This is not easy to read and was hard to write…Like operating on ones self without anesthetic.But I do believe, truth ,no matter how bitter, should be told and it has taken me a long time…a lifetime to tell this story.And I do so because the evils of this church must be STOPPED.
The Catholic Cage
This is a work of truth but names have been changed to protect the wicked.
I tell this story because people want to talk or activate for the silent abused. That’s because it is so difficult for us- those who have been abused -to lay the pain, brutality, rage and hurt out there for all to see against the agenda of Catholic secrecy and indoctrination.
Since starting to write this piece, various friends and acquaintances have inquired
“So what article are you writing now?” When I told them, I was astounded at how Catholic sexual abuse had touched so many of their lives. I didn’t hunt these people out. There has been a sociological shift where people are finally feeling that they can come out of the ‘cloister’ because they realize finally they are not alone.
I truly believe this is a psychological and spiritual pandemic which needs to be ‘witnessed’ and pounded at by the media in order to force the church to become accountable in a real manner.
We are part of the breathtakingly large ‘silent majority’ who desperately need to at least have our hurt to recognized.
In my case my perpetrator would be long since dead. But this may resonate with others he abused and help them to process their pain
Ada is middle aged, transgender, highly intelligent and possesses a piercing academic mind. However, when a teenager she left her drug addicted family and ended up in Kings Cross. There she became a sex worker and her usual ‘beat’ used to be under what was then the Koala Motor Inn. One of her clients was a Catholic priest from Paddington who admitted to her that to satisfy himself he would masturbate up to 10 times a day. In the warped perspective of many clergy who are abusers they justify sexual encounters with boys and transgender people who still have some male apparatus as not being against their vow of celibacy. ‘Celibacy’ in their mind is only referenced by marriage with a woman.
Steven was abused by a Brother at Marist Brother’s Parramatta-opposite my school. The Brother is now in jail but Steven has been condemned to a life of self destruction and addiction. The profound and clear Swiss psychologist- Alice Miller- points out ”Every kind of addiction is way of escaping from the memories of one’s own painful life history”.
Dorothy told of two close friends of hers who were unknown to each other and both confided that they had suffered sexual abuse. She introduced them and ‘lo and behold’, it turned out that it was the same priest who had molested them. His other trick was in the privacy of the confessional where he would egg them on to tell him any evil thoughts or fantasies they had. These would be regarded as mortal sins and if you didn’t confess them there would be no absolution which would mean one would go to hell. Terrorized by the threat of eternal damnation they confessed every pubescent thought, dream or fantasy. As adults they now recognize that he was huffing and wanking along in his cubicle. And their lives have been terribly wounded by the experiences. Some absolution!
A gay friend from a ‘Catholics from Central Casting’ type patriarchal family was abused by a male family member and his local priest.
Danielle is now in her sixties and was the only child of an elite academic family. She suffered the same sort of abuse and it essentially destroyed her chance for a fulfilling life. She speaks many languages fluently, has a university degree but her sense of self and confidence were so brutalized that she sort of withdrew from the world and her potential evaporated- A terrible waste.
And so the litany of abuse goes on.
Where does it end and when does it end?!
One thing I know for sure is-it will never end unless we keep trying to find the courage to speak about it. It will never end unless the media keeps reporting this pandemic and it will never end if the Catholic Church is left to investigate and deal with this problem in its own way. Like many times before, it will be swept under their glorious renaissance carpets into a massive hole called hell for those of us who have had to struggle so hard to be ‘whole’ people in the face of the outrages inflicted upon us when we were at our most vulnerable.
It is a fetid day in a dull Australian country town blistered by a baking claret sun. The sinking afternoon hovers with peach heat and the exhausted moan of hot insects. So I hide inside the relative cool of an old miner’s cottage recently tarted up with fashionable ‘Australiana’ colours- gum greys, sandy ochres and cumquat orange. My body cools and I turn on the television news. But then my dark heart starts to sweat and is bar-be-que pricked by a piece of news which boils over inside the core of my being and rips open old but unhealed wounds. I see a man shaking and seething with the repressed rage of 40 years ,finally standing up and pointing out “:You all knew what was going on but you sacrificed us to uphold the reputation of the Church. The Pope should apologize!”
46 priests have been named in cases of sexual abuse and pedophilia. That will just be the tip of an iceberg the size of Antarctica.
