My Catholic relatives aren’t really Catholic: A rant.

That’s not to say they’re my only Catholic relatives– we were all brought up Catholic (who wasn’t!).  Some of us converted to religions that better express our beliefs about social equity (such as Episcopalian), some are Christmas and Easter Catholics, some are even more lapsed and secular.

One of my uncles married a not very nice woman (I say she is not very nice because she was a bitch to me at my grandmother’s funeral because I dare be a working mother) and had a passel of children.  The not very nice woman did not work.  IIRC, my uncle is/was a forest ranger or something like that.  Growing up I remember seeing videos of the family opening their Christmas presents (they would send the video to my grandma and she would show it) and being absolutely astonished at all the fancy electronics they could afford and we couldn’t, not even including the video camera they were using to shoot the footage!

Turns out, spending a lot of money doesn’t actually mean that you *have* the money to spend.

But this isn’t a story about relatives making foolish choices with their money.  This is a story about hypocrisy and me being judgmental, judging the judgers.

These folks have drunk the Fox News koolaid.  They quote “Rush.”  (Not the band– people who listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio are apparently on a first name basis with him.)  They complain about how the lamestream media is out to get Sarah Palin and death panels are going to destroy the nation’s elderly.  (No matter how many times my other poor uncle, the one who took care of my late Grandmother unfailingly for over a decade after my parents could no longer lift her, tried to explain how helpful it would have been to know what *she* wanted before she descended into Alzheimer’s.)

They complain about all the poor people who don’t work and expect government handouts.  Government shouldn’t give out health care.  Government shouldn’t feed kids.  Government shouldn’t aid the poor.  Government shouldn’t help people get educated.  The poor should help themselves.  Apparently they don’t realize that the Catholic church has some pretty important tenets that have nothing to do with Gay marriage or the status of women.

My liberal elitist relatives, including my own parents, the ones who saved instead of buying those boom boxes and video game systems (back when such things were pricy), are sending their myriad children to college.  That’s 2 high-powered careerist aunts (one with children, one without) and my own working parents.  Giving charity to this family of supposed Catholics who thinks nobody should be allowed charity.  Having the money to do it because the women worked and the families saved.  We take care of our own, even if we disagree with their parents.

The one kid we’re not sending to college (yet, anyway) is a son who is serving our country in Afghanistan.  He has fallen in love, with an American Christian even. They’re getting married.  In a church.  But she’s not Catholic, so it isn’t a Catholic church.  So my uncle and his wife are refusing to attend.  They’re not even paying for the reception and they think they should have final say in the type of church.  They’re refusing to attend the wedding ceremony of an American soldier serving overseas in a dangerous country, their own son, because he is not getting married in a Catholic church. They’re also not allowing his siblings to attend.

That is just reprehensible.  I am ashamed to be related to these people.  If they were some small sect evangelical I might understand better (disagree with, but understand why it is consistent with their religious beliefs), but they are giving Catholics a bad name.

The wonderful thing about the Catholic church is its reminder that we are supposed to do Good Works.  What we believe is not as important as what we Do (though both are important).  They couldn’t have been listening to my Grandma’s wonderful funeral sermon, because that’s pretty much what the priest officiating reminded us, illustrating that reminder with the wonderful things my late grandmother did throughout her life (come to think of it, this uncle did spend the entire time complaining about the funeral– the rest of us thought it was bang-up).  Story after story in the New Testament reminds us how we are supposed to help those less fortunate than ourselves.  More than one story tells us how we’re supposed to act with grace and forgiveness, especially with relations, when they do something of which we disapprove.  And the Catholic church does not twist these messages– they go full out.  We accept prodigal sons, we forgive prostitutes, we love, we guide, we help.

All of my liberal elite relatives will be going to this wedding.  My aunt will be acting in place of mother of the groom.  We’re going to show this young couple that they do have support, and our family was brought up in love and respect and kindness, just like we’re showing them the value of charity as we help them reach their own goals.

