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Why Fallen Catholics Like Me Must Insist On Reforming The Catholic Church

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I am a product of the Roman Catholic Church. It was my birthright: my parents were Catholic, and so where my grandparents. The Church had a monopoly in the countries my mom and dad came from -- Puerto Rico and Cuba, respectively.

So, even though I grew up in Manhattan -- a vastly different island with countless other faiths to choose from -- my parents, understandably, raised me Catholic. They baptized me, paid for Catechism classes, and sent me to Catholic schools, where the curriculum was infused with Church teachings. There, I also had to attend church with my class every Friday and still attend Mass on Sundays.

I like to say that I put in my time, spending years of my life understanding Church doctrine. But the perpetual hypocrisy of the Church gnawed at me until I decided I could not longer be a part of an institution that has not atoned for waging war in the name of Jesus, enslaving others, and its brutal treatment of Jews and other "non-believers."

I also could not accept the Church's sexist attitude towards nuns and women in general, its homophobia, and its insistence that couples should not use birth control, even though this insistence has resulted in keeping women and their families in underdeveloped countries enmeshed in poverty. (Last year, Pope Benedict XVI had the audacity to tell reporters that condom use in Africa "increases the problem" of AIDS.)

Though I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I am, undeniably, culturally Catholic. And I, like many others who have left the flock, should have a say in pressuring the Church to reform itself. The vow of celibacy is a big lie. Ask anyone who has spent time at a seminary. It has become clear, after dozens of sexual abuse scandals have come to light, that the Church not only attracts sexual deviants, it protects them. If the Vatican is serious about weeding out pedophiles, it must allow priests and nuns to live like fully human beings. That means ending the charade of chastity.

Years ago, I would never dare say these things publicly. As a "good Catholic girl," I had been instilled with the idea that saying anything negative about the Catholic Church was blasphemous. (It's like conservatives who quiet war critics by calling them unpatriotic for speaking out.)

It wasn't until 2002, when the newspaper I was working for at the time, The Boston Globe, published a series of stories that documented hundreds of cases of sex abuse by priests in the Boston Archdiocese, that I felt free to speak about my contempt for Church leadership. It was their policy to pay off the parents of the abused children in exchange for their silence. The revelations angered me. How could the Church talk about protecting unborn children when it clearly was not protecting children from countless pedophile clergy in their ranks?

Eight years have passed and the sex abuse scandals keep coming. Now, there is evidence, in the form of internal Church documents, that then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who headed the Vatican office that determined whether priests should be defrocked, did not take disciplinary action against a Wisconsin priest who abused 200 deaf boys. The New York Times published many of those documents on their website, yet the Vatican's response has been to accuse the Times of being "in attack mode."

All that obfuscating only hurts Catholics who want church leadership to live up to the teachings of Jesus. Many Catholics understand that those of us who express our anger at the way the church handles pedophile priests are not condemning Catholicism; we just believe it is a sin to coddle priests who abuse children.

Just like a true patriot speaks out when its government fails the people it is supposed to serve, it is necessary for Catholics -- fallen and otherwise -- to call for Vatican reform. The chorus is only getting louder. When will the Church hear us?

Cindy E. Rodríguez teaches at New York University and Hunter College and is the author of the forthcoming Pendeja No Más: A Latina's Guide to Liberation.