One of the most challenging calls of being a modern day Catholic is to openly and publicly be yourself.
For years, the combination of working for the church and writing progressively on issues relating to feminism, gender, and reproductive health made me feel like I was living a double life. I would turn down writing opportunities that would let my writing career flourish or deepen because I didn’t want the inevitable questions to arrive: how can you believe ______ when the Catholic Church says ______this instead? (insert a variety of issues pertaining to women, sexuality, gender, liberation) It’s a difficult thing to balance: your call to write your vision of the world knowing its very core lies in conflict with the walls of the Catholic Church where you’ve been educated and formed. After years of working at an adult education center that eventually was investigated by the Vatican because of reiki and yoga sessions I helped program, after attending retreats by excommunicated priests whose message was identical to that of Sunday homilies, after being raked and silenced by the archdiocese for participating in social justice organizing with interfaith communities, after turning down yet another assignment because I didn’t want to publicly deal with the inevitable outrage, after self-editing my own soul, after reflecting for the umpteenth time upon how my now partner had to choose between living out a vocation either as a priest or married person, after meditating on the sexual abuse scandal while simultaneously editing an anthology about sexual violence, I left my position working for the church. Willfully. Quietly. I work now on a project-by-project “consulting” basis because I didn’t want to arrive at the day or situation that Mike Moroski has now found himself in.
Mike Moroski is many things in my life. He’s a good friend. He’s a human anchor for Cincinnati, Ohio and, truthfully, for all who know him. Nick and I just attended his and Katie Moroski’s wedding back in the fall. They are the kind of people who remind you why you’re alive. They embody not just a Catholic spirit, but a human spirituality. A fleshy, tangible joy that celebrates good music, the miraculous nooks of our planet, food, love, justice, and community; all the best things in life. Whenever I see one or the other, or better when they’re together, I am flooded by emotional memos to enjoy more, live deeper, and cultivate my being.
No, I’m not exaggerating. They’re that kind of good.
Which is why, unfortunately, I was not surprised that Mike was given an ultimatum to either be terminated from his position as Dean from Purcell Marion High School in Cincinnati, Ohio or take down his words on his own website and blog voicing his support of gay marriage. It was heart-wrenchingly predictable to read this news. And it was my own reaction that was the most depressing to absorb, my non-shocked state. Everything about that choice – be silenced or lose your livelihood – sums up the prison/call of being a modern day Catholic. Most Catholics I know profoundly disagree with at least one component of church doctrine or dogma and for those of us who have professionally chosen to wade even deeper in the Catholic ocean by working for it, being aligned with it, and getting paid by it, we know that the risks and punishments are severe. The punishments always seem to lie with being silenced one way or another. You’re ostracized, excommunicated, fired, cornered, bullied, or trampled on by the powers that be because of the very existence of the diversity of belief, the diversity of faith. Catholics who believe in equality, in social progress, those of us who want to see more peace in the world – and care a little less about who marries whom or who loves whom – are cast out of Catholic institutions because the sign of conflict is perceived as disorderly, not as unity.
So many people over the years have said the obvious, “Just leave the church.” I chose one year to discern that. For one year, I thought intensely and darkly about leaving the Catholic church and weighed it all: family, culture, choice, spirituality, power, oppression. I came to the decision to stay when I was singing at mass one ordinary Sunday. I was looking around my worship community who come in every shade and size and background and ability, all of us fumbling, all of us so heartwarmingly hapless, trying to love and forgive in this world, and the song – lyrics and rhythms I’ve known since I was a young child – overpowered me with simplicity. The choice wasn’t about staying or leaving, it was about growing. Deciding WHERE and how to grow was the question, how to position myself to best hear the Inner Voice, how to stay close to my Conscience. It came down to this: where does God speak to me? At the time, I told folks it was to focus my energy on writing and give myself to freedom to openly write my positions. Inside, I was screaming for air. I no longer wanted to be questioned or defend my beliefs which I thought to be as basic as breathing. The first thing I decided was to give myself my own breath back. I chose to stay Catholic, but leave my position of leadership.
Mike Moroski and Katie Moroski came to a decision because of an illusion of a choice the archdiocese gave them. The media will report that the choice is either to take down a blog post or resign from your job. That’s not a choice, that’s a silencing. Either way, there’s an attempt to silence him. Mike, typically, finds his way to rise and says he’ll take the consequences that come with voicing his opinion. In this unsurprising dilemma, Mike will join a very long line of Catholics who have dealt with the illusion of choice by the church (abortion: mother or child; vocation: marriage or holy orders; sex: abstain or count fertile days; gay issues: deny yourself or deny yourself) and I hope he knows that regardless of the outcome, he is not alone in this turmoil. Mike, you are not alone.
My prayer is not for Mike. I know him and have every confidence in the physical and spiritual world that this will only strengthen his resolve and core to continue to be the anchor he already is to his communities. My prayer is for all of the modern day Catholics, especially young folks, who think this is about gay marriage. It isn’t. It’s about the future of the church, who we want our leaders to be, and how to teach ourselves and the next generation how to fully respond as the person God has called you to be in voice, in action, and in uncertainty.
Be, write, love, live who are you called to be. Answer only to your own conscience, the place where you and God converse. This is the signature commandment and challenge enscripted for our generation. On this wall, I gladly sign my name, too.