We will help the children of this family get educated because their parents did not save.  We will be there when the depressed daughter who is possibly a drug addict is ready for help (her parents “don’t know,” though she could not be more obvious– my medical professional aunt is keeping a watchful eye).  And we will definitely be there for one of the most important days of this young man’s life.

And if eventually the grown children renounce their parents’ ways and see that there’s another way?  Well, that’s kind of what true Catholicism is all about.  Not the renouncing so much, but the going to where the love is.  Putting good deeds into action.  Helping others as you have been helped yourself.  Giving back to the less fortunate.  (And maybe making a few converts in the process to carry on God’s Good Works.)  It’s a shame that this couple is turning their backs on that.

Would you judge these relatives harshly for refusing to go to their son’s wedding?  Did you think the Catholic church was all bad?

(#2 has a somewhat different view of Catholicism, but I agree with much of what #1 says, so let’s leave it there.  Also, Jesuits have good wine at parties and Jesuits in Space are totally awesome.  #1 is not denying that there are bad things about Catholicism… but charity is kind of one of their big things.  BTW, these relatives hate the Jesuits and think Notre Dame is too liberal [it’s actually very conservative] because Obama spoke there.  I think maybe that’s just an excuse because they didn’t want to tell their daughter they couldn’t afford ND even if she got in, but whatever.)

48 Responses to “My Catholic relatives aren’t really Catholic: A rant.”

  1. Foscavista Says:

    What about the Bene Gesserits?

  2. Cloud Says:

    Wow. All my Catholic relatives are big on charity and they even go to heathen weddings like mine. We just part ways on issues like abortion, so we all carefully avoid discussing those issues at family get togethers. I may not understand the life choices of some of them (like the cousin whose wife is homeschooling all of their kids), but as I explained yesterday, that doesn’t mean I’m judging them.

    But relatives like yours? I’d probably feel a bit judgy about. I can’t imagine what would make me miss my child’s wedding. Certainly not a decision to marry outside of my religion (which, in my case, would be a decision to marry with religion, since I am not religious at all).

    • Leah Says:

      This is exactly what I would say. I’m marrying a Catholic soon, and I am UCC Protestant. We’re compromising and getting married in an Episcopal chapel. And we will likely attend either a UCC or an Episcopal church. His Catholic parents say “hey, as long as you guys still go to church, we’re happy.” And even if we didn’t, they still wouldn’t shun us. They accept us, and love us, and we just don’t talk about those hot button topics.

      I think it is awesome of your family to be helping out their kids with college. Did they expect that would be a given? Do they say “of course you should pay because you have so much money.”? This is also a topic I’m acquainted with — a friend in college who was an only child had his education paid for by his relatives because his dad was too lazy to work full time and had expensive tastes. His dad was supported by his mom and frittered away a lot of money, and then wasn’t able to make the connection to why his sibling was paying for his son’s college education instead of him. Unfortunately, the son learned dad’s way of spending money rather than uncle’s way.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t know what their expectations were. My parents were not wealthy in the least growing up, but my father has made some good investments and they saved to pay full tuition at a private school for both of us children, but we ended up getting a ton of financial aid and merit scholarship so they paid much less than they had expected to. I know that after we were out of school they told this uncle that they could support state tuition for their children, and they’ve kept him updated each year on that. Both of my aunts are very high-powered professionals and one of them is childless. One of my other uncles married an heiress. But I don’t know what kind of communications they had on the subject, just that my aunts are paying tuition and my parents are paying room and board this year. I don’t think they helped pay for the three step-kids because they’re my age and older, and my aunts didn’t have as much disposable income then.

  3. bogart Says:

    Catholicism: it’s all Greek to me, but yes, I would judge the relatives harshly. Good grief.

  4. Everyday Tips Says:

    I thought refusing to go to weddings because the ‘in law to be’ was a different religion was more a thing of the past, especially if the religion was within the realm of Christianity, but maybe not the same ‘form’ of Christianity. That is absolutely shocking to me. How awful.

    I do have a few questions for you:
    1. Did your Aunt/Uncle really say they don’t support the government supporting helping poor kids? I know many people feel that those on welfare should get up and find a job, but I have not heard many people saying the children themselves should suffer.

