Reflections of an Ex-Catholic

As a former Catholic, I still carry around a lot of “Catholic Guilt.” You know — the feeling that strikes you when you think dirty thoughts or maybe have sex with your partner. It’s there – forever and always – whether you are still a Catholic or not. That “all-seeing, all-knowing” God is always there.

Growing up I attended Catholic school and went to church occasionally with my parents. I remember that our sexual education in junior high was to copy down the “Hail Mary”; we were instructed to recite it when we had "impure" thoughts. We were told that we would be punished for masturbating and recruited to participate in Right to Life marches. I remember vividly a conversation with our high school chaplain about abortion, and how I felt that under certain circumstances a woman should have the right to choose (I now feel that no matter the circumstance, the woman has the right to choose). Obviously he did not agree and I got an earful about the importance of life and the sacredness of sex. Meanwhile, half my friends were losing their virginity (or at least trying to) and we were not educated about contraception or at the very least about how not to feel pressured into having sex.

I occasionally reflect on why I left the church and now consider myself an ex-Catholic. As many former members of the church would agree, the church needs to modernize. Their stance on sexuality is no longer just laughable — it is costing men and women their lives all over the world. Preaching against the use of contraception leaves people vulnerable to disease and unwanted pregnancies. I also do not support the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality. The teachings of the early church were to love everyone, and accept people for who they are, not to turn your back on people may have a different sexuality than you. The stance of the church on women’s rights and their role in the family is also exasperating.

People do a lot of strange things in the name of God, Catholic or not. My parents come from South America, where the church still wields a great deal of power over national policies. For example, recently in Chile the Constitutional Court halted a national program that distributed free emergency contraception to women as young as fourteen due to pressure from politicians who claimed that “emergency contraception constitutes abortion." Abortion in Chile is illegal under all circumstances. Enough propaganda and myths have been propagated by the church about emergency contraception that they are still believed.

It’s time for Catholics to take back their religion and make the changes necessary to keep progressive people like myself in the church. We are all looking for a sense of community and somewhere to belong, but I won’t belong to a church that believes that I have no rights.

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  • invalid-0

    THANK YOU for standing up for your beliefs! There are a few things that most peole don’t have the courage to “choose” for themselves – political party and religion. Statistics show that most people remain in the political party or the church of their family, even if they disapprove of it. It takes a courageous person to carve out their own path and commit to it. I’ve been wandering for years in search of a religion that fit my beliefs about God and what should be morally expected of humanity. I’ve tried many forms of Christianity but just can’t stomach a religion that teaches “we’re right and everyone else is wrong.” I’ve tried eastern religions but found I wanted something less ascetic. So in a few months I’ll be completing my conversion to Reform Judaism. It is about loving acceptance of people on their individual paths and in the choices they make for themselves, cherishing the little things in life like time with family or a kindness to a stranger rather than the American worship of possesions or power, and working in partnership with God to create a better world. I celebrate your freedom from oppression and hope you enjoy your path of self-discovery that leads you to a place of your own choosing.

  • invalid-0

    As a practicing Catholic, a woman in her thirties, I do not suffer from this “catholic guilt” that I hear so many lapsed Catholics talking about. My honest response to reading your article, Pamela, is that you are terribly misguided and uneducated on all things Catholic. You clearly have not read a single document, letter, book, encyclical on anything pertaining to Catholic teaching. “Theology of the Body” might be a good start – it is one of the most comprehensive works on human sexuality ever written. Your ignorance of the Church’s history with respect to the protection of women and their rights is astounding. You have been duped by the same old clap-trap liberal, pro-abortion, neo-feminist rhetoric which you have clearly swallowed, hook, line and sinker! The kind of Catholic Church you would like to see would not be distinguishable from the National Abortion Federation that you speak for. Let’s be honest, you want the Catholic Church to change to appease your conscience and allow you to have your indiscriminate sex and the abortions that go with it.

    Poor you!

