Leaving the Catholic Church but not leaving it behind

Every member of my family but me is still Catholic. Some liberal friends remain Catholic as well, considering the church their parish and not the institution. I couldn’t do it.

I hesitated to write a post on this topic because I didn’t want to offend anyone I care about, but nothing I say can be more distressing than the latest sexual abuse coverup scandals.

My relatives and friends follow their consciences, and I respect that. I even envy them sometimes. It doesn’t feel good to be estranged from my religious birthright. It’s like leaving an oppressive native country — a part of you will always be what you were born.

I have found a home in the Episcopal Church but can’t think of myself as Protestant. I identify as Anglo-Catholic, the category of Anglicans who emphasize continuity with the pre-Reformation church. (For those who don’t know: The Episcopal Church is the US branch of Anglicanism.)

Here’s how Catholic my background is: My parents go to daily Mass. None of my aunts and uncles — five on my dad’s side and six on my mom’s side — left the church. Two of my mother’s sisters were nuns. I attended Catholic schools for 14 years. My hometown of Joliet was overwhelmingly Catholic when I grew up, and I barely knew any non-Catholics until I transferred to the University of Illinois my junior year.

So, if the one true church mentality was ingrained in me, it’s not surprising. Although I started to ask questions in high school, I was a mass-every-Sunday Catholic until my early 20s. Then I fell away over the usual liberal issues: birth control and divorce especially, since they affected me personally. It was later, as feminism penetrated my consciousness, that I became upset over women’s exclusion from the priesthood. Priestly celibacy seemed absurd but didn’t trouble me until the clerical sex abuse coverups surfaced.

For 20 years I didn’t go to any church, except to attend weddings and funerals. I couldn’t be Catholic but couldn’t be anything else. Every now and then something happened to stoke my anger. At the funeral of an aunt, for instance, the priest announced that only regular attendees at mass should come forward to receive communion. Assert the rules even at a funeral!

Only now and then did I miss the church. The time I most wished I had a congregation to turn to was in 1985, when seven of my sister Nancy’s friends were killed in a car crash on the way to the Bruce Springsteen concert in Soldier Field. Nancy was in one of the other two cars of friends who got tickets together.

A Jewish friend suggested that I look into the Episcopal Church. Still caring about the Catholic Church’s opinion, I was glad to read that it considers the Episcopal Church the closest to it in beliefs, structure, and practices.

What I found in the Episcopal Church was a familiar liturgy and the absence of the things that angered me. I’ve had female, gay, and divorced and remarried priests. Conscience takes precedence over rules, worship over dogma.

I feel bad for my Catholic relatives and friends who have to hear the reports of scandals in an institution they love. The only one I’ve spoken with about the latest scandals is a friend who introduced the conversation with “I’ve got to find another church.” She talked about how hard it will be to switch, how it would break her father’s heart if he finds out. Of course I understood.

Recently I was asked by a priest at my parish to participate in a new welcoming ministry. The purpose is to make newcomers feel at home. I thought that, even after 22 years as an Episcopalian, I could be on the receiving end of that ministry. Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for the Episcopal Church. But deep in my heart, I will always be Catholic. It’s like your family: you can disown it, but it’s in your blood. And when your family behaves shamefully, you may stay away, but you still grieve.




“I don’t know why there’s a big uproar. I think people inside the White House understood the situation from day one.”

— Senator Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, about the anonymous New York Times op-ed by a “senior administration official” 


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  • My story is pretty much your story, except that I was accepted into the Episcopal Church in January of 1988. To be honest, I don't feel as if I've left the Catholic Church as much as it left me. I've never thought that Jesus had a huge institutionally orthodox religion in mind two thousand years ago, so I feel as if I was called to follow Christ in the Episcopal Church and that's where I feel comfortable now!

  • I like how you put it: the Catholic Church left you. I feel the same.

  • Going to the Episcopal Church is going to a church with no theology except being politically correct. If you want to maintain the historic rites and theology of the Catholic Church in the Anglican tradition the place to go is the Anglican Catholic Church. When the Episcopal church began its journey of leaving the Bible and traditional theology and basing its theology on political correctness back in the 1960's those who wanted to maintain Anglican tradition began to leave. Every time the Episcopal Church dumps more political correctness into its beliefs more leave. That is why the Episcopal Church is closing churches all over the country. Anglican Catholics use either the 1928 Book of Common Prayer or the Missal depending on the Priest and offer traditional Anglican worship. There are Bishops who have Apostolic succession but there is no Pope, no requirement for priests not to marry, No female or openly queer priests, no rewriting of the Bible or traditional creeds and prayers just peaceful traditional Anglican worship.

  • If I can't be Catholic because of, among other things, discrimination against women and gays, I couldn't be Anglican Catholic.

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