Saturday, October 22, 2005

Latae sententiae

Several friends have asked me why we send our kids to a Catholic school, when I am a pretty sorry-ass excuse of a Catholic and my husband is not Catholic at all.

Most of them know we were raising our kids with Hub`s Buddhist/Shinto traditions, so their first question is, "They let you in? But the kids aren`t baptized." I explain that you don`t have to be Catholic to go to Catholic school nowadays, and also that I did in fact end up getting the kids baptized (on Halloween last year. They wanted to wear their Halloween costumes, but I wouldn`t let them -- wouldn`t that have been fun, though?)

Once I tell them our kids were baptized, there`s always a dramatic pause, in which they wonder if I had some sort of great religious awakening, and they worry that I am about to start quoting scripture to them and think that perhaps they should start slowly backing away. I usually jump right in with the story of Big Son`s friend`s death at that point (see sad post from two days ago).

Devout Catholics have lots of words for people like me -- "cafeteria Catholics," "lapsed Catholics," and my favorite of all, "excommunicated Catholics." See, not only am I not pro-life, I also just don`t get the whole anti-gay thing -- if any two consenting adults want to get married, it`s A-OK with me. And then there`s the overarching heresy of marrying outside the faith and giving my husband`s non-Christian religion top billing in our household for almost a decade. That`s the sin that earned me the "excommunicated" label, because I was refused communion at my own wedding.

The reason we were married in a Catholic church at all was because my grandmother was still alive then. My maternal grandmother lived with my parents from the time I was five, and I was very close to her. Hub really liked her and wanted to make her happy, which I thought was a sweet and touching gesture on his part. (Hub did all the wedding planning, bless his heart.)

Oddly, the priest who married us wasn`t at all concerned about performing a wedding without a mass for a fallen Catholic and the heathen who led her astray -- we were in Japan, and the only reason this tiny church stayed in business in that heathen land was by charging money (about $1,500) to hold weddings there. We got a slight "member`s discount" ( I think we paid $1,200) because I was able to produce a baptismal certificate, and I guess even a heretical Catholic marrying a heathen qualified as a member. My mother was so horrified at the idea of a church charging big bucks for weddings that she wrote to the Vatican, and someone there actually wrote her back, and said churches were allowed to follow local customs on such matters. This makes sense, because the Japanese Buddhist/Shinto custom is to charge a big pile of money for everything.

The priest, who was a dead ringer for Colonel Sanders of fried chicken fame, was Mexican. Neither I nor Hub spoke any Spanish, so we communicated with him in Japanese with a few English words thrown in. The Colonel was very jolly, and laughed as he raised his arms for emphasis, crossed at the wrists in a big "X," as he said, "Mass, NO! Communion, NO! Ha, ha ha!" I didn`t ask him whether this meant no communion just at the wedding, or no communion EVER, until I repented for marrying a heathen who wouldn`t promise our children would be Catholic. For one thing, I wasn`t confident I knew how to ask all that in coherent Japanese, and for another, I didn`t really care, since I hadn`t been to church regularly in years and didn`t plan to ever start going again.

Anyway, I had stopped receiving communion ten years before, when I was 15 and decided I wasn`t against abortion 100% of the time, as the church requires. To be honest, I hadn`t given the whole abortion issue much thought before the age of 15 -- I just figured, babies are cute and killing them is bad, the way clubbing baby seals is bad, or shooting Bambi`s mother. I might have been able to sustain this simple attitude indefinitely, except one night our church showed our Catechism class "Silent Scream," and another pro-life production whose name I now forget, that was not destined to become as big a hit. "Silent Scream" made no lasting impression on me, but the other movie did -- I think it consisted entirely of still photos of bloody, mutilated late-term aborted fetuses, and a few of the more dramatic hypochondiacs ran out of the room to vomit.

My first thoughts, after the abortion issue in all its bloody glory was shoved in front of my naive 15-year old face, was:

1) Abortions are horrible and gross, and I don`t ever want to have one.

2) Horrible and gross as abortions are, I would have one if I were raped.

