Why am I still a Catholic? How should I answer this important question? In truth, sometimes I'm not sure why.
Yet I know the Church frames my identity, as basic as that. It's the source of consolation without peer. I can't slough it off: it's too embedded in the way I see the world and myself. I take it for granted in some respects, one of the products of being formed in post-WW2 Australian Catholicism, with its strong Irish inheritance.
It has been one of the most rewarding venues of growth and stimulation of any in my life. I believe that if you do hang in there, Christ's great offering from St Matthew's gospel comes true, in ways impossible to imagine: 'I have come to give you life and give it in abundance.' Abundant life: such a precious booty, not available at will.
So no, I'm not about to step aside from this easily.
But the unfolding headlines of late, together with what I've forced myself to look at square in the face, have tested these verities.
Maybe I've been through something of an epiphany, that wonderful biblical word from catechism classes which I once barely grasped. I think that deep down, I've come to believe that the world beyond the institutional church is kinder, gentler, full of more conscientious ethics, values and care for others, than the institutional Church.
That is, the much-criticised secular world in which lay people explicitly live is probably more functional and more ready to conscience-examine than the institutional Church. What an extraordinary thing! This was something of an epic realisation for me which again prompted further reflection: why then am I still a Catholic?
I suspect Vatican II's central idea of a Pilgrim Church definitely influenced my thinking as a young 20-something believer. It raised my expectations. It stretched my idea of faith. But it was a slow-burn, nothing hasty. Only gradually did my Catholic identity shift.
Despite remaining a pretty faithful adherent overall, I've sought out broader Church experiences via groups likeCatalyst For Renewal, by the occasional retreat, by good reading includingThe London Tabletand by participating in Ignatian reading groups, up to the present day.
So, without the sense that the ordained officials of the Church had so powerfully lost their way, would I be speaking to you like this today, with any ambivalence? If I hadn't drawn the awful conclusion that key parts of the institutional Church essentially ditched the role of Good Shepherd; if they hadn't decided that the priestly caste had to be protected above all, rather than the most vulnerable, would I be feeling like this?
I doubt it. I would much prefer not to be suffering any collateral shame, as I do feel with these constantly emerging stories.
But even a pretty compliant person like me would feel foolish at best and cowardly at worst if I didn't have the guts to look this crisis in the eye and see devastating dysfunction at a systemic not individual level, in an institution so close to my own values-centre. It demands my own self-audit. I must say, surely: what next? Or do I simply retreat into something small and extremely private, in the comfort of people who feel exactly as I do?
This article was first published in Eureka Street on August 2, 2012. Geraldine presented the above reflections for Q&A in the Crypt on Sunday 29 July, part of Catalyst for Renewal's year of events marking the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.
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