Confessions Of An Ex-Catholic

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May 30, 1950.  My first Holy Communion

May 30, 1950. My first Holy Communion

 I ADORE Pope Francis. In just one week he has changed the atmosphere in our country from one of intolerance, hate, and bigotry, to one of love, and compassion. Oh, yes, I’m aware that there are still people out there, including some politicians, that haven’t seen the light. I heard that one couple chose not to be part of the crowd surrounding the Pope because he’s chosen not to wear the standard red, Pope shoes. Like him, I prefer to be living in my old and faded stretchy shoes than the uncompromising, iron-clad boots the nay-sayers wear.

I wish this Pope had been around when I was a vulnerable ten-year-old and my parents were thrown out of the church because they were married by a justice-of- the-peace the night before my dad shipped out to fight for his country in World War II. According to the priest who made that decision, my brothers and I suddenly became something called bastards. I had already been baptized in the church and had received my first Holy communion. I was confused. I didn’t understand but it affected my spiritual life for many years until I recently wrote about it in my memoir.

This excerpt from the book describes what I was feeling:

The church’s rejection shook me to the core. My brothers and I would go to limbo instead of heaven. I felt that the church had taken on the role of abuser to all of us. God, who I was lead to believe was the world’s hero, the force that always protected everyone, was no longer there for me. He didn’t recognize my family members or me as worthy souls. He’d simply ditched us on the side of the road.

Even as an adult, I was afraid to go into any Catholic Church. I wanted to refuse when my cousin, Mary Anne, asked me to be a bride’s maid when she was married in the Catholic church. But my mother told me that I couldn’t let her down. My knees were shaking as I followed the procession down the aisle, praying that there would be no explosion of thunder and lightning over the scene because God didn’t want me there. And on Bill’s and my honeymoon in Europe, I didn’t want to visit the Vatican in Rome, simply to see Michelangelo’s magnificent works. I went anyway and in the end was glad that I did.

My First Holy Communion Certificate, received in 1950

My First Holy Communion Certificate

Today I’m comfortable inside churches of all denominations. I’ve found forgiveness and compassion for those religious zealots who trampled on my world. I strongly believe that God is not a punishing deity and that I am worthy to be called a child of God.

I’m not about to rejoin the church. I prefer to believe in a higher power in my own way. I find God in in the star-lit sky at night, in the fiery reds, hot pinks, and golden sun-struck clouds at sunset, in a bed of tall ferns and soft mosses beneath a canopy of towering oaks, a child’s smile, and in the song of the wood thrush.

I disagree with Pope Francis’ take on same sex-marriage, the role of women in the church, and abortion. But because of Pope Francis’ visit to this country, I feel ever so much closer to God and my belief that we can make our world a better place for our children and all of the people and creatures that we need to protect as global climate changes rips what we’ve considered normal into shreds.

I am grateful for the peace that Pope Francis has brought to so many people while he was here and pray that the serenity and faith that he’s left us with will not be swept away too soon as we make our way through the work of finding a man or woman suitable to become our next President. Politics is often a dirty game. Let’s help keep it clean. Let’s make room in our lives for everyone, no matter their skin color, religion, or ethnicity.

What is your takeaway from the visit of Pope Frances?


  1. Joan, I cringed when I heard about the injustices on your family by the Church. How sad.My own parents were forced to wed in the rectory–no the church– because my father was not Catholic. They were made to feel lesser than. Thankfully, from my POV, many things have changed for the better, though there are still remnants of these outdated, ridiculous practices. I’m happy you have found peace in your spirituality. My take of the Pope’s visit..a breath for fresh air that we all desperately needed. I love his connection to the common people and his rejection of all that pomp and circumstance. Yay to well-worn shoes!

    • Kathy, Thanks for your comforting words. Yes, thankfully, things have changed for the better and I believe will continue to change. I love his connection to the common people and his humility. No one feels lesser than when they are with him.

  2. The Pope is a benign presence and I watched snatches from several appearances s he smiled and projected love and mercy. His remarks reminded me of Williams’ “Fanfare for the Common Man” actually played during one of his appearances. What’s not to like about a Pope who eschews red Gucci slippers.

    I like your photo of the little bride – precious, Joan, but feel sorry for what happened after.

    Jewish folk have (or had) a ceremony called Kezazah in which religious leaders break a large clay pot signifying the excommunication of the wrong-doing member from the community. Mennonites in mid-century held a similar ceremony with the erring parties made a public example but at the same time given an opportunity for confession — and restoration. I write about it in my memoir, draft 1 of course.

    Christ showed love and mercy to sinners here on earth. The gospel is all about grace, not judgment.

    • Thanks so much for your comments, Marian. I love that jews and mennonites held ceremonies to basically apologize for their wrong doings to their followers. I’m sure it’s outdated by now.

      I hope you’re working hard because I’m looking forward to reading your memoir!

