Their Bad Mother

Their Bad Mother

Dear God (On The Catholic Church And Abuse And Evil And Crises Of Faith)

This weekend, I read an article in New York Times Magazine about the crisis surrounding the Catholic Church in Ireland as new, horrible, stories emerge about sexual abuse of children and efforts by the Church to cover up those stories. It was a teensy bit upsetting. So I started to write a post about it – in the middle of the night, fueled by outrage and tea – and realized, a few paragraphs in, that I’d already written that post. Like, last year, the last time that I was outraged about the Catholic Church. So I’m reposting it here, with the proviso that it should be read as articulating an outrage that increased by a factor of 10.


When I was twelve years old, I was confirmed in the Catholic faith.
The priest who  administered the rite of confirmation was a man that I –
in the manner of all judgmental twelve year olds who recoil at elders
who seem weird and smell bad – did not like, although I did not, at the
time, dislike him quite so much as I did the nun who led the weekly
catechism classes for young members of the Church. Sister Anne was
elderly, and terrifying; she wore her black habit like a suit of armor
and carried with her a old wooden ruler, the kind with blade-like metal
embedded along the outer edge, and she would menace us with it,
sometimes cracking it down upon the side of a desk when some unfortunate
child failed to list the Seven Sacraments on command. Sister Anne, my
classmates and I decided, was not on the Right Side Of God.


Nobody that frightening could be good, we told each other as we
congregated outside during a class break. God wouldn’t stand for it.
“She’ll be punished some day,” someone said. “She’ll go to hell.” That
thought was somewhat reassuring.

One of the boys disagreed. “God doesn’t seem to care all that much if
the priests are scary, so why not the sisters? And the sisters don’t
even do anything, not like the priests. He lets them” – he
practically spat the word – “be the bosses of the church.” A few of the
other boys nodded, and there was much shuffling of feet. Somebody
murmured something about creepy being worse than mean,
and a couple of the boys moved away from the group. “God doesn’t really
care about what those guys do. He just cares that we know the
sacraments,” he added. “It sucks.” I had no idea what he was talking
about, but I knew that I really didn’t like the way church felt
at this parish – a parish that my family had only recently joined,
after relocating – at this parish, with this priest and this nun and
these scared children, and it seemed to me that if anyone was to blame,
it was probably God, who was in charge of the whole business, as I
understood it.


Years later, my mother asked me, in a telephone conversation, if I
remembered Immaculate Conception, the church where I’d been confirmed,
and the priest who’d administered those rites. “I remember the sister
who taught my catechism more than him,” I said. “She was evil.”

“Well, not as evil as him, apparently. He’s been accused of abusing
some of the boys. You know”  – her voice dropped to a whisper –

And I thought: well. That explains a lot.

I was in my early twenties by then, and it had been a couple of years
since I’d been to Mass. Religion was the opiate of the masses, Marx had
taught me, and my mother had gone ahead and confirmed what he and
Machiavelli and Nietzsche and the kids in the parish of Immaculate
Conception – and, we would someday learn, parishes everywhere – already
knew: that religion sometimes gives very bad people an opportunity to
very bad things, and to get away with it. So I abandoned religion,
mostly entirely.


By my early thirties, I was trying to get it back. Or, rather, I was trying to figure out whether I should
get it back. I had loved God, and the Catholic Church, for a long time,
before the unpleasantness of Immaculate Conception, and, later, my
parents’ separation and divorce and mutual crisis of faith (another
story entirely, although not one, perhaps, that is mine to tell). I
missed them, sometimes. And I worried, sometimes, about how I would
navigate the waters of faith once I had my own children; how I would
raise them to have faith, if I wasn’t – if we weren’t – at home in the
Church. Because I knew that I wanted them to have faith.
I just wasn’t sure how, and on what terms. I struggled to figure out
how to renegotiate my relationship to God and to faith. And even though I
told myself that I wanted to explore faith in all of its forms and consider all options, I have, deep down, always assumed that if I returned to church it would be to return to the Church, the Catholic Church.


