Wednesday, October 18, 2006

There Were Cracks

There should be a self-help organization for people like me. And something tells me that if there was, the meeting hall would be filled to capacity. Here is what I’d say at the first meeting:

Hi, my name is Seething Mom and I am a former Catholic. Yup, I was one of those “Cradle Catholics”, born into a good Catholic family and officially baptized into Catholicism at about 3 weeks of age, indoctrinated into the Catholic faith before the world could taint me with alternatives, educated in the Catholic schools, and religiously ushered to the corner Catholic Church every Sunday for mass come cold or flu, rain or shine. My early years were so immersed in Catholicism that I wasn’t even aware that there were actually people who were not Catholic.

Yes I was Catholic, but even at a very young age I grappled mightily with some of the Church’s teachings that just did not make sense to me. At the tender age of 4 I wondered why my precious little baby brother (the fourth in as many years) had to have water poured over his head so he would not burn in hell if he should die, I could not imagine how something so little, so cute, and so helpless could already be so stained with sin that a supposedly loving God would banish him to some fiery place underground to burn for eternity. And if he was that dirtied in sin, why wasn’t it God’s fault? I mean c’mon the little thing was just 3 weeks old, fresh from the “God factory”, and completely unable to do a thing for itself let alone sin on a scale so big he’d go straight to hell if he died? And what about those babies not lucky enough to live long enough to be baptized – were they doomed for eternity because they had the audacity to die before they got water poured over their heads? If God was so perfect, why was He giving us imperfect goods?

At the age of 5 I wondered why I had to cover my head each time I walked into the church, while my 4 very naughty little brothers did not. I was far better behaved than them in church and yet I was the one God didn’t want to look at. And why did the Catholic powers-that-be suddenly decide that the once unbreakable rule of covering the female-only head was all-of-a-sudden not so important and drop it into the “never-mind” file?

And when I was 6 years old I wanted to know why on earth the nuns preparing me for “First Communion” felt the urgent need to instill so much fear in me about swallowing any kind of food or drink one hour before communion. They had me so worried that I was actually afraid to brush my teeth within that dreaded hour for fear of accidentally swallowing some of the Crest on my toothbrush, and yet I didn’t have to worry at all about going out for pancakes right after communion - when “the Body of Christ” was still sloshing around in my tummy. And then I was forced to wonder yet again why the once unbreakable rule of fasting before communion suddenly became breakable when it too was tabled in the name of updating Church traditions.

And when I got to the fifth grade I learned that missing Mass was a mortal sin, but then so was going out and killing someone (huh?). Even the “dumb” kids in class were puzzled by that one.

And when I got to high school I learned that to be a really good Catholic you had to get married, shun birth control, and have lots and lots of babies, regardless of the mother’s health, regardless of whether the family could afford to raise all those babies or not, and regardless of whether the family was emotionally equipped to provide all those babies with a healthy, stable, and loving home.

But probably the biggest problem I had as a teenager (most likely because my own mother was living the epitome of a disastrous, destructive and family-shattering marriage) was the church’s stand on divorce and remarriage. Divorcing an abusive spouse was frowned upon but “legal” as long as you didn’t ever remarry while said erroneous ex-love-of-your-life was still breathing. That was definitely forbidden in the Catholic Church. In fact it was such a big no no that you could no longer receive the very sacraments that were supposedly going to save your soul from eternal damnation if you screwed up in life, which of course was what you were doing if you remarried.

But wait --- there was a way around that pesky little rule --- if you had the money or knew somebody in the right places of the Catholic hierarchy --- you could get this magical thing called an annulment --- and then everything was all better, you could dump the lousy spouse, remain in the Catholic Church’s good graces and be worthy again for all those soul-saving sacraments necessary to get to heaven. And best of all --- according to the Catholic Church, that bad ole marriage --- “poof” --- never even existed. You could just pretend it was just a nasty dream --- and so would the Catholic Church (amazing the amount of blindness a few bucks can buy). And what about all the children of those “vanished into thin air” marriages, you ask --- well don’t, the Catholic Church doesn’t really have an explanation that makes sense.

Oh I could go on an on, but suffice it to say that there were many cracks in my Catholic faith and it was getting worse as I got older. And yet up until about 3 years ago, nothing was big enough to make me say good-bye and walk away. I stayed and became more cynical and more willing to overlook what I considered wrong with the Church. And I cannot explain why I allowed this unhealthy dynamic to continue, maybe it was laziness, maybe it was comfort with what I’d known all my life, or maybe it was an excuse to call myself a good church-going Christian, but whatever the reason, it was wrong.

And then the pedophile priest/Catholic hierarchy/cover-up scandal came to light and those cracks in my Catholic faith got oh-so-much bigger. The problems I’d been having with the Catholic Church’s nutty rules slowly began growing into a percolating under-the-surface anger and defiance. How dare those people shake their finger at me for daring to question some of their idiotic rules when for decades they have been committing horrible, unspeakable sins against children and covering it up to protect their beloved Church. And how dare they think they have the moral authority to tell anyone that they are sinners when they themselves chose to ignore and hide their own sins at the expense of so many innocent victims? I was utterly disgusted and enraged, but amazingly, not angry enough to say good-bye. I had become the classic Cafeteria Catholic, going through the motions so that I could say I was a good Catholic, but unfaithful to many of the Catholic Church’s teachings and even worse unfaithful to myself.

And then 3 years ago it finally happened --- 22 years into a good marriage (blessed by the Catholic Church of course) and 3 wonderful children later (all planned and timed with the help of birth control), the cracked and crumbling “thing” I was calling my Catholic faith finally came tumbling down around me.

We learned we had a gay son, an abomination in the eyes of God according to the Catholic Church, an intrinsically evil and objectively disordered human being according to the Pope. And even worse, according to the Catholic Church we had a son who, unlike my innocent 3 week-old baby brother I watched get baptized some 40 years earlier, could never look to a cup of water to wash away the sins he would be committing if he chose to do what loving humans do: fall in love and commit to someone.

That is what it took for me to finally walk away forever - a church telling me that my son is evil when I know in my gut he is not. God does not make babies stained with sin then doom them eternally if they are not baptized, and God does not make people gay and then deem them “intrinsically evil” if they choose to love. God does not make mistakes. But the Catholic Church sure has.


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