Yesterday afternoon, I was puttering around the house, trying to round up the Christmas decorating stragglers and the various other clutter that magically migrates to whichever room I have just straightened up, in between half-assing some laundry. Suddenly, the house started to shake and all of the glasses in the dining room began rattling, just like it did during the earthquake. It wasn't an earthquake this time, though -- just a flock of helicopters flying overhead. Living this close to Washington and its many local military bases, helicopters are a pretty common occurrence, so I didn't pay much attention.

However, when the helicopters circled back a couple of minutes later, they were even lower and seemed to be hovering. I couldn't see anything from the kitchen windows, and eventually the helicopters moved on. When they returned for a third time, though, and sounded like they were practically in my back yard, I started wondering what the hell was going on, like, FOR REALS. I jokingly wondered whether there was an escaped serial killer in the neighborhood who the police were tracking a la "The Fugitive." (I can see the headline now: "Local Woman Murdered By One-Armed Man. No, Seriously.")

Not even two seconds after my lame joke (that I made TO MYSELF, because I am a virtual SHUT IN), there was this enormous BANG! BANG! BANG BANG! from downstairs, that kind of sounded like someone was trying to rip the storm door right off of the house. Needless to say, I nearly crapped my pants in abject terror because, HELLO, THERE IS AN ESCAPED (POSSIBLY ONE-ARMED) SERIAL KILLER ATTEMPTING TO BREAK INTO MY HOUSE, AIEEEEEE!

(We all know where this is going, right?)

Yeah, that last load of laundry that I was half-assing? It contained only Mark's ski jacket, which, hilariously*, I was washing because his mother thought it looked so nice ... when it was clean, which it had not been for some time, so she sent me home with instructions on how to wash it and even included a couple of Shout Color Catcher thingies to make sure the colors wouldn't run. Anyway, our stupid washer hates a light load, so when it got to the spin cycle, the drum turned in an Oscar worthy impersonation of an escaped serial killer trying to break into the house (aieeeee!) while the machine vibrated itself all the hell over the place and I cowered in terror one floor up, barely maintaining control of my bladder and lunging for my santoku knife.

I am such a moron.

*This is hilarious because I really love his mom, and it totally wasn't passive aggressive nonsense at all, though it may read that way, especially if you have been sucked into the OH MAH GAAAAHHH of the stuff over at Emails From Your Inlaws, which was all over Twitter this morning. Not that I have done this, oh no.

Isn't that special...Part II: The Whoreification

(I apologize in advance for how insanely long this is. GAH.)

Oh, you guys. YOU GUYS. So did I tell you about that time I was called a whore by a priest?

I wish I were kidding.

Ok, so in the last post, I mentioned how I was raised in the Catholic church, and not casually either. We were all in, so to speak. I attended Catholic schools, I taught CCD when I was in high school, I even worked at the parish rectory.* However, as I noted in the last post, this is not at all to say that I did not have questions and did not question certain aspects of church doctrine. I was sort of at peace with my status as a, though I hate this term, "cafeteria Catholic." It was the best I could do in terms of reconciling my faith, the way I had been raised, and my impressions of the larger world as I became an adult. I figured that God could appreciate the struggle, or at least the fact that I was sufficiently invested to be wrestling with the difference between faith and doctrine.

By the time I finally met Mark and we realized, fairly early on, that this was going to be a forever kind of relationship (I mean, I brought him home for the holidays after only 6 months of dating, which is practically speed of light for me), we were in our late 20s, and I had an intensely demanding job. We saw each other every night for dinner, but I was rarely home before 7:30 or 8, so by the time we ate and caught up, we were exhausted. After more than a year of dating, the packing a bag of clothes for the next day or dashing home super early to get ready for work begins to wear on you, plus living in the very expensive DC area, we were paying a combined $4200 monthly just in rent/mortgage, so the discussion of my moving into Mark's house came up. I hesitated, even though I have plenty of friends who lived with their future husbands, so it wasn't that I felt negatively about cohabitation myself. However, I had never really intended to live with someone before marriage, simply because I knew my parents' feelings on the matter and believed it would be disrespectful to them to blatantly flaunt their beliefs. Mark's parents had briefly lived together while they were engaged, so the matter did not hold the same...stigma is not the right word, but you get the idea...that it did in mine. Luckily my little sister had no such reticence and, in the meantime, moved in with her boyfriend (fiance? I can't remember what their status was at that point; they're married now), thereby finally being the one to break our parents in on a major issue. (We thank her for taking one for the team.)

