I grew up in the Catholic Church, and it pretty much drove me away from religion. I could never quite get the basic contradictions between a message of love for all people and a politics of intolerance. (Jesus loves his children, except the women, who have to be second-class citizens, and the homosexuals, who are going to burn in Hell.)
Then there was the general wackiness: Every Sunday, we had to pray for "the Jews" in the hope that they would see the light of Jesus and be saved. I once asked our head parish priest, who was also the "Christian Doctrine" teacher at my Catholic school, what that was all about; the Jewish people I knew seemed to be doing fine on their own. They believed their thing, we believed ours, and so what? Were these folks all really going to suffer eternal damnation? That seemed so, you know, harsh.
The priest was very direct: Our way, the Catholic way, was the only way. Everyone else was wrong and would pay for it. People who didn't believe the same things we did were doomed to hideous torture in the flames of Hades until the end of time and beyond. Too bad for them.
Oh, and by the way: It wasn't just a sin to have sex, even with yourself -- it was a sin to think about it.Later, Father.
Before the blog comments start, let me acknowledge that there are many wonderful Catholics who have done wonderful things for the world. I have nothing but respect for them and they way they live their lives. The nuns who live next door to my mom in Philadelphia are really sweet and helpful to her, and they were great when my dad was dying. I'm a proud atheist, but whatever turns your spirit on is fine with me. Just don't tell me I have to agree with you.
That said, the dodos who run the organizational part of the Church have always been a bit of a problem.
For example: this is San Francisco, and there are a decent number of gay Catholics, and a lot of them go to Most Holy Redeemer Church in the Castro, which is about as welcoming to gay people as any Catholic institution can ever be. And what does the Great and Exalted Archbishiop, Geroge Niederauer, do? According to a nice scoop by Cythina Laird in the BAR,  he kicks a few lesbian and gay ministers out of an Advent service:
At least three gay and lesbian clergy members were disinvited from participating in Advent services at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the Castro, the Bay Area Reporter has learned. ... "The basic reason is that Archbishop Niederauer felt the themes for vespers should better reflect the themes of Advent," Wesolek told the B.A.R.
The "themes of Advent?" The only "theme of Advent" I know is that it celebrates the upcoming feast of the birth of Christ, who, at the time of his miraculous arrival into this world, hadn't said a single thing about homosexuals.
Let's be serious: This isn't a religious statement, it's a political statement about same-sex marriage. The archbishop can't tolerate the idea that people -- even respected religious people who also believe in Jesus, one of them a damn bishop, for Christ's sake -- who happen to disagree with his teachings on marriage might share the stage with his holy crew:
Charles was the Episcopal bishop of Utah and was married to a woman for many years. After his retirement in 1993, he came out as a gay man, divorced his wife, and moved to San Francisco. In October 2008 he married Felipe Sanchez-Paris, Ph.D. in a civil ceremony in San Francisco. The couple had a church wedding in 2004 that was covered in the San Francisco Chronicle .
He told the B.A.R. that he received a call the night before his scheduled appearance "indicating that my participation in a liturgical service was unacceptable to the Chancery (in all likelihood, the archbishop): presumably, my participation as the first openly out gay bishop, legally married according to the laws of the state of California, might suggest approval of gay marriage."
Kind of hard to believe. Or not.
I wish the folks at the archdiocese would talk to me about this, but they haven't returned my calls.
UPDATE: George Wesolek, spokesperson for the archdiocese, just called me. He acknowledged that the archbishop had decided to disinvite the three ministers on the grounds that "it appeared they might be going to talk about topics with agendas. Advent is not the time for politicizing this, for divisive issues, it's a time to bring people together."
In other words: If you want to talk about same-sex marriage, shut up.