On stable ground

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The sex abuse crisis in the American church has made it sometimes an embarassment to be a Catholic in this country, says Pat Senneville. But she finds comfort in the stability the church offers.

Guest blog post by Pat Senneville

Being an American Catholic can have its ups and downs. In many ways being a Catholic in America can be both advantageous and detrimental. Sometimes, I find being a Catholic an embarrassment. The priest sex scandal is a good example why. Often when identifying myself as Catholic, I get bombarded, not with questions about my faith and what Catholics believe but rather, with questions about why the abuse happened or how the cover up could have happened. I don't have answers to those questions. I would prefer to be asked why I continue to be Catholic if the church is riddled with such a scandal. 

On the other hand, I find being Catholic a comfort. Catholicism is less unpredictable than much of what I encounter in life. It has a stability that defies the adage that the only thing that doesn't change is change. Yes, the Church has changed some of its practices in the recent past, but she has not changed her basic beliefs.  As I explained it to my sister in a recent discussion on the new translation of the New American Bible, "Some of the words may have changed, but the truths are the same." The Catholic Church, fortunately, does not change on a whim. There is comfort in that stability. 

It is from this stability that we as Catholics can serve others, helping them to pursue their happiness. The motto of the school where I taught was "Enter to learn, go forth to serve." This is what it means to be a Catholic in America.  We enter into the church and go forth, not out of the church but into the community to serve those in need. We learn what God wants us to do, and we go forth into the community to do just that. 

Sometimes what God wants us to do may come in conflict with what other Americans might want to do, but that is OK. In America we don't all have to agree. Just as there are political conservative and political liberals, there are religious conservatives and religious liberals, and American Catholicism contains both. Protected by the U.S. Constitution, we can and do express our opinions, not only political but also religious.  This can serve to strengthen the church, as she listens to the diverse opinions and sifts through them, rejecting some proposed changes while acting upon others. If we lived in a Catholic theocracy, would such changes be possible? 

Stability of doctrine makes change comfortable. We can make the changes necessary to live in the American culture while maintaining the beliefs that have made Catholicism one of the oldest institutions in the world. Catholicism in America is much more than a priest sex scandal. It is a way of life that calls on us to learn values and act upon them with a conviction only stability can provide. 

 


Pat Senneville, recently retired from 25 years of teaching theology/religious studies at a Catholic high school in Wyandotte, Michigan. She is a mother of three and grandmother of six.

In honor of our country's official birthday, we're asking U.S. Catholic friends and readers what's unique about being an American Catholic. To submit your answer (about 200-600 words), e-mail onlineeditor@uscatholic.org.

 Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.