An Open Letter to the Roman Catholic Hierarchy

Dear Roman Catholic Hierarchy,

You and me, we are officially fighting now. Over the past months and years you have been making it pretty clear that you seem to not want women like me in your church. Lately you tell me that taking control of my reproductive system is wrong, that the women religious I hold in high regard for their work for the impoverished and ill are incapable of directing their own efforts to minister to Christ’s brothers and sisters, you advocate laws that deny rights to so many, and now you are launching an investigation into the Girl Scouts of America, a group that goes out of its way to be inclusive of girls of all walks of life, to see if they are somehow being “anti-Catholic.”

These things you do upset me, and so have I sought to understand the choices you have made. The information I have found has done little to soften my feelings of unrest. In fact, the more I learn, the angrier I become. Surely by now you have heard that 98% of sexualy active Catholic women in America have used birth control at some point. We have looked into our hearts, sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and found that it is not immoral to prevent the conception of a child we are ill equipped to care for. You say that there is no room in Catholic teaching for same sex marriage, and yet respected Catholic theologians, such as Daniel Maguire and Frank Parella, disagree with you. And a recent Gallup poll shows that Catholics aren’t really any more divided than the general populace on the opinion that it should be legal. This study from The Public Religion Research Institute paints a far more disturbing picture. Its research shows that 64% of Catholics believe that your negative teachings are leading to increased suicides in gay and lesbian youths. We are saying to you that your attitudes are killing our children. That is horrific. Are you listening yet?

And now I read that Cardinal Bernard Law was influential in the decision to investigate and then take over the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. This makes me more angry than I know how to express. In case you somehow forgot, Cardinal Law left Boston in disgrace after he helped hide the crimes of pedophiles. And yet this man somehow has the moral authority to say that the women religious of America are insufficiently orthodox in their priorities to heal the sick and feed the hungry? Did you think we wouldn’t notice? That we wouldn’t mind?

Christ teaches that I am to love my enemies. Rest assured, right now, you are my enemy. I don’t love you, but I pray to God for the strength to love you. You aren’t making it easy. I don’t know what I will do when I find that strength, but I also pray that whatever action I am inspired to take, it will touch your hearts in a way that will lead to positive change. Change that will open the church’s love to all those who seek it.

I can tell you what I won’t do, though, not now and not then. I will not leave this church. I will not refer to myself as anything less than a faithful Catholic. I will not stop going to mass on Sundays. And I will not stop speaking my mind. Nor will the countless other Catholic faithful who support missions that are unafraid of you like those of Catholics for Choice and Equally Blessed or the more recently formed Nun Justice Project. This is our church. We have not compromised our faith by questioning you and your motives. We will not let you take the church we love away from us. We will not go away. We will not be silent. We will stand confident in God’s love and minister to the disenfranchised and least among us as Christ taught us to do. I pray that one day you will stand with us.

Yours sincerely in Christ,
A Catholic Woman

By Opifex

Opifex is a former art student, unrepentant nerd, and occasional annoying liker of things before they were cool. She keeps two sets of polyhedral dice in her purse, in case the first set stops being lucky. That's kind of how she rolls.

18 replies on “An Open Letter to the Roman Catholic Hierarchy”

Rationalization is an amazing tool and it never fails to astound me how an institution will justify and cover up the sexual abuse of children, yet vehemently pursue every opportunity to disenfranchise the reproductive health of its members, as well as others who just happen to be in the way.

Power is a funny thing. At the end of the day, I am almost convinced that this isn’t even about birth control or women’s roles, but about being used to having a say in something that the church as an institution has always felt entitled to. It reminds me of when a group of nuns in my hometown broke off from the church because they were told to stop “being so active” and instead concentrate on taking care of the clergy and priests (all men). Folks are liable to do anything to keep the power they have.

I sort of went over this in my response to QoB below, but I absolutely think this dumb ass behavior is about power. The bishops have to know that they only hold power because we have accepted that they do. They also have to see that our respect for their authority and therefor their power is diminishing. And like a two year old they are throwing a temper tantrum about it.

And I have heard rumors that the LCWR might disband and reform as a separate group outside of Vatican approval or authority rather than allow themselves to be taken over by the bishops. Fingers crossed.

This is a very powerful letter and I really hope those in the hierarchy get to read it.

But honestly, coming from Ireland, I don’t think the men in power in the Catholic Church give a shit about what the rank and file think.

I think not giving a shit is the face they want to put forward, but I am less convinced that they actually feel that way. You don’t have repeated attempts to crack down on the rules unless you are worried about what people disregarding the rules means for you. They can’t wield the threat of excommunication they way they used to, the governments of the world won’t back them up. Five minutes of Google research tells me there are roughly 70 some odd million Catholics in the US, and 5,000 or so bishops in the world. If enough of us reject their authority to determine our religious identity and refuse schism what can they really do about it? Refuse us sacraments? That only works if the low level priests agree to go along with it, and their authority with them is eroding too. Give us the side eye? I’m shaking in my shoes.

If people still go to Mass, give money for collections, and send their children for Communion and Confirmation, how else should they let the bishops know they reject their authority? Yes, they can ignore the Church’s political teachings when they vote and keep buying whatever they like at the pharmacy, but what else can they do? Because I don’t think that listening politely and then ignoring them has worked so far.

It could just be a regional difference, but I see a lot more open opposition here, there just seems to be an attempt to hush up that those voices are Catholic. Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi are Catholic as is Kathleen Sebelius (who for all the posturing, has not actually been excommunicated so far as I can tell). The former governor of my state was a member of my parish and a pro choice politician. And while I see accusations of “cafeteria Catholic” and the like lobed at them by the conservatives, they are still very much supported by many of the Catholics I know.

I’m working on a more directed version of this to mail to Timothy Dolan, and another for the Archbishop of my own diocese. If I could get myself to the headquarters of the USCCB I would totally nail it to their door.

I’m really glad you liked it. I was a little nervous about posting this because I don’t really want to become a church apologist or anything. I just got tired of the Bishops being the only Catholic voice speaking right now.

I agree with @Ren. There’s nothing in this that comes across as apologizing for the church at all. I also agree that voices like yours need to be heard. There are good and kind people doing good work in the church and it’s a shame that the powers that be are ruining everything good that’s left.

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