Saturday, April 26, 2003

From Andrew Greeley:Reasons to leave the Catholic Church:

And no, they're not what you think. In fact, it's probably the opposite.

Greeley says that sure, if you don't believe in a loving, merciful personal God, eternal life or sacramentalism, go ahead and leave (although, he notes, it just might be more difficult to do so than you think.)

But, he continues, these aren't the typical reasons he hears for people's departures:

However, most of the reasons I hear advanced these days are not of this sort. They are rather tales of what some priest did or said, of what some nun taught you, of some lunacy propagated by a bishop, of what some RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] director tried to impose upon you, of what some chancery office bureaucrat told you, of some rule that a liturgist said you had to obey, of the moronic failure of the church to deal with the pedophile crisis, of the denial by so many priests that there is a sexual abuse crisis, of the failure of the pope to support our eminently moral president, of the failure of bishops to speak out against the war (which they have, of course, though no one hears them anymore), of the pastor who is spending huge sums of money on a church the parish doesn't need. Etc. Etc. Etc.

These are, in all candor, lousy reasons for decamping--reasons I find it hard to accept, although they often rise from great suffering. They equate the Catholic heritage with the stupidities of its leaders, which have been worse in the past than in the present.

Frank Sheed, the English Catholic writer, put it nicely long ago: ''We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the Cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I myself admire the present pope, but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the church as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing that a pope (or a priest) could do or say would make me wish to leave the church, although I might well wish that they would leave.''

Now, of course I agree with Greeley, but I think he's being a little too flip here in relation to the real pain people sometimes experience at the hands of those charged with leadership in the Church. It's not simply that people's feelings are hurt. It's that their faith is shaken. If a person who has been entrusted with passing on the Faith lies to you or hurts you or teaches something that is wrong, it is difficult for many to separate that relatively small moment in the present from the weight and breadth of Traditon. And the reason it's hard for people to do this is that over the past forty years, they haven't been taught the distinction. We have been so inundated with a catechesis that emphasizes "we are the Church" in entirely the wrong sense - people have been encouraged to become Catholic, not because of the truth that the Church teaches, but because they find a warm loving community at St. Fuzzy's. The cult of personality has come to dominate how laity see priests, and hardly anyone dissuades them from seeing beyond a priest (or other leader's) "personal gifts" to what he or she is supposed to be standing behind. So yeah, when this is the way that "We are the Church" is presented to Catholic laypeople, when they are encouraged to evaluate the holiness and truth of Catholicism by the "vibrancy" of its liturgies, the "hospitality" of the local parish and the "warmth" of Fr. Laughsalot, when they encounter "boring" liturgies, impersonal parishes and the dauntingly brusqe Fr. Dontbotherme, they're going to be hurt and their faith will be shaken because a subjective, personality and experientially-based "faith" is what they have been taught - through no fault of their own.