The story comes out of the cool, misty emerald of Ireland. An island staunchly catholic and the land of my forefathers. A catholic hymn hovers around my mind.
“Faith of our father’s holy faith- we will be true to thee ‘till death.”
But the’ faith’ has not been true to its congregation and a quintessential truth about the Catholic Church has been vomited up since the 1980’s -that there has been litanies of abuse-sexual, emotional and violent which have been inflicted by catholic clergy and catholic institutions. The church created a culture of deceit which seeps through it to this very day and the church is profoundly adept at blaming its victims and will sacrifice any innocent soul to maintain its reputation .As far as I’m concerned, in the Catholic dictionary the word transparency means smoke and mirrors.
The can of worms which was opened in Ireland has spread across Europe and involves the Pope’s family and the Pope himself.
Chris McGillion , a journalism lecturer and religious affairs columnist writes that previously in Canada,” after the national showing of a drama ‘The Boys of St Vincent’ concerning the abuse of children in the care of the Christian Brothers; a lot of publicity was generated.” And the more publicity, the greater the number of allegations being raised against priests and brothers. Some people, especially church officials explained away this snowballing effect as opportunism in the light of possible compensation payouts or as simply a case of dumping on the Church for want of anyone else to blame for personal traumas and predicaments.”
As if money can repair the past and give you back 40 years of your life.
“Others , especially those representing victims’ rights groups, explained the rush of allegations as a chain reaction in which victims were realizing for the first time that they were not alone in their pain or personally responsible for their misplaced sense of shame.”
I know that for most of my life, I thought I was the only one and that somehow it was my fault because I didn’t fit the Catholic’ mold’. That somehow I was ‘bad’ and all the rest were ‘good Catholics’.
The plight of the abused has been exacerbated by the determined efforts at secrecy by the Church. Before Ratzinger became Pope Benedict; “as head of the Vatican body investigating abuse by priests, he argued that accused clergymen should not be handed over to secular authorities. Rather he wrote confidentially to bishops around the world in 2001, they should be investigated under utmost secrecy within the Church-thereby avoiding public hysteria and second guessing by the media”. Well that hasn’t worked very well for him has it? And when Ratzinger was Archbishop of Munich, he sent a priest who had been molesting boys for pedophile ‘therapy’. All fixed! The priest returned to duties and continued to molest kids for the next few years. He was convicted of sexual abuse in 1986-yet STILL he continued to work as a priest. And it was only in March 2010-after being exposed by the ‘second guessing’media that the church finally suspended the priest. So what happened to all those who were abused? What therapy did Ratzinger approve for them? Or was it like Cardinal Sean Brady in Ireland who asked two young victims to sign an oath of silence which in turn allowed the priest in question to molest children for another 20 years until he was arrested and sent to prison. Benedict’s brother-Georg Ratzinger led the famous Regensburg choir for 30years and many of the former choir boys have said they endured ‘brutal beatings and sexual abuse’. Georg said he knew nothing about sexual abuse (sounds like Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes’) but ‘regretted slapping members of the choir’. A ‘slap’ is a lot softer than the “widespread system of sadistic punishments and sexual lust at the school and in the choir” which a former singer and boarder of the school alleges. Thirty years! And Georg Ratzinger knew nothing?
Dr Paul Collins ,an historian, writer and ex priest who resigned from the clergy after a Vatican ‘inquisition’ into his writing believes that the Church and media are at logger heads and “both parties harbour ill-informed stereotypes of each other……The media and journalists, when they do think about the Church- which is not very often-are more or less convinced that Catholicism is a secretive, centrally-controlled , hierarchical organization that is not responsible to anyone except the Pope and hierarchy. The bishops’ own behaviour in the sexual abuse crises (George Pell in Australia) encouraged this attitude, and there is a feeling abroad that at its worst the Church has sheltered pedophiles and sees itself above the law.”
Unfortunately that ’stereotype’ has been proven true by the actions of the Church itself. What if the media had not reported all these cases of abuse? Does anybody really believe that the Church would have opened up its can of worms of its own accord?
And this is what those of us who have been abused have been up against-why it has been almost impossible for us to speak out against the machinations of the mighty Catholic Church.