    • invalid-0

      Natalie, her rhetoric does not even attempt to cover doctrine, so keep your red herrings to yourself. It does attempt to cover the primary and secondary level religious education of Catholics, received in Catholic schools all over the world. Here, she is accurate, not only because she is documenting no more than her own personal experience but because she is in line with thousands upon thousands of people who have shared similar stories about Catholic school religious education. Versions of such stories have found their way into every genre of literature and film, including all manner of comedy. C’mon, admit it; she’s not alone in recognizing the backwardness of this education. As someone who teaches the great books at the university level, I am always astounded by the Catholics (and I was one of them!) who are shocked when reading Old and New Testament Books in all their complexity and obvious (at least to a reader that finally learns to read critically) contradication. So, get off your high horse. She knows what of she speaks, and I would guess that you do, too. And if you don’t, then you either didn’t go to Catholic school or you’re in some serious denial.


    • invalid-0

      Dear Natalie,

      If you think that Pamela has an extreme view then you also must recognize that, you also have a strong view. The difference is that Pamela is not angry or threated and you are. Why?

  • invalid-0

    The Catholic Church is a great place to be a woman today! I found that once I learned more about all those so called rules and started putting them into practice life got a whole lot better and a lot more fun. Come on home and see for yourself.

  • invalid-0

    I’d have to second Dorothy’s comments – its true. Once you go through the fear of all those “rules” and actually start living your faith – it’s like coming up for air. Living the way you were created to! The truth is a symphony!
    I’m sad for Pamela as it seems that the truth of the church and what it stands for wasn’t taught very well. So many people don’t understand what the beauty the church really stands for. I’m sorry for her unfortunate misguidance that so many Catholics experience and I hope she is open to really looking into the true treasures the church holds.

  • invalid-0

    Thanks for your reflections, Pamela. I too left the Catholic church over its stance on reproductive rights and homosexuality. In general, the Catholic church has had a checkered past when it comes to protecting women’s rights. I recommend Stephanie Coontz’s book Marriage: A history. Nevertheless, the church has not kept up with economic and social changes. It’s resistance to contraception in particular is detrimental to many women.

    • invalid-0

      I argued with the CCD instructors about abortion, and felt more and more uncomfortable with a church that fought against me because of my gender. Because all the rest of my family are still (apparently) happily Catholic, I didn’t get up the nerve to break away until my mid 30s. As I expected and feared, my family didn’t understand. My father was upset, one of my brothers nagged me to come to church at Christimas “to show respect to the family” (where was their respect for my religious choice?), and my other brother often mixed up (deliberately) the Unification Church with the Unitarian/Universalist church (my new spiritual home).
      The lady who decided Pamela left the CC because of “indiscriminate sex and all the abortions you want” has it all wrong. But if she and the other Catholic woman feel happy to keep their blinders on, that’s their loss.

  • invalid-0

    Pamela, bless you for your courage. I rejected the Catholic church when I married — my in-laws are Catholic, but I refused to convert. What offended me the most was the Church’s refusal to admit women to the priesthood, based on the idea that my female flesh was worse and less God-like than any male’s flesh. My body was less in the image of God’s than my husband’s, but I could redeem myself only through having some enormous number of children, regardless of whether or not I could care for them adequately. You have made a courageous decision; I hope you will stay with it.

  • invalid-0

    Pamela, your commentary was so very sad. Sad because I saw so much of myself in it. I left the Catholic Church when I was sixteen and did not return until I was 51. You are trying to find the same thing I was. I wanted to be Catholic but, I wanted their beliefs to fit mine. I wanted to be able to have sex without the benefit of marriage. I wanted to have an abortion if I wanted to. Well, I never wanted to be a Priest. I didn’t want to have to go to confession because, well, that might mean I would have to live by the ten commandments or maybe even think about sinning against God.
    The truth is, you know what is right and wrong, you just don’t want a reminder of it. So, like me, so many former Catholics would try on different religions trying to find one that FIT us. That didn’t work so we then wanted the Catholic Church to change to conform to the rapidly sinking secular culture of death. Then, we could go to church and pretend we cared about God while still committing all the sins we really knew deep down were offensive to him
    Reality. The Catholic Church was built by Christ and on his words. It is not going to change just because the culture has changed and most people’s Gods now revolve around money, their possessions and themselves.
    If you don’t like Catholicism, go be something else. Just quit whining about a religion that is never going to accomodate or endorse sin and the total lack of morality and the culture of death in today’s society.