    2. If your aunt did work, do you really think they would have more money? I am guessing they would still find a way to spend it, but I could be wrong.

    Regarding the Catholic Church, I cannot say all bad or all good. I personally have an issue with organized religion in that many people become zealots in the name of the church and judge others based on their own views of the bible. (Or on what their pastor/priest has taught them. For example, my husband’s roommate in college was a ‘devout baptist’. However, he was the most prejudiced person I have ever met, and he learned to be that way from his church.) I have to say my beliefs do not align 100 percent with any religion that is out there. I just try to be as good a person as I can be and try and do the right thing. Not because I am going to go to hell if I don’t, but because my moral compass tells me that is what I should do.

    I have to say that I do watch Fox News and I do not have much in common with your aunt and uncle…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      1. YES. They shouldn’t be having kids if they can’t support them. We shouldn’t be having to pay for the kids of welfare mothers. Especially not those Mexicans and their anchor babies. (The argument got very spirited near the end, given the professions and beliefs of my other aunts and uncles, and possibly the amount of alcohol consumed. Some of my partner’s relatives will also rant about such things, but the ones that do are all over a certain age and allowances can be made for them.)
      2. I have no idea. I just want her to not be a bitch to me at my grandmother’s funeral.

      I have a very difficult time with Fox News. It’s on all over town and they repeat the same talking points repeatedly (different commentators coming on giving the exact same phrase), as if saying them over and over again will make them true. Government is much more complicated and difficult than their analysis would have us believe (that is actually true of most news– NPR and APM tend to do a better job on that front than most). Given that I teach a class (actually two classes, depending on the semester) that covers many of these government issues (from the standpoint of my discipline, which tries to get at efficiency and trade-offs, not make moral/ethical judgments… we put prices on things and let people decide what is more important), it is especially painful to listen. They often say things that seem plausible unless you think about them, or unless you understand more how government works, or have read the empirical evidence on how some of these theories have played out in the past.

      • Everyday Tips Says:

        Just as a side note, I could say the same thing about MSNBC and Paul Begala of CNN. People will be drawn toward the opinions that most closely relate to, so the other side will never sound as logical as the side we align with naturally.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t watch MSNBC either. Or read the dailykos or the Huffington Post. (Though my parents sometimes send me articles from there… they also make me pull out my hair. Though they’re not anywhere near as good at the talking points.)

      • Cloud Says:

        I hate partisanship masquerading as news regardless of whether or not I agree with it.

        I think that some day, Americans will look back and decide that it all started going terribly, terribly wrong when we started conflating news, entertainment, and opinion. We can’t even have a rational discussion about things anymore, we just shout talking points at each other.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        YES. It’s especially painful because one of the classes I teach tries really hard to get kids to separate their ideologies from empirical and theoretical work. (Which is something that good journalism is supposed to do too! Get at truth and let people decide their own morals, outside of the editorial/opinion pages.) It’s very rewarding when it works, but it’s really depressing how hard it can be to get kids to realize that just because someone studies a policy change or finds outcome X doesn’t mean that the researcher is racist (in either direction)!

        I like NPR and APM best because they don’t condescend to listeners and tend to do a pretty good job explaining the complexities of issues without just going into, “he says/she says”. I like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report also because they’re good at showing when people are directly contradicting things they’ve said before, and because they ask thoughtful questions and point out hypocrisies in all medias (they very rarely cover public radio). They’re not really great at my social science, so when the person in my social science they’re interviewing isn’t a great communicator (and few are), it can get a bit frustrating, because you can’t get into as much depth on a complicated issue in 6 minutes as you can in say a 30-90 min NPR interview program.

        I’m always telling my mom, “If it were that simple, don’t you think we’d be doing the right thing?”

  5. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    Religion is one of the most reprehensible aspects of human nature, and has led to vastly more misery, suffering, and death over the course of human history than it has anything decent. Wilfully embracing lies about the nature of reality never leads to anything good.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Now tell us how you really feel.

    • Zee Says:

      CPP-I believe this is pretty much what my father said when I am asked him what religion was when I was 5 or 6ish.

