Should I Stay or Should I Go? Liberalism in the Catholic Church

Our understanding of religion is invariably linked to the spiritual environment we grew up in. My views on the validity and worth of other faiths is governed in large part by the attitudes passed down to me by clergy and family during my youth. I was raised Episcopalian, a faith which came about because a British king wanted to schtup a woman with six-fingers on her hands and couldn’t because the prudish Pope wouldn’t grant him a divorce from his homely Spanish wife. Needless to say, the Episcopal church (Anglican church in the UK) isn’t exactly a hotbed of fundamentalist sentiment. I can say with great pride that we were the first major Christian denomination to elect an openly gay bishop and are currently led by Katherine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop over the national church. As far back as 1976, the church declared homosexuals as “children of god” who were entitled to full civil rights. I am grateful for my tolerant spiritual upbringing and still consider myself in many ways to be Episcopalian, even though my own spirituality is not necessarily aligned with Christianity.

Pope Benedict XVI — Scariest Santa Ever

While perusing the Twitter-sphere today, I came across a link to an article on LGBTQ Nation on what to do with the Catholic Church. The article, by Wayne Besen, the Founding Executive Director of the gay advocacy group Truth Wins Out, advocated for exodus from the pews to other, more accepting denominations of Christendom. It is an understandable and reasonable stance to take for a non-profit group fighting anti-gay religious sentiment to take. It is quite clear that the Vatican has a long and reprehensible history when it comes to pretty much anything ending with the word rights (gay rights, women’s rights, civil rights…you get the idea). In this country, and in many others, the Catholic Church has become inextricably linked with pedophilia and deceit surrounding it’s handling of sex abuse internally. Everything here suggests that a conscientious, “liberal Catholic” should simply wave goodbye to his or her church and join a more accepting congregation. The problem is that religion doesn’t work that way.

People don’t pick their religions after years of careful and rational deliberation. You are born into a faith and odds are better than not that you’re going to die in that faith. Those that chose to switch denominations or even religions often do so for social reasons as much as theological ones. I’m not saying that Besen’s suggestion is a bad one…far from it. My favorite quote on religion comes from that wittiest of ex-altar boys, George Carlin, who famously said that he was Catholic until he reached the age of reason. All I am saying is that it’s a fool’s errand to appeal for people to abandon a lifetime’s worth of religious teaching and, let’s face it, indoctrination because they oppose a tenant of the church’s platform. Hell, if Catholics were going to up and bolt based on a colossal lapse in ethical judgement, they probably would have split town when the Vatican decided to sit on its hands while millions of Jews, homosexuals, Romanies and political prisoners were murdered during the second World War.

The Catholic church is still here in America, if not in the same numbers as in previous centuries. And while you still have a number of hardline Catholics who rigidly adhere to everything put forth y the Vatican, there is a large chunk of Catholics who, liberal or conservative, take much of their religion with a grain of salt. I attended Xavier University for undergrad and got a chance to see a good number of people who fit this description as Xavier is run by Jesuits, the academic order of priests in the Catholic Church. Almost everyone I met who did consider themselves Catholic self-identified as a “Vatican II Catholic”. For the uninitiated, the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) was an ecumenical council that met during the 1960s to sort of shape where the Catholic Church would align itself within the framework of a modern world. Looking at the decisions that were made at the council, Vatican II doesn’t seem that revolutionary or substantive. However, it did give birth to a schism within the church between the old belief structure and a newer, less literal interpretation of Catholicism. Basically, saying you’re a Vatican II Catholic is saying that you don’t really put much stock in the Papacy or the minutiae of Catholic doctrine, but that you believe in the spiritual underpinnings of the church.

Vatican II Catholics still identify themselves as Catholic and why shouldn’t they? Their belief, be it literal or metaphoric, in Christ and the Holy Trinity doesn’t have jack to do with the scandals involving pedophiliac priests or birth control in the workplace. Last time I checked, there wasn’t anything in the Nicene Creed about legislating a woman’s reproductive organs. So, what I propose is a natural end to a process that was started 50 years ago. Why don’t Vatican II Catholics simply form their own version of the Catholic Church? What’s to stop them? The authority of the Pope they will no longer be beholden to? I personally see no reason why tolerant and accepting Catholics can’t formally split from the church that is clearly on the wrong side of history and begin anew.

I’m not Catholic and I can’t fully identify with the situation Vatican II Catholics find themselves in, but I can find parallels to my own experience. Being a dyed-in-the wool New Deal Democrat and borderline Socialist, I have on many occasions heard my like-minded friends and family talk about the desire or need to move out of the US to Europe or Canada if things keep drifting to the right here. This type of argument strikes me as similar to the one urging liberal Catholics to jump ship and swim to another church and I’m here to say they shouldn’t do it—not if they believe in the heart of their Catholic faith. To simply leave would be to give credence to the church’s positions and to go on their terms. No amount of hateful, ignorant social policy and action should force anyone to give up their faith, even if they do so only in name. Give people a choice of Catholic Churches: one built on Christ’s teachings and the other built on the stooped shoulders of men in pointy hats.

As a reward for making it this far, here is the genius of the great George Carlin:

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Categories: LGBT News, Social Justice

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