Why I haven’t left the church

So much emphasis was placed on presumed sexual morality and ideal families at these parishes that anyone who didn’t fit a rigid traditional mold was ostracized.

Unwed, separated and divorced parents and their children were shunned.

Families like mine — my parents were divorced — formed an outgroup that was systematically excluded.

I experienced bullying.

Other kids tormented me by poking fun at my appearance and personality and making nasty remarks about why my dad was not around.

I was not the only one. It happened to other children.

One individual with unwed parents was heckled.

Kids called this person “illegitimate” and said the person was “going to hell” because of being “born in sin.”

Two boys with single mothers were bullied terribly and ostracized at one school. Students taunted another boy with a single dad by repeatedly asking where his mother was.

The bullies, most of whom came from devout Catholic families, experienced minimal consequences.

Mistreatment extended to outsider parents.

At one school, some parents criticized my mother for being divorced. Once, she volunteered to be a classroom assistant, but other volunteers (all stay-at-home moms) turned her away.

Other outcast parents discussed similar experiences. I witnessed such ostracism at every school and parish I attended.

I saw other parents just disappear.

The exclusion tactics worked — people got the message that they were unwelcome and removed themselves.

My faith reached a breaking point at a certain nice-looking parish.

The pastor bragged about vacations and casino trips and thanked fans for free dinners.

He rubbed shoulders with people corresponding to ideal Catholic stereotypes.

The in-group was generally smug, prosperous families with rich dads, stay-at-home moms and multiple kids.

At Mass, I heard about a compassionate God who saved an adulteress from being stoned and who willingly died with thieves.

I learned about mercy in the catechism.

I was a gifted student and benefited from my education.

However, I became disillusioned.

At age 13, I refused to attend church services.

I disliked churches.

I wanted to abandon organized religion.

I searched for divinity where I freely experienced it.

I considered worshipping God in nature.

What changed my mind was reflecting on Jesus and the Eucharist.

I truly believed in an all-loving God who wanted to unite himself to humanity.

I believed in the Jesus who defied his own people’s traditions, who spoke up on behalf of widows, orphans, convicts, prostitutes, disabled people and outcasts to change the world.

I believed Christ existed and that he was present in the Eucharist. That the Eucharist wasn’t some symbolic chip of bread and Mass wasn’t a country club party.

I believed that Jesus is Love personified.

All institutions are corrupted by human nature — but there was nothing wrong with Catholic core teachings.

I decided it was possible to be Catholic and not belong to a parish clique.

My solution was to be an independent Catholic. Continue reading

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