Several months ago I left the Catholic Church. I had never been an Orthodox Catholic. I had been the kind of Catholic who drew more sustenance from Commonweal Magazine than from the Vatican. Like most Catholic subscribers to Commonweal, I disagreed with Vatican teachings about a range of important moral issues. In some cases, I thought the Vatican was simply wrong (e.g., homosexuality); in others I thought the Vatican was overly rigid (e.g., divorce, birth control). I objected to the alliance between Church leadership and the Republican Party and to its privileging of the abortion issue over all other moral issues. I was offended by the exclusion of women from the clergy and the exclusion of those who are married from the clergy particularly because of the declining availability of the sacraments. And I was outraged by what I regarded as the criminal handling of the sex abuse crisis especially when the Church declared that gays were not fit to raise children. From my perspective this was not only wrong, but the moral standing of the Church to discuss the raising of children had already been seriously tarnished.
I stayed in the Church despite these and other views as do most Commonweal Catholics. The Church has many many strengths. I particularly admire its fostering of a demanding Christian life, its historic commitment to the Christian message of helping the oppressed, its rejection of the materialistic consumerism of modern society, and its recognition of the limitations of capitalism. Nonetheless, It was annoying to have to say to people, “I am a Catholic – but . . .” Despite the "but," I identified as a Catholic and I was fortified by the fact that there were so many other liberal Catholics like me. Part of it also was that I liked the Cornell Catholic Community – a nurturing and welcoming church attended by Orthodox and liberal Catholics alike. The goal of the leaders of the Cornell Catholic Community was and is to build on those views that parishioners shared to strengthen their faith, their love of God (particularly in light of God's love for us) and neighbor, and to emphasize the importance of prayer as a part of and deciding how to live a Christian life.
Nonetheless, for me, the Pope and the Bishops were the elephant in the room. Particularly disturbing to me was a U.S. Bishops’ statement, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to his Supper.” As I read the statement, a statement made on the same day the Bishops also reaffirmed their views on birth control and homosexuality, it says if you cannot bring yourselves to agree with us on moral issues after trying, you have separated yourself from the church and should not receive communion. As one prominent ethicist told me, this is not yet part of the magisterium and can be safely ignored. As another good Catholic said, I know the Catholic leaders do not want me, but “they will have to throw me out.” Nonetheless, the statement is part of a larger web of discourse which I understood to mean that liberal Catholics are not really Catholics. For my part, I spent far too much of my spiritual energy resenting the actions of Church leaders and sometimes them as a group. For me, the Catholic Church had become a place in which my spiritual development – such as it is – was being arrested, not nurtured by my membership.
I admire those liberal Catholics for whom the Church is a spiritually satisfying place – despite its limitations. For many of them, church leadership is far away – not an elephant. Or it is an elephant, but the idea of leaving is not a category. For me it was a category because I had left before and when I returned, it was not on the ground that it was the one true church. I had always thought there are many paths to the same God. So now I am a mainline Protestant attending a wonderful church (a note on that tomorrow) with visits here and there to my local Catholic Church, a church which I continue to hold in high regard.