From a Former Benilde-St. Margaret’s School Student

I posted a story yesterday about Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in Minnesota. High school senior Sean Simonson had written an article about the difficulty of life as a gay teen — it was published on the paper’s website, but then removed by administration because the comments were creating an “unsafe environment” for children. (They could’ve just removed the comments while leaving the article intact, but that’d make too much sense…)

Anyway, I received an email from a graduate of that school that deserves to be shared:

I was a student at that school, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, in the last decade, and it was during my time there that I left Catholicism.

To its credit, the religion teachers at the school were relatively liberal in their views (indeed, one taught a kind of undercover sex ed to fill in for the gap left by Diocese-mandated abstinence-only education), but the administration seemed to be more or less forced by the parents(/donors) to teach and enforce a quite conservative version of Catholicism.

I know that the students at the school routinely come out of there recognizing the hollowness of the dogma. Responses vary; while many of my friends are either no longer Catholic or have moved to a much less dogmatic version of Christianity, another went on to professionally plan services at a local Catholic church even though he is gay and was/is forced to conceal it.

Regardless, Benilde was a useful lesson in a particular way: seeing how religion is used as a tool to exclude and control. The youth minister at the school was fantastic, as were the religion teachers, but the students who were most openly religious were also the least faithful to the spirit of the faith, and the constant tension between the conservative donors and the liberal teachers was key to understanding that the further one moved from the dogma the better one’s life would be.

Even now, though, I cannot be open about my beliefs because I had to hide them for so long there. In fact, it was especially bad because I was something of a model student there — got along well with the teachers, got good grades, and led a variety of organizations. For somebody like that to openly diverge from the accepted norm would have been… problematic, to say the least, and would have made my teenage life there dramatically harder.

I think the email is a testament to the level of courage Simonson must have had when he wrote the original article.

  • Matto the Hun

    Nice post Hemant!

    This part made me sad:

    … another went on to professionally plan services at a local Catholic church even though he is gay and was/is forced to conceal it.

    Rather like having an abusive boy friend and them marrying him.

  • Heidi

    Agreed, Matto.

    I’m wondering about this:

    Even now, though, I cannot be open about my beliefs because I had to hide them for so long there.

    What’s stopping him/her now? Habit? Relatives?

  • Elijah Baley

    There must be orthodox teaching without conservative or liberal teaching. That, if anything, is the failure of Catholic schools in the last few decades regarding homosexuality — not teaching CC 2358 along with CC 2357 and CC 2359. Here’s hoping the Church of CC 2358 is around for him at some point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    That letter was depressing as hell. For all its insistence that the teachers were liberal, etc., the striking thing is that students do not feel free to leave the cult as they grow up and leave home. Seems what they learned was to be closeted if they were gay and/or an unbeliever. All it reflected for me was the extent of the brainwashing and its grip on the students.

  • http://irrco.org Ian

    Heidi, I wondered about that too.

    But oh, major, major props to the secret sex-ed teacher, who probably had his job on the line to do that. (Can you imagine secretly teaching something you weren’t supposed to, Hemant?)

    I wonder if the pope’s declaration on condoms this week will make any difference in this kind of place. I’d like to hope so, but I’m afraid I can’t raise the optimism.

  • Richard Wade

    Muggle, that’s an important thing you noticed. Thank you. You clarified something that I’ve been pondering lately:

    For many people who struggle through deconversion, there are two quite separate struggles. One is freeing themselves of the intellectual indoctrination, as in:

    I know that the students at the school routinely come out of there recognizing the hollowness of the dogma.

    And the other is the struggle to free themselves from the emotional-social indoctrination. I hyphenate the words because they are intimately intertwined. Even though the person has intellectually seen through the falsehoods he was taught, it is usually much harder for him to take the steps that would put at risk his family relationships, friendships, social status, the social image/reputation he developed in his past, and tied to all those, his current self image. It is not a rational process, but an emotional one, so “knowing” that it’s irrational does not make it much easier or less scary. So we see the deep-seated fear and shame keeping him closeted long after he has left the institution:

    Even now, though, I cannot be open about my beliefs because I had to hide them for so long there. In fact, it was especially bad because I was something of a model student there.

    Two separate enslavements, two separate emancipations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    Thank you, Richard, but been through it, you know.

    Honestly, it took me 10 years to break free and that’s with a horrible family I was glad to lose and in the ’70′s in a part of the US where my generation was more apt to laugh at the religious than the irreligious. (This has sadly swung back in the other direction.)

    I can’t even begin to understand how utterly hard making the break must be for those who have a good, loving family who could never understand and endure constant peer pressure to conform to religion.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X