This is a huge, huge topic for our family. Both my husband and I were raised Catholic. I was raised far more seriously than he – church every week, Sunday School, etc. He comes from the C&E variety (Christmas and Easter, with a few other appearances haphazardly slapped in throughout the year for good measure). Ironically, up until this final denouement, his attitude about the Church has been far more positive than mine – he went to a Jesuit university, has a tremendous respect for Jesuits and generally seems devoid of the classic Catholic guilt complex.
I, on the other hand, am riddled with this oppressive fear of doing things wrong, have honestly never believed Jesus is the actual son of God (though uttering or spelling that fills me with a sense of dread that I’m going to be struck down – see previous comment about fear of doing things wrong), don’t believe in Heaven and spent most of my years at church practicing wiggling my ears or imagining myself swinging from the chandeliers and springing from the cross in a gigantic move to save the congregation from some imaginary threat in order to pass the time.
The Priest Pederast of My Youth
Also, when all was said and done, it turns out that our parish priest from my youth (not teenage years) was, in fact, a pederast who was protected and moved by the church. I know and grew up with some of his victims. I remember so very clearly being five and in the church basement after mass, with everyone gathered for donuts and coffee and Father Ed walking in with his big sweeping cloak, smelling of frankincense and myrrh, opening his giant cloak and gathering several of us in it in a wide hug. Hidden within that cloak, a very core and very real voice spoke within me and gave me a jolt of fear. I pulled away in that instant and never let myself get physically close to him again. Though his victims were boys and I was clearly not on his radar, my inner knower, or the direction of God, helped to keep me clear of him anyway. Fucker.
Both my husband and I declined to get confirmed when everyone else in our parishes were being herded into it. My parish was a little later than others – at 17. My husband did end up getting confirmed during his time in university, but I never did… not because I don’t care, but because I do. At the time, I cared so much that I couldn’t be an alter girl and that I couldn’t see myself having a place of honor within the church, just by my gender alone. We were all required to do service for the church, and I requested to be an altar girl, which I had seen in other parishes. My church, however, refused, and so I declined getting confirmed. In the end, my priest told me I could get confirmed even though I hadn’t done a service, but I explained to him that, unless I could be an altar girl, I wasn’t going to do it. I am pleased to know that today, alter girls are commonplace in that parish.
So, that’s the background on the church thing. Prior to having children, I would not have describe myself as a Catholic – big C or little c. At best, until I finally got honest about my beliefs about Jesus not being the son of God, I might have considered myself a cafeteria Catholic, by the third definition given at the Urban Dictionary – not in the derogatory sense, but in the “damn straight” sense:
A catholic who chooses to follow the correct doctrines of the catholic church, and choosing not to follow the pretty much ridiculous ones.Silvio feels that gay people should have the right to marry, so he is a cafeteria catholic.
I think, prior to children, my husband would have called himself a Catholic, but mostly in the CINO (Catholic in Name Only) sense. We specifically chose to not have a Catholic wedding, even though my mother reserved a local church until literally the day of our ceremony, because we didn’t want to start our marriage on a lie.
Despite all this… both of our children are baptized. WHY????? You might ask. That’s a great question and one that I’m not even sure I 100% understand. Part of it has to do with heritage and tradition — wanting our children to know where they come from. A large part of it, for me, has been based in the idea that I have come to the place in my life and been guided through many trouble waters because I was raised grounded in a faith. Sadly, the heart of that faith has escaped me – the belief in a Heaven, in absolution, in Jesus’ saving grace. It’s odd to me that some of the people I’m closest to in my life – my parents, sister and broader family – can honestly believe in all this hocus pocus. It’s odd… but also miraculous and, if there was the tiniest possibility that my children could be blessed with such a faith… who am I to deny them this most important gift?
To say my husband and I are spiritually conflicted is an understatement. When we baptized our children, I was honestly counting on his faith to be that which would direct our children. I was careful to examine what words I’d have to say during the ceremonies, as the mother, to make sure I wouldn’t have to swear to the Nicene Creed – which specifically states a lot of things I don’t believe. I was more than happy to keep my mouth shut about the specifics of the faith, let my husband step in and say the things he believes, so I wouldn’t have to lie to my children, yet they could grow up knowing the faith of their people and to have it be their own. Only… with the most recent exposed cover-up of the priests and deaf children, with the fact that our present Pope’s career highlight seems to have been his Hitler Youth days (which the church is attempting to also cover up)… my husband’s faith has been obliterated. He no longer trusts the church. His concern is so deep that he doesn’t want to put the children in Catechism, when the time is right, as he can’t see himself trusting anyone associated with the church to honestly not harm our children.
For me, I’m furious. The leaders of our church are literally killing the spirit of the faithful. The evil is pernicious and insidious, and it comes from on high.
Everything I’ve said so far makes the equation pretty simple, doesn’t it? Any idiot with these feelings would choose to not raise their children Roman Catholic… Any idiot, apparently, but us… We are deeply conflicted about how to raise our children. We desperately want to raise them with a clear and definitive faith, and that is what we really know from the Roman Catholic church.
The Benefits of an Unwavering Church (?)
I actually appreciate the Church’s unwavering nature in many aspects – that it doesn’t shift with the tides or whims of modern society, that it’s not democratic. This helps it to remain a bedrock for faith. At the end of the day, if I’m morally conflicted, I can turn to the guidance of the Church and follow what it says to do. The Church says suicide is wrong, therefore no suicide. Seems pretty simple, but what about in the days ahead… what about assisted suicide to escape unbelievable pain and misery? What about using advanced technologies to extend life even when the quality of life is poor? At what point does a human stop being a product of God and start being a product of Science (the modern faith), when in the near future we will be able to create designer fetuses?
I foresee this guidance, which doesn’t cowtow to populist beliefs, as becoming more important as we step more deeply into the era of bioengineering and ethical dilemmas. I see that having a foundation within a tradition and faith of centuries will serve as a boon to my children and I desperately want them to have this ultimate guide in their lives.
Left with a Dilemma
Our daughter is three – that’s exactly the age when tradition begins to really mean something – she is aware that holidays are approaching, she seeks for ritual in events like seasons changing, she is just on the cusp of needing to ask about death (our dog died last summer and we skirted the issue by telling her that he went to live with God). She is standing on the precipice of all these huge aspects of being human — beginning to learn about death has gotta be a biggie, but there’s also showing obedience to parents, moral codes, ethics, treating others as you would want them to treat you… She’s also primed, right now, to establish her faith. These are the golden years – she’s still so close to the source of life, her innate understanding of God is pure and unmuddled and I see part of our job as helping to steer that knowing to a place where it can be protected and interpreted as she grows into an adult, not set by the wayside in the rush to chase the modern gods of money, science, technology, sex, drugs and more for me, me, me.
Our son, at 19 months, isn’t much farther behind her.
So, the time is now. I asked my husband the other night what we were going to do… Honestly, my heart pulls me to Judaism, but my husband recoils from that. He’s reviled by the Church of our people, but at the same time is so indoctrinated to it, as am I, that the idea of raising them any other way seems like (and would be rightly interpreted, but the church) heresy. Left to his own devices, he’d rather not address it at all… just let time go by. But, as I stated… the time is now. If we ever hope to instill a solid faith for our children, these are the prime years to be developing the ritual of weekly mass… or temple.
I know we’re not alone — I know a handful of Irish Catholic families in the area with children in the same age range… we all feel so conflicted. What are we to do?