I am a single, cis-gendered female, semi-lapsed Catholic.  Anyone else here raised Catholic, but have some issues now that make them more or less lapsed?  For me, it has been the church's teachings on some issues of sexuality that have made it really difficult. 
E.G. their condemnation of masturbation, which has made me hate myself a lot and made me avoid going to Communion for a long time, and eventually I rarely even go to church any more.  Also their reluctance for contraceptive use whatsoever.  Their condemnation of divorce which I have witnessed create families that stay together just because they think they have to, even in abusive situations.  And today when as a "new year" kind of thing doing research on trying to get back to the church, finding that they don't even like infertile couples to use surrogacy, donated sperm or egg, or even artificial insemination.  I don't understand a lot of the reasoning at all.  And yet there are so many things I love about the Catholic Church as well; the sacraments, the service to others, some wonderfully holy people I have known and loved who are Catholic.  I don't know what I'm asking for here.  Just wondering if anyone has come to terms with any of these issues with the Catholic Church and continued to be happy and practicing in the church.  People who know the vaguest outlines of the situation (that I don't go to church much any more, basically) have suggested I talk to a priest, but I am not comfortable talking about these issues with anyone, not to mention a guy, no matter how stupid that sounds.  I know this could be a hot-button or ridiculous topic for some, and I ask you to please be as sensitive and understanding as you can, because this is something very, very difficult for me and that I have never, ever talked with anyone in my offline life about in any kind of detail.  I trust this community a lot and appreciate your answers.

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25 Responses to Very personal religious issues

  1. 062ulova says:

    I am not Catholic, but I am a Christian and have struggled with some of the same things re: masturbation, etc. I hesitate to offer specific answers to some of your questions because my theology is different, but I can tell you how I’ve sort of dealt with my struggle.

    I’ve sort of come to the point where it’s between me and God. I used to think masturbation is a sin, but I don’t anymore after I read a wonderful article on a website, it really lifted SO much guilt, literally years worth. (if you’re interested I can provide you with a link) I think if you can sort of, hm, find a way to participate in the things you love about the Church but still acknowledge there are things you don’t agree with and act on those things in a way your conscience determines is best. I don’t know if that is helpful at all, I don’t want to overstep or offend you at all, it is a really hard thing to deal with and I wish you all the best. I honestly and truly believe that being religious and having a healthy sexuality is very possible and I hope that you can find that. Feel free to PM me privately if you want to talk more, I’m very open to it. <3

  2. Mane says:

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful response. I would really like to see the article you talk about, if you don’t mind. I have tried to get to the point you say that it’s between me and God, but haven’t managed to get there. I appreciate so much your answer here.

  3. Yttle says:

    This is basically exactly what I was going to say. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I did grow up as a conservative Christian and so I understand some of your questions and frustration with church teachings. I totally agree with the above commenter: what you believe about God is between you and God and nobody else.

    I don’t know what Catholic doctrine says about this, but maybe it would help to remember how much humans have been involved with the creation of the church? So all those rules that you don’t necessarily agree with were made by people who though they were following God, but aren’t they just as prone to making mistakes as anyone else? I don’t know if this helps or not; when I was questioning my faith (and I still am, really), I tried to remind myself that God’s big enough to include all different ways of thinking in God’s family. If God can include all those different people, then God can certainly handle all different opinions about repro rights, women, and sexuality. Hope this helps. You can always PM me if you want; I’d be happy to chat!

  4. 8idko says:

    (Deleted and reposted after editing for wording)

    Yes. I think butterflybee260 nailed it. “It’s between you and God.”

    I hate how pleasure has become stigmatized by religious leaders. Look into your heart and figure out for yourself what God meant and whether you think your religious leaders have misconstrued the message.

    Personally, I have a lot of trouble with mortals telling me how or what to believe. And I think God is OK with my interpretation — even if it doesn’t necessarily agree with what “the church” says.

  5. Eanva says:

    I was raised in a Catholic household. I’ll stop there with the disclaimer that I do not identify as Catholic, I now identify as an atheist after much thought and research on the subject. I’m not advising that you should or should not change your views or leave the Catholic church – I’m just offering some insight based on the experiences I’ve had, many of which resonate with yours.

