A Moral Compass

Stonewall Baby

There are all sorts of Catholics. There’s Andrew Sullivan. The pope. Newt Gingrich. Sister Jeannine Grammick, that glorious woman who defied the Vatican in her ministry to LGBT people. There are Catholics for Choice and the Knights of Columbus.

There is my ex-partner, who in five years of domesticity I never once knew to go to Mass or receive Holy Communion. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic, as far as he was concerned. No different than being Jewish.

But it is entirely different. Jewish heredity may be in the genes as well as in the heart, but Catholicism is not. It’s only a belief, never an ethnicity.

So when I walked away from Catholicism, I was no longer Catholic. Same goes for my mother, coerced into it by my grandmother. It was a condition for marrying my father. Lucky for my stepmother, Grandma Mary wasn’t around to make such demands on her. But in that my father began that romance while still married to my mother, the adultery might’ve made it a moot point. (Though obviously not for Gingrich.) My mother’s own pre-Catholic religion, Unitarian Universalist, made no such demands. That should’ve been the tip-off to hold fast to it.

But the Roman Catholic Church is a bully. It demands much. And judging by the pointless threats leveled by Catholic Charities in D.C. in this current marriage debate, nothing has changed. Their services could quietly shutter without the bluster. There are plenty of institutions in this city that don’t feel divinely directed to discriminate that could certainly fill the gap with those D.C. tax dollars. Some of those dollars even came from the $45 fee same-sex couples have paid to register their D.C. domestic partnerships, including my partner and me. We didn’t mind the city using our tax dollars to hire Catholic Charities, so why does the same institution oppose us?

While it’s okay to accept those tainted dollars, when the hypothetical employee who marries someone of the same sex and then – horror of horrors – expects to enjoy the same spousal benefits as her cubicle mate, suddenly you fear the wrath of God?

Growing up in the Catholic Church, you would think things would’ve been black and white. Even as a tot, it was impossible not to see the hypocrisy. We could have Saturday Mass instead of Sunday. Nothing wrong with a little flexibility. I had to listen to a song in Sunday School — or CCD as we Catholics called it, though to this day I have no idea what that stood for – instructing children not to laugh at a penguin’s walk or a giraffe’s neck. God’s creations all and not to be mocked. Really, was there nothing better to teach us? Maybe a field trip to a food bank? I learned more about social responsibility in public school.

Growing up, it only become more obvious. The infallible word of God took a hit with Vatican II. This apparent reinterpretation from on high explained why, while working as a pizza boy in college, I had to deliver meat-loaded pizzas to the administrative offices of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on my Richmond campus on a Friday. Even in public elementary school, fish was a Friday staple to appease the Catholic parents. But, hey, what’s a fiddle here and a tinker there? Certainly this was not my father’s Catholic Church of Latin Masses and whacked knuckles.

Of course, there are all the good works. Caring for the suffering, the poor, the ill and so on. Forgive me for thinking that a gold star has not been earned when it’s the Catholic Church’s own damnable doctrine of ”Every sperm is sacred” (Thank you, Monty Python) that is responsible for so many of those impoverished mouths to feed. And how can I forget my mother having to explain to me when I was about 4 why some members of our congregation, gray haired and retired, had children they seemed far too old to parent. It’s the same occasion when she had to explain to me Down’s syndrome.

”You savage! You’d have us abort that young child in his mother’s womb!”

I would do no such thing. Nor would I browbeat anyone into choosing between family planning and hell.

Sure, there are plenty of other religious institutions that put stubborn dogma and doctrine above love and the benefit of the doubt. For me, however, the Catholics are in a unique category. First, the Catholic Church’s teachings damaged my family. Those teachings also damaged me. I consider myself a very moral and ethical person despite the Catholic Church, certainly not thanks to it. The first lie I recall telling was at my first and only confession. I had nothing to confess at 7, so I made something up. ”Forgive me, Father, for I am about to feed you some bullshit.” Second, the Catholic Church has awesome power, while Catholic Charities is playing the victim in this struggle for gay Washingtonians to secure equality. Despite all my youthful tithing, I’m not buying it.

I have respect for any person, living or long dead, who has struggled to fathom her place in the universe. We all share that on some level, left to grope about and question where we come from, to have faith – or not – in some divine answer, floating through a universe with infinites we cannot comprehend. Turning that awesome journey we all share into a chance to oppress others, however, is inexcusable. ”No, we just can’t sanction homosexuality.” But you don’t have a problem not being able to discriminate against Jews or Muslims you believe, technically, are heathens? What’s the diff?

If playing by the rules is so distasteful that no yummy-meats-on-Friday rationalization can allow for some flexibility, just take your ball and go sulk on the side of the playground. As Eliza Doolittle sings, ”Without pulling it the tide comes in, without your twirling it the Earth can spin.” And, by the way, it’s round and not at the center of the universe.

Will O’Bryan, Metro Weekly’s managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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