When I was little we said prayers every night on our knees circled in front of my mother with my father looking on with approval. When I made my first Holy Communion I wore a hand crocheted dress my grandma had made for me. I can still remember my pride and joy at receiving my first rosary and missal. While growing up we went to mass every Sunday, confession every Saturday night and during Lent we went to the Stations of The Cross on Fridays. Easter and Christmas were always first about our Lord and not about our gifts. I loved being a Catholic, prayed my rosary daily and happily chatted away with God and His Blessed Mother. When I was thirteen I told my father I wanted to go to the convent and become a nun. His response was a sharply defined NO. I was heartbroken. What was I going to do with my life? All I ever wanted was to be a nun. I wanted to be closer to my Blessed Mother and spend my life helping others. A few months after that, my father entered my bedroom in the middle of the night where I kept my rosary under my pillow and raped me. Little did I know that it was to lead to a life of trauma, unhealthy choices, failed suicide attempts, marriage to three abusers, time spent in Psychiatric Wards and a Women’s Shelter and the loss of my closeness to God and his Blessed Mother.
The light side of Catholicism is wonderful. Who can turn their backs on the candles, the incense, the choir singing songs to our Lord, the miracles that happen in his name, the power of the rosary and a bonding with those on the other side of life? I lost my way for more than two decades. I was too ashamed to talk to God. My promiscuity, my attempted suicides, my drunk driving charge, my anger defined the pain I was in. At one time while I was kneeling in a church sobbing for God, so filled with grief and anguish that I had no other way to turn, the priest who had heard my sobs asked if I needed help. He convinced me to have a face to face confession. I confessed all of my sins, feeling wretched and desolate at so many and so horrid that I didn’t think God would forgive me. But He did when the priest absolved me from my sins. After I said my penance I realized the priest was waiting at the end of my pew and everyone else had left. I thought he wanted to close up for the night so hurried to where he was. In the next few minutes while I cringed in horror he grabbed my hand and said I needed him to go home and spend the night with me. The more he asserted what he wanted the more terrified I became. He wouldn’t let go of my hands as I struggled to get to the door. At the last minute I shoved him and ran out the door racing to my car. That was my last confession. It took me more than 25 years to report him. Afterwards I felt so far away from my God and his Blessed Mother that it was as if they didn’t exit.
Today I have re-entered Catholicism with my own brand of beliefs. I talk to God and his Mother on a regular basis. I no longer go to confession. I confess any wrongdoings directly to God. That is a mortal sin in the Catholic Church. You have to go at least once a year to a priest for Confession. So is missing mass which I periodically do, mainly when I travel. With the sexual abuse that is rapid among priests I feel a deep sadness that this should be. After reading the history of the popes I see that there are times when the popes didn’t practice celibacy. They made Cardinals out of their children; they sold indulgences and offices in the holy church to the highest bidders. They used the church to validate wars, misguided crusades to the Holy Land where as an army they killed and maimed in the name of the Lord. There is the horror of the inquisition and the many murders by Bloody Mary of England all in an attempt to punish those who refused to become Catholic. The absolution given to those who continued afterwards with their sins, especially by sexual abusers makes me ill. Think of my father. Did he confess to Father Sudbeck that he was raping his daughter? Did Father Sudbeck absolve him from his sins only to hear the same confession every week? Why is it not against the law for a priest to find out about a rape, a murder or an intended murder and not have to report it to the police?
The Catholic Church is structured as a patriarchal system and so are Catholic families. The father is the head of the house and is all wise and all knowing. Therefore he must be obeyed in all things. My mother’s motto about my father was, “Even when he is wrong he is right.” That motto cost her her life when she was 47 and dying of cancer. My father convinced her that all doctors are quacks thereby depriving her of any medical help. I remember when growing up that we were not allowed opinions of our own and were to obey in all things no matter how small. This patriarchal system caused me to run away from home when I was 18 after a beating that almost killed me. My crime? I had told my parents that if they didn’t stop being so controlling that I was going to lose all of my love and respect for them. I was not allowed to go to college, my parents chose my job and I turned my paycheck over to them, I couldn’t wear makeup, I was only allowed to listen to music they chose (no rock and roll) and could only read books of which they approved. I wasn’t allowed to have any friends, get a driver’s license or talk to anyone on the phone without their approval. On weekends my mom farmed me out to neighbors to clean their houses while she kept any wages. I can’t imagine what’s in that list that is unfair. But I speak with cynicism. I can look back on those years now and am grateful I had the courage to run away.
There is much good in the Catholic Church but they are not the only game in town so to speak. People should be free to choose their own religion and all of those religions are deserving of our respect. All of them teach the Golden Rule, have a Higher Power and believe in life after death. Most are not patriarchal. According to my brother, a die hard Catholic, only Catholics go to heaven. If you die without becoming a Catholic you go straight to hell which he claims is in the middle of the earth. In his belief system a bad Catholic has a better chance of being united with God than a good Protestant.
There is something wrong with a religion that teaches so much judgment and condemnation. And yet it is the only organized religion I can ever be a part of. The church used to say, Give me a child until he is seven and he will be Catholic forever. I guess that means me. But thank God I have combined reason with emotion and emerged with my own brand of Catholicism. I guess that means I’m destined to go to the center of the earth after I drop my body. My father who no doubt made a last confession before he died will be in heaven. What is wrong with this picture?