Wayne wrote an excellent column this week, arguing that, for Catholics of conscience, now is the time to leave the church behind. Bill Keller of the New York Times argued much the same thing in a column a couple of days before. In that column, Bill was actually agreeing with the excitable, pedophilia-scandal-denying wingnut Bill Donohue of the Catholic League (of one), who believes that moderate and liberal Catholics should probably just show themselves the door. Keller and Donohue come to their conclusions from completely different directions, and you can tell Keller is a bit horrified that he agrees with Donohue on anything, but the conclusion is the same.

Charles Pierce at Esquire, an Irish Catholic, and probably my and most of the liberal internet’s favorite new blogger of the past couple of years — he’s just wonderful, if you aren’t familiar — takes a different approach. Welcome to Pierce’s writing style:

Comes now Bill Keller, former editor of The New York Times, hater of blogs, and marginally penitent enabler of a war based on lies, to inform us misguided Papists that we should all leave the church of our birth because it’s not going to stop being an authoritarian international criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice, and because Vatican II was a waste of time where they should have let Sly, and not Hendrix, close the show, and because he, Bill Keller, found a banjo Mass he could love, and because it is Bill Donahue who, while undoubtedly a perspiring unemployable whose primary constituencies include a mailing list and enough obvious sexual frustration to illuminate the Sinai, nevertheless most firmly grasps the keys of Peter in his sweaty, Jew-hating hands.

Looking at these arguments, I tend to agree mostly with Wayne and Bill Keller that, if you’re ready to give the Catholic Church the old heave-ho, then go ahead. [Mike provides some resources for doing just that, right here.] That said, I do know several Catholics who, like Pierce, are both deeply committed to the church and also deeply committed to “witnessing from within rather than without,” who aren’t willing to leave the church to raving wingnuts. Indeed, Pierce gives several reasons why he’s not willing to leave, but his main argument centers on people like Bill Donohue:

[R]ather than all those reasons, there’s one bigger reason, drawn from my interpretation of the writings of the early Church Fathers, as to why I decline to leave the church of my birth to screaming sideshow freaks like Bill Donahue.

Because screw him, that’s why.

The differences in these opinions reflects something I think is a bit different for Catholics vis a vis other Christians, and highlights the gravitas of this issue. If your beliefs are Protestant, it’s just not that big of a jump to leave a wingnut Presbyterian church and find something more humane, loving and welcoming, like a mainline Presbyterian church. If your beliefs are Catholic, though, your choice of churches is pretty much, well, Catholic. It’s a hard choice to make. As I said, I pretty much agree with Wayne here, but I imagine that, for many Catholics, leaving the Church is an enormous step, not to be taken lightly, especially when one considers that Catholicism is both a religion and a culture. I grew up in a combination of mainline and more Evangelical Protestant churches and left the church years ago, and neither I nor anyone else I know who’s left the church would refer to myself as a Protestant or a Presbyterian or anything like that. But, to a tee, all the people I know who grew up Catholic, yet haven’t attended mass since the last time their parents forced them, still refer to themselves as Catholics. “Oh, I don’t even believe in God, and I wouldn’t darken the doors of a cathedral if you paid me, but I’m Catholic.”

But sometimes people have to make those hard choices. I agree with the Freedom From Religion foundation which suggests that the Catholic Church isn’t going to change anytime soon, and that those who stay indeed are enabling the horrific work of the Church leaders, both in Rome and in the United States. If you’re ready to take that step, whether leaving the church entirely or finding a new home in a different subsection of Christianity, there are lots of people who have gone before who are willing to help.