I haven’t been myself lately.
Well, that’s not true. I’m ridiculously unable to be anything other than myself. That’s just the trouble.
The corner I’ve painted myself into is remarkable. Insofar as I have a following, I gained one as a Catholic writer back when I was so sick with a misdiagnosed chronic illness that I couldn’t do anything but sit up in bed and write about being a Catholic, and now here I am. And I’m more and more concerned about what I have to say.
There are quite a lot of topics I want to write about lately, but I’m having trouble finding my voice. I feel like a hypocrite when I write about Catholicism.
I’ve been trying for a long time to summarize what I feel.
I keep coming back to my mother.
I love my mother. I love her goofy sense of humor and her creativity. I lover her passion for children and the arts. I loved watching television with her and going shopping. I loved that she took me out of school to homeschool, because homeschooling and the homeschooling co-op we belonged to were a much better choice for my introversion and anxiety. I have good memories of her. But I had to cut ties with my mother because she wouldn’t stop hurting me.
This was made so much harder by the fact that she didn’t believe she was hurting me, and I knew it.
She thought she was being a great parent. She forced us into a high-control religion that promised to keep us safe from the coming wrath, because she wanted us to be safe more than anything. She restricted my media intake to a ridiculous degree, because she’d been allowed to go to see terrifying R-rated movies with her friends and been traumatized as a preteen in the 70s. She emotionally tortured me for my weight, because she wanted me to be healthy and attractive and honestly thought that was the best way to accomplish it. She mocked and berated me for my social awkwardness and introversion because she thought it would help me come out of my shell and make friends. She was just giving me the opposite of her neglectful childhood. She was trying to be a devoted mother.
It got so bad I was trying to make myself throw up in the bathroom, and hating myself that my hand wouldn’t fit down my throat.
It got so bad that I hated myself and contemplated suicide, but she wouldn’t stop trying to be a good mother.
I tried to set boundaries with her, over and over again, and those made her angry. I tried to explain to her that her behavior had been hurtful, but she wouldn’t listen. She hadn’t meant any harm, therefore she hadn’t caused any. No one but me had accused her of boundary issues, therefore she didn’t have any. She had received many compliments on her patience with such a difficult child. The problem must be me. And that’s where the conversation always ended.
Finally, I went no contact. I didn’t know what else to do. I would rather have set boundaries and had an arm’s length relationship– or even, eventually, with work, a healthy relationship. But that wasn’t an option. That’s where things stand with my earthly mother.
I was also given to believe that the Catholic Church was my mother. And I’ve tried to give her the love, loyalty and obedience of a grateful child to a perfect mother. But it hasn’t gone well.
The Catholic Church is the place I came to know God, and I do believe that God is real. I have never found a better verbalization of everything I know from my own experiences of God, then in the creed I was taught in the Catholic Church. I think the Holy Trinity is real, and I love the Holy Trinity. I think the Gospels are true, and I have tried to live them. I think the sacraments of the Catholic Church, or at least six of them, are really lifegiving and more beautiful than I can say.
But the Catholic Church also ruined my life.
I will never like myself, because of the Catholic Church. I will never be at peace with the fact that I’m bisexual, because of the Catholic Church. I will never be financially stable or out of student debt, because of the Catholic Church. I will never be able to go to bed without terror that God is going to punish me for entertaining the wrong thoughts or forgetting to confess a mortal sin or doubting what I ought to have believed firmly, because of the Catholic Church. I lost what was left of my family to the Catholic Church. I still have severe religious OCD episodes because of the Charismatic Renewal, and the Catholic Church refuses to suppress the Charismatic Renewal. They act like it’s a good thing. I was made to go to meetings of the lay arm of the Legionaries of Christ and watched innocent girls go away to those abusive boarding schools and come back traumatized. But the Catholic Church has refused to suppress the Legionaries of Christ even after it became public that they are a cult founded by a pedophile. I went to Franciscan University and I’ve already been very public about all the abuse and religious trauma there, and nothing will ever be done by the Church to shut them down. At this point, my panic attacks are so severe that I don’t know if I can ever go into a confessional or sit through a Mass again.
And the Catholic Church is proud of what she did.
The Catholic Church doesn’t think she can do wrong.
She thinks she has the fullness of truth, and anyone suggesting ways she can do better is an infiltrator from Satan. I’m just being difficult because I’m a sinner who needs discipline. I need to learn to die to myself and take on the Life of Christ. I don’t understand my apologetics. I don’t have enough appreciation for the Eucharist. Maybe I should go to Holy Mass and pray for the gift of obedience. Glorious saints had been able to remain faithful under her cruelty, so why can’t I? She didn’t mean any harm, therefore she hadn’t caused any. The problem must be me.
And maybe it is me.
But I am the only person I can ever be, and the Church who thinks she’s incapable of error did me irreparable harm.
I am trying to learn to think of the Catholic Church as a mother, but in a different way. She is someone from whom I come, someone who taught me so much of what I know, someone without whom I wouldn’t be alive. But she is also abusive and refuses to change. She is not only capable of error, but deeply in the wrong. She ought to repent, but she won’t. And I am deciding what to do about that. I would like there to be a peace that can be made.
I’m stuck on that for awhile.
What I say from now on is from that viewpoint. I’m not speaking as a grateful and obedient daughter anymore if I ever did. I’m a problem child. But I think I have good reason to be.
That’s all I have for today.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.