In 2005, my grandfather passed away after a long battle with Congestive Heart Failure. I never had a close relationship with my grandfather. However, his death marked the first time I experienced the death of a loved one. My grandmother and her daughters arranged his funeral at the local Catholic Church they attended for decades. The church is in the middle of a neighborhood. While the church is large, the community around gives it a small feel. His funeral service should have been a time to celebrate his 89 years of life. I hoped to hear stories from the Priest about my grandpa. Instead, my grandfather’s funeral marked a turning point for me with the Catholic Church.
At the time of my grandpa’s death, I was a month shy of 27th birthday. I had grown up in the Catholic Church. At age 15, I completed confirmation and became an adult within in the church. After my confirmation, I asked my mom if I had to go to church anymore. She said I had completed the sacraments required of a child and the decision to continue to go was up to me. At age 16 years old, I decided I no longer wanted to attend church.
During this time my brother, cousins, and aunts all made similar choices regarding the church. My mother and aunts lived through traumatic experiences at Catholic School. None of them felt comfortable continuing at the church. At the time of my grandfather’s death, only my grandmother attended Catholic Church.
During my grandfather’s life, he never talked to me about faith. In fact, my grandfather was a man of very few words. He was a veteran of World War II. My mom always speculated his quietness was a result of the horror he faced during the war. I learned a considerable amount about him at his viewing the night before his funeral.
For me, it was the first time I got a peek into his life before his daughters. I saw photos from his time in the army. Read letters he wrote my grandma. There were photos of the first home he built. I enjoyed learning about him that evening, and I hoped the funeral would give me more details about his life.
The next day we met at the church. My grandfather had an open casket. The priest welcomed the family to the funeral. We talked about the service and the plans for the day. My family said their goodbyes as the staff of the church closed the casket.
I was overcome by emotion watching the casket close. My grandma stood near all of us. I walked over to her to hug her. She was a proud German woman and stood there very stoically. Despite not showing too much emotion, I knew she was overcome with grief.
My grandfather’s heart finally gave up after more than five years of fighting heart failure. I remember telling my grandma that his heart couldn’t keep going anymore. Instead of agreeing or acknowledging what I said, she looked at me very matter of fact.
She said curtly, “Your grandfather died of a broken heart because you stopped going to church.”
My mouth dropped open. My grandmother was never one to mince words, but this accusation stung. I said to her, “Grandma, no he died of heart failure.”
Rather than letting it go she doubled down and said, “No, all he wanted was all of you to go to church. All of you killed him by breaking his heart.”
I responded, “Grandma, I didn’t kill him. That’s not nice of you to say.” Despite my anger, I hugged her and walked away.
Needless to say, I walked into the funeral service heated and annoyed by her comments. My family was seated at the front of the church. The church had an ornate and slightly obnoxious gold altar. Jesus hung on the large cross behind the altar. As the music ended, the Priest started the service.
My grandmother’s comments were a prelude to what the Priest had planned for the family. He started talking about my grandfather and his love for the church. Rather than sharing details of my grandfather’s life to the more than 100 guests that attended, the Priest used the service to scold our family for not going to church.
He made the same implications my grandmother made about my grandfather’s death. For more than fifteen minutes, he told all of us that we were destroying my grandfather’s memory by abandoning the church. I looked around and watched my family sit there with their mouths open wide. Some of my cousin’s appeared to be red in the face from anger.
Most of us had to stop listening. We fidgeted with our programs, and several of us pretended to read. There were whispers back and forth, and several loud sighs from my family. No one was pleased with the Priest. However, most of us knew he and my grandmother planned this together. Instead of allowing us to grieve his passing, we were damned to eternal hell for leaving the church.
For me, this was the day I committed myself to never stepping foot in a Catholic Church again as a member. I was done with the church. In one of the darkest times of my life, I was spiritually abused by a man of the cloth. I lost all respect for the leadership of the church. My relationship with my grandmother never recovered.
A church is supposed to console and help families through their grief. The Catholic Church used our grief to guilt, exploit, and humiliate our family. For the past 14 years since I left the church, I am still recovering from the pain the church has inflicted on my family.
Instead of picking her family, my grandmother picked the church. Even to her death, she never wavered from her commitment to the church. Her choice of the church over her family destroyed my relationship with her. When she finally passed away at 98 years old, I didn’t shed a single tear.
Every day the Catholic Church meddles and disrupts family relationships. Members needs and emotions are secondary to the needs of the church. They will stop at nothing to maintain obedience to their rules. The Catholic Church may not look like a cult. However, the day of my grandfather’s funeral I left the largest cult in the world.
I will forever be a recovering Catholic.
My only hope is one day there are no more members of the Catholic Church. When that day comes, there will finally be no more victims at the hands of their ruthless and callous leaders.
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