Published by Boston Globe Sunday Magazine in July 2010
I like my faith in purple - the purple neither of mourning nor of majesty, but the purple of twilight and of the morning, the purple of thoughtful, pensive times. When I think about my faith, I think about it in those kinds of purples. They suffuse it and they color its edges, too, because that is where my faith is nowadays. It is a place in me, not a structure outside of myself. Gold and white are too triumphant, and black is too stark and final, and I don’t feel stark and final about it yet. It is a place of purple, where days end and begin again.
I entered the Roman Catholic Church on a winter’s day in 1953 in Shrewsbury. My uncle the Rev. Thomas Pierce poured the water and another uncle, the Rev. Michael Pierce, stood beside me and my parents. I had no idea what was going on, so I had to have the whole thing explained to me over the next 22 years or so, by my parents, by the Sisters of St. Joseph, by the Xaverian Brothers, and, finally, by the Jesuit fathers of Marquette University, who went a long way toward demonstrating how wrong were so many of the people who’d explained it all to me previously.
So, my spiritual biography is a bit serendipitous. The engine behind it was curiosity born in skeptical wonder. As I moved through the years, I questioned my faith more, not less. Almost all of that questioning concerned whether or not my Catholic faith was particularly suited to the institution of the Catholic Church. This was unsettling in the best of times, and these are not the best of times.The institutional church is in disarray. The sexual-abuse scandal that had its ground zero here in Boston has now exploded internationally, most notably in Ireland, where the Roman Catholic Church was as close to an established state religion as it was anywhere in the world since the Reformation. The current pope, Benedict XVI, behaved as dubiously in these matters when he was the archbishop of Munich as Cardinal Bernard Law behaved here. Once, the scandal was treated as an American problem - the Vatican having had issues with the American experiment going back at least to Pope Pius IX, who included many of the American concepts vital to a secular democracy in his Syllabus of Errors in 1864, when American democracy was in enough trouble at home - so it was roundly dismissed by various Vatican functionaries as the creation of liberal freethinkers and scandal-happy US newspapers, including this one. Not any longer. Cases have detonated in Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and several other countries. Church attendance in the United States is down.
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