Throwing Stones at the Church

Throwing Stones at the Church July 7, 2021

“It is precisely because you left communion with the Church that I think you have no right to throw stones at it.”

This was aimed at me by a former friend who was upset at a criticism I made of the Catholic Church. The friend is former only because he chose to unfriend over it; I am open to disagreements. He also happens to be a priest.

The disagreement in question? The stone I threw? I don’t think patriotic songs have a place within Catholic liturgy. I feel that the Church is universal and beyond such nationalistic divisions, and also that the current climate in the United States makes the close proximity of God and country a downright political statement. He disagreed, and felt that patriotic hymns show our gratitude for God’s many blessings. Fair enough.

But the topic of disagreement is not what stuck with me, and I explain it only to show that it wasn’t a debate over major theological beliefs. The idea that left me temporarily hamstrung was that I had no right to criticize, even the smallest detail.

I have explained before that leaving the Church was a painful decision, one I couldn’t make until I was 50 years old. I lost my culture, my identity, my main source of friendships as well as specific individuals as friends. I didn’t march out as a leader of dissension, gasoline in one hand and a torch in the other. I belly-crawled out, wounded, confused, depressed, guilt-ridden, angry, torn to pieces.

I was a lost sheep, for Christ’s sake, leaving a blood trail for any interested shepherds. (There were none.)

One of the first people I told, a dear friend, asked how I was feeling. “Free and guilty,” I responded. A paradox of emotions.

Having spent half a century within the walls of the Church, I can let you in on a little secret: I had no “right” to throw stones at it from the inside, either. Oh sure, I could say whatever I wanted. I could write letters to my Bishop, and as an ordinary parishioner I probably wouldn’t be excommunicated, just ignored. But on the inside, there are only Nerf stones. Toss them around! Play games with them! Fight over them! The truth is, the Men in Charge don’t have to worry about those stones, because the insights and opinions of ordinary parishioners don’t matter in a self-elected patriarchy. What are you going to do, leave and risk the fires of Hell?

So to be told by a man in position of power, as someone who finally painfully broke, that I still have no right to throw a stone, no right to an opposing opinion, no right to be heard as someone who has lived it because I left it; well, that says some things to me.

Circle the wagons, screw the sheep.

If you step outside our doors, you are dead to us.

Catholic First.

How long is it before we Make Catholicism Great Again?

Never mind the fact that equating an uncomfortable opinion with “throwing stones” is a manipulative silencing technique. (Do you tell someone who works in government for 50 years that they have “no right” to talk about it because they retired? Or tell someone who spent 50 years in prison that they have “no right” to talk about it because they’re set free?)

I would simply drag my carcass away and ignore the continuing goings-on of the Church if I could. It would certainly be more comfortable. I’d have less excess stomach acid.

But the truth is, I still love the Church, flawed as she is. That’s why I want to see her grow and change. There are people I love in there. There are some really, truly good and holy people in there. There is amazing art and music, architecture and literature, and an (often ignored, obviously) ethic of care that this world desperately needs. I have seen some incredibly heroic deeds done by heroic people, in the name of Catholicism—including by my former friend.

So I’m going to keep sharing my opinions. I feel I’ve earned the right, through half a century of living and loving within Church walls. It may be as ineffectual as tossing a pebble at Sleeping Beauty’s window, but at least those inside will know someone is listening, and someone cares.






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