I just don’t want to deal with the Catholic Church anymore,” my friend’s husband Jimmy said. “I’m tired of how impossible they are to work with.”

I knew there had to be more to the story, so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing why he felt that way. He explained that he’d volunteered on his parish finance council the year before. 

At council meetings, the priest kept complaining about how few ceremonies took place at their large urban parish. “Only 10 weddings last year! Can you believe that?” he railed. His goal was to schedule many more weddings at the church. 

James sympathized, until a few months later when his own son got engaged and tried to schedule a wedding at the parish. It turned out to be a harrowing endeavor!

First, the parish told the couple that there was absolutely no way to schedule a wedding over a year in advance. Then after they finally managed to get a date on the books, the parish somehow lost their reservation and claimed they had no record of it three months before the ceremony, leaving the couple frantically scrambling.

As I began asking around, I heard more and more stories like this one.

One friend shared that she could not get a response from her local parish about scheduling her baby’s baptism, even after several emails and calls, so she finally scheduled it at a different church. 

Another friend told me that she and her husband had baptized six children at their parish and were very involved and faithful parishioners, but still were made to attend the mandatory baptism class in order to schedule the baptism of their seventh baby. 

Speaking for myself, I’ve seen too many examples of similar bureaucratic incompetence. There was the time I tried to organize a “Catholic date night” at a local parish, including a speaker, dinner, dancing, and childcare provided. I didn’t receive a response from that parish for months, and when they finally got back to me offering to host it … the event had already taken place at another church!

Another time, at a different parish, I approached the pastor about starting a women’s faith formation group. He asked to meet with me and proceeded to grill me about my reasons for starting it, thinking that I must be trying to sell some kind of product to the women of the parish! It seemed unthinkable to him that all I was after was to grow in holiness in community with other women at the church where I attend Sunday Mass.

The practice of “holding baptism hostage” is disturbingly widespread. There are similar horror stories regarding Confirmation and even for weddings. 

One friend had to schedule her wedding at a church she’d never been to before because her local parish demanded an exorbitant fee for weddings and refused to waive it for her, even though she and her family had faithfully attended and volunteered at that church for many years. 

Another friend says that her teen is not confirmed yet because her parish requires so many activities, meetings, classes, retreats and volunteer hours, over a year-long period, that it feels almost impossible to make it happen with their family schedule. While she acknowledges the need for proper preparation, the one-size-fits-all requirements seem overly burdensome and unnecessary.

When Catholics choose excessive bureaucratic procedures over spreading the Gospel, and following the letter of the law over the authentic promptings of the Holy Spirit, it’s hurtful and off-putting to the people in the pews. 

It makes it seem as if Catholics don’t even believe what they claim to profess: If we truly believe in the power of the sacraments, why aren’t we bursting with desire to administer them as quickly as we can to those who desire them?

And frankly, perhaps that’s part of the problem, too. Perhaps people have forgotten these teachings and lost sight of the wonder of God’s grace in the sacraments.

Full story at Aleteia.