Count Me Out

Since I realized that I was an atheist, I’ve considered how I ought to leave the Catholic church.  The options I thought of included:

  1. Removal of baptismal records

  2. Excommunication

  3. Just leave, but let them keep my name in the books

In my angrier moments, when I’m thinking about how much guilt or judgment or shame this institution brought into my life, I lean towards Options 1 or 2.  When I’m thinking about how much my parents’ faith means to them, I lean toward Option 3. And now, after hearing more and more news about the abuse scandals (and watching the movie Spotlight, recommended by the greatest podcasting couple ever), I want to do something to clearly show that I am not a part of this.  I do not support this in any way. I will not allow myself to be counted, because I know that having more members gives the church more power, and I refuse to be a part of this group that has caused so much pain to so many people.

Honestly, this should have been triggered years ago.  YEARS! It’s insane that I didn’t get this angry about this over a decade ago.  I’ve only recently realized how much benefit of the doubt I gave the priests, bishops, and cardinals.  I’ve been complacent; I haven’t stood up against this. That is my fault, and I’m not going to let it go on any longer.  I am ashamed that I did not think it was “that big of a deal” when I was younger. Part of it was that I was too young to understand when the accusations started, but I’ve grown up plenty and the truth is that I didn’t believe it and I shut my eyes to the evidence.  I didn’t want to think about all the innocent kids and young adults that were assaulted. I didn’t want to think about all of the work that went into covering up this horrific criminal activity. I didn’t want to think about how much money my family had given (and was continuing to give) to the church to fund the living expenses of criminals and the fees for the lawyers that allowed them to keep their freedom, their jobs, and their access to abuse victims.

When I was a kid, I gave a portion of my allowance to the church.  It was often in the 10-50% range. In the end, it didn’t add up to much, but I still feel like I was deceived.  I helped to fund this twisted organization. And I love a lot of people who continue to do so, in large amounts.  And these people whom I love, who love the Catholic church, will never stop. They’ll never leave. Because it’s not the faith that’s the problem; it’s the people.  Even priests are flawed, they say, so don’t dismantle the whole institution because they were imperfect.

But here’s the thing: institutions are made up of people, and there are plenty of ways to manage an organization made up of people that does not perpetuate or enable a culture of abuse.  If this were a company, the boycotts would have brought it down by now.  Why do we expect more from our favorite brands than from the hierarchy of people that literally tells us how we should live our lives?!

So I’ve been thinking about how to get my name off the list even more recently.  I like the idea of Option 1 because I didn’t choose to get baptized; it was chosen for me long before I could make a logical decision.  The downside is that my baptism means a lot to my parents. It was their moment, not mine (because again, I didn’t have enough brainpower to know what was happening).  Removing the records is like denying that it happened. I don’t need to deny that it happened, but I do want to make it clear that I did not consent to it. I think the fact that I was about 6 weeks old at the time makes that pretty clear…

I liked Option 2 because… well, it applies.  I’ve done plenty of things that warrant excommunication, except that I haven’t informed the church of those things.  Seriously, you can do whatever you want, and as long as they don’t hear about it, they’ll keep you in. And, they want to keep their roster long so badly that they’ll only count it against you if you say “and yes, I really really did know that it was an offense worthy of excommunication when I did it” otherwise they say “well, you didn’t know the consequences, so we’ll just forgive you.”  But again, it would break my parents’ hearts. I’ve thought about going through with it without telling my family, but I also don’t think it should be my job to write a letter to tell an organization that I’m leaving when they signed me on as a minor.  Not fair! Unsubscribe!

And fuck Option 3, I’m done being quiet.

But the other day, I thought of Option 4: request removal of my confirmation records.  Confirmation is the thing they do when you’re a teenager (in my case, 13 or 14) where they say “you’re old enough now, this is your decision, but we’ll treat you like an adult if you commit to this religion… oh, and you’ll get gifts.”

My parents very clearly stated that we were not required to get confirmed.  If we were being forced into it, it wouldn’t “count”. But the alternative option was to research another religion, start attending services (while still attending weekly mass because the others don’t count unless/until we convert), and go through the conversion process.  Sounds like a lot of work. “No religion” was not an option.

I tried to think about it, for real, but I can’t imagine I would ever go against what was expected of me.  I mean, come on, we got to choose our own confirmation name and that was the coolest.  I convinced myself that I was sure and went through the steps.

So this wasn’t my parents’ moment, although I’m sure they felt proud.  This was my “adult” decision. But looking back, I wasn’t an adult, and I didn’t make a decision.  I was coerced, I was immature, and I was uninformed. Ask anyone who has ever done clinical trials and they’ll tell you how important informed consent is.  They’ll also tell you that you can’t get it from a 14-year-old without an adult legal guardian’s approval. But if I’m supposed to be my own adult, I call bullshit.

So here I go.  I’m going to request removal of my confirmation records.  And if that doesn’t work, I’ll go the excommunication route.  Because if all those priests are going to heaven, I’d surely rather be in hell.

Guest Writer Contributions are direct-published opinion pieces. They are not always edited and reflect the views only of the author.