Today is Ash Wednesday, 2021 and I find my undies all twisted up in anger, frustration, judgment and self-righteousness. I am tempted to judge my response harshly, but instead, I’m choosing to be loving and compassionate toward myself because at the hands of the Catholic Church, I have suffered unspeakable trauma. There are several causal factors to my PTSD diagnosis, but the way I was treated by the local and then national Catholic Church might be at the top of that list.
I am not a victim. Instead, I consider myself a victor over the attempts of the local inquisition, the Bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and his Chancellor, and the USCCB to silence me. I will not be silent. And I will not be obedient to an outside perceived authority that thinks they know more than God. In order to freely express my truth and to live out what I believe to be my Divine calling, I had to leave the Church behind. Leaving the Church was the most difficult decision I have ever had to make and the most devastating. At the same time, it has been my path to freedom.
That freedom, however, has a price and my soul bears that cost every day. I am acutely aware of this price as I witness my hurt, anger, impatience and self-righteousness rising as others boldly proclaim the comfort they experience as they are held safely in the arms of the Church and their excitement to mark that comfort in the reception of the ashes.
I too long for that comfort and “safety,” but for me, the Church (or any religious institution for that matter) will never again feel safe; for I am fully aware of the price of that comfort – obedience. Specifically, obedience to an institution that claims to encourage inner growth and spiritual maturity while condemning those who pursue that path. Obedience to a Church that has called women the source of original sin, who have denied women the opportunity to pursue their divine calling, who for centuries have raped children and abused women, who have burned women and men at the stake for practicing the healing arts, and who have repeatedly ignored the most basic of Jesus’ teaching – to love on another.
My anger at the Church is well-justified. They allowed people uneducated in their faith (or selectively educated) to call my work blasphemy and heresy. People who see through the narrow lens of Catholic fundamentalism. Those who are most definitely obedient, but obedient to a limited understanding of their faith. Decrying the Vatican II documents in favor of a pre-Reformation Catholicism, one that hasn’t existed for over 500 years.
But this is where I got to them. I know my faith. Every insult, accusation, condemnation I was able to counter with authentic Church teachings. When the Chancellor to the Bishop challenged me, I countered his every argument, and when that wasn’t enough, I invited him (using Jesus’ words), to “Come and see.” He ignored my invitation. When I met with him over what was supposed to be a defense of Reiki, he kept me waiting 50 minutes and said, “sorry I gotta go catch a plane to Rome.” The very next day, after promising we could continue the conversation, he signed the prohibition statement that would be the beginning of the end for me. So again, the vocal minority won in a world where blind obedience is favored over the Church’s own teachings on discernment and primacy of conscience.
I could go on, but I won’t. The Church doesn’t deserve that much of my attention. The point is – Ash Wednesday is hard for me – and likely the rest of Lent will be too. I miss the parts of my faith that were good – most especially the depth of theological teachings that allow for both a wide and narrow view – where Catholic means universal and where there is room for a diversity of beliefs and expressions of that faith. But in hindsight, perhaps that Church never really existed and was just a fantasy I made up in my mind so that I might feel as if I belong.