This is not to say that I did not give the matter a lot of thought -- probably quite a bit more than is the norm these days. One of my best friends belongs to a non-denominational/evangelical Christian church, and she was instrumental in making sure I really deeply considered what I was doing. I read a lot, including newer studies that detailed the flaws in applying old cohabitation stats to people today (basically, back when all of the "cohabitation leads to divorce!" studies were conducted, living together was scandalous, so the people who chose to do so were generally the rule-breaking type and, again generally speaking, had inherently higher rates of divorce; this is no longer the case). Although living together would absolutely make financial sense and be crazy convenient, these reasons were absolutely not our sole basis for choosing to do so. I also knew that this wasn't some sort of trial for our relationship. In short, Mark and I had found the person we were going to marry, we did not believe cohabitation would negatively impact our future marriage, we spent all of our (limited) free time together anyway, and where our families would not be offended by our living together, it did not make sense to keep hemorrhaging money on separate houses for the sake of appearance. So, I moved in and all was well.

(Um, I guess I wasn't done with the background? Holy LORD. I do have a point though!)

I guess "at peace with the struggle" was where you could say I resided in terms of how religion fit into my life -- at least until about 19 months ago. What happened 19 months ago, you ask? (Aaaand here's where I finally reach my point that it has taken me 284353987532 paragraphs of background drivel to address, because I am an idiot with verbal diarrhea.) Well, that's where we come back around to the Diocese of Arlington, VA, where I have been living for nearly a decade. I knew it was a conservative area, seeing as I had wandered into a latin mass on occasion (which kind of freaked me out, to be honest), and the tones of the homilies were generally quite strict. However, my view of the diocese, and in some ways, of the church as a whole, changed completely on June 1, 2010, and this is why I had such a visceral reaction to Lauren's experience.

2010 was the year of wedding planning, and seeing as we were planning a wedding in a Catholic church (rule #1 of wedding planning: Don't Kill Grandma!), we had a couple of administrative issues that we needed to address through our local parish. Although Mark and I were planning a wedding in Boston, the church is archaic traditional on certain matters and, as a woman, I needed permission from my geographical home parish (which, inconveniently, was not the church I attended) in order to be married elsewhere. (Note: Mark, as a man, did not require this same permission. Go figure.) We were also hoping to complete a pre-cana program in the DC area rather than traveling to Boston for it. The Diocese of Arlington requires permission from one's home parish in order to register for a pre-cana course, so I set up a meeting. We had an appointment with the pastor early one evening after work, and not knowing what to expect, Mark and I met a few minutes early at the church and checked in with the receptionist. This is where things... Well, you'll see.

The priest (and I am being kind referring to him as "the priest"; he has a very different moniker in our house) blew into the foyer in a rush, and beckoned us back to his office without even a word of welcome -- just a brusque "follow me." We sat down in front of his desk and he asked us a couple of preliminary questions about why we were there since we were getting married in Boston; I got the distinct impression that he considered us to be someone else's problem. There was not even a hint of warmth, kindness, or even interest in this man. I explained about the geographical permission matter, and that we were required to have a preliminary meeting with our parish priest in order to register for pre-cana. He seemed to contemplate this, gave us a few minutes to fill out some paperwork, and then announced that he was going to speak with each of us separately. (Evidently pre-marriage counseling requires SVU-style interrogation tactics; who knew?) I went down the hall with instructions to read the pamphlet on natural family planning he had given me while Mark stayed behind. When Mark was done, we switched places.

