I Am a Recovering Catholic
“Father O’Brien only named his dogs Shirley and Dorothy because he is a fan of Shirley Bassey and The Wizard of Oz. If you say he is homosexual one more time I am going to drag you to confession myself” – My Mother to my father, numerous times throughout my childhood.
I was raised in the Catholic faith. Catholicism was the only way in my Mother’s eyes. Follow any other religion and you were going to burn in Hell for all eternity.
My Father on the other hand was, and still is, an atheist. That was all glossed over and he would go and sit in church with her, glassy eyed and constantly checking his watch for the sake of an easy life.
I was the arsehole of the family and constantly questioned everything to do with the church from a very young age, something that used to drive my Mother to despair – she even looked into getting me ‘blessed’ (read: exorcised) after a particularly bad experience at my Confirmation, where I outdid myself and almost got her ostracized from the Catholic community in our town.
I am not proud of the memory, but I was a very opinionated nine year old child at the time, and even then, I thought the whole idea of organised religion, and especially Catholicism, was a complete waste of time and utterly wrong on so many levels.
The confirmation ceremony followed a few months of preparation classes, brainwashing if you will, of children into the Catholic faith. I was forced to go every week, kicking and screaming and I gave the poor people running the classes a hard time. Infuriatingly, they wouldn’t kick me out of the classes; their duty was to help me and indoctrinate me. It was incredidbly frustrating for me that the harder I kicked, the stronger their desire to break my will was.
I was even sent to spend Sunday afternoons with the Priest, in the hope that he would be able to make me love the Catholic faith. The only thing that did was to solidify my hatred for the Catholic church and made me question it even more.
My father’s only advice to me was that if you disagree with something strongly, you have to learn as much as you can about it in order to argue your case. You need to know more than the people you are arguing against. So I learned the Bible. I read it constantly, which thrilled my Mother and amused my Father as he knew what I was really up to. At one point in my childhood, I could out quote Dot Cotton with Bible verses.
By the time I was forced to start spending those afternoons with the Priest, I knew enough to know that actually, organised religion and the Bible do not mix. My ‘job’ of counting out the hundreds of pounds of collection money each week, during a time when we were in a deep recession and most of the congregation were unemployed and struggling left a bad taste in my mouth too – especially when most of it went into the Priests own pocket.
I also, thanks to my much older sister and her friends, knew what gay people were, and I also had a pretty good gaydar even then, which that Priest set ringing louder than the church bells.
Father O’Brien was the biggest queen I have ever met. If he wasn’t such a complete bastard, he might have been quite fabulous. He had two, vicious little Bichon Frieze dogs called Shirley Bassey and Dorothy, a vast collection of pink fedora hats and a live in ‘friend’ called Colin who used to steal kisses from him when he thought no one was looking.
Nothing wrong at all with all of the above, except that Father O’Brien was absolutely scathing about homosexuals, even publically outing one of the teenage choirboys during a service and banning him from singing again in his church after the boy confided in him that he was gay. A terribly cruel and evil thing to do from someone who claimed to be a man of God.
My Father knew the Priest was gay too, but my Mother would hear nothing of the sort. Along with all other religions, gay people were destined for eternal damnation in her eyes too and the thought that a Catholic Priest could be gay horrified her.
So when I stood up at my confirmation, and instead of saying I renounced the Devil like I was supposed to, I asked the Priest what he spent all the collection money on, why he kissed his friend Colin and announced that I was actually an atheist, I was surprised my Mother didn’t murder me on the spot.
Instead, I was dragged along with the rest of the children, up to the alter and made to carry on with the pointless farce. After wards, there was hell to pay, quite literally. I was made to go to confession every week, where I would sit in silence, picking the veneer off the wood paneling and refusing to say five Hail Mary’s as penance, flicking two fingers at the Priest behind the curtain every time he spoke.
Then came the real kicker. I was to be sent to a Convent school. By this time, my Mother was very ill with what turned out to be terminal cancer, so I was told not to upset her and just go to the school, shut up, stop causing trouble and pretend I liked it.
My Mother died two months after I started at the school, so I didn’t stop causing trouble, and I didn’t stop arguing the toss about religion. My Religious Education GCSE paper was a 5,000 word rant on religion and the problems it causes the world, which as you can imagine, didn’t go down too well with the head teacher, who was a nun (with the exception of two nuns, all of the ones I have met are as bitter, nasty, hypocritical and downright evil as most of the Catholic Priests I have met). Let’s just say that despite good GCSE grades, me returning there for A levels was mentioned by no one.
I always wonder if there should be a 12 step plan for recovering Catholics? Catholics Anonymous meetings to attend? Not that a recovering Catholic would need help staying out of the church on a Sunday, but some kind of program would be helpful, because what ever you do, the Catholic guilt is always deeply ingrained.