    The one thing that I’ve liked about my parents religious style is that they are pretty liberal and relaxed. For example, they have encouraged things like contraceptive use for me. The church that they chose is somewhat more relaxed as well, and I think that this is something you will find in general – no two churches are the same, and the various teachings you discussed that are causing you discomfort are by no means universal to all Catholics everywhere. Even the Pope himself has spoken about some of these issues. These teachings are taken from certain interpretations of the Catholic Bible – and of course, that means that some people have other interpretations of those very same passages. It is very possible that up the street, or in the next town, or somewhere nearby, there is a church that interprets the Bible in a way that is friendly to both your conscience and your beliefs – so seek out that church!

    (Yes, in my particular case, the end result was not to seek out a different church but to look inside myself for a different answer. But based on what you wrote and spoke about, I think you will find peace if you are able to find like-minded people to pray with. It may take some time, and several tries, to find a place that you like, but give it a shot!)

  6. Sseyle says:

    Someone who is Catholic and quite dear to me often exclaims “I am so mad at this Church…My Church!” Usually for reasons regarding their stance on contraceptives.

    Which is to say, I think lots of people struggle with this. I don’t have anything more than that to offer…but I hope it helps even a tiny bit.

  7. Loaora says:

    I am Catholic myself and my parents (who are also Catholic) raised me very liberally in the religious facet. Though they did raise me to see my religion with my own eyes, I do have some issues with masturbation and am very shy sexually because of my own personal experience with growing up Catholic.

    I was a lapsed Catholic from the age of 16 to the age of 24. When I returned, I decided that I would take from the Church what I believed in and what I felt it offered me. I still disagree with many things, but I found that joining the Church choir helped me experience my religion in a new and invigorating way. I am slowly becoming more comfortable with myself (which pleases my husband immensely) and I can enjoy myself without feelings of guilt.

  8. Rueva says:

    You’re not alone. Even the statistics show that:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/14/98-percent-catholic-women-birth-control_n_849060.html

    There are various ways you can go, depending on what you’re looking for and your personality. Some people dismiss the faith completely and are very vocal about doing so. Some people just walk away from it and say no more. Some people stick with it because there are many aspects that still resonate and try not to think about the issues that bother them (there is a lot of debate around this. No institution is perfect, from the Catholic Church to any political party to any charity- it’s just a matter of what each person is willing to forgive or wrestle with when they engage with the institution). Other people stay with the Church and try to change the direction from within. Other people leave and try to find another faith that fits them in the same way emotionally but teaches different doctrine.

    I was raised Catholic and struggled with a lot of the same concerns. My faith took a different turn, but I know a lot of people who are still Catholic and who don’t believe these teachings either.

    You might be interested in Catholics For Choice- they are practising Catholics who argue for freedom of choice from a policy and Catholic theology perspective:
    http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/

  9. Ttefornia says:

    I was brought up Catholic and left the Church about six years ago, rather before I lost the faith, because I couldn’t reconcile being trans* and queer with my religion, and I couldn’t deal with a lot of the things you list here either.

    I’m sorry that I can’t give you a solution, but I did want to let you know that you’re not alone. My heart still aches about it all, sometimes. Good luck.

  10. Nikra says:

    I was raised Catholic and was an altar server for 5 years.
    I get what you’re saying, when I was younger I had serious issues with masturbation and sex related to church.
    Are you in the US? I was lucky in that I grew up in England, where religion is less of an ‘in your face’ kind of thing. I had a really hard time talking to anyone Catholic over here because they’re so amazingly rigid in their beliefs. I was very lucky that my priest back home in the UK was very understanding about everything (my fiance and I had lived together before we got married) and essentially didn’t care that we were ‘living in sin’ wheras the priest here in the US was very derogatory and discriminatory about it.