Back in his office, the priest explained that he was going to ask me some questions, and that the answers were as important as those I would give in a court of law. (Points deducted for condescension!) He then, no joke, made me swear an oath on a bible. He went through a whole list of questions -- where were we born/baptized/confirmed, had I been married before, had Mark, could we find four people to complete affidavits confirming that we had never been married before (WHAT?), were we practicing Catholics, etc., etc. I really did feel like I was in a criminal interrogation, waiting for a bright spotlight to shine on me while a panel of priests converged behind a one-way mirror to judge my worthiness to marry. Warm and fuzzy? Not so much.**

When my interrogation was complete, he brought Mark back in, gave us our signed application for the pre-cana course, loaded us up with more reading material, and seemingly began to wrap things up. I was just about to reach for my purse when he said, darkly, "There is another issue here," and then proceeded to alternately yell and lecture about our cohabitation. This went on FOR AN HOUR, including the portion where he handed us copies of a six page Q&A on the evils of cohabitation and then READ THE ENTIRE THING ALOUD. Any questions or attempts at dialogue were met with an eye roll and disregarded. He spewed out of date statistics about people cohabiting, and when I questioned the studies (which I read! and of which his interpretation had been debunked!), I was met with another eye roll. When he asked what our parents thought and we said that they were ok with it, he told us we were leading everyone we knew into scandal by making them complicit in our lives of sin. (Our apologies, y'all.)

A few highlights from his tirade:
  • We were preparing for divorce, not marriage.
  • People who cohabit before marriage are 50% more likely to divorce than the 50% of people who already divorce.
  • We were leading everyone we know into scandal, because if they thought what we were doing was ok, then they too were sinful.
  • We were teaching children (our own? other people's? WHO KNOWS) by our example that fornication is acceptable. (In other words, "Won't somebody please think of the children?!")
  • When Mark mentioned that his parents had lived together prior to marrying 30+ years ago, the priest snarled, "Well, that's part of the problem!" (In other words, "Your parents are whores too!")
  • We were living like we were already married, therefore we were only planning a party, not a marriage.
  • Our marriage would be a sham because we were already living as though we were married.
  • And my personal favorite: Our inevitable divorce will probably be preceded by cheating, because we have demonstrated to each other that we are the kind of people who will sleep with people to whom we are not married. 

I was speechless. Dumbstruck. Flabbergasted. People we relate this story to always ask why we didn't get up and walk out, and my response is always that I was too shocked for that thought to occur to me. My experience of the church throughout my life and education was more of a parent/child relationship, and suddenly, I was thrown into the midst of something very, very different. Certainly I assumed that there would be a mention of our cohabitation; I mean, I was not going to lie to him, and the paperwork asked for our addresses. I was not expecting him to condone our actions, but um, I definitely was not expecting THIS either, to say the least. Also, I don't know that I have ever, in my entire life, experienced a lecture of this length (and my dad is known for his ability to beat a dead horse, resurrect it, and beat it again), so I kept thinking, "Surely he is going to wrap it up any minute. Surely. Any minute now. Any time. Oh, nope, he's gearing up again. There's more. And more."

What pisses me off (fills me with blinding rage?) most of all was that I asked Mark, who is pretty opposed to organized religion, to go into the meeting with an open mind for me, and he really did, which was a huge step for him. However, after that debacle, I am pretty sure the door to any future religious participation for him is slammed shut. Likely padlocked and welded too. (Whew, was just blinded by the rage again for a sec.) This priest, who knew nothing about us, made an instant judgment based upon a line in our paperwork and, in his judgment, potentially changed the trajectory of religion in my life, my husband's life, our (hypothetical) CHILDREN'S lives. It renders me speechless again, every time I think about it.

