By Leslie Hittner
Note: This commentary was first published October 2, 2012 by the Winona Daily News.
I walked out of church Sunday. I didn’t walk out at the end of the service. I walked out about half-way through. I am a Catholic, and my bishop — along with other Minnesota bishops — has mandated that we all say a prayer that I cannot agree with. Today was the first Sunday that our parish was asked to recite that prayer — a prayer that mouthed the wording of the Minnesota marriage amendment that will appear on our ballots in November.
Yes, I walked out of church today. I didn’t make any noise. I didn’t shout “When are the Catholics in the pews going to be heard?” I didn’t point out that because of the sex abuse scandal the bishops have lost much of their moral authority.
While I walked out of church today, I didn’t shout “I am going to vote ‘no’ on the Minnesota marriage amendment.” I simply displayed two buttons on my shirt: “Another Catholic voting NO,” and “Ask me why I’m voting NO.”
Then, when I got outside, I asked myself, “Where do I go from here?” Do I walk out again next week? Should I even go to church next week? Did anyone even notice what I did? If so, did they understand why? Did they care?
The Catholic Church along with conservative lawmakers would have this country change the fundamental nature of its federal and state constitutions. A basic principle of the Great American Experiment is the encoding of an evolutionary system into our defining documents. The real experiment in America — one that apparently conservatives and the Roman Catholic hierarchy do not understand — is that the built-in creative stressors that were established between legislative, administrative and judicial branches of government are a strength, not a weakness. The ongoing continuous dialogue between these three branches of government and the people is forced by our founding documents. That continuous social dialogue ensures that our system is always seeking ever better answers to social and political problems and issues. It can get messy, but it works.
The founding documents of these 50 states — including the constitutions — define how this evolutionary system is to work. They do so by granting freedoms and liberties to the people and defining limitations on the powers of government.
When we legislate by changing our founding documents, we weaken the entire system. We end important social conversations with a single closing statement: “That’s the way it is!”
I don’t know if my letters will have an impact on the vote this fall, but I am certain that I can’t change the Roman Catholic Church — not alone anyway.
I guess I’ll walk out again next week — and the week after that. Perhaps someone else will notice. Perhaps the laypeople of the Church will someday be able to make an impact on this non-democratic institution — without leaving it.
Perhaps . . .
Leslie Hittner is a community columnist with the Winona Daily News.