The greatest challenge I’ve encountered since starting postgraduate study is loneliness. You rejoin the familiar environment where you were part of the family mere months ago, and find yourself an outsider. You are no longer part of a class, griping, laughing, anticipating, working, celebrating together. Much as they are familiar faces, you are also not part of the staff. They are their own group, friends, colleagues, and you are not one of them, nor are you one of their students any longer. In my specific circumstances, through a few quirks of coincidence, I am utterly alone when I am in college.
You’d think, then, that I’d be interested in, perhaps even delighted about an effort on the part of my college to give students a chance to make new friends. Come and connect, they say. Join us in this particular spot, reach out, get to know someone new. There’s just one problem. It’s facilitated by the chaplaincy team.
In my college, the chaplain is a lovely guy. He’s experienced, he’s friendly. He’s also a Catholic priest – while he is employed and paid by my college, from public funds, he is in service to the Roman Catholic church.
What do I know of the Catholic church, just from personal experience?
In the past decade:
- I had a choice for my children to either attend one of the local schools, all walking distance from our home. Alternatively, I was free to try and get them a place (hahahaha good luck with that) in a “multi-denominational” school, which would still not be non-religious but hey, at least they teach all the religions, as long as they’re Christian. But by law you can opt out, so we did. In spite of that…
- My children have been forced or pressured at various times to attend Catholic rituals, against my express wishes and in at least one instance against their added clearly expressed wishes not to be forced to attend due to their own personal, very deeply held religious convictions.
- Catholic representatives were given access to my children without my permission.
- Two of my children were subjected to a full day of open, intense Catholic religious indoctrination. One of them surreptitiously texted me, disturbed, describing what was happening (think Jesus Camp style downright sick indoctrination), but the school had not sought my written permission for this off-campus activity, nor did I know where my child had been taken, so I could not fetch them immediately. I was one of a number of parents to complain; when the next child reached this age group, the experience was repeated with no change. At least this time we were prepared and the child in question chose, forewarned, to have the experience simply to get an understanding of the intensity and psychological power of such zealotrous indoctrination techniques.
- One of my children was bullied by a teacher for being opted out of religion. The child was forced to sit in class, because this is what the Catholic church does in the publically funded schools they control: they have to let you opt out as it is a constitutional right, but they fail to take any action whatsoever to make your choice practically workable. They refuse to move religion classes to a time of day that will allow for parents to simply drop off or collect a child a little earlier or later. They refuse to provide alternative classes, or allow a child to sit in on another class taking place at the same time. Instead, the child is “opted out” but forced to sit in the class as it is presented, and in many cases not allowed to keep themselves busy with something else. In this case the teacher then proceeded to vilify and smear atheists, and when my child objected she told them to “shut up, you’re not part of this class.”
- One of my children considered studying to be a teacher. I had to discourage them, as that would mean having to go to another country to study and definitely to work. The Catholic church is almost wholly in control of publically funded schools, running and controlling these schools with the money collected in taxes from all Irish citizens, not just Catholics. They can and do exclude or discriminate against anyone who is not prepared to at least pretend to be Catholic when it comes to appointing teachers. They also control the overwhelming majority of facilities offering teacher training. This career path is closed to my children in our country, directly due to the Catholic church.
If I ignore my personal experience:
- Personal friends have had their children insulted and humiliated for asking not to be forced to attend Catholic rituals. One family is deeply devoted, but in a different sect of Christianity. Still the child had a teacher hiss right in their face: “Just because you don’t pray doesn’t mean you can stop us from praying,” when the teacher was leading a class to church for an unscheduled, spur-of-the-monent mass attendance and the child said they didn’t want to go because they were not Catholic.
- A personal friend had marital trouble in the mid 2000’s. When she tried to find out where to obtain marital counselling to try to save her marriage, she was only directed to Catholic-controlled Accord. Believing she would get Catholic-controlled advice, and coming from a family near destroyed by a priest’s response to a cry for help in an abusive situation, she ended up not getting professional help. We lost touch, I have no idea if her marriage survived.
- Catholic control of hospitals, and where they are not directly in control, of patterns of thought around childbirth, does damage to women in Ireland way, way beyond the already serious and shocking issues reported in the media. Women I know personally have been traumatised in their pregnancy and during childbirth, as a direct result of Catholic views on women, pregnancy, and childbirth. I believe Savita’s death was directly caused by the Catholic church’s continued influence in women’s health care and medicine in general.
- The Catholic church ran slave camps in Ireland until the mid nineties.
- Criminals will exist in any organisation. However, the Catholic church as an organisation systematically enabled and assisted criminals in covering up past crimes and in continuing to commit crimes. The organisation then took very cynical steps to put their share of the burden of financial reparation almost completely on the backs of the people who were the victims of their complicitiy in crime.
In opposition to this, no doubt a devoted enthusiast could make a very long list of good things the Catholic church has done, and continues to do. So why focus on the bad stuff?
Let’s say I tell you that there’s an organisation called, say, The Wonder Bunch (TWB). It has raised funds for victims of natural disasters, has sent representatives to help establish shelters for abused women. It has also raised funds to recruit and train child soldiers, advocates for slavery, and lobbies for any sexual relationship other than heterosexuality to be criminalised as a death penalty offence. Finally I add that they run the local tennis club.
Would you feel it’s ethical to join me for a game of tennis?
Everytime we do attend that game of tennis, everytime we do go to that “Chaplaincy-facilitated event”, everytime we shrug and accept the involvement of the Catholic church in small, “benign” events in everyday life, we allow a small root to grow, to remain, or to strengthen. These small roots individually are likely benign, even good for the immediate community. But each of these small roots supports a big, dark tree with bark like razor wire, and menacing branches with blade-like thorns hanging over others not as lucky as us to be nothing the Catholic church happens to oppose. Teachers or people interested in studying to be teachers who are not heterosexual or who are not Catholic and are not prepared to pretend to be Catholic; anyone in need of routine or critical healthcare; children who should be free to get education without the intertwined religious indoctrination; those traumatised by Catholic-enabled or perpetrated rape, abuse, neglect, and other crimes.
Everytime we’re ok with the small roots, we are siding against all those who have suffered, and strengthen the hand of the Catholic church to continue harming others still.