Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Speaking Out in Defense of My Church

For the past month, I have been speaking out more and more, certainly much more than I used to. I have always had strong opinions, but for the most part, I’ve kept them within my small, safe community of similarly-minded people. But that has changed in the past month.

I wrote here about the vocal uber-conservative minority in our parish. I am really bothered by the negative and narrow-minded version of Catholicism they espouse. And, unfortunately, they seem like the only voices I am hearing lately. Which is why I am speaking out more and more. I can’t let them be the only voice we hear. They do not speak for my parish. They certainly don’t speak for my Church… the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church. But if other moderates don’t speak up – if we let the ultra-conservative fringe monopolize the dialogue – we will lose ourselves.

This weekend, things heated up once again. One of the Deacons at my parish wrote a column in the bulletin that I felt was way out of line. It drew a really strong line in the sand, and alienated a significant portion of our parishioners. It also happened to be an area of Church teachings that I have spent a lot of time on… a lot of prayer, discussion, reading, and listening. I knew what I was talking about when I approached first Father, then Pastor, and finally the Deacon himself.

The past three days have been a flurry of emails, phone calls, and in person meetings between me and each of those three individuals. In addition, I've had conversations with many of my friends in the parish, who were alienated by this column, but are not in a position to refute it or to complain about it.

This morning, after mass, Father and I had a brief conversation about all that had transpired. He commended me for speaking up, and not just deferring to clerical authority.

Of course... I totally respect the authority of the Catholic Church. I do my best to listen to our Bishops and the Holy Father, and to take their teachings into my heart sincerely. Even when I disagree, I try to learn all that I can about an issue, and to learn especially why the Church holds its position, before passing the matter over to my conscience. I believe what the Catechism says on conscience... especially that we are morally required to form our consciences properly before relying on them.

But we cannot have a Church in which the clergy are the only ones who matter... the only ones whose opinions are heard. If we move to a clergy-only church, it will die off in a generation. (Literally...they are prohibited from procreating). If we have a laity-only church, we cease being Catholic. We cannot lose the apostolic succession and authority of Rome, or we will be just another Christian church, dependent on the charisma of its pastor for success. We need each other. Clergy need laity. Lay people need clergy. And so, we need to find a way to get along, and to express our opinions respectfully when we don't.

I believe the Deacon and I tried to do that this week. We certainly both spent the time on it. We kept things respectful and polite. Neither of our minds were changed nor our positions altered, but I hope that our parish community was strengthened by our dialogue. The issue between the Deacon and me comes down to a fundamental difference in our approach to Catholicism. We both want to use our experiences and knowledge to help guide others to the beauty and truth of the Church. The difference lies not in our goal, but in our methods. He takes a "tough love" approach: "Here are the rules. Are you in or out?" I think we need a more gentle approach. I look at my own life, and see that it was a long, slow, sometimes painful process to go from "cafeteria" Catholic to the confident, faith-filled, faithful person I am today.

I know that I would have responded to the tough love by walking away. And how sad that would have been for me... not to mention for my family. I can't take that position. I keep thinking Jesus wouldn't either. I dislike the "what would Jesus do" arguments, because I think that most of the time, they are based in a false, teddy-bear image of Jesus. But I am serious about this one... I really don't think Jesus would draw the same line in the sand that my Deacon did this weekend. Jesus didn't hang with the "holy" people, the rule followers, when He was here. He hung with the sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes. And he exhorted the Pharisees and Saducees not to get so caught up in their rules that they lose sight of their real work: the work of God.

I know the Deacon believes he was doing God's work this past weekend with his column. I believe I am also doing God's work: speaking up, even when it is uncomfortable and hard, and even though the opposition can seem so much louder and stronger.


  1. Wow, sometimes when I read blogs, Catholic newspaper or magazines or talk to people I am left feeling like I am the only "moderate" with everyone else on either side. Your post was great and gives me hope! Refreshing.

  2. Thank you for your post. I am inspired by your courage in speaking up. I too am bothered lately by those who are very narrow-minded and negative. Blessings.

  3. Nice post. In my ultra-liberal parish, trying to get anything, anything at all that is reminiscent of traditional Catholicism approved is tantamount to heresy. So it looks like we have the same problem but from a different perspective. Thanks for the post.