I write as someone who felt called to ordained service for many years, but realized early on that I could never serve in the Roman Catholic Church that I had entered as an adult following a strong religious conversion experience. The fact that I was married with children was not the real issue. An Eastern Rite priest once offered to help me do seminary studies in the Middle East, from which (he said) I could appeal to be incardinated into a Latin Rite diocese in the United States. It sounded a bit too much like carpet-bagging to me, but more than that, I realized that I could never put my hands into those of a Roman Catholic Bishop and swear obedience to a set of teachings (e.g., the prohibition on so-called "artificial" birth control, the denial of Eucharist to divorced and remarried people, the limitation of presbyteral ordination to publically-celibate males, papal infallibility--even tightly interpreted) that I just couldn't accept in good conscience. And I saw what happened to many men who, stretched on the cross between their awareness of the needs of their people and the demands of the hierarchy, often left in despair, or went the way of self-medication, or led dual lives, or succumbed to a kind of institutional cynicism that poisoned or made impossible a loving relationship to the non-ordained members of the Church.
And perhaps even more than that, I tired of the intramural squabbling that took--and takes--up so much ink in the Roman Catholic press. There's just too much need in the world to spend time in fruitless disputation. As a friend who is an evangelical Pastor said to me one dark winter afternoon, "There's a lot of pain out there, Lar. You can feel it when you walk down the street." I felt that God was leading me, through my involvement in jail ministry and hospice work, to be present to that pain in a sacramentally-healing way, and I didn't want to waste any more energy on arguing theological points that for me were settled. So, with deep sadness, I left and sought out a community that honored the historically-Catholic sacramental and spiritual life, but didn't require me to say "yes" to that to which I could only honestly say "no." I found that home and for the past ten years have served as an ordained Chaplain in hospice ministry. I tell people that our little group didn't leave the neighborhood, we just moved next door. In a sense, I left the Holy Father's house as I left my own father's house: with love and respect, but with a resolve to live as an adult Christian taking personal responsibility for my spiritual life.
I write the above as a gentle admonition to Ms. McGowan not to absent herself from the Eucharist, but to find a place where she can receive it without all the inner conflicts that I'm sure afflict her as they used to afflict me. Of course, as a non-cradle Catholic (Lutheran, actually), I don't have the cultural and family ties that so many others do. But for me, Jesus is more than culture and more than "mere human tradition" (cf. Mt. 15:9). Has it been lonely? At times, yes (my former Spiritual Director pretty much disowned me); but fortunately, I have wonderful lay and ordained Roman Catholic friends who remain such but have resolved to live out their lives in an expansive relationship with the Church and to serve as prophets in its midst. Alas, the Spirit seems to have had other ideas for me.
My prayer for Ms. McGowan and others like her is that, whatever they do, they find "the peace that passes all understanding," wherever it may lead them.