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a convenient label

April 30, 2010

The Catholic Church’s continuing sex abuse scandal (is it still considered just one gigantic scandal at this point, or is it a collection of many individual scandals?) has given me pause over the past few weeks. I admit, I have not paid attention to the details, but I have heard and seen the headlines and it all seems so disturbingly familiar and hardly necessary to fill in the gaps to understand how far-reaching and despicable it is/was/has become.

The evil that has been done seems to have settled into my subconscious, gnawing at me, making me doubt the Church and my ongoing membership. Every time I think about it, I get very angry and sad. I feel helpless and furious, outraged and astonished. How can this be? How could this happen? Have we learned nothing in our long history? But then I remember that the Church is still made up of people, and people are fallible. Endlessly fallible. Incomprehensibly flawed. The Church is also led by men. Men with great ambition. Power has rarely done great things in the hands of the blindly ambitious.

A few weeks ago my husband asked me why I am Catholic. Not because he has a problem with me being Catholic, though he does chafe at certain aspects of the Church (then again, so do I), but because I cling so tightly to the label. In our ensuing discussion, we analyzed why. It’s true that I was raised Catholic. I was baptized, had my first communion, was confirmed, was married in the Church. I now sing at a Catholic church. I know the prayers. The rituals. The hymns. Yet I also ignore many of the “rules.” I disagree fervently with many of the Church’s teachings and positions. There is constant conflict within me between what I love about the Church and what I detest.

I guess you could call me a “Cafeteria Catholic,” but in this day and age, in this country, how many of us are not? I know few really devout Catholics who follow all of the rules and agree with everything the Pope says. Most of us who have not left the Church completely fit the teachings into our lives as best we can, and try to mold the Church to fit our lives, rather than the other way around.

Finally, though, for me it came down to the fact that few labels are useful for me. I defy so many simple descriptions, but when I say “I was raised Catholic,” that speaks volumes. People get it. They won’t immediately know which rules I follow and which I reject, whether or not I fast, if I go to confession regularly, who I vote for, or if I think the Pope is a good guy. But there is something that makes the “Catholic” label easier than “I’m adopted, I don’t know my family history. I’m Korean, but I don’t speak the language. I’m a classical singer, no my dream isn’t to be on American Idol. I don’t have a “normal” job, I own my own company.” Even if people make the wrong assumptions based on the “Catholic” label, they are easier for me to deflect and respond to because they are common to all Catholics. I’m no longer an outsider. I’m part of a group that is sometimes misunderstood, but strong in numbers.

Even though it is sometimes painful to be Catholic, I haven’t found any other religion that I like better. Not that I’ve been looking hard, but religion isn’t the point. God isn’t even the point of church for me, though I do believe in God. It’s about a common ritual, a peaceful place to meditate, a community of like-minded individuals. It’s about knowing that we are the Church, and we can be defined as much by the people who do good as by those who do evil. We are the priest who raped children, but we are also the saint who fed the poor. We are all sinners, but  some of us make up for it with good works in this life. We don’t all believe that being gay is a sin, or that voting pro-choice should mean exile. The only way the Church will change is if its members make it. If everyone who disagrees with its teachings leaves the organization, there will be none left to fight for change. That is why I stay. In hope that things will change. That we will move past our mistakes, and find a new way to be in this world that includes women, gays, sensible birth control, and the list goes on. Perhaps it’s not much more than a convenient label for me. But, then again, yes, I think it is more. Much, much more.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2010 10:29 am

    Hi Betsy,

    I share your grief over the horrible things that have taken place among some priests and some bishops who didn’t have the courage to handle the cases well.

    Still, it is important to keep things in perspective which the headlines fail to do. First, it is a tiny number of people involved both the number of priests and the number of victims is very small.

    One has to understand the phenomenon of pedophilia which is an irresistable attraction to children. Pedophiles seek jobs that place them in contact with children. They have never been attracted in large numbers to the Catholic priesthood. But, they are much more attracted to being teachers.

    By contrast, the risk of a child being molested is many times greater in a public school. Studies have been done that show that public schools are very dangerous places indeed. But, the media prefers not to focus on those cases.

    Why? There are no large court cases because it is illegal to sue a public school system, and no lawyer finds suing a poor teacher worth the effort. Public schools and teachers unions protect teachers. Going after the Catholic Church makes for dramatic copy and sells the news. It also fits the political agenda of many in the media.

    So, please dont let the disproportionate headlines give you the false impression that somehow there is an inherent connection between the Church and this social evil. Children are a much greater risk in their own homes and in their own schools. And, now with all that Catholic schools have done to alert staff and volunteers to the behaviors and personality traits of predators, these are now the safest places to be.

    Don’t be fooled. And, Keep the Faith!

    God Bless,
    Fr. J.

  2. May 1, 2010 10:33 am

    Also Betsy,

    If you have time to read just one article on the subject, you might find this one illuminating:

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100033774/journalists-abandon-standards-to-attack-the-pope-you-can-say-that-again/

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