I told my dad it was creepy that we had to kneel in front of an old guy in a robe at mass when I was 10 or 11. I weaseled out of my confirmation at 15 and thought I was skipping into a sacrament free future as a young modern feminist. Yet years later I found myself having ‘words’ with the avid church lady in Galway who was instructing a few unconfirmed foreigners how to be good Catholic wives. I exaggerate – she was leading a confirmation prep class that I had to attend in order to receive confirmation at St. John’s in Galway so I could marry my Irish fiance in the Church but I felt like I was prostrating myself again in a front of a man in a robe.
Fast forward through a Master’s degree, my wedding, funerals, jobs, two baptisms, a move back to the US and here I am again contemplating yet another Catholic ritual. The sick irony of the Irish government hosting a Citizen’s Assembly on the 8th amendment while making no moves to open a criminal investigation into the hundreds of human remains found at the site of the former Bon Secours Tuam ‘home’ for mothers and children makes me wonder why the hell I am considering signing my son up to make his First Communion next year. Why the hell, am I a feminist who does not believe in a literal reading of the bible, still a Catholic at all?
Many Irish feminists and journalists have the answer for me. I can’t be a feminist and a Catholic and I am choosing the easy path by continuing to participate in a corrupt organization’s rituals. According to Donald Clarke’s opinion piece reprinted by The Irish Times in relation to the question of the church’s rituals, I shouldn’t participate in rituals, such as First Communion, if I don’t approve of the church. This might be the simplest solution to my dilemma but who does it help and if it was that simple to me I would have already expunged the Roman Catholic from my identity. As I struggle to answer this question for my own sake (sorry, I don’t care about your opinion about my feminism or my Catholicism) three answers emerge.
Firstly, I like rituals because they connect me to the generations of my family before me and to communities all over the world in a way that creating my own brand of religious rituals wouldn’t do for me or my children.
Secondly, I have enough respect for the victims of the church’s abuse who are still Catholics and still participate in the rituals to consider their faith might not be misplaced.
Finally, feeling like I need to take individual responsibility for the wrongs of the Catholic church perpetuates the silent guilt created by the Catholic power structures in Ireland and Irish-America that allowed communities to stay behind their curtains while not so secret abuse, imprisonment and shaming went on in parishes everywhere.
Why are families urged to take their child out of communion prep or choose a rare non-denominational school rather than demand the crucifix and communion get out of their state-funded schools? The victims of abuse have overcome enormous physical and psychological obstacles to confront the power of bishops, cardinals, parish priests, nuns and the Vatican as a whole and what have we done about it collectively as Catholics to support them? Why in 2014 did Catherine Corless, an amateur historian, have to single-handedly research and publicize the death and secret burial of hundreds of babies in what were public institutions in communities all over Ireland?
The feminist and community development professional in me can’t quite just walk away. I continue to vote even when I don’t ‘approve’ of the major political parties in Ireland or America. Feminists don’t approve of Donald Trump but they haven’t all left the political arena. Women have done the opposite and are flooding political institutions and decision-making structures in the attempt to collectively change politics. The silent treatment is a particularly Irish solution to conflict. I hate the silent treatment. The person you are ignoring doesn’t know why you are ignoring them and you don’t get the satisfaction of being angry. Staying home on Sunday morning is just like the silent treatment. This might prove to be the best option for me but I would rather be part of an Irish-led collective movement to remove the church and their sexist and controlling leaders from social policy in Ireland and the US. I would rather see Catholics in Ireland and America throw off the guilt and silence created by the church and demand their rightful role as members in creating church policy. The public campaign to repeal the 8th amendment in Ireland is the first step to eradicating the smug and sanctimonious moral high ground from Irish social policy.