This summer I embarked on a 2 week solo roadie around the East Coast of our North Island. In normal times, this would be an absolute indulgence; but this year even more so. I am very aware of how privileged I am to be able to do this. And I’m trying to fill and appreciate every moment
I also decided to take this opportunity to challenge myself writing wise… and so decided to “freelance” my blog…. Am asking for suggestions for blog topics, and then giving myself 36 hours to write and publish the blog.
So here we go….
I was asked to write about my fractured relationship with Catholicism..
In the Visible Church
the true Christians are invisible
I need to state categorically; I have absolutely no problem with people who follow Catholicism or Christians or in fact any people who attend any form of worship, If it works for them, then I will support them 100%…but for me, my relationship with the church started falling apart 40 years ago…
There is a time when you are a teenager when you get your first glimpse of the adult that you will become. More often than not you won’t recognise it as a change of pace, until well after the fact.
When I was a teenager I went to an all-girls Catholic High School. It was a very small (149 students altogether); but pretty special school. There was a Primary Catholic School next door, a Church in front and the brother Boy high school at the other end of the road. The Boy’s High School was way bigger, but it covered our town, and the neighbouring town. There was a 2nd girls’ high school in that other town, and another Catholic Parish. All very neat and tidy; and working well… or so we thought. That all changed in the late 70s/ early 80s.
We had a strong family link to these schools. Having had all of us kids go first to the primary and then on to the High Schools. I was 3rd to go down the path… in my 3rd year; the diocese announced it was looking at merging the 2 girls’ schools. I was distraught. I was 15, my first year of external exams; it would be impossible for me to attend the other girls’ school; and I could see my friends and I dispersing. There were meetings and discussions; but in all honesty I think they were just paying lip service. The decision was probably years in the making. Those consultations were merely to cover themselves.
It would be a turning point for me.. Not just the closing of an institution I loved; but, and here was my first taste of thwarted Feminism in action; I had to sit back and watch some of the most amazing women I knew – the nuns who had taught us with care and passion – just sit back and have to accept the decision by some men. It seemed completely unacceptable to me, that their futures were to be decided and they not only had no say; they were actively silenced on commenting on the closure. I now understand the obedience of the veil; but to take that as far as being allowed no opinion on the decision made no sense to me. It stirred my first real taste of fighting for social justice – ironically, something these very women had taught me.
The school closed; there was no merging. Those who could moved to the new school the following year. Those of us left, were split amongst the State High Schools. Friendships damaged; schooling continuity lost; At 16, it was the very wrong age to be suddenly thrust into a school with a roll of over 1500! where I knew about 10 other girls; and those of us who had moved seemed to have some invisible sign above our heads. Everyone knew we were those “catholic girls”… And the nuns? Those talented educators? Those fabulous women, who had looked after our pastoral needs as well as our educational ones? They weren’t merged; they were sent to work in the community. Decades of education resources lost. I’m sure the community thrived from their work; but it still seems a real waste.
So, there was a fissure in my church relationship. It was a slow separation; it would take another 20 years before I walked away…
I moved around a lot in my 20s. and at every town I would join the local congregation. It was partly because it was familiar, when everything else in my life was in flux; but I have always loved the space in churches. There is a comfort to be found in the memories of 1000s of prayers silently uttered within their walls… I wasn’t a regular church goer; but still considered myself a Catholic..
When we started our family, it took 7 years and endless rounds of fertility treatments. When I was due to do the first round of IVF, I was talking to my local priest. At that stage, the Catholic church was opposed to IVF and other such fertility treatments. Their solution was “Accept your infertility as God’s will and pray for peace”. When I told him, we were undergoing IVF; his suggestion was we should have sex at the same time – and if I got pregnant; to assume God had worked a miracle….. I was left completely speechless, and thought it would’ve been nice if God had got to work sooner…
I was fortunate. Science prevailed and we started our family. I was still hovering around the edges of the church. Fast forward 5 years and my eldest was due to start school. I ironically sent him to the local Catholic Primary. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I knew the school was scholastically strong; and it had a real sense of community. And I reasoned, that while my relationship with Christianity was damaged, if the kids learned about God they could make informed choices later in life. It proved to be a wise choice. It was a lovely school and met the needs of all of my kids in a safe and holistic way. It has given them a very strong sense of right and wrong; and the same sense of community; pay it forward theme that I have… but…. I was never part of the “Mother’s Mafia” as I called them; the inner circle of mothers who were… yup, regular Church goers. It seems compassion and generosity are no longer preached in the scriptures. But, I take my Mum role very seriously… and they could not fault my attendance at school fund raisers; every celebration my kids took part in… oh and I think I parent helped at everything from story writing and getting in the pool with the 5 year olds.. to catering and dancing at the Seniors end of school dance. I spent 14 years at that school; being a model Mum. Just not a Catholic one.. lol
Fast forward to now… the ongoing paedophilia scandal that runs through all levels of the catholic church has cemented the deal for me. I cannot forgive the church for knowing and hiding; for putting so many innocent children in the laps of known paedophiles. And for covering it up. And now, given the chance to atone and make good? More shuffling and mucking around. My family had a brush with a priest who “fell from Grace”. AS an adult looking back, I see a gay man who went to the priesthood because in the 60s and 70s there was nothing else. But I also see him befriending Mum and Dad and charming his way into the family home. Back in the day, the priest was an honoured guest. Best china and best behaviour. He was personable, musically inclined, really not cut out for the rough and tumble rugby orientated school he ended up at… BUT… all those family dinners he attended. All that laughing small talk with Dad after mass? My 21st century brain screams grooming… he was moved on; even when the church knew. And that is the unforgivable sin I cannot get past.
I have issues with most “religions” now. I differentiate them from faith. Faith is a relationship with a higher power. Religion is the man made formalisation of that. And by its very nature open to abuse of power and setting Human rules around the few that each God sets. The God I learned about was all about love, compassion, acceptance… all things I see lacking in today’s Christian interpretation with bigotry and sexism. Going to church every Sunday, does not absolve you of living like a decent human being the other 6 days of the week. And the Cherry picking of bible verses to suit an agenda is pure Human.
The Addiction programmes call on people to use a Higher Power. It, of course, used to be God; but the programmes have evolved to know that this is no longer as relevant as it once was. Some people still call on God; other gods from other religions; still others go the Pagan route and call on Gaea (Mother Earth) or one of her acolytes in any form that seems fit. The role in the 12 Steps for addiction is to cede control, admitting you have no control over your addiction: and thereby moving forward. In MH recovery there is also a space for having a HP; its about trusting the process, and stop fighting yourself… (Easier said than done)
So, in my current phase of healing; I take a softer view of the role Catholicism had in my life. I learned much from those Nuns, and not just my ABCs. I learned compassion; honesty; hard work; life with solitude; acceptance; social justice; public speaking; a sense of community care… Will I ever forgive The Church? Probably not. Especially as they seem unable to sort their dirty laundry out but insist on judging others for theirs. And I find it ironic that 1 part of my HP is Mother Mary. She is the one I’ve always prayed to. Maybe, even then, she knew I would need her as an adult. I feel its very paradoxical that a religion that rates the woman who gave it all up to bear the Son of God – imagine the shame of being pregnant and “having to marry” in those days – and fetes her well; is the same religion that still treats women as 2nd class citizens…. Food for thought…
Iti te matakahi, pangāia
Ki te tōtara pakaru ai
The wedge may be small
But it will split the greatest Tōtara