(Content note: child sexual abuse, religious abuse, Catholics being evil.)
I am still not a Pope Francis fangirl.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s been hilarious watching hordes of fundagelical Christians line up on their knees in front of Pope Francis with their mouths open when I know that when I was a Pentecostal, most of the hardline fundagelicals I knew all secretly thought that Catholics ate babies. I knew that wasn’t true–I was raised Catholic, remember, and have scads of people in my extended family who are (or were until death) priests and nuns–but the lurid tales of Catholic “secrets” were very popular in both conversation and the sort of full-color comic books and tracts that my crowd favored.
Jack Chick, one of our favorite tract writers, got taken in every early on by what appears to have been one hell of a conjob of a fraud artist, Alberto Rivera, who claimed to have been a Jesuit priest who’d spied for the Catholic Church and was hunted after finding out that his church was totally behind Freemasonry, the creation of Islam, and some other big boogeymen of the 1970s. The comic books detailing Mr. Rivera’s torture by and desperate flight from his Catholic leaders were outlandish and bizarre, but I knew a lot of people who totally bought into them–and who also totally believed every word in Jack Chick’s numerous other ludicrous anti-Catholic tracts. That said, I didn’t need to go hunting far back then to find all kinds of ill will toward Catholicism, which was regarded as little better than paganism that was sexist and backwards even by Pentecostal standards.
Back then, the main reason a lot of us thought poorly of Catholics was their bizarre fixation on procreative sex. Oh, we talked a lot about idolatry and canned prayers, and denounced the Catholic practice of praying to saints and their veneration of the Virgin Mary, who we did not think was sinless (“she was a nice Jewish girl,” as my pastor put it at the time, emphasizing that she’d been chosen as much for her bloodline as for any particular virtue of her own). The gaudy costumes, elaborate rituals, ostentatious churches and cathedrals, and air of corporate business that permeated the religion also got their due side-eye from us. But it was their sexual mores that caught our attention most. My denomination was quite happy about sex and thought any sex–as long as it was properly corralled between one man and one woman who were currently and right then married only to each other–was awesome sex. Just as Harry Blackitt did in that famous “Every Sperm is Sacred” sketch in The Meaning of Life, we thought our take on sex was affirming, individualistic, respectful of human needs, and most of all reflective of “personal relationships” with our deity rather than how Catholics were shackled to “the autocratic power of the Papacy.” We could have sex whenever we wished and indeed should, often, to keep our mates happy. And contraception was not only acceptable but advised so that couples didn’t end up mired in the catastrophic expense and drama of an unexpected pregnancy.
That’s what being a Protestant’s all about. That’s why it’s the church for me. That’s why it’s the church for anyone who respects the individual and the individual’s right to decide for him or herself. When Martin Luther nailed his protest up to the church door in fifteen-seventeen, he may not have realised the full significance of what he was doing, but four hundred years later, thanks to him, my dear, I can wear whatever I want on my John Thomas. And Protestantism doesn’t stop at the simple condom. Oh, no. I can wear French Ticklers if I want.