by Daniel Dominguez, ’16
The recent election of the new pope was greeted with great fanfare from around the world, as Catholics around the world waited to see who would replace the first pope to not leave the Vatican in a coffin in nearly 500 years. The announcement was received with great praise with millions celebrating Pope Francis’ poverty, humility and openness; a very different manner than that of the traditional and reserved Ratzinger of the previous eight years.
However, while millions clamor to attest to the personable qualities of the new Bishop of Rome, it is important to remember that the Pope is inheriting a church in turmoil which is in serious need of reform to rescue it from itself. The increasing disenfranchisement between Vatican dogma and popular culture is striking and has led to a phenomenon which I have observed increasingly in those around me and even in myself: so called “cultural Catholicism.” Millions of modern Catholics use contraception, support LGBT rights, in-vitro fertilization, abortion, and find the thought of child molestation horrifying yet millions still flock to church, sit at the pews, and put money in the collection bin; the simple reason being that they were raised Catholic.
Enthusiasm for the new Bishop of Rome has been perhaps most forthcoming from the millions of Latin Americans in the West who looked forward to the papal reign of the first Latin American Pope in the history of the Church. Having been raised in a Mexican-American Catholic household I understand the importance of the Catholic faith to the culture of many Latin American cultures and how difficult it is to go against those conventions. From as far back as I can remember I remember being dragged away from the pink skies above my house where I played with my cousins and being plopped down onto a pew. Catholicism was never a choice for me in my family. It was never a choice for my sister. It isn’t a choice for my six year old niece and it certainly wasn’t a choice for my mother. It was just simply the way that things have always been done since Cortes arrived to civilize the New World. Therefore these Sundays were filled with obligatory treks to St. Annes Catholic Church on Maryland Parkway in the center of Las Vegas. However, personal anecdotes aside, it is important to note that any quick survey of Catholicism in Latin America makes clear the fact that faith is overwhelmingly important in the lives of many Latin Americans, and consequently in the lives of the millions of Latin@’s in the United States. However as young members of Latino culture enter into adulthood they must make their own informed choices about religion and follow their own beliefs, not merely blindly following those handed down to them from their ancestors. If they don’t square up then something must be done.
For instance, if one was born into a family that were longtime members of a country club that supported denying rights to LGBT peoples, opposed a woman’s right to choose, spoke out vehemently against condoms, and covered up its members’ abuses of children around the world then it is logical to conclude that when they came of age, if they opposed all these things, they would leave that institution in heartbeat. However, when theology and familial pressure is introduced it becomes very different and the same people who would undoubtedly leave another identical institution instead choose to disavow themselves from what they do not like in the doctrine and continue on as semi-active members, battling a cognitive dissonance between their beliefs and their church.
There is a certain naiveté in simply saying one does not condone certain aspects of the church, yet continuing to show up on Sundays to that very church. This pacifism becomes ironic when one realizes that thousands of people who firmly support LGBT rights no doubt offered up money to an institution that wrote an open letter against California’s Proposition 8. As every day passes these age-old Catholic doctrines seem increasingly backwards and it seems clearer that Catholics now only have two choices.
The first option is simply to leave. They can practice their faith independently from Vatican doctrine or can join another denomination that better suits their beliefs. The second option, the one that this author recommends and urges, is to stay. However, not just staying and sitting in the pews listening to the gospel; they must stay, make their voices heard, and demand change.
It is perhaps because of the theological underpinnings of the institution that this second course of action is less easily approachable. Rebelling against your faith is not easy and this author realizes it. However, if this institution is truly here to aide us and guide us through life then we must approach it the same way that we approach our democracy which is also there to serve and protect us. We must criticize it. In the same way that the worst sin in democracy is not participating, if we simply sit back and do not fight for what we wish to change in our religious institutions, we are not supporting it but undermining it. The best thing one can do is criticize. Criticize and make known that which unnerves us, Only then can we truly claim to be true Catholics.
The world is changing and faith-based institutions must adapt themselves accordingly. What is no longer a possibility is pacifist cultural Catholicism where members thoughtlessly go through the motions of faith simply because that is what they have always done. Blindly drinking the wine is no longer an option. Regardless of whether your action as Catholic is walking out of the door or standing by and fighting for change, what is necessary is action.
To the Catholics of the world I suggest these actions: Analyze, Critique, Speak, and Stand.
Dignum et iustum est.
Daniel is an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Comparative Literature, focusing on Modernist literature from the early 20th century. He was born and raised in Las Vegas, NV and writes on topics of art, religion, the place of Latin@’s in society. He also writes creatively.