      That being said, hypocrisy knows no boundaries sadly, religious and non-religious people alike can be full of it. I don’t understand why judging people for their actions is ever wrong? If people chose to behave a certain way, hurting other people (like their son in this example), then why am I not supposed to judge them? If you act like an assh*le I am going to call you an assh*le.

  6. Z Says:

    Catholicism hobbles people with guilt and judgmentalism, supports superstition, and makes for bad sex. It’s folkloric and everything and some Catholics are nice, but overall I am against it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      bad sex? I’m morbidly curious…

      oh dear, I’m reminded of a funny story, but it’s #2’s story so perhaps I shouldn’t tell it…

      • Z Says:

        Because of the guilt and the misogyny. This is among believing US Catholics of the whiter color. I used to think it was just my luck but then talking to women from this region I found out it was a pattern.

    • Funny about Money Says:

      As a high Episcopal whose cult is a dime short of Catholicism, I would suggest a) the sex is great; b) the superstition is endlessly entertaining; and c) our pastor keeps inveighing against judgmentalism (uhm…maybe without much luck, we being human — see below). And as for guilt: we’re not guilty…God forgives us, every Sunday when She hears us mumble how sorry we are for whatever shenanigans we’ve been up to.

  7. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    My sister-in-law’s parish appears to have been full of people who did not know what Catholic doctrine was and had fundie beliefs instead. The Catholic Church, for example, has no objections to evolution, but a lot of her fellow parishioners did. She finally got so fed up (over many things) that she defected to the Lutherans.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There are plenty of religions that support those creationist beliefs, but one of the things about Catholicism is that there’s a main arbitrator. (One of my Catholic friends who has studied this much more than I have has explained to me that the Pope is not actually infallible about most things and can actually be wrong about things like Gay marriage and women’s place in the church and you can still be Catholic and disagree with positions of the Catholic church. But it still seems to be a religion with pretty official positions.)

  8. Funny about Money Says:

    LOL! The variations of fundamentalism are basically the same. Listen to folks with Baptist families, Mormon families, Orthodox families, Muslim families, born-again relatives, ideologue right-wing families, ideologue left-wing families (you SHOULD have met my MiL!)…the same story is repeated over and over through each microphone. I guess we could say “our human families aren’t really human,” except the trouble is, they’re all too human.

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  10. Debbie M Says:

    My emotional response to this entry was to fantasize about sneaking the siblings to the wedding (if they wanted to go).

    My dad’s parents had a problem with my mom being a different religion (although they did come to the wedding). I never noticed, but apparently my mom did not start getting birthday gifts from them until years later after she had not only a) converted but also b) started making challah every week. (Ah, the magic of cooking to reel in the love.)

    Interestingly, all the naysayers (my parents were young, too: ages 19 and 20) helped motivate them to “show everyone” and they are still together today after 49 years. Also interestingly, during the one close call I know about, my dad’s mom actually begged my mom not to leave him. In sum, there’s no telling what lies ahead for your family (other than more drama of some kind!).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I imagine my aunt will be doing that for the sister who is going to college near her. And why not, she’ll be 18 and her parents are no longer paying for her.

    • Cloud Says:

      Apparently my Dad’s parents (Lutheran) had problems with my Mom (Catholic), too. They are well and truly over that now. I’m not sure when they reconciled to her Catholic background, but I find the whole thing a little ridiculous because at the time they married, my parents were hippies and not going to any church.

  11. Linda Says:

    Yes, those relatives are jerks for not going to their son’s wedding.

    Here’s a thought: maybe they don’t really care about the religious aspects, yet are instead worried they’d be asked to chip in some money for things. If they refuse to attend the wedding, then they are off the hook! The big religious conflicts/wars are always really about resources; maybe their small conflict is about that, too.

    You’re pretty nice to Catholics. I was raised Catholic but “strayed” once I started thinking and questioning and decided that I didn’t care for any of it. I really don’t like dogma of any kind, so I stay away from religion. While I do believe there are many aspects of life on this planet that we cannot understand or explain, that doesn’t mean I believe they are caused by a magical being.

