Kevin Riordan: Out of step with Chaput; steeped in faith

Posted: July 24, 2011

The home movie flickers into focus on a sunny procession of bright white shirts.

It's 1961, and I'm a good Catholic boy, walking solemnly into church for my first Holy Communion.

I was reminded of that spiritual watershed last week as the faithful celebrated the selection of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to lead the church in Philadelphia.

"Philly is so blessed right now," a friend of a friend posted on Facebook.

"Get ready, Philadelphia," posted another.

Catholics are welcoming the prospect of new energy at the top after the sadly dispiriting reign of Archbishop Justin Rigali, so tired and tarnished by revelations that cover-ups of sexual abuse by priests continued on his watch.

The lurid headlines, the fury of victims, and all those cheesy, easy anti-Catholic jokes have been tough to bear.

Even for someone like me.

Although no film exists - this is a blessing, trust me - let's fast-forward from my first Holy Communion to my college career a decade later.

Hippies play guitars during "folk" Masses on campus, where a groovy priest with a mod blond hairdo holds forth about cutting-edge topics, such as Vietnam.

I can still hear his sermon about the vile evil, the all-encompassing horribleness, of homosexuality.

But there's hope, he says: Such unfortunates can escape the sin.

By living a life of celibacy.

To which I silently reply: I'm outta here.

And so I was.

A few years later I did briefly check out DignityUSA, the organization of gay Catholics.

Great people, good intentions, but way too much hoping-against-hope for my taste.

The Catholic Church wasn't going to change its mind, and I wasn't, either.

Almost four decades on, I'm still unwilling to do so, because it means denying, if not erasing, a part of myself as fundamental and essential as breathing.

So while I've occasionally taken Communion with other denominations, I haven't done so at a Catholic Mass. Nor will I; the church has rules, I don't play by them, and that is that.

I do still treasure the heritage.

When writing about Camden, where so many Catholic clergy and laypeople do such wonderful work, I often get a jolt of pride.

When I hear devout Catholics struggling with the parish mergers and school closings that have frayed entire communities, I empathize; the church where I made my first Holy Communion closed a couple of years ago.

And when I hear folks rejoice about Chaput's arrival, I understand their desire for the church they love to overcome the sex-abuse nightmare, and thrive.

I may disagree with some of the new archbishop's politics, but I've made peace with the fact that the institutional church and I will never see eye to eye politically.

Faith is another matter.

Watching that home movie recently, I was reminded of the mystery and majesty that touched me so deeply.

As an 8-year-old, I was stirred by the possibility of earthly goodness and (maybe) eternal life.

The church, along with my parents, gave me a start in what has become a confusing, challenging, and sometimes exhilarating relationship with God.

It was a great gift.

And it's still mine.

Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845,, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at

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