I'm not Catholic. Which makes my fascination with the American arm of the Catholic Church a little strange, but it also means I can watch its contortions without fretting over its future.
That's good, because I think the church in this country, while not in its death throes, is suffering from a rupture and a nervous condition. The church's hold on its members has ruptured, and that's going to make any denomination nervous.
A couple of months ago came reports that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraceptives. Although the statistic has been criticized, American women by any measure are as likely to stick with Catholic-mandated natural family planning as the Pope is to become a Zumba instructor.
Then there's the homosexuality issue generally, and the gay marriage issue specifically. When Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland signed marriage equality into law on March 1, he became the fifth Catholic governor to do so, in clear opposition to the will of Catholic bishops in those states.
As far as I know, none of these governors has been denied communion or excommunicated. But their trips to the confession booth must be deafening.
After grappling with her Catholic faith, Gov. Chris Gregoire of Washington happily signed a marriage-equality bill in February. Opponents are now gathering signatures for a referendum to axe the law. Seattlepi.com reported that the Archdiocese of Seattle sent a letter to the faithful, saying it plans to have parishes collect signatures.
I guess we can add a new Catholic sacrament to the current seven. Right up there with the Anointing of the Sick will be the Employing of the Bic.
Seattlepi.com noted that the push to kill the gay-marriage law might make lay Catholics twitchy. For starters, the Archdiocese of Seattle has long championed civil rights. This time the Catholic hierarchy is batting for the other side.
Plus there's the fact that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is backing the campaign. NOM internal memos, recently revealed in litigation in Maine, advocated a strategy of pitting African-Americans and Hispanics against gay-rights groups.
Jesus would be nauseous. And a number of Washington Catholics don't feel so well, either.
A recent event in a Minnesota high school practically shrieked the disconnect between Catholic clergy and laity. At DeLaSalle, a Catholic high school in Minneapolis, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis held a required assembly, for seniors only, about marriage.
The kids suspected what was coming. Catholic education doesn't make dummies.
A priest and a volunteer couple spoke, and student Matt Bliss told the Star Tribune that all went swimmingly for the first three-quarters of the marriage presentation. Then the speakers implied that adopted children and children with one parent are lesser.
Since at least four of the students present were adopted, this was not just baffling but dippy.
"When they finally got to gay marriage, [students] were really upset," said Bliss. "You could look around the room and feel the anger. My friend who is a lesbian started crying."
The couple compared gay love to bestiality. Several students argued with the speakers, and one girl held up a sign that said, "I love my moms."
I'm betting the priest wished for a posse of nuns armed with two rulers apiece.
Student Lydia Hannah said the kids were suspicious when only seniors were required to attend. "We put two and two together," she said, referring to Minnesota's constitutional amendment limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. "All of us will be able to vote next fall."
Some clearly won't vote the way the U.S. Catholic Church wants them to. Even the students at a Catholic school aren't buying what the church is selling. The clergy better pray to the patron saint of ruptured relationships - if not lost causes.