Once born a Catholic, always a Catholic. Someone once told me that. It’s true in a way. Even if you no longer believe in Catholicism, you’re considered a “fallen Catholic” or a “lapsed Catholic.”
I’ve always felt being called a lapsed Catholic sounded as if I were an insurance policy on which I failed to pay the premium. You register for a hospital stay and the clerk asks, “what religion are you?” and an eternity passes before you are able to mumble “none.”
These thoughts passed through my consciousness when I heard the incredible news that the pope resigned. Popes, like kings, just don’t resign (unless you’re the Duke of Windsor and you fall for a divorced woman). After all, if you are considered the Vicar of Christ here on earth and infallible in matters of spiritual and moral matters, how do you walk away from being the pope? Followers expect you to die in office, otherwise why the practice of selecting aging men as pope in the first place? Yet in our age where nothing is what it seems and where we have witnessed sights unimaginable just a few decades ago, for apparent matters of age and health the pope indeed resigned.
One of the mostly unreported stories of our times is that the pope and his papal doctrine have become mostly irrelevant in the world of American Catholicism. That is not the harsh opinion of a non-believer, but the plain facts about the practices of American Catholics. With each and every new poll it has become obvious that in America, Catholics are not much different than anyone else on key issues such as abortion, gay rights and women in the clergy. No matter how many times some political strategist talks about the “Catholic vote,” the “Catholic vote” has become a myth. In the strictest sense, that is what I mean about the pope having become irrelevant in American life.
As a worldwide religious figure, the pope is venerated by many Catholic and non-Catholic Americans alike. A papal visit is a major event, but less in a spiritual sense and more like a visit from Queen Elizabeth. As the rift widens between the practices and beliefs of American Catholics and the Vatican, some Americans have clung to the belief that eventually the church will become more liberal on social issues rather than leave the faith. I see no such evidence of that happening.
The so-called elephant in the room during Pope Benedict’s tenure was scandal, especially the discovery that higher-ups all over the world had conspired to protect pedophile priests rather than their victims. Benedict had been in charge of dealing with this scandal that has rocked the church like no other under the previous pope. Benedict seemed late in speaking out against child abuse and comforting its victims. The numerous lawsuits that have followed have not only put the Church in a perilous financial position, but caused defections from its followers.
My attitude as a public school student differs greatly from some of my parochial school friends. While they celebrated and often joked about the stern discipline from the priests and nuns, I cringed in fear from my encounters when I attended instructions for the sacraments. I found then and later even as a parent, that public school students were treated like second-class citizens. We were treated with the kind of distaste you don’t soon forget.
I have never been one who expected the Catholic church to change its teachings for my benefit. The church has survived for centuries and does so today without any spiritual suggestions from me. I figured it was just a bad fit and each of us were better off without the other. No hard feelings — these things don’t always work out.
Today, I am a person without any specific religious beliefs. I think there has to be a place in life for birth control, divorce and even abortion with certain restrictions. Banning any or all of those things, in my mind, has caused more harm and suffering than good. I think gays are no different than straight people, as subjected to great good or evil as the rest of us in the human race.
I would like to believe in an afterlife where I will be greeted by loved ones, but I am not counting on it. If there is a God, I think that he or she will be as likely to look like George Burns as a mysterious figure in white (in my heart, I’d prefer George Burns). I confess I don’t have it all sorted out and am certain that in my remaining time that I never will. I don’t think atheists would welcome me into the fold because I am as not as certain as they that this is all there is.
The bottom line is that I just don’t know what to believe. I get the feeling that I’m not supposed to know. There are a lot of folks who go around all their lives pretending to know when I think they are just guessing. Sometimes I think that Woody Allen was on to something when he compared existence to a long train ride where we are the passengers who comfort one another.
Snuggle up for the ride and let’s see where it takes us.
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