I don’t know when it happened, but at some point it became fashionable among both secular and religious progressives to bash the Catholic Church for basically everything under the sun. Since the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, I’ve heard a number of slams against the church including that it is old-fashioned, sexist, homophobic and the like. What is surprising and somewhat disturbing is how easily some progressive Christians have joined in the Catholic-bashing. Posts by Tim Suttle, Tony Jones and David Hayward are just some of the negative reactions that I’ve seen from progressive folk on Facebook and the blogs. People who usually get upset when people speak ill of gays or Muslims have no problem saying all sorts of nasty things against Catholics.
Now, part of this bashing is understandable. The child sex abuse scandal which has rocked the worldwide church has basically tarnished it’s reputation. I also wish the Catholic leadership were more willing to bend when it comes to same-sex marriage. But what bothers me is how we tend to miss the nuance of the Catholicism. People who are so quick to judge others for being too black and white and ready to tar the Roman church without a hint of shame.
Even though I am an openly gay man, I still have soft spot for the Catholics- the result of knowing so many of them.
You see the Catholic church isn’t some distant entity for little ol’ Protestant me. It’s a very real place with real people and it made me the person I am today. Maybe I have a soft spot for Catholics because my mother is a Protestant convert who grew up Catholic. I know kindergarten has something to do with it. Kindergarten and 1st grade were spend at St. Agnes Catholic School in Flint, Michigan. I can remember forming lines and walking from the school building to the church on the grounds. Inside, the church was decked out in colorful banners. This was just after Vactican II so it was all about the folk mass. I was captivated by all of it. I can remember Sister Veronica who worked at the school and one time gave me a ride home in her bright orange Chevy Nova with St. Christopher on the dash board.
I went to other schools between first and eighth grades, but in the fall of 1983, I became a student at Powers Catholic High School. I was one of the few Protestants that went to the school (most of the Protestants happened to be African American.) Powers was a great experience. I learned more about Catholics through my class work as well as through the friends I made there, friendships that carry on thirty years later.
I never was interested in becoming Catholic much less a priest, but I do think people like Sister Veronica and Father Al from days in high school made me think more about becoming a man of the cloth in my own right.
Yes, I don’t get the insistance on celibacy for priests. Yes, I wish the church would be open to gays and lesbians. Yeah, I would like to see them consider ordaining women. That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons.
But despite all of those deficits, I am thankful we have Catholics in the world. They tend to be the folks who stay in the inner city , working for justice where we Protestants fear to tread. I am reminded of a Catholic aquaintence here in Minneapolis who gave up his job at Target and opened up his house in North Minneapolis as a kind of monastery in the inner city. I don’t know if I could do that.
I think about that friend when I read things like this about Pope Francis:
He loves the poor and not in an abstract way. He gave the cardinal’s palace in Buenos Aires to a missionary order with no money. He lives in an apartment, cooks his own food, rides the bus. He rejects pomposity. He does not feel superior. He is a fellow soul. He had booked a flight back to Argentina when the conclave ended…
He picks up his own luggage, pays his own hotel bill, shuns security, refuses a limousine, gets on a minibus with the cardinals. That doesn’t sound like a prince, or a pope. He goes to visit a church in a modest car in rush-hour traffic. He pointedly refuses to sit on a throne after his election, it is reported, and meets his fellow cardinals standing, on equal footing. The night he was elected, according to New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Vatican officials and staffers came forward to meet the new pope. He politely put them off: Not now, the people are waiting. Then he went to the balcony.
No, Catholics aren’t perfect and yes, they have done some things that are just shameful. But I don’t know what part of the church doesn’t have some taint to it. After all, Jesus entrusted his church to imperfect beings, so what do you expect?
So this liberal Protestant won’t be joining in the bashing of Catholics or Pope Francis. I will pray for them even if they might not agree with me. Because in spite of themselves, because of Sister Veronica and Father Al, a shy gay black kid was able to hear the call of God to ministry.
Thanks be to God.