How can an atheist/catholic marriage succeed?
June 15, 2012 3:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm on the brink of proposing to my Catholic, Indian-American girlfriend. However, I come from a long line of athiests/humanists and I am starting to worry about how we will balance our backgrounds in raising our children.

My girlfriend of 2.5 years is from a very religious family of Catholics from the south of India.

She is a wonderful woman, is dedicating her life to social justice, very tolerant, and we get along really well. From the beginning, she understood that I was atheist and that I would not be converting to Catholicism.

Her parents are devoted Catholics whose culture is very integrated with their religious beliefs. Traveling by car across the country for a cousin's baptism is not an uncommon occurrence.

We revealed our relationship late last summer and my gf has had some follow-up conversations with them. They were disappointed (particularly her choice of a non-Christian, non-catholic), but they did not blow up. They seem to be moving towards acceptance.

My parents are outspoken atheists/humanists with a strong distaste for the Catholic church as an institution along with its roles in imperialism, persecution, sexism, protecting criminality, etc. They do love my girlfriend and do not expect her to abandon her family's traditions.

However, I think I have been subconsciously avoiding the difficult topic of how we will raise our children. My parents have been asking more questions and I realized that we had somehow, not yet worked out these issues. Specifically:

-schooling--my parents (and I) are uncomfortable with a religious education (or indoctrination, depending on your view).
-how her parents will respond to their grandchildren not being raised in the same Catholic manner as their own children.

I am okay with the child being baptised, but i think confirmation should be their choice when he/she is old enough to think through it critically and make his/her own decision.

I guess I am also concerned that my girlfriend (whose values directly contradict those committed in the name of catholicism) does not seem more critical of the Catholic church.

Has anyone successfully navigated these issues or know a couple who has?

What other kinds of questions should I be asking?

Should we seek to hammer out a clear understanding on all of this before marriage?
posted by SpicyMustard to Human Relations (49 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, other people have successfully navigated these issues. I haven't, but I know couples who have.)

Yes, you should seek to hammer out a clear understanding on all of this.
posted by Picklegnome at 3:35 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I noticed that there are a lot of notes in here about both sets of parents--maybe more than the points related to how you and your girlfriend actually feel about marrying each other, starting a family, and raising your children. Coming from a family-oriented (Catholic, actually) background myself, I fully understand how central family can be to your marriage. But deciding to get married and build a life together will mean that you and your girlfriend get to--and have to--decide what kind of life you want as a new family of your own.

I think that it would be healthy and helpful to momentarily remove all parents or other family members from the conversation while you and your girlfriend hammer out what you want for your future children. How do the two of you want them to be raised? What kind of school will meet both of your visions for what seems right?

It sounds like you're already hammering some of this out in your own head, which is good. But I really do think that, before you even start the conversation, it's essential to recognize that, just as including family in your new life together can be healthy, letting your families steer the cars of your marriage instead of steering as a couple is a recipe for disaster--especially since your families are so different. Take this as an opportunity to stake out a new claim as a new family meeting somewhere in the middle of your families of origin, lay down the expectations and ground rules for what things will be like in your own house, then welcome your families in. Boundaries aren't bad--they can be really healthy for everyone.

(And yes, you're very smart to work this out together before marriage.)
posted by anonnymoose at 3:37 PM on June 15, 2012 [18 favorites]

It sounds like you were okay with with your personal differences in belief before your parents spoke to you. Are you sure these are your issues, or have they influenced you? Your parents views should have no bearing on your relationship with your girlfriend.

Their concerns about parenting are warranted. Their parents will object to their grandchildren being raised in a way that they believe will send them to hell. You need to have a conversation now with your girlfriend on her expectations of the religious upbringing of your offspring.

The thing is, religion is not just about belief, it is strongly about culture and identity. Is it correct for you to deny them a part of their culture, part of their heritage? Would it be possible for you to allow them to go to Catholic school but still keep them apprised of your views? Can you imagine how tolerant, open-minded, and mentally flexible children would be if they we raised in such an environment?

The key here is to be flexible and open-minded enough to allow your girlfriend's side of the family influence your family life without giving up part of your own identity. Plenty of families have dealt with this issue successfully. Whether you can is up to you and your girlfriend.
posted by lemur at 3:38 PM on June 15, 2012

Should we seek to hammer out a clear understanding on all of this before marriage?


It's odd that you haven't mentioned your girlfriend's views in your question. As far as I can tell, she'd be fine with just the baptism and a Christmas tree in December. If that's the case, who cares about what either set of in-laws think? Parenting is about making the right choices for your own family.
posted by lalex at 3:39 PM on June 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Should we seek to hammer out a clear understanding on all of this before marriage?

Yes yes yes yes. And maintain a healthy, open dialogue on the issue forever.
posted by The World Famous at 3:41 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't believe. My wife does. Our kid believes, but has a healthy scorn for religious dogma.

The wife never demanded I change and I need the same for her. She raised the kid in religious school and took her to church. I challenged the kid about what she learned, with wife's encouragement. Neither of us wanted to raise an unthinking child.

Based on what you've written, you and your family sound like the stereotypical fundamentalists, even though y'all don't believe. Religion doesn't have to be about being indoctrinated, yet you're treating it as if is. That's not helpful.

You and your wife need to hash this out before marrying.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:46 PM on June 15, 2012 [29 favorites]

Absolutely bring this up before marriage, as everyone has said. I've become my friends relationship counselor on a similar issue she is having with her boyfriend. So I'll tell you a more simplified version of what I have been telling her. Talk about it. If you both agree to a compromise on how your children will be raised (i.e. you are okay with them being baptized and attending service with her, but you want confirmation to be the child's choice, and you do not want them going to catholic school) I think those are very reasonable requests, and it seems like she would feel the same way. If you love each other, you can find a way that works for both of you. As long as you guys can establish a compromise that doesn't feel like an infringement on who either of you are, then there is no reason it can't work. It shouldn't matter what either of your parents think.
posted by Quincy at 3:54 PM on June 15, 2012

In a general sense, yes, these relationships can work if both people (and their families) are committed to being flexible and open-minded about their beliefs, and passing that on to their children. The fact that you are already critical of her not being as critical as you/your family, despite her being "very tolerant" and having contradictory values to the Catholic church, would worry me.

