Friday, January 23, 2009

My Catholic Journey - Episode 1 - Please God, Please Don't Make Me Be an Abortion Protester

Prolouge: Although I am a cradle Catholic, and have never completely lapsed, I have a 'conversion' story that isn't over yet. My relationship with God, Jesus, The Holy Ghost, Mary and the Catholic Church has been quite a Journey. Along the way, I've been associated, at least briefly, with everything from outright Sedi Vacantists (The Chair is empty - code for Pius the XII was the last Pope and the followers are somehow not actually Popes, and the chair is vacant) and SSPX (Society of Saint Pius the X- a semi-schismatic group who's Bishops have been excommunicated; devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass and pretty much rejecting Vatican II) to Rainbow Masses with Archbishop Hunthausan in Seattle. Latin, charismatic, liturgical dance, Gregorian chant, ...I've pretty much been part of it all. Most of my associations with the most extremes 'traditional' and 'progressive' have been brief.

My Journey on Abortion

I don't really recall thinking about abortion before my first year of college at Seattle University (A 'progressive' Jesuit Catholic College). My family was outspokenly, solidly and very actively Democratic on my Dads side and I was strongly influenced in that direction. My Mom's family were old fashioned John Birch Society conservatives. Although I loved my Mom's family when it came to politics, I thought they were just a bunch of bigoted, ignorant farmers. Democrats were clearly the educated, enlightened and 'right' voters, party and ideals. So, I don't recall anything in my formative years that exposed me to pro-life views. I don't recall ever discussing it in Church or CCD. I grew up in the 'larger' cities of Montana, and classmates were generally from conservative families. I remember in 1980 in the 8th grade being the only kid that would speak up for President Carter. So, maybe I picked up something by osmosis or there are things I don't recall.

When I arrived at Seattle U, my abortion opinion was to my memory a blank slate. Shortly after school started I met a girl at a party and began a sexual relationship with her. After 'getting to know each other' for about three days, she asked me what I thought of abortion. Honestly, I don't know where my answer, or anything that followed came from (except maybe Divine Grace. After some thought (seconds?) I said "Abortion is wrong, its killing, its a sin." DD was not content to leave it at that, she pursued the question. Should it be legal? Is someone who had an abortion an evil person? I said something about it should be legal, because I can't impose my religion on someone else (I must of listened to something somewhere). Keying in that this was more than a casual conversation, or even more than a polite exploration of the issue, I answered more carefully on that last question. I said something about people making mistakes, and forgiveness and repentance.

It turned out that she had aborted her baby only a few months before. She hadn't told her parents, or her Catholic all girls high school friends. The only one who knew was the father, who had paid for it, but who had been away at college. By this time (less than a week after I met her) we were doing the dorm room shuffle: I moved in to her room, her roommate moved in with her boyfriend, who's roommate was 'living' with his girlfriend off campus. I had already learned that every night, between 3:30 and 4:00 DD would have incredibly intense nightmares, and would seem possessed (truly and apt description) and demand to be held. It would take half an hour to calm her down. It was a couple weeks before she told me the night mares were about babies and children. Over the following few weeks I learned a lot about Post Abortion Syndrome, although I didn't realize what I'd learned until years later.

DD was an exceptionally smart, and extremely beautiful girl and sophisticated as well. She had money and style. Most of the time she projected the epitome of confidence and capability. But I soon learned that she was extremely vulnerable, and needy. Over a few short weeks she demanded more and more of me emotionally, yet at the same time she held be at a distance. Sometimes she needed me to literally hold her hand to do the simplest, mundane things - like walk a few blocks to work - and other times she would send me off to party with my friends and disappear for hours, or even more than a day. We were college freshmen, and drinking and partying was part of the life, and I was certainly one of the champions, but I began to be concerned about DD.

