It is impossible for me, the daughter of a diehard Catholic father, to deny that twelve years of parochial education have not had an effect on me. If my math is correct, by the time I graduated high school I had attended 624 Sunday masses and heard an equal number of “burn in hell” sermons that were as close to mind control as one can get without being lobotomized. Add to that figure monthly First Friday services, novenas, benedictions, High Holy Day masses, confessions and the scowl of disapproval on the face of every Franciscan nun who ever wielded a ruler and, well, the damage to my psyche was pretty severe.
By the time I neared 30 years of age, my ability to absorb any more guilt had reached the saturation point. As with all soft, porous substances, the more guilt thrust upon my conscience, the more questions began to leak from my brain… and my mouth. “Something isn’t right,” I would tell anyone who would listen. Fear? Punishment? Eternal damnation? How does that fit in with the picture of a God who loves his children? How could a loving God allow so much cruelty and sadness in this world? The answer I got was the same I had been hearing for decades – God works in mysterious ways. Well, the real mystery to me is why anyone would buy into that nonsense.
In the mid 1980s, my husband and I were still attached to our faith. We enrolled our children in a parochial school and became members of the PTO. Being a parent brings out all the old haunting fears. I pushed my doubts to the back of my mind and buried them deep... but not for long. Five months into the school year, a few of the pre-teens in our church came forward to say that the pastor was “encouraging” them to show their gratitude for his generosity with sexual favors. By encouraging, I mean threatening them. Oh, not in any way tangible, but the message he broadcast to those boys was very real. They were scared.
As secretary of the Parent/Teacher Organization, I made a formal complaint to the monsignor in charge of the Archdiocese of Newark, and this was the response: “Mrs. Carbone, not only must you catch him in the act but you must get me a picture as well. If I was to transfer every priest who was a homosexual or pedophile, I wouldn’t have enough men to go around.”
My husband’s and my reaction was to remove our children from Catholic school and place them in the public education system. We should have done more, but we were naïve. The other result of that incident was that the questions I had silenced began to roar with a vengeance. Soon thereafter, I traded in my unconditional acceptance of contradictory teachings for reason and logic. Although I cast aside my former belief in a mystical supreme being, I do not consider myself an atheist.
For starters, I hate labels. They are never accurate. There are as many qualifiers as there are shades of grey and the color spectrum is infinite. I believe in god – I just believe that WE are god and, unfortunately, Satan as well. You will notice that I did not capitalize god but did give Satan that honorific. Why? Because mankind will never be “that good” but, sadly, we have become experts at hurting one another.
The elements of good and evil are within each of us. When the religious minded talk about free will, they are merely stating the obvious. We all have a choice and how and what we choose determines on which side of the aisle we will stand -- the politics of faith so to speak.
Now there is the announcement that Pope Benedict wants to canonize Pope John Paul II. To me, saints are the heroes of an ancient work of fiction – the bible. They inspire us to be more than we can be, but like Superman, they don’t really exist and nowhere less so than in the Catholic Church. Remember, a pope doesn’t just materialize on the throne. He comes up through the ranks, and unless he is deaf, dumb and blind, he knows full well what is happening among the clergy. Pretending that evil does not exist is not saintly. It is criminal.
The definition of saint is someone acknowledged as holy or virtuous. I know plenty of people who would fit that description and not one of them ever turned their back on crime. Pedophilia is one of the most heinous acts of abuse. Every pope, every cardinal, every monsignor, every bishop, every priest, everyone in the religious community who knew what was going on and did nothing to stop it is as guilty as those who actually perpetrated the act upon the innocent. And they all knew! Every single one of them – past, present and, unless some changes are made soon, future. Sainthood! Please!
So referring back to the title of this article, “Once a Catholic – Always a Catholic” seems to fit me like made-to-order skin. My mindset is that of someone who loves pizza but hates anchovies. If a pie should arrive on the dinner table covered in the salty fish, I pick them off in order to enjoy the tasty dish below. I’ve done the same thing with my Catholic education -- picked off the anchovies and kept the tomatoes and cheese.
An adherence to morals and ethics, which govern all the decisions I make, are the lessons I learned at the painful end of a wooden yardstick. Honesty and charity, a concern for my fellowman and a desire to leave this world just a little better than when I arrived keep me centered.
Of course, since I believe I will one day return to this earth, you could label me a hypocrite – a label that just might be accurate. There is a method to my madness. I really don’t want to come back to the same world I will be leaving. At least, not unless it is greatly improved, and the only way I can see that happening is if we all start practicing what is preached from millions of pulpits around the world.
Be kind to one another! Kindness, like a virus, is contagious, and I can’t think of a better disease to pass around. Now if only we could get it to reach epidemic proportions. Oh, and remember the children. Please don’t ever turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to their cries. There are no acceptable excuses. And no saints!