Monday, November 13, 2006


Church is an immense presence in my family. I, like most Roman Catholics, have a lot of issues with the Church. Some of them are ethical, some are personal, and some are crises of faith within myself. In our town there are four Roman Catholic churches, one downtown, one in the boonies, one on the west side shoreline and one on the east side shoreline. I’ve been to all of them lots of times.

The west side church was my Mom’s parish when she was a little girl. The house she lived in was her family’s summerhouse, and after World War II they moved down to the summerhouse permanently. The east side church was my Dad’s parish when he was a kid. His family moved to that neighborhood when he was in high school. The downtown church has been the place where I have gone to lots of weddings, funerals, and baptisms. The boonie church was the church my family went to when I was little, until I was in third grade. When I was in fifth grade, my parents began sending us to Catholic school in the parish where my Mom grew up. This is still the church we go to when we go to church just to go to church, and where we do all our "Catholic" stuff.

I am cool with God. My problem is with religion. It seems to me the more I learn about any religion, including my own, the more religion seems to serve to separate us from each other and whatever it is we call God. There seems to be a lack of comprehension of the meaning in the performance of the rituals, a lack of conviction in the espousing of the dogma, and an abundance in the use of God and religion as an excuse to persecute others on many levels. As has been said many times, more evil has been perpetuated in the name of God, than for any other cause, in the history of humankind. Everyone is so concerned with the idea that my God can beat up your God that it is not common practice to recognize and embrace the similarities of belief and humanity between all religions. All religions want to characterize themselves as superior. All religions want to purport to provide their proponents with the highest form of salvation possible. All religions have elitism, sexism, and classism ingrained.

The reason my parents stopped going to the boonie church was due to a falling out with the head priest. According to the Catholic Church my parents were not married and their children were illegitimate. This is because my Dad was divorced. If you are divorced you can through a lengthy and vigorous process to get an annulment, which basically makes your old marriage, the one you got divorced from, not to have existed in the eyes of the Church. You need to do all kinds of interviews, and all kinds of testimony, and get all kinds of witnesses. This was technically a piece of cake for my Mom and Dad. My Dad had become a single father with full physical and legal custody of three children in 1968. Eventually the courts stripped his first wife of all parental rights and my Mom legally adopted my older siblings. Trust me, you have to be one screwy character to have your kids completely taken away, even now. For a MOTHER to have this done was very unusual at the time.

The problem came in with the annulment process and some decisions my parents made. My Mom and my Dad, to a great extent, but to a lesser extent than my Mom, were heavily involved in church activities. At that time priests from several parishes in the area lived together in this gorgeous house I absolutely loved. It had tons of bedrooms and bathrooms, and a pool, and huge yard to play in. My Mom and Dad helped them a lot. My Mom took care of their administrative work, and my Dad fixed stuff. This was a wonderful experience for me and for other kids whose parents were also involved. It was a life forming experience to get to know the priests as people and get to know about my religion in such a way. It was fun to see the Italian priest cook and fight in Italian with his sister when she came to visit. To spend time reading and looking at art books with the priest who was an art historian, to get to know the tiny little priest who always wore cowboy boots, and the priest who had a dog a took everywhere.

My Mom and Dad became especially close friends with the priest with the dog. They were all about the same age, and had a lot of similar experiences of childhood as Catholics. They experienced the transition of the Church through Vatican II, and had vivid, and humorous to me, memories of masses said in Latin with the priest’s back to the congregation. He came to visit us very often. We all loved him and his dog. He was funny and kind, and loved children. He was working with my Mom and Dad to process my Dad’s annulment. The seventies were a great time of change and development for the Catholic Church in American, and many priests, parishes and parishioners were breaking with Vatican sanctioned dogma and protocol. One issue with my parents was the fact that neither of them could receive communion because my Dad was divorced. The irony of the fact that this was so important to them, and that I am just not able to make that leap on transubstantiation has not escaped me. This was especially painful for my Mom. After talking with the priest with the dog, my Mom began to receive communion again. This was cool with everyone. No other parishioners gave her any shit about it, and others began to also explore their faith and make conscious decisions to embrace the Church and technically disobey it at the same time, you know by doing stuff like not having Irish twins, and being gay.

Meanwhile that really nice priest with the dog who loved kids and was helping my parents with the annulment was also going through a crisis of faith himself. A crisis he discussed at length with my Mom and Dad, as well as, of course, other friends and confidants. In the Catholic Church priests and nuns cannot get married and/or have children. This is a vow they take in dedicating their life to the Church. As I am sure most people know from negative press the Church has received in recent years the Catholic Church handles dissention in the ranks, and discipline of their clergy in prescribed manner. Wherein the transgressing clergy person is shuffled off to a retreat to explore their transgression, and make decisions about moving forward in the Church. A big huge fat transgression is choosing to leave the active priesthood to do funky crap like date so you can meet someone you like and marry them and have babies. The priest with the dog really desperately wanted to be a Daddy, and only slightly less desperately wanted to be a husband. As you can imagine this was a major problem for our parish. Everyone loved him and would miss him, and the founding priest of the parish was furious.

The founding priest was the problem. Lets pretend his name was Father Judas. Father Judas had founded the parish in the late sixties, and my parents and others joked behind his back that he thought the parish was called Saint Father Judas. He was not a big fan of the young, hip, socially relevant priest with the dog. He thought this guy was going to screw everything up. So, when the priest with the dog got shuffled off the Arizona by the Church to reflect upon his decision, Father Judas was happy as a pig in shit. To celebrate, the first Sunday after the priest with the dog left, Father Judas refused to give my Mom communion while she was standing right there in line, and it was her turn. He admonished her, and kicked her out of the Church. So, we stopped going to church regularly. My parents kept in touch with the priest with the dog, and eventually we got a Christmas card of him with a picture of him with his wife, a former nun who he met after leaving the priesthood, and their baby. So, this is why I have a problem with religion. God does not give a shit if we love someone so much we want to marry them. God does not give a shit about Father Judas’ ego. God wants us to believe in something beyond ourselves. For our lives to have meaning, and for us to have solace in difficult times, and camaraderie in happy times. This is why I am trying to decide if I am going to give up on being Catholic. I want to be closer to God. I do not want to be separated from my faith by bureaucratic bullshit and rules created a long time ago to give order to a society radically different from the one we now live in. Rules that are enforced by people who are more interested in being in charge than in being Christian.

1 comment:

SkippyMom said...

This interested me greatly - My Skippyhusband is Catholic and I was married to my first husband in the Episcopal Church - we had a bad divorce [he was documented/arrested for abuse] - so I thought an annulment would be easy once I converted to Catholicism [not that different really]and my ex agreed anyway - the Catholic church would only approved all the paper work after we donated a large sum of money to the Church. We didn't have it at the time...funny thing?

My ex husband died on Sunday - now I know I can re marry my beloved SkippyHusband in the Church for our upcoming anniversary.

Do I want to?

Nice thought provoking post.