Eight Ugly Sins the Catholic Bishops Hope Lay Members and Others Won’t Notice

Nun in  doghouse on car or popemobileDid the Catholic Bishops wince last week when their leader, anti-contraception Cardinal Timothy Dolan, was exposed for paying pedophiles to disappear? One can only hope. After all, these are men who claim to speak for God. They have direct access to the White House, where they regularly weigh in on issues ranging from military policy to bioethics, and they expect us all to listen – not because of relevant expertise or elected standing or even money, but because of their moral authority.

Ahem.

If pedophile payouts weren’t enough to convince you that this “moral” authority is anything but moral, take a look at some of their other sins against compassion and basic decency.

Punishing doctors and nuns for saving lives. In 2009, a 27-year-old mom, pregnant with her fifth child, was rushed to a Phoenix hospital, St. Josephs, where her doctors said she would almost certainly die unless her pregnancy was aborted immediately. The nun in charge approved the emergency procedure, and the woman survived. The local bishop promptly excommunicated her.  ‘There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can’t do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means.” said Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix. How far are the Church authorities willing to take this “moral” logic? In Brazil last year, with Vatican backing, the Church excommunicated a mother and doctor for saving the life of a nine-year-old rape victim who was pregnant with twins. (At four months pregnant, the girl weighed eighty pounds.) Cardinal Giovanni Batista Re, who heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, said “life must always be protected.” Perhaps Mr. Batista Re can explain to the Vatican’s 1500-year tradition of “just war.”

Protecting sex-offenders (even non-Catholics) against child victims. As we have seen, the moral priorities of the bishops are laid naked when they decide who to excommunicate and who not. The doctor and mother of the pregnant 9-year- old got the boot for approving an abortion but not the stepfather who had sexually assaulted the child, probably over a period of years.  A similar contrast can be seen between the case of the Phoenix nun and hundreds of pedophile priests who were allowed to remain Catholic even after they finally were identified and removed from the Church payrolls. It gets worse. In New York, a bill that would give child molestation victims more time to file charges has been blocked seven times by the Catholic hierarchy lead by none other than Cardinal Dolan. Why? “We feel this is terribly unjust, we feel it is singles out the church, and it would be devastating for the life of the church.”  In other words, regardless of whether the abuse really happened or what the consequences were for victims, what matters is how much additional lawsuits might cost the Church. Isn’t that the ends justifying the means?

Using churches to organize gay haters. When the Washington State legislature approved marriage equality this spring, fundamentalist Christians across the state organized to reverse the legislation. Even though three quarters of American Catholics think that gay marriage should be legal, Archbishop Peter Sartain jumped to the front of the pack, decreeing that Western Washington parishes under his –moral authority–should gather signatures for an anti-equality initiative. To their credit, a number of priests refused, and a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality is raising money for ads.  In contrast to the Catholic League, which has made the degrading argument that sex between priests and adolescent boys is consensual homosexuality, lay Catholics appear to know the difference.

Lying about contraceptives to poor Africans. Of the mortal sins committed by the men of the cloth, the most devastatingly lethal in the last 30 years has been the Catholic hierarchy’s outspoken opposition to condom use in Africa.  In 2003, the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family publically lied about the efficacy of condoms in preventing both pregnancy and HIV: “The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed by the condom.” The archbishop of Nairobi told people that condoms were spreading HIV. Some priests told parishioners that condoms were impregnated with the virus.

The motivation for such flagrant falsehoods? The Church has practiced competitive pro-natalism for centuries, but lately anti-contraceptive edicts have been ignored by most educated European and American Catholics, and Italy has the second lowest birthrate in the Western World, at 1.3 per woman.  The bishops see this as a “catastrophe” and are looking to Africa as “a reservoir of life for the Church.” They wrap their opposition to contraception in lofty moral language such as that offered by Pope John Paul II: It seems profoundly damaging to the dignity of the human being, and for this reason morally illicit, to support a prevention of AIDS that is based on a recourse to means and remedies that violate an authentically human sense of sexuality. As late as 2009 John Paul’s successor, Benedict, continued to tell poor African Catholics that condoms were “wrong” and even to suggest that they were making the epidemic worse. With god-knows –how-many lives lost and children orphaned, it he finally softened his stance in 2010.

