A white woman growing up in England, UK, striving to be an ally for survivors of clerical abuse.
Bursting the Catholic bubble…
I was brought up as a Roman Catholic girl in England in the 1950’s and 60’s Three generations back my maternal relatives came to England to find work and escape poverty in Ireland. As Roman Catholics they felt that they were members of a ‘second class minority’ within a dominant Anglicanism and Free Churches. My grandmother remembered with pride, the struggles of working-class people during the 1930s to raise money to build Catholic Churches.
Our lives as Catholic children ran along parallel lines to that of other children. We lived in a Catholic Bubble, attending catholic schools, socialising with other catholics, and spending Sundays very differently. We were taught a catholic version of English history, a story of persecution and martyrdom. We sang ‘Faith of our Fathers living still, in spite of dungeon, fire and sword’. Along with the sense of socio-political inferiority was a shared conviction that Roman Catholicism was ‘superior’ to other branches of Christianity. This was reinforced by prayer and liturgy, ‘the one true, Catholic and Apostolic Church’.
We learnt about abuse of power and oppression the hard way by experiencing its injustice. Not at the hands of priests,as far as I’m aware. They were creatures from another exclusive realm, but through the catholic primary school. Here we learned that rebellion didn’t pay. The compliant, ‘good’ girls and boys were rewarded with extra coaching to pass exams. The rebellious were ignored or beaten. Our head teacher ruled through fear. The leather strap with thongs, public humiliation and the fires of hell were just around the corner. My survival strategy was compliance. It worked, but at a cost.
These experiences were formative to my awareness of oppression within and outside of institutional Christianity. Thank goodness for sociology and psychology. I began to understand what was going on. It’s a lifetime’s work.