Needless to say, we resigned from the parish here and completed our marriage prep in Boston with the church where we were married and very kind priest who married us. Everyone there -- every. single. person. -- was so gentle with us, so welcoming, so focused on celebrating the family we were forming, which is how I believe things should be. The church should be a place of refuge, not an authoritarian from whom you cower in fear, powerless.

The powerlessness I felt in that meeting did not sit well with me, so I did the only thing I could. I wrote a letter to the priest and sent copies to the Bishop of Arlington as well as the Archbishop of DC.*** I sent the letters via FedEx so that I could track their delivery, and each of the letters was received and signed for within the next couple of days. However, 19 months later, I have heard NOTHING, not one word, from any of these people or their offices.

Not one word.

Text of the letter appears below:

Dear Fr. [Priest]:

I am writing to inform you that Mark and I will not be returning for further meetings; we will complete our marriage preparation in Boston. Furthermore, I would like to rescind our registrations with the parish.

I would also like to take this opportunity to address some of my thoughts following our meeting last night. Never having met you, I was not sure of what to expect going into our meeting. However, I was completely blindsided by the way in which you voiced your concerns regarding cohabitation. The vitriol with which you spoke was both insulting and entirely unnecessary. I recognize that your role is that of a spiritual advisor, and that our decision to cohabit is contrary to the Church's teaching. However, to demean, lecture, and belittle for an hour's time is pharisaic. As a man of God, I expect more from you. I expect the reason, the care, and the compassion that Jesus taught us by His own example. Instead, what I received was mere judgment.   

Although you may question my faith, I never have, and I am secure in my relationship with God. Yes, the decision I made – again, after much forethought – is contrary to the teaching of the Church, and it is something for which I will one day be accountable to God. I certainly do not expect the Church to condone my actions. What I do expect is to be treated like the intelligent adult I am. I came to you for insight, ready to consider questions regarding the Catholic doctrine that I do not often voice. I have been educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and the Jesuits, and I received my law degree from [A Law School in DC]. The most important message I received in my many years of Catholic education is that we must be active participants in our faith, that questioning is inherent in participation, that we are to be thoughtful, and not just sheep following the herd. However, my attempts to participate with you were shot down; any movement away from the metaphorical herd was met with a roll of your eyes. You had an opportunity to engage with us, Father, and that opportunity was squandered.

It is this squandered opportunity that angers me most of all. I can take your hurtful words for myself. I can hear you say that I am “preparing myself not for marriage but for divorce,” that I am “demonstrating to my future husband that I am the kind of person who sleeps with someone to whom I am not married,” and that I am “leading everyone I know into scandal through my actions.” I can hear that because I know that you, personally, are not the Church; the people are the Church, and you are merely a conduit. However, my fiancĂ© was not raised with this same depth of faith. He was truly on the fence going into last night, and without a strong personal relationship with God. However, because I asked it of him, he went into the meeting with an open mind. Given the reception we received, I am fairly certain that the door to faith has closed for him. As I consider the repercussions of my actions, I would hope that you will do the same. Please think about that – through your own actions, you helped close the door to Christ for someone. 

I am writing with the hope that this letter will resonate with you, and that you will remember us the next time a young couple comes to meet with you. I pray that you will remember Christ's compassion before you speak, and that you will choose to engage with these young people rather than to judge and belittle them.


*I should note that this pre-dated the emergence of the sex abuse scandal, so it was acceptable for a 14 year old girl to be working in a church rectory. We were even tasked with putting away the laundry while the priests ate dinner and making the priests' beds on Sunday mornings when there was no housekeeper on duty. I realize how inappropriate this sounds now, but it really was a more innocent time, in addition to the fact that I had known these priests my whole life, my mother worked with them, my parents socialized with them, and they truly were good people who took seriously their role as counselors and spiritual guides. In addition to the obvious, the sex abuse scandal so angered me because it tarnished men like these who had selflessly dedicated their whole lives to the church and their parishioners.
**In contrast, we completed the same kind of interview in Boston, and there was no swearing an oath on a bible, no request for affidavits, and no glowering bad cop attitude. Imagine my surprise!
***Even though Arlington and DC are separate jurisdictions, in my irrational fury, I wanted the letter in front of as many eyes as possible. I had a connection to DC through the law school I attended, and an Archbishop is technically higher ranking than a Bishop, so off it went.

