Ben Sen's Blog

Politics, Culture and Religion Without Projections

Ben Sen

Ben Sen
New York, N.Y.,
December 31
I'd rather be judged on the basis of my posts than anything written in my bio. It's put down and gathered as a record of my experience and a response to what I see as the important issues in the world today. I don't pretend it's anything other than subjective. The purpose is to analyze, interpret, express opinions, challenge the status quo, open a few doors, and entertain. I heartily welcome ratings, comments and dialogue. That's what makes this media unique and valuable. It also keeps me honest and encouraged since I'm not getting paid. Take a risk and say something; it feels better. A "conversation" is essential for the growth of the individual and the collective. I have faith it extends beyond the confines of what is said here. "For it is necessary for awake people to be awake, or a breaking line may discourge us back to sleep, the signals we give--yes, no or maybe--should be clear: the darkness around us is deep." From A RITUAL TO READ TO EACH OTHER by William Stafford


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MARCH 19, 2010 6:24PM

Why I'm No Longer a Roman Catholic

Rate: 27 Flag

     When I was a boy during the fierce Michigan winters, I looked out my bedroom window when I got up at seven.  The window glass was covered in frost, but I could see below the empty rectangular space in the snow where my grandparents parked their car.  They'd left for the six o'clock Mass.  They did so six days a week, only taking Saturday to sleep in for the fifteen years we lived in the same house.

     There was nobody more "RC" than my family.  Gramps did the wills for the clergy and erected statues to saints and potential saints around Detroit.  I saw my grandmother pray the rosary at her kitchen table most nights when I came home from school.  Years later, I'd discover the scrapbook of my great great grandma Maggie telling the story of the family's efforts to found the church in the state.  Eventually I'd visit the church they built in the tiny town of Deerfield, near the Ohio border with stain glass windows donated by members of the family before Michigan became a state.

      That's what really mattered.  Not the fact that I went to Catholic school until the eleventh grade, taught only by Dominican nuns or the fact that my father was only educated by Jesuits.  For much of my childhood I believed I'd go to hell for eating meat on Friday or missing mass on Sunday.  It was gram and gramps who put the faith into the marrow of my bones.  Now,  I often wonder what my ancestors, including many who were members of the clergy would say about the latest scandals.  Would they deny it entirely or say it was an aberation caused by the failure of the latest generations to believe in the faith the way they should? 

     I don't think one of them would agree with me that it's endemic--that the old paradigm has reached its nadir and now is in decline.  The collective "shadow" of the establishment is eclipsing its intentions.  I am reminded of all this by the recent admission of Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland as quoted in the NYTIMES on 3/18--the day after the national celebration of St. Patrick who chased the snakes and serpents out of the "pagan country".  The Cardinal was a young priest in 1975 when he took part in concealing the crimes of Rev. Brendan Smyth who has since admitted to molesting and raping over 100 children in Ireland and the US.  That's a lot of betrayed innocent victims.

      To explain his actions, the Cardinal said:  "We had no guidance.  We were in uncharted territory, and now we have higher standards, thankfully."  Rape and molestation were no less a crime then than they are now and yet the Cardinal is so removed from the conscience of the society he is a part of that he only acknowledges the church hierarchy as his moral compass.  Obviously, the young priest didn't lack loyalty and was rewarded for it.  He makes a devastating case without a clue that's what he's admitting.

     Hans Kung, one of the greatest contemporary Catholic theologians, whose license to teach Catholic theology was revoked in 1979, has said:  (I am paraphrasing) "The church is now run for the benefit of the third world where its dogma better serves the consciousness of  the faithful."  Clearly, there's nothing that can be said in criticism of the faithful who live honest and righteous lives--the same as is true of those of any faith. 

     It is their betrayal by the leaders and the institution that is supposed to serve them that I am speaking about.  The price paid for the authoritarian structure of the church has reached a new bottom.   It's a structure that gives no indication it is ever going to change despite the fact that through the centuries the church itself invented the dogma that now is its foundation. 

     It has led to a definitive worldwide descent into what may easily be defined as "depravity" by all but the true believers in the existing paradigm.  One after another archdiocese is declaring bankruptcy, the hospitals are being closed down, the infrastructure taken apart bit by bit, the Irish and German Churchs have been turned on end--and the only question left is where it will be "discovered" next and how bad will it be?  It's world-wide "phenomenon", and hard not to attribute something more substantial than "bad leadership."   It's even reasonable to conclude all that devotion to the virginal, the sexually pure, and celebate doesn't have a  dark, dark, side.

