Such a dilemma. I have been meaning to go through the steps required to have myself removed from the membership list of the Catholic Church for many, many years, but have not found the time to do it. Now, in this "No Pope, Impending Pope" period, the challenges mount.
First a little background, maybe. I converted to Catholicism during a particularly difficult process of coming out when I was 19 years old. That might seem ludicrous in today's context, but it happened in the late 1970s to a boy who had spent most of his adolescence isolated and depressed in a small town where he might well have been the only gay, or at least the only one identified and mocked by his peers. I seriously spent a lot of time contemplating suicide and the rest of the time planning my escape to a place where things would surely be better.
My plans landed me in university in Montréal, which (in retrospect) I saw as a place where I might be able to be free to be myself. The straight guy on my floor in residence to whom I professed my undying love was kind and put me in touch with resources to help me grapple with my feelings. These led to peer support, someone to accompany me to meetings of Gay McGill (as it was called back then), which eventually led me to my first ever sexual experience with another human. It was a man. My feelings not being as developed or resolved as I thought, I was traumatized and retreated into myself, convinced that I was not gay…not straight, mind you, but not gay. I feel bad about how I abruptly cut off my contact with my peer supporter and my date.
This was the time that the Catholic Church offered me something that I was not finding elsewhere: a community (of strangers, but a community nonetheless) and ritual, which can be very comforting in the face of inner conflict. I followed an adult catechism course in the Fall of 1979 and, sponsored by my high school French teacher and his wife, was baptised, confirmed and received first communion while I was visiting my family in my former hometown over the Christmas break.
It was interesting what followed. Several months later, I had what might be compared to a religious revelation, waking up one day to find that my inner conflict of many years was over. I accepted myself and decided that moving the battle outside my head was healthier than keeping it in. This was unfortunately the moment of returning to my home town to work for the summer, back to isolation and away from the possibilities that Montréal offered me. When I got back to Montréal in the Fall, I was fine, needing no accompaniment to attend the Gay McGill meetings and become an active part of the group. My adherence to the obligations of Catholicism started to wane as I grew more comfortable and confident in my identity.
It took me another year, and another summer of pronounced isolation in my hometown paired with anguish over how I could come out to my parents, before I could be entirely comfortable and start that coming out process that can be so challenging. My parents were extremely supportive, phoning me when they got my fateful letter (yes, I wimped out on the live announcement) to make sure I understood that they loved me unconditionally. I had tpold all three of my sisters much earlier on, and none seemed surprised and all were at east eventually supportive. I left my parents in charge of telling my brother and any other relatives, insisting, however, that I would not be responsible for what I might say the next time my aunt asked me if I had a girlfriend. (She never again asked.)
When I got to my godfather, he expressed his doubt that the church might have had anything to do with bringing me to the point of accepting myself, but he was not hostile. I have generally been very fortunate in being accepted by those around me and have had relatively few personal experiences of hateful actions or words from strangers.
Over time, I started maturing in my political viewpoints and found myself at odds with the tenets of the Catholicism. Reproductive choice, sexuality, other aspects of politics set me apart and I was well apart from the church by that time.
I should have gone through the process of removing myself from the official list of Catholics when, comfortable with my own sexuality, I was also working for a youth organization that helped young women have access to appropriate contraception, and did abortion referrals when contraception failed and bearing a child was out of the question.
I should have insisted on my apostasy in the face of a church actively opposing condom use in the context of an epidemic decimating not only the community to which I now belonged, but also wide swaths of the population in sub-Saharan Africa.
I should have quickly distanced myself from an institution which excommunicated a young Brazilian girl who terminated a pregnancy that would have killed her at her young age, made necessary by her rape at the hands of a male relative the church had no trouble forgiving. Or for any number of child sexual and physical abuse cases everywhere, it seems, in the world, with protection of those responsible and marginalization of the victims.
I should have been out the moment that I realized that I didn't believe in a god.
So here I am now with a new dilemma. I want to make sure that I officially exit the institution, but I have a lot of work at this moment and won't get to it for a while. If I get to it shortly after the election of a new pope, I want to make sure that I am not perceived as leaving because I don't approve of the choice: I am not going to approve of any of the choices. Any of the likely candidates, or even the unlikely ones, will embody all of those core things that I reject, whatever positive qualities the individual might also possess.
So, in order not to be perceived as racist in case a non-European is chosen for the job, I declare myself now on the road to apostasy, without reference to the choice the aging male hierarchy of the Catholic Church might make.