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"Catholic enough"

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 14, 2005

Commonweal features an unusual, and disheartening, account by a Catholic convert of what she calls her "bumpy path to Rome." In fact, at the end of her journey she finds companionship in mediocrity among cradle-Catholics who share her doubt and dissent.

At age forty-seven, while having some relatively routine surgery, I ask my gynecologist to perform a tubal ligation. Several miscarriages and one midlife pregnancy have taken a physical and emotional toll. I am not anxious to repeat these experiences. Now, everybody knows that the church is against artificial methods of avoiding pregnancy, but I surmise from cradle-Catholic friends that the church takes extenuating circumstances like age and health into account.

Where would these cradle-Catholics have gotten the notion of "extenuation"? From their homilists and confessors, of course.

But, some months after the tubal, I consult the Catechism and discover there is no "escape clause." For women in late middle age who do not want to become pregnant there is, implicitly, NFP or abstinence. Voluntary sterilization is a "grave sin." My inner Anglican argues that I have not sought the tubal to commit any sins, so the action is morally neutral. My inner Unitarian, however, says that it's hypocritical to take Communion having broken a rule so central to the church's teaching about sexual morality and advises me to try to better understand the church's position on birth control.

Her "inner Unitarian" doesn't correspond to many outer Unitarians of my acquaintance, but may account for the curious mixture of candor and affectation in this story.

At the end of a year, I understand the logic and reason behind Humanae vitae, but I'm still light years away from buying it. Moreover, I have discovered there are several lifelong Catholics of my acquaintance who have had tubals and are still taking Communion. My inner Unitarian opines that therein lies a critical difference between convert and cradle Catholic. Cradle Catholics may not always agree with the church, but it's their spiritual home, and they are content with being "Catholic enough."

I wish the author were wrong here. Regrettably, I think she's on target. For the majority of semi-catechised semi-Catholics, the word "home" in "spiritual home" doesn't mean what it meant for St. Augustine, the rest we find in God at the end of our soul's restless pilgrimage. Instead, it means nearly the opposite: the nexus of compromises with the world they find comfortable and familiar. They remain Catholic because, in spite of their manifold dissatisfactions, it's too much bother to move elsewhere.

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