     The ruling body as led by the Pope have made it clear in terms of actions, such as rescinding the policy that clergy cannot marry, letting women into the hierarchy, accepting sexuality, marriage to non-Catholics, divorce, or the right to die at our own discretion, they're not conceeding an inch.  They elected one of the most conservative of the hiearchy their leader.  Hence, the churches grow empty, the pews no longer creak, the preacher's voice is hollow--the faithful are being abandoned.  What was once an institution whose purpose was to raise the communal conscience and still is in some parts of the world simply is no longer in the advanced cultures where it began. 

     George Will, a conservative and himself a practicing Catholic has said the church has become the "hiding place for hypocrisy".  It begs the question: if that is so and religion is where mankind turns for its values, how can these policies be justified other than an appeal to authority rather than reason, common sense and the rule of law?

     Both of my grandparents lost their fathers at a very young age and came from large families.  Theirs was an irrevocable bond built on a common loss and a shared faith.  They lived on the cusp of survival for most of their childhood--not unlike those in third world countries where the church is embedding itself.  Unwavering faith became their refuge in the need for a "structure" that supplanted all else.  If it hadn't been Catholicism, I suspect it would have been any other faith they had been born into.  They believed until their dying day in return for the security of knowing there is some relief for their suffering.  That is the secret of the "gift of faith," as I have often heard those fortunate enough to believe otherwise say.

     In my case, I decided to bring up my daughter in the "old faith" for no other reason than she'd know the structure that helped our ancestors survive. That way the "mystery" of faith wouldn't be so strange to her should she wish to adopt it in a time of need if she so desired.  I believe that was my duty and obligation in tribute to the legacy of our family. 

      Unlike me, she did not have to face disinheritance at the age of 18 when I left the faith in the form I had been taught.  The choice is hers. I still have the letter from my grandfather when I said I wouldn't go to a Catholic college.  "Fine," he typed.  "Go to a heathen school, but don't ever expect a dime from me to pay for it."

     My daughter now practices another religion and so do I--one where the definitions are my own and my conscience remains intact.  After all, the reformation that allowed me to do so is now 500 years old and the nation I live in has granted this freedom for over 200 hundred years. I'm not looking for a dispensation from any of the members of the hierarchy.

     Count me among those who have decided to take advantage of faith in mankind rather than thinking of humanity as born in sin and unable to discriminate between right and wrong from someone who explains their own lack of conscience as "We had no guidance.  We were in uncharted territory, and now we have higher standards, thankfully."         


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You sound like a great father and read like a terrific writer.
You moved me with this piece and I wonder why I never read more like it.
You make good sense. My father was raised in the RC church but left it (to become an un-churched agnostic) many years before I was born. When I realized, as a young adult, that I did, in fact, believe in God and consider myself to be a Christian, a lot of people asked why I didn't join my "own" (meaning RC) church, rather than the liberal Protestant church in which I did choose to be baptized. I told them, honestly, that I would never, for a moment, have considered joining such a thoroughly sexist and corrupt institution, regardless of my hereditary "right" to it.
"The church is now run for the benefit of the third world where its dogma better serves the consciousness of the faithful."

This is exactly why I left the Catholic church. They have riches unimaginable in Rome but still insist on taking money from the poor. They focus on social issues like amnesty for illegal immigrants instead of focusing on their current faithful flock in need of spiritual tending. The Catholic church is old, dusty and irrelevant. The pedophilia by the priests just makes it that much more degraded.
I support your conclusions wholeheartedly. I have walked your path. This past week I came face to face with some relatives who are cemented in the old Roman Catholic way. I cannot even identify with them, and the all the knowledge of what the church is and has done has not made them waiver. The church they follow is in their minds it seems and there is a wide gulf between fact and fantasy there. It seems that the hypocracy that is the church is one that cannot be challenged by the large number of catholic hypocrites who attend when its convenient. I wish they would stop playing at being catholics and recognize if they left and stopped funding the nonsense, those still clinging to the fantasy might be finally able to wake up. I watched my aunt who was a nun through her whole life evolve and the church stand still. She was a true Christian. Rated.
"We had no guidance. We were in uncharted territory, and now we have higher standards, thankfully."

