When the Church is Toxic

When the Church is Toxic February 27, 2019

I woke up to find out that I had been screenshotted, again.

Specifically, this time, a sometime deacon now on a leave of absence in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who is famous among my friends for facebook stalking through sock puppets and harassing us, had taken a screenshot of a public comment I’m not ashamed of.  I said that neither a tax return nor a legal marriage certificate are a sacrament, and that letting people who are legally married, even if the marriage isn’t a marriage by sacramental standards, file jointly on their taxes didn’t seem to violate any Church teaching. The deacon, who is obsessed with gay people, was mocking me and trying to paint me as a heretic, again. One of his lickspittle lackeys had impersonated a woman and friended me; the lackey published a screenshot of a friends-only conversation where I expressed dismay that John Paul the Second was ever canonized. And I admit to that wholeheartedly. I think it was imprudent to waive the five-year waiting period. I think that it was scandalous how he participated in covering up sexual abuse and I do not admire him. I  don’t really care if saying something that obvious gets me into trouble. It’s the truth. I assume I’ll get a smear piece written in a shameful tabloid about me before long. The deacon doesn’t write for respectable publications.

This happens rather often when you write publicly on the internet. It’s not as bad as the time a Catholic from Chicago screenshotted my profile picture to make rape jokes about me, and then threatened to sue because he didn’t intend to rape me but to mock me for being un-rapeable and he didn’t think I’d made that clear enough.

I swore to myself, and lamented once again how toxic and abusive Catholicism can be.

Yes, I just said that. I am a baptized and confirmed practicing Catholic. I believe and profess all the Catholic Church teaches, and I try to follow her teaching as best I can, and I try to repent wherever I fail. And I’m telling you, Catholicism can be extremely toxic and abusive.

It shouldn’t be controversial to say that out loud. People act as though I’m a secret agent bent on destroying the Church, when I call attention to abuse in the Church, as if being Catholic meant pretending that Catholicism is all fun and beauty. But I’m only telling the truth: the Church, not her teaching or how she’ll look in eternity but the Church as an institution of fallen people trying to work together, is toxic.

Our Lord predicted that this would be the case, in the parable of the wheat and the weeds. I interpret it this way: the Church is the fertile field where both wheat and weeds grow so wonderfully. Christ planted good seed to produce nourishing food, but the enemy took advantage of that field as well and planted weeds– not harmless and beneficial weeds. Dandelion and pigweed are nice as far as they go. The Enemy planted toxic weeds. He planted poison ivy, jimnsonweed, poke berries, nightshade. Both are apparent in the Church, and it’s dangerous error to ignore the toxic weeds– let alone eat them because you think Christ demands it of you. Christs wants to fill you with good things, but you have to know what’s good and what’s not. And here in the Catholic Church, it has become easy to swallow toxins along with your spiritual food.

In your own life: for example, genuine repentance is wheat and scruples are weeds. You might not know what’s cropping up at the beginning, but eventually it becomes apparent which is which. Deciding that you’re going to wear a veil in church because it helps you pray might, for you, be wheat, and for another person it might be an outward show for pride’s sake and a weed– though both of you look the same on your modest-looking outside, and only God knows which of you is being virtuous.

In history, and in our culture in the Church today, it gets much nastier. Saint Catherine of Sienna was certainly wheat. Nobody realizing that Catherine’s apparent case of anorexia wasn’t really part of her virtue until she died was a cultural weed. “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is wheat. Burning heretics alive and not seeing the irony is a weed. Reverence for a gift as beautiful as the liturgy and the priesthood consecrated to celebrate the liturgy is wheat. Letting what looks like that reverence blind you to the fact that a priest is abusing someone is a weed.

Both the good and the evil that the Church as a body of believers has done, are the Church’s business. It is completely foolish to look at stake-burnings, torture, kidnapping Jewish children, participation in genocide and the like, and say “That’s not the Catholic Church, only the good things are the Church.” Both are in the Church; they sprang up in the same field. Now that they’ve borne fruit, we can tell which is good seed Christ planted and which is evil He wants to destroy like the toxic weed it is. Defending that evil or pretending evil is none of our business, is itself evil. You are hurting the Church and being a weed if you don’t call evil evil when evil becomes apparent. Christ will return and burn the weeds with unquenchable fire– at that point, the Church will be like Him, perfect. As it is now, the Holy Ghost prevents the Church from teaching error, and the sacraments are valid and life-giving. Everything else is up for the enemy’s grabs– and the enemy has his fingers everywhere.

