Why did I cry watching coverage of the Pope’s visit to Knock this morning?

I had the news on briefly this morning before my swim and found myself unexpectedly crying at the sight of children and adults at Knock Airport. I was at Knock as a kid (along with Lourdes and many other places of Catholic pilgrimage) and I imagine these people waiting for their spiritual leader, who has apparently now ‘begged forgiveness’ (click HERE) moved me.

These people are not responsible for the horrors of the Catholic Church. I appreciated the coverage I saw, on the BBC (I forget his name but he was a theologian who’d also been at the last visit as a kid, bringing water to the media) exploring the complexity of it all. He talked about Knock being a special place associated with healing and forgiveness and compassion and I love the idea of any place encouraging such qualities.

We live in a world where so much is portrayed in black and white, good and bad, right and wrong terms, it’s like the people who shout the loudest become the only voices. This post is more personal than many of mine (my previous controversial ones were all lost when the old blog didn’t propagate to the new site).

Personally, I’m dealing with the rage and anger and fury it’s triggered in me. I’ve been angry with the Catholic Church for decades because while there’s a lot about this part of my upbringing that I appreciate, it left me vulnerable to predatory men when I was younger.

I appreciate the sense of there being ‘more’ to life although I mostly feel that in nature. It’s also the only thing that both my parents were. Being London born Indian Irish, the fact that both sides of my family were historically Catholic meant they had that in common.

Apart from being a human being who hates the idea of any kind of abuse of power, for a long time I blamed the Catholic Church for my own childhood stuff. Even though it wasn’t a priest or even a Catholic in my case, little 6 or 7 year old me had been conditioned by Mass etc that I wasn’t worthy (I somehow never got the ‘miracle’ part of that ritual where, through Christ’s love, we become worthy to take Communion. I always expected to be struck down) and that, especially as a girl, I had no voice and had to endure and put others’ needs way ahead of my own.

Apart from that, I used to silently protest the elements of responses and hymns that felt misogynistic long before I knew the word by singing words and stopping. Almost all the other Catholics I’ve ever spoken to about this have been amazed at how closely I paid attention to a lot of this but hearing ‘banished children of Eve’ on a regular basis made it feel more personal. Also, Eve being blamed for pretty much everything.

I changed schools a lot but spent a few years at a Catholic primary school and a Convent high school. What I remember most about the Convent school, more than the nuns, was not knowing, day to day, which of my ‘friends’ would or wouldn’t be speaking to me. Again, looking back, this tapped into my sense of general self-loathing and unworthiness. Changing to my local comprehensive was one of the healthiest things I did as a teenager.

I’ve avoided a lot of the coverage about the ‘abuse scandal’ and have been attempting to hold that ‘both/and’ approach I learned about during my psychosynthesis counselling (HERE) training – the years of therapy I had helped me learn to attempt to hold that wider sense of people being complex.

With the current Pope, I find it especially challenging as he seems to be a good man and yet he leads what has been described as a criminal syndicate which has enabled so so much abuse and pain and loss and. For most of my adult life, I dismissed pretty much anything to come from any organised religion as oppressive.

How would we ever have equality when women weren’t allowed to be priests? How can anyone suggest let alone try to dictate that a woman continue with a pregnancy and birth that she doesn’t want? I am enormously relieved that Ireland recently voted to Repeal the 8th. Why not do more to ensure the babies that are born are loved, cherished, protected and nurtured? How can anyone suggest that any kind of love is not only to not be celebrated but ‘evil’?

Pope Francis somehow seems more human than previous Popes. He genuinely seems to care. I cried hearing he had met with a group of survivors.

Predators need to be caught and prevented from hurting others. There are cover ups not just within the Catholic church but in families around the globe, schools, communities, workplaces etc etc.

The coverage of Catholicism as all bad annoys me because it’s become a lazy default. The vast majority of Catholics are kind, loving humans. Catholicism – Christianity – did not spread through the globe with peace and love. Jesus’ teachings have been hijacked by many – not just Catholics. I feel real sorrow to think about the violent colonisation that led to so many countries becoming Catholic countries. I also feel sorrow to think of all the persecution and exploitation of Catholics in Ireland, the UK and elsewhere.

The US has a self-confessed sexual predator in the White House. Apart from the beyond disturbing Russian interference, White Supremacist angles, 45 was put there, in a big way, by conservatives. They seem to believe so strongly in restricting other people’s rights to sovereignty over their own bodies, the freedom to love whoever they love etc that they overlooked all sorts of behaviours they’d protest in anyone else because of his capacity to appoint regressive Supreme Court Justices who will impact the law for decades to come.

Yet our consumption of American music, film TV, books etc means we know there is SO MUCH MORE to the US than this. Catholicism is portrayed in a very limiting way (apart from Sean Bean’s amazing performance in the phenomenal  Broken recently).

Part of what made me cry this morning was my huge affinity for this part of Ireland (it will be my local airport when I move). There was also something about the bit of the report I heard, about Pope Francis listening to some of the survivors that moved me.

While I swam up and down, processing my rage by letting as much as possible out in a healthy way (movement), it made me wonder, what do we – what do I – want? Maybe for him to meet with every survivor who wants to meet him? His call for justice sounds good but what will it mean in reality?

I still have way more questions than answers but, apart from my heart going out to all survivors and victims, I want to be a peaceful presence on the planet (suddenly reminded of one hymn from my childhood that I did agree with – the St Francis ‘Make me a channel of your peace’).

I think about the lovely (and human) Catholics I know including nuns and priests. Especially a priest who really helped me in my teens by attempting to get me to put my wellbeing above Catholic dogma. It was a brief conversation (Confession) but no matter what I’ve heard or read about far too many (one would be too many. The systematic nature of this abuse and cover up is horrifying beyond measure) priests, this memory helps me remind myself about all the ‘good’ Catholics.

The more we can all engage and listen and attempt to really hear ‘the other’ instead of pathologising, projecting all our own stuff onto others and pretending to ourselves that we’re fine and other people need to get their act together, hopefully, we’ll be able to move forward.

I really hope justice IS served. I don’t know how it can be. Such abuse. But, as with what’s happening in the US and in so many parts of the world, this abuse, this ‘shadow’ stuff emerging, can hopefully be dealt with and transcended in a way that leads to healing for everyone.

In the meantime, I’m using today’s full moon to journal, be gentle with myself, allow my tears and rage and attempt to release as much of my own rubbish as I can, let go, move on and be free.

Big love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor

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