Obstructing patient access to accurate information and services in secular hospitals. In rural Arizona near the Mexican border, women delivering babies by cesarean section were refused tubal ligations because their independent hospital was negotiating a merger with a health care network run by Catholics. Worse, when a woman arrived at the same hospital in the middle of a miscarriage and need a surgical abortion to complete the process, she was forced to travel by ambulance to Tucson, eighty miles away, risking that she would hemorrhage on the way.  All over the U.S. secular and Catholic-run health systems are merging, and patients are quietly losing the right to make medical decisions based on the best scientific information available and the dictates of their own conscience.

Even when the Catholic-owned hospital is a small part of the merger, administrators insist that Catholic directives apply to the system as a whole. These directives P prohibit not only abortions but also contraceptives, vasectomies and tubal ligations, some kinds of fertility treatment, and compliance with patient directives at the end of life. Ectopic pregnancies cannot be handled in keeping with the medical standard of care. As biotechnologies and treatments relevant to the beginning and end of life advance, we can expect the list to grow longer. Patients cannot trust that they will be told that other options are available elsewhere.

One of the bitter ironies here is that even wholly “Catholic” hospitals and charities are staffed primarily by non-Catholics and largely provide services to people of other faiths or of none, paid for with tax dollars.  In health care much of the money flows from Medicare and Medicaid. In 2010, non-medical affiliates of Catholic Charities received 62 percent of annual revenue from the taxpayers – nearly 2.9 billion dollars. Only three percent came from church donations, with the remainder coming from investments, program fees, community donations and in-kind contributions. And yet all of those dollars get directed according to the dictates of bishop conscience rather than individual conscience.

Slapping down uppity nuns. Catholic charities and hospitals are at some competitive advantage in part because of hard working nuns, many of whom have skills and responsibilities that exceed their compensation. The bishops are the Catholic Church’s 1%; the nuns are managers and service workers –and many have taken the kind of poverty vows that America’s 1% is trying to impose on the rest. Because the nuns live in the real world, where suffering and morality are complex, they often make care-based decisions and take nuanced positions on moral questions that the Council of Bishops resolves by appealing to dogma and authority.

In April, the Vatican decided to remind the nuns who’s on top. Rome issued an 8-page assessment accusing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious of disagreeing with the bishops and of “radical feminism.” It appears that their labors on behalf of poor, vulnerable people had distracted them from a more Christian priority: controlling other people’s sex lives—oh, and standing up against the ordination of women. The Archbishop assigned by the Vatican to reign in unruly American nuns is –none other than Peter Sartain of Seattle, the same moral authority who has declared a holy crusade against gay marriage.

Bullying girl scouts. Unlike the Boy Scouts, who recently earned media and public attention by booting out a gay den-mother, the Girl Scouts have been stubbornly inclusive and focused on preparing girls for leadership. For example, last year a Colorado troop included a trans-gender seven year old. That’s a problem for the Bishops, and since up to a quarter of American Girl Scouts are Catholic kids with troops housed in churches, they see it as their problem. To make matters worse, the American Girl Scouts refuse to leave their international umbrella, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which has stated that young women “need an environment where they can freely and openly discuss issues of sex and sexuality.” The World Association would appear to believe the data that girls who can’t manage their sexuality and fertility are more likely to end up in poverty than leadership positions.

Then again, maybe that’s what the church hierarchy is after. According to an article last month at the Huffington Post, “The new inquiry will be conducted by the bishops‘ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. It will look into the Scouts’ “possible problematic relationships with other organizations” and various “problematic” program materials, according to a letter sent by the committee chairman, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne, Ind., to his fellow bishops.” (Italics mine.) We’re talking about an organization run by women for girls faced by an all male inquisition. In today’s Catholic church, leadership still requires a y chromosome.

Purging interfaith bridge builders. Lest some reader assert that the sins of the Bishops all are a consequence of sexual repression – some contorted pursuit of sexual purity that degrades both sex and compassion—it is important to note that the current cohort of Church authorities are as obsessed with doctrinal purity as sexual purity. It would take me many paragraphs to describe their tireless pursuit of purity as well as retired Anglican bishop, John Shelby Spong, does in one:

Hans Kung, probably the best read theologian of the 20th century, was removed from his position as a Catholic theologian at Tubingen because his mind could not be twisted into the medieval concepts required by his church. This action was carried out by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who at that time under Pope John Paul II held the office that in another time gave us the Inquisition. Matthew Fox, one of the most popular retreat and meditation leaders and an environmental activist, was then silenced by the same Cardinal Ratzinger. Professor Charles Curran, one of America’s best known ethicists, was removed from his tenured professorship at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., also by the same Cardinal Ratzinger. Father Leonardo Boff, the best known Latin American liberation theologian, was forced to renounce his ordination in order to continue his work for justice among the poor of Latin America by the same Cardinal Ratzinger. Next we learn that the Vatican, now headed by Cardinal Ratzinger under his new name Pope Benedict XVI, has ordered the removal of a book from all Catholic schools and universities written by a popular female theologian at Fordham University, Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson. Now the nuns are to be investigated. Conformity trumps truth in every direction.

