A recent essay by Kaya Oakes (“Waiting for Facts,” on killingthebuddha.com) describes a situation in her Berkeley campus Catholic community in which a well-liked pastor and priest (one of whom, apparently, is openly gay) were autocratically removed from the parish. Add in an article in the National Catholic Reporter linked by this Tweet: Augustinian priest: “What I would like to see is a conversation where women are considered to be people,” and you’ve got a good case for disheartenment, aka, a day in the life of a Catholic on the margins.
One question is: Why do we stay? Or in my case, why do I (try to) return?
The answers are complicated, and make far less sense to non-Catholics than to all varieties of Catholics, especially the lapsed, and the relapsed lapsed. I can only try to explain mine.
First, the reasons to leave: clergy-child sex abuse scandal; scathing intolerance of the GLBTQ community; second-class citizenship of women (an issue in itself re: leadership and opportunity but also entirely related to disparaging and oppressive rules about birth control. Evidence exists, world-wide, that access to birth control improves women’s success–and so their families’–in education, work, political and economic power).
All right, so maybe it doesn’t seem like there’s any comeback to this. What could possibly make a person return to this? Two things would help. First of all: identify and prosecute the pedophiles, and the people who covered up (are still covering up?) their crimes. It is disheartening, in the least, that I used to be able to argue (without necessarily agreeing) that the reason the Catholic Church is so conservative about the use of some forms of birth control and so passionately anti-abortion is that it is a bulwark for the defense and protection of the lives of children.
No one can say that any more.
The second thing that might mitigate a return? If the Catholic Church could get over this notion that sex between consenting adults is bad, shameful, decidedly un-godly. I would pray to Mary as the mother of Jesus, as the wife of Joseph, as a blessed woman even if she wasn’t a virgin. I don’t think nuns or priests or monks need to be celibate in order for them to be holy. (I do need them to have sex with only consenting adults, however.) As for gay sex, or straight sex that is not for the purpose of procreation? Many consenting adults like sex that doesn’t make babies. This is the 21st century. Women, particularly, need this option in order to take good care of themselves, and of the babies they may choose to have. To say otherwise is simply to say that women are valuable only in their ability to have children. Or as virgins. This is not acceptable.
Acceptance of non-procreatant sex does not mean that a sex partner is the same as a tennis partner. Surely we can teach our children the difference. Surely we can we raise our girls and boys in a way that allows for the beauty of their individual sexuality, the potential sacredness of an adult sexual relationship that does or not not include children, the pleasures of consensual sex without encouraging its random, heart-less, soul-less just-for-sport use.
We can do this.
We have to. Because I want to return to this Catholic Church, in spite of the Catholic Church. Because the smell of incense and old wood makes me feel…holy. Because praying the rosary is like meditation. Because all those saints are just more people to whom we can pray. Because all that ritual grounds me, makes a kind of majesty the world is worse off without.
One thing I’ve decided is that atheism lack imagination. I am a fiction writer–I have a good imagination. I can imagine God, and Heaven, and all the angels and saints. And I can also imagine a Catholic Church that truly honors and protects children, that accepts women and the GLBTQ community as equals, that accepts the humanity, the sacredness of sex between adults who want to enjoy its gifts, whether or not it’s to make babies.