The last time I stepped foot in a Catholic Church was about 3 years ago. I officially and permanently, literally and figuratively, left the church that day.
It was the day of my nephew Evan’s baptism. He was just a few weeks old, a cute little guy with lovely and devoted parents, my husband’s sister and her husband. A notably big troup of my in-laws also attended (I married into a large family). This particular baptism took place at a Catholic Church in St. Michael, MN, a newish yuppie city on the far northwest outskirts of Minneapolis. About 10 or 15 little babies were there to be baptized that day, so the church was extraordinarily full of new people and visitors. The church is new, spacious, bright, and decorated to be contemporary and to feel relatively comfortable, at least for a church.
Anyway, of course we can’t just baptize all the little babies and then go home. We have to suffer through a Mass first. Perhaps baptisms are this way in all churches, I don’t know. But the Catholic Mass itself is so guilt-inducing and judging and solemn that within a few minutes of the beginning of the Mass, I was already fidgeting. It was the weekend, supposedly my time to relax and catch up with myself. Instead I sat in a church pew listening to some nebulous letter from Paul to the Corinthians.
Finally it was time for the homily, the only part of the service that is not completely canned and rehearsed millions of times over. If you’re not Catholic, I can tell you the homily is just a sermon, except Catholics call it a homily. A homily is essentially the priest’s chance to say whatever he wants to say. Usually he explains a reading and applies it to everyday life, or tries to give the congregation something else to think about. Homilies can be downright practical and helpful, or amazingly abstract, philosophical and cerebral. If you’re lucky, you have a funny priest or at least one who can appreciate a joke now and then. Some priests read their homilies, while others just wing it or use notes. Homilies usually last between 10 and 20 minutes. During this time, everyone just sits and listens, or sleeps, or watches the baby in the pew in front of them, or speculates about the sex lives of the other parishioners, or thinks about what’s to eat after Mass.
On this day, though, the homily kept my attention. We had a bomb dropped on us. The all-knowing priest announced to us that homosexuality can now be CURED if you just go visit your priest.
I’m not exaggerating or putting words in his mouth. He told us that homosexuality is a choice and a sin and that if you are a homosexual, you should go to your priest to get entered into a rehabilitation program. The Catholic Church has proven that this program WORKS to turn a gay person straight. It’s actually 100% effective. All you have to do is talk to your priest to get enrolled, and you’ll emerge from the program a shiny new heterosexual person.
Of course I hadn’t read about this in the news or scientific journals, but apparently it’s true because this priest told us it was so. He was earnest and certain about it. So the Catholic Church is currently hiding a brilliant piece of science that can turn gay people straight. Couldn’t they make some money off this? This could change the world. I can only imagine the number of closeted gays and lesbians who would love to just be straight, for real, instead of pretending or hiding.
The entire parish, including my husband and me, and every single churchgoer that day, sat on our asses and listened to the priest’s message. Not one person in the church—out of, say, 600 or 700—got up and walked out. No one coughed or shuffled in their seats. No one looked at the person sitting next to them with interest, amazement, amusement, or disgust. We all sat there and stared at the priest obediently. Oh yes, we were all taught very well as Catholic children.
The only way I could think to protest was to stop being Catholic. I stopped that moment. I didn’t take communion. I didn’t pray or try to pray. I was just done.
Then Evan got baptised, photos were taken, and the ushers got out the cattle prods and began escorting us out of the church. On our way out, we were handed yellow, preprinted postcards on which we could sign our names. They were intended to be signed and mailed to our elected officials. The postcards helped us implore our congressmen and women not to legalize gay marriage.
So I guess that’s what it was all about.
If homosexuality is curable, as we’d just learned half an hour before, shouldn’t the Church spend its time curing as many people as it can, rather than worrying about influencing state laws that are completely separate from the Church’s laws anyway? I really can’t figure it out.
And while I’m at it, let me just close by saying I really miss separation of church and state.