I agree that that is the most bullshit excuse I have ever heard. Are you brainless, spineless, and heartless? Ask a three-year-old if you should let someone hurt someone and do nothing about it? The three-year-old can answer.

To me this also shows a huge lack of faith in God and a stupid amount of faith in church hierarchy. Basically, he is an ass-kisser who wants to ascend the ranks (and he did). Good synopsis of a horrible situation.
I come from a Catholic family. When my brother was a teenager he decided to worship at the Methodist church. As an adult he is now a Baptist, very involved in his faith.
If you would ask me to define myself I would say I am Catholic. It's been a few months since I last attended Mass. Mostly because I'm rather lazy. My daughters go to a private Catholic school run by nuns.

I understand your concerns with the Catholic Church. I live, however, in a tiny Caribbean island who is really a third-world country dressed up as a first-world one. Allow me to disagree when I say that it's not the Catholic Church who is growing exponentially in Latin America. It's rather the Protestant Church, who is well organized and very committed to their mission work.

There are idiots and criminals everywhere. Even in the Catholic Church. I want the Church to be vocal about this. I want them to kick them out, expose them, turn them over to the authorities. I want them to Practice the faith, not sit on top of it.

That does not change the fact that my faith, whether or not I attend Mass, is rock-solid. Doesn't change the fact that I had wonderful, caring teachers who happened to be nuns and priests.

There are evil people in every institution. It will be a wonderful day when the Church recognizes this and cleans house.

Thank you for allowing me to see your point of view.
The Church is the people, not the knuckleheads in the hierarchy. Great post. Rated.
Should have read "island that is really", sorry for the typo.
Ben, you write and express yourself so eloquently much so that I can understand where you're coming from. It is easy to explain the 2% of the priesthood who molested children, they were obviously sick and had mental problems. Priest, good and bad, are human like the rest of the population. It's harder to explain the hierarchy who tried to cover up the mentally ill. I am not an eloquent writer or speaker like you are and so cannot clearly convey why I remain a Catholic in spite of the Church's sins and wrong doings. Perhaps it's because I possess compassion with a fault for the human element in all institutions, religious and nonreligious. Perhaps it's because of my understanding that Jesus handed the "keys" of the Church to St. Peter, even though Jesus knew how human St. Peter was, including his denial of Jesus three times. Jesus had to have known that we human beings were going to mess the Church up at times. Lastly, perhaps I remain a Catholic simply because of its truth, goodness and beauty. I tend to see the good in everything. I will not allow evil to overshadow the good that rests within all people. I will not allow the imperfections of the Church to overshadow the 2000 years of good it has done for countless souls.

Amazing. You happened to pick on one of the few things I agree with the Church about: amnesty for illegal immigrants. Another is the abolition of the death penalty. Please, don't tell me you believe in the death penalty.
Particia K:

I have nothing but the deepest respect for your beliefs. Thank you for sharing them. I think you're a lot more eloquent than you think.
there will be no peace between the church and the people of ireland til brady admits culpability and resigns. the abused wanted to meet with the pope. that was not allowed. now the pope is issuing a letter of apology and asking to look to the future. it is too little too late. the church even wanted to parishoners to donate to pay fines and penalties.

devalera kept ireland in the 19th century by keeping the catholic church in high status in the republic. it is all tumbling down.

it is not a matter of a few bad eggs. it is a matter of 100s and 1000s of children being abused time and again, the criminals being moved to different parishes and allowed to continue their ways with the bishops and higher knowing what was going on. there have been suicides amongst the abused. many were forced to sign writs of silence. they were called liars by the clergy when they tried to come forward as children.

it is indefensible. and coming home to roost now. when it finally comes out just how high it goes, it will truly be sickening.