It has been said the heart of this problem is the fact that catholic clergy have to take a vow of celibacy. The suggestion being that somehow lack of fucking makes people into abusive monsters. This of course is bullshit. Ita Buttrose, Helen Reddy, The Dalai Lama and thousands of people around the world have made a decision to be celibate or life just ‘went that way’ and they are not abusing anyone. Abuse is not about celibacy or sex. It’s about power. Behind the smoke and mirrors is the paraphernalia of enculturation, indoctrination and patriarchal power mongering wrapped up as religion-A catechism of fear and religious one upmanship designed above all to keep the faithful under control using blind trust. At the core of catholic control is the concept of infallibility -“The pope is preserved from error, when he teaches definitely that a doctrine concerning faith or morals is to be believed by the whole church”- and a spite towards the feminine which keeps women’ in their place’ Nuns-the virginal brides of Christ or lay catholic women destined to become wives who will be the vehicles of reproduction to keep the population of Catholics growing-Faithful fodder. Women and girls are to emulate the Immaculate Conception- Mary -the virgin Mother of God. “Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with you”- but not in you because that would be dirty. It’s a great mind tool in making women feel guilty about their body and any sort of desire. It probably goes back to the Garden of Eden where it was made Eve’s fault that Adam ate the apple. What-he couldn’t say ‘NO’? And had he said.’ NO’ Eve would have probably taken it as ‘No’ actually means ‘NO’!
Chris McGillion mentions a report presented to Australian bishops by Australian Catholic organizations concerning why sexual abuse occurs in the Church. It “found that clerical sexual abuse was a ‘direct consequence’ of the failure of the Catholic Church to treat men and women equally in the Church. A clear and resounding message received in the course of this research study centred on those elements of the ‘culture of the Catholic Church’ which contribute to a lack of respect for women, and subsequently their subservient role in the life of the Church….a direct consequence of this cultural attitude is the ready victimization of women through sexual offence. As long as the culture of the Church does not put men and women on a basis of true equality, then women and children will remain vulnerable to abuse.” I would add women and children are then made to feel guilty for the abuses done to them.
Guilt is a centre piece of the Catholic mass.
“Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa “(my fault, my fault, all my own fault) But that is only there for the ‘ laity’ not the elite of the church. The greatest miracle ever performed will be if Pope Benedict and the Vatican hierarchy ever admit to anything being ‘their ‘fault’ and to apologize in a heartfelt and sincere manner – not just Vatican Inc ‘spin-doctoring.’ And remember that to apologize and admit that they got something wrong calls into question the infallibility of the Pope and the ‘Dictatus Papae’- “ The Roman Church has never erred….(and) never will err to all eternity according to the testimony of holy scriptures”
If enough of us speak up it’s possible that the old smoke and mirrors trick may have lost its ‘magic’ and the church could create some authentic and real humanity.
But speaking up is difficult because we have majored in guilt and discipline. ‘Don’t tell, don’t tell, don’t tell. Otherwise you’ll be a ‘Judas Catholic’. And we were drilled in a catechism of questions and answers supplied by the church so you didn’t have to worry your pretty little head about ‘thinking’ for yourself or questioning anything the church dictated. My favourite question and answer in the Catechism was the most simple.
“How do you know there is a God”?
“Because he told you so”
Phew!! Glad that is sorted out! I don’t have to spend any time on existential angst now.
So don’t think, don’t think, don’t think is another Catholic mantra.
“Give me a child until he is five and then he is mine for life” .So say the intelligentsia of the Catholic church-the almighty Jesuits. It takes 12 years to become a Jesuit and the head of the Jesuits is often referred to as the ‘Black Pope’ because of his power in directing whom ever the current pope may be. Well he is looking darker now after revelations in Time magazine that there had been at least 50 alleged cases of sexual abuse at the elite Jesuit high school “ in Berlin and I’m afraid Pope Benedict is not looking so angelic fluffy white at present. Its white smoke that heralds the election of a new pope but now the smoke is getting greyer and darker and the mirrors tarnished.
‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church’. So said Mr. J. Christ. But somehow that rock crumbled and was replaced by concrete minds- all mixed up but permanently set. And until some crowbars are taken to that concrete then the church will remain a pyramid of hierarchy rather than an abode of love. Ironical; since the word Catholic actually means all embracing, of wide sympathies, broad minded, tolerant and universal.
