My husband and I try to attend Church every week. Take a look at the vowels in my name: "Rossi Stagliano." We are, as you have guessed, Roman Catholic. Throughout my adult life, I have been able to find the good in Church, meaning the community, the connection straight to God, and the celebration of music and prayer, even when I disagreed with or was dismayed by Church policy, actions and scandals.
The last two weekends have been the straw that broke the camel's back. (You, know, the one that can not fit through the eye of a needle. See, I do pay attention to the Gospels.) Our parish has become political under the guidance of the pastor, who is in his 40s and has been at our church for a few years now. We've had detailed talks on abortion during the children's Mass that would curl your hair. Or uncurl mine. We've been told how to vote both in the bulletin (the newsletter that is updated every weekend and distributed at all Masses) the homily and the announcements during the Mass. I saw political signs telling us to vote against gay marriage lining the front of the church -- technically off the property, I assume. I'm not a surveyor. But clearly in front of the beautiful stone church building. Last Sunday though, our priest got personal. Here's what he wrote about the birth control "debate" last weekend (can you stand it, it's 2012 and we're contemplating birth control?): "Abortion, direct sterilization (as opposed to removing a cancerous condition that indirectly leads to sterilization) [Kim's note, I guess he was too shy to say hysterectomy] and contraception are unique in that they destroy perfectly healthy conditions that are or should be natural to the human being."
Um, priests aren't allowed to have sex, doesn't that also destroy a perfectly healthy condition natural to the human being?
It's gets worse: "Ironically, science shows that the couple that practiced natural family planning (which is NOT rhythm) is the couple that has a deeper relationship with God and each other; they will be better citizens and raise better citizens because sacrifice and God first is central to them. Direct sterilization and contraception destroy the human's ability to engage in healthy self-giving." (Boldface is my own.)
Wow. In 2000, I gave birth to my third child. My older two had been diagnosed with autism just two months before Mark and I conceived Bella. My OB, a kind man who had a son with severe ADD, knew more about what Mark and I were in for with Mia and Gianna than I did. He gave me the option of terminating my pregnancy. I declined. I also declined amniocentesis, knowing there was nothing that could convince me to terminate my unborn child, although I am a pro-choice voter. I had the amnio, after he explained that if something was wrong with my baby, we'd be better medically and emotionally prepared at the birth by knowing in advance. After Bella was born, I was exhausted. I started to realize what level of care Mia and Gianna would need. And I knew in my deepest heart that I could not have any more children and be the mother and wife my family needed. I had a tubal ligation. Or as my grandmother used to say, "I closed the factory."
My priest just told me that because of my personal healthcare decision, my husband and I have a lesser relationship and my children are sub-par to those born by natural family planning. And that I, mother of not one but three (yes, Bella too) children with autism, who gives every waking and barely sleeping moment of my day to my kids and will until the day I die, am somehow not able to engage in self-giving.
This week, the bulletin included more comparisons of birth control as abortion and this gem, "...it is the pro-contraceptive crowd," (he makes it sound like a few erudite pipe smoking Upper West Side liberals instead of the majority of American women) "that actually attacks the dignity of women." The "pro-contraceptive crowd?" I left Church close to tears and when I saw this priest standing outside the door, I sputtered, "This is very troubling. You do not live my life."
Some folks would tell me to simply stop attending church. Nope. I won't let this priest run me off. My girls enjoy the routine of Mass. The parish is full of kind folks who have welcomed us, autism and all. It wouldn't be a proper week without my Gianna telling us, "Time for the blood!" Priests come and go -- this guy is the third pastor we've had in six years. I have written him off in my heart and mind. I don't need him to "talk to God" as Mia says when we lumber into church as a beautiful, happy, proud family of FIVE. And no more.