By Johnna A. Pro
Talk Show Host
PITTSBURGH — I never expected to have a crisis of faith. During my college days and early 20s, I did that which many young adults do when they find the lure of modern society far more alluring than Sunday Mass. I set religion aside except for Christmas, Easter, weddings and funerals. I took communion; I skipped confession. I questioned the existence of God in a world filled with violence. It was all quite typical.
Such youthful folly ended on my first trip to Italy, the home of my heart and my family. In seeking my roots, I rediscovered my religion. One can’t explore the ancient churches in tiny towns and not see their beauty and architectural magnificence were inspired by the Divine. The poorest of the poor scraped together meager funds and collective talents to construct the buildings that would carry the faith through the generations.
Clarity of mind struck me two hours south of the Vatican in an old stone church in the middle of nowhere. It had an intricately built winding staircase to heaven. “There is a God,” I concluded. “Man simply could not have built this alone.”
I vowed to do better and eventually made my way back to the Church, to Confession, and to the faith. But I didn’t think about the religion. Whether I agreed or not with the Catholic position on the moral matters we face in today’s society, I didn’t feel conflicted. I was like all the other Catholics I know. I would sit quietly in Mass and listen (or not), confident that my personal feelings, beliefs and actions were between me, my confessor and God. What’s more, I wasn’t at Mass each week because I was perfect, I was there because I was not. I am flawed. God is forgiving. It’s been a peaceful co-existence for nearly 20 years.
Then I landed a job in TALK RADIO. Voicing an opinion comes with the territory. That’s where my crisis of faith begins. Here’s the background.
A major topic of discussion one night involved the Church’s lawsuit over the birth control requirement in the Affordable Care Act. It’s a big story nationwide, and in Pittsburgh, a Catholic town, it dominates the headlines, the news/talk radio. I defended the Church for its objections to the initial version of the law. The Obama administration overreached, and clearly some accommodation had to be made. I said that on the air.
But after the Catholic Church and others made their objections known, the president offered a reasonable compromise. It wasn’t perfect, but rarely is any compromise perfect especially when the BIGS are involved: big government, big business, big religion.
And frankly, if the Church was successful delivering its message about issues such as sex, marriage and birth control – whether it involves chastity before marriage, taking a pill, using a condom, or having a vasectomy – then the faithful would eschew those options whether they are available or not. No one would be having sex outside of a sacramental marriage, and every Catholic who is married would be family planning within the bounds of church teaching.
As it stands, the Church’s message is often badly delivered, and so it falls on deaf ears. Many people who otherwise exemplify what it means to be Catholic are making decisions the Church finds morally objectionable. By way of example I cited a friend who had a vasectomy. He’s been married 30 years. He is a loving, faithful, committed husband who raised three children in the church. He is active in his parish and community. He’s a far better person than I’ll ever be and a far better Catholic.
That’s what I think. That’s what said on 50,000 watts of talk radio. The phones lines lit up, and that was the genesis of my crisis of faith.
Caller number two wasn’t just a guy on the line offering his opinion. He was a diocesan priest, and he took exception to my comments. He explained the church’s view on birth control and what it means in the context of the sacrament of matrimony – by using artificial birth control one isn’t fully open and faithful to the relationship or the gift of children.
It was the whole part about not being open and faithful even after 30 years of marriage and three kids that got to me. It seems a little harsh, and I’m still single. Clearly others must feel the same, or more people would be paying attention.
What’s more, I really do try to defend the Church on the air, and given recent events, that’s not always easy. I’m no fan of Catholic bashers; I respect and admire our Bishop. Suffice it say, I was in a fit pique over the call. After all, I’m not a Catholic talk show host; I’m a talk show host who happens to be Catholic.
But once off the air I began to fret. Was my priestly caller right? Were my views offending God? Does one decision or opinion contrary to church teaching make us unworthy of salvation in a lifetime spent trying to give glory, praise and honor to God? Can I talk about these issues on the radio then head to Mass on Sunday? Can I separate my Catholic self from my professional self?
As the summer heat dragged on, I found myself mulling all of the moral issues about which I opine in the secular media – poverty, social justice, premarital sex, the glorification of single moms, birth control, absentee fathers, abortion, addiction, gay marriage and gay rights, war, divorce, child sex abuse, drug abuse, the death penalty, and end of life. These topics make up the sound track of talk radio.
I have a shelf full of books on Catholicism, so I pulled out the Catechism and started to read. I turned to Google. As I wrestled the issues in my head and my heart, I grew more frustrated with myself for being so modern and liberal in my thinking, and more frustrated with the Church for being so unyielding in its tenets. Like many people I know, I’m looking for compromise in a religion that doesn’t offer one. Where the Church sees black and white or moral absolutes, I see shades of gray and individual circumstance.
For several weeks, I skipped Mass. I considered leaving the Catholic Church. After all – and I have said this on the air – I don’t expect the Church to cast aside 2,000 years of teaching because I happen to disagree on a particular issue. Would it better to walk away as so many others have done?
By the time I e-mailed my favorite priest for guidance, I was in a full-blown crisis of faith. The next day I was in his office seeking perspective and answers. It wasn’t an easy conversation for me. But I appreciate that he is forthright and blessed with the ability to make ancient scripture and teachings so meaningful to the times. I came away with a renewed understanding of the Catholic Church and why its message has remained constant through the ages.
I remain uncomfortable with the fact that on some issues we face, I can’t fully commit to the teaching of the Church. In that regard, I am just like so many others who sit it the pews. But I also have a job to do, and of this I am certain: the biggest threat to the Catholic religion isn’t those who question its teachings or positions even from the confines of a radio studio; it is those who stop seeking answers and a better understanding of what it means to be Catholic.
So I will continue to do my job behind the microphone, and hope my priestly caller continues to do his. After all, I’m not a Catholic talk show host; I’m a talk show host who happens to be Catholic.