It can be said that behind any corrupt and broken system, lay the hearts of evil men. We can look for good in just about anything, and that is highly recommended as our primary outlook on life. Yet, that alone does not heal the pain one experiences in a system that, historically, has tolerated the perpetual cycle of control, abuse, and destructive behaviour of some of its leadership.
This morning, a flood of mixed emotions came over me as I read a story a friend posted on FaceBook. It was a story of a small town where I grew up, at least until age 12 or so, of a public high school teacher who abused his authority as a volleyball coach and was accused repeatedly of inappropriate sexual contact, and other unbefitting situations by a number of females under his care. Stories like this make me feel sick inside, as I am all too familiar with that kind of behaviour in the Catholic institution(s) that I was a part of as a high school student.
If I could sum up my experience in a Catholic high school in one word, that word would be HYPOCRISY. That hypocrisy could be extended to individual priests, administrative staff, and teachers.
As an adult, I know that it is not responsible to make generalized or specific accusation(s) against a religious institution without significant and verifiable evidence. But, that is not the point of this post. I simply want to write openly about a few of my experiences and some of the inward and heart-felt pain I sensed in that time. I make no apologies for having a soft and sensitive heart – because that is who I am. I am not seeking restitution or reconciliation – I have made my peace with God. I am revealing some of my tragic experiences in the hope that it will bring forth healing to someone else.
It is no secret that the Catholic Church has been systematically covering up the cycle of control and abuse of some of it’s members for a very long time – perhaps centuries. In the 1970’s, questioning or challenging authority in the education system of the Catholic Church often led to a student’s swift denunciation and expulsion. It was fear of reprisal that kept us quiet about those things that we experienced that were either simply unbecoming of someone in authority or blatantly abusive.
I want to make it clear to the reader that I was no angel in high school. I was a rebel primarily motivated by anger. In a nutshell, I can sum the whole thing up in another word – DIVORCE. I was very angry at my father (a high school teacher) over my parents divorce and the subsequent hardship and pain I was experiencing growing up in a single-parent family of five children. I realize now that my feelings may have been justifiable, but my outward actions of rebellion was not. I had a tendency to make trouble for some of my teachers and, subsequently, the administrative staff at my high school.
One would think that in a supposedly Christian context that someone would have recognized the pain that motivated me to act out – alas, that was not the case.
Please do not get me wrong here, there were many good teachers, especially Catholic nuns, that treated me with unusual love and kindness during those years. It was one or two of the priests, one particular teacher, and a guidance counsellor that gave me (and others) the most amount of grief.
You tell me, is it normal for a priest (who was supervising a gym class) to stand outside the entrance to the showers and slap individuals, like myself, on the bare ass when we exited the showers? Was it normal for that same priest to call me a PAGAN and humiliate me in front of an entire classroom because I wore a small silver necklace with a sign of the zodiac (a gift from my mother)? Was it normal for that same teacher to then turn on a close friend and call her a WHORE in front of the same classroom, simply because she wore a tube top to class? We were both subsequently told to leave the classroom.
As we left, I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. By the time we entered the hallway, she began to sob and cry. “What a bastard that priest is…”, I thought to myself, as anger began to well up inside of me again.
As an adult, I recognize his controlling and abusive behaviour as unbecoming to someone in authority, especially a man called by God to serve others. At the same time, I am not sure if I even really understood what paganism was. To me, the symbol simply represented my birth month (December) and I treasured that tiny piece of silver because it was a gift from a loving mother – nothing more, nothing less. I also did not fully comprehend that the popular forms of dress amongst girls of my generation was morally unacceptable in the school system of Catholicism at that time in history.
But, did that justify the conduct and demeanour of that particular priest? I think not! The painful emotional experience of those two events did absolutely nothing good for me or my friend. I especially felt bad for her. In no way did she deserve to be treated like that by an adult – particularly someone who represented God in society. We were just kids who were still learning and trying to figure out life the best we knew how. There was nothing endearing about our experience(s) and obviously very little that was attracting us to the Church. It was the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Catholic Church.
Behind any corrupt and broken system, lay the hearts of evil men.
The choices we make today become who we are tomorrow.
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