“I’m a Satanist,” 39-year-old writer Jack Matirko said, “but in the long run it doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I’m a former Catholic.”
Matirko, a council member of the Satanic Temple of Arizona, has been thinking a lot about his former faith these days. His essay, “A Personal Reflection on the Pennsylvania Catholic Abuse Scandal,” went viral last week.
Published on Patheos, which claims to be “the world’s largest English-language religion and spirituality site,” the personal essay commented on revelations in the August 14 Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse in that state’s Catholic dioceses
“I was never abused by my local priest growing up,” Matirko wrote of his childhood in small-town Blakeslee, Pennsylvania, “and never knew anyone who was. [But] the man who baptized me, presided over my father’s funeral, and presided over my sister’s wedding was, according to the report, a rapist.”
This fact, Matirko said, got him to thinking about how he was, according to the tenets of the Church, still considered a Catholic, although he’d left the faith in 2009. That’s because reports published in 2006 concerning sexual impropriety in Irish churches led to a mass exodus of Irish Catholics, tossing the Church into a pious panic about its membership numbers.
“In 2009, as the Church schemed to triage their substantial loss of membership in Ireland,” Matirko wrote, “it did away with the Formal Act of Defection.” Matirko is referring to a longstanding rule that allowed Catholics to depart the Church in favor of another faith.
“You sent a letter to the bishop of the diocese that baptized you,” Matirko explained of the rules of defection during a recent telephone call, “asking to be removed from their rolls. But with this new rule, you had to be converting to another religion, or they wouldn’t let you go. If you identify as an atheist, they keep you on their list of souls. You can’t leave for nothing.”
That list of souls was the problem, said Matirko, who lives in Tempe and makes his living blogging about Satanism and hosting a podcast called The Naked Diner. “The Catholic Church says it’s responsible for a billion souls, based on how many people they’ve baptized. They use that number in their marketing, and there’s a whole part of me that says, ‘You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to identify me as a member in your ranks for your marketing purposes.’”
It’s the principle of the thing, Matirko clarified. Of course he’s unhappy about the Catholic Church’s ongoing abuse of children and its cover-up; he's especially bugged that so many people – clergy, laypeople, altar boys, students, their parents – knew about the abuse and did nothing. But he really hates the disingenuousness, and resents that the Catholics are inflating their numbers at his expense. His soul, he explained, is being used as an advertising tool.
And so he wrote his essay, which includes an open letter to the Catholic Church demanding they erase his name from its roster.
“I do this as a member in good standing of the Satanic Temple,” Matirko wrote, “and a practicing Satanist. … I cannot in good conscience continue to allow my name, no matter how nominal, to be counted as one of your professed membership. Non Serviam.”
Because the Church demands a witness to defection, Matirko put the onus on his readership: “As a blogger on the largest interfaith website in the world making this declaration publicly, I assert that my audience be held as witnesses and that shares and comments be recognized as such.”
He wound up with a summation both humorous and slightly chilling: “Take me off your list. Unsubscribe. I demand to not be counted as one of your flock. Hail Satan, Jack Matirko.”
Not believing in God or counting himself a Catholic wasn’t enough, Matirko demurred. Officially and publicly distancing himself from the Catholics was a necessary step. Keeping the Church from his soul was imperative.
“They’re claiming they’re responsible for my soul,” he politely huffed. “It’s not right.”
But neither, people like to tell him, is being a Satanist.
People often confuse Satanism with devil worship, Matirko said. “I usually get told that Satan is telling me God doesn’t exist. I used to be an atheist, and you get a lot of the same stuff in response. The bottom line is that the story of Satan is a way better moral tale than the rest of the Bible. He’s a character who’s part of the social milieu. John Milton and Mark Twain have written books in which Satan is an expression of self-determination.”
With his newest essay, Matirko has closed his own book on the Catholic Church.
“One of the priests at the church I went to, growing up, was convinced I was going into the priesthood,” Matirko said, with the tiniest grin in his voice. “I’m sure he’s terribly disappointed in me today.”