Hello... I'm a Protestant from New Mexico.
Sorry this is long and unfocused, but my mind is in such conflict about all areas of Catholicism.
For the past few years I've been more and more intrigued by the Catholic Church. I like the intellectual edge it has, and its claim to be the original that Jesus founded. But the more I look into it and ask around, the more I get confused. And because of this confusion, it just makes it impossible to pull the trigger and convert. Here's some reasons why:
The Vatican says we should vote against gay marriage and abortion rights. The Vatican says one cannot be pro-choice and Catholic. But I can always find another liberal parish that disagrees.
Why should the Church continue to hold such positions, then? Even when so many Catholics disagree with the Vatican? Even when social conservatism is dead now with the reelection of Obama, and gay marriage winning by popular vote in three US states? Isn't the Church least effective when it meddles with politics the most? Doesn't the fact that Jesus said "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword," while also being called Prince of Peace, mean that Jesus never came for social and political peace, that he was never a political reformer?
Since so many Catholics disagree with the Vatican, doesn't that make the Church less effective? Shouldn't the Catholic Church just tolerate political dissent like the Protestant churches, and not advocate any political position in particular? Why are abortion, gay marriage, cloning, euthanasia, and (I forgot the other) such immutable issues for Catholics? Yes I've heard natural law and moral issues. But aren't civil rights important?
But then again, if the Catholic church were to liberalize politically or tolerate political dissent, what would it then offer that I can't find in a Protestant church?? Protestant churches are okay with political diversity because they know it's secondary to the main mission of preaching the Gospel. Politics doesn't save us after all, right?
For every worship-related reason why the Catholic Church is so great I can always find a reason to counter that. For example, some love the liturgy, but others cannot get anything out of the old liturgical style of worship, because it's just empty rituals to them. And why should communion be reserved to only Catholics, isn't that offensive? And if confession is so important why do most people not do it, and live a life of "Catholic guilt"?
In general, why are Catholic churches so dead and boring? Isn't the faith "more alive" in a Protestant church? I appreciate that Protestant churches have more entertaining music, are more welcoming, will say hi to you if you're new, and will ask you to fill out a welcome card so they can get back to you! Even if it's annoying and in your face, it at least shows they care! Where are the people that care in a Catholic church, besides the nuns (many which give me platitudes of advice when I talk to them)? I just get the sense that the Catholic faith is so personal, but why can't Catholics get involved with the lives of others, form small groups, and talk about faith with each other? I get the sense that there's a disconnect between priests and nuns and laypeople, because they live a life of cloistered study. Where are the laypeople that care and I can talk about faith with?
In general I just don't see Catholics practicing their faith, the way Protestants do. The Catholic Church does have the edge intellectually, but why doesn't that translate into a growing, vibrant church? All I see is a moribund, boring church with inconsistency in the beliefs among members. In fact, Catholics who convert to Protestantism complain that the Catholic Church is just a bunch of rote rituals with no meaning. Maybe they need to stop sticking to tradition just to stick to it, adopt more contemporary worship, be more welcoming, and not be so politically involved, so they can convert the younger generation??
Sorry this is long and unfocused, but my mind is in such conflict about all areas of Catholicism. The Catholic Church has such potential, but right now Protestant churches have the edge in how "alive" their faith is. I just don't see Catholics stepping up. Why don't the bishops just excommunicate people left and right anymore? I do need to figure out where my faith is gonna turn next, so I appreciate your help.