Mary Margaret and I used to sit together on the school bus when we were in high school. We talked about many things, but, occasionally we talked about “being Catholic”, because Mary Margaret was very Catholic. I found Catholicism appealing. The Catholic Church was the nicest one in my small town, all dark wood, furniture wax, and stained glass. It had upholstered kneelers that reminded me of the jump seats in Dad’s dilapidated Packard because they could be tucked out of the way beneath the forward pew. The service, the very few times I attended, was mysterious, exotic, and full of religious theater. They had these small missals, so desirable to my overly romantic younger self, and white dresses and rosary. They spoke Latin. I was already half prepared to convert.
Mary Margaret tried to help convert me but her lessons in catechism had already taught her that even if I converted the best I could hope for was purgatory. You had to be born Catholic. I listened with something between awe and disbelief. I didn’t think for one minute that this was true, but if it was I thought it was a very poor way to win converts, so they must not need to win new members, and I was awed by the arrogance of it all. We spoke often of mortal vs. venial sins and of the things that could qualify someone to skip purgatory and go straight to the place with the name we weren’t supposed to say.
Now, here, at the beginning of the 21st century I find myself again considering the difference between a mortal and a venial sin. Actually, it is no longer me and Mary Margaret in this discussion. It is Obama and the Catholic Church and, you guessed it, The Republicans, who are suddenly champions of the Catholics.
Although most women in America of every religion have caved to the lure of birth control pills and other contraceptive devices, the Catholic Church still believes it is a sin to do anything that might end a pregnancy or even prevent one. Since they believe that murder is being committed I’m sure this is considered a mortal sin. So when the Catholic Church, even in a world with 7 billion people, and despite what we know about the sad outcomes of many unwanted pregnancies, puts the souls of Catholic women in mortal jeopardy by insisting that using contraceptives is a sin, they do it quite quietly, because otherwise Catholic women might be forced to leave the church in droves.
But Obama shook up the bishops last week when he insisted that they would have to offer health plans that would supply contraceptives to any of their non-Catholic employees. Since all other women are now eligible for contraception through their health insurance plans, it seems a reasonable and fair demand. The bishops were not amused. They are, after all, the defenders of the immortal souls of Catholics (and apparently of non-Catholics who work for any church-sponsored business) and all the rest of us too (even though we can only look forward to purgatory). I must assume that the immortal souls they are actually trying to protect are their own.
You won’t believe how quickly the world population will reach 9 billion “immortal” souls. I just don’t see how any women can be at all religious. Religions are not kind to women.