But...What does your girlfriend think? She's near absent from this question -- and yet, the marriage/child-raising could not succeed without her. All of this is moot if she cannot see herself raising her children as you've already deemed fit.
posted by sm1tten at 3:55 PM on June 15, 2012

A couple of specific things to think about: What if your kid is gay? I don't just mean "what if they come out to you", but also "how will you raise a kid from a young age in a way that won't screw them up about their future sexuality or anyone elses". What if your daughter needs birth control? an abortion? Not just what will you do, but what if your wife's parents find out?

Sort this stuff out now, it is a big issue for many couples who don't. Talk too about how you will handle your respective families, how much input you will take from them, how much time you will spend with them.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:58 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Should we seek to hammer out a clear understanding on all of this before marriage?

Yes. In the name of god (sorry, couldn't resist), absolutely yes.

No doubt, there are examples of happy atheist-catholic marriages, but that is entirely irrelevant in terms of your decision.

Frankly, I don't really understand why you are considering proposing marriage to someone BEFORE you have discussed core issues regarding family life, e.g., raising children, and/or to someone who you seem to have such fundamental differences regarding most aspects of life. Granted, she's a "wonderful woman, is dedicating her life to social justice, very tolerant, and we get along really well" is all good. But she also "does not seem more critical of the Catholic church" (I mean, talk about an easy target).

I think you are many, many long and serious conversations away from even thinking about making a life with this woman.

Disclaimer: I'm an atheist married/divorced (10 years ago) someone who was raised Catholic, didn't actually practice the faith, but has some vague "religious" beliefs. Our kids are both atheist, much to their dad's chagrin. (At the same time, he made absolutely no effort to bring religion to their lives, other than the bible as literature. So, I don't know why he is so surprised by the outcome.)
posted by she's not there at 4:01 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

You talk a lot here about your family and her family and each of your backgrounds.

You don't talk a lot about your feelings about religion and how you would like to raise your children. You talk even less about your girlfriend's feelings about this.

I was raised in a devout Protestant family, in the Bible Belt. My family built our lives around religious ritual and the quotidian/hegemonic world of being Christian in The Heartland. And yet I have chosen to build a different kind of life for myself as an adult. When/if I have kids, I am not planning to give them the kind of upbringing I had. There are all kinds of weird ideas about this stuff that my parents have, that I do not share.

Are you sure your girlfriend doesn't feel this way? Are you sure that you have differing ideas about religion and childrearing, at all?

Bottom line? You guys should talk about this. Of course. But I don't think you should assume that, because of her background, that means you guys won't be on the same page.
posted by Sara C. at 4:16 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

My parents did this! Work out everything in advance, because it sucks when you're in third grade and these conversations are happening over the dinner table.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:30 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't half-ass the conversation. Being raised Catholic in the 2020s could be very different from the 1980s or 1990s. Benedict and his protégés have every intention to reimpose dogma (not a bad word to them), obedience and tradition in lay formation. The cafeteria progressive Catholic is an abomination to them and they want no more. Your "raised Catholic" kids may take your views on charity but you can't expect them to support abortion, birth control, or women priests.
posted by MattD at 4:39 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the responses. I realize that I left out some things in the original post.

My girlfriend wants her children to be brought up in the Catholic faith but without, as she puts it, "deemphasizing the beliefs of my family". I don't doubt her for a second, it's just that I am now, much belatedly (as many of you pointed out), realizing how many specific issues need to be addressed so that we are on the same page. Catholic school for example. I may totally against it, but I need to learn more.

Thanks, anonnymoose--very helpful.

Thanks, lemur. To your question: I was okay with our personal differences in belief and I still am. But somehow we had avoided having many conversations about my feelings about aspects of Catholic history/Vatican's role. I admit that I am not well educated on different types of Catholic schools. Anyone care to describe what this experience is like and how much variance there may be from school to school? I am not ruling it out, but I don't believe I would be denying her family's culture by wanting my child to go a public school. Church and family functions would still be part of that.

@lalex: The emphasis on family gatherings and rituals is much stronger in her culture. You've hit on my concern--it is our decision, but I am concerned about ostracization from her family. Her father already blows up on her, on occasion, for being a single woman and not living at home. Other than their struggles to accept some of her choices, she is very close with them. I've seen what a great job they've done of raising her and her brothers--I wouldn't want to break that. But I don't know how much change they have the capacity to accept.

@Brandon Blatcher--I think your characterization is pretty unfair. If a school would tell, or insinuate to my child that he/she is going to hell if they do not accept the existence of a being that is impossible to prove, I think thatact is fundamentalist and yes, indoctrination. I think that is very scary for a child. Of course, I would contradict that at home. That said, I don't know that that would be the case.

I did not mention that I attended 8 months of RCIA courses to better understand her faith. However I left without asking some important questions, obviously.

@she's not there--yes, I agree that we have to have these conversations before getting engaged.
posted by SpicyMustard at 4:43 PM on June 15, 2012

My girlfriend wants her children to be brought up in the Catholic faith but without, as she puts it, "deemphasizing the beliefs of my family".

You need to really, really talk with her about this to find out what exactly she means and expects. Are you cool with your kids being raised as Catholics? That's what she says she wants. What she appears to be saying is that she promises not to keep it a complete secret from them that you're not religious. Find out what she really means and what she expects.

Of course, I would contradict that at home.

Based on what you said above about your girlfriend's stated desire for her children's upbringing, I would be very, very surprised if she is cool with that.
posted by The World Famous at 4:50 PM on June 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

I feel like one of the first steps you should take is to differentiate for yourself the parts of Catholicism you don't like politically, like imperialism, and the parts you don't like philosophically, like having faith in a high power. There are many ways to be Catholic and to be raised Catholic.
posted by spunweb at 4:51 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with everyone above who says you must hash this out before marriage. Also, I have some issues with this statement of yours:
I guess I am also concerned that my girlfriend (whose values directly contradict those committed in the name of catholicism) does not seem more critical of the Catholic church.

