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A New Journey

We have a new shepherd in our midst.
There is no way we will be able to meet each other.
Although I am not a quitter life has taught me that sometimes standing and fighting is not the best approach.

by Kerry Gonzales

I am Catholic. My Catholicism is as much a part of me as any of my physical attributes. I have no desire to change my Catholicism for any other brand of religious observance and I wish to continue to express my faith within a warm, encouraging and vibrant faith community.

I have been a part of just such a faith community for about sixteen years. It has certainly not all been smooth sailing, but nonetheless being part of that parish has enabled me to continue to grow as a spiritual person. The faith community is made up of a diverse range of people, spread over a range of cultures, ages and opinions. Until now we have been led by a genuine and devout man, who has tried to balance the, often conflicting, needs of his flock as best he could. Especially given all the constraints that make being a priest a difficult and lonely ministry. There were times, however, when I didn't make his lot any easier, but we muddled through and generally tried to respect the opinions and sincerity of the other. The church building itself also looms large in our family life as all my children had sacramental celebrations within its walls. Even though they no longer identify with my Catholicism, they all still hold memories that bind my family, and the local church, in an intricate and powerful web.

In my years as part of this community I have come to know a lovely group of people. Most of these people are ones I would never have come across outside the church. We might all live geographically close together but we may as well have been countries apart if we had not come together in faith. I am often amazed at how these diverse people reach out to support and nurture one another, in often small but significant ways. They are without doubt `the face of God' in a seemingly insensitive and intolerant world. Without such people who are the "body of Christ", the priest and the church buildings are not very relevant.

Yet now that is all about to change. We have a new shepherd in our midst and his ways are not my ways. In my few experiences with him I have come to see that there is no way we will be able to meet each other in a relationship that is beneficial to us both. Although I am not a quitter and I really hate the result, life has taught me that sometimes standing and fighting is not the best approach. You have to know when to walk away, and for me that time is now. It does nothing for my own spiritual well being to come to mass and be annoyed by a priest who in some ways seems little better than the playground bully. And let's face it, the official complaints protocol leaves a bit to be desired. Our parish bulletin advised that the correct procedure for complaints is to have a cuppa and a chat with the priest, in the parish house, to resolve the issue. That may work in some instances, however if you feel the priest himself is the problem that hardly seems a satisfactory method. If you have no joy with the priest himself then the next stop is the local bishop - not a very unbiased opinion likely there either. Therefore, after all these years I have decided that I can no longer remain a member of my faith community and so for me a new journey is about to begin. With the decision made, I now have no idea what shape that journey will take, or even who will share it with me, but I am certain that it must begin.

However it is with a great deal of sadness that I begin this new journey because it highlights for me the underlying problem with the Catholic Church today. It seems, from where I stand, that all the Church really wants is obedient souls, who are happy to be told by the priest what they will do, without any real consideration or understanding of the needs and expectations of today's Catholics. Thinking people need not apply! Dissenting people are certainly not welcome! Dare to be different and you really are in trouble! It is hard to believe sometimes that Catholicism is really a part of the new millennium, rather the church seems to be stuck in a time warp, or worse still going backwards in many ways.

I realise that a lot of what I'm saying is specific to my own situation or mere generalisation. Yet at the same time I am in touch with lots of other Catholics who are finding the same problems and constraints as I am. Certainly, too, they are many Catholics out there who are very happy with the way things are and don't want anyone rocking the boat. I'm more than happy for those people to practice their faith in the best manner for them. For we each bring something intangible and special to the mix when we come together in faith, whether it is in a ritual or a social setting. However it would be nice to be treated with a modicum of respect when you have a different viewpoint or express concern at how things get done within the church. I should not have to leave just because I'm different or not always compliant. Surely our church leaders are not so fearful that they cannot allow debate and dissent, without it becoming a "them and us" scenario, or worse still being told that: if you don't like the rules just go away.

So yes, I no longer feel able to be a part of my local faith community, but that does not mean that I have lost my faith. Nor can my faith be taken away from me by ridicule or exclusion. For the faith I have in Jesus and his paradigm for life is not related to my lack of faith in the structures and hierarchy of the Catholic Church today. Even though the church often equates lack of obedience with lack of faith, belief in God and belief in existing Church structures are not intrinsically bound together. It simply means that my faith does not need to be mediated or provided by a priest, or any imposed structure. The sacramental experience abounds in our world, even flourishes outside the confines of the church. For ultimately my faith has been enhanced much more by the many examples and faithful people filling the pews, than by anything done by the priests or the Catholic Church itself. So while I have left my parish behind, my faith comes with me, for it allows me to be the spiritual being that God made me to be and gives me strength to face the new journey ahead.


Kerry Gonzales is married and has five children. She is a teacher librarian by profession.

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