, Gloucester, MA

December 1, 2010

Insights and Outbursts: Politics and the Catholic Church

Insights and Outbursts
Eileen Ford

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."

— Mahatma Gandhi

I read an article in the Oct. 22 issue of Commonweal Magazine by Notre Dame Law Professor Cathleen Kaveny called "Long Goodbye: Why some devout Catholics are leaving the Church."

It's the first time I've seen a Catholic magazine address the subject of Catholics who leave "as a matter of conscience."

Kaveny describes them as people who "see no hope of institutional reform" because clergy abuse is seen "as a problem of individual sinfulness, not of broader flaws in church teaching and practices ... From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering.

"But why not stay and fight?" Kaveny writes. "First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don't like what fighting is doing to them. The fight is diminishing their ability to hear the gospel and proclaim that good news. The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ."

I also read "Catholics in Belgium Start Parishes of Their Own," by Doreen Carvajal in the Nov. 17 issue of the New York Times. It was about "a grass-roots movement that defies centuries of Roman Catholic Church doctrine by worshiping and sharing communion without a priest."

Carvajal tells of a service conducted by parishioners in Don Bosco parish, "one of about a dozen alternative Catholic churches ... in Dutch-speaking regions of Belgium and the Netherlands. They are an uneasy reaction to a combination of forces: a shortage of priests, the closing of churches, dissatisfaction with Vatican appointments of conservative bishops and... dismay over cover-ups of sexual abuse by priests."

Both articles gave me hope for the future of a church in which parishioners, outraged by crimes committed by priests and prelates, refuse to be denied the Eucharist because of a shortage of priests.

Many years ago, a few churches in the Boston Archdiocese tried something similar to the Belgium services, by parishioners who refused to allow their churches to be closed and sympathetic priests who helped them. But most of those churches closed after locks were changed by church officials who feared that parishioners would stay and conduct "alternative services" in their parishes.

After five years of holding Voice of the Faithful meetings in an Episcopal Church because we were forbidden to meet in our own parish in Gloucester, I felt like I was being consumed by anger — infuriated at bishops who declared "zero tolerance" against priests while ignoring their own involvement in crimes against children, and irritated by those who didn't share my anger.

I didn't leave because of clergy abuse, however. I left in 2004, when a few bishops declared that John Kerry and anyone who voted for him should not receive Holy Communion because of his pro-choice position on abortion.

I personally believe that abortion is just about the worst thing any woman can do to herself and her unborn child, but the audacity of Catholic bishops interfering in presidential elections by politicizing the Eucharist was the last straw.

Around that time, I attended a funeral in a local Episcopal Church and heard the Rev. Karin Wade say, "In the Episcopal Church, all baptized Christians can receive the Eucharist." After making an 8-day retreat, I began to receive the Eucharist in that church and continue to do so today.

When it comes to politics in church or state, I'm an independent who doesn't believe in litmus tests for the Eucharist and refuses to allow anyone to "diminish my ability to hear the gospel and proclaim that good news" or deprive me "of the peace of Christ."

The life of Jesus taught us what some of his "official representatives" don't seem to understand. Eucharist is much more than something we receive on Sundays in a church.

It's a sacrament to be lived, not rationed or used as a weapon, available whenever one human life acts with compassion toward another.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Happy Hanukkah.

Eileen Ford is a Rockport resident and a regular Times columnist.