Friday, October 12, 2012

Reflections of a Recovering Catholic on the 50th Anniversary of the Convening of the Second Vatican Counsel

Reflections of a Recovering Catholic on the 50th Anniversary of the Convening of the Second Vatican Counsel

While I was commuting to Washington, DC yesterday morning, NPR mentioned this was the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII convening the second Vatican Counsel.  As a recovering Catholic, any reference to the attempts to modernize the Church of my childhood intrigue me.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, grew up across the street from St. Bridget’s Church in Logansport, Indiana, attended Catholic elementary school, and was indoctrinated into the faith.  There are bits of memory that arise from time to time that recall the pre Vatican II Mass that was celebrated in Latin with the celebrant’s back turned to the congregation.

The nuns that taught at my elementary school believed in a punitive God, the fires of hell, instilling fear and guilt in small children, and setting a foundation of negativity that inclined me to flee the religion of my childhood as an adult. There was no place for questioning the dogma of the church.  The result of questioning a teaching or talking during prayer was a swat on the backside with a breadboard.  I remember Sister Agnita, approximately 4’9” tall, swinging her arm to and fro while I was in 3rd grade threatening to “bop” the students. Is there any wonder some of us strayed?

Even today I love the ceremony and ritual of the Mass. It is a beautiful service as long as it is not scarred by a politically based sermon encouraging attendees to sign petitions against abortion or ending life with dignity. Only out of respect for my parents do I refrain from leaving one of those services abruptly.

While Vatican II made admirable concerted efforts to bring the Catholic Church into the 20th Century (it was 1962 after all), the ultra conservative and hypocritical church leaders in succeeding decades refused to move the church forward. History strongly supports the position that women were critical to the early church survival. There is also strong historical support that early clergy did not subscribe to celibacy. It was only as the world moved into the dark ages and the leaders of the church wanted to gain and maintain control over the faithful that concepts of the subjugation of women and the need for clerical celibacy developed.

Nearly all of the teachings of the Catholic Church resulted from negotiated settlements of disputed beliefs. I have a hard time reconciling the piety of the modern church with its history of military assaults on those who believed differently than the orthodox view, the execution of the Cathars, the Spanish Inquisition, the burning of alleged heretics, the Crusades, the assaults on independent states of Italy, the quests for power, the infidelities and flagrant abuses of the popes, the acquisition of money and valuable artifacts by the Vatican, the political support of tyrants, the buying and selling of clerical positions, the buying and selling of absolution by more affluent congregants,  and the espousal that all other religious beliefs are wrong.

My family of origin does not agree with my views on organized religion; however, they respect my decision to focus on my spirituality. I do give my parents credit for exposing me to religion, insisting that I understand their beliefs and ensuring that I had a background of faith. My life experiences caused me to question the organized religion of my youth. However, these experiences gave me the foundation to follow my own quest for spiritual enlightenment.

While I have strayed from the religion of my youth and have developed my own appreciation of spirituality, I also concede that as a result of my baptism into the faith, I will always, at heart and soul, be Catholic; however, I cannot subscribe to the Church’s teachings as they are today. I believe there is a power greater than myself. I believe in the power of the Universe. I appreciate that nearly all peoples of the world have a belief in a higher power.  And we need that to survive.  

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