I got some pamphlets recently from the Catholic Truth Society which show a rather naïve but clever psychological manipulation in their pamphlet ‘Why Not Women Priests’. The justification for why women can NEVER be priests is because “the original apostles were all men, and so have been their successors. In other words if we ask why only men can be catholic priests, we are asking why Christ himself chose to restrict the apostolic ministry to males. As the Pope puts it, quoting Paul VI again ‘Christ established things this way.’ In all humility, the church does not believe SHE can change a tradition SHE received from her founder.” The obvious point in referring to the church as a ‘she’ is that a woman can feel that there is some identity for her in the church even though she will always be a second class citizen in the Church and can never be admitted to the ministry like those pesky Anglicans and other Protestants have allowed women to do. The same pamphlet points out that “In choosing men as his apostles, he (JC) was acting according to this divine plan-not according to human limitations.” Perhaps the present Pope and male hierarchy should meditate on the fact that every one of them and the apostles arrived on the planet through a woman. If Jesus was a virgin birth-which I find ‘virgin’ on the ridiculous- it means that even God couldn’t make it on to earth except through the grace of a woman’s womb. And of course there wouldn’t have been a’ Last Supper’ if food wasn’t on the table. I wonder who cooked the meal? Who followed Jesus to and stayed at the Cross when the apostles and male followers had run away? Who were there to attend to his body in the tomb on the third day? And as Muriel Porter points out “ it was Mary Magdalene who was sent by Jesus to proclaim to his male followers that he was risen from the dead, so making her the ‘apostle of the apostles’……The Church’s traditional anti-women, anti-sex ,anti-marriage (clergy celibacy) theology did not arise from the teachings or example of Jesus.”
I despise Clerical Catholicism but not the people captured within the belief system. There are wonderful people who happen to be Catholic and do great things-just as there are tolerant and loving Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Athethists, Pagans etc whose lives speak of the difference between organized religion and true spirituality.
But this is my little crowbar into catholic concrete. My story of shattered and ruined lives which has left me as one of the walking wounded in life. This is my rosary of resentment born from what had to be hidden-my secret liturgy. It is the story of how the church abandons us when we need its protection most. This is what abuse really does to you. This is the stuff of truth. And the “truth will set you free.” Let’s see? But remember truth can be bitter.
Of Violence and Religious Terrorism
I’m descended from Irish Catholic political convicts who arrived in Australia in 1797.And the family has kept to the letter of the faith since then.
In the late 1950’s when I was about three and a half or four, my father was given a posting to Hong Kong as an assistant Australian Trade Commissioner.
First I went to Mrs. Owley’s kindergarten at the Peak which was the only kindy at that time .It was non denominational but all the kids were white. These were still very British colonial days. The following year I started school. My parents wouldn’t send me to the diplomat’s international school-‘King George the Fifth’ because- horror of horrors-it was protestant. So I was sent to the ‘Mary Knoll Catholic Sister’s School’ in Happy Valley. I’m very grateful for that but it back fired on my parents because although the school was run by American Catholic nuns and they taught in English, very few of the kids were Christian, let alone Catholic. The Chinese sent their kids there for the sake of an elite English education and religion had nothing to do with it. When I first went to school I was the only white kid in the whole school and didn’t realize it. Little kids don’t see the differences until adults teach them .So my friends were Confucians, Hindus, Taoists, Muslims -all flavours of Asian Christians and Buddhists. And my closest friend was Vijay who also went to the school and lived next door to me in Jardine’s Lookout. He was the grandson of the Indian High Commissioner. Vijay and I became inseparable and we made a cubby house down the back with curtains made out of worn out saris his grandma gave us and we made a shrine of deities-a chipped porcelain Chinese Goddess-Kwan Yin, a scapula of Mary-mother of God sent to me by my aunty, a tacky plaster of Paris statue of the Indian Goddess -Durga, riding a tiger, a scary crucifix
Suddenly-at the end of my fathers posting-
I was back in Australia and at a Catholic school in Dundas, in Sydney. I was made a point of derision. I didn’t have the same accent as the other kids, having spent the last few years as an Australian in an English crown colony which was Chinese, attending an American school and living next door to a large Indian family.
My first friend was a girl called Nancy whose family were newly arrived Italian migrants, running a local milk bar and living above the shop. I felt like an immigrant refugee in my own country and was so tormented that I developed a stutter. In fact Nancy adapted better than I did. But I was coping it from all sides. In retrospect I realize I knew very little about my parents .In Hong Kong I had an’ ah mah’ (nanny). My mother’s life was very much ‘ladies who lunch’ which was expected of diplomats wives at that time. My father was at work in the daytime and evenings were often ‘consular cocktail party’ busy.
Back in Australia we had to re-create our family relationships. It was a disaster.
