Catholic Liberation

Catholic liberation involves over a billion people worldwide. Catholics live in every nation and are members of every class, race, and age group. In the Southern Hemisphere Catholics are increasingly people of the global majority. We are women and men. We have both heterosexual and LBGTFQ identities. Some of us embrace our religion. Others have little or no contact with organized religion. Our liberation movement welcomes anyone connected to the Catholic identity in any way.

We are—without exception—a beautiful, intelligent, powerful people. We can be proud of many aspects of our culture—our caring, compassion, universality, generosity, and service. We have stood for justice and the common good.

We have a complex history that includes being targeted with brutal anti-Catholicism and the internalization of that oppression. Like all liberation movements, we want to re-emerge from all oppression—external, internal, and any form of oppressor material—including sexism /male domination, racism, colonization, attempted genocide, and anti-Jewish oppression.

RC and Catholic liberation

The theory and practice of RC can be fully applied to our liberation movement. We have the means to free ourselves from the effects of oppression as well as from our individual hurts. We can reclaim and use the discharge process and think freshly about all aspects of our lives.

To build safety in RC we will need to remember the variety and complexity of our experiences as Catholics.  Some of us will begin by telling our stories of anti-Catholic oppression. Others will focus first on internalized oppression. Each story will be unique.

Root causes: class society

It is useful to understand our oppression and liberation in the context of class society. Catholic Christianity developed as a challenge to slave society. It was an attempt to liberate all peoples—and early Christians were persecuted for their activities in this regard without the benefit of discharge to recover.

In the Fourth and Eighth Centuries the rulers merged religion with state interests. They were able to install and enforce uniformity, control, obedience, passivity, resignation, silence, and servitude. Dissenters were seen as “heretics” and threatened with damnation, violence, or death if they refused to conform. Religious leaders acting on behalf of rulers “benefited” by using this alliance to acquire land, power, and favors.

Despite these alliances Catholic people struggled to preserve the best of our values. “Saints” and reformers repeatedly challenged the opportunism, greed, and corruption. They established new religious orders and communities. They held on to kindness, generosity, and service—in both rigid and rational human ways. These values persist to this day, alongside oppressive attitudes of superiority and control.

From feudalism to capitalism

Capitalism and Protestantism emerged at the same time, forming a new church and state alliance. Catholics, who had previously been the visible agents of the rulers, were now targeted and attacked. Due to the fears installed and misinformation disseminated by agents of this new alliance, non-Catholics began seeing Catholics as ignorant followers. Monarchs used religion to set nations against each other and create warring divisions. Later, the oppressive forces used science, philosophy, and secular thought to persecute religious followers.

Colonization, racism, and attempted genocide

Recordings of “original sin” (people have a deeply flawed nature requiring salvation managed through the church) were installed on western European Catholics. These recordings, in conjunction with economic deprivation, made our people fear for their survival and resort to greed and opportunism—which then pulled them to colonize enslave, and sometimes eliminate (genocide) the conquered peoples. Eventually these patterns were internalized by all white Catholic peoples regardless of their heritages. To recover, Catholics need to deeply understand our essential human goodness and discharge the patterns of superiority and domination.

Catholics as clients

As Catholics we need to heal from this complex history and reclaim reality. As RCers we are grounded in the knowledge that we, and all people, are inherently good. We know the value of a liberated religion and peoples. We know how to face and heal from the damage done to us by oppression.

We can begin by telling our stories. What did we learn about our human nature? We can discharge on terms such as “good,” “evil,” “innocent,” and “bad” to sort out what we learned in our Catholic families, churches, and schools. We can also discharge on “obedience,” “mistakes,” “rewards,” and “punishment” by saying these words in session and sharing our first thoughts. What behaviors did we internalize as young ones in response to these words?

It is useful to talk in detail about our Catholic families. What ties did our families have to the dominant culture of our nation? Were we immigrants or Indigenous people? Were we ghettoized? What languages did we, our Catholic parents, and our grandparents speak at home? What were our parents’ jobs?

Were you or your family ever ridiculed or excluded economically based on (what was assumed about) your Catholic beliefs? Did your contact with the religion support the flourishing and survival of your family, people, language, values? Or did this contact eradicate or otherwise have a negative effect on your beliefs, culture, language, and people?

