TweetI was recently engaging in an online disagreement turned ugly about my identification as a catholic. In all fairness, it was my fault. I commented when I should have known better.
A newspage I had liked on Facebook for its incisive perspective on current events posted a link to an article that reported on priest whose homophobic and absurd remarks to a senior class prompted outrage, emotion, and tears. The link was sent out with a remark, basically saying if you identify as catholic, you’re “complicit” in all the wrongdoings of the church.
What ensued was inevitable, and I knew this. Anytime I willfully enter a shitstorm with someone who basically hates the Catholic Church, I can’t really complain about getting poop on all over me.
What I took issue with was not the history of the Catholic Church. It seems any time I enter a debate about the Catholic Church, people feel the need to list all of the historical evils, as if I am not aware or do not have daily run-ins, struggles, and doubts about those very things myself. (Sexism, homophobia, gender essentialism, its past stance on war, interracial marriage, slavery…the list goes on…)
No, what I took issue with is the concept that anyone who identifies as Catholic is, as one commenter labeled me, an accessory to child pedophilia and a scandalous cover-up. Nothing short of leaving the church and ceasing all financial contributions would appease this writer who disagreed with me.
Perhaps that’s one way to show dissent, but organizing across temples and synagogues, churches, and faiths to garner collective strength to create change, to call for greater transparency, to demand funding for local public schools, to meet with religious leaders – that is not dissent?
It soon dawned on me what my upset emotions were all about. Somewhere inside me, this “discussion” touched on a very raw nerve that few people have danced upon. It’s the loose canon inside me that goes off when people expect me to apologize for being Catholic. It’s the rage people tap into when “dissent” is measured by abandoning, by retreating, and thwarting funds to claim you are doing it for the children, the gays, the women, the mistreated, the marginalized.
That would be fine and good to live in a world where I believed that that would create some force of change.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think attending or belonging to the Catholic Church is for everyone, but when it is asserted that the Catholics who are doing healing, ministering, transformative work within the church are hypocrites unless dissent is done in one specific way, how is that prerequisite any different from the straight, narrow, and suffocating definition of power the Church itself often exercises?
Working for change within the walls or outside the walls of the church is slow, and yes, women, men, and children are being beaten and raped, by predators disguised as priests everyday. But tell me, instruct me, show me how justice comes if not from the inside? Tell me how a mother births a child from outside her body.
My faith is a personal choice because faith is a personal experience for me. It can’t be summed up in words, let alone a comment box on the internet. I am not naïve in thinking it does not come with public judgment, preconception, mockery, and activist litmus tests, but I suppose I had assumed that my personhood and my work would be respected even if my label as a Catholic is trashed. Maybe I should revisit that assumption.
Sometimes I wish I could live as the writer outlined. How wonderfully binary the world could be if I could just – with the snap of my wallet and my decision to abandon all the values of my cultural heritage instilled through Catholicism – claim dissent by disappearing from the pew. But that is not how change occurs.
The experience of the church of as feminist of color is a painful existence on a daily basis, but it’s an experience that I choose –YES, I CHOOSE – each day. Perhaps someday I will choose differently, but from what I can see of the world, from my perspective of institutional abuse, scandal, and oppression, removal of oneself is a terminal one-step plan. Nothing happens after you cut off your ties. You leave. No one follows you screaming, “COME BACK!” You leave of your own volition and silence follows your exit. Someone asked me what good comes of my working and resisting within the church? Well, a helluva lot more good than if I left.
How effective is my letter written to Xavier University which just announced its ceasing birth control coverage for its employees if I just write my name at the end instead of identifying as frustrated and pissed off alum who wants and expects more dialogue? How much change can I truly be a part of if I attend a theology course and raise my hand to yell at the professor when instead I can be the educator and raise my own questions of the subject matter?
Dissent is not absence of presence, but a critical and evaluated execution of power and privilege to uplift the marginalized and silenced in the tedious birthing of transformative practice.
All of the history, all of the relationships built between the suffering and the celebration warrants and calls for change, which is why I stay, why I choose to stay Catholic. It is infinitely harder to stay and every single day I want to leave. Every. single. day. But I stay. Not out of guilt, not out of a mommy-daddy-will-be-mad complex. I stay because I know of no political or religious institution without human error. Catholicism, to me, is a microcosm of life. To me, there is no liberation in cutting myself off from what I know needs change. If I left every relationship or organization that caused me sleepless nights or caused harm to those who I love and am accountable to, I would have no citizenship, family, education, religion, or belief to speak of. I don’t choose to stay because I need the identity of a formal institution. I choose to stay because I am scared shitless if I think about what could happen if everyone that gave a damn packed their bags and left the church. I choose to be Catholic because I believe in the symbolism of fire, water, hands, and spirit. I choose Catholicism because I know women and transwomen are worthy, loving, and capable religious leaders. I choose to be catholic because I know most people disagree with me and if I join the cool crowd of absenteeism in the name of activism, I’d be betraying what I know to be true inside my activist heart: most things worth fighting for are gonna outlast you, but that doesn’t mean you should
abandon the cause.
I choose to be and stay catholic because at the heart, Jesus was this badass radical who didn’t leave the effed up situations he found himself in. He went right to the source and raised question, raised a whip in anger, healed the sick, forgave the unforgiveable, and loved children.
I believe that.
And I believe that is worth being badmouthed and ridiculed.