When I was a small child I asked the nun who was teaching our Sunday School class if my cat, who had been hit by a car, was in Heaven. She told me that Heaven was only for human souls. I was crushed.
As students at a Catholic high school we were told by the nun who was teaching a class on religion that a woman giving birth must accept sacrificing her life if it meant saving the baby. I don't remember the rationale. Perhaps it was because the baby needed to be baptised. I can remember only that I found it to be very disturbing.
I ran into more serious conflict with my Catholic faith after the birth of my third child. I had intended to have just two children, but now with three I knew that for me that was enough. I had been told that practicing birth control, other than the rhythm system, was a sin. I was desparate. My Ob/Gyn reassured me that I would not burn in everlasting hellfire and damnation for taking the pill. So I took it - for years and years.
But my Catholic teaching told me that I could not receive the sacrament of Holy Communion as long as I was taking the pill. For a believer like myself, the dilemma was huge.
I heard a priest say to my father one time that the Catholic Church had never been fair to women. I had come to the conclusion that the Catholic hierarchy viewed women as baby factories and that the more Catholic babies brought into the world, the more power the Church had. There is strength in numbers.
I have been thinking about all of this lately because of some of the comments being made by Rick Santorum. I recognize his brand of Catholicism very well. I was raised by its teachings.
My sins had been piling up for years. I practiced birth control. I had a brief extra-marital affair, much to my everlasting shame, when I was in my twenties. Eventually I stopped going to Mass, took my children out of Sunday School, and finally, after nineteen years, divorced my husband. You may notice that I am still inclined to confess my sins.
But I still feel the loss. There is much comfort to be derived from faith. It can get you through the tough times. But, by the teachings of the Church, I am a sinner. Redemption is possible, but I find that the road back is just too long and steep. There is also a feeling of peace that comes with following the dictates of your own conscience apart from the pronouncements of cloistered old men.
Occasionally, though, I will wander into a Catholic service just to experience the sensory delights, the scent of incense, the chanting, the candles and tinkling bells, and especially the way the sunlight piercing stained glass casts a rainbow of colors across the congregation.