I am a Christian, but I am not a Catholic
To those of you who left the Church years ago, or those of you who were never part of it, this will seem like a whole lot of agonising over nothing. But the events of the last few years, and the visit of Pope Francis have forced me to confront some feelings that I’ve been wrestling with. Indulge me.
I have struggled with my faith for years. I came from a family of practicing Catholics, through an overwhelmingly Catholic education system, into an Ireland built by and for the Roman Catholic Church.
And I feel Catholic. I feel some faith in a higher power. I feel that that higher power is God (whatever exactly that means). I feel an affinity with God and with the teachings of Jesus Christ. In a more concrete sense, I feel there is an inherent value in the rites and rituals of Catholicism. Don’t get me wrong: I am rarely excited to go to Mass. It often feels like a chore to attend. But most of the time I leave feeling better for having gone.
There could be any number of reasons for this feeling – not least that I rarely find any other time in my week for quiet reflection. But whatever the reasons, the solemnity and prayer of the Catholic Mass, the rites and rituals of Catholicism, and my relationship with God hold concrete value for me.
Disconnect with church teaching
But here’s the thing:
I do not believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, because I do not believe that homosexuality is wrong. I do not believe that unmarried mothers are sinners, not least because I do not believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin. I do not believe that divorce is wrong, or contraception.
What’s more: I believe that it’s absurd to call any of those things wrong. It doesn’t make sense.
I believe it’s wrong to shame people for being who they are. I believe it’s wrong to shame people for living their life in a way that causes no harm to anyone. I believe it’s wrong to constrict people with a moral code that says they aren’t good enough and never could be good enough because of the lottery of their birth, or of their life circumstances – the birth and life circumstances apparently given to them by God. I do not believe that a God worth worshipping could be that cruel.
For these same reasons, I do not believe that abortion is wrong, or that women who seek them should be judged or looked down upon. They should be supported.
À la carte Catholicism
This, of course, means that I am an à la carte Catholic. That I pick and choose which Church teachings to adhere to and which to ignore – and that’s true; I do.
Yet there’s something insidious and wrong about the phrase à la carte Catholicism. It’s meant to imply hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance, that some of the beliefs I hold directly contradict others, and that I choose my beliefs based on what’s convenient to me, rather than adhering to any central moral principle.
But my beliefs are not à la carte. They are a set menu of complimentary morals that call me to do as much good in this world as I can, in a way that makes sense: to love my neighbour as myself, to not cast the first stone, to pray for those who persecute me, to do good by the least of us, and to not exalt myself above others. These are the teachings of Jesus Christ, and not only do they not directly condemn same-sex marriage, divorce or contraception: they condemn those that would condemn them.
Living these principles in a modern context is not straightforward, and how I do it changes and evolves as my understanding of the world deepens and develops. It is only in recent years that I became pro-choice, for example. I also fail – a lot. But I fail while following a coherent moral code, and I revise that code to confront any hypocrisies when I recognise them.
À la carte human decency
The same cannot be said for the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church teaches that there is only one true path to God, that they own it, and that you must be a hypocrite to walk it. It presents itself as the moral arbiter of the world while overseeing and encouraging shame, judgment and hypocrisy in its flock.
It tells me to love my neighbour, as long as my neighbour doesn’t happen to be gay.
It tells me not to cast the first stone, except to hit a woman in a crisis pregnancy.
It tells me to do good to the least of us, while covering up the systemic child sex abuse that it facilitated.
It tells me to not exalt myself above others, while holding itself above the law.
So I’m asking: Should I be called an à la carte Catholic for disagreeing with a church that practices à la carte human decency?
I am a Christian, but I am not a Catholic
The answer is no. I’m not an à la carte Catholic. I’m not a Catholic at all. And I’ve been struggling with that for years at this point. I’ve tried to square the circle of feeling Catholic while knowing that Catholicism is contradictory, hypocritical and wrong. I’ve pushed back against the deeply ingrained feeling that not being Catholic is something to be ashamed of. The Catholic Church hasn’t had a net positive influence on this country since the state began providing free primary education, yet in the half-century since they’ve held onto the branding of Catholicism as an inherent good in the minds of people of faith. I cannot accept that any more.
I am a Christian, but I am not a Catholic. I know that that’s true. Perhaps if I say it a few thousand times it might start to feel true.
I am a Christian, but I am not a Catholic. I still believe in God. I will still pray. I may still attend a Church on occasion, and glean what spiritual comfort I get from that. But I cannot lie. I cannot tell people I am a Catholic. I cannot tick that box on the Census form. I cannot give that deference to an organisation that I know to be wrong.
I am a Christian, but I am not a Catholic. And yes, that’s difficult for me to say.
I said at the outset that this might seem like a whole lot of agonising over nothing. But the church that I am denouncing, that I have been raised in, claims that its laws are the only way to salvation. It says that there is weeping and gnashing of teeth in store for me if I am inclusive of same-sex couples, if I have casual sex with another consenting adult, or if I show compassion and understanding for women in crisis pregnancy. That feels instinctively wrong; it feels evil – but after spending my entire life in this church, leaving feels evil too.
I don’t know how my faith will develop in the years to come. I only know this:
I am a Christian, but I am not a Catholic.
The author of the above article has chosen to remain anonymous, due to career concerns. You can contact the editor via email here