Well, isn't that special...

2012... Does this seem ridiculous to anyone else? As I get older, I am more and more astounded by how time truly does fly. I was lucky enough to spend time with an old friend the other day, while she was in town for a conference. In chatting, we talked about how it will be 10 years this year since she and her husband packed up and left D.C. My time in Chicago and LA was 6 years ago. 10 years ago, I was in law school. 15 years ago, I was a senior in high school. I am perpetually 27ish in my mind's eye, but time has left my mind's eye in the dust. I have to keep reminding myself to be present, truly present, to appreciate the time we have with the ones we love. I think that is my resolution for 2012, which makes sense, seeing as we just had a whirlwind two weeks full of both of our families. We are pretty lucky that we both have families where time together is viewed as celebratory rather than as an obligation, and as so many of us have learned the hard way, our time together is fleeting. 2012: The Year of Learning to Live in the Moment. And also of trying to stop typing the date as 2010.


I could give you a rundown on the holiday festivities (family fun and way too much amazing food with my family in Boston, followed by a week of skiing, exploring, and relaxing with my in laws in CO -- see? so lucky), but there is another issue that has really gotten under my skin in the last week or so. I read a couple of Lauren's posts over at Petroni that have made my blood boil. Not anything Lauren has done, of course, but rather, some experiences she has had recently surrounding her attendance of daily Catholic mass with her young son. In short, Lauren was singled out, first by an older woman, complaining about her son's age-appropriate behavior, and then again by the celebrant, suggesting that she and her son belonged in the church's entryway rather than in the sanctuary with the other worshippers. The older woman, unkind as she was, is easy enough to write off as a cranky older person, intolerant of young children. However, the priest's response? I haven't the words to describe how WRONG he is. I mean, I don't know about you, but I don't know many people who attend daily mass, other than my grandma and her cohorts, and maybe my dad during Lent. One would think a priest would be more welcoming of a mother making good on the promise she made at her child's baptism, to actively teach her child how to live a faithful life, right?

You would think so, but in my experience, this has not been the case in the Diocese of Arlington, VA.

Let me back up. I was raised in the Boston area, in a fairly religious family. It's tough to escape the church in Massachusetts, where a huge number of Irish and Italian immigrants settled in the early 1900s, all of my great-grandparents among them. My dad's Italian family was always pretty devout. My mom's enormous Irish family was less so, given their travels with my grandfather's Air Force career and the ridiculous amount of wrangling required in getting their myriad young children to church on Sunday mornings. However, my mom became much more involved in the church after marrying my dad, eventually becoming the director of religious education for our parish's 800+ children. My dad became involved with our parish's RCIA program, assisting adults preparing to convert to Catholicism with their studies. Many of the friends my parents have to this day they met through the parish and the parochial school my sister and I attended. Needless to say, we were decidedly down with the big J.C. in our house.

