Last week, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit’s Archdiocese told millions of Catholics that they should self-excommunicate themselves from the Catholic Church. Yes, you heard me right: self-excommunication:
Archbishop Allen Vigneron on Sunday said that Catholics who support marriage equality and try to receive Communion would “logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
He was a bit late coming to the party, as last month Sacred Heart Major Seminary canon law professor Edward Peters, stated that anyone who supports either same-sex marriage or is pro-choice should not be allowed to receive Holy Communion (Sacrament of the Eucharist), because their thinking is in contrast with Canon Law (the Laws of the Catholic Church).
Those of you who have been so generous and kind as to follow this humble blog know that I was born and raised in the Catholic faith. I had the benefit of twelve and a half years of Catholic education (my first school in kinder closed for lack of attendance, thus landing me in public school for part of a year before being securely installed in Catholic School for good). I was educated by the good Sisters of The Holy Cross, and later by the fine priests of the Augustinian order at a Catholic prep school (I tested well and got a scholarship, and it got me away from the idiots I was stuck with for the first eight years). I have only benefited from my fine Catholic education and am grateful for it.
In my college years, I had my requisite time of wandering from my faith, and when I had kids, we dabbled in the Episcopal Church for a spell, a faith for which I have nothing but the greatest respect, and in which my firstborn was baptized. But it just wasn’t quite the same. Maybe it was the years of Catholic guilt so well-instilled in me – I was always a good student – I don’t know, but it just didn’t feel right. I felt as if I was betraying my faith. When I had my second child, we went back to the Church, and as the kids grew, I offered to teach CCD (Catechism, Sunday School) because I knew my son would never sit still for the hours of religious education demanded to receive his first communion. (My friends and I still marvel at the kind of desperation that a parish would have to actually put the snarky and sarcastic me, of all people, in a room full of children to propagate the faith to future little Catholics.)
Actually, thanks to my strong Catholic education, I know my faith. I know and believe in the tenets of my faith, the words found in the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. I was taught by the nuns that to live my faith, that my conscience must ultimately be my guide. And by the wonderful Augustinian fathers, to be rational and value logic and scholarly work. (They introduced my young, nerdy self to the Great Books, for which I will forever be grateful.) And I credit my mother and grandmother for teaching me that faith is not what I learned daily in religion class, but by the good works I put forth in this world. I learned from their kindness, their generosity, their open and caring ways with everyone around us: from those who had less than we did, to the junkies at Teen Challenge where she donated food on a regular basis, to the way that my gay and lesbian friends were always treated and seen as the good people they were/are.
In all my years growing up in the Church, I was never taught that thought crimes were ex-communicable. I was never taught by the priests or nuns, or my lay teachers or parents, that God hated anyone. (Okay, maybe the Communists.) Or that you didn’t belong in the Church if you thought others should be treated with the same dignity to which you were entitled, or that you had the very American view that there is a separation of Church and State. (Lots of grumbling about school prayer, but not much to come of it.)
Apparently, in all those years of Catholic School, and all my years of teaching the faith to tiny Catholics, I didn’t realize that I should be ex-communicating myself. Of course, this concept seems as bizarre as that of self-deportation, a comedic spoof that became a party line for Mittens Romney in the last election. It seemed as absurd as can be, until I realized that these people were serious. They were actually speaking out, warning people to avoid the fate of self-excommuinication! This wasn’t The Onion; these people were serious!!! Well, at least I was in good company with Nancy Pelosi, Jennifer Granholm and Andrew Cuomo, folks whom other American Canon Law experts and some bishops felt should not be allowed to receive communion, either.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the HBO documentary, Mea Culpa: Silence in The House of God. If you haven’t, you should. It is a horrifying topic, the worldwide abuse of children by priests, and just as repulsive, the extensive measures taken to cover up the abuse. These egregious acts, both the molestation and the whitewashing done by the Church, did not only happen in the U.S., but worldwide, since as far back as the 1400s. (Yes, you read that right…) Records about these crimes exist in the Vatican, walled off from the world in perpetuity. The movie focuses on the perspective of the victims, and the priests that tried to stop the vicious cycle of simply removing priests and putting them in another parish far away to supervise yet another group of altar boys. (Seriously. I couldn’t make that up.) But it also documents the unholy extremes to which the Church hierarchy went in order to cover the whole mess up. Take a look at the preview:
It is a chilling look at the “sins of the fathers,” so to speak, and with a direct line to Cardinal Ratzinger: yes, our presently retired Pope Benedict. He decreed that he was to have every report of sexual abuse of minors cross his desk, no exceptions. Ironically, his retirement occurred shortly after the release of Mea Culpa…The fact that this went on in the Church of my childhood for so very long, and with the implicit permission, no the grace of the Holy See, is truly evil incarnate. It is the very definition of the sin of omission, a mortal sin that I was taught was horribly wrong, sins that were presuming to hide something from God, who could see your every action.