I had sort of thought – this year after my father’s death, this year during which we need so much prayer for my nephew – that I might, this year, return for Easter. But then the Catholic Church went ahead and screwed it up and put me off religion, again.

Allegations of abuse within the Church are not new, of course. But
it’s not the allegations – the fact – that abuse occurred (horrifying as
that is) that are destroying the remnants of my faith in the Church:
it’s the Church’s refusal to take responsibility for it.
It’s the Church’s refusal to admit that mistakes were made, that it
failed to protect children. It’s the Church’s inability to be humble, to
acknowledge that the failure to protect children was a human failure,
one made within the Church, by the Church, and that it let God down.
That it let us down – that it let the children down – is
obvious. That it claims now to have God on its side, that it claims to
be on the side of what is good and right, and that it insists that all
those who express horror at what it allowed to happen are agents of
persecution who are needling them – and by extension, God – with their
evil accusations and petty gossip is a travesty of such magnitude that I
have trouble, in some moments, even believing that it’s happening. It
reads like the plot of a bad conspiracy-themed action novel, wherein
robed men give booming speeches about Protecting God’s Church At All
Costs while minor henchmen destroy documents and arrange for naysayers
to be ‘disappeared.’  Somewhere, Dan Brown is taking notes, furiously.


This is all so appalling, so terrible, because the Church’s refusal to take responsibility
for the horrors committed on its watch and its refusal to take
responsibility for not addressing and eliminating those horrors when it
could makes it seem as though, in the words of my young fellow
catechumen, “God doesn’t really care about what those guys do.” When the
Church insists that the reputation of the Church is more important than
the well-being of innocents, when the Church puts the Church first and
insists that this is what God wants it to do, God is on its side, if you criticize it you criticize God and also Jesus and all the saints and probably your grandmother, too,
well, it sets itself up as the earthly representative of a God that no
good person should want to follow. And in so doing, it destroys faith.
Or, at least, it shakes it really violently.


The more reasonable explanation, of course (assuming, that is, that
you believe in God), is that the Church is not representing God. Or that
the men who are running the Church, and the men responsible for not
purging the Church of the sickness within it, are neither representing
God nor the Church as it was meant to be, whatever that ‘meant to be’
was supposed to be, or whatever. But for Catholics, no such distinction
can be easily made. The men of the Church are the Church; the
Pope is its head and the direct line to God. And so if we accept, as the
Church claims, that God is on their side, then we are left, again, with
the lament of my young peer, a young man, a child, who was almost certainly abused: “God doesn’t really care about what those guys do.”


I refuse to believe that. I believe, instead, that the Church has
failed, or, rather, that those who defend the institution of the Church
over and against its most vulnerable members have failed. I believe that
this failure stands as evidence that this Church, which is to say these men, cannot speak for God. That no
man – or woman – can speak for God. And that the only possible
demonstration of faith in the face of everything that has happened is, I
think, to turn away, to refuse to listen, to deny their authority to
speak, to disavow belief in their claims about God, their God, and to
believe in another God entirely. One that makes sense. One that does care about ‘what those guys do.’


Who or what that God is, I don’t know. And I don’t expect that that
God can make any of this better, or make any of this make sense, or do
anything to make the ugliness in the world – including the ugliness
being propagated by the Church, who would deny the depth and breadth of
that ugliness as it pertains to them – anything less than what it is.
But I need to believe in a better God, and in a better kind of faith,
whatever that means.

Postscript: I mean no offense to Catholics who are comfortable
remaining in the Church. I understand how it is possible to distinguish
between the Church – which, as one commenter has noted, might better be
identified with the people of Catholic faith, rather than with the
Vatican or with the men who claim to speak for God – and its
representatives in the Vatican and elsewhere. I’m struggling with that,
because I know that the Church is full of good, good people. I just know
that, so long as ‘the Church’ – which is to say, again, its
representatives – disclaim the proven horrors as their responsibility,
and disdain the seriousness of what happened, I cannot imagine
supporting it/them in any way.

Originally posted at Her Bad Mother, 2010.