strength to those who suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to protect the little children.
This is an excellent post. You are perceptive and erudite. I am a recovering Catholic myself. I am old enough to remember wearing the mandatory scarf to cover my head and hearing mass in Latin complete with bells and incense. The monsignor who guided me from Baptism through Confirmation was featured in a huge expose of local churches and Catholic schools. Every church and Catholic school in the area, except those taught by Nuns had known pedophiles practicing. The monsignor molested two of my female relatives as grammar school girls and when he was finally arrested and sent to another parish and another school, their father said..."Well, the bottom line is, he brought a lot of money into the church."
As I commented on another blog earlier this week, I am firmly of the belief that there are two types of people when it comes to religion--those who follow the faith of their parents, no matter what, and those who will question it, no matter what. You and I apparently fall into that latter camp. Some of those who question the faith of their childhood do eventually migrate into other avenues of faith, whether organized or not, and some abandon it altogether. It is common for ex-Mormons to also write apologetics for leaving the faith and for many to define themselves in those terms, just as it is for many former Catholics, and those of other organized religious traditions, to do the same. While I don't share all of your experiences, I appreciate them, the motivation behind them and your ability to write them and share them with others.
Very interesting essay. Being of a curious nature, I have been to various churches with friends beginning at a young age.

Some of my friends are happily Catholic, but least one refers to herself as a "recovering Catholic." When I asked her why she left the church as a teenager, she said other people in the church made it clear she was not to ask questions. That, she could not accept.

History does not seem to paint very many religions in a positive light. Faith is one thing. Intentionally harming citizens of the earth in the name of a particular flavor of religion cannot be something humans would be expected to do by any sane group that believes in God. Yet it happens every day.

Sadly, the most unloving, unkind, impatient, bigoted, dishonest, hypocritical and just plain ugly remarks I've heard during my life were made by people quite self-righteous about their brand of religion. They say one thing, but consistently do another.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I just don't get it.
Oh, so much to comment on this. I chose to raise my son in our family's long-time faith tradition, and it "didn't stick." He has questioned everything, which I actually think is very good. My feeling like yours is that it provides a contextual framework and structure. After a long period of not beign involved in a religion (I left at 18) I returned at 33 and now am experiencing another "break" for reasons too complicated and uninteresting to describe here. I praise what you wrote, very very well written and I am sure many people share your feelings.
Super R.
This should be on the cover. Well written sir.
I was raped repeatedly by Farther Lawrence Dark (now dead) when I was 15 and didn't remember any of it till I was in my mid-thirties.
I put that horror deep in the darkest fold of my mind.
I wish the institution would crumble ,the faithful could go on believing and the liars put out in the cold.
Ok, here's a question. The title of the post concerns why you are not a Catholic, and you talk at length about the church's sex scandals. But then you note that you left the church when you were 18 years old, presumably long before the scandals became public.

Also, all that you said doesn't really explain why you left the church. Many others in the church have the same concerns and criticisms as you, but have decided to stay.

One small note -- Hans Kung wasn't excommunicated. He lost his license to teach as a Catholic theologian, but I believe he continued to teach in other academic roles.
@mishima666: while i cannot speak for ben sen, the scandals were known in many parishes before they became 'public'. altar boys knew which priests it was safe to be alone with and which it wasn't.

there were almost always whispers amongst the pews.
I despise and abhor the Roman Catholic Church for many, well founded reasons both historical and personal. They are a church built on shame and filled with shame.
my comment just disappeared on me, but i did want to say i attend a nrby episcopal church which i don't belong in. a gal pastor??? i don' have any prollems w/ ladies etc. BUT i just read a lez out west is being considered for bishop. our diocese has a gal for Arch, but the Epis. people seem to be pushing the envelope alot!! if the Arch. of Canterbury & the Pope would simply meet together--- we MIGHT make some headway, but for now i'm deeply disillusioned w/ Rome & its pure b.s.----all passe these days. back to the drawing thing.

My original reason for leaving was physical abuse and a loss of belief in the faith, (see my post INFAMY) but the subject of this post is Why I Am No Longer a Roman Catholic.

I checked on Kung, and you are correct, he was not excommunicated, he lost his license to teach. I have corrected the text.
I can really relate, the descendant of Irish Catholics.
I now meditate, and get 1000% more out of it.
Jesus and his teachings have been distorted over time. No one is really to blame. Blame time itself.
on the other hand, a lot of liberals point out the hypocrisy of the churches, but they end up with no values besides "what's in it for me?"
I am not speaking of your terrific post
Beautifully expressed, Ben Sen. I am imagining all the feelings associated with making the break from the church that you experienced. Even I felt the sting ofyour grandfather's words in his letter.