The Catholic tradition defines deadly or “cardinal” sins are those from which all other sins derive. In addition to lust, gluttony, wrath, sloth and envy, the traditional seven include pride and greed, which, to my mind, drive much of the appalling behavior in this list. If an attempt to assert autocratic control over the spiritual and physical lives of lay people isn’t pride, I don’t know what pride is. And if a willingness to silence child victims to protect church assets isn’t greed, I don’t know what greed is.  The BBC’s revelation last month of money laundering in the Vatican Bank pales by comparison. To me, ultimately, the sins of the Catholic bishops are “deadly sins” because they kill people, whether pregnant mothers or depressed gay teens or African families, or simply desperate people who are forced into greater desperation by “moral” priorities that distract from real questions of wellbeing and harm.

What the Bishops will have to account for when they meet their maker, none of us can say. For some American Catholics, the process of holding them to account has already started. The Women Religious have pushed back against the condescending “assessment” issued by the Vatican. Small groups of lay Catholics have rallied to their support. Picketers meet monthly outside Sartain’s cathedral to protest his stance against equality. The Franciscan brothers issued a statement of solidarity with the nuns, many of whom have remained solidly focused on economic justice instead of sexual transgressions.

Given the arrogant cruelty of Church leaders, criticism to date has been remarkably tempered. As the Bishops flash their moral authority in the White House and media and pulpit, clothed in pure white robes and draped in crimson, they should be glad they aren’t eyeball to eyeball with Jesus himself. As the writer of Matthew tells it, he called out the corrupt religious leaders of his day in no uncertain terms: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.

________

Related:
The Difference Between a Dying Fetus and a Dying Woman
Catholic Hierarchy Lobbies to Suppress Religious Freedom
Self-Flagellation and the Kiss of Jesus–Mother Teresa’s Attraction to Pain The Freedom to Die in Peace
Anti-Contraception Cardinal Paid Pedophiles to Disappear

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.  She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
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46 Responses to Eight Ugly Sins the Catholic Bishops Hope Lay Members and Others Won’t Notice

  1. Phil Little says:

    you can add the sins of the Vatican Bank – financing wars, tax shelters for the rich, money laundering etc., this list could go on forever – shared you on facebook

    Like

  2. Natalie says:

    A wonderful piece. Thank you for your writing and for pointing all of this out!

    Like

  3. The Truth Seeker says:

    As the corruption of the Catholic Church becomes known it will gradually lead to a diminiution of the church and priests, nuns, and laity will abandon the church. This church has been so corrupt for so long it seems nothing can extricate it from its corrupt ways.

    Like

  4. kenyatta2009 says:

    Pretty disgusting efforts by the old boys club to cover up its crimes, any of them are unforgivable but the total costs all but a tiny fraction of the respect I had for Catholicism.

    Like

  5. jsegor23 says:

    Excellent essay. If you read Spanish Google my wife, Argelia Tejada Segor, and go to her blog. She is a sociologist and statistician from the Dominican Republic and a former nun of the Adrian Dominican Order. She was one of the leaders that changed that Order after Vatican 2. More recently she has been educating Dominicans about the things you write about and about other acts of the church particular to the DR. Horrible all. She also writes about living in a dictatorship and the struggle against the dictator Trujillo. On one occasion his agents nearly succeeded in burning her family’s house down while they slept. Trujillo was closely allied with the church. My wife also organized peasants and later evaluated health, education and other programs for international organizations. She read and much admires your book.

    Like

  6. jsegor23 says:

    Better yet, Google Argelia Tejada Yanguela.

    Like

  7. ijswamy says:

    Clergy mostly consists of deviants in every religion .

    Like

  8. Mriana says:

    Catholicism, among other religious sects, are, IMO, nothing more than mind slavery.