At school I was taught things that secretly horrified me about purgatory, limbo, heaven and hell. The gist of it was that if you were not a Catholic, you wouldn’t go to Heaven and that my friends in Hong Kong who were not even Christian wouldn’t be going anywhere. As though they were some sort of soul less non beings.
We were a shiny Catholic Family who went to Mass every Sunday. Life became a loud lie. Existence was tarnished and burnt beyond recognition.
My mother had a simplistic obedient cult mentality when it came to Catholicism. She didn’t really want to have children but after she had been married for 3 years the Redemptorist priests came to the local church on a 2 week ‘mission’. Essentially she was told her ‘mission’ was to start producing. So in a way I’m the child of the Redemptorists. But it was clear to me from the start that I was not a
“Child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here”
Firstly I wasn’t a boy. I was supposed to Christopher and my parents hadn’t even thought of any girl names. After a few weeks they finally called me Bernadette after a saint who saw visions of Mary, Mother of God in a rubbish tip. Ironical -as to this day-I’ve always found the divine in the dirt and impoverished- never in the ‘high and mighty’ and certainly not in the vacuous beauty which Vatican Inc tries to promote as its brand.
I was supposed to have my father’s black wavy hair and my mother’s family’s noted beautiful, blue eyes and generous mouth. But there was me-coarse thick brown hair, green eyes and small mouth.
My mother had a fierce temper and my first memory is of being hit by her. I hardly remember my father before we went to Hong Kong because he worked in the daytime and went to Sydney University at night.
Back in Australia she became increasingly violent and it was put down to drinking but if she’d been a happy drunk it wouldn’t have been an issue. The violence was the issue. And it was all hidden and not to be spoken about-Secretly off to Catholic doctors where she was given a smorgasbord of drugs-valium, serapax, choral hydrate, mandrax, rohypnol-you name it we had it- so the situation of course became worse. Violence escalated and we are not talking about an occasional slap. In my memory the days I wasn’t hit or tormented are the ones which stand out as unusual. My father got a second job teaching at tafe in the night time. Her addictions and private Catholic doctors were proving expensive. Plus she blamed her own sad and tortured existence-on the fact of having married and had a child. Essentially if my father and I didn’t exist then her life would be fine. So he thought if he wasn’t around so much then she would be better. Not true- then she just had me to take her rage and anger out on. In all those years of violence where weekends were my father’s turn -not once did either of us ever hit her back. Not having the ‘right of reply’ has affected me deeply. Most people who are hit will either cower or fight back. I become almost cold and don’t feel it and will simply stand there until I’m beaten unconscious.
When I started high school at Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta- my unfashionable body meant I was a point of derision once again at a new school. I had a pen friend in Scotland who didn’t know what I looked like but she liked me and I was desperate to keep somebody who seemed to be ‘on my side’. Obviously I felt terribly unloved, a lonely freak who felt guilty for destroying her mother’s life by existing. I shoplifted a boomerang from a shop in Parramatta to send to my pen friend but was not even good at that. I was caught, but as it was the long Christmas holiday the school was not informed until school started again. Then I had to tell my parents. I deceided to suicide and stole a lot of my mothers pills but didn’t have the courage to go through with it or perhaps I had a sub conscious will to live. I was 12. When I did tell them in near hysteria, my mother’s immediate reaction was not only violent but she screamed over and over again that she would have preferred to know I was dead and ripped up all letters from my pen friend whom I was never to contact again. My father sat in impotent silence.
And so the years went on. Nuns at my school knew I was being abused so I didn’t get expelled and they just swept it under the carpet. Eventually on days when I was bruised or too traumatized to play class clown. I would truant. Other girls would also truant to go to the movies or a boyfriend’s place-all the usual teenage stuff. I would go to libraries, revel in the peace, knowing that no one could get to me there because they didn’t know where I was. To this day I still have feelings of safety when I am in a library.
There is a great difference between wishing to be dead as in suicide and believing you deserve to be dead to solve some else’s problems; Thinking your destiny is to be dead because if you didn’t exist their lives would be healed.
For a religion that condemns abortion and contraception-What was taken away from me was the ‘right to life’.
One terrible night-in her rage it was not just me she was getting at. She picked up our little terrier dog whom I loved and she loved -and threw him against a plate glass door. While she was in the toilet I rang the local priest and begged him to help me. He came down and he took her off me when she was belting me. From then he was very nice to her, would visit her and I was ignored.