I truly had never considered the possibility of facing a crisis pregnancy until I saw those movies. But as I watched picture after bloody picture, some of the fetuses posed next to crucifixes, I asked myself, what kind of circumstances led women to decide to do this? I started thinking not just of these sad critters who didn`t get to be born, but of the women in whose bodies they had been growing. What was their story? Why weren`t they in this movie? They seemed like a big piece to leave out.

I tried to imagine circumstances in which I do such a thing -- and I realized then at that moment, if I were raped, I would not have a baby. And if my Catholic parents tried to force me to, I would.... well, that`s where my imagination failed, because I was definitely never a suicidal teenager. I supposed I would try to claw it out of my body with some sharp object.... my mind reeled with the horrible possibilities.

For the record, I was not a sexually active 15 year old, for the simple reason that my teenage hormones hadn`t yet awakened to the point where I was even vaguely interested in boys (or girls - girls were not my thing, anyway). I wouldn`t have minded dating a popular boy strictly for the status, but the few boring boys who had expressed any interest in me were rebuffed -- it wasn`t worth the trouble. While many of my friends were casting their virginity to the wind, I was home watching TV with my grandmother most Saturday nights, when I wasn`t at the library.

The only pregnancy I could imagine for myself at that point was one resulting from sex to which I had not consented, which seemed like a very real possibility at the time. I don`t mean assault by some stranger -- instead, I imagined falling prey to some of the very Catholic boys who were sitting there watching the pro-life movies with me. I had been unwillingly groped by one of them once, and I had a few friends who were date-raped by others. I imagined one of these wild-eyed hormonal boys catching me alone somewhere, overpowering me, and then a "he said, she said" confrontation in which no one believed my story -- least of all my own parents, who would have sent me off to some Catholic birth home with bars on the window.

After the movie ended, our parish priest told the assembled teenagers that anyone who every had an abortion, or procured one, was automatically excommunicated, latae sententiae, one strike and you`re out, unless you repent. He said, "Unless you`re pro-life, and oppose all killing from the moment of conception in all circumstances, YOU ARE EXCOMMUNICATED!"

Catholics believe that the intention to commit a sin is morally equivalent to the sin itself -- remember the old George Carlin routine? "If you woke up in the morning, and you said, `I'm going down to 42nd street to commit a mortal sin,` save your car fare -- you did it, man!" Therefore, I reasoned, my realization that I was NOT pro-life, and that I WOULD terminate a pregnancy if I had one forced on me, meant that I was excommunicated, latae sententiae. I was possibly the only virginal Catholic girl in history to decide I could no longer call myself a member of the church after viewing a couple of pro-life films. This was probably not what their producers had in mind.

So I went home, and let my grandmother know I was excommunicated. She asked me why, and I told her.

"Oh Lisa, " she said, as she rustled through her TV guide, "why are you thinking about these things? No one will rape you -- you`re a good girl."

I said I was not pro-life, and therefore was not Catholic anymore.

She sighed and said, "It`s not that easy. You can leave the church, but the church will never leave you."

I remembered that conversation last year when we had our kids baptized, nearly a quarter century later. I wish she had lived long enough for me to let her know, she was right.

It`s not that easy.


Blogger Jenorama said...

Oh, honey, I know. This was such a fabulously written post, by the way.

I was raised Mormon, and I actually did excommunicate myself-- took my name off the records. And I would never inflict it upon my children.

But I do love Catholicism, so I am reading all of this with a tremendous amount of interest.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Gawdessness said...

It is so true!
Your Grandmother knew so much about his.
I have not been an active Catholic since I was child - literally.
Yet it has never left me.

Instead I have found a place to give me the community and comforting rituals that I remember with fondness.

For me, being Unitarian helps fill that space.

I was a rabid anti-choice adolescent. Until I went home from GR.8 religion class and talked to my Mom.

She sat me down and told me that abortion wasn't that easy.

That has never left me.

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Uncle Roger said...

I was raised catholic. I was pretty catholic all the way through high school. Then one weekend we were at this retreat and the priest said that if you weren't baptized, you couldn't go to heaven (or something like that.) So I cornered him and asked about my dad -- born jewish, but the nicest guy you ever met. The priest said no. So I decided that if my dad wasn't there, I wasn't interested in heaven.

