TRUE STORIES — I’m not giving up … just resigning

J.T. Knoll
J.T. Knoll

Taking my lead from the resignation of Pope Benedict, I decided to resign from being Catholic during Lent in 2013.

As Catholic writer and professor Paul Elie put it, “If the pope can resign, we can, too. We should give up Catholicism en masse, if only for a time. Resignation: that’s what American Catholics are feeling about our faith. We are resigned to the fact that so much in the Roman Catholic Church is broken and won’t be fixed anytime soon.”

Then along came Pope Francis smiling and waving from the cover of The Rolling Stone with the message, “The times they are a changin’.”

To wit, in 2015 Frances said, in reference to welcoming them into the Catholic fold, "Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They're children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it.” He also said, “Who am I to judge.”

Which had me looking forward to the millions of gay and lesbian American Catholics being affirmed by the sacrament of marriage, which is, after all, the ultimate expression of love and commitment worldwide.

But it was not to be. Last Monday the Vatican issued a statement saying that the Catholic Church would not bless same-sex unions, referring to them as a "choice" and described them as “sinful”.

So the hierarchy has once again given me cause to vacate my pew during Lent to figure out what in Roman Catholicism I can embrace and what I can’t. Maybe visit another church in hopes of widening my ecumenical experience.

St. Peter’s Episcopal — the Anglican denomination that originated when King Henry VIII split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 because the Pope refused to grant him an annulment — is just half a block away, but they’re still in Covid-19 lockdown so I can’t sit in on a service.

Still, I can consider some of the doctrinal differences between them and Catholics: • Both men and women can be ordained as priests in the Episcopalian Church. They can also get married. Not so in Catholicism. • Episcopalians don’t surrender to the Pope’s authority; they have bishops and cardinals that are chosen through elections. • One can take part in an Episcopalian Communion whether one is an Episcopal or not, but one cannot participate in a Catholic Communion unless one is Catholic. • Episcopalians are allowed to use birth control; Catholics are not. • Unlike the Catholic Church, in the Episcopal. same-sex couples are able to marry.

I’ve long been a proponent of all of the Episcopal doctrines above — even as I’ve continued to attend Sacred Heart … so maybe I’m already an Episcopalian? Could be. For sure I’m not a true believer. More of a half-lapsed one.

As for the recent decision on gay marriage, Jesuit priest, Thomas Reese, proposed in The National Catholic Reporter that we can be grateful that the document does not refer to homosexuality as "intrinsically disordered," a phrase that has incorrectly been interpreted as a psychological diagnosis, causing great pain and confusion among gay people and their friends.

Thank God for small favors.

Reese also emphasized that the document deals with marriage and blessings in the church, not civil marriage, which Francis has recognized in legal recognition of gay unions.

According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of American Catholics support gay marriage. Support is even higher in Western Europe (except Italy and Portugal), but in other parts of the world, most Catholics and their countrymen oppose it.

So, Reese asserts, while to most Americans the pope appears to be behind the times, he is revolutionary in many other parts of the world, especially in the 71 countries where gays are still criminalized.

Which may be true — but I would still like to call into question the Vatican’s use of the word “choice” in reference to their reasons not to bless same sex unions. Would a person “choose” to identify as gay given the way homosexuals are attacked, murdered, vilified, bullied, denied civil rights and criminalized around the world?

I don’t think so.

Getting back to giving up Catholicism for Lent, back when I did it in 2013 I went with Buddhism and studied Zen Buddhist teacher Norman Fischer’s book, “Life Is Tough – Six Ways to Deal With it.

This week I dug it out again and resolved to use the time until Easter to contemplate the ways he suggests: practice patience; take responsibility and do not blame; be grateful; accept confusion as part of life; do good, avoid evil; appreciate lunacy; pray for help; and accept what comes.

Considering that last suggestion, I expect I’ll continue to be Catholic once Lent is over. I wouldn’t be Catholic at all were it not for a priest who, after hearing some of the objections listed above nearly 40 years ago, invited me back saying, in effect, “The church needs people like you as much as the rank and file.”

Not long after that I discovered a story about a Catholic man who had attended a Buddhist retreat on lovingkindness. After the retreat he was so moved that he went to Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist priest who had led the retreat, and told him he wanted to become a Buddhist.

“What religion were you raised in?” Thich Nhat Hahn asked.

“Catholic,” the man replied.

“You don’t need to become a Buddhist,” he told him. “That would be too difficult. Just go back and be a more loving and transcendent Catholic.”

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-704-1309 or jtknoll@swbell.net