Friday, March 6, 2009

My Excommunication

Recently, I've been asked several times for "story time" regarding my excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. At the time I was being asked, I didn't feel much like story time (rough day at work, kind of drunk, wanting to relax). Tonight, I feel like story time.

The time was late 1991. I was sixteen years old. It was sometime around early to mid December. The regional Cardinal was in town greeting the congregation and speaking a few sermons at the various local masses. After a late morning Sunday mass (which my parents always attended, having gotten into the habit when I was still in Sunday School), I had the pleasure of speaking personally to the Cardinal. Now, mind you, at the time, I still identified as a Catholic, but had had my doubts about the faith for years, and was leaning towards the ancient Celtic/Norse traditions.

The Cardinal (I can't remember his name for the life of me) and I started talking about the Catholic faith. As a confused teenager (and confused about my faith as well as the other typical things teenagers are confused about), I started questioning the reliability of the teachings of the Bible, particularly when there were so many contradictions.

As the conversation progressed, we talked about the contradictions in Genesis, Matthew, Deuteronomy, and many other books. As I pointed them out, and then offered more realistic suggestions based on the ancient Celtic/Norse faiths (mostly those that pertained to individual divinity, a matriarchal society, and ultimately, the concept of "to each their own"), he became more and more defensive in his side of the conversation, and I found myself more on the offensive. Also, having been raised in a mostly scientific household that promoted education over religion, I argued many points of basic scientific fact, evolutionary theory, and some minor quantum physics (which I had just enough knowledge about to be dangerous at the time).

Ultimately, the Cardinal started to see the logic in my arguments. He actually started to agree with me, regardless that many of my arguments disproved countless parts of the Catholic faith. He ultimately broke off the conversation, saying he needed to prepare for his next mass. As the next mass was only ten minutes away, I accepted his excuse. After ending the conversation, I went home.

Early in the following week, I overheard several classmates talking about how "off" the Cardinal seemed in his later masses that day. Being still largely naive at the time, I didn't think much of it until I received a letter from the Cardinal a few days later. The general gist of the letter was that the Cardinal had seen too much truth in my arguments and was doubting his faith. As he had devoted nearly five decades to his faith, he couldn't accept doubt in it. What the hell? He was in his sixties, and was shown up in a religious debate by a snot-nosed sixteen year old brat? I thought it had to be a joke. I continued to think it was a joke until a received a second letter two days later from the Cardinal, requesting that I meet with him again at the Church the following Sunday. Amused, I decided to make the meeting.

At the meeting was the Cardinal and the local pastor. I was told that I was facing excommunication from the Church, and would be excommunicated if I did not reaffirm my beliefs. I refused. How the hell can a simple conversation of logic be a mortal sin in the eyes of a major organization? I expressed this thought. I was asked again to repent and agree to submit to a reaffirmation of my beliefs. Once again, I refused. I mentioned that I couldn't bring myself to associate with an organization that would refuse free thought among its members. I was excommunicated shortly thereafter. It really wasn't the big smoke and mirrors Hollywood ritual that one might think it is. It basically ended up being that I was informed of my ineligibility to ever receive the Eucharist again, and was encouraged to continue to attend Mass. I found it odd that I was kicked out of the Church, but still encouraged to attend.

Except for a few holiday Masses that I attended out of respect for family members, I never again attended a Catholic Mass. I never again participated in Communion. This really disturbed my grandmother, but out of love for her, instead of telling her the truth, I kept making up lies about injuries that prevented me from walking. I only did this to spare her from the ultimate shock of learning that her grandson had been excommunicated from her beloved faith. She was always the gullible sort, and always trusted me with the lies I fed her. I truly feel she would not have lived as long as she did had she known the truth.

After excommunication, I devoted my spiritual life to the ancient Celtic/Norse spirituality, and ultimately found myself as the top "priest" in my own faith, based more on personal experience, but with elements from the Celtic/Norse faiths filling in the blanks. Over time, I lost that faith as well, as science took far more importance in my life. Finally, around 2004, I officially identified as an atheist, having identified as an agnostic since about 2001, and arguably, off and on since 1992 or earlier.


falnfenix said...

i wanted to say that was Cardinal Keeler but...after working with the man for a few years (in a young adult ministry setting) i don't think he'd do that.

i dunno. that's strange. i've never known him to question his i'm inclined to believe this might be another Cardinal. was this in Baltimore?

Iconoclast said...

Ellicott City - Church of the Reunion.