Comments read comments(6)
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posted February 16, 2011 at 4:14 pm

What an excellent article.I couldn’t agree more.As a Catholic it makes me ill when I hear about the “Church” is handling and has been handling these crimes.I’ve been arguing online with athiests since before Christmas about why science and religion can co-exist.But when this subject is brought up,frankly,I’m stumped.I get the “why does God allow this to happen” and “why are the criminals hidden and protected by the Church”? I don’t have an answer for either question.However my faith in God is as strong as ever.It’s my faith in the Church that gets a little shaky sometimes.I still celebrate the honor and traditions of the Catholic Church and love it dearly.Not so much the hierarchy at times.

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posted February 22, 2011 at 4:26 pm

KIMD….Just a point to ponder in answer to your “Why does God let this happen?” When God created us, He gave us the gift of free will. God does not interfere with our free will. It was and is the free will of those priests, as well as in all of our society -the free will of each man and each woman – to molest, maim, murder, rob….etc, etc….. I am more than certain God doesn’t want anyone hurt in any way….and the beauty of His grace and mercy is that if any person allows Him, He can bring beautiful blessings even out of the darkest and deepest hurts and circumstances. So its not that God lets this happen, its that men, and women, have free will and it is their free will and their choices that do this. God, in His infinite mercy and grace, can bring healing and peace, if allowed. God is God and we will never have complete understanding, especially at times of tragedy…because we also know that if the Red Sea could be parted, then God’s hand could reach down and avert any and all bad and disasters….but that’s not how or why He created us….and unfortunately what was meant to be a beautiful gift, the gift of free will, has since the beginning of time when Eve chose to eat that fruit and when Adam chose to eat it as well, it has been the downfall of man and continues to be. Those on a path seeking to do God’s will and not self will are few in comparison with world wide those who are seeking their self will – and horribly those doing self will and trying to pass it off as God’s will —
I personally believe the priests should be held accountable. There is no greater destruction of a child’s life than being done that way. 75% of all addictions are a result of childhood innocense taken and abuse. Some people never recover. Some people commit suicide. No matter what…their lives are forever changed from what their life would have been had their innocence never been invaded… their lives one way or another are taken….by someone they trusted, by someone supposedly sacred…and for the Church to offer refuge and do such things as just transferring them to another part of the country….to me that is the Church condoning it…and perhaps placing itself higher than God…for God’s laws are absolute in matters like this, states several places in the Bible that the penalty for acts such as this is death….at any rate, these men should not be allowed any more children for as long as they are being protected by the Church!

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god is love - that is not love

posted February 27, 2011 at 12:46 pm

God is love. What you describe is not love and is not God it is evil. Most real christians know that catholics are not christians. They are catholics. There is a difference.
Love God with all your heart and love one another – Jesus had these two commands. Pretty simple.
I encourage you to read the book in the bible – 1 John. It talks about “God is love” and “God is light”. It seems to me that if Catholics actually read and meditated on the bible that they may have revelation through the spirit.
God Bless
Chanel your anger to doing good – because there is no law against that!

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Sad Catholic Dad

posted March 5, 2011 at 8:39 am

My heart goes out to you on this.
Frankly the abuse is bad. But pedophiles have been attacking children from time immemorial. It is the response of the Church to abuse is what is profoundly evil. It is the Church that in effect has become the enabling institution to enable, nurture, sustain, and protect pedophiles and sexual violence.
It is the Church that manipulates families of victims into ‘handling this quietly’.
It is the Church that offers free counseling and support….until the child becomes an adult and the statute of limitations runs out.
I never thought as a Catholic, Knight of Columbus and as Christian that the biggest test of my faith would be from the leadership of the Church itself.
But then I re-read these verses:
“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.”
And then I realized that this warning is not simply about Pharisees.
It is a warning to all religious leaders.
If there was a denomination that practiced Catholic liturgy and held to Catholic theology, I would so leave the Roman Catholic Church.
It is led by people who are living out Jesus’ warning.

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Agence de traduction anglais français

posted March 6, 2011 at 4:38 am

That said, I’ve often been wondering: when does localization cross the line of censorship? Should gamers accept this?

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