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Am I Catholic?

| Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

I try not to plan my columns too far in advance because I want my words to be timely. Yet, most times I sit down to write a column, it ends up being about my weird relationship with religion. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why this happens and I think it’s probably because I go to a Catholic school and interact with the Church a lot. But I think there’s also something to be said for the fact that the Church played such a huge role in forming the way I live. So, without further ado, here’s another look into Ashton’s faith life!

The other day, someone asked me if I still consider myself Catholic. They said, “I assumed you don’t, but I was curious to check.”

I had to think for a minute about what my answer should be because I realize how complicated my relationship with the Church has become. I don’t go to mass or say traditional prayers, but I still read lots of theology (if it’s feminist, womanist, mujerista or related to liberation) and spend considerable amounts of time thinking about the future of the Church.

When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith releases statements like the one saying priests cannot bless same-sex marriages because the Church “cannot bless sin,” they have no bearing on the way I live my life. Yet, I still find myself upset to the point of tears.

So, am I Catholic?

Something that was a crucial part of your life for 16 years doesn’t just stop influencing you when you stop interacting with it. Many of its lessons will be deeply entwined with your beliefs and behaviors, and it’s up to you to do the hard work of disentangling what you really believe and who you want to be from its ideology.

Beyond the hard work of disentangling myself from the Catholic Church’s structures, I’ve had to think a lot about what it means to be Catholic. Were the harmful teachings I internalized actually in line with what Jesus preached? Not exactly. But I was told so many times that people who don’t follow the church 100% are just fake Catholics. So, could I be Catholic if I reject the teachings of the hierarchy and embrace theologies of liberation? According to my indoctrination, no.

So, am I not Catholic? 

I could accept that. I don’t really want to be part of the institutional Church that has been complicit in the harm of marginalized communities for decades. The Church as a formal and hierarchical structure has brought a lot of pain and rejection into my life.

But, at many points, the Church as a community has brought me a lot of joy. Many of my best childhood memories have to do with church. I loved getting dressed up for holiday services and singing happy songs with the rest of the congregation. Even if I now disagree with some of the things we learned in church camps, I had a ton of fun attending vacation bible school when I was in elementary school and teaching the camp’s art classes when I was in middle school. I loved going to church festivals and participating in parish picnics. Since the majority of my education has been taught by Catholic schools, every good memory I have from school is also a good memory of the Church.

So, am I Catholic?

On a practical level, I suppose the answer is technically yes. I’ve been baptized, and in eighth grade I decided to get confirmed.

However, according to the theology classes I took in high school, I have been disengaged with the institutional Church for so long now that I have “abandoned the faith” and am essentially excommunicated, albeit informally.

This leads me to wonder: do I have the right to be so critical of Catholic teachings and leadership if I’ve already decided that I won’t allow them to dictate my life? 

In my theology class this semester, “Theologizing Women,” my peers and I have been having this discussion a lot. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Church has been such a force in my life that I do have the right to claim space in conversations about it. I should be allowed to criticize the Church and push it towards something that can be better and truer and more liberatory for every person who, like me, feels rejected by its teachings.

The Catholic Church is part of my story and my family’s story. Even if I can’t accept my place within it anymore, I should absolutely be permitted to demand changes that would allow me to return.

So, am I Catholic?

I guess the answer isn’t as simple as I might have hoped it to be. I’m learning to hold the complexity of my relationship with Catholicism and to find places for it to fit into my life. Right now, that looks like active engagement with radical theologies that center people who the Church often marginalizes. It means speaking out against Church teachings that cause harm and giving myself enough distance from the Church that I can be safe from this harm.

Maybe someday the answer will become clearer. Perhaps I’ll fully embrace the Church, or perhaps I’ll leave completely and never look back.

But, for now, I feel comfortable living in the in-between and continuing to engage with the question:

Am I Catholic?

Ashton Weber is a junior with lots of opinions. She is majoring in gender studies and economics with a minor in sociology. Ashton can often be found with her nose in a book, but if you want to chat about intersectional feminism, baking blueberry scones, growing ZZ plants or anything else, she’d love to hear from you. Reach Ashton at [email protected] or @awebz01 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Ashton Weber

Ashton is a current Sophomore majoring in Economics and FTT, and minoring in the Gallivan Journalism Program. She is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, but now resides in Flaherty Hall. Feel free to contact her about anything... literally, anything. She is often bored.

Contact Ashton