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Culturally, I'm Catholic.
This says more than that I share a culture with many who are Catholic. It says that I grew up in the church, learned to the best of my ability its catechism and practiced as my mother and developing conscience would have me practice.
Sometimes this was religious practice by rote and ritual. Sometimes it involved a lot of church; other times little to none. But with the knowledge that, even when I wasn't attending Mass or taking communion, I held beliefs whose roots were indisputably Catholic. And proud of it.
It's been an off-and-on relationship through the years, deliberately off for awhile now. But culturally and familially, my touchstones and even in disagreement, my conscience have Catholic written all over them.
This is prelude to demonstrate some modicum of bona fides. Let's discuss the next pope. Some will say I, as a fallen Catholic, have no say in the matter, but the sad truth is that even the devoted have no say here. More the pity.
This disconnect with both the devoted and the "fallen" is part of the problem, many of these latter leaving the church only after it left them. I'm thinking of homosexuals, divorced folks, people who would rather have babies on their terms and timing, not the church's, folks who believe that the church shouldn't intrude between a woman and her doctor and who believe that women and married men can serve as priests as faithfully as single men without violating Scripture.
Many haven't embraced other faiths because, in their heads, they're still Catholic, even as they insist they aren't. No? Giving something up for Lent? Right; as Pope Benedict XVI once said, this isn't a democracy. OK, but an inability to connect with regular folks has been the downfall of many a my-way-or-the-highway autocracy.
I'm thinking of the priest who told me I wouldn't be given communion at my daughter's baptismal because I was divorced. Yet, the church re-enlisted me when my wife joined the faith. How the church treats you shouldn't depend on nice priest, mean priest how a lot of couples, in truth, pick their wedding pastor.
The laity, the church must know, prefers a bit of flexibility and savvy grounded in the real world. I'm thinking of the time, meeting with a favorite Jesuit teacher of a friend for a quiet drink, and sitting dumbfounded as he went on a screed about the persecution of priests ensnared in the child-abuse scandal, as if they were the victims.
Years after, I read how, as archbishop, Cardinal Roger Mahony in Los Angeles helped abusing priests evade the law. He will now help elect a pope; no better example of the church's disconnect with the world.
These are the sins of men, not the church, I'm told. And, I think, this is a distinction without a difference since men run the church too often as if the institution and its men, not the faithful and their children, were the most important part. Benedict has appointed about half of the cardinals. So, the chances of them choosing a welcoming, 21st century (beyond tweeting) pope are slim to none. But, as a cultural Catholic with much respect for priests, nuns and lay folks who walk Jesus' talk on the poor and social justice, I harbor hope.
Look, I'm not saying that a more open pope will get people like me back. It just doesn't help knowing you've been written off.
Benedict reconciled himself to a smaller but more conservative church. This will surely be prophesy if the church continues to wield so selectively its most useful tool. Reconciliation.