I don't know you from Adam, but this sentence leapt out at me and said, "I am being written by someone who will never, ever accept any religiosity in his children and will sneer at his wife's faith for their entire marriage." You almost certainly didn't mean it that way, but it really came across as though you are never going to accept this apparently important facet of your soon-to-be fiancée's persona. If it isn't the sheer fact that she believes in God, it's that she isn't more vocally critical around you of the Catholic Church. If she starts doing that, will you also be concerned that she is supporting the church at all? If she leaves the Catholic Church and becomes Episcopalian, will you be concerned that they didn't move quickly enough to ordain women? If she... well, you see where this is going.

In addition to having the kids-and-religion discussion, you also need to have a(nother) discussion about what she expects her level of involvement in her faith to be and whether you'll be able to deal with that.
posted by Etrigan at 4:52 PM on June 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

I guess I am also concerned that my girlfriend (whose values directly contradict those committed in the name of catholicism) does not seem more critical of the Catholic church.

I think this is your problem. You are hardly the first atheist to marry a Catholic. As a rule, progressive Catholics have complicated relationships with the Church. However, they've chosen to stay when others have bailed and there's a good chance it was a conscious, calculated decision. You probably need to ask your girlfriend in a non-accusatory manner why she stuck around and respect her answer. Because, frankly, if you can't respect it, you're probably screwed.

On a practical level, my mother is somewhere on the spectrum between wishy-washy Church of England agnosticism and atheism. My dad is Catholic. I believe my mother edited out some parts of service for their wedding that she disagreed with. At some point, either my dad or the parish priest told my grandma that she couldn't take communion because she wasn't Catholic. My mother decided this was the last straw and refused to ever accompany my dad to mass except at Christmas (she may have stopped that eventually). My dad took me and my brother to mass when he wasn't working. We went to CCD. I was an altar server. There was no religion in the house. That people apparently pray at home is mind-boggling to me. They'd sell roses for charity after mass on Mother's Day and we were forbidden from every getting my mother one because she disapproved of the politics of the group it went to.

As it turns out, neither my brother nor I were confirmed. Because, guess what? Catholicism's not a cult.
posted by hoyland at 4:53 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, Catholics don't all go to Catholic schools. Did your girlfriend? It does tend to be a thing that runs in families. My dad went to Catholic schools. He wanted me (and presumably my brother) to do so. My mother went on a tour of the school and wasn't impressed with their resources. Lo and behold, off to public school I went.
posted by hoyland at 5:02 PM on June 15, 2012

If a school would tell, or insinuate to my child that he/she is going to hell if they do not accept the existence of a being that is impossible to prove, I think thatact is fundamentalist and yes, indoctrination.

That's fine, but do realize that your desire not to send the child to Catholic school is an indoctrination of sorts, just one that you're ok with. How can a child make an informed decision of it is being denied various points of view.

I'm not saying your concerns aren't valid. But you seem to be approaching this as "I'm right, they're wrong". If that is your attitude and/or thought process, it's going to create conflicts as opposed to helping resolve them.

You are naturally free to take this advice or ignore it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:22 PM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

@etrigan @hoyland-- My comment was somewhat offhand, but I think it's been misunderstood. I don't resent her religiousity--accompany her to church 1x-2x a month. I don't sneer at her faith. As I said, I've completed an RCIA course with her.

The point I was trying to make is that when I voiced my disagreement with these aspects of the Catholic church, she seemed to be taken aback. Again, not her faith in God, but the Catholic church. This is a very initial reaction and I probably shouldn't have included it.

Yes, she did go to a Catholic school.
posted by SpicyMustard at 5:24 PM on June 15, 2012

Just a data point: I went to a Catholic grade school and then a Christian high school and learned a lot. I was not taught Creationism at all, let alone alongside evolution. In am a devoted atheist now, and I credit my growing up Lutheran as a reason. It made me more critical of the religion once I was able to think about it.

Good luck.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:25 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

[SpicyMustard, this really isn't the place for debate. If you need to clarify, that's fine, but otherwise let the answers come in as they will. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:47 PM on June 15, 2012

I'm somewhat religious, somewhat agnostic, my husband agnostic. We have some religion around, mainly at Christmas. I'm happy for my husband to present some of the religious stuff as fairy tales, and he's fine with me talking about God doing things, even as I'm not totally sure. My daughter has decided that she believes in God. I'm not sure where that's going to go, but just know that there is a possibility that children with parents presenting both sides, may end up with a child who ardently believes. Will that be okay with you, as long as the child has made up their mind?

(For a data point, my husband did go to Catholic school, I didn't.)

And I don't know that it would make you more comfortable with the church, but I find the Catholic Worker an easier place, religious wise. (I was raised in a Catholic Worker house.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:51 PM on June 15, 2012

The point I was trying to make is that when I voiced my disagreement with these aspects of the Catholic church, she seemed to be taken aback. Again, not her faith in God, but the Catholic church. This is a very initial reaction and I probably shouldn't have included it.

The thing is that her faith in God is connected to her involvement in the Catholic Church. Let me give you some anecdotes.

My best friend takes her Catholicism very seriously. She waited until the age of 21 to be confirmed because she felt it was a decision not to be taken lightly. She's the sort of person who checks if she changed parishes when she moved and then goes to the correct parish. So she moved and dutifully went to the appropriate parish. Then the priest decided to go off on gay marriage during the homily. She came home, I got an angry phone call and she sent them a letter resigning her membership and explaining why she was doing so. She went back to the further away parish. Now, I think she's a bit mad for sticking with it. But she says that if Hans Küng can stick it out, she can too and that if she thought you could declare the Church inconsequential to your faith, she'd be a Protestant.

I bailed on religion at the age of 12 or 13. Sometimes I wonder about going back, but then I remember the Church doesn't want my fabulous queer self around, so I don't have to bother working out if I believe in God or not. And, of course, I don't have to be Catholic. But Catholicism informs my attitudes about religion. Every other Christian denomination I know anything about does something that I think is just plain old weird. And jumping denominations is much easier to get your head round than jumping religions (even if some of those denominations don't think Catholics are Christians).
posted by hoyland at 6:04 PM on June 15, 2012

You absolutely must be extremely straightforward and have a clear, open, okay-with-disagreeing conversation with your girlfriend about this ASAP. I'm very surprised you managed to get through the RCIA classes without hearing that message loud and stunningly clear from multiple people. I'm a little concerned your girlfriend hasn't brought it up, and I suspect she may not have because she's living in the happy place where you pretend things are going to work out just peachy on the evidence that no one's gotten mad out-loud yet.

