I started this week to write about one aspect of culture grooming that comes through the organization of organized religion.
I was raised catholic. Well, let me rephrase that – I was raised loosely catholic, meaning I was taught to do the minimum [church on Sunday and on major holy days], but I was never truly schooled in the deep teachings of the church. I took some classes to prepare me for first communion, for confirmation, but I remember they were taught with a “light” touch, never delving deeply into theology.
Mostly, I learned the basic mythological stories from what they called “the old testament” and “the new testament” and the basic way of being in church. I did not learn why one testament was old and one was new, I did not learn about what the church was opposed to, I did not learn to be curious about the history of the church itself.
I learned to memorize, and I learned to not look too closely.
Which I did.
And [maybe because of this] I loved church. I loved the stories, I loved the rituals [incense and bells gently rung and music and a way to pray], I loved the sermons. I loved sitting in community with the intention of being with spirituality, of praying. I loved how it felt a place to have a belief in god.
I kept going to church even after my parents stopped. I kept going to church even when I went by myself.
I loved my priest when I was in high school. He was funny and deep and seemed so wise. I felt a truth resonating in the stories and the way he talked about the stories. I felt the ancient traditions – dying to be reborn, the acknowledging of “sin” so that we could be “saved” and the impossibility of it all.
I believed with all my heart. I learned a great deal about faith, devotion. About what it is to “pray” and be received.
I learned that it is okay to be on a spiritual path.
I learned other things, too.
This week, the Vatican issued a statement on whether any priest in the church could give blessings to same-sex “unions” in the catholic church. In a statement issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church said no.
The statement [which you can read here] expressly says that members of the church cannot “bless” such unions, but that the church could welcome LGBTQ members into the church.
Interesting even the language of putting the statement out – that “the Vatican” issued this statement, not the people of the Vatican, not the writers, not the Pope [although they did all sign off on the statement]. The Vatican. Meaning – “this is the belief of the whole organization, the whole church and therefore is rooted in the doctrine of god”. The weight of all the church behind it.
Interesting, too, the language within the statement. For the statement argues that no one in the church can bless same-sex unions [“The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships”] because a blessing is a sacrament, and a sacrament causes the thing blessed to be sanctified. Only marriage “between a man and a woman” is considered by the church as blessed and sacred.
The church document is heartbreaking to read, for it encompasses an ideology of discrimination and judgment with language of “logic” and “love” and what “God Himself” has handed down.
Like this. Here are some statements from the edict with a “plain speak” translation:
From the church: …it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. Therefore, only those realities which are in themselves ordered to serve those ends are congruent with the essence of the blessing imparted by the Church.
Translated: Same-sex love/marriage does not express grace and is not congruent to “God’s designs.” Same-sex love/marriage is the opposite of grace.
From the church: The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same-sex is not therefore, and is not intended to be, a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals, as the Church understands them.
Translated: We are not discriminating unjustly by condemning same-sex love/marriage by calling them unlawful to God. No! Of course not! This is just a statement of sacramental truth.
From the church: At the same time, the Church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him “we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit”. But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him.
Translated: But we bless the terrible, lost people who are in same-sex love/marriage because maybe they will recognize their terribleness and stop being themselves.
Words of “grace” and “God” surrounding hate.
I finally left the church as a young woman when I began to “look more closely” at church doctrine about women, about men, about sexuality, about faith.
I left and have continued to witness how the language of the language of “The Vatican”, language of church doctrine has been, in many ways, cultural grooming. Like in this latest, terrible, example.
And in light of stepping into finding the places where I have been groomed, it is heartbreaking to feel the places where I was groomed into hatred of my self and other within an organization where I also felt spiritual presence.
Here are some ways I was culturally groomed by the church:
- I was raised [groomed] on beliefs about the body, about my body, about how I should feel about my body and how I should have my body in the world. I was raised [groomed] in a church where I sat and looked at “the body of Christ” every week as it towered about me in my church. In most churches. The body that was tortured.
- I was raised [groomed] in a church that told me my body, my girl body, was temptation. Was the reason for the fall. Was the reason why the body on the cross [bloody and in anguish] had had to be sacrificed.
- I was raised [groomed] in a church that taught women could not be church leaders, just church helpers. My great aunt, who was a nun, living her life teaching music and “tending to the poor.” I was taught that to be a “woman of god” was to shave my hair, cover my entire body in large robes, remove myself from mainstream culture.
- I was raised [groomed] in a church that told me my place was below a man’s place. That told me I could not have direct relationship with god but needed the mediator of the church. That told me I could not understand church doctrine or theory and that I need not read the sacred texts, just listen to what was taught on Sundays.
- I was raised [groomed] in a church that “taught love”, but taught hatred and condemnation to anyone who did not fit its narrative – i.e., like those who loved outside the narrative [LGBTQ love], like those who believed differently [anyone who is not catholic – catholic meaning the one true faith – including all other faiths and all other forms of christianity].
Groomed to believe a narrative carefully crafted over thousands of years. To not ask questions, to not love my girl body, not love who I might love, not trust any spiritual experience I may have. To denounce anything outside the organizational narrative as sin against god and church, as vice, as evil.
Groomed to believe in hatred as a way of being pious.
Hatred as a way of being devotional.
Self-hatred as a way of being devotional.
Groomed to believe in hatred as love.
I have been considering the ritual of going to church every week, of the process of the ritual. Stand, kneel, sit, listen. Stand, kneel, recite, listen. Stand, kneel, sit, stand, shake hands. Stand, kneel, take bread, kneel. Everything uncomfortable for the body – the hard pews, the hard kneelers, the dry wafers.
I have been considering how I was never taught the meaning of what I recited. I think of the Nicene Creed [“I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church…”] which was never explained to me or why it was called what it was called. Just memorize it, I was taught. [I can still recite it, even 30 years after leaving the church.]
I have been considering how I was never taught the history of the church. Just the absoluteness of its teachings.
I have been considering how there was no teaching of any other religions or belief systems or spiritualities. I was taught there was one way. One. All others – false before god.
From birth. From first communion [in my little white wedding-like dress] to confirmation to being a full member.
I have been considering, too, how my ancestors [both sides of the family] were taught [groomed] these things, too. Catholic on my father’s side [second-generation Italian], catholic on my mother’s side [fourth-generation Irish catholic].
Embedded in my body – hatred as love.
Reinforced by the sheer weight of its history. The sheer grandeur of the cathedrals, the art, the music. The sheer numbers of believers.
The examples of devotion to god – my nun great-aunt, my grandmother who went to church every morning.
Just like the New York Times diverts attention by watered down language of systemic racism, the place where I learned about spirituality, sacred stories, god, how to be a good human also diverted my attention away from the systemic abuses within the organization.
Systemic abuse of children [sexual abuse of children by priests and the protection by the church of these predators], of women [i.e., the Magdalene Laundries, especially in Ireland], of LGBTQ people [i.e., conversion therapy]. Systemic abuse of power.
Systemic violence in the history of the church that has been “shrugged off” [Crusades, Inquisitions, Wars. Racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam].
Systemic grooming in the process of not teaching its history, not learning history.
How does a girl, then, learn to have voice. Learn to have agency over her own body. Learn to know how to love who she loves, how she loves, what she believes. Learn to trust her curiosity and desire for exploration as are all part of her soul, sacred journey.
Learn that she is grace – whether she love a man or a woman or a nonbinary human.
How does a girl, grown into woman, learn to question any authority.
How does a girl learn the true heart of love when she is taught that god’s love is completely conditional.
How does a girl take these lessons into all aspects of her life as a woman and a woman seeking her spiritual path.
Next: The Good Woven with the Difficult