Thursday, 16 September 2010

Uncomfortable Reading

Tomorrow I will go to Mass for probably only the second time since Christmas, and the reason is the same - because my daughters attend a Catholic primary and tomorrow Bug is doing the Introductory and I want to be there for her.

The Catholic Church has been in the press a lot lately, and this week interest is at its peak with the Papal visit, yet I find I can raise no enthusiasm and in fact shudder inwardly at every mention or appearance of Pope Benedict.

Now I actually grew up in the church. I enthusiastically attended two of Pope John Paul II's masses in Ireland as a teenager, and like many a Catholic child considered the Religious life, but as I have fully realised the extent, not just of the abuse in the church, but the extent of the institutionalised cover-up, it has turned me away from a life which once had huge importance for me.

I attended a convent school where a committed teaching staff - where nuns and layteachers alike were dedicated to ensuring that every girl reached her potential, and who gave me an education and confidence in my ability that still surprises me. There was never any hint of abuse - institutionalised or otherwise, and I will always be grateful for the start they gave me in life.

Likewise my parents - I grew up much-loved in a family where we were told we were clever and funny and beautiful and all of us have gone on to lead successful lives. We were street-smart in the way only the children of a serving police officer in a big city can be, which certainly saved us on occasions where we did encounter predators, in the streets and parks of our neighbourhood. Bad things did not happen to us or anyone we knew, in our home, school or church, not until we moved to the country and a Priest call Fr. Thomas Naughton was assigned to our parish.

I was not aware of what he was, but as a teenager got a great sense of unease in his presence. He was a young priest who revitalised the parish and many were very fond of him. My dislike of him stemmed from his 'fussing' over the boys of the parish, and his apparent disdain for girls. In my naiveté and nascent feminism I put this down to patriarchy and the way women were treated in the church, and while I felt disenchanted and started to turn away from the organised part of the Religion, I still respected his authority.

Fr Naughton left the parish suddenly in 1984 while I was away at university, and while my parents seemed very agitated, I was pretty uninterested. It was only over several years that the truth about the abuse of a whole generation of boys - family and friends - began to emerge. What also became clear was that he had been moved away because of complaints made, but only on to another parish and more children.

In my own world, I got busy and kind of never quite got round to getting to church for many years, but always had an abiding sense of guilt that I should be involved and I missed the rhythms and the rituals that had formed such a part of my psyche.

Then the girls came into our lives, and we wanted to bring our children up with the same moral codes as we grew up with, with the same care and respect for each other and their peers, and the same chances in life that I and Macca had been given and that drew us back to the church, and to a community where we felt we belonged.

But in the last year as first the Ryan Report and then the Murphy report have brought back some of the discomforts of my Teenage years, and as the deep-rooted conservatism of Pope Benedict starts to bite, along with the possibility that he was involved in much of the cover-up, or at least in the denial, I have found it harder and harder to continue to go through the motions, even for the sake of the girls.

This is no reflection on the lovely school the girls attend, or the community of which we are a part, and I will attend tomorrows mass, and many more over the coming months as Bubble prepares for her First Holy Communion - a Spiritual journey I can't deprive her of, but then I think I may stop. I have given my girls a choice - they will be able to make up their own minds, but I can't help feeling the weight of guilt that Leaders we trusted first allowed and then covered up such terrible abuse.

I also feel for a generation of 'Lost Boys' who I knew as children - for the majority who 'survived' but also for those who have died , some by their own hand, and others in experiments in risky living, and it makes me feel cold and sick.

Tomorrow the theme is 'Hope' and I want want to Hope, to believe that the church will find it's way, that there will be a place for a more liberal and open hierarchy, that Women will be granted a place at the table (and the altar), and that clergy will be allowed to marry and to raise families - the best priests I have ever known were actually family men - one in secret (Father Michael Cleary) and one a Vicar who converted - but in my current mood, with the current leadership, it may have to do it without me......

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