As a former Catholic, I still carry around a lot of “Catholic Guilt.” You know — the feeling that strikes you when you think dirty thoughts or maybe have sex with your partner. It’s there – forever and always – whether you are still a Catholic or not. That “all-seeing, all-knowing” God is always there.
Growing up I attended Catholic school and went to church occasionally with my parents. I remember that our sexual education in junior high was to copy down the “Hail Mary”; we were instructed to recite it when we had "impure" thoughts. We were told that we would be punished for masturbating and recruited to participate in Right to Life marches. I remember vividly a conversation with our high school chaplain about abortion, and how I felt that under certain circumstances a woman should have the right to choose (I now feel that no matter the circumstance, the woman has the right to choose). Obviously he did not agree and I got an earful about the importance of life and the sacredness of sex. Meanwhile, half my friends were losing their virginity (or at least trying to) and we were not educated about contraception or at the very least about how not to feel pressured into having sex.
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I occasionally reflect on why I left the church and now consider myself an ex-Catholic. As many former members of the church would agree, the church needs to modernize. Their stance on sexuality is no longer just laughable — it is costing men and women their lives all over the world. Preaching against the use of contraception leaves people vulnerable to disease and unwanted pregnancies. I also do not support the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality. The teachings of the early church were to love everyone, and accept people for who they are, not to turn your back on people may have a different sexuality than you. The stance of the church on women’s rights and their role in the family is also exasperating.
People do a lot of strange things in the name of God, Catholic or not. My parents come from South America, where the church still wields a great deal of power over national policies. For example, recently in Chile the Constitutional Court halted a national program that distributed free emergency contraception to women as young as fourteen due to pressure from politicians who claimed that “emergency contraception constitutes abortion." Abortion in Chile is illegal under all circumstances. Enough propaganda and myths have been propagated by the church about emergency contraception that they are still believed.
It’s time for Catholics to take back their religion and make the changes necessary to keep progressive people like myself in the church. We are all looking for a sense of community and somewhere to belong, but I won’t belong to a church that believes that I have no rights.