Susan Reimer is a columnist for the Baltimore Sun.
It is no fun being a Catholic woman these days. In fact, it is almost embarrassing. First, the church hierarchy reminded us that those birth control pills in our medicine cabinets are forbidden. Then the bishops repeated their opposition, in various state legislatures, to any legal standing for our gay friends, family members, neighbors or co-workers, somehow casting their opposition as a matter of religious liberty.
Now the Vatican is screwing the lid down on American nuns, who the church thinks are spending too much time on social justice issues and not enough time pounding home the message about birth control and abortion.
And finally, for good measure, the church is firing a teacher for seeking infertility treatments and breaking the heart of a high school girl on the eve of the prom.
Let’s start with that last one, first.
Amanda Dougherty, a student at a Catholic high school outside Philadelphia, had the dress, the shoes, the ticket and the guy for her junior prom. Until the guy backed out.
She was determined to pin a smile on her face and go anyway, to have fun with her friends. That is, until the school and the archdiocese told her that she couldn’t go without a date.
“For them to say that we’re not good enough to go unless we have a guy standing next to us, it’s just kind of sickening,” Amanda told a CBS reporter.
In a statement, Catholic school officials said there were plenty of high school events a student could attend without a date, “but we view the prom as a special social event where a date is required to attend.”
(Just guessing here, but I assume that would not include a date of the same sex.)
And an Indiana teacher at a Catholic school found that her contract had not been renewed after she asked for some time off to pursue a second in vitro fertilization.
When Emily Herx of Fort Wayne pointed out that her supervisor not only knew of her first attempt but was praying for its success, and that no embryos were destroyed or frozen, the monsignor in the parish told her she was a “grave, immoral sinner” anyway.
This is probably as good a time as any to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Probably, none of the above.
When my children were preparing for their confirmation in the Catholic Church — under the more benevolent reign of Pope John Paul II — they were frustrated and angry over the fact that just about every minute of class time was spent talking about the evils of abortion and the sin of contraception and almost none on the Sermon on the Mount.
These were 13-year-old kids looking for a way to deal with the first disappointments of life — the death of a friend’s parent, mean girls, a divorce, the pain of trying to fit in at a new school, getting cut from a team. Where was the church when they needed it most?
I would ask the same now.
Why is the Catholic Church tightening the screws of doctrine in a world already awash in religious extremists? Why would it handcuff the good sisters, who live only to serve the weakest among us and be their voice for justice?
Why would it wound the faithful at their most vulnerable moments? Why does it exclude, when it could embrace?
When my children had their first crisis of faith years ago, I said with conviction, “Whatever you think of the Catholic Church, remember this: Jesus didn’t have any bad ideas. Try to live as he would want you to live.”
That is still my prayer for them. But it has become nearly impossible for me to whisper it inside a Catholic Church.