You might want to consider having this discussion with the parish priest (possibly after the first time you have this discussion,) as it sounds like you're halfway to doing a get-married-outside, but-blessed-afterwards kind of deal (last I heard, she can't take communion without that.) So you'll end up talking with a priest about your intentions WRT raising kids at some point anyway. Read this.

(I believe you may be sending her mixed signals, though it's hard to tell from your question - going to RCIA stuff does not say "I will never convert" to me. I would not take those classes, because I am happy to be Mormon and genuinely do not want to be Catholic, so I'm biased. I have a friend who runs the RCIA program in their parish.)
posted by SMPA at 6:24 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Catholic schools can actually be pretty decent, though you should shop around for a 'liberal' one, probably. I don't think you need to particularly worry about them teaching creationism, and so on, or even of your child being 'indoctrinated'. I went to Catholic School for 8 years, and I was a hardcore atheist when I graduated. I don't know if schools have changed that much since the 80s, but they mostly taught me liberal social values, aside from the weird hangups the church has about sex.
posted by empath at 6:54 PM on June 15, 2012

We went to a very liberal (university-affiliated) Catholic church in our area and did pre-marriage counseling, aka pre-Cana, there. It was good for both of us to talk about these issues, even though my (non-)religious views are more like yours. Maybe you could find a welcoming Catholic church in your area and try to do something similar?
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:20 PM on June 15, 2012

Nthing that you need to hammer these out before you propose. My husband and I are both unbelievers of varying intensity, and WE differ some in how much religion we'd like our kids exposed to.

Don't just make the conversation about the kids, though. If she's considering baptizing the child(ren), will she want to marry in a church? If so, she'll be making promises during the ceremony about how she'll raise your kids. Will she feel she needs to keep those promises? How will you and your family feel about a religious wedding? How will she and her family feel about one that's not?

Pre-marital counseling can be a very helpful way of having these discussions if they're difficult to wade through on your own; you could even do pre-Cana and a secular course to have a more well-rounded view of things.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:27 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regarding the Catholic school thing: what country are you in?

In most provinces in Canada, we have secular and Catholic schools, both of which are publicly funded (it's a quirk of our history). Both school boards use the exact same curriculum (at least in my is a provincial, rather than federal responsibility; again, another quirk of our history). Literally the only difference with Catholic schools is that you have to take a class called "Religion." They teach about all religions, but Catholic teachings are the focus. I know many non-Catholics who went to Catholic schools because they were the closest school to their home and they generally indicated that the religion teachers were quite open to questions and criticism as long as it was done in a respectful manner.

I suspect that this may not be the case in other countries, however.
posted by asnider at 7:32 PM on June 15, 2012

Hey there. I went to Catholic school through seventh grade, public school thereafter. This was in a liberal town, and we had a fair few students from other denominations whose parents just thought the school's acedemics were better than the local public system. (at one point when I was in third grade we had a Jewish kid in my class for half a year. Boy did we feel bad for him when we found out he had thus three more hours of Hebrew school after class).

Did they teach us about hell? Yeah, sure, I guess. The line was basically, "you have to be good and complete the sacraments so you get to hang out with god in heaven, if you're bad you don't get to, but as long as you want to and pray to god for forgiveness of your sins you can go to heaven". Catholics don't do predestination; if you repent completely immediately before death then it's a straight shot but even if you die suddenly whilst unforgiven you just have to spend some time sucking wind in purgatory, you still get to go to heaven eventually. I was not permanently scarred and terrified. Frankly, I didn't really think about it much at all; I was a little kid. This did not prevent me from having a serious critical think about these issues when I was a teenager and coming to my own conclusions.

As for how it works: at the time, my teachers were about half nuns, half not. It'd probably be even less, now. We had a religion class and textbook and it was taught like any other class --- about half an hour a day. Content varied by age --- when you're little it's mostly the life of Jesus and various holiday related fooferaw and as you get older they get more into parables and apply Jesus's teachings to modern life. In the mornings, we said an our father at the same time as the pledge of allegence, and occasionally we'd have a half day that the public school kids didn't get on special feast days (church holidays) where we'd spend the last hour of the day at mass before getting out early. In second and I think third grades we had about a month or six weeks or so where more time was devoted to religious studies as we were preparing for certain age-related rites in Catholicim, first communion and confession, and they took extra time to teach us the meanings of the ceremonies and how to prepare for them. When I was in sixth grade we had a semester where there were a bunch of Jesuits in training visiting the parish and we had an ethics class every week instead if regular religion --- I still remember a group exercise he had us do involving a crowded lifeboat.

So, that was my experience. I would say that my family was one that was more culturally catholic than terribly orthodox. (my parents have basically broken with the church at this point over the pedophilia scandals. My sister bought my mom a Richard Dawkins book for Christmas. But I was recently in church for a cousin's baptism.) I am no longer a religious person, myself, but I harbor no ill will toward the church. (I mean, benedict seems like a real mofo, don't get me wrong, but my basic feeling is the flaws of religion and the problems it causes are due to the fact that they're invented and run by humans).

So those are my biases, but I personally feel that even a moderate dose of religious exposure is not inevitably a poisonous kudzu vine that chokes off the capacity for rational thought. If you have a kid you can teach him or her to think critically and offer up an alternative to belief that'll let them know there's other options out there, and that should be plenty to give them ammo to make their own decisions.

I should note, of course, that there are plenty of ex-catholics out there who feel otherwise, and that in the past decade or so the church has certainly grown more conservative and more insular. There's a lot of variety out there, parish to parish and community to community, in how fire and brimstone priests are and so forth. But despite the official line on these matters my lived experience has been that the vast majority of practicing Catholics I know take what the pope says with a grain of salt and quite often break from doctrine in all kinds of ways, trusting to their own conscience, while still considering themselves catholic.
posted by Diablevert at 8:01 PM on June 15, 2012

I would not get super-worried about Catholic school at this point--talk about it, educate yourself, but understand that your positions/circumstances may change. I suspect a lot of this will work itself out or at least become a lot more settled in the five years before kindergarten and in the however many years you are together before you have children. If they are beginning to accept you and the relationship, you're fine on the kids front. They will see those babies and fall in love.

