A few weeks ago, I was leaving the choir loft after Mass, when I was cornered by a parishioner–let’s call her Pam. Pam was one of the parishioners that was always very friendly towards me and told my director that she loves my voice. In other words, not just a random face in the crowd at church. So Pam cornered me, and here’s a brief recap of the conversation.
Pam: So I can add your name to the (Right to Life) petition, right?
Me: Um, well… No
Pam: Oh, is it because you don’t have the money with you? That’s not a problem
Me: No… It’s because I’m pro-choice
Pam: What do you mean?!
Me: Well, I believe abortion is wrong, and I have no problem doing what I can, within legal and ethical means, to present a woman with other options. But at the end of the day, I believe she had the right to make her own decision…
Pam: How can you be pro-life and pro-choice???
Me (debating which way I want to go with this and opting for the explanation less likely to cause a heated debate): Well, I was raped back in college, and it really impacted my views on a lot of things…
The conversation continued for a few minutes after that, with Pam apologizing for prying, and without any further pressure to sign the petition (although I did have to bite my tongue when she made a Todd Akin-esque statement about rape rarely leading to pregnancy because the female body is traumatized- sometimes you have to pick your battles).
As I walked to my car, I was reminded of the tightrope I walk every moment of every day–the delicate balance of being both a feminist and a Catholic. I recognize that I am lucky, in that I am often able to put this constant struggle out of my mind. I belong to a parish where the priest normally avoids those hot button issues that make me so aware of the conflicting parts of my identity. This wasn’t always the case, and I realize it likely will not always continue to be the case. But it’s nice to have a bit of a reprieve, where I don’t have to think about it.
I recognize that many of my beliefs fall outside of the traditional norms and teachings of Catholicism. I support LGBT rights, including marriage. I support real sex education in schools and the use of birth control. I am adamantly pro-choice. I know that I cannot alone in my internal struggle.
For myself, the balance between my seemingly conflicting beliefs lies in a more strict and literal definition of Catholicism. The Nicene Creed is the summary of the most basic tenets of Catholicism. It references the Holy Trinity and the Virgin Mary. It says nothing of abortion. At its root, Catholicism is focused on the teachings of Jesus, who never once mentioned homosexuality. Everything beyond this is man-made dogma, including even the concept of infallibility of the Pope (although I have to admit that I’m liking Pope Francis so far). It is this distinction between belief and dogma that allows me to reconcile these pieces of myself.
Some might argue that this makes me a bad Catholic. Maybe they’re right. But looking around, the world is full of “bad Catholics.” Just look at the numbers regarding contraception- a full 98% of Catholics have stated that they’ve used artificial contraception, despite the continued ban by the Church. Organizations like Catholics for Choice show me that I’m not alone in my beliefs. And seriously, just look at my choir posts. I think the two choirs cover all seven deadly sins between them, and I’m pretty sure the only Commandment that hasn’t been broken is the one regarding actual murder (and even here I’ve heard some rumblings).
Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not trying to say that being a “bad Catholic” is a good thing or something to strive toward. But I know that we all have our flaws and all we can do is try to be good people. And isn’t that the whole point of religion anyway?