Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why the Catholic Church in America is Divided

NOTE: The following commentary was first published May 25, 2012, on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests. The author, a Catholic woman from the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, shared with the editorial team of The Progressive Catholic Voice that the experiences she writes about in this piece "catalyzed me to the reform agenda."

One Catholic’s story:

More than 20 years ago, my beloved sister told us that she is lesbian. This sister is not a rebel. She is likeable, easy going, and had plenty of boyfriends. I don’t think that she wanted the label of being lesbian — she was out of touch for our family for two years before telling us. I was so happy that she accepted herself and I was proud of my family for our support of her. Later, I did Bible study on homosexuality, and became comfortable with being Christian and supporting responsible, loving gay relationships. Over the years, I became friends with other folks who are gay, and had the honor to serve some as clients.

During those years, I also found so much beauty in the Catholic church, in our loving, and welcoming parish, in our stand for the poor and marginalized. Sometimes, clients would joke with me about ‘Catholics and their good works.’ As a committed Catholic, I volunteered in my parish, educated my children in Catholic schools, was honored to spend time on the parish council, and learned to tithe to my church. As a professional woman, I was uncomfortable with the lack of progress on women’s ordination and the roll back of previously gender inclusive language and I was uncomfortable with the harsh language the church used to describe homosexuality. Despite this, the church was 70% good for me, and I compromised, thinking, ‘How can one ever get 1.2 billion Catholics to agree?’ and I loved being a part of a world-wide church.

Then, this spring, my parish began a campaign for the marriage amendment in our bulletins — I heard the first announcement at mass on Feb 12. Somehow, I had thought that this campaign would pass us by. I saw our pastor’s introduction of this advocacy, indicating that it regarded, ‘this important opportunity for Minnesota voters.’ As I reviewed the advocacy communications, one of my friend’s voices (a woman who is lesbian) rang in my head, ‘I don’t know how I’ll feel, what I’ll do, if this amendment passes’ and I could hear her hurt and worry. Between February 12 and the end of April, there were about 10 advocacy pieces, both direct and indirect. In May, there were more. This does not count the simultaneous ramp in communications on ‘all things marriage’

Throughout my 23 years at my parish, my husband, children and I had attended mass regularly, but starting with the amendment advocacy, I attended only intermittently, and my husband and I tried to figure out what to do next. We were so tied into our parish. Many of our friends go there and the parents of our children’s school friends. My husband I were Eucharistic ministers and our son played in the music ministry. I volunteered there for a charity I love, which supports abandoned children in South America. I realized that Catholicism was part of the fabric of our lives. It was passed onto me from my great, great grandmother, Johanna Burke, from Ireland, and to my husband, from his polish grandfather. But, I would look at the on-going advocacy communications and hear my friend’s voice in my head. I checked with other friends who are gay, and heard their feelings on the amendment, and the comment that most sticks with me is, ‘The amendment says to us we’re not ok.’

I expressed my views to my pastor in a letter. He thanked me for my heartfelt views, but indicated that the advocacy would continue. Over time, I came to know other parishioners in my situation. Several also expressed their concerns to our pastor. But the advocacy continued. We asked staff which parishioners were on the marriage amendment committee and they couldn’t share names. We asked if the meetings were open to others and were told they weren’t. Among these parishioners I’ve come to know is the mother of a gay son who says she feels beat up by this. Others who feel in pain are psychologists or health professionals, younger people, people who feel strongly about social justice, etc.

After much hesitation, this group of parishioners and I decided to attend the pro-amendment Archdiocesan session at our parish. We hoped to express our views, having felt that our voices had gone unheard. At the session, the facilitator indicated that there would be no verbal discussion, and questions were to be written down for answer by the speakers at the end.

The first speaker was a priest. He said that the church holds that homosexual acts are disordered, and that we are all broken. The implication was that gay folks who have an intimate relationship are acting in a broken way. He said that his greatest heroes are gay people who, ‘fall off the wagon’ then come to him saying, “Father, I want to try again.”

The next speaker was introduced as a “downtown attorney.” He went through the position of Minnesota for Marriage (the political group that advocates for the amendment). He listed the problems that he perceived with heterosexual marriage: divorce, cohabitation without marriage, etc., and then concluded that these problems will get worse if there is gay civil marriage. At the end of his talk, he cited seven to eight court cases which, I felt, were intended to create urgency among marriage amendment proponents for more action. Based on my knowledge of these cases, not all facts of each case were presented. The Archdiocesan representative wrapped up by asking attendees to have courage in pursuing marriage amendment advocacy.

After the session, I shared with the Archdiocesan representative, “what hurts the most is that the Archbishop knew, in rolling out this campaign, that there would be people like me — people who would get hurt — because these campaigns have been occurring throughout the country for over four years.” She expressed that the Archbishop cares about people like me and is praying for us every day. She explained that the Archbishop represents “the truth.”

It dawned on me, after talking with the Archdiocesan representative that the Archdiocesan leadership will not stop hurting people over this issue, or, I suppose, any issue where they feel they have “the truth.” I have come to believe that they simply do not have boundaries in place where they would say, “I really believe this, and want to promote it, but will not do so at the price of hurting others.”

