My life as a (mediocre) Catholic

By Kathy Shaidle

In 2000, I started a blog called RelapsedCatholic.com, where I posted about everything from papal encyclicals to the Virgin Mary's semi-regular cameos on pieces of toast.

Kathy Shaidle
Kathy Shaidle

On Sept. 11, 2001, my blog took a political turn — a hard right. The last vestiges of my Reagan/Mulroney era anarchism, with its knee-jerk anti-Americanism, were buried in the World Trade Centre wreckage.

But no matter what I wrote about, I got the most mail about the name of my blog. What, exactly, was a "relapsed Catholic?"

Catholic teachings never left

Well, as a punk rock rebel at my Catholic high school, I'd gone through a typical teen's Bertrand Russell phase. As Bacon observed long ago: "A little philosophy inclineth a man's mind to atheism."

Except I'd never been an atheist, really. I just wasn't returning God's calls.

But nothing I learned in Catholic school ever left me. For instance, I'd tried being a liberated, Cosmo magazine floozie, but kept hearing my teachers explaining that sex was not a morally neutral recreational activity akin to riding a roller-coaster.

In fact, I'd joined the peace movement because of influential Catholic activists like Dorothy Day, Lech Walesa and Father Romero.

There, I not so patiently reeducated my fellow leftists, atheists all, about Inquisitions and Immaculate Conceptions. Infallibility was the worst; no, I explained, it did NOT mean that if the Pope stuck his head out the window and said, "it's a-gonna rain," that it would.

With my buzzed hair, pink rape whistle and "Question Authority" button — a less likely defender of the faith you never saw. Inspired by books about the church I'd started reading in order to win more arguments, I started going to mass again, and dug my first communion rosary out of the bottom of my sock drawer.

Hence the "relapsed" bit.

The Catholic Church is the Hotel California of Christianity: You can check out any time you like, but — well, you know.

Changing attitudes at 'St. Blog's'

I did leave the left, though, during the onset of what we now call political correctness. My newfound conservatism fit right in with the very church that once nurtured my anarchist bent. (We don't call it "Catholic" — that is, "universal" — for nothing).

Along with those "red" bits of America sometimes called "Jesusland," the Catholic Church looked like the last bulwark of traditional Western civilization in the face of a "progressive"/Islamo-fascist onslaught. Some new right-wing friends converted to Catholicism for just that reason.

Lots of them were folks I'd never met. RelapsedCatholic.com had become a part of "St. Blog's," the "virtual parish" that grew up around the appalling sex scandals rocking the church. Catholics went online looking for solace, answers, or places to vent, and blogging became a popular outlet.

To my chagrin, chatting with Catholics online changed my mind about abortion. A woman of my era, no matter what I'd learned in school, I still fumed over behaviour I'd witnessed outside the Morgentaler abortion clinic, with crusty old "Christian" men and women wielding misspelled signs, calling us young protesters "sluts."

But the patient, logical arguments of other Catholic bloggers (and no doubt, their prayers) won me over. Today I am pro-life.

And yet I never understood the church's teachings on birth control. Specifically, that natural family planning (commonly called the "rhythm method") is acceptable but other forms of contraception are not.

I expressed my confusion online, and again, everyone from ordinary lay people to learned canon lawyers tried to explain everything to me, with humour and affection. Some even shared their intimate experiences with NFP, a complex system involving thermometers and (ugh) mucus.

But this time my readers' explanations and prayers were for naught. The whole "birth control thing" still made no sense.

Neither, when I'd been in high school, had algebra. That didn't mean algebra was "wrong." It meant I was.

Conform or leave

It isn't the church's obligation to change to suit our personal whims or the latest trendy liberal wisdom. We must conform ourselves to church teaching, through humble study and prayer. Or else leave.

I still pray every day, and ask St. Anthony to help me find my house keys. Christ's presence in the eucharist is as real to me as the computer I'm typing on.

But I can't present myself to receive Him at mass, because I have estranged myself from His Church. Yes, birth control is "just one teaching," but then again, it is not. Until I can accept it fully and willingly, I remain an outsider, peeking in through the stained glass windows.

The difference between my teenaged self and my middle-aged iteration is that I'm still returning God's calls. Where I'll be five or 10 years from now is what Catholics like to call a "mystery."

Kathy Shaidle's first book was shortlisted for a Governor General's Award. A pioneering blogger, she currently writes about politics, religion and culture at FiveFeetOfFury.com.