Why Catholicism?

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.

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4 thoughts on “Why Catholicism?

  1. AJ says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I do agree that the health of the Catholic institution is failing, and that we must address the phenomena that is the shifting ideology of the Catholic community, which is becoming increasingly progressive (a movement I wholly support). I am fine with the Catholic Church as a cultural institution, and similar to Judaism and Hinduism, one’s ethnic and cultural identity is often hopelessly entwined with a religious identity. However, if the Church is to operate as the politically-minded institution it is trying to be, it must reflect the values of its constituents, and in this, I agree with your conclusion. Despite the Church’s inexcusably corrupt past, we must instead focus on the troubling situation of the Church now and in the future. Ingrained in our culture, religion is very much here to stay, and instead of abandoning it, we should adapt faith-based communities to our present context and organize them within the system — for education, political participation, interreligious cooperation, the potential is boundless.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    First of all, thank you for this post. It’s great to see some dialogue around this issue and I would recommend that you watch “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican,” visit the webpage for Católicas por el derecho a decidir (Catholics for Choice), and if you haven’t already read more about the Catholic church’s involvement in the war in El Salvador during their Civil War, specifically Oscar Romero and liberation theology in Latin American in general. And lastly, Stanford offers the course “Issues of Liberation: El Salvador” with Thomas Sheehan and Geoff Browning.

    However, as much as I want to say that I agree with you because of my own very Catholic upbringing, I have to disagree. Every time that we go to mass, we are complicit in the blatant and terrible discrimination and crimes that the Catholic church has perpetrated or helped perpetrate. Every single Catholic, starting with the priests, should leave the Catholic Church until (in no particular order) 1. women are allowed to become priests, bishops, even the pope, 2. until the rhetoric around family planning and contraception changes, 3. until hateful language about LGBT individuals completely leaves the church, and 4. until every single priest/clergy person/ church official who has committed a crime ESPECIALLY sexual assault is handed over to the civil authorities and pays for their crime.

    Just because we want the church to change, doesn’t mean that it will. I agree that we have power within the church however imagine if all of the sudden the Catholic Church lost most of its constituencies, they would have to reform or be willing to let their church die. I personally would rather not compromise my values in order to reform other people’s.

    Would love to discuss more!

  3. The World Doesn't Need the Catholic Church says:

    I disagree with your assertion that Catholics should stay with the Church and reform it from the inside. The reason is because the Catholic Church is not worth reforming. It serves no real, tangible purpose and is corrupt down to its very core. The Catholic Church has been, and always will be, an organization that hinders progress and victimizes non-believers. Why has civilization put up with an organization that in the past was responsible for the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades an in the modern day actively discriminates against LGBT people, as well as engage in other injustices, as you’ve stated.

    But even putting all of that aside,your argument doesn’t even work on theological grounds. The fact that you are willing to “update” the Church to fit in with modern morals also highlights the fact that it is a pointless institution. How can an organization claim to speak for an unchanging almighty God and then change its doctrine based on popular opinion? This isn’t just a problem with the Catholics though, but with most religions. The faster people begin to realize that morality does not come from religion, the quicker the world can rid itself of it altogether.

    • GMR says:

      According to you, the Catholic Church “serves no real, tangible purpose and is corrupt down to its very core.” First off, the Catholic Church serves a very important purpose that of guiding believers through a maze of hatred and selfishness toward a greater love for God and others. Not only does the Church serve all the faithful Catholics with the services and Sacraments it provides, the Catholic Church provides aid to billions around the world regardless of their faith. A few of these organizations include Catholic Relief Services and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. In addition, your claim that the Catholic Church is “corrupt down to its very core” cannot be more far away from the truth. There is not ONE thing about Catholic theology or Catholic doctrine that’s corrupt, and these form the core of the Catholic Church. Now, that people within and without the Church corrupt and perverse Catholic teaching is another thing. The corrupt people within the Church are the ones responsible for all the evil that supposedly the Catholic Church committed. If you believe that we shouldn’t “put up” with the Catholic Church simply for its failings (which, again, were caused by the PEOPLE who form part of the Church), then we can use your logic to do away with a country who has committed so many injustices (to its inhabitants as well as to billions around the world) and continues to do so, the beloved United States of America. Just take a look at American imperialism and all the atrocities it caused (for one, supporting dictators who killed off millions unjustly).

      But I definitely agree with you that the Catholic Church shouldn’t change its doctrine based on public opinion or popular culture, and trust me, it won’t. If the doctrine changes, it will cease to be the Catholic Church. Whatever is fundamental to Catholicism and the Catholic Church will never change.

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