Guilt and Growing Up Catholic

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    Though the Catholic Church has supposedly changed a great deal, in truth its modernization is a veneer over a decaying 2000-year structure. The cornerstone of medieval Catholicism—guilt—is still the cornerstone. The only difference is that rather than guilt with an iron fist, it’s now guilt with a velvet glove.

    When I was young, we were marched off to confession once a week, even in elementary school, for the purpose of well and truly inculcating the habit of guilt into us. ‘Instill guilt and control them for life’ was the Church’s unspoken program.

    However, after being an altar boy for a few years, I saw behind Oz’s fear-mongering curtain. By the time I was a junior in high school, I’d had my fill of guilt as a means of individual and mass control.

    Guilt is an inadequate response to a real or imagined wrongdoing. Being an inadequate response, it perpetually falls short of remedy, both for the transgression (providing there was one, since one of the tricks of the Church was convincing people they were sinning when they weren’t), and the transgressor.

    Confirmation, as it was called then, is the act of corroborating one’s Catholicism. The idea was that once the boy or girl had come of age, they would intentionally affirm their belief in the Church and its doctrines.

    After receiving Confirmation in the 6th grade, I became an earnest little Catholic boy for a while. Of course, the notion that a boy or girl of eleven could maturely make such a decision was preposterous. Now the pledge comes later, in the supplicant’s teens.

    Anyway, at that time, the Mass was still in Latin, and as altar boys we had to memorize all our responses, including the lengthy and daunting Confiteor.  But a few friends and I managed to do so, and initially saw ourselves as proud members of a sacred ceremony that dated back to Roman times.

    I can mark the event where the first chink in my carefully conditioned Catholic armor appeared. I was in the 7th grade, and had served Mass that morning with the class clown, who also had a premature affinity for girls.

    Unbeknownst to me, the hellion in question was flirting with the girls who filed up on the other side of the priest for Communion (the boys filed up in front of me). Taking Communion is the most important and reverential part of the Mass in Catholicism, the point where the consecrated wafer, through transubstantiation, becomes “the body of Christ.”

    Later that morning I was walking down the corridor of the old Intermediate School with another boy, when Sister Clementia made an angry beeline for us. I was one of the lucky kids that had the young and pretty Sister Mary Margaret the year before; the unlucky bastards that had Sister Clementia are no doubt still nursing their wounds. She was every bit the terror her name evokes.

    When the woolly, multi-layered nun reached us, she immediately began striking my friend about the head and face, while screaming something about Mass that morning. She was a big nun, tall and fat, and the blows were serious.

    It took me some seconds to realize that she had mistaken my friend, who looked something like the kid I served Mass with that morning, with the kid with whom I actually served. Besides the cursory resemblance between my friends, she had obviously recognized me, and that was enough to send her into full attack mode.

    By the time I got through to her, my friend was a whimpering mass of heaving flesh. His face was bright red, both from the blows, and from his sheer embarrassment and bewilderment at the beating.

    It was what Sister Clementia did next that determined the beginning of the end of Catholicism for me. Her action showed me what the Catholic Church was really about, though it took me a few years to confirm my intuitions through direct observation, as well as research into its corrupt history. The experience also provided a window into the entire manipulative structure of the Church’s keystone: guilt.

    When the good Sister realized she had the wrong offender, and the boy I was with wasn’t the one that had committed the mortal sin of flirting with the girls during Communion, she didn’t say a word, but just turned on her heels and strode resolutely back down the corridor.

    By the time I was a senior in high school, I’d begun the dangerous process of questioning things. One of the questions I asked was: What is the difference between guilt and responsibility, and what part does conscience play in either?

    Martin LeFevre

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