This is the letter I am sending one of the campus ministers who helps run the campus Catholic parish that I attend in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I started attending this church when I was in grade school and returned to it when I became a college student. I am a core member of their wonderful little choir. The campus minister is NOT a priest...just a "helper" I guess. This campus minister has been there for much of my college experience and I greatly respect and appreciate her. I have talked many times with her about my doubts regarding the moral authority of the Church. Here, I tell her my journey with the Catholic Church is over.
I am thinking that this will be my last semester at St. Thomas Aquinas. I have spent 10 years since having come out trying to rationalize how my participation in the Church does not harm millions of LGBT people, women, and the poor around the world.
I told myself that because I have not donated money in years, that I am not supporting the Church. I have told myself that I sing not out of service to the Church, but for personal enjoyment and the ego boost I get when someone gives us a compliment. I have stopped receiving communion because I don't want to pretend to even myself that I believe all that the Church stands for.
I was already drifting, but recent events have made the cognitive dissonance impossible to maintain. First, I personally know the gentleman who was sexually assaulted by the priest at St. Joseph in Fayetteville, and I completely believe his story. Yet I hear the priest is soon receiving a new assignment.
More important though, is the recent revelations surrounding Cardinal Ratzinger. I knew I didn't like him to begin with. I much prefer the spiritual leadership of two previous pope's who died before I was even born. I have long rationalized that American Catholics follow their own beliefs and that the American Bishops sometime reflect this. Telling myself that I can be an American Catholic, and believe along with my peers that things like birth control are humane and not in conflict with G-d, used to comfort me and silence the questions from my friends, both non-believers and recovering Catholics in the LGBT and progressive communities.
Any kind of effort to hide the evil actions of priests is beyond rationalization. Keeping information from legal authorities is not just a sin against the state and its citizens, but it is a sin against G-d and his children. Cardinal Ratzinger equates freedom and equality for gay people with a violent act against human dignity. Out of the other side of his mouth he directs the Church to shelter those who act to destroy individual humans and families. I don't think the Church should hand down judgment as if they were G-d, but at minimum they should protect their members AND obey the law.
A sad fact of this is that I am probably a deeper Catholic in many ways than other people my age, or even my three brothers. My moral code is drawn from the teachings of Jesus and from the traditions of the Semitic people. My sense of humility (which sometimes keeps be from trying to succeed for myself) and duty to those less fortunate drive my political beliefs. I think politics should bring the gifts of G-d to the biggest number of people possible. The proverb of fish versus fishing means to me not that we “teach” people to somehow raise themselves to the middle class, or even to the working class for those in the developing world. I believe that the message for our day is that we should not temporarily relieve poverty or suffering and attach a deadline for such assistance. I believe we are to create an economy where there are so many opportunities and incentives for people to provide for themselves. If there are not enough jobs because of how we structure the perverse incentives of our greed as an economy, then we should provide for those that fall through the cracks. We should always be humble….and being humble to those around you is being humble to G-d.
The Bible talks far more about poverty and how we treat money than it talks about any of the issues that seemingly divide Americans today. The insistence of the Church on elevating issues of personal freedom like sexuality and contraception detracts from the great and pressing evil of governments that assist humanity in fulfilling en masse the basest of urges: greed. While the Church uses scare tactics and moralizing to discourage condom use in Africa, millions are infected with HIV and their illness wreaks havoc on the micro and macro economies in their nations. In this country the Church equates marriage equality to a threat against human dignity and an attack on families. Meanwhile our collective greed was allowed to entice families into situations so precarious that the slightest change in their financial situation sent them into bankruptcy and foreclosure. The statistics say nothing ruins a marriage and threatens the family like bankruptcy. The anecdotal evidence tends to agree.
I am at the point that I think calling myself a Catholic and associating with the Church is not my best option if I am to continue to try to contribute to a world that is worthy of a creator G-d. I feel like I will no longer attend a Catholic church regularly. Being invited to sing for weddings or funerals is still something that will draw me back from time to time. Attending in order to celebrate special personal rituals of my family members will also call me back. Whether I will call myself ex-Catholic or a recovering Catholic is a good question. Non-practicing? A cultural Catholic? Where do I go? The Unitarian Universalists?
So here I am on Holy Thursday about to leave the Church. I will fulfill my obligation to sing at Easter Mass and our upcoming Multicultural Mass. I owe that to my choir director and the people with whom I have enjoyed singing. I don’t owe the Church anything else and if I owe G-d and his people something, it certainly won’t be repaid through the Catholic Church.
******, your guidance has helped me to continue my faith journey at St. Thomas Aquinas. I feel that you reminded me that despite my frustrations that I should remain humble, be introspective, and seek to understand some universal wisdoms. You made me feel welcome as a human being. That respect was one of very few reasons why I tried to continue growing my resolve that the core Catholic teachings about what we are to do on this Earth are good and true things. Thank you for your patience and service to humanity.
PS. Feel free to share this with either Father or those with whom you work. Understanding the inner conflict of a rational and educated student surely helps St. Thomas Aquinas minister to the University of Arkansas community.