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A Letter to Joanne Bray, RC International Liberation Reference Person for Catholics

Off and on I have been doing a lot of thinking about being Catholic or raised-Catholic. It has become clear to me that my liberation is from the Catholic Church forever. There was such a strong, guilt-laden message from the Catholic Church that if we valued our souls we could never leave-eternal damnation would be guaranteed for us. So leaving was liberating. I think a lot of people have walked away and now never want to look back ever again. This makes it sort of hard to discharge on the ways we were brainwashed as children.

I know there is a big difference between what the church taught in the 1950's and what it taught in the 1960's. My husband, Tom, and I, and a lot of other people, were raised in the fairly conservative atmosphere of the 1950's. It was hell. There was no room to breathe. I bring this up because people like us need a safe place to feel the rage and discharge. In the presence of practicing Catholics, it is not safe. We can smile and pretend all is well, and on some cosmic level all is well, but there is no safety to get messy and address the rage towards that institution called the Catholic Church. We need the safety, and the practicing Catholics do not need to hear our rage, unless they somehow have the safety to discharge their restimulation.

Frankly, I go to Catholic RC workshops because there I can be guaranteed that I'll start feeling that rage. I feel like I am back with the nuns again, and I take that into sessions and discharge my head off. It works for me. But a lot of people find these workshops just shut them down. They get lost. It doesn't work. There is not enough breathing room. The silencing was too horrible. Others, like J-, survived by rebelling. He still rebels every time anyone crosses him. He has a terrible time listening to any leader or going to any RC event he is not leading. It is obviously Catholic distress in my view. He can't see it and won't look at it. It enrages him. The Catholic liberation workshops are not safe places to unload it. (I do, however, plan to try to get him to the next one, if only to support me.)

I respect you immensely for the work you have done, but I have never felt that you have really heard what I have to say. Your statement, "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic," completely invalidates what I have been trying to communicate. To me it's like saying, "Once a Republican, always a Republican." What is that supposed to mean? The only interpretation I can make is that the brainwashing started so early and was so complete that I will never escape from the deep distress that was put on me. I can hear my distress in what I am saying here, but I'm also wondering if your love for the Catholic Church is keeping you from thinking clearly about it. I just don't want to hear the oppressive message that my thinking is not very clear and that when I know better (discharge more), I will somehow come around to your way of thinking.

After the last workshop I wrote the following. It is incomplete and a little blunt, but I thought you might understand the analogy.

Once upon a time there was a man who came to a small village and taught the people love. He showed them a good and powerful way of caring about each other. The leaders of the village were threatened by this because they would no longer have control of their people if this man's ideas were adopted. Love is a powerful force, and if it ruled, they could not. So the man was executed. But the people knew they had been told a truth, and this truth was spread. The village leaders understood that this new way of caring was more powerful than they, and they decided to join it to control it.

The Catholic Church is like a huge living jailhouse. We were born in this jail and lived there in our childhoods, not knowing anything else. There were some very good parts to living in this jail-people took care of each other and we saw that we belonged to something powerful. There were no bars in the jail, but when we were very small we were told that if we left we would face eternal pain and suffering in hell. We were told that those who did not belong were lost and were less than we were. We were special because we proudly stayed in this good jail. As long as we lived in this jail all of our lives, we would be taken care of. We felt special because our jailers continually told us how special and lucky we were to have this jail. We sang, prayed, smelled incense, and had many beautiful rituals.

But the rules in the jail were harsh. We were judged continually. We were made to recite daily that we were unworthy even to be in the jail, that we were at our core bad people. Our jailers had once been in the jail, too. They had followed the rules so well that they were trusted and promoted to be our jailers, one man being promoted all the way to the top. We called him our Pope. We were told that women were second-class citizens and could never, no matter how good we were, have any position of real power. By definition, because of gender, this was not possible. We were told that our bodies were sacred, so sacred that it was further evidence of our badness if our sexuality wasn't denied until we were married, and then expressed only with that one other person for our entire lives.

There were many rigid rules we had to follow to live in this jail, but the biggest rules were about our thinking and our speaking out. We were ordered not to question anything we were told, but to simply have faith that it was right. We were hushed as little children by our well-meaning parents when we questioned or spoke out. We were told and shown over and over that we needed permission to think or act in any way that was not clearly prescribed by the rules. Because we seldom got permission, we learned that to follow and stay silent was best. We were told we were good when we did this, and this was all held in place by fear. Some of us were beaten and tortured as little children in this jail, with the assumption that it was for our own good. Some of us thought we deserved all of the bad things that happened to us in jail because we were that bad. So that now, for some of us, the mere sight of the jail is very painful.

Now, within RC, we are being told of all the goodness and loving that the jail offered. The assumption is that it was a good place and that if we were born in the jail, some part of us will always belong there. I am choosing to discharge all of the hurts, and to also say outright that living outside of that jail is a rational decision. It is not my responsibility to reassure the people who still love living in the jail that there is, or was, anything good about it for me. The goodness I experienced in that jail came from being a good human being, with other good human beings, not from the jail or the jailers. It gets confusing because the jailers preached love and forgiveness, but to do that, they first had to set up judgment and sin to separate us. I will never go back to the jail. And I do not think it makes sense to use RC to praise or defend the Catholic Church.

In Catholic support groups we need to discharge on all parts of being Catholic. This includes how good it was but also how we were hurt, judged, and silenced. It makes no sense to emphasize only the good and minimize or brush over the terrible parts.

There is an assumption in RC that at its core the Catholic Church is good, and that if we were not hurting we would love the Church. I want to propose that at its core the institution of the Catholic Church is distressed. A big part of the internalized oppression is that we are not allowed to think this way. We are not allowed to speak out that the Catholic Church is at its core hurtful to humans. Assuming that the Catholic Church is good may not be clear thinking, but rather part of the Catholic internalized oppression. RC can perpetuate the internalized oppression by taking away the voices of those who think the institution is oppressive by its very nature. I propose we start really listening and respecting wider thinking about the Catholic Church, not just thinking that is from within a Catholic point of view. With this greater range of possibilities for points of view, more ex-Catholics will begin to feel the safety to come to workshops, look at their pasts, discharge the hurts, and get on with more intelligent lives.

Joanne, I just need to speak my truth. Thanks for hearing me out. I look forward to a response from you.

Maggie Washa
Madison, Wisconsin,

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00