Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Catholic Left: Forced Underground In The Heartland

We hear a lot about the radical right-wing Catholic anti-abortionists. They are the living expression of official Church dogma. But did you also know that the Catholic Church is anti-war and anti-death penalty. There are no public expressions of this dogma. Why? Part of the reason is that the right wing has taken over the Catholic Church, and left-wing Catholics have been bullied into submission. Not only do leftists not have a voice in the Church, they have been forced underground. What do I mean? Here in southern Illinois, the eastern wing of the greater St. Louis archdiocese (no small lot, Catholics make up about half of the area's seven million citizens), anti-war, pro-choice, humanist Catholics have been banned from gathering on church properties. I learned this from a friend named Mary, who is constantly trying to re-convert me. I am a Jesuit-educated, anti-Catholic, secular-progressive heretic, and she still clings to the old faith even though, like all disciples, she is a living contradiction.

Anyway, we had a conversation yesterday which went something like this:

ME: Whatever happened to the left-wing voice of the know the humanist movement that thrived after the proclamations of Vatican II?

MARY: I don't know. We used to meet in small groups in the basement of St. Clare's. But they banned the meetings a few years ago when they found out we were pro-choice.

ME: You mean they kicked you off church property?

MARY: Yeah, we started meeting in private homes, but they found out about that too and the priests started pressuring us to decease. We tried gathering at undisclosed locations, but it just became too much of a hassle.

ME: It's like Germany in the 1930s. Why do you want to remain a member of St. Goebbels' parish?

MARY: I still believe...I still have faith.

ME: Faith in what? That Father Pedophile will be tried, convicted and defrocked after raping his next 10-year-old? That's why the Church is anti-death penalty...its afraid priests will be fried for diddling altar boys.

(Note: Mary knows me and just shrugs and laughs at my irreverence.)

MARY: I believe we all have spirits that will live on beyond us.

ME: What the fuck does that have to do with organized fascism...err...religion?

MARY: We were both raised in the same traditions. You chose to fall away. I still believe in a just and loving God.

ME: I did not choose to fall away. The Jesuits made it perfectly clear to my young mind that intellect and faith are at odds with one another. And that there is no empirical evidence for the existence of God. You either leap the abyss from disbelief to belief...or you don't. But it has nothing to do with reason.

MARY: That's why when I get to heaven I'll have to pray for your soul to join me there.

ME: I don't think the big fella wants me there. I'll have too many damn questions for him.

MARY: Like what?

ME: Like why did He allow war, pestilence and evil to thrive...and that's just Dick Cheney.

MARY: You'll have all the answers.

ME: I don't think so. The right wingers will take over heaven, and we won't be allowed to hold our left-wing meetings there either.

MARY: You're a hopeless case.

ME: I know, but these are hard times. And in hard times, we left wingers cling to our First Amendment and our gun bans.


Anonymous said...


Jack Jodell said...

This was a troubling read for me. Like you, I am pained and very frustrated by the Catholic Church's rightward drift. But unlike you, and more like Mary, I have not given up on it altogether. I view churches as being composed of and run by human beings, all of whom make mistakes - sometimes very big ones. I view or, and all other, governments in the same fashion. While I disagree strongly on a number of positions and actions our government has taken over the years, I have chosen not to leave the country and attack its mistakes from afar, but to blog, write, and converse from within in a steady and determined effort to get it to change, just as you have. And so it is for me with the Church.Its silence on policies blatantly favoring the rich at the expense of the poor, and on the immoral and illegal Iraq war, was devastatingly disappointing. But, at times, it exhibits tiny pinpricks of light, as when a large group of nuns recently came out in public support for President Obama's health care reform plan, even though a number of their bishops opposed it.

We often demand and expect perfection from imperfect human institutions like our government and the Church. But, being realists, we must accept what we get and always strive to make both better. That is my belief, and, as such, I find myself sitting about 65% on your side and 35% on Mary's regarding the conversation you have presented here.

Tim Fleming said...


In the end you may be right, and salvation may be yours. But in the here and now, more than ever, we need Divine intervention to reward those fighting the good fight for social justice...and it never happens. We pray, we beseech the Almighty to vanquish the evil, yet evil seems to be mulitplying not subsiding. The irony is, it usually manifests itself in His if to make the existential horror of modern life even more intolerable. Today, you have to have superhuman conviction to believe in the eternal existence of a holy and just Supreme Being. And my intellect tells me that what god there is we must find inside ourselves...and work for social justice in the temporal world...and be satisfied in the internal rewards that come from fighting the good fight. I derive no such satisfaction from the empty rituals conducted in brick buildings, nor the cowardly, corrupt behavior of the Church's leaders. Leaders who are more concerned with protecting pedophiles than speaking out against war. Leaders who run for political cover when bold, humanist activism is called for. Leaders who are stunningly out of touch with the strife and turmoil faced by their parishioners.

I have fond memories of my Catholic schoolboy days. But they seem a century ago, and I have left the naivete and idylls of a boy behind.

bababoohai said...

Jack, the difference between the church and the government is that the church stakes its legitimacy on the supernatural. The government, at least in theory, derives its power from the voters.

Tim, you're right on the money with this one.