When people come to us saying they’ve been abused by the Church, and we launch into a diatribe about how good the Church and her teaching really are, how necessary her sacraments– I think we commit a serious error. By waving wheat in the face of someone who’s been abused by a toxic weed, we’re gaslighting that person. We’re painting them as crazy or unreasonable, and trying to make them think they didn’t see what they’re sure they saw. We are participating in their abuse, no matter how good our intentions.

When people come to us saying they’ve suffered so much pain that they left the Church, and we lecture them on how they should have stuck it out and persevered for the sake of the sacraments, we become hypocrites tying up heavy burdens for our neighbor. This is the opposite of what Christ did. Christ’s response to suffering people was to be moved with compassion, and help.

And that’s why I’m saying: if you have been abused by Catholics, sexually, emotionally, physically, spiritually– that is real. That is a sin that was committed against Heaven and against you. The Church did that to you, and it’s real. The fact that it hurts so much doesn’t mean that you’re crazy. It’s a sign that you are sane. You’d have to be crazy to not suffer after what you’ve been through. This church is full of toxic abuse. And I am sorry.

We’d all have to be crazy to not suffer, because so much of what is happening all around us that’s taken for normal, is wrong.

Christ is not an abusive boyfriend. Christ is Mercy and Love. And in every way that your experience of Christ in Catholicism has felt like putting up with an abusive boyfriend who insists we take abuse from his insane narcissistic family– that’s a sin committed against Heaven and against you by abusive people.

If you panic on Saturday night because you can’t stand the thought of Mass Sunday morning but are terrified of hell if you don’t show up and submit yourself– that is not normal. That is a sign you’re being abused.

If you are scared every time you walk into a new church, for fear that it will be one of THOSE churches, that’s not normal. That’s a sign that abuse is so common in your religious experience, you’ve come to accept it as part of the landscape.

If you are afraid to attend the church near you because of all the bullies, and have to drive for an hour to get to a church where no one knows you to fulfill your Sunday obligation– that’s not normal. You have been abused.

If you are afraid to sit in the congregation through the homily because the priest likes to call out and humiliate members of his congregation and you fear he’ll pick on you next– that is not the priest being a good father, and incisive teacher, iron sharpening iron. Humiliation is an abusive teaching tactic. That is the priest being an abusive father and teacher.

If you are afraid to speak honestly on Facebook, including about your doubts, because of more-Catholic-than-thou bullies screenshotting you out of context and trying to ruin your reputation– that’s not normal. You’re being abused. Those people are not good Catholics protecting the Church from error. They’re harassing voyeurs and as perverted as if they were rifling through your laundry for used panties.

If you yourself have participated in berating, embarrassing or ostracizing a fellow believer for not being the right kind of person because you felt you had to– you, yourself, have been recruited into a toxic culture of abuse, and you abused them. You committed a sin. You ought to repent.

And I imagine that many of you are nodding your heads in recognition right now, because you are used to this kind of treatment. Some of you are probably offended that I’d portray such normal run-of-the-mill things as wrong. This is what counts for ordinary in most of the Catholic communities I have encountered.

But it’s still wrong.

It would be ludicrous of me to proclaim “this isn’t Catholicism.” It is. It’s weeds and not wheat, but it’s very much a part of the Catholic culture, in my region of the world. You can’t expect to receive the sacraments and not run into it. Some people have no choice but to endure this abuse in order to receive the sacraments. For all intents and purposes, it’s Catholicism. Everyone from the bully deacon who irritates you on Facebook to the rapist priest who ends up on the evening news is a part of Catholicism, of Catholic culture, and we’re stuck here in the field with it.

And it ought not to be. And we have to do what we can to make it stop. Don’t ever swallow abuse as if it’s food, and don’t let anyone else swallow it either. Call it out vocally as a toxic weed. This priest and that deacon are behaving as weeds. That whole parish is choked by weeds. This culture of abuse is not what Christ intended. Christ is not responsible for toxins, and He doesn’t want us to swallow them. You are performing a work of justice as a Christian if you come out and say this, in defense of yourself and anyone else who’s being abused.

Christ planted good seed. In His name, call out the weeds for what they are, and don’t be afraid.

(image via Pixabay) 









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