The sexual abuse that has been perpetrated by some of the Catholic clergy ("only" 2% per one of your bloggers' comments) is certainly not unique to this religion. But the damage it has caused has been immensely profound, a destroyer of lives, relegating many of those subjected to these crimes to having their existence marginalized in numerous ways, while living with the traumatic horror of what was done to them. This is a human tragedy of vast proportions, and only those people subjected to it can really understand the impact. Their experience is only exacerbated by the fact many of these folks have felt compelled to cover up the truth all these years while questioning their own sanity, a wound further salted in the aftermath of these events by the Catholic hierarchy's lack of ownership of these actions. A violation of trust by those "closest to God." If there is such a thing as true sin, this is it.

As a non-Catholic, I have only had few opportunities to speak of these matters with those who are. All I know is if I were a follower of this faith, my rage would be off the charts. Please tell me if I am missing something, but where is the RAGE at such destructive behavior?! Where is the accountability? It's a sad commentary on the lack of taking responsibility by those who caused the hurt that is all too alive and well.

Will Christ forgive the clergy for their sins? I have no idea, but I do believe they have strayed a long way from the path he showed the people of his time (to find God within). From my perspective, the government and the Catholic church (separation of church and state notwithstanding) have become twisted mirrors of one another - the lust and greed for money and power, the true and most righteous lifeblood.
Thank you for writing this personal piece about such an intimate part of who you are and your journey from "the church." It speaks a lot more to your core values and how you came to own them, than a retreat from a religion that failed your true nature. Or so it seems to me. Having been raised Catholic by a very Irish Catholic mother and a father (from Bridgeman, MI., btw) and convert from Christian Science, they together, formed a very loving view of their faith, both through the teachings of the church and Bible as well as from their authentic natures. I was able to extract the best parts of their devotion to Catholicism while developing my own spiritual growth without religion as my calling card.

I also attended Catholic college for the first two years and took a very valuable course in World Religion," taught by a Catholic layman, which opened me up to the depth and breadth of so many other beliefs and practices. I found it so interesting, after attending 10 years of Catholic schooling that you were "allowed" to learn about every other religion on earth and make your own choices. In that environment, I felt completely unstiffled to find my own way, question mine and any other religious faith while on my own path.

Your grandfather may have stiffled you, in a sense, to actually discover what is right with Catholism. Even if it was not the right path for you to express your religious or spiritual growth, he cut you off at the knees for your decision. That was a turning point for you and possibly a premature departure from the RC church. Not that you would have embraced it in the long run, but had he accepted your choice of where to go to college and been open to your judgment, your view of the church may have been more positive. Maybe.

Anything can happen along the way to change our course in life. We are meant to use our own judgment, conscience, sense of values and hopefully along the way, we find openness, humility, forgiveness of ourselves and others and an ability to see that we are not all the same. And it's ok.

In my big old fashioned Catholic family, as once we were known...of the seven children in my clan, only two of us remained Catholics. Truth be known, I am what I like to call, a "relaxed or soft Catholic." Or should it be referred to as Catholic-Lite!

One thing I learned from the church in which I grew up and consistantly from my parents, is that God loves all of his children. He does not discriminate by the lives we choose to live, by our faults or failings and is an all forgiving God. I never feared mortal sin as I knew that it, too would be forgiven and that we all fall short of ourselves. We never let God down because he already knows we will falter, here and there by our mere humanity. What it really comes down to is, we let ourselves down most of all when we are not authentic to who we are, regardless of what others think of us or our ultimate choices.

You are 100 % right. I did really enjoy this post on how you departed from the RC faith. You are an amazing thinker, philosopher, writer, father and mentor. This exemplifies your authenticity, strength of character and a blending of faith that nurtures you and your life.
A minor masterpiece, Ben.

Not because of forceful soaring manifesto language or comprehensive coverage, but because it is intimate, tightly bound to recent events, and a personal history that makes sense of all this, how religion must finally stand naked before human beings. And answer to ordinary human morality, with out the disguise of "sanctity".

These lines:
"The collective "shadow" of the establishment is eclipsing its intentions. "

"What was once an institution whose purpose was to raise the communal conscience and still is in some parts of the world simply is no longer in the advanced cultures where it began. "

And that last paragraph is more powerful for being so direct, unadorned.