The Great Disconnect: Latinas & Catholicism

The Great Disconnect Latinas & CatholicismI was born and raised Catholic. Uber Catholic, really. I was baptized at a month old, and remember being dragged to Sunday mass en español with my mom. I went to Catholic school throughout my education (even a Jesuit university!) and when I lived in Ecuador for a few years I belonged to a Catholic Youth Movement. Today, however, I don’t really go to church; I guess I am what you call a “lapsed” Catholic.

The Sunday before Election Day (and after Sandy) I went to church. I hadn’t been to church in a long time, probably about a year. I think seeing the devastation Sandy brought to so many families inspired me to go and sit in God’s house to give thanks for all the good in my life, for my loved one’s health and safety, and to pray for those who had died, those who had survived, those who had lost everything, and for the people helping in the recovery efforts. Others might have had the same feeling; the Church was full.

With the election only a couple of days away, there was a letter from the bishop going over the different points that our Catholic faith cares about, and urging us to consider these issues when we vote. Of course, there was the pro-life issue, marriage between a man and a woman, and the mandate on birth control. There was also a point of the importance of social justice and caring for one’s neighbor. The bishop urged us to vote for the candidate who best reflected the views of the Church and our faith.

Barack Obama was re-elected, carrying 75% of the Latino vote and 55% of the women’s vote. Latinos overwhelmingly supported Obama—a president who is pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, and pro-women’s rights. 68% of Latinos in the United States are Catholic, yet they voted overwhelmingly for Obama. I can’t help but wonder what this means for Catholicism?

According to the Pew Center, “Latinos are projected to become an ever-increasing segment of the Catholic Church in the U.S.” Yet many Catholics (myself included) are disenchanted with Church teachings and sex abuse scandals. Earlier this year I was particularly upset when bishops chastised nuns—nuns who live and preach the Gospel, who dedicate their lives to helping the poor and needy. I think women should have a more active role in the Church. I think it is wrong to want to take away a woman’s right to take care of her body. I think it is unreasonable to expect families to use “natural” family planning because sometimes it just doesn’t work. Many of the women I speak to agree that it is unfair to have bishops (men) dictate practices that affect women and their bodies.

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95% of Catholic women have used birth control. 95% of Catholic women go against this Church teaching. Elisa, a Cuban-American/Puerto Rican mom puts it this way: “This [Church’s position on contraception] shows how disconnected the Catholic Church leadership is from the ordinary lives of its parishioners. Who can afford to have 16 children? And if we weren’t going to sleep with our spouses, we would have become nuns and priests instead!”

Like many Latina women, I was born and raised Catholic, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have doubts about my religion. Now that I am a mother, I struggle with the idea of baptizing my son in a Church that does not support some of the values I hold dear. How can I teach my son about equality, tolerance and acceptance of the gay community on one hand and then tell him on the other that the Church believes gay marriage is wrong? How can mothers teach their daughters they can be whatever they want to be, but then say, “But in the Catholic Church, only men are allowed to be priests?”

Many of the Latina women I spoke to said that Catholicism shaped who they are, but that they plan on teaching their children to respect other religions, and to be “selective” Catholics. Some moms have sought out progressive Catholic churches. A common sentiment was that they valued and admired the Church’s social justice issues (caring for the poor, supporting immigrants, and helping the needy), but they were unhappy with other teachings, such as the Church’s stance on contraception and gay marriage.

I was particularly struck by Elisa, who said that she no longer donates to the Bishop’s Appeal: “I do feel that the Vatican and bishops are very corrupt. I refused to give to the Bishop’s Appeal this year because of the bishops’ stance against gay marriage and against women, including birth control and ordaining women. I also vehemently disagree with the sex abuse scandal and believe that anyone who was tied to that deserves to go straight to hell. I completely respect the lapsed Catholics—including my husband—who have decided not to go to church because of this and other reasons. I, too, share their ambivalence towards the Catholic Church leadership.”

The majority of women I spoke to are pro-choice. It is important to note that being pro-choice doesn’t necessarily mean that we are pro-abortion. We are against being told what to do and for being judged for our actions by Catholic patriarchal hierarchy. (After all, we are taught that Jesus didn’t judge, he ate with lepers and prostitutes, and he welcomed everyone—so why are we being judged?) Barack Obama’s re-election, with overwhelming support from Hispanics and women, shows that there is a disconnect between what the Church teaches and what its (female) parishioners believe. Like many other Latinas, I dream of the day when we have a reformed Catholic Church more in tune with my beliefs.