    (I also stay away from most news sources: TV, online, and print are pretty much ignored, but I do listen to my local NPR affiliate every day.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah who knows, I don’t know them well enough to know what’s really going on in their heads. My other relatives are bemused… they say my uncle didn’t used to be this way.

  12. Trish Says:

    Wow. To not attend your own son’s wedding for ANY reason is wackadoodle. And what people do in the name of religion is, well, depressing. I grew up Catholic, but missed out being indoctrinated by it all – my siblings speak of guilt, etc. The only lasting impression for me was that if I had only minutes to live I should spend it in mass, cause it would seem like forever.

    That aside, the impression I got of Jesus is someone who accepts everyone. To exclude someone because of your religious beliefs – I wonder if God is chuckling or crying about that.

    That’s really honorable of your family to pay to educate the close-minded woman’s children. Maybe the children will be able to learn something from this generosity, something their mother was unable to teach them because unfortunately the medication to fix her particular malady has yet to be invented.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I did ask my mom if she thought it might be one of those early-onset dementias that folks get that makes them mean, but she said no, the aunt-in-law has always been this way.

  13. Spanish Prof Says:

    The Catholics range from the Legionaries of Christ ( to Liberation Theology. I would say Legionaries of Christ have more power. But Catholics personal belief are as broad as can be expected.They are anything but monolithic. I work at a Catholic institution, and one of the priests teaching has a whole bunch of articles posted outside his office. The one that surprised me the most was Pro-Lifers for Peace in the Middle East (basically pro-lifers for Palestine).

  14. First Gen American Says:

    Ah, Catholic guilt and judgement…I know it well. I also think celebacy makes people nutso. What a strange rule to have for priests and nuns.

    It’s strange thinking that a parent could do something so horrible to their own child. Then again my friend’s mom almost refused to go to her daughter’s wedding because she invited her estranged aunt to it. The mom and aunt fought over a hope chest like 30 years earlier and they still couldn’t stand each other. The mom only agreed to go after the aunt declined the invitation. How sad.

  15. hush Says:

    Yes, on these facts, I would judge these parents harshly for refusing to go to their son’s wedding. What a trashy, manipulative thing to do, and for no good reason at all. What’s even worse is that these parents are pressuring the siblings not to attend either. That’s just so messed up, it hurts my heart.

    Was the Catholic church all bad? As a kid with a very cool uncle who is a priest, and a mom who had statues of TVM all over the place, I didn’t used to think so, not even when I was forced to attend soul-sucking CCD, but knowing what I know now? Honestly, I can’t defend the institution anymore. Ever since the truth came out about the massive, international cover-ups of child rape and child molestation by priests, I stopped seeing the Church as any sort of moral authority. Then a few weeks ago, the bishops’ commission report comes out blaming it all on the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and making the crazy assertion that it’s not actually pedophilia if the child is over the age of 10. I’m with Andrew Sullivan– end priestly celibacy, and get rid of this pope:

  16. Leah Says:

    Perhaps the most interesting Catholic story I have is this:

    My mom and her whole family are Catholic. She married my dad, a Protestant, in the 70s. At the time, my dad was on leave from seminary and not planning to go back. But, of course, all that came up during pre-cana with her priest (they were married in a church and not official Catholic, but I think the priest helped my dad’s minister). And want to know what the priest said? If he goes back to seminary and becomes a minister, you will take the kids to his church. More important than being Catholic is given the kids a united faith education. And my dad did eventually return to seminary, and we were all raised Protestant. My mom still marvels at the forward-thinking priest. Just goes to show that there are open-minded Catholics out there.

  17. Sandy H Says:

    I would definitely judge these parents harshly for not attending their son’s wedding. As a parent, I want my children to be happy, and I would support them in their happiness (as long as it wasn’t illegal) and getting married in a church that is not a Catholic church is not illegal.

    Regardless of religion these people are setting a terrible example for their children. I’m sorry you have to go through this- and I’m also sorry this young man has to get married without his own parents present- however, it does sound like he has the love and support of his extended family!

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