Young, Catholic and Conflicted

If the pope was on Facebook and, for some odd reason, would accept a request from a Philadelphian stranger who was blogging about him, I'd send him a request to categorize our relationship as "it's complicated."

Taylor Swift could write songs about us. I'd probably hate that (I can't speak for Pope Benedict XVI), but she could totally make even more millions dollars off of our twisted chronicles.

I am a wavering Catholic. I don't want to be like this, but I am.

You'd think my strong Irish-American Catholic background -- complete with a large family, weekly Mass, patron saints and 16 years of Catholic school -- would have built a solid foundation upon which I could rest my religious convictions. But alas, here I am, once again evading any kind of religious identification in favor of putting my head between my knees, my fingers in my ears and saying, "I don't know; I DON'T KNOW!" over and over again.

I know I'm not alone. Many young people who grew up in the Church find themselves figuratively locked out of the building at some point or another, even if they may still be deeply attached, because of their disagreements with the Church on issues like the ordination of women, abortion, contraception and gay marriage. Are we even Catholic, then? We don't know what we are. Are young Catholics allowed to wear the jersey if we're batting less than .500 on agreeing with the pope?

My contentions with my own religious identification run high every four years; they are particularly noticeable with this election. While watching the vice presidential debates, I found myself unabashedly yelling at my TV. Despite the doubt they might give my neighbors in regards to my mental health, visceral kinds of reactions like these remind me that, despite my struggles with the Catholic Church and our umpteen breakups over the years, I still care very much about it. (See? Taylor Swift musical fodder abounds!)

The offending remarks that made me yell? The moderator's. The only time Martha Raddatz mentioned the Catholic faith of both candidates was when she introduced the question of abortion, everyone's favorite divisive social issue. It seemed as if the candidates' Catholic beliefs were inconsequential in matters of immigration, poverty, defense and foreign policy, and that the only issue that "mattered" to Catholics was the issue of abortion.

This has been happening to me my entire life. My "Catholicism" seems to rest on my belief about one single, solitary scenario: what to do about an unexpected pregnancy. How, in a world filled with as much trouble as ours, did my faith get reduced to that singular question?

Now, unless I was asleep those 16 years of Catholic education (and we all know that no self-respecting nun would have that kind of misbehavior in her class), I'm pretty sure Jesus cared about other issues, too. After all, it would be fairly difficult to fill up the New Testament with just pro-life narrative; yet, during election years, Catholics are reduced to one dimension and single-issue votes, and we Catholics who happen to loathe single-issue voting find ourselves on the outs.

I certainly feel "on the outs" this election, moreso than I have for the last few months as Nuns vs. Bishops heats up and the stories of abuse at the hands of priests keep pouring out, breaking my heart every time I pick up a newspaper -- or, you know, open the app on my iPad.

But I have hope.

I hope that I eventually make peace with the institution that is almost ingrained in me and my family. Despite my arm's-length list of grievances and my break-up/make-up patterns with the Church, I believe that my Catholic roots shaped the personal values that led me to the happy, fulfilling life I lead now, and I'm grateful to my parents for raising me with such strong ties to a community that emphasizes service of others. I want to stay Catholic. I want to want to be Catholic. But I also want the rest of the world to recognize that Catholicism's rich social justice teachings are not based on one solitary concern. I am SO much more than a single-issue voter; as a Catholic, I am also focused on what's best for immigrants, women, the elderly, the poor, the sick, the incarcerated and the young.

And if I leave? If someday, long after this election is over and I find myself still continually at odds with the Church? Then I'd have to find each and every crucifix, prayer card and St. Christopher medal my mom hid in my apartment and car.

It might just be easier to make peace.