A couple of years ago I wrote an arrogant blog essay entitled "Don't insult me by calling yourself a recovering Catholic." I deeply regret this essay, but I am going to leave it on the web as a penance and a reminder to myself to be more humble.
In my essay, I took umbrage at people who describe themselves as recovering Catholics. Such people, I said, are insinuating that Catholicism is a disease like alcoholism, drug addiction or a personality disorder. I quoted G. K. Chesterton, who said most people don't leave Catholicism because they reject Catholic doctrine; they leave "to have a high old time."
I apologize to lapsed Catholics for that essay; and I apologize to the late Mr. Chesterton for using his words to buttress my argument. I realize now that millions of Catholics have left the faith because the priests they encountered don't really want them.
My nephew, for example, is a Catholic; but he married a Protestant; and his wedding took place in a Methodist Church. Recently, a Catholic friend asked him to be the godfather for his friend's child. But a Catholic priest refused to allow it. Why? Because my nephew was not married in a Catholic Church.
How much longer do you think my nephew will remain Catholic?
I myself had a nasty experience with Monsignor Richard Mouton in the Lafayette Diocese, which I've already described. I haven't been to Mass for months. Maybe I myself am a recovering Catholic.
Does the Catholic Church give a damn about the people it turns away because they are divorced or married outside the Church? No, I don't think so.
Pope Francis is a saintly man, and if all priests and bishops had just a small fraction of his kindly qualities, the Church would be fine. But the Church is losing members by the millions; so many American Catholics have left the faith that the nation's second largest religious group is made up of lapsed Catholics.
But the priests don't care. There are plenty of Catholic rubes coming to the United States from Latin America and Asia--enough to pay the utility bills for a few more years.
Nevertheless, I think the hardhearted clergy underestimate how much damage they are doing by refusing to extend a hand of mercy to people who are divorced or who married outside the Church.
Take my own case as an example. Many of my friends and family members are lapsed Catholics or indifferent Catholics, but they respect me for sticking with it. Now they see I may not be sticking with it. And my lapse makes it less likely that dozens of friends and family members will ever return to the fold.
But perhaps I am being too hard on our rude and judgmental priests. After all, they are evangelists in their own way. They are doing their part to build up the nation's second largest religious denomination.