On Good Friday, NPR ran a piece of mine wherein I discuss why I remain a Catholic.
This week, they present the flip side, showcasing an essay by author Julianna Baggott, who writes about leaving the Catholic Church, but not the identity:
I am deeply Catholic and always will be, but I’m no longer a member of the church. I left in 2003 because of the sex abuse scandal.
One day at Mass, I couldn’t put money into the offertory basket. Was I paying for lawyers of pedophiles? I wanted to protest, but that’s easy. It’s called being Protestant. I thought of it as a boycott.
But leaving was agonizing. The church made me who I am. I was taught by kind, feminist nuns; shaped as a writer by the beautiful and grotesque Catholic imagination in the long literary tradition of Catholic writers; guided by the power of prayer, a devotion to Mary and in love with the idea of the great big Catholic family.
And I knew that without the Catholic Church, my mother wouldn’t have survived her childhood. The church saved her.
You’ll want to read the whole thing.
It’s an interesting piece, and Baggott writes with real feeling for her former parish, one which reinforced what she calls the “anti-Church Catholicism” in which she was formed through her schooling. While our ideas of challenging and moving Catholic worship are probably antithetical, I can identify with her admiration for her own priest and for the church’s service to the less-advantaged, and of course with her deep shame and anger over the roiling scandal we must face.
What Baggott thinks of as a “boycott” however, puzzles me. She relates wondering if her contribution was going “to defend pedophiles?”
Well, more likely, it was going to help fund her priest’s stipend and the parish outreach and to pay the bills, but even if a few pennies ended up in a defense fund, somewhere, might it not end up defending an innocent priest facing accusation, such as Cardinal Bernadin? If Baggott was worried about how her contribution would be spent, she could easily have chosen to put away the checkbook and instead brought a few bags of groceries with her, each week, to church; the local community served by the parish outreach would have benefited from such a move, and Baggott—having control over how her donation was utilized—would not be separating herself from the Source and Summit of our faith, which is the Holy Eucharist.
The bureaucracy of the Catholic Church—for better or for worse—is comprised of mortals, who are passing. The Eucharist upon which we feed remains ever the same. As we prayed at Saturday’s Vigil Mass: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, alpha and omega; all times belong to him, and all ages . . .”
Surrendering the consolations of the Eucharist, (and access to the sacraments, to the fellowship and to the senses-enlivening liturgy) because of the failings of mortal, passing men, this seems like a heavy burden to afflict upon oneself. Baggott seems to be doing the penance best done by those who need to do it. I wish and pray that she does not encourage her mother in this same penance, as it seems so heavy and counterproductive. The good priests and religious that Baggott knows, the good works of the church, which she admires, they need their prayers.
Elizabeth Scalia is a contributing writer for First Things. She blogs at The Anchoress.