As a young boy I believed in Jesus. I believed in Santa Claus. I believed that my mother knew what was true and what was not. I believed that priests, nuns, and bishops were holy people who had a special connection to God.
I wanted to be a priest. I had dreams of becoming a martyr–there would be nothing more glorious than dying for one’s religion. I wanted to be a witness to the truth of the Catholic Church.
And then somewhere along the line I grew up. I read the Bible critically and found inconsistencies throughout. I reasoned and questioned, something the Catholic Church of my youth never appreciated. I listened to the condemnation of others by the Church and I noted the hypocrisy of the Church’s enormous wealth as contrasted with Jesus’ teachings to cast off one’s belongings and follow him, to give to the poor and feed the hungry. I have no patience with hypocrisy from powerful men. And so I left the Church.
My departure from the Catholic Church was not easy. It was like part of an extended family. There were brothers and sisters and the holy mother, Mary. Priests were fathers, the Pope was the Holy Father, and God was the father of all. For a boy whose own father had died of a heart attack when I was two years old I had many father figures in the Church. Like a teenager realizing his father is not a perfect hero it was difficult to come to the realization that those father figures were no more holy than me, that their answers were dogmatic and inflexible, and that unlike Jesus who welcomed prostitutes and others without judgment the hierarchy of the Church judged everyone’s worthiness and did not welcome all.
I lost my faith in the Church even before I came out, but coming out made it impossible to go back. I was not welcome. At one point in my 30’s I tried. I found a community of believers in Denver who were part of a nationwide LGBT Catholic group called Dignity that held onto their Catholic beliefs and who had mass said for them and received communion from sympathetic priests. There was certainly more true faith in that small group of believers than I had ever seen in parishes elsewhere. After all, they were believing in a faith that wouldn’t believe in them. But I couldn’t help but notice that we didn’t meet in a Catholic Church, as we weren’t welcome, and that the priests who served us did so in secret. The realization that while these people were filled with spirit and joy in their beliefs they were unwelcome in the arms of the Church caused me to give up trying to return to my religious upbringing.
It is said that “once a Catholic, always a Catholic” and there is truth to that in several ways. Many fallen-away Catholics will return to the fold after some time and those of us who don’t are so inculcated with Church doctrine and religious training that our lives are lived as if we are still part of the Church in many ways.
Yet because it is so much a part of my history and shaped who I am in so many ways it feels like a greater betrayal when I hear representatives of the Church do their best to make me feel less than worthy of their acceptance.
Today I happened upon a gathering called Capitol Rosary Rally 2012. It was called by Madison’s Bishop Morlino, a conservative man whose values contrast sharply with the historical Jesus. Morlino has pushed the Madison diocese in a very right-wing direction, much to the dismay of many of the churchgoers in the area. In Platteville there has been an incredible resistance to his placement of ultra-conservative priests there and he has more or less demanded that people stop complaining or they may face punishment, including the taking away of sacraments, the lifeblood of a true believer’s faith. In parishes around southern Wisconsin congregants walked out of a mass at which he forced priests to play a tape condemning the idea of marriage equality, among other things. There was a threat of punishment for any priest who did not follow his orders. He has angered many with his intractable views. This is also a man who was involved on a Board at the School of the Americas, a U. S. Army training ground for Latin American military leaders, many of whom have been involved in bloodthirsty actions and human rights abuses in their native countries. Jesus would more likely have been among those arrested protesting the school.
The event today was ostensibly a rosary circle against abortion. As it started the Bishop stood in front of the crowd at the State Capitol–not a cathedral–with dozens of people waving American flags, and stated that it was not a political rally, but a prayer rally. One of his toadies then took the microphone and talked about how they would be praying to end abortion and birth control–yes, ending birth control–and praying for the traditional family structure. Queers are not welcome in the Catholic Church. So clearly it was not a political rally as these are clearly not political issues, right?
I couldn’t stay. I wanted to take pictures and document it and any possible counter rally, but to hear representatives of the Church in which I was raised show again how unwelcome I really am in their midst was too much for me to bear. I had to leave.
I know I will never again be a part of the Church. I feel like a prodigal son who was not welcomed back home and who, in fact, was kicked out and told never to return. I have respect for people like my mother who are true believers in the core messages of the Church. I have respect for the teachings of the historical Jesus. But I cannot respect leaders like Bishop Morlino and the Pope whose fealty is to their own power and not to the God of their own religion. If there is any truth to the faith, then they are the moneylenders in the temple, they are the Pharisees, and they are the ones who worship the golden calf, the hypocrites who need to remove the beam from their own eyes before casting the mote out of the eyes of their followers.