Why I am Breaking Up with the Catholic Church

Disclaimer: The following editorial is not to belittle anyone’s belief system. It is your life and you are entitled to occupy your time as you wish. This entry happens to detail my relationship with the Roman Catholic Church and its parishioners. Although my criticisms may not reflect all aspects and members of the church, I feel they are still abundant throughout the organization, regardless of recent leadership change, as evidence to certain statistics, my own experiences as a member for over 20 years and the similar experiences of others. My accounts are completely true and do not hold one ounce of falsehood. My goal in sharing these details is not to disparage this organization and its members, but to offer them a mirror so they can not only reflect on their own actions, but also understand why I, like so many, are abandoning the Christian faiths we grew up in that once brought us solace and understanding.



     My parents and generations before them, all the way back to when they were hovering over some porridge in the 1700’s in Ireland, were brought up in the Catholic faith. It was a very important aspect throughout their upbringing so it comes to no surprise that the Catholic Church was a huge part of my childhood. From an early age the Catholic church gave me a feeling of purpose and belonging.

      My earliest memories of the church would have to be my mother whispering to me, pointing at different things on the alter such as the tabernacle (Where the “Body of Christ” is stored for lack of a better word), the crucifix displaying a suffering Jesus Christ or the priest and alter-servers, who were going about their ritual duties. Even at that age I knew the weekly attendance of mass was important.

     For those of you who aren’t familiar with the overall basis of the Catholic Church, let me break it down for you using what Catholics call “The Sacraments” which are: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage and Holy Orders.

     These seven sacraments are given to each parishioner at different stages of their life. No member of the church can receive all seven of the sacraments in their lifetime. For example, priests who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are not allowed to receive the sacrament of Marriage and married men are not allowed to become priests. As for women, they are not allowed to become priests, however they are able to become nuns, in which case they would receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, but in doing so this also prohibits them for receiving the sacrament of Marriage.  

     In order to receive some of these sacraments, one must work to achieve the ability to earn the sacrament over a period of time, such as the Eucharist, Reconciliation and Confirmation. When providing examples of what caused me to initially question the teachings of the Catholic Church and the actions of its parishioners, I will draw on my own experiences while I was working towards receiving certain sacraments.

     The first time I remember questioning the Catholic faith was when I was preparing to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, which occurs around the age of 8. The teachings of the church state that during mass, bread and wine change into the body and blood of Jesus Christ through a process called “Transubstantiation”. I remember learning this and thinking, “So this piece of bread is going to turn soft and chewy like someone’s skin would be if you ate it? Gross!”

     This process is clearly scientifically impossible and although some Catholics view this practice as a symbolic one, others whole heartedly believe it is the body and blood of Christ in some form. When I learned this I just started to think, “Well what else is symbolic or unreal?” This was in the year 2001 and I was 8. We also practiced receiving the body of Christ by using Vanilla Wafers, which I also found humorous, especially considering the serious attitude towards this sacrament.

My First Communion, April 2001

My First Communion, April 2001

     As I got older and into middle school, I started to see this organization take a very aggressive stance against two issues, abortion and same-sex marriage. Being a teenager in a small, rural Iowa town, I really had no experience or knowledge on these issues and although I am gay today, those realizations did not begin to occur to me until I was well into high school. However, seeing the churches hardline stance on these issues was very odd, especially for someone who grew up with very liberal parents. I would be told one thing regarding these issues at home, but then I would go to catechism or mass and hear the opposite. It was very confusing and I did not know what to think or believe.

     During this particular time, Hurricane Katrina had struck the golf coast, hitting New Orleans the hardest, causing mass devastation. The priest of my church spoke about the incident in the weeks following and stated to us in catechism that the reason for this hurricane was due to the fact that a week before it happened there was a “gay and lesbian” conference held in New Orleans. I remember being 12 and thinking, “Is this guy out of his freakin' mind?”

     As I became a teenager, I began the process of working towards receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. Part of this process requires each parishioner to complete a certain amount of hours of service work. The service work is similar to community service and shows your commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ through your actions.