  11. Kdgle says:

    I was raised by a pair of lapsed Catholics but I spent a lot of time in a much more observant Catholic household. I ended up at first agnostic and now am an atheist. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but there are also things I appreciate about the church. I like the magical elements of Catholicism, in the anthropological sense of ‘magic,’ of the way that people pray to supernatural beings to make things happen — to saints and Mary and God. I like the ritual of confession and absolution. I still go to services, even though what I appreciate about them is the way they create a tight community of people for a short period of time. I also definitely appreciate the amazing amount of service that the Church has done in the rural places I live…I’m thinking in particular of a convent that offers a truly amazing AIDS hospice in a rural part of South Africa.

    I guess I don’t really have an answer for your question…I left the Church, and that was that. But I have a lot of respect for people still in the Church, and I’ve met many who tell me that they wish the Church could focus on helping people and less on telling folks how and when to have sex. I don’t think you’re alone in questioning, and I hope that others have more helpful things to say.

  12. Sdnbody says:

    I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic school (including an all-girl Catholic high school), and was married in a Catholic church. My whole family is super Catholic, although some of the second generation (my parents and aunts/uncles) are more liberal.

    One thing that I love about the Catholic church is that there are so many ways you can choose to practice. Look at the differences between the Franciscans, Benedictines and Dominicans. From what I’ve observed in my community, very few people adhere strictly to everything the church teaches. Rather than blindly following whatever the pope says, we are encouraged to study the church’s teachings and to reflect on them ourselves (let’s be honest, the bible is not known for its clarity).

    I do take issue with a lot of the church’s teachings (particularly with regard to sex) because they don’t line up with what I believe Jesus would have taught. I just don’t believe God would hold it against me for using birth control or my mother for getting a divorce. She’s the holiest person i know. These are ideas that I have developed through my own self examination and religious studies. Other Catholics might disagree with me but that’s okay. If the way they practice inspires them to serve others and lead a happy life, then what do I care? One’s faith is so deeply personal; what works for one person might not work for another.

    I love to masturbate and I’ve been on birth control since the age of 17. I’m also kind to others and always striving to be a better person. Through my actions, I try to show others how loving and accepting Catholics can be. I think I’m a great Catholic. The fact that you care so deeply about being a holy person makes me think you’re a great Catholic too.

  13. Sallight says:

    I’m a practising Catholic and I’ve pretty much come to terms with some of the church views. Well, when I say come to terms, I mean I ignore them when it comes to masturbation, contraception and other related issues.

    The problem I have with the church is all with upper and middle management, if that makes sense. Not God, or the local parish priests and nuns, but the rule makers down here who have very little concept about what real life can be like – and who still seem to be labouring under the delusion that the church can do no wrong (although that’s changing, slowly).

    For ME, how I live my life is between me and God. In the main, I think I do quite well and I’m not convinced God is going to be phased that I’ve prevented a few unwanted pregnancies and had some sex while not married. The important stuff, I believe, is the way I treat people.

    Realistically, I could get that from any religion, but it seems as though every kind of religion likes to stick it’s nose into the sex lives of their flock and there are some things I “get” from being Catholic that I wouldn’t from others … so why change?

    That’s what works for me, anyway.

    Its a tricky one, isn’t it? I feel for you, ’cause I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable discussing with with my local parish priest either. It’s just too personal.

  14. Sjpeeva says:

    “I’m a practising Catholic and I’ve pretty much come to terms with some of the church views. Well, when I say come to terms, I mean I ignore them when it comes to masturbation, contraception and other related issues. “

    this is basically where i see myself also! the fact that i got pregnant at 19 & have not been married or that now i have an IUD does not change that i believe in the Eucharist, or the Immaculate Conception. same goes with the fact that i am pretty sure i am bisexual. most the issues i have with the Church are on more of a biological level. is there some Catholic guilt in my head? sure, but that exists for any of us. honestly i havent felt that bad about the birth control part because i had serious health issues while i was pregnant & my Catholic mother (who is a nurse midwife) & my Catholic OBGYN agreed i should be on very reliable birth control. when i got pregnant was the hardest, because it was out in the open, not something i could easily hide. i expected so much judgement & while there was a little, overall people at my church were & still are very considerate & supportive that i am a young single mom. it’d be hypocritical to say they support life but shun the people who choose life.

  15. 452Super says:

    I was raised Catholic, and was devout for a long time (I’m not Catholic any more, but I am part of a Christian faith community).