    Like

  9. Kathryn Lyons-Keyt says:

    Yes, the Catholic Church has its share of pedophiles, deviants, and downright criminals. At the same time, the church has a tradition of spirituality and prayer, service to poor people and others in need, music and arts patronage, and other valuable activities. I believe the education and spiritual formation of men becoming priests (and perhaps women becoming nuns and sisters) has been seriously lacking in candidates’ integration of their sexuality into their lives. Since celibacy is currently one of the requirements for men and women in vowed religious and ordained life, they absolutely need sexuality integration and teaching and formation in how to do this effectively. As well as assessing candidates for psycho-spiritual-sexual maturity so that people with warped and/or immature attitudes are not admitted to religious life. A lot of the priests and religious who’ve caused such possibly irreparable damage entered religious life at a time when no pre-candidacy assessment was ever done. If someone believed they had a vocation, they could generally enter an order or seminary with very little pre-screening. The church, as well, has survived for two millenia with cycles of corruption and reform. There have always been holy people who have balanced out the corrupt and venal people. When God is involved, you never know how things will turn out! Don’t get me wrong: God doesn’t prevent people from being people; God may intervene in those indefinable ways that surprise everyone. So, don’t give up on the church yet, either in practice and/or in theory. (I was Catholic well into my adult life. I became an Episcopalian partially because of some wounding experiences I had in the church. Overall, I still have a great love for the organization AND sorrow and some anger about its sometimes overwhelming foul-ups and stupidities and cupidities.)

    Like

    • Inasmuch as you still love the institution, I think the Catholic church has outlived its use and certainly has not lived up to its intended purpose since gaining temporal power over the laity. Unlike you, I have no love for this institution despite having lived in it for most of my life. I do, however, respect individual priests and religious who, despite having differences with, I see as having more worth than Ratzinger.

      Like

  10. Beaner says:

    I don’t care what neat little categories people like to identify with, if in a situation where the child is dead, or where continued pregnancy would cause the mother, and therefore child, to die, you would stand on the side that “Oh well, sometimes the mother just dies”, you are not pro-life. That is antithetical to the very meaning of the word. A pro-life person seeks to reduce the frivolous termination of life. One death is a quantifiable portion less than two deaths. We can speculate as to why the Catholic Church takes this stance (hatred of female sexuality, patriarchal power, anti-medicine, etc) but it is NOT pro-life.

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    • J. Francis Jones says:

      The Catholic Church DOES NOT take this stance. Read Wikipedia. The Church makes “a distinction between “direct abortions” that is, abortion which is either an end or a means, and “indirect abortions”, where the loss of the fetus is then considered to be a “secondary effect.”

      For example, if a woman is suffering an ectopic pregnancy (a fetus is developing in her fallopian tube, not the womb), a doctor may remove the fallopian tube as therapeutic treatment to prevent the woman’s death. The fetus will not survive long after this, but the intention of the procedure and its action is to preserve the woman’s life. It is not a direct abortion.”

      So the Church COULD NOT have ex-communicated a nun for saving a woman’s life by allowing an indirect abortion. I think the story may be a hoax.

      Like

      • Thank you for pointing out the mindbending games that so many Catholic “ethicists” play. In this case, they are arguing that a procedure that leaves the woman with subsequent fertility problems is preferable to one that does not even though the end result in both cases is to save the life of the mother by destroying a nonviable fetus. As long as you remove the fallopian tube along with the fetus, then somehow it is morally acceptable; else it is not. The Bishops are struggling to maintain their moral authority in the face of obvious cruelty and harm from their priorities around the beginnings and end of life. Unfortunately, some Catholic “ethicists” take the matter even farther, as did the one who excommunicated this nun. I wish the story were a hoax.

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  11. Eric Zuesse says:

    Super, as always, Valerie. But I didn’t like the ending “quoting” the hoax-mongered version of “Jesus” from the New Testament, saying “Woe to you, teachers of the law,” which statement Jesus, being a strict Jew (and even acknowledged as being a “rabbi” in Matthew 26:25&49; Mark 9:5, 11:21, 14:45; and John 1:38&49, 3:2, 4:31, 6:25, 9:2, 11:8, and 20:16) would never have said nor believed, much less taught as a “rabbi.” (No rabbi would have taught disrespect for the Jewish covenant, the Law.) That line from “Jesus” is purely fictitious, as I argue in my CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

    I think that you should instead have left the essay as a report on the hypocrisy of the clergy, without granting credibility to the Scripture of Christianity or any other religion. Then it would have been a perfect commentary upon an important topic.

