As A Lifelong Catholic, I Can't Ignore The Church's Contradictions

I can't condone an institution that does not atone for its own sins.
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The rear view of St. Peter's Cathedral in London, Ont.
The rear view of St. Peter's Cathedral in London, Ont.

For over 50 years I had a Sunday ritual. Sometimes it was Saturday or Sunday night instead of the morning, but each week I automatically attended mass. It became a form of stability. We all thrive on consistency, and going to church was like eating for me. No questions asked.

Raised in Catholic homes, my parents' strong faith was passed on to their children. Although my father encouraged us to think about our faith, read controversial theologians and entertain doubts, there was an unspoken expectation that the questioning would only go so far. We would stay faithful.

For many years my faith was as sound as the rock St. Peter built our church on. In the early 1980s, I lived in Dublin working for a family. Every Sunday, the children and I walked down Anglesea Road to the Church of the Sacred Heart, while the kids' parents slept in. While we attended the service with other women and children, most Irish men sat outside the church reading the newspaper. Perhaps today the number of women and children attending mass has shrunk like he readership of the Irish Sunday Times.

Perhaps these other experiences furthered my doubts about my religion.

While at the University of Toronto, I regularly attended St. Basil's Church as a student of St. Michael's College. The next year, in Bergamo, Italy, Parrochia Santa Lucia, a short walk from my apartment, was the Sunday destination even though I spoke little Italian. And while raising my own children my Sunday morning tradition continued. Sometimes it even extended to other days of the week when my children sang in the choir or I attended parish council meetings.

Over time, other opportunities inspired deeper spiritual experiences and offered a different understanding of Christianity. Occasionally I attended United or Anglican Church services, so our children could experience my husband's religious upbringing and other interpretations of Christianity. I would often leave wishing Catholic priests devoted more effort to meaningful, engaging preaching or the more inclusive approach of other Churches.

All this as the stories started to reveal themselves about abuse of power in the Vatican, the residential schools and the confessionals.

From 2008 to 2013, my children went to school in California. For five years, every time we visited, we changed up our Sunday routine to attend the on-campus outdoor ecumenical service overlooking the Ojai Valley. The beauty of the place often brought tears of gratitude for God's creations — the place, the words, the music, with my family at my side. Perhaps these other experiences furthered my doubts about my religion. Nevertheless, I held on, believing change has to come from within the Church.

I kept going. I kept supporting social justice initiatives and was grateful for the few leaders who understood the damage the church has inflicted and did their part to bring reconciliation. But the news kept coming. And some days I think there is much more news to come from those parts of the world where the Church's stranglehold is stronger. Every day there are victims just becoming aware of the suppressed abuse that has unknowingly dogged them their whole life.

The actions of many who have claimed to share my beloved faith are so far from what is preached.

These days, attending Sunday mass is no longer automatic. Every week I consciously wonder whether I should go, and why. When I do go, I watch others file in and wonder what is on their mind. How can these attendees, young and old, reconcile the actions of many Church leaders with the words of scripture or sermons from the pulpit? Are they going to Sunday mass, like I did for over 50 years, because it is their routine? Or are they making a conscious choice to attend, trying like me to reconcile a new uncomfortable and troubling reality with feelings of a more comfortable past?

I still take some comfort in the familiar rituals that enriched my life, but I can't condone an institution that does not atone for its own sins. Pope Francis preaches a message of humility and social justice, but he has yet to apologize for the church's participation in trying to take the hearts and souls of our indigenous people. Nor has he responded to the Canadian delegation of victims to the historic Vatican summit in February 2019 that was seeking a simple assurance of true reconciliation.

How can I ignore these contradictions?

An outdoor memorial Chapel, Ojai, Cali.
An outdoor memorial Chapel, Ojai, Cali.

This year I am still giving alms and fasting for Lent. I might attend some of the traditional Holy Week services, like the celebration of the Last Supper or Good Friday's solemn reflection on the crucifixion of Jesus to hear scripture. But men will still dominate the altar and cling to power through an antiquated and inaccessible hierarchy. Meanwhile, strewn everywhere are broken lives destroyed by abuse. The actions of many who have claimed to share my beloved faith are so far from what is preached, the contradictions are breathtaking.

God has given all of us the freedom to choose, and I still choose to believe in his love and mercy. But this Easter Sunday, because of the choices of others, I may choose to honour God outside of the Church, experiencing her full untarnished glory.

Margaret Whitley