One Saturday when she took to my father with a large spanner and knocked him out. I thought she’d killed him but couldn’t ring up because earlier in rage she had ripped the phone out of the wall. I ran the kilometer up the road to Dr Bound’s house. He was not a Catholic. He came down and tended to my father. Later I was told to never involve anyone not Catholic again- we had to preserve our ‘good Catholic name’.
Attacks with the ‘Wiltshire Eversharp knife’. My left hand still bears the scars where I tried to protect myself. Terrifying rides in the car and accidents with a woman totally stoned on drugs behind the wheel. Schoolwork torn up and burnt in rage because I wouldn’t agree to be a nun. Cleaning her up after she’d dirtied herself-day after day after day. My school, my mother’s family, my mother’s Catholic church and Catholic hospital keeping everything quiet on the western front of the religious war I was drafted into by having the misfortune to be born a Catholic. And all of them enabling her to continue her tortured and sad existence. Also imagine what her suffering was like.
The last time I saw my mother was in my thirties. I had to pick her up from St John of God hospital in North Richmond. She was infuriated that she was in the substance abuse program and refused to stay. She was told by them that if she left before finishing the program she would not be allowed to come back to the hospital for at least 2 years as there were people waiting who did want to honestly deal with their addictions .That made her more angry-‘You don’t understand that I can’t help it.” Her therapists responded with “No -you don’t understand that you are the only one who can help it.” They spoke to my father and I .But for my mother it was case of too much, too late. Too much useless expensive Catholic therapy and ignorant enablers; then therapy that could have made a difference-too late. We confronted her with her therapists. My taciturn father cried and told her that if she didn’t stay he was never coming back .She said “Yes you will because I’ve got the house and everything. He didn’t ever go back. I was there to drive her home but she insisted on driving. In a fit of self pity she said she was going to have to go and see her sister, Rita, in Queensland who would look after her. Rita had recently lost her husband. I said “How about -just for once in your life-you deal with yourself.”
Fury- “You’re just like them at the hospital!” The argument escalated and she started hitting me while driving the car. Distracted she drove the car off the road near the bridge and we were a breath away from the car diving into the river. I got out and made a decision that I would never let this disturbed being put my life in danger again.
Someone who saw it had called the police and they came swiftly. She went from termagant to victim in seconds, bursting into tears and telling the police” I can’t control her anymore”. If wasn’t so tragic-it would have been funny. The police understood I’d been hit hard because my face on one side was red and swelling. They took me to one of there cars. My mother screamed out-“Don’t you ever come near me or my family again and I mean it Bernadette.”
I responded-“No problem!” And I never saw her again. The Richmond police were then kinder to me than anyone except Rita and her husband had ever been.
A few years later I gave birth to my own child and I was astounded at how my mother had missed out on loving her own child. Even though I am damaged goods, I would have died for my child in a second whereas my mother would have sacrificed me for the faith. If the pope had said’ kill all children called Bernadette now’- she would have done it.
I protected my child from ever being near Catholicism and I would not have trusted my mother in the same room with my child for a second.
When she was dying I allowed her to meet my daughter- but not alone. I respected what my mother said and never saw her or her family again .And to death- protected by Catholic family and clergy-my mother never had to face anything.
She sent me a letter which was ‘coached’ by a nun who was very ‘modern’ in Penrith . In that letter- she said’ I’m giving you the opportunity to make it up to me before I die”. Catholic diatribe-making it my fault that I was abused. So my mother went to her death in a Catholic cocoon -protected from ever having to experience anything real- a destroyed ,sad and ultimately lonely life infected by Catholisicm.
To this day I don’t know what it is in my nature that means I am still here.
But I suspect its because I have tried to be the mother I never had.
I developed very early- and the physical fashion of the day was ‘Twiggy’-tall, boyish, flat chested, almost androgynous. I started high school at Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta and didn’t need to wear a bra .Six months later I was a 38D with a small waist and hips to match my bust size. It was a source of tremendous embarrassment and shame for me. My family life was still violent, horrific and remained that way
Whenever my mother was in Mount St Margaret’s hospital for a ‘rest’ for her ‘bad nerves’. My father and I would visit her every day after work. – Not one of her family ever visited her probably due to the shame and stigma.