Here was the kicker for me: these priests were not defrocked, they were not removed from the priesthood. They remain as priests in good standing, to be taken care of by the Church in their long and enjoyable retirements. They remain as priests today, some have died and been buried as priests. But as God’s representatives on earth they remain.
And I am supposed to be the one to excommunicate myself? Right now, I am presently a lapsed Catholic. Some call us “cultural Catholics” now…I kind of like that term. The reasons I don’t go to Mass and contribute to the collection basket are many and varied. Here are a few samples:
- I disagree with the Church on the submissive role of women and the lack of women in leadership positions in the Church – Jesus was BFFs with Mary Magdalene. How do we know she wasn’t an apostle? And who stayed at the foot of the cross while His disciples ran for cover? The women: Mary, St. Anne and their posse. Just sayin’…
- There is no way on this Earth that you can possibly convince me that God does not love my friends whose orientations are not straight, or that they are going to Hell for loving someone. They are our family, and some of my kids’ best role models for what it means to live your Christian faith, in their actions and their words.
- I’ve shaken hands with people who offer me the sign of peace during Mass, and then give me dirty looks as they see my “Pro-Child, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice” bumper sticker in the parking lot afterward.
- I’ve sat through the CCD teacher required sexual predator training, despite having had extensive and ongoing training as a credentialed teacher. The training was on the eve of a California election that had a “teacher tenure” measure on the ballot. To end the evening, instead of thanking their lay volunteers for doing the work they do in our parish, the sister pontificated on the vast numbers of public school teachers who have their credentials pulled because they are child molesters. She waved a sheaf of papers in her hand to illustrate her point. Then prompted people to vote against the anti-teacher law. I gave Sister a piece of my mind, to be saved for another post, and stormed out. That was the last straw. I finished what I had promised, to see my class through their receiving of their first Holy Eucharist, and resigned. I haven’t been back since.
But this recent statement by Archbishop Vigneron, speaking as all archbishops do, on behalf of the Church, just simply reeked of hypocrisy. I am told that I should refrain from practicing my faith, that I should excommunicate myself from the Church, for believing that I should not, as an American Catholic, legislate the morality of others in regards to same-sex marriage or abortion, or the ordination of women as priests (yes, those are my thought crimes), yet these vile, perverse creatures that have been held up as God’s representatives of His kingdom on Earth are allowed to continue to wear the vestments and maintain their status received in the Sacrament of Holy Orders??? Un-frigging-believable.
I don’t currently attend Mass, because of the reasons listed above above and several others. I miss the Mass, and I miss receiving the sacraments. I miss the fellowship of the Church. But excommunicate myself? Tell you what, Holy See, I will make you a deal. The minute that the Church excommunicates the monsters that they protected, those so-called “Men of God” who felt they had the right and the protection to prey on innocent children who have been taught that priests speak for God, as soon as they are excommunicated, along with Ratzinger and all the rest who covered up those abhorrent crimes against children, then, and only then, will I even consider self-excommunication. Deal? I didn’t think so.
When the Holy See protects child molesters and those who hide their actions, and punished priests who tried to step forward and report such atrocious acts, that cannot be rationalized away under Canon Law. Or civil law, for that matter. It disgraces the good men and women who serve in Christ, who taught me and my sisters all those years and gave us good faith and wise counsel – they do exist! Perhaps when the hypocrisy in the Church ends, they will begin to see their numbers grow again, because there are still many of us who believe in our faith and long to return. But we don’t believe in our Church hierarchy anymore and won’t continue to support it. And to turn someone away from their apostolic faith is a mortal sin as well. Maybe our new Pope will recognize the hypocrisy in the Catholic Church, the sins of the fathers, and make right by the real Church, its faithful. Until then, in good conscience, I remain a lapsed and doubting Thomas.