The Pennsylvania Attorney General's report of clergy sex abuse is deeply harrowing and necessitates urgent conversations about our Church structure and the need for drastic reform. I have spent time on that topic lately on Instagram and more specifically in this month's email newsletter. (You can sign up here for that if you haven't yet.) This blog post is not about solving problems, but about answering the glaring question so many are asking.
There is no doubt that the Catholic Church is at a pivotal point. Every day the headlines seem to get worse but if I know anything at all, I know that those on top are placing bets on returning to the status quo any day now. Put out the fires and wait for the news cycle to move on. The people will forget. We'll restabilize in no time. It's too old an institution to come tumbling down.
They underestimate how many of us are ready to light a match.
I've heard from many of you over the past two weeks—especially those of you who already felt unsure of whether you belonged and wonder if now is the time to make your exit. Those like me, to be honest. Maybe you're a recent convert too, or maybe you're a cradle Catholic who prefers the evangelical style of worship. Maybe you are a clergy abuse survivor, or maybe your faith simply seems to have outgrown the tradition you once knew as home. Maybe the Pennsylvania shitshow is just too horrific and you doubt a good God could exist at all.
You have reached out, asking me why you should remain Catholic in the light of such abuse of power. Why stay in an institution with a hierarchy so unhealthy and untouchable? Your questions are valid, and time and again I have typed out to you that I don't have a simple answer. Others have their own. Some have said they could never leave the Eucharist. Some have said they want to be the ones fighting within the system for justice and change. Some have said they simply have nowhere else to go.
These are all good reasons to stay, but they're not exactly mine and they might not be yours either. I don't think it's my place to convince you not to leave; that is neither a role I feel responsible for nor one I am willing to take on. You are free. But I suppose it's only fair to explain to you why I am still here.
I came into the Catholic Church four years ago alongside my husband. We had both left the respective denominations we'd been born into and after giving our formative college and post-college years to nondenominational evangelicalism, we had finally walked away from that theology as well. We'd attended an Anglican church for a while and loved it but couldn't reconcile raising a black son in a stream of Christianity so very white.
But what on paper might look like a process of elimination, in lived experience felt more like a divine drawing. A mysterious, cosmic God tugged on my heart through Catholicism in a way entirely unfamiliar to me. The richness of thought in every possible corner of theology and humanity impressed me. The social teaching inspired me. The liturgy enchanted me. The saints fascinated me. The view of suffering healed me. The Eucharist mystified me.
There were serious mental and theological hurdles to be overcome. But in the end, a friend of ours said it best: "I don't love everything about Catholicism, but everything I love is Catholic."
Even today, being asked why I became Catholic is one of my least favorite questions to answer. How do I succinctly summarize something so complex and uniquely mystical? Readers frequently request I write a "conversion story" blog post, but my conversion is unfinished and a story can never quite capture a symbol. I don't know how to explain the sensuality of my Catholic faith, and if I tried you might get hung up on my choice of the word sensuality.
It's just here; just here in my gut. I'm Catholic.
Maybe not in the way your mom or priest is. Maybe not in the way the blogger next door is. But in my own way, which is all that Christ has ever asked of me. Catholicism is a tent big enough for every manner of person, which is weird and wonderful and perhaps what makes it the only place I could ever fit.
But I promised to tell you why I'm staying, not why I came in the first place. It's true that I have by now explored nearly every possible expression of Christianity; Catholicism was in some ways the last stop. I have no interest in living a life of faith devoid of a Body—an individualistic faith is wholly unappealing to me—and I'm running low on options after that mad rush for a spiritual crash pad I did as I turned the corner on 30. Still, there are always alternatives, and that one church downtown seems pretty darn great.
But I'm not leaving. And here's why:
I'm staying because it is normal to dialogue with Buddhism
Because a woman can write about her menstrual blood and Saint Agnes
Because the Incarnation makes brothers
of people who are radically different. And sometimes the Church brings us together
Because sometimes, not very often, once in a blue moon, heaven comes here
Because we're unafraid of gore and death and Halloween
I'm staying because others of different religions
are telling me it is worth it.
I'm staying because Jean Vanier
changed my heart.
Because the Catholic Worker changed my life
I'm staying because we embrace evolution
I'm staying because Flannery O'Connor is so damn weird
And because we do myth better than anyone
I'm staying because my priest has done stand up comedy—and it was actually funny. (I deeply regret not having a link for you.)
Because we have the best heroes
And the best parties
I'm staying because Nuns On the Bus
Because I cried the first time I read a Brian Doyle essay
Because of book lists like this
. And this
Because conservative writers fearlessly lost their jobs
for speaking out against Trump.
I'm staying because I can follow both Catholic Women Speak
and Blessed Is She
, and I don't have to choose between them.
Because it's the largest humanitarian organization
in the world.
I'm staying Catholic because these are the people I want to be with. Catholicism isn't a hierarchy or a structure or even an institution to me. It's these people. These mysteries. This activism. This mysticism. This otherness.
I don't love everything about Catholicism—especially not right now—but everything I love is Catholic. And it always will be.