Which isn't to say they may not try to get involved when it comes time to decide on schools, but by then you're going to have a much stronger relationship with them and feel more secure about holding your ground when you make a decision they don't agree with.

The key is to make sure you and your girlfriend/fiancee/wife present a united front on these matters--and that, of course, will mean a lot of conversations. Definitely have them before the wedding. You don't have to resolve it 100 percent, but if you're close, you know you're in good shape, and if you're far apart on the issue, then maybe you need to rethink the relationship.
posted by elizeh at 8:21 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

One data point: when we went through some mandatory pre-marital Catholic counseling, the priest was really nice to me (a Jewish/Catholic non-religious male) but put the screws on my Catholic fiancee. She had to promise to raise the kids Catholic. But we never got that far. . .
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 8:47 PM on June 15, 2012

My brother, an atheist, was in a long term defacto relationship with a woman who was a very devout Christian. They had two kids together before she died of cancer.

They decided when they had kids that they would let the kids decide what they wanted to believe. When their first daughter was very young she would go to church whenever her mum would go, while my brother stayed at home. In the end their daughter decided that she would rather stay at home and after a while she too became an atheist. They followed the same principle with their second daughter who also decided she didn't believe.

I think that's the best thing to do. Let the kids decide, when you have them. Obviously you two will need to decide if thats something you can both live with; her accepting they may not believe and you accepting they may believe. But whatever they choose, this way you can tell your parents, or hers, that this is what you decided you would let your kids do as a couple, and your kids decided that is what they do or do not believe in.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:59 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

This will be resolved for you if she wants a Catholic wedding: you will probably have to sign a form stating that you agree to raise the kids Catholic, and you will likely have to have pre-marital classes/counseling where this will come up. If you marry outside the Church she'll have declared her intentions.

I'm agnostic, married to a Catholic. The one thing I think is that you have to understand that even if she has progressive values, things you consider obvious may never be simple for her. From pre-natal testing to end-of-life care. If the biggest question is whether hell comes up at school that will actually be the easy one. It can totally be okay. But if she really grapples with questions of Catholic faith, it's not just about pressure over First Communion dresses from grandma. It is about her approaching life's issues with a relationship with a dogmatic, difficult, historic, deeply beautiful regardless and profoundly felt relationship with both the institution and well, God. If she does feel that way you really in my opinion should not propose unless you see some beauty in that; in her capacity to, well, believe at least enough to show up. You can't, I think, take lightly the idea that you would have to decide if you are "loyal opposition" - not agreeing with the Church but respecting that your wife does - or gatekeeper, trying to shield your kids from your wife's religious twist. And that goes both ways; if you've done the RCIA etc. does she know how profoundly atheist you still are? Can she respect that from a Catholic viewpoint you are refusing the greatest gift of a relationship with the being who loves you the most?

Talk more. :)
posted by Zen_warrior at 9:40 PM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you do wind up marrying this woman, and having kids, and sending them to Catholic schools, at least inSIST that it be Jesuit schools. The Jesuits taught me to question everything including what they were telling me. (yes that's a "this sentence is false" paradox. When that was pointed out, the Jesuit scholastic nodded and winked.)
posted by notsnot at 10:30 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

What if your kid is gay? I don't just mean "what if they come out to you", but also "how will you raise a kid from a young age in a way that won't screw them up about their future sexuality or anyone elses". What if your daughter needs birth control? an abortion? Not just what will you do, but what if your wife's parents find out?

I think it is possible to over-think this, to over-analyse it, and to derail a potentially loving and excellent life together getting hung up on hypothetical situations that might occur in 10 years!

What if you die? What if she dies? What if one of you gets a revelation and changes to the other person's belief system? These are all possibilities that will change the outcomes of these other hypotheticals quite radically. What if it turns out you can't / don't have kids? Then this is a lot of stress and potential for failure for no good reason at all.

What I would suggest is a much more big picture view of your shared position as a couple. For example "we'll decide these things together, and our parents' views will not be an initial point of the decision making process".

Let things work themselves out. Trust, mutual respect, mutual love and affection will help deal with the issues as they arise.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:57 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Hi, I'm an atheist woman (nominally raised some version of Protestant by mostly agnostic parents) marrying a Catholic man. We're still relatively early on in our relationship - even though we've nominally agreed on how to handle kids, we're not there yet - but a lot of this has already come up, often painfully.

(1) Whoever said "Progressive Catholics have a complicated relationship with their beliefs" or whatever above, absolutely true. Your job as, I'm sure, a very logical atheist, who still loves your girlfriend, is to come to terms with that. If your girlfriend behaves in a way that is contrary to Catholic doctrine, but she claims to still espouse that doctrine - say, she's totally in favor of premarital sex but still considers it a sin - it will drive you crazy. You will think she is hypocritical. You will be infuriated by what appears to be her rejecting all logic and reason by having two directly opposing thoughts in her head and claiming to be in favor of both of them, because you certainly don't do that - you logically reject the thought that doesn't make sense with your observations! Your job is then to start learning about the concept of "Natural Law", and understanding that stuff like this is where the famous Catholic Guilt comes from, and you just have to deal with it. You will not convince her that this is not the right way to think. You will not convince her to drop one or the other belief. You will eventually start to understand the very nuanced difference between "belief" and "opinion" and that at the end of the day, her opinion is what matters. It will keep driving you nuts, but you will eventually start to understand, if not to comprehend. You will still respect her intelligence and her faith.

If you can handle that, go to Step 2.

(2) The US as an institution has a long and shameful history of imperialism, racism, slavery, religious oppression, ethnic oppression, sexism, corruption, and current governments do some pretty heinous things too. But I'm still a proud American because I am not my government. Similarly, my fiance is still a proud Catholic. Individual practitioners are not the Vatican. Separate them in your mind. With the recent clusterfuck of Sandra Fluke and birth control coverage, the stat came up that something like 98% of Catholic women use birth control. Catholics *do* have minds of their own, even if the Church claims to be one giant homogenous juggernaut of morality. Catholics are Catholic because of the relationship with God the Church espouses, not because they were big fans of the Inquisition.

If Step 2 is okay, go on to Step 3.