     I remember sitting in a room with my classmates and being told, “Part of these service hours can include something such as protesting outside Planned Parenthood.” I couldn’t believe this had come out of this woman’s mouth. Even at the age 14 I thought really? Helping the needy, the elderly or the poor isn’t where you first go to for examples, but instead you pick protesting outside a Planned Parenthood? Where are your priorities? Instead of choosing to do that I chose to be a true “Christian” and earn this sacrament the correct way by volunteering at a homeless shelter, helping elderly parishioners with their yard or house work, volunteering at a local event, or something similar that benefited others.

     Another part of this process included attending retreats which were usually about 6-8 hours long and consumed your entire Saturday. These retreats would include speakers and most of the speeches were about how morally wrong abortion is and why same-sex marriage is a sin. Being a young teen who was beginning to realize my own sexuality it made me very nervous. Was I truly thinking or engaging in something that is considered extremely sinful? Was I as bad of a person as the church says I am for feeling this way? Did this mean I was going to have to live my life in secrecy and shame? It made me very uncomfortable, but I tried to control these emotions and get through the program without any problems.

     These are just a few examples of what I was told regarding these subjects in church, however I always kept an open mind due to the liberal thinking of my parents. My parents were always accepting of LGBT people, but I wondered if they would be able to have the same acceptance towards one of their own children, due to their devotion to the Catholic Church. This is something that kept me up night after night and caused me to relentlessly worry throughout my teens.

     Once I went to college and escaped the bubble that is small town Iowa, I was able to figure out who I truly was, without the influence of others and most importantly, without the influence of the Catholic Church. In 2012 at the age of 20, I finally made the decision to come out and my family could not have been more accepting. However, once I truly realized I was a homosexual it made me realize that the faith I had grown up in still viewed me as an awful human being, regardless of any of my other actions, but solely based on the fact that I was homosexual and was engaging in homosexual acts. This caused me to have feelings of guilt and shame, so I privately decided I would try to avoid attending mass because I did not feel I belonged in this organization any longer. At this point in my life I still wanted to be a Catholic, but I felt that I was unwelcome.

     While I was studying abroad just months after I had officially come out to my family, I visited Rome for a weekend. As someone who grew up Catholic, it was interesting to finally see Vatican City. However, while I was visiting, I had a tremendous feeling of anger towards the church. I thought, “These people don’t accept me, despite all the Catholic Church education I have gone through, they still think I am a horrible person.”

     Throughout the rest of the trip whenever I was in Vatican City, I had strong animosity towards the Catholic Church. The last day I was in Rome I even skipped walking up to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica to sleep in. To be fair I was about to walk around Rome for my third day later on and I was sharing a pull-out bed with my friend Kerry, who kept me up all night with her atrocious gas. The thought of getting a few more hours of shut eye without her snores and stench sounded magical to me. Plus, I was really feeling betrayed by the Catholic Church and honestly, kind of hurt. I did not share these feelings with others or even show it, but deep down I just felt bummed out knowing the Catholic Church’s feelings towards gay people.

Proof I Went to the Vatican, In Case I Had Any Doubters

Proof I Went to the Vatican, In Case I Had Any Doubters

     In a strange twist of events, the day after I left Rome, the previous Pope and Pope at the time of my travel, Pope Benedict, stepped down. This was the first time in the history of the church that a Pope had stepped down. Normally, Popes stay in their position until death. I would like to think I somehow caused him to step down, but in all actuality, he probably felt guilty for being a Nazi. Little did he know he could later run for President of the United States against a highly-qualified woman and win. Which brings me to the final nail in the coffin for me regarding the Catholic Church, the 2016 Presidential Election.

     With the coronation of Pope Francis, I did start to see attitudes in the Catholic Church change and although I remained skeptical, I thought that the church might change its course drastically, which I felt needed to be done before I returned to being a full-fledged member. Even though I did start to see changes in the leadership of the church, I did not start to see changes in the actions of the church's parishioners.

