I am a convert to Catholicism, which means I don’t bring the familial or cultural emotional baggage that would keep some in the Church.
I am an adult convert to Catholicism, which means I chose with, purportedly, a mind capable of following logic.
I am a feminist.
I support the full human rights of people of all race, creed, and sexual orientation.
Therein lies the rub.
I am also well-versed in my Church’s history. I know its warts and its moments of beauty and I converted in spite of/because of them. When I sit in my Church I feel an unbroken connection in the ways of devotion with at least a millennium and a half of other Christians. I love that my priest wears the garb of a fourth-century Roman bureaucrat and that we pray in the same position of vassals pledging homage and fealty to their lords. I love the Nicene Creed because I know that each line was carefully debated and hard-fought for.
I love that my Church has fought for the rights of the marginalized, but I know they have also been among their worst persecutors.
Maybe I’m exercising nostalgia, but I do not recall my Church being as aggressively intolerant and as in-everyone-else’s-face with its more outmoded teachings in the years I was deciding to convert. I used to excuse them by saying the Church is slow to change. Really slow. But it has changed. On most issues. Sometimes changed and reverted and then changed again. Sometimes just gone quiet for a couple of centuries and then picked up the banner again. I have also said you can’t change an institution from the outside and don’t throw out the baby with the bath water and assorted other truisms.
However, more and more when I read the news I cringe at the public face of my Church. The word Catholic today brings to mind images of anti-woman, restrictive reproductive politics; corrupt covering-their-asses officials who privileged themselves over the needs of the most vulnerable; and the hypocrisy of preaching the value of all life and the love commandment while denying the right to love to those whose love does not fit within their narrow definitions. The bishops’ letter regarding the Ryan budget was the first piece of news in months involving the American Catholic hierarchy that has not made me cringe.
I will admit that they are consistent in their preaching of their sexual doctrines. I should be punished for practicing contraception and engaging in sex outside of marriage just as another is punished for sex with someone with the same genitalia.
But I can receive communion, serve in the lay ministry, and give commencement addresses at Catholic schools where those in the second category above cannot. Why? Because I can pass as a proper Catholic. I can quietly live my life according to my conscience and not be publicly upbraided for my choices and denied communion in all of its senses.
If I had been someone who could pass as white in the 1950s south, would I have gone along accepting things the way they are because things in the south change slowly, but they do change and you can’t reform an institution from the outside and there was a lot of good in southern culture that shouldn’t be tossed out because of some bits of ugliness? Would I have sat at the lunch counter while someone with the same genetics but different skin pigment was denied the same privilege?
Is the answer to move north? Or to protest the lunch counter?
It seems a clear question, but it is not. And so I remain conflicted and Catholic.