What are your memories of prayer, God, angels, devils, and an afterlife? Were these memories comforting? Confusing? Scary? Were any members of your family angry with God, religion, or religious functionaries? Did a belief ever save your life or the life of a loved one? Are you fearful of letting go of a belief? Did you ever witness a belief “destroying” a life? Did you ever witness someone being punished severely for his or her beliefs? What are your feelings toward people whose religious beliefs differ from yours?

Sexism and male domination

Class society and male domination have existed for five thousand years. Most cultures and institutions worldwide have absorbed their messages—Catholicism is no exception. Catholic men and women have struggled to hold on to their full humanity. Nevertheless, male domination has severely impacted us.

How have you experienced male domination/sexism as a Catholic female? Which Catholic women have inspired you? What messages about being female (for example, the examples of Eve, Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe, your mother, your grandmother, other women leaders) have had the most influence on you?

Have you experienced male domination as a Catholic man? What were you told about your maleness as a young Catholic male? What strengths have you held on to as a Catholic male? How has sexism/male domination been harmful to you as a Catholic man?

Catholic liberation and thinking

Human beings are inherently flexible and brilliant. We enjoy thinking. We enjoy connecting with other minds. We want to think about everything affecting humanity and the universe. We are eager to be constantly growing, learning, and expanding what we understand. We were all born with this built in curiosity. We want to question, explore, think big, and take risks as creative thinkers.

Some aspects of our culture have supported this natural inclination. Irish monks played a key role in preserving classical writings of antiquity. Catholics founded universities in Europe during medieval times to encourage learning. Our heritage has taught us to seek truth. We have been led by inspirational minds for many centuries.

Yet wherever Church interests merged with state interests our independent thinking was brutally discouraged and dissenters were targeted with violence. This took the form of inquisitions, witch burnings, condemnation to hell, excommunication, and exclusion. We were terrorized and in the absence of discharge internalized the fear and became afraid to trust our own thinking.

This deliberate suppression of thinking was especially hard on females, poor, working-class, colonized, and those targeted with attempted genocide. We are pulled to be timid, to doubt and hide our minds, to be silent. The discharge process, which would have freed us from these hurts, was suppressed.

However, now we can discharge. We can rid ourselves of the confusions that have caused us to doubt our own minds. We can put the voices of non-dominant groups to the front and center of our liberation movement. (These are true “people’s intellectuals”—their understanding of reality is based on lived experience.) Those of us in dominant (oppressor) Catholic groups can back non-dominant Catholics and discharge arrogance, superiority, “having the one right answer,” “knowing it all,” and “taking over” patterns. 

Questions for sessions: How was your thinking treated when you were young? What are your earliest memories of enjoying thinking? Were you ever invalidated, punished, terrified, or humiliated for your thinking or your questioning? What happened? Have you ever been pulled to dominate or control the thinking of another?

We want each other back

Oppression and internalized oppression have broken our hearts and separated us from each other. We want ourselves and each other back. We can use the theory and practice of RC to fight for each other and ourselves. We can notice where we are able to love and connect with other Catholics. We can notice where we are pulled to avoid, recriminate (hate), and distance ourselves from other Catholics, and do the early work. Three useful directions are: Treat each other well. Move toward each other. Push each other forward. Taking these steps will help us to eliminate our internalized oppression and welcome each other back.

Discharging defeat and discouragement and reclaiming our power

As RCers of Catholic heritage we can discharge all residues of defeat and discouragement. We can restore caring relationships. We can correct ancient mistakes, end oppression, and offer real hope for ending all forms of oppression. We can refuse to allow any religion to be used as a scapegoat or a tool of oppression. We can liberate other people and their religions as we liberate our own.

Joanne Bray

International Liberation Reference Person for Catholics

Greenwich, Connecticut, USA



Catholic Commitment

I pledge to never again demean or apologize for myself, my family, or my church for being Catholic, but to esteem them all as beloveds of God and the universe.

Suggested readings

“Fighting for Ourselves as Catholics,” Present Time, April 2011 (Joanne Bray)

“Reclaiming Complete Pride and Power as US Catholics,” Present Time, January 1988 (Joanne Bray)

“An Invitation to Stand Against Oppressor Distresses,” Present Time, January 2011 (Joanne Bray)

Last modified: 2023-04-15 09:24:12+00