After I left the Archdiocesan meeting, I also recognized that during the session, one group of parishioners, the marriage amendment committee members, were being encouraged by the Archdiocese to on-goingly hurt another group of parishioners. The first group may not know they are hurting the second group, but the Archdiocesan leadership knows. And, our parish leadership knows.

Along the way, I’ve also heard of courage in the Catholic church, of quite a number of parish priests in the Archdiocese “lying low” on the marriage amendment, or even writing or homilizing against the Archdiocesan actions, and of three retired priests who have directly come out against the amendment and said that gay Catholics and their families need allies. In addition, 80 former priests have also come out against the amendment.

It has been a journey to sort through what I think, overall. I do feel betrayed, at each level in the Catholic church, by my parish, by the Archdiocese, and by Rome. I have found my way to the local Catholic Coalition for Church Reform. I find these folks delightful, so learned in theology and church workings. And, so committed to the good they see in the Catholic church. In addition, the group from my parish and I have started actively volunteering with Minnesotans United for All Families; I suspect, that many of us would not have been as active in this initiative without the pain caused by our Archdiocese and parish. My husband and I have also been church hopping, close to our home, right here in the ‘burbs. At Lutheran churches we’ve heard thoughtful sermons, some by gifted female pastors, on tolerance, including regarding sexuality. At a Methodist church, the service was led by a talented young woman, and my neighbors told me that the church has a couple of active families led by lesbian couples.

Early in my journey, I talked with a rabbi, though I have found such good Catholic clergy since then. He advised me to find people like myself and not lose my relationship with God. While God and I have had a rocky time of it, I have found the rabbi’s words echoing back to me again and again, and I have been glad to hear them.


  1. Thank-you for your honesty in sharing this story and the change in your feelings about this church. It has been my church for 60 years, but it is causing grave hurt to many. I love it, but I made a decision at the beginning of Advent with the introduction of the new liturgy to take an indefinite leave of absence. Unfortunately, I live in a small community and my options for alternatives are limited. I keep my connection to a faith community by reading on-line and commenting on blogs such as yours.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am sure it resonates with many of us (including me) who have felt torn by our deep lifetime connection to the Church and the hurt that is now being injected into it. If there is a bright side, it has been in getting to know the many others who have struggled and are committed to change.

  3. Anne, keep your spirit up! If enough of us stand together, who knows what the Spirit will do? Thanks for writing.

  4. I have been away from MN for 12 years and absent from structured Catholicism even longer, but like many of us who feel the church somehow betrayed our faith-trust (my sin was to marry a divorced non-Catholic who had married in the church), I NEVER stop hoping for enlightened reform of the religion that governed my life as a child and young adult and still influences responsible choices I make in my middle age.
    Not only is the church tainting their integrity by aligning with a group that uses misleading nomenclature to gain victory, it is ignoring an opportunity to right a wrong, to evolve into a deeper level of spirituality, to remember that we are all unified as one.
    Namaste, Mary Boyne Capra

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have long hoped for some reform in the RCC, but the whole promotion of the marriage discrimination amendment has finally motivated me to leave, the straw that broke the camel's back. It's a bit of a tough decision: should we work and hope for reform from within, or cut ties and nurture our spiritual life elsewhere. I have two daughters, ages 9 and 12, and I realized that I cannot support Catholic teachings while working to instill values in them. If one of them turned out to be a lesbian, I would not tell them they were created against natural law, and should prepare for a life of celibacy. So, in what we are calling "The Summer of Trying New Things" we are looking at different churches. We went to the Episcopal church two weeks ago (where the girls got to see a woman priest!), and we will check out the Disciples of Christ tomorrow (where a husband and wife are co-pastors!). Luckily my husband is on board with this, but I do dread telling my parents and siblings.

  6. The Church has lost it's way. It is sad, but one needs to accept the plain facts. I have found the Episcopal Church, with it's litugy so close to that of the Roman Church, with it's inclusion of women and homosexuals, to be a source of comfort. To be completely frank, I am actually quite close to calling it "home".

  7. I also share your struggles. I have been deeply disappointed by the Catholic church's increasingly political diatribes during sermons. The "new" liturgy sounds like what used to be said pre-Vatican II---vague, disassociative language---and we're still saying "for us MEN and for our salvation" even though most attendees are FEMALE???? The last straw for me has been the assignment to my parish of 19 years the priest who fooled around with my non-Catholic best friend when we were 14----I know if I reported him to the Archdiocese they would plead statute of limitations or some other such dodge and not deal with the true rot that is so rampant in the church hierarchy. I'm so disillusioned by the current Catholic church...Come Home campaign...what a sad joke when people are leaving the church in droves. It's really sad, but when I felt the church getting between my relationship with God, it's time to say goodbye. From a 50+ year catholic.

  8. I am watching with great interest the early months of Pope Francis's reign. I like, no, love, what I am seeing and hearing. He gives me hope that there may be room for "progressives" in the Church after all.