     Thanks to social media, throughout the 2016 election cycle I was able to get a sense of which side people were on by examining what people liked, shared, commented, etc., and like a majority of people, I was exposed to the true feelings of people you thought would never be so hateful and judgmental. It may be different for me considering I am from a tiny town where everyone knows everyone, but I am still to this day genuinely perplexed by not only the people I know personally who voted for Donald Trump, but the thoughts and comments shared by these individuals on their Facebook pages.

     Even if I was not friends with a certain person, my family would update me when someone we knew wrote something on Facebook that was Pro-Trump. These actions may seem childish, but not only was I shocked by the people who were expressing their support for Trump’s campaign, regardless of what he said during the campaign or what he did throughout his life, I was even more shocked by the things that were being said by these people.

     One that really bothered me was a post by a woman who happens to go to our church and not only that, but someone who I would consider to be a family friend. About a week after the “Grab Her by the Pussy” recordings came out and after weeks of women coming forward alleging that Donald Trump had sexually assaulted them, this particular person posted a Facebook status saying something to the effect of, “All the women claiming they have been raped by Donald Trump need to shut up now. No one is going to believe you.”

     Not only was I disgusted by her comment, but I was also repulsed by fellow parishioners and friends of the family who commented in support of this woman’s status. I couldn’t believe these were the same people I had been sitting side by side with when attending mass for the pass 20 years. To me, Donald Trump represents everything that Jesus Christ was against.

     I wondered how these people could justify not only voting for someone like Trump, but also echoing some of the most disturbing things he has said and done, all while attending mass regularly and claiming to be a true “Christian”. I knew these were only a few select people from small town Iowa, but once I viewed The New York Times Exit Polls, my disdain for the Catholic Church and the hypocrisy involving both church leaders and parishioners was confirmed.

     According to these polls, 52% of Catholics voted for Trump, while 45% voted for Clinton, with the remaining 3% voting for a different candidate. Obviously these polls come with a margin of error, but the fact that the majority of members in the Catholic Church voted for Trump made me ill. Another interesting statistic was the amount of people who attend religious services once a week or more that voted for Trump, which was 56%.

     How can you claim you worship a man who was about forgiveness, respecting others, welcoming strangers, helping the needy and the disenfranchised and then vote for someone who not only fails to represent a single one of these qualities, but also represents the polar opposite to everything Jesus Christ said and did. Did these people vote against Hillary Clinton because she was pro-choice? I am almost certain Jesus Christ would rather have a child be clothed, fed and respected rather than just simply be born. I just cannot wrap my head around this. What happened to “and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love”?

     On Christmas Eve after a heated argument with my Father, I begrudgingly went to mass with my family. Since I was being forced to go, I opted to wear my “Iowans For Hillary” t-shirt to send a message. Once I was in church, I looked around and saw all of these people, most of whom who publicly supported Donald Trump and I was repulsed. As they all participated during mass by singing, repeating phrases and listening to the readings, I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy. It took every bone in my body not to jump up and yell “Are you f*****g kidding me? You people are the most hypocritical people on the face of the planet!”

     In order to show these people my shirt, I decided to go up for communion after debating whether or not I would. As I walked up to the front to receive communion I spotted the same woman, who made the Facebook status I happened to mention earlier, kneeling in the front row. I really wanted to turn to her and say, “Go f**k yourself” while flipping her off, but I maintained a sense of decorum and quickly brushed by her, all while staring daggers at her.

     It was after this mass that I decided that I was officially done with the Catholic Church. This election had proved the level of hypocrisy that existed and I did not want to be a part of this organization any longer. To me, rejecting Donald Trump and his actions is not only an ethical decision but a moral one. I appreciate the teachings of the Catholic Church and when followed correctly, I believe it is super beneficial to someone as far as setting standards for your actions and how you treat others. Unfortunately, at this current moment, the parishioners of the Catholic Church have shown how they feel and that to me is more than enough to never want to step foot in a Catholic Church again.

     Maybe this time period will be a teachable lesson for the Catholic Church and maybe this will help propel the Catholic Church towards a more progressive future, but until then I feel it is a moral obligation to reject this organization. In closing, all I have to say is this: Catholicism, it’s time for us to break-up. It’s not me, it’s you!

Riley Cosgrove