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The Hindsight of an ex-Catholic

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on November 29th, 2012

When you’re a kid, you never question the whole faith thing – God’s in heaven and He’s…She’s always got her eye on you. I’d give anything to feel that way again.

As child and as a teenager my faith was very strong. After reading about Leah Libresco’s Confirmation, I find myself reflecting on my own and how much I looked forward so it. I would finally be initiated into the Church, and I saw it as an important step towards adulthood. They told me it would mean an indelible mark on my soul. The oil the Bishop would anoint my forehead with would be clear, but it would leave a mark – invisible and indelible, I thought. I was so excited to make a commitment to Christ, to live by the Beatitudes, to engage in the Works of Mercy. It was so beautiful.

I remember my confirmation day in November of 1996. I was one month shy of my fourteenth birthday. I wore a white skirt suit. I remembered the etiquette as I had been taught in my preparation classes, I would hand the priest a card with my confirmation name on it (Margaret, more after my late grandmother than the Saint), he would hand it to the Bishop, the bishop would anoint my forehead with oil and say, “be sealed with the gift of the holy spirit.” Then we would shake hands and both of us would say “Peace Be With You.” My godfather was my sponsor, and as we approached the altar, him walking behind me with a hand on my shoulder, I noticed that none of my classmates were shaking hands with the Bishop. Well, I’m going to! I thought, This only happens once, might as well do it the right way. And so after the Bishop had anointed my head, I reached out to shake hands and said “Peace Be With You.” He smiled and did the same, and then I realized why he hadn’t been doing this for everyone. His hand was dripping with oil. And now mine was too.

I thought it was kind of funny, that my eagerness and joy almost ruined my new suit, and I was all smiles as I headed back to the pew to sit with the rest of my family. The tissues in my mother’s purse and my Dad’s good handkerchief were enough to save me from any lasting grease stains. I felt relieved and blessed.

The happiness of my Confirmation Day stayed with me for years. It was what kept me from leaving the Church for a long time. The indelible mark on my soul. But eventually, I thought, well I guess I’m just taking this mark with me – into Unitarian Universalism and wherever I would go from there.

It’s been eight years since my last confession, or since I have received communion. I signed the book on my Unitarian Universalist congregation in January of 2009. But my faith in the Catholic idea of God has receded into a set of morals grounded in Catholic social teachings, the UU Seven Principles and a vague spiritual longing. I struggle with the term “agnostic,” because I long for spiritual connection, and I still find comfort in prayer, even if I don’t believe that it works the way I was taught it does as a child.

I’ve come to realize that the more time passes, the deeper my anger and outrage at the Catholic Church’s moral failings. I am incredulous as to why people I know and love stay in the Church and speechless to those who decide to join.

Lennon Cihak has courage beyond his years for refusing to back down on his support for gay rights, even in the face of not being allowed confirmation. This is exactly what is supposed to happen – no organization should have to accept members who do not believe in its principles. I’m glad that attention is being drawn to the teachings everyday Catholics are expected to live by. But it’s difficult to watch the rejection of a teenage boy by his own community for standing up for love and equal rights. It’s that disconnect – seeing someone punished for speaking for justice that makes me angry.

Savita Halappanavar’s senseless death is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. She was 31, married, and hoping to have her first child. But she died when doctors refused to remove the fetus she was miscarrying. It’s hard to find words to write about this. I think about my own future, and about my friends who want children, and how this could happen again at any Catholic hospital in the United States. No one should ever forget her, or stop being haunted by what happened, because this should never happen again.

The more distance I put between myself and the church, the more I clearly I can see it. At first, I thought, what happened to the church I loved so much? But in reality, I could not actually see it for what it is. I didn’t know about the depths the church went to cover up child raping priests. I didn’t understand that women die in septic wards all the time in South America because they are denied contraception and abortion because of the Catholic Church’s influence. I had an inkling that masturbation probably wouldn’t send me to Hell, but I gave no thought to how the church’s warped teachings on sexuality would effect a gay or trans* teenager. My excuse is that I was thirteen years old. What’s yours?

6 Responses to “The Hindsight of an ex-Catholic”

  1. Karen Says:

    Identify with you. Have been an excatholic for 30 years. Thanks for writing.

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    Thanks for reading, Karen!

  3. joe Says:

    “The more distance I put between myself and the church, the more I clearly I can see it. At first, I thought, what happened to the church I loved so much? But in reality, I could not actually see it for what it is.”

    I could not have said that better myself! thank you for writing this, unfortunately I know firsthand just how messed up the Church is in regards to pedophile priests. The craziest thing about it, IMO, is that when people say ” I was molested by my dad/uncle/coach”, 100% of people will say, “OMG! that’s so terrible! that person is a scumbag! I’m so sorry that happened to you!”

    When someone says “I was molested by my priest”, only *50%* of people have the above response. the other 50% tend to say crap like “why do you hate God?” and “You just want money”, or “why are you so angry? not all priests are pedophiles”.

    the scumbaggery has so many layers, it’s hard to wade through.

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    I’m sorry that happened to you joe. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  5. Atheist Mommy Says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m trying to come to terms with it all too. I started a blog to help me sort things out, and I hope you don’t mind, but I included a link to this article.

  6. Elizabeth Says:

    Great, thanks!

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