It meant that after school in Parramatta I had this arduous journey involving 2 train trips, 2 bus trips and a final kilometre walk to the hospital in Ryde. On the way was a church house with a crucifix above its door. I’d seen priests and brothers going into it. It wasn’t a presbytery-more like a house they were using post Vatican 2 to make the clergy more accessible in the community. Very often there was a priest on the verandah as I walked by. I’d smile and say ‘Good afternoon Father’. He’d smile and say ‘God bless you’.
It was a surprisingly hot autumn day and I was in my winter school uniform. I’d taken off my hat and gloves and blazer which was almost a mortal sin at ‘OLMC’.I was huffing and puffing up the street, saw him and stopped, worried that he’d report me to the school for not having my hat, gloves and blazer on. Instead he was kind and offered me a glass of lemonade. That’s how it started and he ‘groomed me’ for weeks with diabolical intelligence. Pulling out my story of violence at the hands of my mother, my loneliness and alienation because of my ‘unfashionable but very womanly body’. How I was held up to ridicule against my cousins .That how I survived was by becoming the class clown to cover the hurt.
First it was just pats on the hand enveloped in sympathy ’you poor dear child-you’ve had a terrible time’ etc. Then it was hugs which I didn’t recognize as sexual probably because I was so desperate for affection. In retrospect-they were very long hugs pressed up against my breasts. Eventually it was “God loves you and so do I- being with me is like being a bride of Christ. I’m preparing you because you are very special.” And I desperately wanted to be special to someone. To be loved. He told me he was a psychology teacher as well as a priest. He read me like a book. Fondling my breasts was first, taking them in his mouth etc and repeating the stuff about me being special and loved. Eventually it was pulling my panties down and although he never had intercourse with me-he gradually fingered me. So since priests are the representatives of God on earth-you could say I lost my virginity to the finger of God.
Then something must have happened because he became cold and distant-perhaps someone else had said something in the house. Or perhaps that was his ‘format’. But I was devastated. One silly day at the hospital I started to try to tell my mother about it. I didn’t get very far before she became viciously angry-‘What are trying to say Bernadette? That the priests and nuns who give their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ are doing something wrong? How about you think about your faults and what you have done wrong. Remember you are a thief.’
I never spoke about it again until now. It became a part of my perpetual novena of disappointment and sadness. It was part of how my soul was stolen by those who were meant to protect and nurture it. And with my soul went trust of anyone in authority, the possibility of creating nurturing relationships, any sense of what a loving family is- faith and hope.
Then that void in my being was filled with a sense of spiritual betrayal and worthlessness, a belief that I was unlovable which compounded the shame I already felt in existing.
Compensation? Blood money? What price can you put on the murder of a human soul?
I excused my parents after fighting to understand what happened to them. I recognized myself as being a wounded being born from broken people, themselves born into a world traumatized by world wars, the depression and the religious terrorism of the Catholic Church. I excused the nuns and Father Ray because I know the nuns at that time were victims of Church patriarchy and ‘couldn’t tell’-after all-’’Father Knows Best”. I know that Father Ray was a minnow in the Catholic institution-a simple man caught between a rock called Peter and a hard place called personal conscience .He did the best he could do in a situation which was beyond his understanding. But still, both nuns and priests had and have a moral responsibility to report abuse to the authorities.
But I do not excuse or forgive the architects of my destruction and my family’s destruction .And that goes right back to the patriarchal hierarchy of Vatican Rome and the Pope himself.
More than the sexual abuse, violence and psychic terrorism I endured what has harmed me the most is the deathly silence which was imposed upon me by family and Church.
‘Keeping the faith’ has meant shutting up-It’s your fault if you were abused-In Chris McGillion’s book-‘A Long Way from Rome’ he states “According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald in June 2002, a former employee of the Australian bishops alleged a senior cleric said that ‘you cannot blame priests for sexual abuse- after all, we know what little girls are like. You know, sliding up to you, wanting to sit on your lap.’ “Eve- the evil temptress aged 7! “This allegation is mirrored in a statement of Father Robert Rahlkemper of Dallas, whom the American Catholic author-Garry Wills, quotes as saying of victims of child abuse:
‘They knew what was right and what was wrong. Anybody who reaches the age of reason shares responsibility of what they do. So that makes us all responsible after the age of six or seven.” Can there be a more obscene and distorted justification for the abuse of children than that?
So keep Catholic cataracts over your eyes-To keep the ‘faith’, you turn that blind eye away not only from what has been done to you but also what has been done to others.
