The view from a pew

A guest post by Steve Banko

This is getting harder for me and by “this” I don’t mean writing these essays.  I’ve always been able to write.  But I’ve always also been able to reason and to think and much of what is happening in my Church is making it harder for me to be a believer.

The hideous sexual abusers who have ravaged our young Catholics and punched holes in our confidence in the cloth are one thing.  Hardly a day goes by without another revelation of massive abuse: 300 priests in Pennsylvania, a thousand or so in Ireland, several dozen in Western New York, another hundred in Boston.

The list seems never ending, but worse than the numbers of abusers is the concentrated cover-up of the Catholic hierarchy. They knew what.  They knew who. They did nothing about it.  My catechism days taught me that absolution demanded three elements: confession to a priest, true sorrow for the sin, and the intention to avoid the near occasion of sin.  I’m not seeing much of the regulations in the feeble response of the Church.

But that’s not the beginning of my only crisis of faith.  A lot of it dates back more than fifty years when I was sent off to war without so much as a whimper of protest from the Church.  I saw things. I did things.  I confessed things, all while knowing I would have to do it all over again the next day. I still see those things and am haunted by the memories but I never recall any intervention of my Church or a real discussion of the meaning of a “just war.”

Some three million of us just walked in lock step with a pat on the back from the Church into the nightmare of Vietnam.  I was able to shake that off for a while – until a whole series of new wars sent new generations into battle without any end in sight. The Church dutifully sends chaplains off to the Middle East but says nothing about war without end, amen.

Then there was the letter from the Bishop just before the election in 2016, reminding Catholics they could vote their consciences as long as they voted for a candidate who was pro-birth. I’m still waiting for our bishop to send a similar letter condemning the deliberate separation of families at the southern border; an atrocity that should surely give cause for a real pro-life letter. Instead, Catholic Charities will now deny orphans of familial love and caring because of who a person loves. How much more can we cheapen the dictate to love our neighbor?

It is easy for a Catholic to note the simplicity of the commandments of Jesus to his disciples.  The commandments were love: love God and love our neighbor. But all I see in this country is hate, even among self-proclaimed Christians. Few categories of Americans are spared. So maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe we need to be more tribal. Maybe we need to build walls and to surround ourselves in cocoons. Maybe I’ve got this religion thing all wrong and if I do, then maybe it’s time to end this charade of subscribing to a gospel of love and get with the program of separation.

Just about the time I want to give up and pack it in though, I remember other times in my life when my faith saved me. I was deep in the trough of drunkenness and about to lose my job, my family, and most likely my sanity. I prayed and was given a chance at rehabilitation. I was suffering through a dark post-combat depression, beset with nightmares that kept me awake through the night. I asked for help and found counseling that saw me through to the other side. I’ve needed my faith for a host of other issues, some major and some less so. And in that need, in that simple understanding that God was listening, I found peace.

So we’re looking at two sides of the coin these days: the human side that confounds, depresses, and appalls us and the divine side that always seems to be there when the times are darkest. But are my blessings the result of faith in God or adherence to a faith that is hierarchical, misogynist, abetting pedophilia? That’s an evaluation we must make for ourselves.

Some of my friends have had enough. They see no end to the depravity in some corners of our Church and in the cover-up in other corners. But I’m going to hang in there hoping the humanity of our Church catches up with the divinity. My confidence is shaken. My faith has been buffeted. But I’m going to try to ride it out, believing in the God who has answered so many of my prayers and who has made my life worth living.

I’m going to keep smiling, at least for a little while.

5 thoughts on “The view from a pew

  1. I think it is completely consistent to endear faith while simultaneously rejecting organized religion. In fact it may be the most sincere, honest way to live.


  2. Dear Ken,

    This is an amazing, honest, vulnerable post. I’m so glad you sent it. Please tell Steve how much I appreciate it. I am now a member of the Episcopal church. Basically the same rites as Catholic, but women and gays are ordained, no Pope w infallible doctrine, etc. Lots of Catholics take refuge there!

    Hope all is well. I bought an apt in Cambridge. I am a visiting scholar at Harvard and love it here.




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