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Peaks and Valleys (and valleys, and valleys…): reflections on my Catholic identity

By Kate Henley Averett

November has so far been filled with highs and lows for me as a Catholic. On November 2, as Jessica mentioned in her post last week, several of we authors participated in a panel about the book at the Paulist Center in Boston. I won’t go too much into the details, as Jessica already summed up the mood of the evening so eloquently, but suffice it to say that it was a wonderful event, one that somehow managed to leave me feeling simultaneously hopeful and discouraged.

Three days after the panel, I was on a plane to Milwaukee for the Call to Action national conference. It was my first CTA event and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I primarily hoped, I think, for connection – to find myself among like-minded individuals whose presence would make me feel less isolated, and whose energy for creating a more just Church and world may help me replenish my own admittedly depleted reserves of such energy.

What I got was so much more. I felt connected, I felt supported, and I felt energized, yes, but at every turn, I also found myself being challenged. “What are you doing about injustice?” and “How are your actions and words, inactions and silences, complicit in perpetuating injustice?” were questions that surfaced continuously throughout the weekend, asked by presenters and other conference attendees and, as the weekend went on, asked of me by myself. Whether about societal issues, like discrimination against immigrants or pervasive anti-Muslim sentiment, or Church issues, like the frustratingly ongoing cover up of clergy sexual abuse, the marginalization of women and LGBT people in the Church, or the Vatican investigation of U.S. nuns, or even issues within the justice movement like systematic racism, I was challenged over and over again. This feeling of being embraced, comfortable, and at-home while also not being allowed to be complacent about my role in the Church and in the world was one I didn’t realize how much I craved until I found it. “This is what Church is,” I found myself thinking.

And yet just as I felt my energy being restored, my identity as a Catholic being strengthened, Stupak came along. It reminded me (as if I needed reminding) of the place women and women’s rights have in American society and in the institutional Church. The label “Catholic,” which was one that I was finally feeling comfortable claiming again by the end of the conference, was one that only a few hours later I was wanted to shove back into the back of a drawer or closet when it became painfully clear that, as the New York Times noted, “Both sides credited a forceful lobbying effort by Roman Catholic bishops with the success of the provision.”

And then, while still reeling from this anti-woman politicking by Catholic bishops, came the news from D.C. that the Archdiocese of Washington is threatening to stop all social service programs in the District if same-sex marriage becomes legal there. Jos at feministing explains the gravity of this threat: many thousands of D.C. residents rely on Catholic social services. It would be a big deal if the Church pulled out. That the Church would threaten to deny aid toward the basic needs of so many of God’s children –that is, to refuse to heed Jesus’ call to care for the least and the last among us – over same-sex marriage is astonishing. It makes me forget, and even regret, the hope and optimism about the Church that filled me only days earlier.

After all this, as a queer woman, and a married one at that, I want to gather the Catholic hierarchy together and scream: “What is it about my body that is so threatening to you?!”

Kate Henley Averett received her MDiv from Harvard in 2008 and is always grateful for moments of hope, no matter how short lived they may be.


6 Responses

  1. That you endure is a tribute, a monument, to the person you are. The world is a far better place because you are in it.

  2. Oh Kate… yeah. Me too.

    I’m glad you went to the Call to Action conference, though! I’d love to go sometime…

  3. Hey Kate!

    Thanks for your words. I was so happy to have had the chance to meet you at the CTA conference . You are an inspiriing woman and I hope that CTA can be a continued community for you to feel lifted up in and energized. Peace to you!!

  4. […] for city-based social services programs because of a recently passed marriage equality bill.  Kate Averett posted about this earlier, and I mentioned it in my piece for Patheos.  I wrote a letter to Archbishop […]

  5. When was the last time you visited the Sacrament of Reconciliation? God is calling us to conversion. To turn away from our sin and embrace grace! Rather than changing difficult core teachings about life and sexual behavior, my suggestion is that we embrace the call to holiness. And that is something we can do regardless of gender or sexual orientation. God loves us SO much! And what a blessing are the sacraments of grace! Bravi to those who stand up against the injustice done against women and the unborn in the horror of abortion.

  6. I love this quote from Andrew Sullivan: “I stay because I believe. And I stay because I hope. What I find hard is the third essential part: to love. So I stay away when the anger eclipses that. But the love for this church remains through the anger and despair: the goodness of so many in it, the truth of its sacraments, the knowledge that nothing is perfect and nothing is improved if you are not there to help it.”

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