ANDREW Greeley, writing in the New York Times Magazine, has this to say about the enduring appeal of Catholicism:
"You can make a persuasive case against Catholicism if you want. The Church is resolutely authoritarian and often seems to be proud of the fact that it 'is not a democracy.' It discriminates against women and homosexuals. It tries to regulate the bedroom behavior of married men and women. It tries to impose the Catholic position regarding abortion on everyone. It represses dissent and even disagreement. The Vatican seems obsessed with sex. The pope preaches against birth control in countries with rapidly expanding populations. Catholics often cringe when the local bishop or cardinal pontificates on social policy issues. Bishops and priests are authoritarian and insensitive. Lay people have no control of how their contributions are spent. Priests are unhappy, and many of them leave the priesthood as soon as they can to marry. The church has covered up sexual abuse by priests for decades. Now it is paying millions of dollars to do penance for the sexual amusements of supposedly celibate priests while it seeks to minimize . . . the sexual pleasures of married lay people.
"Nonetheless this case against Catholicism simply does not compute for most Catholics when they decide whether to leave.". . . Religion is experience, image and story before it is anything else. Catholics like their heritage because it has great stories.
". . . Research on Catholic young people reveals that the Mary image continues to be their most powerful religious image. Who would not find appealing a religion which suggests that God loves us like a mother loves a little child? . . .
"When I was in grammar school in the mid-1930s, the nuns told a story that sums up why people stay Catholic. One day Jesus went on a tour of the heavenly city and noted that there were certain new residents who ought not to be there, not until they had put in a long time in purgatory . . . He stormed out to the gate where Peter was checking the day's intake on the Compaq 486DX Deskpro computer (I have edited the nuns' story) -- next to which, on his work station, was a fishing pole and a papal crown.
" 'You've failed again, Simon Peter,' said the Lord.
" 'What have I done now?'
" 'You let a lot of people in who don't belong.'
" 'I didn't do it.'
" 'Well, who did?'
" 'You won't like it.'
" 'Tell me anyway.'
" 'I turn them away . . . and then they go around to the back door and your mother lets them in!'
"It is the religious sensibility behind that fanciful story that explains why Catholics remain Catholic. It might not be your religious sensibility. But if you want to understand Catholics -- and if Catholics want to understand themselves -- the starting point is to comprehend the enormous appeal of that sensibility. It's the stories."