White smoke rising. As everyone in the world knows by today, it means there’s a new Pope. I was raised in the church, attended 14 years of Catholic schooling (pre-k through 12), and at age 15 decided I didn’t want to be Catholic anymore. It wasn’t that I stopped believing in God, but what the church taught didn’t jive with what I believed God was like, so I set out to find a better religion. I ditched anything mainstream right away because I felt the need to rebel completely, to almost wash myself of my old beliefs. I started studying Wicca, but it didn’t ring true for me. I definitely liked the ideas about being connected to nature, but I felt that its answers as to the nature of the universe beyond earth were not sufficient. I began to call myself pagan in a general sense, while I tried to study every religion I could. Eventually, I stopped calling myself anything but a “seeker.”
My beliefs about God and the nature of the universe are constantly evolving, and they now incorporate little bits of truth that I pickup wherever I can. And I’m very happy with this continuing change. But sometimes, like today, I look back at the church and almost wish I could believe again. (My inner critic is telling me you are all going to hate me for being so weak as to admit this.) The truth is, life was easier when people told me what to believe, and beloning to the church was a source of comfort.
I remember defending the church’s sexist teachings about women. This was all before I even heard of priests molesting children. Our media refers to this as a “sex scandal.” No, sex scandals happen between politicians and prostitutes. The catholic church’s greatest crime is systematic child abuse, and we look the other way because to really address this head on would be to admit that the church is a purely human construct and we have been beating ourselves to death because we can’t live by the rules of a bunch of grumpy old perverts, or as Stephen Fry called them, sexual bulimics. Even if I could believe in the teachings of the church again, I couldn’t turn a blind eye to the abuse.
And still. And still. And still.
When I heard there was white smoke yesterday, I felt something. My inner seventh grader who still wishes the world followed the elegant flow chart of morality laid out by the Catechism, glanced up hopefully from her rosary.
“Just maybe,” she thought. “If I keep praying.”