    KarenJo, you know nothing at all about the Catholic faith and certainly nothing about why Priests are male. Like most people today, you only know erroneous sound bites. Kind of like the one that says a fetus is not a baby. It has a heartbeat at 18 days (fact) but, it is just a bunch of cells. Kill it if it inconvienences you. Just don’t expect Catholics to do the same.

  • invalid-0

    You aren’t a Catholic and there is no church for you to take back. Real Catholics never left the church. Real Catholics still follow the mandates laid down by Christ and his Apostles. The Mass is the same one it was 2000 years ago. The Sacraments are the same. Real Catholics know that our time on this earth is limited and our only concern is where we will spend eternity. Real Catholics have a relationship with God and know that he is the only one we have to please. We don’t have to accept secular beliefs. We don’t care how progressive you think you are. It is all a delusion. Rutting like an animal and killing your offspring does not make one progressive, just very very lost. What you call looking for a place to belong is really the inborn desire to be united with God. You just don’t want to have to live by god’s rules so you aren’t going to find your place in any church.

    The only thing that has changed in society is that Satan has managed to convince women that if they screw as much as guys, they have freedom. Instead, they just degrade the temple that their body is. I would bet anything you have had an abortion and because you can’t face the horror of murdering your child, you choose to attack the Catholic Church and everything good that she stands for. You choose to attack the one teaching that is so deep in your soul that you would rather do that then confess your sins and ask God for forgiveness.
    You aren’t alone. There are many of you out there. The reality is that God forgives everything. Come on back. Cleanse your soul. Find what true freedom and Love of God is really all about. Once you do, you will wonder how you ever survived with the viewpoints you have.

    • invalid-0

      Before you sit in judgment of others, before you point out the specks in the eyes of others while ignoring the big ol 2×4 in your own eye, trying reading the gospels and what Jesus Christ said in them. Especially pay attention to the parts when he speaks to or of the pharisees.

  • invalid-0

    Great comments from these two ladies! So true, so true!

    I wanted to comment – I think that there is such a lot of willful ignorance ‘out there’. I was absolutely floored by the comment of “KarenJo” who obviously has no idea what she is talking about. Here is just a small sampling of what the Catholic Church thinks about women. I challenge anyone who wants to dis the Catholic Church and it’s stance on women to look up just one of these items. Before you tear something down, know what it is that you are attempting to destroy. Chances are it is there for good reason.

    Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, August 15, 1988

    Pope John Paul II, Letter to Women, June 29, 1995

    Pope John Paul II, General Audience on Mary and the Value of Women, November 29, 1995;

    General Audience on Mary and the Role of Women, December, 6, 1995

    Pope John Paul II, “The Media: Modern Forum for Promoting the Role of Women in Society,” message for World Communications Day, January 24, 1996

    Pope John Paul II, “Motherhood: Women’s Gift to Society,” address to international meeting on women, December 7, 1996

    Pope John Paul II on the Genius of Women (1997) with compendium entitled “Women: Teachers of Peace”, his Angelus Reflections (1995), his Letter to Women, as well as the papal message on the UN conference on women (Beijing, 1995).

    Pope John Paul II, General Audience on the the co-operation of women in the work of redemption, January 8, 1997

    Pope John Paul II, Address to the International Conference on “Women’s Health Issues,” February 20, 1998

    Pope John Paul II, General Audience, “Woman as Masterpiece of God’s Creation,” November 24, 1999

    Not to mention the thousands of essays by prominent Catholic women like Mary Ann Glendon, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Mary Shivanandan, and others

  • invalid-0

    Dearest Pamela,
    You’ve been misled! The Church is not at all what you think it is. I used to be the most pro-choice person out there–my friends and family can attest to that. I know exactly what reasoning you are using to be able to profess that abortion should be a choice. It took a lot of time for God to change my heart, but He did.