But I still have enough sight to see that if the Catholic church wants to have any sort of positive, humane and loving meaning on Mother Earth at this time when we need to look after the planet we ‘ALL’ exist on, then it needs a dermabrasion of its soul made out of humility, acceptance of its mistakes, apologies and reparation to those whom it has hurt. It needs to make its own confession to turn the ‘inquisition’ on itself -to accept responsibility for the harm it has caused. It needs to re- build and to do that perhaps the church should remember that it came from a loving man who was a carpenter. Somebody who probably wouldn’t want to be seen dead, alive, reincarnated or resurrected in the sanctimonious and pontificating Vatican with all its finery, pageantry, glorious art works ,world wide property and questionable intricate financial systems. “Christ established things in this way “?? “Christ who? One thing I’m 100% sure of is that he wouldn’t have liked children being abused and he would have been annoyed that –
‘Suffer little children to come unto me’ came to mean that ‘Father x,y or z could pull altar boys pants down in the sacristy after mass and push his engorged penis up their arse or Father John could put fingers up my vagina. Such acts are the suffocation and manipulation of any living being whom is not in a power situation to say anything back. Particularly a child.
When I consider it, it is just as well that Jesus Christ was resurrected because he would be spinning in his tomb in disappointment at the state of the Catholic Church circa 2012.
In Muriel Porter’s brave book “Sex, Power and the Clergy” she quotes a suggested apology for the clergy written in 2002 by Marilyn Born who is a long term survivor support advocate.
“I am so sorry this has happened to you. The abuse should not have happened. And it is despicable that you have been ignored or defamed for speaking up about it. You have done no wrong to cause this and you were right to expect compassion and justice from us. I’m sorry for all the pain, for all the times you shed tears of grief, anger, disbelief, for all the times you doubted yourself, your parents, your children.
I’m sorry for the way the churches’ stuff ups and cover ups have led to many other things that can’t be conveyed in a media bite, the unfair and unbearable things .I’m sorry for the times even family and friends failed to’ get it’, distancing themselves from you all because those like me with the power and responsibility didn’t understand their job description let alone the one thing their faith required of them: to stand unequivocally with the victim and those still vulnerable, to call the police, to counsel the perpetrator to tell the truth and make sure someone visits him in jail.
I will do everything I can to bring my church to account.”
Poignant, truthful but desperately sad that an anti abuse advocate had to write that because the Church just doesn’t ‘get it’ and with all its brilliant theology couldn’t come up with something so simple and human.
Muriel Porter then says “If the churches and their leaders had spoken in these terms from the very beginning, first to the victims and then to the public, and if they had meant what they said, there would be little reason for me writing this. But they did not and still have not.”
10 years later since she wrote that-they still have not and so I have felt compelled to write this. Even though it is the hardest thing I have ever written .I recognize that as well as some wonderful people in the Church there are many very humane Catholic organizations such as those who have helped independence struggles in East Timor and those working with the disadvantaged in places like Kings Cross. The title of Chris McGillion’s book “A Long Way from Rome” is prescient but the bitter truth is that still all roads lead back to the monarchial Roman Vatican via Archbishop George Pell. The Sister’s of Charity were to manage the trial of a safe injecting room in King’s Cross in order to save lives. It’s not hard to imagine that if Christ was around today he would have approved. As McGillion points out even the dear old ‘Catholic Weekly’ supported it “For their part, the users will be recognized for what they are-victims rather than perpetrators, of evil”. But Joseph Ratzinger -pre pope days- ordered that they could not do it. The same man who ordered pointless therapy for a pedophile priest. The same man who ordered the Bishops to keep secret the investigations of abuse by clergy.
So who is a perpetrator of evil?
Deviate from that road to Rome and you’ll be chastised, silenced and even excommunicated. You can leave and chose another road and perhaps that’s the higher ground at present. Or be a blind serf of the Church on that road and shut up.
Now the air is autumn chill and the days short. Like my life-in this, my 59th year. And still I am crippled by my experience of Catholicism. I still feel the rage and Catholic claws are something I still grapple with. But I know that out there in ‘catholic land’, there are many like me, still feeling the hidden, silent rage infecting their existence. We live in a terrain of emotional landmines. For too many of us, a religious upbringing in the Catholic Church has proven to be a hard cross to bear.
Even now when I have to walk past a Catholic Church or school, my blood chills and I shudder.
I do not see divine sanctuary.
I see a sepulcher of savagery.