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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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Brenda Beukelman
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 11:44:29

    Thank you for sharing your letter and for having the conviction to stand.

    Reply

  2. Julie
    Oct 17, 2012 @ 00:11:15

    Thank you for writing and sharing this. I wholeheartedly agree with you and feel encouraged by people like you who are Christians and see it when their own church is not acting in accordance with Jesus’ teachings about love for all people. And they don’t mindlessly follow an authority figure even when it’s the pope.

    The mindless following of authority figures has led to some unimaginably inhumane behaviors towards groups of people (such as Jews). The Milgram study, which was focused on trying to understand how something like the Holocaust could happen, showed that most people electrocuted (not really, but they thought they were doing so) another person just because the researcher in charge of the study told them to. What enabled them to do such a thing was that they felt little responsibility for the harm they were causing; they saw the researcher as the one responsible for their behavior. It kind of reminds me of “the Devil made me do it” abdication of responsibility.

    Most of us like to think that if we had been in the study, we wouldn’t have continued to engage in inhumane behavior no matter what the authority figure was telling us, but only a minority of people in the study actually refused to continue giving electric shocks even when they could see that it was (they thought) causing serious harm to the person. If we’re not willing to think for ourselves, how could we have NOT been in that group that electrocuted someone (or thought they did).

    I am amazed that those who are voting yes and talk about their religious freedom being violated aren’t bothered by the fact that they are voting to take away another group of peoples’ religious freedom–those churches, etc. that believe in marrying same-sex couples. No one can make a church marry a couple they don’t want to marry. A church can refuse to marry a straight couple just on the basis of something like church membership. How is allowing people who have different beliefs to practice that religion violating THEIR religious freedom? I think they have it turned around as far as whose religious freedom is being violated. And/or they only care about religious freedom when it’s their religious freedom. Double standards, anyone?

    I believe that one day, after there is LGBT equality, most people will look back on the same-sex marriage issue and see it for the equal rights issue that it is. It’s just that this time it it is LGBT folks instead of African Americans or women who are being discriminated against.

    If we put it in our constitution that only heterosexual couples can marry, we will be making all Minnesotans behave in accordance with one religious belief. History was my worst subject, but I seem to remember that the founders of our country thought that separation of church and state was kind of important. Like, very important.

    P.S. If anyone cares about this and is not already working with Minnesotans United For All Families to defeat this hurtful amendment, please really consider it. We only have 21 days left to do it.

    Reply

    • mollykelash
      Oct 19, 2012 @ 00:09:46

      Hi there:
      You should post this somewhere other than as a response to my blog — what a great, thoughtful response! I so appreciate that you took the time to write it. And I agree — only a few short days to work toward and important civil rights issue. And, yeah, separation of church and state is VERY, VERY IMPORTANT TO A REAL AND FUNCTIONING DEMOCRACY….RIGHT YOU ARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Reply

  3. LoAnn Mockler
    Oct 18, 2012 @ 14:40:57

    Molly, how eloquently written. Thank you for sharing this letter. Voting NO.

    Reply

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