From that small parochial school, my sister and I went on to a Catholic girls' prep school, where the dichotomy of Catholicism in the modern world first started to become clear to me. For as much as the school delivered a very pro-women, glass-ceilings-are-meant-to-be-shattered, Reviving Ophelia message, Catholic doctrine was still quite central to our education. Of course, because the school was run by women, we were obligated to import priests to celebrate masses on campus. But for the majority of my fresh(wo)man (oh yes, we did) year, we also had to import altar boys for mass because girls were not yet permitted to be altar servers. As students, we marinated in the knowledge that we could be anything we wanted to be; as Catholic women, we were relegated to supporting roles. Mixed messages were delivered in class as well. We learned about the infallibility of the church and pope, and therefore, the hardline doctrine on abstinence, birth control, family planning, and abortion (topics on heavy rotation in a Catholic girls' high school, as you might imagine). However, we also learned that the genesis of the Friday meat prohibition was the church's support for the Roman fishing industry, and that one major reason behind the celibate priesthood was the church's concern regarding its property rights (i.e. if priests were allowed to marry and have children, would the church's property interests be diluted by the existence of the priests' descendants?). In world history classes, we studied the Medici family, which produced two popes through less than devout means; I think it suffices to say that this ruling family makes Capitol Hill look like a font of ethical wisdom.I was a young high schooler, however, so while the mixed messages registered to some extent, I was a good little rule follower who excelled at telling authority figures precisely what they wanted to hear. I went to church with my parents, taught CCD for my mom, and served as a eucharistic minister in school, not yet ready to ask the questions that were forming.

I went on to a small, intensely academic, liberal arts college that also happened to be run by the Jesuits. I wish I could say that I chose my school for deeper reasons, but alas, I was 17. It was a known entity among my family's social circle, a good school, and when I visited the campus, I loved that it felt familiar, that everyone looked like me. Because the school did its job quite well, this homogeneity was somewhat stifling by the time graduation rolled around, but for the majority of my time there, I was happy and blessed to have found my people. This is not to say that college was a static period; my experience there was life altering, as it should be, and this includes my views on Catholicism. The Jesuits struck me as philosophers more than hardline doctrinists. This is not to say that they operated outside of the church's teachings; this was a college campus where you could find beer on tap but with nary a condom in sight, let alone access to hormonal birth control. However, when it came to the classroom, the role of the college was clear: they were there to raise independent thinkers. Much as religion was central to life on campus, the ability to examine an issue, take it apart, evaluate it, and analyze it was central to our educational process. They may have been the black sheep of the Catholic clergy, but the Jesuits refused to let us leave their clutches as mere sheep following the herd.

Equally as important was the Jesuit philosophy encouraging students to be "men and women for others," which was evident in everything from the number of students who went on to service programs like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps to the inordinately long time people would hold doors open for someone following them. (Seriously, the door holding thing was crazy, going well beyond the bounds of politeness; it was de rigueur to hold the door for someone who was 20 seconds behind you, which sounds like nothing until you're out in the real world doing that and, instead of thanking you, the recipient of the open door looks at you like you're an insane stalker.) This philosophy of generosity of spirit and service to one another, combined with the emphasis on analytical thinking in an environment rich in exposure to new people and experiences outside of my upbringing, well, it obviously broadened my worldview. I am actually embarrassed by the degree to which I blindly followed the narrower views held by my family for so long (though I am really proud of my parents for having come around in a number of ways, too).

This sense of empathy for people and ideas different from me and mine, however, is precisely what has driven a bit of a wedge between me and Catholicism. I do not see issues in quite the same black and white fashion; my world has a whole lot more gray. I mean, how could abortion mean the same thing to me after reading the eloquent words of women like Julia and Cecily? How could I look at my beautiful family members who are here through IVF and believe that reproductive technology is wrong? How can I know such wonderful people, created by God in his image, and think that they are unworthy of sharing their life with someone who they love just as I love my husband, simply because they are gay? How can I believe that my kind and generous friend will not be welcomed into heaven merely because she was raised in a Hindu family? In short, I can't. I have questions, is what I'm saying. Although my faith in God has never changed, I now see the humanity of the church, and therefore, its inherent flaws.

And the flaws? I'm not even touching on the sex abuse scandal. Let's just say that I have come back around to where this all started -- the Diocese of Arlington, VA. However, this is getting seriously WORDY, so I'm going to wrap things up for now. Stay tuned for Part Deux, in which I am called a whore. By a priest! Good times, yo. Good, good times.