    The truth? I’m still all for choice–the RIGHT choice. Abortion is murder. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t fun to admit that fact, but denial of that fact robs the most innocent beings from experiencing life. They’ll never get to make any choices at all.

    The most amazing and beautiful aspect of Christ’s church is that it remains constant–just like our God. God is constant and never changes, so why do you think that His church should change?

    Just something to think about.

    Praying for you Pamela.


  • amanda-marcotte

    I remember that our sexual education in junior high
    was to copy down the “Hail Mary”; we were instructed to recite it when
    we had "impure" thoughts.….I got an earful about the importance of life and the sacredness of sex.


    Ah, the old saying, "Sex is the dirtiest, filthiest thing imaginable, and you should save it for someone you love."

  • amanda-marcotte

    It’s sad how people think the more you learn about the church, the more you’ll want to be in it.  Is there a secret cache of female  priests somewhere?  Is there a "real" Catholic Church that approves of contraception and abortion?  No, of course not.  The more you learn, the more these facts stay the same. 


    So obviously, you’re not asking her to become more knowledgeable. On the contrary, you’re hoping that if she is subjected to mindless repetition of dogma long enough, her ability to think for herself will erode and she’ll accept second class citizen status without a fight.

  • invalid-0

    And because a Catholic wont their babies and become a priest when she is a woman, (Jesus chose men for the priesthood) she is a second class citizen?

    We’re telling her to become more knowledgeable so that she can realize why the dogma you speak of is right and true.

  • invalid-0

    “The most amazing and beautiful aspect of Christ’s church is that it remains constant–just like our God. God is constant and never changes, so why do you think that His church should change?”

    Actually, as I learned when I was in classes for my Confirmation, the church has changed many many times. there were quite a few conventions that were held where the church’s policy and teachings were changed. Also, with regards to the Bible, as I understand it there were many books written, and then some were chosen over others, which doesn’t make much sense, if they were all ‘from god’.

  • invalid-0

    Shas, I’ve, read all those things and most of Glendon and Genovese, too. Glendon and Genovese are overpriveleged debutantes who most object to femimism because it provides a way for people like me to leave the trailer park where God wants us to stay.

    As for all the encyclicals, JPII’s theory was that women had some kind of “receptivity” which he called the “feminine genius.” He never argued that women were fully human beings, entitled to the respect due human beings with agency and intellect. We have some kind of magic power of ‘softness’ from our ability to give birth. That’s nothing but 19th crap dressed up in Latin. When your church recognizes women as fully complete humans entitled to participate in the public world because all human adults have that right and don’t need any other reason, I’ll listen to it. Until then, no bloody thanks.

  • invalid-0

    “As many former members of the church would agree, the church needs to modernize…”

    Yada yada yada. Haven’t people been saying this for about forty years? It’s the same old mantra. It’s not the Church that is the problem, it is modernity and the lies it has created, which are the problem.

  • invalid-0

    I disagree with Pamela’s view on Catholicism, Catholicism was not meant to accommodate the masses or adapt to current day mainstream views of society. The Catholic Church is the Bride of Christ, what Pamela wants to do is turn that Bride into what she feels it should be rather than Jesus Christ, rather arrogant isn’t that Pamela?

    One commenter said the Mass is celebrated the same today as 2000 years ago, it is not. The Council of Trent etc, the Vatican II reforms which in my opinion hurt The Catholic Faithful, many of the reforms were silly and trite such as the priest and altar facing the people rather than the opposite way just so the faithful could feel “inclusive”, gender neutral scripture [goodness liberalism has reared it’s ugly head infecting scripture]

    Many of the Vatican II reforms have contributed to lifestyle laxity of which Pamela is a victim of.

