Thank You, Tom Moran

I have been very, very hard on the Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran – deservedly so. His stance on education is totally misguided and far too influenced by corporate “reformers” who pitch “solutions” that have no evidence to back them up.

That said – Moran’s column today was nothing short of brilliant:

I’ve gone through stages when it comes to the church, bouncing between anger, estrangement and exasperation. It started when one of my six sisters, at age 10, wrote the Vatican a letter asking why she couldn’t be an altar girl. She never heard back. But the dinner discussions on that planted seeds of revolt in all of us.

They flowered as I began to understand the church’s views on birth control and divorce, which put even my mother on the wrong side of the law, and taught us how Catholics cope with the hierarchy.

A decade after my father died, she married a divorced man, which should have barred her from receiving Holy Communion. Her local priest saw that she would be crushed by that and quietly told her that she was free to take Holy Communion in his church any time she wanted.

“That local priest was wrong,” [Newark Archbishop John] Myers said when I told him the story last week.

But my mother had no hesitation. Nor did she feel she was sinning by using birth control when she was knocked low by migraine headaches after bearing the nine of us. When she saw same-sex couples raising AIDS babies, she saw no threat to the moral order; she saw Christ’s love at work. She supported same-sex marriage before the New York Times did.

Her obedience to the church hierarchy was not blind, especially after it was exposed as complicit in the sexual abuse of so many children. She trusted her own compass, and in that way, she was a typical Catholic.

Most Catholics, like her, will never leave the church. They will sidestep the land mines and hope for change. They see the altar girls today and hope for female priests tomorrow.

In the meantime, though, men like Myers will drive millions more onto the refugee highway. He had his own small share of complicity in the sex abuse scandal, transferring a priest who had confessed to abuse to St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark without telling the staff. He refuses to release the names of priests who have been credibly accused, as some New Jersey dioceses do.

Like so many other American Catholics, I have had my heart broken by the Church. It’s not just the homophobia and the sexism and the political posturing. It’s not just the acquiescence to evil that came from the pedophilia scandals. It’s not just the disgusting coverup that followed.

It’s the arrogance. It’s the haughty refusal of the church fathers to show even the slightest trace of humility when confronted with their own failings. It’s the pompous dismissal of those who would beg the church to come back to its roots of social justice; roots far more evident in the New Testament than assumed teachings on gay marriage and woman priests.

Moran here expresses what I believe many of us “fallen” Catholics are feeling: we simply can’t, in good conscience, continue to support an institution that is so quick to cast the first stone. Again, that is heart breaking, because being a Catholic in America is as much about taking on a cultural identity as it is a spiritual journey.

Certainly, salvation is at the core of this religion. But American Catholicism is also about lighting Advent candles, and fish-frys on Fridays during Lent, and CYO basketball, and working in soup kitchens, and guitar masses, and watching your grandfather march with the Knights of Columbus, and the Rosary Society’s flowers adorning the altar on Easter. This is a part of American life we are about to lose because of the stubborn self-denial of a few old men. Losing this cultural identity sadly compounds the loss of our spiritual communion with God through the church.

I imagine Moran is going to get some grief for his column – and not just from the troglodytes who frequent NJ.com’s comments section. But I give him great credit for speaking forthrightly about such a private issue.

Now, if I could just get him to open up his eyes about charter schools…

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