Finally, I realized a few things. First, DD was using drugs. Second, DD was 'seeing'her ex, the father of her baby. Third, DD was using drugs. Fourth, that DD wasn't just careless about 'protection' but that she really seemed to be totally reckless - if things kept going she was going to be pregnant, and I'd be the father. The last three things took me a decade or so to digest, but DD was using me to act out sexually in dangerous (adventurous) ways, she was self destructive, and she at some level was trying to get pregnant. I suddenly realized that I wasn't prepared to be a Daddy, I couldn't participate in an abortion, and I couldn't handle what I'd gotten myself into. I threw in the towel, literally. For a long time I felt very guilty about just how that ended, but I now realize something inside me knew what needed to be done, and I did the best I could. (As a reaction to that, I began making plans for the seminary - clearly a less than perfect candidate - that led me to Rainbow Masses at St. James Cathedral but that will be another chapter)

I still didn't have any knowledge of pro-life positions and logic. I still held conflicting opinions that I seem to have just plucked from NewsWeek. I didn't have a clue that something called "Post Abortion Syndrom" existed. But I knew from experience that abortion is ugly and it isn't good, and abortion isn't good for women. That didn't quite make me pro-life, but it was a start.

Skimming over the next eight years. I walked out of that adamantly against abortion for me, my child, my girlfriend, or my sister but followed my cultural cues that for anyone outside of that, it's their own business, law of the land, etc. It wasn't enough to change me heart or my actions. I had three more sexual relationships outside of marriage over the next 6 years. One was on and off over 3 years with a woman who was initially married. There were at least two pregnancy scares during that one, as far as I know she never was pregnant but in hindsight I don't know, she knew I would oppose abortion. In the midst of one of the 'off' periods in that relationship, I had a brief relationship with another girl who did get pregnant (contraceptive failure). I have a 19 year old son as a result (that will be another installment). Fortunately, I was very supportive of birth and the mother was not inclined towards abortion, unfortunately I didn't follow through and stand by my child or his mother until a few years later. After both of these relationships had been over for a couple of years, I entered into another sexual relationship with a young woman. At this point I already had one child that I wasn't being a Dad to, I knew what it felt like to look at 18 years of responsibility.

CB and I had a pregnancy scare, we experienced a contraception failure. This woman was an adamant and vocal feminist and involved with Wicca. There was no way she was going to have a baby. To my great shame, I was very fearful of the prospect of another child. I still really opposed abortion, but I didn't see the morning after pill as an abortion. I made plans with CB to drive to Canada the next day to obtain the morning after pill. Fortunately, her period arrived before we left. However, I was that close to materially cooperating in obtaining an abortion.

Within a few days of this, my grandfather passed away, somewhat suddenly. At the Rosary vigil Our Lady grabbed me by the heart and she wouldn't let go, even though I tried to run. (during the intervening 3 years I had been drifting around 'progressive' parishes, exploring Tibetan Buddhism, and regularly visiting a Shaman, and participating in Native American Sweat Lodges as well as checking out Episcopalian Churches) With no conscious understanding of my motivation, I stopped spending nights with CB, and went back to my apartment. When Sunday came, I was at Mass. I began avoiding CB. Finally she called me out, and I incoherently explained that I just couldn't continue, that I'd started going back to Church, and that I was thinking about becoming a priest. That was enough for her, she never wanted to have anything to do with me after that.

Still, I wasn't pro-life. I was in more or less the same place with respect to Abortion. I had learned one thing. IF I DON"T WANT A BABY, I CAN'T HAVE SEX. and If I have sex, I better have enough respect for the woman to want her to be the mother of my child and want to share that responsibility. Apparently I always learn best from personal experience.

Over the next two years I really made an effort to grow as a Catholic, and committed myself to being Catholic. I also committed myself to chastity which in practice at least meant that I stayed out of relationships for 3 years. I drank my last beer in April of 1993.

During this time I began to try and study and understand Catholicism. I found "Seeds of Contemplation" by Thomas Merton by 'accident' in the college library. I discovered the full set of the Catholic Encyclopedia. I read a biography of Dorothy Day. And, I began following debates on alt. I couldn't understand why we couldn't have married priests, women priests, gay priests, gay marriage, or contraception. I was OK on abortion though, at least for Catholics.