    One example I would like to point out is pre Vatican II one of the most beautiful parts of the Mass was the receiving the Eucharist, it was radically different in those days as opposed to the present day, first of the altar was enclosed by a beautiful golden or brass railing with kneeling pads and Oh My Goodness, you actually had to kneel down and show reverence and respect to the Body of Jesus Christ where the priest placed the Eucharist on your tongue you prayed allowed the Eucharist to dissolve on your tongue [yes that’s what was taught in parochial school by the nuns the Body of Christ was so revered that you did not dare chew it!]

    Today’s standard is tragic no one kneels, some refuse to have it placed on the tongue and have it placed in their hands and then munch on it like Elsie the Cow. Thre is no longer the solemnity that was part of receiving the Holy Eucharist. Please DO NOT refer to the Body of Christ as a wafer it is the height of disrespect!

    Please do not dare tell me the Catholic mass is celebrated the same today as 2,000 years ago, it is not. Vatican II reforms have hurt the Catholic Church and the catholic faithful as well as the catholic clergy.

    We now have a rash of pedophile priests, priests that engage in all sorts of sexual misconduct although that is nothing new, sexual misconduct have been going on in the catholic hierarchy over 1,000 years.

    We now have Father Pheleger acting like a buffoon embarrassing Catholic Priests Archbishops and Cardinals. The point I wish to make is simple, it is easy to bash Pamela for her misguided views, how many of you have the courage to stand up to the Catholic clergy when they are doing a moral wrong? It will not be easy, but the day may be coming when you need to do so.[The Secrets of La Salette] Read it learn it and be on guard.

    I have seen the proliferation of evil, it is far more prevalent today then even as little as a generation ago, it leaves my heart filled with foreboding, yet tempered with the intensity of prayer and the desire of Christ.

    There is much skepticism about St. O’Morgair and his prophecies of the Popes, catholic theologians debate whether it is myth and lore or actual fact. I will leave it to the people to decide.

    Pamela is the symptom, not the disease, it is the source that we need to amend we need to hold our clergy accountable, the arrogance to do so, yet the humility to know that each and every one of us has the moral responsibility to do so we have to take responsibility and blame for all the “Pamela’s” out there and help them.

    All I can say is let Jesus be your guide your moral anchor.

      May God Bless Each and every one of you…Amen
  • invalid-0

    I am a 25 year-old male that stepped away from the church for about eight years ago because of a lot a reasons. With people like psalm51, makes me always reconsider my return. I am not here to change your view only to confess to you why I came back to the church.
    Catholic church preaches about life and love. In many of the posts I saw people discussed about life. It is a very deep issue with all Christians, but I have yet to see as many people outraged for the death penalty and yes the church is against that as well. In the posts I have saw outrage and none focused on love. I feel that God and the spirit of the word moves each of us in different ways and times. Pamela all I can say is that your political identity should be separated from your catholic identity.
    For example, my fiancee and myself do not believe in abortion personally so if we ever had children we would never abort. We do however believe that others have different teachings and morals then we do as Catholics. Thus politically should not force our own beliefs on others, but lead by example and hope people will just figure it out on there own. In other words we will not legislate our personal beliefs onto others, but if ask me on a personal level I will say it is wrong. Is it wrong in the eyes of the church? Yes, but the church is not the United Stated of America. Will I vote on some of my principles yes, but is it the only principle I will vote on, no.
    Lets look at the upcoming election. Both candidates are pro-death in my eyes, but who do I choose? According to some people I know in the catholic church McCain only, because he claimed to be pro-life. Even though he has shown to be pro-death penalty. So what do I vote on? I vote on what each has done in there political lives not just morality; since well as you can see both candidates are not the most polished individuals one can vote on many other issues than personal morality. In all Pamela you should listen to your guilt it is there to point you in the right direction. We all have to start somewhere. As for psalm51, REAL CATHOLICS are people who don’t condemn and tell people they are going to hell or they are not real catholic … A catholic is a person that listens and loves even if it is wrong. Jesus taught by love and understanding.

    Catholic Chump

  • invalid-0

    Good grief all the crazy fundie brainwashed folk came out of the woodwork with this. I am not amazed nor amused.

    Don’t let them talk you into doing something you don’t want to do, Pamela. You are a unique being and the Catholic Church hates anything that is female and unique.