(3) Let's forget about kids for the moment and look at the wedding. First off, if it is a Catholic wedding, you will need to go through Catholic pre-marital counseling. This does not involve telling you not to use condoms or how to be a good Catholic. It is in fact halfway decent pre-marital counseling. More on this later. Additionally, if you were never baptized, then the marriage you are having is not actually a sacrament for her. Realize that this is painful for her and that she is giving something significant up to do this for you. Even my fiance, for whom this will be a sacrament (I was baptized, thanks to my grandparents) struggles with the fact that we won't have the spiritual marriage he's been raised to understand two people can have. Yes, you're doing her a favor by deigning to be married in her church, but she's doing you a pretty big one as well.

Then do a bit of priest-shopping to find one who is okay with you and whom you're comfortable with. They are out there. Remember, individual Catholics are not the Vatican.

Good? Okay, step 4.

(4) Yes, if you're getting married in the church you'll have to agree not to impede your future wife in her ability to raise the kids Catholic, because it is her responsibility to do so. And why not? As long as the answer to "Why does Daddy get to sleep in on Sundays" isn't "Because he's going to hell," what's problematic about them getting an excellent education in an institution that has heavily influenced western culture for 2000 years? But the flip side to that is that she needs to agree that the kids can have an open dialogue with you as well, and that while neither of you will denigrate the other's beliefs (or the lack thereof), you are both able to be open and honest with your children. And I think letting the kids decide on confirmation makes a lot of sense.

Regarding school: my brother went to an all-boys Catholic high school and while he took up the prayers to "fit in" before football games, he still graduated the not-really-religious-maybe-culturally-Christian guy he was when he started. They had a Jewish student body president and a surprisingly good sense of humor about everything. (The ancient priest who taught history once told one of my brother's classmates he was an excellent argument in favor of abortion) And this was in the midwestern US, not exactly a bastion of religious liberalism. If you're looking around at schools, evaluate them as you would any other public or private school. Don't write them off just because of an affiliation. They still learn about evolution, don't worry.

And finally, on to Step 5.

(5) Realize that this conversation doesn't end when you've shaken hands and agreed on terms before the wedding. It's going to keep coming up. You're going to have to keep negotiating and finding middle grounds. Maybe one of your kids will be gay, or maybe one will decide they want to enter the priesthood. You're both going to have to be okay with either of those. You should also be clear about what you are and aren't okay with for your own practices. My fiance would go to Mass weekly if he had the time (he often doesn't due to his work travel) but I have 0 interest in ever going, except at Christmas because I enjoy Christmas services as a cultural thing. That you go once or twice a month is surprising to me. Is that something you're willing to continue doing, even once you have kids? And how will you each side with the other when one set or the other of your parents tries to interfere with raising kids? What if her parents offer to pay your kids' way through Catholic school but your parents say they won't pitch in a dime for the kids' education if you do that? At what point do you say, we're a team, we're the parents, it's our decision, and side with your spouse against your own parents on principle?

Also, one extra thing I would encourage you to think about. When you do discuss (or even argue) these sorts of things, make sure she understands that it's not just you hating on Catholics, it's you being uncomfortable with religion in general. Yeah, many of us feel a bit odd about Catholicism given the political role the Church has played throughout history, but when it comes down to it you probably wouldn't be super excited if she were a hardcore Presbyterian or something either. And I think she might get extra defensive if she perceives something is targeted toward her specific beliefs, rather than religious expression/practice in general, so it's on you to make sure she understands that you're starting from scratch, not just being picky about a specific sect of what is fundamentally the same belief system. In my own relationship, especially as we plan hymns, readings, etc for the wedding ceremony, this has come up a lot.

Good luck. It's not easy. But it has been done and it can be done, it just takes a lot of understanding and patience on both sides.
posted by olinerd at 3:36 AM on June 16, 2012 [17 favorites]

Others have offered helpful specific advice, but I just wanted to comment on one aspect of your post:

My parents are outspoken atheists/humanists with a strong distaste for the Catholic church as an institution along with its roles in imperialism, persecution, sexism, protecting criminality, etc.... I guess I am also concerned that my girlfriend (whose values directly contradict those committed in the name of catholicism) does not seem more critical of the Catholic church.

Speaking as a religious historian, I think it would be extraordinarily helpful, with regard to your relationship with your girlfriend, for you to nuance your understanding of Christianity as a historical phenomenon. Catholicism (and, for that matter, Protestantism) has a very complex historical legacy that is difficult to dismiss so summarily if you are more familiar with the nuance of it. Certainly Western Christianity has had an intimate role in imperialism, persecution, sexism, protecting criminality, etc. However it has also catalyzed socially-liberal freedom movements, such as abolition (think of Wilberforce, or of Northern Methodists in the Civil War), post-colonialism (liberation theology), Civil Rights (Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), etc. In your question, you seem to be fine with your girlfriend holding privatized progressive ethical convictions, but uncomfortable with an official institutional dimension because of its relationship with oppression; I would suggest that this dichotomy that you wish to draw between institutional religion on the one hand and social justice on the other is far too simplistic and binary. (And let's not even go into the ways in which strands of popularized utopian liberalism or secularism have enabled totalitarianism and oppression - eugenics, for one, along with a whole litany of arguable others.)

Obviously this isn't a graduate religious history seminar, and I'm not trying to reroute the thread to create this, or to defend religion in its totality. But I think that your practical situation with your girlfriend would be improved if you took more nuance onboard. Your current attitude towards religion seems to veer towards the monolithic, condescending, and doctrinaire. Having a sense of the historical complexity of Catholicism (and Western Christianity more generally) would render you more sensitive to and empathetic with your girlfriend's beliefs, and the role that the Church as an institution has played in shaping them (yes, even the progressive ones you approve of). This would hopefully facilitate a compromise that is based on genuine respect, even in the face of ultimate disagreement, rather than grudging toleration.
posted by UniversityNomad at 5:13 AM on June 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

I have encountered something like the clash you envision. I don't come from a hardcore atheist background, my parents don't have a beef with the Catholic Church. My partner was only passively Christian, a twice-a-year church goer and a protestant not a catholic. Yet this question became quite an issue between us. What we agreed was this. Their mother can take our children to church as much as she likes. I can teach them the theory of evolution and in discussions let them explore and deduce all that flows from it, including the non-existence of god. Will your wife-to-be be happy for you to teach your children about evolution from an early age?
posted by londongeezer at 6:19 AM on June 16, 2012

> I admit that I am not well educated on different types of Catholic schools. Anyone care to describe what this experience is like and how much variance there may be from school to school?