    The thing that kept me in the Catholic Church as long as I made it was learning that, in matters of faith and morals, you are obliged to follow your conscience, even when your conscience contradicts official church teaching. What that means is, that, when you both know and understand the reasoning behind church teaching, and your conscience leads you in a different direction, you are obliged to follow your conscience, and isn’t considered a mortal sin.

    The best example of this that I can think of off the top of my head was one one of my campus ministers used. He and his wife decided to use artificial birth control. Her doctor told her that, because of some health issues, getting pregnant at that time would be a bad idea. Add to that the fact that he was just a graduate assistant, and they were living in university housing – and planned to for another couple years until he graduated – and pregnancy was just not a good idea. They learned all about natural family planning, weighed the chances of failure (if it isn’t done 100% perfectly, they can be very high), prayed about it together, and decided that using artificial birth control was the only option for them.

    That idea kept me going for a long time. I eventually left because I began to feel like a hypocrite every time I had to teach (I was a youth minister) about why only men could be ordained, or why homosexual unions were sinful, etc., when I didn’t believe any of that myself.

    I’m now in a progressive denomination that is still liturgical, so I kind of have the best of both worlds – progressive theology and morality along with the the roots and liturgy of Catholicism.

  16. Dniora says:

    I would suggest going to reconciliation at another church, then you can have a private, but also anonymous conversation with a priest and you don’t have to worry about them being able to judge you or punish you to your face (I’ve been yelled at by a priest, who was close enough to get his spit on his face, and I really don’t advise you to approach a priest face-to-face with controversial issues for fear of this happening to you). If you don’t want to talk to a man, try to find a nun, I’ve had much better experiences with nuns–the ones I’ve met have been kinder and more accepting than most priests I’ve met…but that’s a generalization based solely on my own experience.

    My biggest suggestion, though, even though you do love the catholic church is to leave–I now, on occasion, attend a very liberal and loving Presbyterian church which has slowly managed to make my opinions on organized religion less hateful. A gay professor of mine, who grew up in the catholic church and loved the sacrements and services went to a more accepting Episcopal church, which is similar, but of course different.

    I think an important thing to remember about God is that he’s loving and forgiving, and he made us with flaws, but also in his own image. Our sexuality is a huge part of our existence as are children, and I think it’s a major flaw of most Christian religions to punish us for our basic nature…in addition, I can easily list thousands of worse things a person can do than masturbate or wish to increase their family.

  17. AsuTuT says:

    There are also very progressive Catholic parishes that reach out to gay parishioners and support a woman’s right to choose. It might be an issue of finding the right parish, one that focuses on social justice rather than old-fashioned “morality” issues. My 83 year old mother (who went on the Pill as soon as it became available in the 1960s) belongs to a very liberal parish. Explore and see what’s out there. You might find a wonderful spiritual home without having to leave the Church. Remember that social reformers and feminists such as Dorothy Day were also engaged Catholics and I believe this is a truer mirror of faith than some self-righteous priest who spits in your face for using birth control. Ugh.

  18. Ytu77 says:

    i’m not sure if this will help or not but i just saw it on tumblr and figured it might be worth linking to and if it’s not personally helpful maybe someone else will get something from it
    http://barnard.edu/sfonline/religion/index.htm

  19. Etafornia says:

    i’m going to start out by saying that there is a HUGE misinterpretation as far as masturbation goes. the only thing i’ve ever read in the bible about “wasting ones’ seed” was about Onan, and that wasnt his sin. his sin was to not give a child to his deceased brother’s widow, therefore giving his brother an heir. he slept with her but pulled out…therefore refusing to obey hebrew law. religious meddlers interpreted it as it being a sin to masturbate.

    and i dont see why keeping track of a calendar or pulling out is an “acceptable” method of family planning but contraception isnt. its not healthy for most women (mrs duggar included) to keep having one child after another when you can space them wider apart. that said, the mother of my best friend in high school was “allowed” to get a tubal ligation, in the 60’s, by her priest. she had an early miscarriage, but no rho-gham shot (her husband was rh+, she was rh-) afterwards. so each time she fell pregnant afterwards, she miscarried. they adopted two children as infants, and after her 11th miscarriage the priest sat them down and told the parents that they had two children at home that needed their mother, and that he counselled them to take permanent measures because each subsequent miscarriage was putting her in the hospital for a longer timeframe.

    the catholic church has many beautiful things about it. its antiquated view of what is healthy for each individual person’s sexual health is not one of those things.