    Like

  12. Ferdi Businger says:

    Great article Valerie. The real eyeopener is why anyone still subscribes to this nonsense and empowers the Cardinals and Bishops with their faith and money.

    Like

  13. vignetti says:

    Thank you for documenting these nasty secrets. It helps to grasp the monstrosity, no matter how scary its flailing tail. A person can’t stand up to a thing until they have some idea of its form.
    I’m a (constantly) recovering Catholic who still can’t help but root for the nuns of that corrupt, finally-crumbling institution. I was nurtured, I am thankful.
    Today, as we humans do the two-step of Transition across all dance-floors, I read the church’s attacks against clear humanism as some sort of acknowledgment, or a “D’oh!” of recognition by the psychopaths-in-slipping-power, of the courageous beings who actually labor to mend the connection between body and soul — something most institutions profess to provide, but come to find out, not so much. It’s as if the Vati-Queen finally sees the row of pawns approaching her King, who is, on this dance floor, feeble and cornered in the back row.
    Moreover, because of these media-frenzied shark attacks (and the open-source library that is the internet, and your excellent blog), how many, many more many people know of the hard work of fine, moral beings — especially when positioned against such ridiculous, self-introduced opposition! By it’s own deformed hand, the institution does us all the favor of damning itself.
    This collapse in the Vatican is a wonderful example of how lower vibrations, which had been manifest in the rules which had made our reality, won’t help but now twist in upon themselves, revealing to all who care to look, their overt, absolute dis-function.
    Thank the Gods, the Universe, and our own conscious, manifesting love, we stand at the end of the Dark Ages!

    Like

  14. Hello, You have a lot of hate in your heart XD.
    I’m catholic, and I love my religion.
    Thanks for atacks us, because you make me want being better. You are working for us.

    Like

    • mriana says:

      You love the misogyny of the Catholic Church? That is, you love the fact that the Vatican, the controlling head of the religion, not a deity, demands women be baby factories, denying them the right to use birth control, the right to choose their own career (including the priesthood), and general degrading of women, as well as LBGTs? The liberal branch of the Episcopal/Anglican Church does better in these areas and they do not, as a rule, deny women the right to be a human being with the right to control their own bodies and career. They also do not deny LBGTs of becoming ordained clergy (see Bishop Gene Robinson) or getting married. I ought to know because I am an apostate of the Episcopal Church, not because of what they do overall, but because I cannot believe in a human created deity. I also cannot believe in other religious human concepts found in other churches, such as the Catholic Church.

      It is not God, pick any god you want, who makes these rules about women, LGBTs, etc but human beings, such as the Vatican. If you want to do better as a Catholic, then tell the Pope to go suck an egg and start ordaining women and gays as clergy, start allowing women to use birth control (which many do already and don’t tell anyone in the Church) etc etc.

      That is not hatred for the Catholic Church, but hatred for the human created rules they themselves create. No deity, not even the one found in the Bile, created many of the rules the Catholic Church attempts to impose on people.

      Like

    • mriana says:

      I also forgot the other points Valerie brought up and that is the nuns in the Episcopal Church (yes they have them, but are rarely heard about) are not denied the right to save lives, which goes back to women and abortion. No one in the Catholic-like Episcopal Church tells a woman that she cannot have a life-saving abortion. In fact, most are pro-Choice, which is, IMO, pro-life. Pro-Life (capitalized) is pro-death, IMO and doesn’t save anyone’s lives, not even that precious fetus you all think you are trying to save.

      I can go down the rest of the list and compare the two churches, who are alike in worship services and alike, but totally different in how they treat people. The conservative traditional branch of the Anglican Church is much like the Catholic Church in the list of things Valerie mentions, but not the liberal branch. I would far rather work beside a liberal Episcopalian concerning these issues, than fight against a Catholic or a conservative traditional Anglican concerning these issues, because the truth is, liberal Xians are humanistic, while conservative Xians are not, but it has nothing to do with following God’s will or not. It does have everything to do with being humanistic or not.

      Like

    • If you believe that exposing the sins of the church constitutes an attack on you then that is your prerogative. If this belief leads you to change and attempt to be a better person then you are responding better than your church. I would caution you though not to confuse being “better” with being more “righteous” because that would not make you a better man but a Pharisee.

      Like

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  17. mcjilton says:

    Great article. Wonder what the J-man would make of the fishing club he started.

    Like

  18. sigermeister says:

    Great article! I should just become a priest if I wanted to be rich and not go into business! Haha! Just kidding.

