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No Longer Catholic

In the early 1990s I went into a program called RCIA – Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults that cumulated in my being accepted into the Catholic Church on Easter 1992. In October 2011 I made the painful choice to leave the Catholic Church and I think it is time for me to go public. Though a lot of my friends must have already figured it out since I’ve been going to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church since my decision. One doesn’t exactly blend into the crowd at Holy Trinity.

While there are several issues that have bothered me for at least a decade, including the role of women and the handling of several sex scandals, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me is the hierarchy’s recent obsession with fighting marriage equality under the banners of “Defense of Marriage” and “Natural Law.” I find both of these approaches intellectually dishonest.

“Defense of Marriage” – This is the concept that marriage as an institution must be kept undiluted or it will become meaningless and fade away. It is not enough to have a traditional definition of marriage within the Church, it must be maintained on the civil level as well.

I’m all for defending marriage, which does seem to be on the decline in the United States. But actually defending marriage would mean taking a close, objective look at why people actually break up and why fewer people are choosing marriage as a way to live. Then acting on those findings. It seems like an authentic “defense of marriage” would focus on pre-marital counseling, building communication during marriage and finding ways to get people to problem solve during crises instead of divorcing. Then the proportion of married people would probably increase.

“Natural Law” – This is the concept that some things are written into the fabric of nature. For example, no known human society has sanctioned parent-child incest. For more on this concept, see the references below. Natural Law is the Catholic Church’s rationale for interfering with civil law and why an approach of “To each church their own” is unacceptable to them. Cardinal Francis George, speaking as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2010, made the following appeal to Natural Law:

“The misuse of law to change the nature of marriage undermines the common good,” he said. “It is tragic that a federal judge would overturn the clear and expressed will of the people in their support for the institution of marriage. No court of civil law has the authority to reach into areas of human experience that nature itself has defined.”

Thus, the Catholic Church is entitled to have the state enforce its ideas about marriage even if it’s not part of others beliefs in our multicultural, multicreedal society.

But is marriage as one-man/one woman something that nature itself has defined? For this to be the case, one would expect that virtually all cultures had practiced one man/one woman marriages for most of human history, just as practically all cultures ban parent-child incest.

Anthropologists report that this isn’t the case. According to the anthropology department at Palomar College, “In a sample of 850 societies, less than 20% preferred monogamy over other marriage patterns. ” Even the Bible itself has numerous examples of polygamy that appeared to be perfectly acceptable to God. I’ve covered some of those in the series One Man/One Woman Not.

I’m actually a big fan of Natural Law, when it can successfully be untangled from specific cultural mores. Much of my beliefs on immigration and the treatment of terrorism and criminal suspects can be explained by a reliance on my interpretation of Natural Law. I really do believe the words of the Declaration of Independence that “All men (humans) are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain INALIENABLE rights.” I object to interpretations of Natural Law that are clearly contradicted by not only human history, but by the very Bible the Catholic Church claims to depend on.

I still appreciate many things about the Catholic Church, especially their stands on immigration, social teaching and that the Catholic Worker movement has a home in the Church.

I appreciate these things, but the amount of energy, money and in my view, intellectual dishonesty, they are spending on blocking marriage equality is too painful for me to remain. The Catholic Church has every right not to perform same-sex ceremonies. But they don’t have the right to enshrine their particular view of marriage in civil law. To me, this really is the same thing as Muslims, Jews, Hindus or whomever attempting to impose their particular take on a social institution as “God’s Law.” My guiding light is Jesus’ command to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” On this basis, I would not want people of other faiths to enact their sect-specific prescriptions (no pork, no loan interest, lashes as punishment) into US civil law and so I don’t want my church to do so either.

So I decided that I needed to find a church that more fully implements this broader view of the Golden Rule. For now I think I’ve found it in the Episcopal Church. I still occasionally attend the Catholic Cathedral. My wife is still Catholic and is a lector, as I once was. I attend when she reads, but I don’t go up to communion anymore because as the Catholic Church itself says, that would reflect a unity that does not exist. My wife is respectful of my decision and I’m not pressuring her to leave the Catholic Church.


US Conference of Catholic Bishops “Defense of Marriage” website – http://old.usccb.org/defenseofmarriage/

Natural Law (Wikipedia) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law

Ethics Tradition in Natural Law (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) – http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-law-ethics/

Cardinal condemns Prop 8 judgment. Catholic Herald, 8/9/2010. http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2010/08/09/cardinal-condemns-prop-8-judgment/

Marriage Rules, Part I (Palomar College Department of Anthropology) – http://anthro.palomar.edu/marriage/marriage_3.htm


8 Responses

  1. Excellent commentary, Daniel, I agree with you wholeheartedly! I guess another option would be to remain a participant and try to change things internally. But, from my experience it could be very frustrating and, in the end, fruitless.

  2. I spiritually left the Catholic church in 1963 soon after a confessional during which I received a hellfire-and-damnation lecture from the priest, on hearing from me that I was dating a divorced man.

    The final straw in 1963 was when my roommate at college and her two friends — all of us still church-going good Catholic girls — reported my relationship with the divorced man to the Dean of Women, and I was called in to the Dean’s office to explain myself and receive a lecture similar to the confessional scolding.

    I didn’t believe either my soul or the soul of the very fine man to whom I’m still married after 47 years were in danger of hellfire or damnation then or are in danger now.

  3. My husband and I, both cradle Catholics, haven’t attended Mass in years. A final straw for us was hearing that a well-liked parish nun had been denounced from the pulpit for deciding to join a Catholic sect that ordained female priests. Add the historical exclusion of women, the pedophile scandals, and the general bureaucracy of the Church (as well as this recent trend of reforming the Church to pre-Vatican II standards), and it’s been enough to steer us away from organized religion for the time being.

  4. I agree with you completely, Daniel. Cardinal George’s recent comments comparing LGBT attempts to gain equal civil rights to the Ku Klux Klan were particularly reprehensible.

  5. I formally left the church when I joined Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green in New Haven, Ct in 2009. I could not take one more week of being told I would be committing a sin for voting for a particular candidate, or that it was a church matter who could be civilly married in my state. I am so at home here now, I am glad I made the move.

  6. I think Thomas Merton would have to change to another Christian church, too. My husband and I were very dedicated catholics for at least fifty-five years, but could not accept the current politics. We attend an ecumenical service at a monastery where the nuns have cut their ties to the Vatican. I still miss the catholic traditions but I, too, can not abide what the leadership is doing. I’m glad that your wife is still able to go to a catholic church. Many couples have this situation.

  7. Beautifully written, well conceived and reasoned – a courageous post – thank you!

  8. I was a Catholic for 56 years and I left almost a year ago.
    For me, it was the child sex abuse scandal.
    I realized that if I had belonged to a group or a club and a pattern of abuse was this mishandled, then I would resign immediately.

    How can I receive religious guidance that does not value children, when they were so important to Jesus?
    Why are woman not included in decision making in the church and how can I stay in religion that does not value women?

    I found the church is going backwards and not meeting the challenges that the modern day world needs.
    I miss the people of my church community. I do not miss the agonizing I did trying to keep my beliefs in line with the Church’s teachings.

    I have not chosen a new church yet.

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