The least popey Pope?
The least popey Pope?

Well, we saw this one coming: Conservative and traditional Catholics are “shaken” by Pope Francis’ statements on abortion and gay marriage, according to this report from NBC News. One critic apparently called him “the Joe Biden of our era,” referring (I suppose) to the pontiff’s off-the-cuff style. Such as: Last month, Pope Francis ditched his prepared remarks at a meeting with unemployed Sardinian miners, saying: “The world has become an idolator of this god called money.” Such as, his landmark statement about gay priests: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

I was with my parents when the aforementioned quote hit the news. We have a gay family member. My parents are Catholic. They love this family member more than the Church, so they’ve moved away from mass in recent years. They were floored by the Pope’s statements about homosexuality. My dad is unequivocal in his hatred (yes, hatred) of Pope Benedict, who he feels kept the Church in the dark ages. My mom would get mad at that, cross herself or whatever, but I know the whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” stuff aggrieved her. It’s the conundrum many observant Christians/Catholics face: Do you have to believe in everything your church espouses? Can you be a “cafeteria Catholic” and still be a good Catholic?

I have no use for the Church because of their doctrine on homosexuality (and women in the clergy), but when I heard the Pope say that, I actually, for a second, considered trying again. I’ve shopped around since my divorce 16 years ago, trying to find a church that felt right. Nothing really has. I have to admit: I love the traditions and the rituals and how nobody expects you to talk to anyone. The times I’ve spent at Episcopal or “hands-in-the-air” churches (I don’t know the denomination) made me uncomfortable. Too much touching. Too much talking.

But the stuff coming from Pope Francis gives me pause. He’s a Jesuit who really walks the walk. He eschews the splendor and pomp of the papacy, taking the bus instead of the Popemobile to a public appearance. He lives in a Vatican hotel rather than the Apolstolic palace. He washed the feet of female prisoners —something conservatives believe should be limited to men. However, he stands with Church doctrine on female priests — not gonna happen.

Many Catholics love his humility and modesty. Millions of pilgrims staged a flash mob for Pope Francis in Rio. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, said in the Huffington Post that Francis “is an answer to despair.” Despair is one way to describe the mood of many good Catholics, following the child sex abuse scandals that came to light over a decade ago. Weekly mass attendance has steadily declined in heavily Catholic countries such as Ireland, Mexico, Spain, Poland and Italy for 25 years, according to research from Georgetown University. Holding firm to the doctrine may make you a good Catholic, but it’s not filling up pews.

Is it actually possible for me to be a Catholic again? A part of me would like to be. My 5-year-old son still isn’t baptized because I just didn’t want to find a random church and have it done. The whole point of church is community — in my mind, anyway — and none of the churches I’ve found gave me that “I belong here” feeling. Catholicism certainly never did. Ever. This will make my mother cry, but I hated church. I used to sleep as late as I could, in my teen years, to avoid it and my dad actually didn’t force me to get confirmed. When I went to an Episcopal service a few years ago, and heard a female pastor preach, I got tears in my eyes. Looking back, I think I deeply resented the male-dominated Catholic church. My life was already dominated by a strong man, and I didn’t want more of them telling me how to be a good girl.

If nothing else, this new pope — his courage, his convictions — have made me think a lot about my beliefs and languishing spirituality. I just don’t  know what to do about it. Yet.

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