I am a lifelong urban American Catholic, and I am not going anywhere.
That’s my message to the extremists in my religion who have strayed from our core principles of tolerance, labor, and love to focus on exclusion, doctrine, and shame. My experience of Catholicism in the cities of Pittsburgh and Chicago over the last 40 years has been full of people devoted to service.
- Fr. Regis Ryan gave me my First Communion at Annunciation Parish on the North Side. He’s still working near Pittsburgh today, running Focus on Renewal, a slew of agencies that provides services for the homeless and the working poor in McKees Rocks
- Strong, intelligent, loving nuns served as principals and teachers of my grade schools in Pittsburgh (Annunciation, St. Philomena) and Chicago (St. Mary of the Lake). St. Mary of the Lake (4200 N. Sheridan Road) was an oasis of peace in Uptown for dozens of Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees in the late 70s and early 80s
- Tough, serious priests at Gordon Tech taught by example the importance of service. There was never a component of condescension or judgment for people in need. The men I know who graduated from there are all involved in community service in some way
- I lived near Mt. Carmel Parish in the mid 80s, and I remember the dozens of funerals held there for gay men who died of AIDS. To me, as a teenager, it was completely uncontroversial and expected that the Church would do this
- I’ve benefited from professionals who were also people of the cloth— therapist nuns, lawyer priests, and so on. People who have been essential to me and my family as we’ve gone through tough times
- As a catechist for the Church, I was required to take a training course called “Protecting God’s Children“, and I have to keep up with it on a monthly basis
I don’t mean to paint a inaccurate, bucolic picture. My father obtained an annulment of his marriage to my mother after seven kids and decades of marriage. A priest at St. Benedict High School cast aspersions on my mother as a single parent in the early 8os. A good friend, the pastor of my church in the early 2000s, was removed from ministry based on an accusation of sexual abuse in the 1970s. In general, the priest abuse scandal uncovered a criminal enterprise operated within the Catholic Church.
My point is a matter of focus. In my experience of the Church, the focus is on helping people, being of service, and tending to the needs of the poor. Over the last few years— coinciding with Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops— the static coming from official Catholic organs and prominent Catholics has been disturbing to me.
- Dolan applied key pressure to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation in their disastrous jettisoning of Planned Parenthood. The mission of Planned Parenthood is 100% in line with my experience of the Church, so I found this meddling very worrisome
- The Church has been utterly unhelpful in the matters of basic human rights when it comes to gay marriage
- The two nuttiest Republicans in the presidential race are not the usual Evangelical Christians but, in fact, Catholics. Santorum’s stomach trouble vis a vis the separation of Church and state is particularly troubling, and completely un-American
- The entire Church went into conniption fits over the President’s reasonable plan to make sure women employed by Catholic organizations had acceptable health care. My kids and I had to listen to two off-kilter homilies in two different churches earlier this year. One of those homilies threatened the Mass Hour Social Compact. There is very little more sacred, in a secular sense, to the American Catholic than the idea that the Mass lasts an hour. You get in, you read some stuff, you hear some stuff, you consecrate some stuff, you consume the body and blood of Jesus Christ, you sing one last song, and you’re out. The time the priest spent inaccurately describing the birth control policy severely impinged this essential compact, so we split (after proper genuflection in the aisle) while he was still talking
I have been disheartened at times by these policies and developments. But there is hope here, and it exists in the millions of Catholics like the ones I’ve grown up with. The deal struck by the President on birth control showed that mainstream American Catholics are in lock-step with the rest the country.
A new New York Times/CBS News poll has found that 57 percent of Catholic voters supported the requirement for religiously affiliated employers, like hospitals or universities, to cover the full cost of birth control for their employees, while 36 percent opposed it (7 percent said they did not know). There was almost no difference between Catholic and other voters on the question.
I still go to Church, I still teach religious education to 7th graders, including my eldest child. I deeply believe every word of the Nicene Creed. Transubstantiation is a fact, not just a long word. In short, I am Catholic, and I am not going anywhere.
Christ is risen. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.