  20. Mane says:

    Thank you all so, so much for sharing your thoughts and your personal experiences with this. You have given me quite a lot to think about; clearly this is something that will take a lot of time and soul-searching to work out completely. I will try to come back and reply to each of you when I can, but for now, know that I read each reply carefully and it meant a LOT to me.

  21. Ognfornia says:

    I left the Catholic church for similar reasons. I think it’s still possible to be religious and have more progressive views on sexuality – because that stuff is actually between you and your concept of God, whatever the church says. That said, I couldn’t personally bring myself to align myself with the views of the Catholic church, so I couldn’t continue to identify that way. It felt too much, to me, like saying “I am a member of this group that holds these views”, implying that I believed it too. I couldn’t stand listening to the things they said, giving money to them, etc. I just couldn’t stay. (It helped that Catholicism never really felt like where I belonged, though I have always loved the ritual, almost mystical aspect.)

    But you know? If you find you can’t stay with the church, you can still practice your version of religion. Maybe you don’t want to go to church but instead, want to carry out some prayerful ritual of your own, privately. Or maybe you want to go and just consciously reject the parts you feel uncomfortable with, in your head, maybe as a prayer. Maybe you will find going to something like a Unitarian church and dedicating the service to your own personal spirituality will work. There are lots of things you can choose to do, you just need to give it plenty of time and exploration to figure out what that might be. You’re definitely not alone in feeling like you do. Lots of people feel that way and find a zillion different ways to address it. You will find your way.

  22. Sreoeva says:

    In 1964, Pope Paul VI convened the Birth Control Commission, to advise the papacy on what it’s official stance on this newfangled pill thing should be. Led by American married couple Patrick and Patty Crowley, most of the commission argued that the rhythm method actually obstructed the marital sacrament (because the inability to properly provide for children at the time should not keep a husband and wife from being together) (note: they did argue that contraception should only be used when the couple has a good reason for not having children at that time, such as financial or health reasons). Everyone expected the pope to approve the commission’s decision, but instead he did nothing for two years, and then published Humanae Vitae, the encyclical that said BC is evil. You can read a bit more about it here: http://www.cta-usa.org/News200601/PattyCrowley.html

    I consider myself a fairly conservative Catholic (ie weekly mass, waited until I got married to do the deed), and I use birth control. I firmly believe that Paul VI got it wrong, and all of the priests and laypeople who advised him that birth control is ok were right. That said, it is still something that I feel guilty about sometimes (but isn’t guilt a big part of Catholicism?). As soon as we are financially able to support a child, I plan to switch to NFP/FAM.

    With regards to fertility treatments, the main reason for the Church’s opposition is that usually extra embryos are produced and then disposed of. In the view of the Church, this is murdering unborn children. Some people argue that it is okay to undergo in vitro if you end up using all of the embryos that are created, but most doctors will want to implant more embryos than can be safely carried to term.

    With regards to masturbation–as a practicing Catholic, I think it’s much better to masturbate than to go out and have random sex, and that’s what I always told myself pre-marriage. God was happier with us doing that than the alternative. (Important note: I am not imposing this view on everyone–I have no problem at all with anyone choosing to have sex whenever they choose to, this is just for me) An important thing to remember is that everyone is a sinner, and God is all-forgiving. If it is inevitable that we are going to sin about something, isn’t something like masturbation a lot better than murder, theft, etc?

    I actually am going to second the advice to talk to a vowed religious about this. If you aren’t comfortable talking to a priest, perhaps there are some sisters at a parish or school near you. Don’t feel a need to just talk to your priest because it is your parish. I recommend looking for a Catholic college in your area, where the priests will tend to be more used to questions like these. Jesuits tend to be more liberal than other orders, so you might be more comfortable talking to one of them. If you are nervous, just remember–they have heard it all. You might also try emailing a priest/sister if you aren’t comfortable talking about these things face-to-face. In many cities, there are young adult Catholic groups that host “Theology on Tap” nights, where priests come in and talk about issues like these in a more relaxed setting (ours is at a local bar). You can check on your diocese’s website or google if there is an activity like this in your area.

