given” for me, an assumption I could live with as long as any movement it made was forward — even sideways was tolerable to a point.  But lumbering backwards toward a darker past is something I cannot abide.  I believe at some point, sooner rather than later, this time will be seen as a dark stain on the Church, a time when human rights hung in the balance, and the Church, especially here in Minnesota, stood on the wrong side of the argument.

Leaving has been hard – and strangely freeing – but it isn’t really courageous. Other than no longer being part of a community I care deeply about, it won’t have a huge impact on my life.  Courage comes when doing something you believe in comes at a potential or inevitable high price. Many I know have the courage to stay on and workhard to change the Church from within, to make it a place Christ would feel welcome. That’s a long, courageous road, and I salute them.

Moral courage is even more difficult. It places a person at great risk when standing up for a conviction or belief. I am discouraged and saddened that we’re not seeing moral courage from more priests we know disagree with the Archbishop, and watch them instead stand by silently – or speak in esoteric metaphor or outright hypocrisy. Meanwhile, lone voices in the dark — gutsy, solitary priests — are punished and threatened with the loss of their livelihood and their life’s work.

Because the Church is not a democracy, and I am the impatient child of one, I don’t have the admirable endurance it would take to potentially change it from the inside. And so I will expend my energies lending support to those who are fighting its stance on gay marriage in the halls of the Capitol.

As I mentioned, the Church has done and is doing enormous good in the world on an institutional and everyday level.  It is, in fact, the good, everyday people of the Catholic Church who are its best hope, for God is in the details, not in the dictates of the few men – some sorely misguided – in power.  And someday, through these quiet, strong people, I hope to see the power structure re-adopt the idea that God lives in the community we create and share, the welcome and acceptance we provide to all — regardless of their differences or the way they choose to live or love.

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