I have a huge amount of respect for the individual priests and nuns I have known over the years. They are good, caring people who take the core messages of the Gospels to heart. But the Church as a whole, with its hierarchy and its history and its political influence, is both more and less than its individual priests and nuns. The Church I see today is not the Church of my childhood. Maybe the Church of my childhood never really existed; after all, while I was learning about inclusiveness, forgiveness and tolerance at CYO camp,* priests were abusing children and the hierarchy was covering for them. Women were excluded from power. Humanae Vitae…well, do I even need to mention it?
By the time I finished college I was very deeply angry at the Church. It was for all of the usual reasons, some of which I mentioned just now, and I won’t bore you with the details. I still thought of myself as a Catholic but I no longer attended Mass. The inclusive, many-paths-to-God teaching I had had as a child (which I still believe) had started to devour its own tail: if in fact there were many paths to God, then it couldn’t really matter so much which path I was on, could it? Surely I could love my neighbor and practice tolerance even though I couldn’t any longer stand with the Church as an institution.
Partly I was lazy (who wants to get up early on Sundays in college?), partly I was self-righteously wearing my newly discovered feminism like a merit badge,** but mostly I distanced myself from the Church because I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need the Church to live a meaningful and moral life; and if in fact there many paths to God, I didn’t need the Church as an organized body for my salvation either; and that being the case, I didn’t have to support an institution so deeply flawed.
*We literally sang Kum-Ba-Ya.
**I was a real pain in the ass.