I ate meat yesterday. I was raised Catholic and knew it was Ash Wednesday but I willingly and defiantly pulled up to the Wendy's drive-thru and ordered a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger. It was delicious and according to the Church, it was a sin.
I knew that and didn't care. Here was my reasoning: If dozens of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese can't keep their hands off the private parts of children and teens, and Church leaders protect priests over children, then I am going to eat a damn hamburger.
There I said a curse. Another sin. You know what else is a sin? Priests in a position of power taking sexual advantage of children. It is wrong and it is evil. I know that. The priests know that. Millions of Catholic all over the world know that.
The Archdiocese SHOULD know that. But if they do, why did it take so long for them to respond to these allegations? Why did it take years of abuse claims, investigations and two scathing Grand Jury reports before 21 additional priests were removed from public service this week.
On the TV news last night, I heard a nun say the discipline of the 21 priests "was a persecution of priests." HA! Persecution is what thousands of abused children went through for years, when no one heard their cries and no one stopped the abuse.
I realize my hamburger protest is small and silly. I definitely do NOT think I am going to hell for eating meat. But it is perhaps the first time in my life that I have willingly broken Lenten tradition, even if I haven't been devout in years. But it is my small protest, my personal rebellion against a screwed up Philadelphia patriarchy.
I was raised Catholic in Northeast Philadelphia and attended 16 years of Catholic school. Aside from the folksy "guitar Masses" in the 1970s, I never really experienced a deep sense of love or peace in my parish church or school. Instead, the priests (with the exception of one, who later left the Church) were stern and severe. Confession was intimidating. There were no Saturday night Masses in Philadelphia because it was "wrong." We didn't know why. Masturbation was wrong. Premarital sex was wrong. Heck, mostly everything was wrong.
In religion class, we learned that Hell was painful because we would be on fire for eternity. We were taught that our souls were like white paper dolls and when we sinned, God took a hole punch and left a black mark. Really, teachers? REALLY? Yes.
In my parish grade school, the slow learners were placed in "F" level - "F" for failure. Looking back, I am sure most of those students probably had learning disabilities. But I don't think they were ever helped.
But I kept my faith for two reasons. For one, the two priests in my family - my uncle, Father Jack Quigley of Kansas was a good and kind man. So is my cousin, Father Leon Hutton of California. My high school was St. Basil Academy of Fox Chase, Pa. run by an order of Ukrainian nuns who love their students with all their hearts and each day demonstrate the goodness of Jesus.
I went to Villanova University on as scholarship (not my first choice - I wanted to go to secular Swarthmore). At Villanova, I found a progressive and caring community where Mass was one of the highlights of the week and many students worked for peace and justice. But Villanova is run by Augustinian brother, not the Archdiocese and I bet that made all the difference.
During my years living as a reporter across the country, I found welcoming parishes such as St. Patrick's in Fayetteville, N.C. and St. Juliana's in West Palm Beach, Fl.
Now I live in South Jersey, where I went to a parish church that felt like home. Well, it did until the Bishop of Camden closed my parish. Now I struggle to reconcile my deep doubts about the Catholic Church with how I want to raise my son. I consider becoming an Episcopalian, where women can be priests and priests can marry. Or a Unitarian, since they seem to welcome everyone and judge no one.
How am I supposed to tell my young son that he needs to follow Church law when many of its priests - God's Representatives on Earth - can't keep their hands to themselves? And Church leaders cover it up.
I don't know the answer. But I do know I am eating meat all throughout Lent.