Then I got to thinking about the whole thing and decided that God was such a petulant little brat -- demanding people tell him how great he was and not allowing them to have any fun -- that either he didn't really exist or I wanted to kick his but from here to kingdom come (or vice versa, depending on the situation.)

My religiousness has gone downhill ever since. 8^)

But, of course, as you (hopefully) well know, I will fight for everyone's right to believe anything they want from catholicism to the great pumpkin.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Granny said...

As will I, Roger.

L., I hear you. I was raised in a Baptist church in central NY (very different from Southern Baptist), was away for quite a while, and came back (to the Methodists). I've strayed since then but I always seem to come back.

I'm not all that sure about faith myself. Fortunately, my church isn't about hellfire and brimstone so I can be comfortable even if I never sort it out completely.

It may be a little hypocritical of me to refer to myself as a "person of faith" when I'm not all that positive that's what I am but I want to do something to counter the rhetoric of the religious right. If I show any doubt, they'll land all over me. Anyhow, having doubts doesn't mean I'm lying. Most sane people have doubts; I'm just admitting mine and they come and go.

The church helps keep me centered. It provides me with friends and a moral compass. The liberal (mostly) Methodists and I stand together on many things. I want to show that people of faith can be a force for love and good as well as hatred and evil even when I'm wondering why a "loving" God (anyone's god) can allow evil to exist or little children to die.

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Jackie said...

Ah, a wise woman, your Grandmother.

My excommunication was not over abortion, but rather divorce. For several years after the fact, I (thought I had) nonchalantly walked away from the Church until faced with all the issues of remarriage and raising children. At which point my father, during a blowout fight over the merits of getting an annulment, pretty much said the same thing as your Grandmother.

Too true.

And now I'm in the middle of the annulment process. I think if I hadn't, the feeling of leaving something unresolved would have stayed with me forever.

6:59 AM  
Blogger L. said...

I`m still not sure I fit the definition of "excommunicant," because I`ve never actually had or procured an abortion, and even though my husband initially didn`t agree to raise our kids Catholic, I did end up doing it that way. I`ve decided it ultimately doesn`t matter to me.

The whole annulment process sounds interesting -- I don`t know what it`s like now, but a few generations ago it used to cost a lot of money, and my great-grandmother couldn`t afford to get one when she left her wife-beating husband. A kindly parish priest overlooked this and remarried her in the church -- or so the family legend goes.

10:34 AM  
Blogger jw said...

L you have not been automatically excommunicated, unless you actually participated in the act of abortion.

Jackie divorce does not rate excommunication. There used to be a church law that remarring after divorce caused automatic excommunication, but that law was cancelled, retroactively, in 1978.

Oh, I am a Catholic priest. Though right now I am under a latae sententiae (meaning automatic) suspension (not excommunication) because I got married! However Church canon law (#1335) says that my suspension is itself suspended if anyone asks for something sacramental.

10:39 PM  
Blogger L. said...

JW, this was my understanding as a teenager -- it was incorrect, but I had no one to point that out to me at the time.
Since then, though, I married a Buddhist who refused to agree to raise our kids Catholic, and I accepted that my future kids would be Buddhists. So I married in the church, but refused communion, and it was my understanding that marriage was the last sacrament I would receive. The kids are being raised Catholic, but I still don`t regret my initial promise to my husband -- I think it was the right thing to do at the right time. So I still don`t receive communion. I`ve also donated money to Planned Parenthood over the years, which some say is morally equivalent to procuring abortions (but I don`t think it`s that simple).
I`ve always wondered how Canon Law applied to priests who got married -- I know a few, but have always been too shy to ask!

10:17 AM  
Blogger achromic said...

hummm that was an intersting way of viewing catholism and why you send your children there....... you want to give them the good part of the catholic's.... and you know that their heart will be able to choose about the bad parts. That makes more sense to me.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Hailey said...

This is horribly sad.

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Catholicism is all good (and holy). It's just us poor individual Catholics who often fall down. As for the heart being able to choose the bad parts, most people use that as an excuse to do whatever they want - after all, it's what I feel!

I came back after squandering years of my youth thinking I knew more than all the popes and the saints, when what I really was was selfish and self-indulgent.

7:16 PM  

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