One of the things I miss about being a Catholic is no longer being in solidarity with those liberal or rebel Catholics who openly dissent from the self-serving claims of hierarchical authority and the conservative teachings those claims are designed to enforce. I admire their ability to work and to criticize from within.
In the end, I found the constant battle against the hierarchy to be spiritually unproductive, and I found the claims of the Church to be the one true Church to be unpersuasive. Two recent controversies within the Church reinforce the wisdom (for me) of exiting the Church. One involves the question whether women can be deacons in the Catholic Church. I leave aside the falsification of the historical record by conservative leaders in this debate. From the inside, liberal Catholics have to take this debate seriously. From the outside, it looks to me as a fight over scraps at the table. Gender equality is a long way off.
I once remember a priest I respected telling me that it is not enough to reject a Church teaching merely because it is promulgated by a bunch of old men. Probably not. But it’s a start.
Even more troubling was the failure of the U.S. Bishops to produce an economic letter. The initial draft was a train wreck. See http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=21856 Particularly disturbing was this report from David Gibson: “Yet in a sign of the growing generational and ideological split among the bishops, some of the younger and more conservative bishops wanted to kill the statement because they believe the hierarchy should largely restrict their statements to matters of faith. They also view traditional Catholic social teaching with suspicion, and say the church should emphasize private charity rather than government action to cure social ills.” This, of course, is an abandonment of Catholic Social teaching stretching back through many Popes with its rich understanding of dignity is a communitarian context. For an excellent brief statement, see http://americamagazine.org/node/149370
The Pope has been quite careful to select Bishops who toe the line on reactionary teachings such as contraception. But one could at least respect Catholic “conservative” Bishops in the past because of their interesting independence from standard political classifications. Conservative on gender equality and overly rigid about sexual issues, but strong advocates for the poor and vulnerable (not just the unborn), strong enough to condemn the Ryan budget. Gibson’s report augurs an even more conservative Church and the abandonment of a strong voice for the poor in our national dialogue. If I were inside the Church, I would feel betrayed and angry. Outside the Church, I find it an occasion for sadness.