Why Are They Here?

A reader at Jezebel asked her fellow readers a very good question:

I was wondering if there are any Catholic jezzies out there? Are y’all still practicing? How do you reconcile all the @$$hattery going on with the Bishops with your faith?

I don’t want to leave the church, but I’m upset about a lot of positions the leadership has taken. Any advice/comments? I’m thinking about continuing to practice/attend church, but redirecting my donations to Catholics for Choice or Catholic Democrats.

Yes, how do they reconcile it—and why?  If you’re someone who consider it “@$$hattery” when the bishops,  decades overdue, show courage and leadership in the face blatant persecution —then why not leave the Church?  This is a phenomenon which has always baffled me:  Catholic-hating Catholics who continue to call themselves Catholic long after they’ve shed every discernible manifestation of their faith.  What the heck is in it for them?

Some of these folks don’t have the first clue about what the Church is actually for.  For instance, one reader laments Pope Paul VI’s failure in his duty to . . . uphold the Constitution?

[The Church has], I believe, a fundamentally flawed understanding of the First Amendment. Their handling of contraception during the Second Vatican Council was, I think, against the will of the Holy Spirit, since the assembly of lay people that they asked to consider the issue were overwhelmingly in favor of allowing contraception and the leadership didn’t like it and so overruled them.

She’s right, of course.  The Church is, like, the worst democracy ever (although the system of checks and balances is apparently robust, since the Holy Spirit’s veto was overridden so handily).  My husband also points out that there’s a clear ethics violation in the current Administration:  shouldn’t the Third Person have to disclose His relationship to both the Father and the Son when ruling on these matters?  Talk about a conflict of interest.

Besides the Church’s spectacular failure as a republic, the jezzies groused about the usual offenses:  no women priests, no gay marriage, no contraception or abortion.  The things they found most objectionable are some of the things which I find most appealing about the Church, and make her such a good shelter in the storm:  Catholic teaching is the lone voice of sanity in the howling gibberish which passes for modern public discourse on human sexuality.

Several people also mentioned the sexual abuse scandal in their list of complaints.  I can see how the scandal would shake the faith of even the faithful (although Jennifer Fulwiler’s take, Why the Scandals Increased My Faith in the Church should be required reading)

So what’s a disgruntled Catholic to do?

You can, of course, always go ‘Pisky; or you could just call yourself a Catholic for the retro ironic value of the word, like shaving with a straight razor or driving a 1972 Pinto Runabout.  Several readers recommended shopping around until you find a sufficiently liberal priest who doesn’t get all worked up about lame-o topics like abortion and hell.  To sum up:  if you look hard enough, you can “[f]ind a way to celebrate your religion in a way that is affirming to you.”  Because that’s what Jesus said on the Cross: “Forgive them, Father, for I don’t feel very affirmed right now.”

The Jezzies agreed that, despite her backward and infuriating policies, the Church is not an altogether useless institution.  Several commenters pointed out the Church does do some good in the community (a handsome admission to make about the largest charitable organization in the world).  Also, family traditions and cultural identity are comforting and hard to shed.  And some priests do speak about love (“without being preachy”).  So yes, there are some good things about the Catholic Church.


Am I missing something here?  No one talked about the Eucharist.  No one. 

Some of these women were lifelong Catholics, a few were converts.  And nobody mentioned that they kind of enjoy being able to stop by their local church to participate in the highest expression of love that ever was or ever will be.

Probably nobody ever told them how important the Eucharist is.  Maybe their catechism teachers didn’t even believe in the True Presence, so why make a big fuss about a piece of bread?  So it’s understandable that no one said they’re staying in the Church so they can receive Christ’s Body and Blood.

What a sorry, silly, tragic and unnecessary loss.  But even in this, maybe we’re seeing something of the power of the Eucharist:  it keeps people coming back, even if they don’t realize why they’re doing it.  It’s like how kids will always congregate in the kitchen, even if they’re not hungry.  “Why are you all IN here?” I shout, trying to make dinner.  “Do you NEED something?”  Sadly they all shuffle out, to do their homework or pick Cheerios off their socks in some other part of the house, where they will surely be more comfortable, more affirmed in their choices. 

But they always drift back.  Without even thinking about it, they instinctively like to be in the place where they get fed.