I have noted, with some confusion, the pressing agenda items to be discussed at the annual fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from Nov. 11 - 14 in Baltimore.
Most interesting, a presentation for a "proposal to develop a formal statement on pornography," that is not only listed along with the other items (which include an update on the "Promotion and Defense of Marriage" and an update on the "Call to Prayer for Life") but is also presented in bold lettering at the top of the news item announcing the Conference on your home page.
You are, it must be noted, attacking this alleged pornography problem with ample exuberance.
Or -- perhaps more accurately -- you're not so much addressing a problem (is there a raging pornography epidemic?) as you are allotting time at your annual fall gathering for a simple discussion surrounding the specifics of your group's stance on the issue.
Let's be clear on that.
I'm assuming the outcome will be something like, "Pornography is a bad thing" -- in more illustrative prose, of course.
Let's also be clear on a few other things, concentrating not only the subject matters included in this agenda, but also the subject matters that are notably absent.
I realize I've called you out on the most controversial of your agenda items -- the ones pro-choice Catholics like me, who think all couples deserve the right to get married, get most riled up over. There is more to the document, however; votes for new officers, revisions to your handbook, consultation on a potential canonization and something about a Spanish translation of the prayer book at mass.
There is, however, not too much more to it than that.
Rest assured, I recognize that I'm one of the troublemakers when it comes to proper Catholic doctrine. I didn't go to mass last week or the one before, and I, as mentioned, don't agree with many Church stances on core social issues. I think Planned Parenthood is an amazing organization. I'm a huge fan of contraceptives.
Still, I cling to my Catholic faith with a dogged perseverance that, frankly, I'm beginning to question. Do I remain Catholic because it's easier than the alternative? Because I'm just apathetic enough that permanently abandoning the religion seems too much work?
I'd like to think not.
What I'd like to think, instead, is that I still identify as a Catholic because I believe organized religion can do good in ways amplified by the fact that its very existence centers around a literal and figurative room of faithful, optimistic believers.
Sure, there's Hell and brimstone in both biblical and modern day sermons, but I don't think I'm mistaken in assuming that most Catholics, like me, remain Church members not out of fear or guilt, but because we believe that we can create positive change in the world.
Like me, I know that many Catholics have been both shocked and uplifted by Pope Francis and his recent public commentary.
Shocked, because, unlike you, the Pope has delighted Catholics previously fed up with the Church's message, by suggesting that we focus less on these hot-button issues -- those seemingly at the heart of your annual fall meeting -- and more on issues concerning a broader swath of humanity, such as economic inequality; issues that affect the population in Baltimore, where you will meet, too.
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible...it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time," the Pope said when interviewed last month.
While I wish you'd included even one tiny agenda item discussing, or at least acknowledging, the Pope's message, I am, sadly, not surprised that you didn't.
That's because it's become undeniably apparent that your agenda -- both small scale, at meetings like the upcoming one, and large scale, guiding your every move as a religious body -- is to exorcise all that you deem wrong; to rally against the nuns conducting on-the-ground ministry to the sick and impoverished, and against the "sinful" activists open to the idea of same-sex marriage.
Notably missing from this defensive agenda are any positive action items to enact change in a troubled world that could use our help.
I am more than hopeful that our Pope will change the Catholic message; I am certain of it because he's already done so. But I have all but given up on you, as you equivocate on a formal stance against pornography.
I admit, I haven't followed your actions with the fervor of the more engaged Catholics than myself. I can't rhapsodize on your actions armed with the knowledge and statistics of schooled theologians.
But I promise you this. I'm not alone. There are many more like me, questioning your decisions, and their allegiance to a religion that -- for years -- has appeared dead set on shutting us out, as it anxiously rails against everything unfamiliar, instead of for everything good.
Pope Francis motivates the masses because his message speaks to worthy goals that we, as a faith, can work towards, together.
Do you not fear being left behind?