For months I followed those arguments. There were about 10 orthodox participants who were regular. There were maybe 5 dissident participants who were consistent. Over time I realized that every other week or so, one or two 'newbies' would subscribe to and come out shouting how backwards the Church was. The newbies and the regular dissidents would start trotting out the arguments and the defenders of the faith would start quoting the documents, and the dissidents would start quoting parts of Vatican II and Hans Kung and disputing what was Ex Cathedra and what wasn't and it would go on and on for four or five days. So little has changed.

I was always rooting for the dissidents. As I read, and as I consulted the Catholic Encyclopedia and whatever (very meager) resources I could lay my hands on, I began to see a few things. The defenders always had tighter logic, and they were always patient. The dissidents seemed like they had a lot of ammo, but they always seemed to end up grasping at straws in the end, and they were most often very rude. I wasn't convinced, but I was getting a little desperate.

At the same time, I was attending daily Mass, had started praying the Rosary Daily, started going to Bible studies. But Most Importantly, I began to pray: "God Increase my Faith." The one prayer that I believe God will always answer positively. I fell in with the Madjougorie crowd, and got acquainted with some traditionalists. I went to confession with a visiting Monsignor who wore a Cassock and hammered me on pornography. As a result I began going to weekly confession.

I was attending a very 'progressive' (actually that's being polite, it was a dissident) Church. A college parish. The Priest was nice, but seemed annoyed by my frequent requests for appointments for confession. I was attending RCIA to learn about the Church although I was already confirmed (a product of excellent 1970's CCD). A couple who were in the same department at the University was converting - scientists and atheists becoming Catholic. The subject of contraception came up, and the Priest just waved it off. "All you have to do, is follow your own conscience." Nothing about studying, praying , trying to understand, properly forming your conscience or anything. Even the dissidents on would admit that you needed to actually read Humane Vitae, and pray about it - at a minimum.

I was absolutely shocked and appalled. I still feel sorry for that poor couple and wonder what ever happened. That was the turning point in a sense; at least one of the big ones. I could never really trust the dissidents after that, because in practice in the pews, it turned into a bunch of HoKum.

In the next year or so, the news began to filter out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church would be released in English - someday. It turned out to be long delayed. It might be hard to imagine, but back in the stone age days of usenet, we didn't have Humane Vitae on line! I was in a small, mostly protestant town that didn't have a Catholic book store. I'd never even seen one single papal encyclical! The 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia was my only semi-decent source and it was 75 years out of date.

In 1994 I met the woman who would become my wife and practiced chastity (very difficult); I bought a copy of Humane Vitae at Kaufers Catholic Bookstore in Spokane, WA, and EJ gave me a copy of the newly released Catechism of the Catholic Church for Christmas. We spent the weekend before Christmas at a romantic lodge on Willowa Lake high up in the mountains of eastern Oregon, sitting beside the fire, watching the snow pile up, and reading, studying, reading, praying and being absolutely blown away.

It Made SENSE. Catholic teaching on human sexuality and contraception and marriage and family made SENSE. About a year later, I was still chastely courting EJ and a small announcement appeared in the weekly newsletter of the Catholic Hospital where she worked. DR. and Dr. Billings were going to give a workshop for physicians on Natural Family Planning. Although designed for professionals, the workshop was open to all staff. We went. EJ asked, "You don't really think we might try to do this?" I said, "We have to at least learn about it, and then pray about it." Four hours later, we both walked out of there 100% committed to NFP, and feeling robbed, cheated and lied to by the media, the culture and most of our authority figures.

By this time, I would say in hindsight, I was pro-life. But .. But .. But. I believed in pro-life, but I wasn't engaged. Back in the dissident parish daily Mass days, there had been one guy. One Guy from my Physic Department who usually attended daily mass at the more traditional church, but sometimes, could only make it to the dissident Mass. This guy was such a wacko! Even though we all sat on couches, and everyone, including the Priest sat through the whole service on this circular sectional in the Fireside room, and used the coffee table as an alter. This wacko insisted on kneeling on the FLOOR, without a kneeler. And even worse, he was an abortion protester. He kept getting arrested, and about every other week, there he was on the front page of the Daily Comical, getting drug off to jail. This guy would even drive to Billings, or Missoula, or Salt Lake just to stand out in front of an abortion clinic, or chain himself to the door and get arrested. What a WACKO.

