Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Boycott the Basket for Lent and Easter


The Vatican Sex Abuse summit is over. One high-ranking cardinal has just been defrocked for, and another convicted in an Australian court, for raping children. A Catholic, still practicing, I expected little to come of the recent Vatican Sex Abuse summit, and in my judgment, I was correct. It was pro forma, a publicity stunt. What ame out of the summit was a plan of action over which a team of prelates, many of whom have publicly admitted to failing to report multiple child rapes, will preside. Catholic teaching, by design, keeps Catholics in the candle-lit dark. The seal of confession, vows/promises of obedience priests are required to take, help to maintain the problem opacity. How can any Catholic defend the institutional church after seeing so much depravity, misogyny and corruption on full display? Denial? Maybe so. The mix of the Catholic hierarchy’s sense that they are “above the (secular) law and lay Catholics’ erroneous belief that they lack power to bring change has proven to be a toxic one. But Catholics in the pews do have economic power. Fear of losing contributions often catalyzes reform in the Church. As I struggle to stay Catholic, I am often comforted by a decision I made 12 years ago to withhold contributions. Knowing I no longer help to finance an institution which shields men who rape children from justice, launders money through the Vatican Bank, and enacts misogyny on a daily basis is no longer a sin for which I repent every time I pray the Confiteor at mass.  My offertory dollars are no longer used to oppose same-sex marriage in federal courts, strip women of health care, or oppose Child Victims Act legislation—Because I boycott the basket.    

Many Catholics don’t know what happens to the money they contribute to the Church. They are unaware that often parishes kick back to dioceses: and dioceses, to the Vatican. They don’t know that in many (possibly most) cases, in the U.S. at least, dioceses own everything a parish has. Some don’t know that many of the same Catholics protesting the sex abuse crisis actually contributed financially to the hierarchy’s efforts to bock Child Victims Act legislation. Millions of women who identify as feminists donate cash every Sunday to a church that teaches girls it “catechizes,” starting at age 7, that they are unworthy of ordination.

I have never taken the decision to boycott the basket lightly, because I know from my own church work that the Catholic Church does a great deal of good on behalf of people in need.  Early on in my withholding I worried, as the basket on a stick sailed by, about being seen as a deadbeat—the sort who swipes a servers’ tip off a restaurant table. But here’s the thing: Catholics can increase their support for these organizations by cutting out the middlemen. I can give my bishop’s “take” to the Catholic Worker, for example.

Catholics often speak of contributing in terms of “time, talent and treasure.” With this in mind I give goods whenever possible, and “treasure” to organizations whose missions reflect my Catholic beliefs. Boycotting the basket has demanded that I be more mindful about giving. Over the course of two decades, while working as a teacher, writer and mother of three (one with special needs), I contributed time and talent in many ways. I worked in an overnight respite for unsheltered women. My whole family and I worked in a food pantry, with our parish’s monthly dinner for people living with HIV/AIDS and in LGBTQ and other ministries. (My favorite boast: For 15 years I cooked two 25-pound turkeys every Thanksgiving: one for my family, one for my HOPE dinner beloveds.) I visited the homebound, served on the altar, sang in a Gregorian chant schola, was a lector, helped decorate the church every Christmas, led writing groups, bought/wrapped gifts every December, worked with children whose parents were incarcerated, and clergy sex abuse survivors; served on Pastoral Council, co-founded an annual World AIDS Day service/memorial; played lawyer on a pro-bono legal team which helped poor people obtain medical insurance, food supplementation and tenants’ rights information.  

I asked three priests in three different orders the following question recently, and each was quick to answer in the emphatic affirmative. “If every Catholic who objects to the misogyny of the institutional church were to boycott the basket for one year as a protest against male-only priesthood, would the Vatican change course on ordaining women?” Answers varied slightly: “Of course!”, “Are you kidding?” and “Sure!” 

Our only hope for “cleansing” the Catholic “temple” may be economic. Lent begins this Wednesday. Catholic worship is free. We care called to contribute, but we are also taught to discern.  To Catholics who feel like bolting in disgust, might consider staying, and giving up the basket for Lent—and Easter.