I do not come from a Catholic background, but went to a Catholic school for a few years; I got a great education and it did not inhibit me from becoming the atheist I am today, for what that's worth. (When I was living in NYC, I knew a devout Shi'ite Muslim who sent his daughter to the local Catholic school for the same reason—he wanted her to have the best available education—and he seemed pleased with how it was going.)

I agree that you should talk all this out in advance, and I'm glad you're going to church with her and generally accepting her beliefs without sharing them. Religion does not have to be a battleground.
posted by languagehat at 7:20 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

The point I was trying to make is that when I voiced my disagreement with these aspects of the Catholic church, she seemed to be taken aback. Again, not her faith in God, but the Catholic church.

There's a lot of great suggestions here, but one thing I would like to point out is that in your case, you need to remember that this is not purely a question of religion but of culture and religion. I highlight the above because some in some cultures questioning authority, regardless of whether it's religious leaders or government is just not done (not saying that's the case here, but it could be). The way your GF and her family approach practice their religion is heavily influenced by their culture, as is yours. You touch on it briefly when you acknowledge that her parents reaction is perhaps more going to be more heavily-weighted because of that.

Not to scare you, but that culture piece just makes it that much more challenging, and that much more important that you both find a way to discuss this now openly, honestly, and without judgement. It is unlikely that there is a perfect solution so you both need to identify the things that are deal breakers, the ones that are good for compromise, and the ones that are relatively unimportant and go from there.

It's also unlikely that both your opinions and feelings won't change over time, and it needs to be clear that whatever you come up with now is not necessarily set in stone. I'm a white, 5th generation Canadian with a strong Anglican background and my husband is an Egyptian-born and raised Muslim, and after 3.5 years of marriage we are still revisiting the discussion regularly and I imagine, will continue to do so. The key to our success so far is our willingness to have that conversation, or pieces of it, as often as necessary.

That being said, those recurring conversations are not about one of us trying to 'overturn' a decision that we weren't happy with in the first place, but are about making sure that our decided approach is reflective of our current perspective. I learned very quickly not to concede on issues that were actually quite important to me since it leads to a constant undermining of the discussion, and resentment.
posted by scrute at 8:31 AM on June 16, 2012

I'm seeing some people give some very well-intentioned, but incorrect, interpretations of doctrinal Catholic law, so I'm coming in here to correct as someone who has researched this very recently. Because, y'know, Mr. Corb is an atheist, and I'm a lapsed Catholic who still pops into church every now and again, with an enormous Catholic family. Please feel free to memail me, either for insight from me, or if you want me to pass it along to Mr. Corb and get his answer on stuff.

This will be resolved for you if she wants a Catholic wedding: you will probably have to sign a form stating that you agree to raise the kids Catholic, and you will likely have to have pre-marital classes/counseling where this will come up. If you marry outside the Church she'll have declared her intentions.

This was the case until very recently: the new doctrinal law is that she has to promise to try to raise the kids Catholic, if she wants her marriage to be recognized. She doesn't have to succeed, or even think she has a reasonable chance of succeeding. She has to try. For the minimum bare-bones action on this, getting the children baptized Catholic is enough for them to be Catholic in the eyes of the Church. The Church would like them to go to Church, and read their catechism, and go to Catholic school, and get confirmed, and have a formal First Confession, and all that. But it's not necessary to "be Catholic."

Having a church wedding and baptizing the kids may also help you a lot with the family, in terms of being a one-time thing that does not require further religious indoctrination.

In terms of Catholic school: They will talk about God at some points, yes. They may (depending on the school) have formal religious classes, they will have priests wander through the schools sometimes to talk about some stuff. But one thing that's really important to remember in the school debate, is that they are effectively heavily subsidized private schools. The church or parish eats a lot of the cost of them for Catholics. Do you live in an area with a very good public school system? Or do you live in an area with struggling public schools? If it's the latter, and you don't have enough income to easily afford non-Catholic private school on your own, your potential fiance may well want to send the kids to Catholic school simply because it's the best school you can afford.

However, it does have the problem of meaning that most of the kids that your children socialize with would be Catholic, which is the problem that public school could fix. If you have a very good public school, and choose to raise your children there, there's always the option of choosing a Catholic afterschool - or not, if you choose, and the children are going to church.
posted by corb at 8:32 AM on June 16, 2012

I guess I am also concerned that my girlfriend (whose values directly contradict those committed in the name of catholicism) does not seem more critical of the Catholic church.

So one of the issues that I'd like to bring up is that for many people, their commitment to social justice came /from/ the Catholic church. One of my strongest memories is going to church, and hearing, "And for those who are unjustly imprisoned...Lord, let us pray." Or a priest I knew, who, when the city started arresting homeless people for sleeping in the small park next to the church, arranged for the church to buy the park and add it to their property, so that they could tell the city to fuck off. (Sadly, he did not use those words. But should have.) Or the liberation theologists, who argue that religion should be seen in terms of how it can liberate the poor from oppression and injustice. She may well be a liberation theologist, and that may be how she reconciles her faith and her social justice beliefs.

Another thing to understand is that the American Catholic Church are pretty much the rebels of the Catholic Church. The Vatican has some major issues with them, mostly because they aren't as conservative. Especially with the nuns! Keep in mind the same nuns possibly educating your children could be those same "radical feminist" nuns.

Anyway, seconding priest-shopping. But I also wonder if "equal time" would help you here - where both parents get to talk about their beliefs and why they believe them, and children get to make their own choices.

This can be done, but you do need to have these conversations. However, I think it absolutely doesn't have to be done before you propose. For myself and Mr. Corb, it didn't come up until after he proposed - quite simply because he hadn't even though about any of this stuff. I think that also put it in a better position than it would have if we'd discussed it before the proposal. Before the proposal, it sounds like, "Are you good enough to marry? I don't know yet." After, it becomes, "I want to figure out how we're going to work this thing that we both want to do, build a life together." Remember, a long engagement is totally doable, and there's no shame in canceling an engagement if it turns out you can't work this out. (In fact, the Catholic Church is very supportive of breaking engagements if it turns out you can't work out, because they believe marriage is permanent.)
posted by corb at 8:51 AM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

I suspect, like someone above, that your girlfriend may be "assuming" things will work out and probably in the Catholic direction if it's most of what she knows. You definitely need to be chatting early and often, however casually to start. What may help though, if you get married, and if you have kids, and if they go to Catholic school is to know that none of what you agree is condemning your offspring to a life of fundamentalism and conservatism.

