These comments are in reaction to the controversy in the newspaper regarding protecting the religious liberty of the Catholic Church.

Catholics are taught to obey and submit to authority, which is the antithesis of democracy. Jack Kennedy was elected president when voters realized he would be willing to take a position at odds with the Catholic Church, that he would not be dictated to by the church. The Kennedy speech that convinced many Americans that they could safely vote for Kennedy even though he was Roman Catholic is the same speech that Rick Santorum said makes him want to throw up. Most Americans believe our churches should inform us, but most Americans abhor a theocracy.

Catholics are not taught to think and decide for themselves. In fact, the Catholic Church does not easily accept deviation. The Church applies pressure by denying communion, excommunicating those who deviate, as well as slapping down priests and nuns who get out of line.

I took my First Communion and Confirmation at Ascension Church, but by the age of 18, I realized that Catholic authority was basically incompatible with my belief in democracy, and the Catholic Church was the antithesis of democracy. I was then experiencing what I later learned is called cognitive dissonance, the inability to hold two contradictory ideas.

I know many Catholics whose values and morality I respect but who have serious differences with various Catholic Church pronouncements. They consider and pray about what the church teaches, but in the end they believe and act according to their decisions, not what they are told. When I have asked why they remain Catholics, they say, “I don’t have to follow all the Church’s teachings” or “I don’t practice Catholic teachings where I disagree” or “It’s my church; I’m not going to be forced out” or “It’s not the hierarchy’s church.”

All the Catholics I know strongly disagree with the church’s prohibition against women priests, but they have no vote and no say in this. This is just one example of how the Catholic Church is a tyranny dictating obedience and how the laity has no authority.

The Catholics I know are admirable people; they have learned a strong sense of caring, of family, of community, and a check on rampant individualism. Although the Catholic Church teaches many wonderful values, so do many other churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples.

Personally, I feel conflicted, realizing the good that Catholics perform and yet the tyranny wielded by the Church over Catholics and even over non-Catholics.

The Catholic Church needs to exercise religious liberty — to respect the beliefs of dissenting Catholics and all other believers and to exhibit a commitment to democracy.

Tom Ard is an Oak Park resident.

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