I always knew I wanted to be a priest. It was a calling. I could help and heal people and make the world a better place.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved those outfits the nuns wore — so great for a bad hair day or after a particularly large meal, but I was willing to give all that up to become a priest.
I was a quiet kid, so I didn’t talk too much about my priestly dreams. I wanted to wait to surprise my big family, and I knew they would be proud.
I figured I’d tell my dad first. After all, we were church buddies. During Lent, bright and early, we’d bundle up and head over to St. Helen’s in Schenectady, N.Y., to pray the Stations of the Cross. Home by 7 a.m., we had plenty of time to get to work and school.
I remember the crunch of the snow beneath my boots and the feel of my mitten in his hand when the time was right to share my secret: “Dad,” I said, “I’m going to be a priest.”
Although it was over 50 years ago, I still remember the look on his face. He was a big shot at General Electric Co., but he was a sensitive, loving man. He stopped and looked at me with sad eyes and pursed lips, perhaps gathering his thoughts.
Finally, he simply said, “MaryAnn, they don’t let girls be priests.”
Lord help me, I was so embarrassed, so I fibbed and said, “I was just kidding.” Neither of us spoke as we rode home in the morning’s cold darkness. The subject never came up again.
That was the first time I had to swallow a bitter pill from the Catholic Church. But I rallied. I went to a Jesuit university, married a Catholic boy, raised five Catholic kids, sent them to Catholic school, taught the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (the church’s religious education program) for 15 years, and became a longtime volunteer for Catholic Charities. I’ve been on board, checkbook open, full speed ahead.
That is, until now. With a heavy heart, I’ll tell you why I may leave the church.
It hurt when the U.S. Catholic Church practically filled out the ballots of its people with a Trump vote and these instructions from “A Guide to Catholic Voting:”
It is clear that one absolutely may not vote for a “candidate who favours a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behaviour, if the voter’s intent is to support that position” (FC No. 34)
The guidelines are based on the 2015 U.S. bishops’ document called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” Clearly, the instructions are to vote for a Republican, regardless of his or her character.
Evidently, it doesn’t matter that Pope Francis rebuked Trump for railing against immigrants and other minority groups. It doesn’t matter that Trump is a narcissist who compares his own book to the Bible. It doesn’t matter that he makes fun of the disabled or that his third wife posed naked in bed with another woman. The seven heavenly virtues of humility, kindness, temperance, diligence, charity, patience and chastity don’t matter either.
The candidate the U.S. bishops implicitly endorsed is, unfortunately, not a man of humility, temperance or chastity. Worse than that, he doesn’t appear to be much of a man of faith.
This time, the Catholic Church has given me a pill that’s just too bitter to swallow. Politics are deeply personal and complicated, and we deserve to make our own prayerful voting choices.
Going forward, my hope is that the U.S. Catholic Church can see that its empty pews and dwindling coffers will continue to suffer unless it takes a hard look at the mixed messages it’s sending its congregants.
If you have it in your heart, please pray for me as I discern my new journey. I’m a little old for a big change like this, so I’m feeling lonely and scared.
I hope my dad will hold my hand again just like he did when I was a kid. This time, he’s up with the Lord, so we’ll see where they lead me.
As I try to make up my mind, I am still most grateful to my church and will continue to pray for its wisdom, strength and understanding.
MaryAnn Murtha teaches in the Department of Communication and Media Arts at Western Connecticut State University.