ask a catholic

Ask A Catholic: Returning to the Church

What questions do you have about Catholicism? Submit them online, or fill out the form below. 

By Mitch Finley

I was Roman Catholic for most of my life, having converted in my 20s. I got disgusted by the [clergy sex abuse] scandals in the ’80s and stopped attending Mass. Now I’m in my 60s and feeling a tug to return. In the interim I married my longtime partner and don’t know if I’d be welcomed back because of the Church’s stance on same sex marriage. What are your thoughts?

First, I encourage you to give the Catholic faith another chance.  At the same time, I hope you will do so with realistic expectations.  To quote the late, great sociologist and novelist Father Andrew Greeley, “If you can find a perfect church, go ahead and join it, but as soon as you do it won’t be perfect anymore.”

In spite of the failures and sins of some priests and bishops, the Catholic Church is where we find the tremendous gift of the sacraments, including the “everyday sacraments,” the Eucharist (Mass) and Reconciliation (Confession).  The old caution about the baby and the bath water remains valid.  Also, too many leave the Catholic Church because it doesn’t measure up to their standards of perfection. 

I’m far from perfect, so how reasonable is it to expect perfection from the church, including priests and bishops?  Clergy must be held responsible for their actions, just as we all are.  To reject the church because some priests and bishops have done terrible things—or because the church doesn’t measure up to all of my expectations—is to imply that we ourselves are without sin.  Rather, when all is said and done we are called to forgive as we are forgiven.

Yes, it’s possible that if you return you may experience negative reactions from some clergy and some of your fellow Catholics regarding your sexual orientation and same-sex marriage.  But you’ll also find that many, perhaps even most, will welcome you back.  Be patient and look for a parish where you feel “at home,” and all will be well.

Finally, I’ll take this opportunity to recommend a bestselling book.  It’s “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” by Father James Martin, S.J..  You might also enjoy one of my books, “It’s Not the Same Without You: Coming Home to the Catholic Church.”  Both are available—in some cases by special order—from book stores and, of course, from the usual online sources.

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