  3. I think this Pope is doing a lot of good to the Catholic Church image. He’s like a breath of fresh air in a sick room. Atheist friends have mentioned liking him. That does not take away from all the damage done by the Church. Yours is a poignant story. Illustrates how the decisions of the Church of yore affected children. I also wrote about this in my upcoming memoir, “Getting Rid of Ian.” My mother divorced and remarried outside the Church and for a time when I was young – 10 – I thought I was also in a state of sin and was going to Hell with my mother. Family and friends cut us off and as kids, we were subjected to the kind of casual cruelty that good Catholics showed towards those associated with sinners. How many of us grew up resentful of the Church and its teachings and became lapsed or anti-Catholic?

    • Penelope, Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your comments to this conversation. Sounds like we both were hard hit by decisions the Church made and I look forward to reading your memoir. Please let me know when it is published.

  4. He is a good compassionate man in an entrenched institution that is due for a major overhaul! I wish him all the best in breaking down the barriers, hypocrisy and out of date thinking that still pervades.

    • Thanks, Val. I think there will be opposition to more change amongst the bishops, but I do believe they will see the light one of these days. It would help of course if they had some women bishops!

  5. I listened to Pope Francis give his speech to Congress. It gave me hope for the country and the world. Remember the line from Gatsy about Daisy? “Her voice was full of money”?

    Well, the pope’s voice is full of love and compassion. Such needed qualities.

    I’m so sorry your family had to suffer the indignities of a lack of compassion in the church.

    And so glad you can forgive and even, in your own way, reconnect.

    Bless you.

    • Shirley, I too felt hope for the country as the Pope spoke to congress. His voice is not filled with “Money,” as are so many others. The qualities of love and compassion have been missing in many of those who govern. They are especially needed as we move into the future that will surely be filled with major changes in our growth as a country and our care for the earth.

  6. Joan, Thank you for your timely post and for seeking the opinions of others. I, too,was very impressed with the Pope. As a Christian, I felt his message of love goes a long way to addressing the true power of the Gospel – that Christianity offers us a personal relationship with a loving God.

    That said, his visit where the press fawned all over him, served as a marked contrast to the vicious and negative coverage of the presidential campaign – highlighted in many ways by a war on women. The Planned Parenthood controversy is simply the lastest and most egregious in this “war”. The Catholic Church needs to fully embrace the 21st Century when it comes to women, as well as broaden the message that “families” are comprised of many permutations/combinations . . . not just a man and woman, husband and wife. However, kudos to the Pope for addressing the clergy/sex abuse scandal and promising that those responsible will “be held accountable.”

  7. Thank you for taking part in the conversation, Susan. Yes, changes are still needed but I found the Pope’s love and compassion outweighed what we’ve been hearing as the political season is barely beginning to heat up. I ‘m afraid that as soon as next week, we’ll be back to the same old stuff and keeping the TV locked in silence. I can not bare the negativity and hatred that has been spilling forth.

    The word family must encompass the many ways we come together as loving groups of people. My lesbian daughter and her partner are raising a family to be proud of and they are good citizens of this country.

  8. Joan — I’m so very sorry for the emotional upheaval your family endured via that priest on behalf of the church. A crying shame.

    Like you, I prefer to believe in a higher power in my own way. For instance, I like to think about “spirare”—the Latin word for both Spirit and breath. It helps me to remember that every time I inhale, I’m saying “yes” to Spirit.

  9. Joan,

    I felt sad to read about the pain you suffered for many years after your parents were rejected by the church. How anyone can convince themselves that this was God’s will is horrible! I’m glad you were eventually able to forgive and allow yourself to enjoy Michaelangelo’s work.

    It’s easy to say, but hard for people to accept that religions are manmade. These inventions help to explain the unknown and unknowable, control the insecure, and dictate behavior of the many. Invariably it seems religions end up being of great benefit to the few who exact the rules. It’s sad to face, but many people prefer to be told what to believe rather than examine and decide on their own beliefs. That’s why religions continue to flourish.

    Like you, I believe in a higher power that far exceeds the limiting view people like to ascribe to God (and JC). Spirituality can be found in every blade of grass and drop of rain and we don’t need anyone to intercede in order for us to enjoy them.

    Even though I grew up in a Baptist church, we visited many denominations with my mother who as a musician played for many services and programs. I was very fortunate that my mother was flexible in her interpretation of the guidelines of our church and raised us to use common sense and find our own interpretations. Let’s face it, she was in churches mainly because of the music. She loved playing popular music as well as gospel through classics on the piano and organ.

    I’m so happy you successfully emerged from the abuse you received in the name of God, and are now able to share your compassion and beautiful spirit with us. Thank you.

    • Flora, Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful words. Yes, religions are manmade and that is the problem. Those who write the rules too often seek power and gratification, neglecting the needs of those they are supposed to serve. I will not drink the Kool-ade that others willingly swallow. My strength lies in resisting the words of intolerance and is what helps me to live a peaceful and happy life.