  23. 703Super says:

    Catholic over here, and honestly, I never really thought about it. I love the ritual and sacramental aspects of the Church, too, and most of my friends are in my church group. However, I try not to let faith eclipse practicality when it comes to most things — and honestly? I consider masturbation one of the best ways to stay abstinent and un-pregnant; if my hand is good enough for me, I don’t have to worry about much sexually.

    I hope this helps and didn’t offend; the last thing I want to do is seem offensive — but tell me if I messed up; I’m new to this comm.

  24. Ennmsk says:

    I am Anglican (Episcopalian) and have some of the same issues with both my own denomination and the Catholic church. The Anglican church is much more lax about many of these issues than the Catholic church is, but there are still a lot of things I have problems with.

    I wonder if you have read the entire Catechism? I began to read it a number of years ago (I was considering converting at the time) and have yet to finish it, but it seemed very clear and complete. The reasons for these teachings may begin to make more sense if you read about them there.

    For myself, and this may be more due to me having been raised in a more individualistic type of Christianity than I think is commonly found in Catholicism, I read the scriptures and went through the 39 Articles (a list of all of the ways in which Anglicans differ from Catholics) and concluded that most of the things about which I feel conflicted are not mentioned in scripture in the way people commonly speak of them, and they can’t be found anywhere in the list of things which must be true of a person in order to achieve salvation. Therefore, I have decided that people making judgments on these things is foolish, and until God makes plain to me which are truly sinful, I withhold judgment and refuse to take sides.

    Besides reading the Catechism, I do encourage you to think about who you might be comfortable speaking with about these things. A priest is certainly not your only option! A nun is probably more appropriate, in particular a younger one, or perhaps you can find a Spiritual Director? If there is a retreat centre near you that runs training programs and retreats for laity, you can probably find a Spiritual Director. Spiritual Directors are trained in aspects of both faith and counseling (but not really in psychology; they aren’t therapists), and they help you to find your own answers to your questions without pushing you toward a specific position. (At one point I thought I might become one myself, but all programs require students to have been receiving Spiritual Direction for a certain length of time, and I had a lot of trouble finding someone I was comfortable with, so I gave up.)

    I don’t know if any of this is helpful for you. I find questions of faith fascinating, and I would be happy to keep discussing this with you – here or in PMs, whatever you are most comfortable with.

  25. Yaj007 says:

    I wasn’t raised Catholic or Christian or even with a religion at all. But I just wanted to come in here and offer hugs if you want them because I totally sympathize with how difficult that must be. ♥

    ETA: I’m not trying to discourage you from your religion or anything, but I just wanted to point out a few things I remember reading in my Roots of Western Feminism class this past semester.

    1. There is a section of Genesis that lists an entirely different creation story than what is traditionally taught. In this Roots of Western Feminism class we read excerpts from Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible, and one of the excerpts we read was Stanton’s discussion of Genesis 26-8 (the link takes you to Stanton’s discussion of that passage). Like I said, I was never raised religiously, but when I was shown this passage in class I was furious at what isn’t discussed in religious establishments. This is a part of the Bible yet is rarely discussed. What’s only taught is the Adam and Eve story.

    2. Lucretia Mott was a really awesome religious feminist. She was of the Quaker faith, but she published this really terrific essay regarding women’s role in religion. You can read an excerpt of it here.

    I suppose I’m just trying to remind you to take everything with a grain of salt, which I imagine can be a very difficult task to achieve from where you are coming from right now. Faith and religion are two very different concepts, at least to me — you can have a deep connection with a faith but not be (as) connected to a religion. Religion is an interpretation of faith, and unfortunately, religion can be a *mis*interpretation of faith. This is the part where my suggestion to take everything with a grain of salt comes in.

    I hope you can find the peace your soul seeks.

    ETA2: Have you considered going to a Unitarian Universalist establishment?

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