The Catholic Church: doing something right, for a change.

I’m an ex-Catholic. Catholicism was a big part of my life for a long time. I went to Catholic schools for 12 years. As a kid, I used to love to read the Bible – not for the rules and regs, but for the stories, the imagery. I was obsessed with the Vatican. For a while when I was in elementary school, I went on a kick of lecturing my heathen cousins (who all went to public school and – gasp – didn’t even go to CCD!) about how wonderful Jesus was. God, was I obnoxious.

Anyhow, my zealous Catholicism all started crumbling down during high school, when I started realizing that I was not only a leftist, but a big ol’ queer. I think the real turning point was when I went the big anti-abortion march in DC during my Junior year. Ironically, the primary reasons for going to the march were to a) get out of school for a day and b) more importantly, spend a lot of time with the uber-Catholic girl who I had an incredibly huge crush on. I got there and was totally horrified by most everything I saw, from the huge placards with the gross and utterly misleading images of fetuses, to the gay anti-choice activists protesting from the sidelines because they weren’t allowed to march, to the creepy fervent droning chanting of the Rosary that was going on around me. Luckily, I was able to convince my crush to escape with me and go hang out in some random government building for much of the afternoon.

Since parting ways with Catholicism, I’ve had many opportunities to cringe, sigh, and scream over the activities of my former church. The large majority of what gets the Catholic church into the news is very cringe-worthy stuff, from the rampant child abuse by priests and subsequent cover-ups, to the Church’s continuing persecution of queer folks, to the total disregard for women’s rights perpetuated by the anti-choice movement.

But, every once in a while, there’s a news story that shows that, sometimes, the Catholic establishment can do something right. My friend Dex sent me one such article today: an op-ed piece from the New York Times lauding Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for taking a stand against the appalling anti-immigration legislation that’s being pushed through Congress right now.

I didn’t actually know much about this legislation, H.R. 4437, until a few weeks ago, and I was both horrified at its contents and at the fact that I didn’t even know about it. I try to stay relatively abreast of stuff like this, and was shocked that I hadn’t heard more uproar about it. The uproar is there, I’m sure, but I just wasn’t hearing it for some reason.

Anyhow – in case you’re in the same boat, here’s a good summary from the Immigration Legal Resource Center of this awful piece of legislation. There’s some really horrendous stuff in there, including the creation of a whole new federal crime of “unlawful presence,” the transformation of minor offenses into aggravated felonies when involving undocumented immigrants, and the expansion of “alien smuggling” to include merely assisting undocumented immigrants, making such assistance a federal crime. That’s right – individuals and social service organizations who merely help undocumented immigrants survive could be charged with fucking crime. And it’s already passed the House, and is currently in the Senate.

It’s absolutely disgusting, frightening and enraging. And Cardinal Mahony thinks so, too. From the NY Times article:

If current efforts in Congress make it a felony to shield or offer support to illegal immigrants, Cardinal Mahony said, he will instruct his priests — and faithful lay Catholics — to defy the law.

… Cardinal Mahony’s defiance adds a moral dimension to what has largely been a debate about politics and economics. “As his disciples, we are called to attend to the last, littlest, lowest and least in society and in the church,” he said.

It’s refreshing to see the Catholic Church, or at least one member of the Church establishment, rallying people and using their political clout around the good parts of Catholic doctrine – that people should care for and help one another, that charity and justice are important, and that Catholics have a duty to help those who are most abused and neglected by our society. It’s a nice change from the usual stories about Catholic political pressure, like when the bishops decided to start denying communion to Catholic politicians who were not anti-choice.

One can only hope that those Catholics who are all too willing to use church doctrine as an excuse for their rabid homophobia, sexism and anti-choice attitudes are equally willing to heed this call to defend the human rights of immigrants. Of course, Catholics tend to let me down with their hypocrisy all the time, especially those who are virulently anti-choice but are either silent about or supportive of the death penalty. So I guess my hope is kind of slim. I’m prepared to sigh, cringe and scream as usual.

7 Responses to “The Catholic Church: doing something right, for a change.”

  1. 1 belledame222

    Well, that’s cool. And, whoa! If that law was in effect some years before I bet I’d be vulnerable to it, defending on how they define “helping” illegal immigrants.

  2. 2 Tex

    How much different all of this would be if Liberation Theology hadn’t been so forcefully stamped out. There’s a lot of potential within the church.

  3. 3 belledame222

    I know a gay Catholic priest (mainstream, closeted w/in the Church, obviously). I try to be empathetic when he talks about how he can’t just give up the Church any more than he can just give up being gay. Still I can’t help wondering what would happen if all the gay priests were to suddenly come out and quit en masse. I suspect there’d be a *lot* of vacancies for a bit.

  4. 4 Jack

    I know. I think that my mom and dad, me, many of my friends and most of the organizations I care about and work with would be vulnerable under such a law, depending on how it was actually put into practice.

  5. 5 Jack

    Right? I don’t even know much of the history of liberation theology and it’s condemnation by the mainstream Catholic Church, but I know enough to know that it sucked/sucks, big time. I should learn more, though.

  6. 6 Jack

    The Catholic church has already been facing a priest shortage for quite a while now. If there was a gay exodus, the church would be majorly out of luck.

    It must be terribly hard to be truly faithful and invested in a religion whose organized body condemns you. I’m glad that I never had much faith.

  7. 7 Grace

    It must really suck to have an emotional and familial connection to a church that is so very preoccupied with all the wrong things. Although it would be politically impossible in light of ongoing ecumenical conversations, I often wish my own church (Episcopal) would engage in some more targeted outreach to ex-Catholics. The Episcopal Church is very similar in terms of the structure of the service and what you see in front of you when you attend on Sunday. But we’ve ordained women since 1978, are actively working to prevent clergy misconduct, and have very progressive positions at the national level on just about everything (reproductive rights, peace & justice, environment – including this immigrant bill). All the churches I’ve ever been involved with have also been very accepting of gays & lesbians, though the church as a whole is currently in a global crisis about that. And especially in urban places like New York, there are a lot of very vibrant Hispanic Episcopal ministries.

    OK, now I feel like I’m pimping the church. But it’s worth checking out if you miss the ritual and the involvement in caring for others …

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