I'm from Ireland, so I grew up in a very, very Catholic environment: Catholic school, angelus on the TV every night before the 6 o'clock news, Vatican correspondents in all the national media, communions and christenings and things were big community events, I remember being asked to deliver donation envelopes all round the neighbourhood (which we could do, because virtually everyone was a parishioner). I met probably about a dozen people who were not Catholic until I started travelling more in my college years, and I've hardly been to any weddings that aren't in churches, the whole nine yards.

I will always describe myself as Catholic, as like your girlfriend it's a huge part of my background. I follow what's happening in the church with some interest and know my bible stories fairly well (good general knowledge to have, in my opinion). I believe in charity and good works. But I am not religious in the slightest, believe none of it, and neither are my siblings, most of my friends or even my parents. I well remember classmates sleeping through boring religion classes and half-assing the singing at easter masses and things: we knew it didn't count for college admission like maths and english do, and kids are kids. We all have our own minds!

And that's just the kids: there will also be a fair number of parents who send their kids to Catholic school because it's a good neighbourhood school, or because the family has always gone to Catholic school and they haven't really thought about anything else, or because they come from a background like mine and grew up enjoying the social and community side around christenings and confirmations and so on - but are basically just cultural Catholics who go to mass four times a year. Heck, this describes most parents in Ireland.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:00 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you need to assess how comfortable you will be living your entire life and raising a family with someone you perceive as not being a questioning person, i.e. , not being a person that questions authority. I only say this because you brought it up a couple of times - about her being taken aback about your criticisms of the church. Everyone's comfort level about this is different. I, myself, would be uncomfortable living with someone who never questioned the things they were told to believe about the world. But everyone's comfort level and priorities are different and of course, just because she didn't have questions about the church previously, doesn't mean she wouldn't in the future. This is not to say that you are right and she is wrong - it just seems like a big personality difference. And one that many people can live successfully with.
posted by gt2 at 10:45 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're going to have to keep negotiating and finding middle grounds. Maybe one of your kids will be gay, or maybe one will decide they want to enter the priesthood. You're both going to have to be okay with either of those.

Before having kids with anyone you need to remember that they are going to become whoever they are, often *in spite* of how they were raised. They will develop their own beliefs on G-d and the universe, and your family life will not be their only source of contact with those messages. You can marry another atheist and have children who seek to join a Christian church. You can marry a Catholic and have children who convert to Judaism. There are absolutely no guarantees. Sure, you can seek to expose your children to as many varieties of belief as possible - but the end result - what they believe as adults - isn't within your control.

It helps to make sure that the information that they're given comes from a sane and loving place, but you are not their only source of input. They'll meet other kids raised other ways. They'll have a ton of input from the (largely Christian) culture around them. My grandparents are atheists who raised their kids to go to church sometimes as a social function. Three out of four lot their children are also atheists. One of them (lucky for me it's my dad) is now a fundamentalist wackadoo Jew for Jesus. (Oh yeah, my grandmother was born Jewish and raised Jewish and then walked away from it in later life.) My mother was raised as a Lutheran and later converted to Buddhism. I was raised Buddhist with some influences from my wackadoo father and after a brief phase where I went to church with him and did the whole "Jesus freak" thing found that I had some big problems with it and long story short, I'm now a practicing Buddhist. Incidentally, the mother who raised me as a Buddhist has since converted to Catholicism.

You can control where your kids go to school and whether or not they go to church, but you can't control everything that they're exposed to and what they eventually believe.

The best you can do in terms of your relationship is to just talk about it and keep talking about it, but in terms of your future children, you are absolutely not in charge of the final result. Be honest and loving with them about the varieties of religious belief and accept that they'll make their own decisions about what to do with that information.
posted by sonika at 4:01 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lots of people do work this out. BUT your girlfriend doesn't sound all that moderate from what you've said here. (She could be--I don't know her.) Certainly her family sounds like "real Catholics" and not Catholics by default or cultural Catholics. It would be kind of surprising to me if someone from that background was genuinely OK with a moderate/pluralist upbringing for their kids.
posted by skbw at 4:28 PM on June 16, 2012

For what it's worth, here's a (long) perspective from a non-practicing Catholic-Buddhist, married to a secular Jew:

1. You should definitely talk to her about this, but please understand that religion is just as much about identity as it is belief, and it may be hard to predict how you will feel when children actually show up. I was surprised by the fact that I wanted to baptize our baby, despite the fact that I had been to mass only a handful of times in my adult life.

2. As a child, most of the conflict around religion was instigated by my grandparents, which was really hard for me to deal with. I wish my parents had been able to tell my well-meaning grandmothers to butt out. This is complicated enough when two people are involved.

3. Confirmation happens fairly late (I think I was in high school?), and it isn't something you have to decide right now. For what it's worth, despite the fact that I have for all intents and purposes left the church, I don't regret my religious education. Your kids aren't going to be brainwashed by catechism; your attitudes (and those of their peers) will have a far greater influence. For what it's worth, I intend to encourage my children to explore any religion they are interested, and let them ultimately chose their path. It's not as if getting confirmed is irrevocable, and to be quite honest, they're going to make their own decisions as adults. All I can do is help them make the most informed one possible.

4. As mentioned upthread, social justice is actually a huge part of American Catholicism, and it would be good idea for you (and your parents) to not be reflexively dismissive of it (not saying you're doing that, but being all LolChildMolestors will not make life any easier).

On a purely personal level, Catholic charities saved me from growing up on a refugee camp, and sassy nuns had a huge part helping me find a voice amidst a hugely patriarchal society. Sure, the reasons for the Church's involvement in refugee issues are complex, but it doesn't change the fact that they saved my family, and I have met many inspiring and wonderful people through the church. I would not want to deprive my children of that.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:03 PM on June 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

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