    By the way, you should read on what the Catholic Bishops are doing here in the Philippines. They wish to abolish a law that would give the poor access to contraceptives because they want more Filipinos to work overseas or become baby-makers for countries with low birth rates. They even insist that the law legalizes abortion even though there’s nothing about it that states abortion being legal. Really disgusting.

    Like

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  20. jsegor23 says:

    Latin America is the most Catholic area in the world and suffers great harm from the actions of the Church which routinely allies itself with dictators, corrupt politicians and the rich and powerful. These alliances are memorialized by concordats with the Vatican that impose great burdens, doctrinal and financial, on Latin American nations. My wife, Argelia Tejada Yanguela, a PhD. sociologist and statistician, is one of the foremost public intellectuals of the Dominican Republic. She has written a great deal about the Churche’s alliance with reactionary forces throughout the DR’s history, especially the era of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, and is currently organizing a group that will advocate for the abrogation of the concordat and the establishment of a secular state. The Church has not only managed to get enacted its vile program regarding women’s reproductive rights, but also extracts enormous sums of money from the Dominican government to pay salaries and to maintain churches. This is money that the DR cannot afford and which is sorely needed to support public education, medical care and other public needs. The DR is at the bottom of world metrics for education and other important measurements and at the top for corruption and similar negative measurements. The Church also requires that priests teach religion and morals in the public schools and bars modern sex education. For those who read Spanish Argelia’s blog is at:

    http://argeliatejada.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2010-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-08%3A00&updated-max=2011-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-08%3A00&max-results=3

    There is a translation facility at the top of the blog, but the quality is problematic.

    Like

  21. Telzey Amberdon says:

    I grew up in the Roman Catholic church, and I thought I’d share with you why I’m not a member of it today as an adult. When I was a child in the 1960s, I attended a pretty Brooklyn little church called Sacred Heart, with my grade school situated right next door, over near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I was taught by nuns, several of whom I idolized. I was so honored in the fourth grade when I was chosen to wear a teeny-tiny nun habit for charity week, where a group of tiny faux nuns & priests went from class to class and asked for money from our fellow students for whatever Catholic charity they were pushing that week. When the school’s principal, a very elderly nun named Sr. Mary Edwina, came by with a paper bag and a pair of shears, and told us she would cut off our tongues if we talked in class, our young nun-teacher looked scandalized but did not stop her… but then Sr. Mary Edwina disappeared the next day, sent off to the old nun’s home. A potent message to us that nobody had to talk about for me and my fellow students to understand.

    The 60s were a time of change for the church, the old teachings clashing with the new. We got the first “guitar mass” just for us kids; we were told that no-meat Fridays weren’t necessary anymore, that it had initially been instituted as a money-making nod to the fish industry at some point in history (yes, one of our nun-teachers told us that!) I was really buying into the religion at that point, a lot of appealing, laity-friendly things were happening. Then I found out that I had made a mistake: I had seen a list of popes in the second or third grade and assumed that the “Celestine” popes were all women–my name is “Celeste”, and I was under the impression that my name was strictly a girl’s name, and had no idea that it was one of those old-time masculine names that men abandoned in droves once women took it up. I’d been really proud that there had been popes with my name, but another kid in class, a boy, told me that I was stupid: there was no way a woman could tell any man what to do in the church! He said all of the smart, friendly teaching nuns I idolized were firmly under the thumb of the new monsignor, who’d been brought in when Sr. Mary Edwina had been shipped out. Concurrently, my mother, the daughter of Italian immigrants, had told me that the patron saints of towns in Italy where all ex-Roman gods & goddesses that had been co-opted by the church in order to get the people in all those little towns to abandon the religion we now refer to as “mythological” and go Roman Catholic… I occurred to me that one day, the religion I was being taught would be called mythological by some other, future religion. Not really a “eureka” moment, more of a “huh” moment.

    So: they never really got their hooks into me, despite very early indoctrination. I’m an ex-Roman Catholic due to things I learned in the fourth grade! The great thing about realizing I’d been manipulated by wrong-headed grown-ups when I was very young is that I’m not one of those poor tortured ex-Catholics who really agonize over this stuff; I just think the religion, like every single other religion I’ve ever heard of, is kind of hilarious (and ultimately quite awful in practice.)

    Thanks so much for writing these essays, people need to read, learn and think more. Thinking, using logic instead of falling back on childhood indoctrination, is the key!

    Like

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