And when that Priest said "just follow your conscience" and I prayed for an increase in faith,. When I knelt in that chapel and said "God, I'm going to trust you, and your Church. I don't get it, but I'm just going to trust you." I also prayed, "But please God, please, don't make me an abortion protester." A few years later, when I read the Catechism with the woman God made for me, I prayed, "Thank you God, for teaching me, for giving me faith, for the Church and for John Paul II." I also prayed, "but please God, Please don't make me be an abortion protester." And when I walked out of that NFP workshop and went home to say my prayers, I thanked God for teaching me, and giving me faith, and I added, "but Please, Please Please God, don't make me be an abortion protester."

About a year later, I had married my wife. We were practicing NFP. I was free during the mornings and enjoying getting back into daily mass. I drove up to St. Joseph's at 8:45 and pulled into a spot next to the Grand Knights truck. I saw the "Stop Abortion Now" signs in the back. I said to myself, "that's good those people are going to pray the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood". At 9:45 after Mass, I got in my truck and I saw the signs, and I thought, "that's good, those people are going down to pray the Rosary at Planned Parenthood. I'm glad they do that." At 10:00 I was sitting at my kitchen table, eating cereal, and reading the paper, and I thought, "those people are down there praying the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood." Then a thought that didn't really belong to me: "what are you doing?" I ignored it, but it came back: "What are you doing, they're praying the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood. What are you doing?"

At 10:10 a very uncomfortable newbie was holding a sign, standing in the cold, praying the second decade of the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood. This week I rode heard on three beautiful children to two pro-life rallies, and they are totally comfortable praying the Rosary out in front of Planned Parenthood.

Praise be to God!


  1. I just LOVE how God works! :-)

  2. Great story Paul! God always writes straight with crooked lines. Post Abortion Syndrome symptoms are many and varied- you were wise to recognize them in DD. I pray she received the help she needed. I thank God every day for his mercy in this area.

  3. Thank you very much for sharing your story, especially how you derived the lesson "If I don't want a baby, I can't have sex"-- it should be obvious to people, but boy, it's not!

  4. This is so POWERFUL! I was especially drawn to "feeling robbed, cheated and lied to by the media, the culture and most of our authority figures." You and your wife are not the only ones feeling this way.

  5. A very moving story. Many, many of us had to 'learn the hard way'. I thank God for all the times He came back again to show me the Truth.


  6. Amazing, how our stories share so many similarities (with some obvious differences).

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this -- it made my day.

  7. Thank you so much for your testimony.

    I think my experience has been a little like yours as I was drawn more fully into orthodoxy, though you experienced things much more deeply than I did.

    When I was at college at an "honor's dinner," I was trying to be smart and the subject of abortion came up. Because I was now "intelligent" and "thoughtful" and "considerate" and "compassionate" and "respectful" I said to another student something to the effect that "I used to be against abortion, but I am not really sure. I can see there may be cases where... etc.. " The student I was talking with said, without any hesitation, "I have no doubt I am pro-life." And then, at that moment, I really felt ashamed of myself for wanting to sell my beliefs so I could "fit in."

  8. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

  9. Great post, told with humor and humility-and truth. We're kind of lucky,those of us raised in the 70's. We are naturally counter-cultural and run from anything kumba-ya ish at church. I think many of us are innoculated from the kook stuff. See there is good that came from the 70's.

  10. I guess that the glass half full way to look at it! I think many of us ran from the 'kumba-ya' silliness, but we ran in all different directions. Those who wind up back in the Church do seem inoculated however. I am still praying form many friends and siblings who either are out of the Church, or in, but either way don't really know the faith.

  11. Thanks for posting that; you have a great story! Convicting too...