I posted yesterday, at my other site, about the child abuse scandal afflicting the Catholic Church. I said that the Church’s seeming unwillingness to accept full responsibility, not only for the abuse but for the covering up of the abuse and for protecting the priests that perpetrated the abuse, was rattling my faith in the the Church. Granted, that faith has been somewhat shaky for a very long time, but still: I have always identified as Catholic and have, in some corner of my soul, always assumed, however quietly, that once I had satisfied my own need for spiritual exploration, I would find my way back to the Church. And then full extent of the scandal was revealed – including the particularly disheartening allegations that Church, and even the future Pope, had covered up the extent of the abuse and protected the priests that were involved – and my faith in the Church fell, and if it didn’t shatter, it certainly cracked, badly.
So I wrote about it. I wrote about how under these circumstances, I simply couldn’t imagine going back to the Church. A day and a half later, I still feel that way. Mostly.
Some of the comments from faithful Catholics – Catholics who weren’t put off their faith by the scandal – moved me. The Church isn’t ‘The Church’, some of them said, it’s the people. You can have faith in that. Why not have faith in that?
That, I thought, was a very good question. As one of my fellow BlogHer contributing editors put it, the Catholic Church is something more than just a church or religious organization. It’s a community, and a culture, and one that is very, very old – much older than the United States or Canada. Being Catholic is, I’d say, more comparable to being Jewish than it is to being Episcopalian or Methodist. Catholics are part of a cultural community that is defined by more than just faith – there’s a culture and traditions and a sense of identity that extends far beyond attending Mass or participating in the Sacraments. So it is that I can have set aside the practices of the Catholic faith for so many years and still describe myself as Catholic. My parents are Catholic. The traditions and rituals of my family life were Catholic. I feel Catholic; even as my faith in the organization and hierarchy of the Church has weakened, I feel Catholic.
So how do I reconcile this with my spiritual discomfort? Is it possible to do so; is it necessary to do so? How does one hold onto to being Catholic while being critical – seriously, pointedly critical – of its leaders?
Or is it really the best option to just cut one’s losses – cultural, spiritual, and otherwise – and find another path to travel?