Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Of benches in hallways and other odious memories

I've spent part of the morning reading the comments section on the NCR interview with the lesbian couple whose two daughters were essentially aborted out of their Catholic school. It's funny to me how many excuses and ways the institutional Church has found to abort and abuse live children. I sometimes wonder if the Church hasn't misinterpreted Jesus's statement about 'suffer the little children'. That instead of putting these words in context with the whole message, they've just literalised them to mean make my children suffer. I guess in the long run it's for the good of their souls or their parents souls or the soul of the Church. The reality is, it's all used to protect power and keep people in their assigned place.

Here's a personal story. When my daughter was in Junior High we moved to the Salt Lake area. We were unsure of just what exactly the public school system was like in Utah. We had heard some real horror stories that it was really an LDS parochial school system and that 'children of gentiles' were constantly proselytized for the good of their souls. I did know that there were seminary buildings attached to all schools which were used for the LDS version of CCD. Non LDS students were given the opportunity to attend their own religious classes if they were available, other wise they had a free hour.

My ex husband and I decided to go the Catholic school route for two reasons. Both of us had been educated in the Catholic school system and this would be the first time our daughter would have had to opportunity to attend a Catholic school. The second reason was our concerns about the public school system.

I did have a personal concern though. Our daughter is a Type I diabetic and the Catholic school we enrolled her in did not have a full time nurse nor any special ed program. There was really no professional support for our daughter should she have a severe insulin reaction. So my ex and I brought a diabetic nurse practitioner into the school to instruct the pertinent faculty on diabetic management and to interact with her classmates so they would understand the need for my daughter to eat outside the normal routine. We did this at our expense.

It never dawned on me that rigid adherence to school regulations would preclude appropriate medical intervention. This very Catholic understanding of the importance of regulations and obedience almost cost my daughter her life. She had a severe insulin reaction at the beginning of the school day before the Pledge of Allegiance and morning prayer. She told her teacher she needed to get something to eat as she was starting to feel out it. Her teacher told her that she would just have to wait until after prayers. Jesus came first.

When my daughter fell to the floor, the prayer continued until it was finished, and then she was helped by her classmates who took her to the office where her emergency supplies were kept. She was given about ten minutes to get herself back together and then sent back to class. During that time my daughter called me at work and asked me to come and get her. I immediately went to the school because I couldn't tell from my daughter's conversation what exactly had happened and whether she had gotten hurt when she passed out. I could tell though, that she wasn't quite all there yet.

When I arrived at the school I went to the principle's office loaded for bear. I really wanted to know if the teacher had refused my daughter permission to treat an insulin reaction because of the school's insistence that all children must be present for morning prayer. The secretary answered in the affirmative. I immediately asked to see the principle. I was told in a tone reserved for impertinent children that "Reverend Mother is busy right now and will see you when she can. Please sit on the bench in the hallway and wait until she is available".

At this point a memory of my own first grade year flashed in my head when I sat on a bench in a hallway and waited on another Reverend Mother. It created the "perfect storm". As an adult, and now a mother, I would in no uncertain terms tolerate being treated like a disrespectful disobedient child when the issue concerned my daughter's well being. I was not going to sit on that bench stewing in my own juices and then be expected to apologize for my anger or excuse their mistakes.

Instead I instantly pulled my daughter out of the school and went down and enrolled her in the nearest public school. I never was allowed to see Reverent Mother, and the letter the school sent acknowledging the tuition reimbursement, blamed the entire misunderstanding on my impulsiveness as I didn't stay around to hear their explanation. And how could I not want my daughter to graduate from their school with all her friends?

I thought my daughter would be quite furious with me for taking her from her friends. I found out something else. She hated being at the school and she had no friends. She was generally treated as the uber smart outsider, the 'sick hick' from Elko, Nv. As time went on she recounted horror story after horror story about how she had been treated and how no teacher ever intervened even though they knew she was being totally 'othered'.

The ironic thing about this is that the good Catholic girl was totally 'othered' in the good Catholic school but totally accepted in the LDS public school system. She was one of the elite in a high school of 2000 and loved every minute of it. It was here that she received some healing for life dealing her a very hard blow. She frequently tells me yanking her from St 'Hell Hole' was the best thing I ever did for her and for the slim attachment she still has to Catholicism. She was never proselytized by her LDS friends. They instead spent hours critiquing, comparing, and contrasting the idiosyncrasies in both religions while staying chaste and college driven.

If I sometimes write with a tendency to cut the LDS church some slack, it's because I have reason too. At a time when a Catholic school had come very close to driving my daughter to suicide, the genuine openness of her new LDS classmates gave her a reason to 'keep on keeping on'. They gave her the 'bread of life' when her experience of her own Church school system had given her ashes, had given her a sponge full of vinegar and gall, rather than the waters of life.

What has happened in Boulder does not surprise me in the least. What surprises me is that the moms are acting with incredible forbearance. (Unlike me.) It's not easy to deal with this kind of betrayal of the very Christian principles you send your children to school to have reinforced. It drives home the the very pointed sword of official Catholicism's need to place obedience to the law before the pastoral needs.

No wonder in all the depictions of the Last Judgement only angels are allowed to carry swords. No wonder Jesus told Peter to put up his sword before He made Peter the keeper of the keys. Someone needs to tell Archbishop Chaput it's time to 'put up his sword' and go find his keys.


  1. Thanks for your personal story, Colleen. I too was moved by the mother's story, and by the stark contrast between the behaviour of the school/ church authorities, and of the mothers' response.

    Growing up Catholic in Catholic schools, it was constantly drummed into us how lucky we were to be there, and that it was the sacred duty to give our own children a Catholic education,for the good of their souls.

    The truth is rather different. A Catholic education is often very valuable (I do value my own very highly), but far too often it is more about instilling blind obedience to church authority than teaching Gospel values, or even simple human compassion and sensitivity.

  2. I grew up right behind a Catholic school and church and attended it for eight years, so when I hear of religious people not really being too nice or religious it just totally turns me off to the religion and the authorities in the religion that let it go on.

    It is very sad that things have come to this in the Church to tell some people they are not welcome anymore.

    There were a lot of good comments and the usual ignorant ones who still do not understand the Gospels, but they sure do know how to judge others and reject them so coldly and matter of factly, and they were taught by Catholics, Who the hell wants to be around that? Not me. Burke and his buddies are acting like a bunch of spoiled brat school yard bullies if you ask me.

    I did not want to send my son to Catholic school. I witnessed in my 8th year at that school a nasty nun and it was dreadful to witness her strapping two boys in front of the whole class. Their mother took them out of that school after that, and I can't blame her. When my husband was in 2nd or 3rd grade a nun picked him up by the skin along his temples and lifted him up in the air in front of the class. That's abuse and that is humiliation. My husband boasts to this day that he would not give her the satisfaction of crying and she was surprised because he did not let out a whimper. His mother took him out of the Catholic school too.

    It was such a constrained and small world I lived in back then when in grade school. Most of the teachers were good but for the most part I just felt scared and terrorized in school. I never saw a black person and there were no colored people in our school. They couldn't even live in the neighborhood back then, let alone attend the school. It is just more ignorance run rampant in the world. I am sad that people behave the way they do towards others they do not understand, nor care to understand either.

    Colleen, you did the right thing and got your daughter out of that awful stupid place.

  3. As one who personally both witnessed the intentional & sadistic humiliation (emotional AND physical) of students & was personally abused by nuns, I cannot wait for Catholics in the US to collectively get the guts to FINALLY speak up about the rampant & systemic abuse in US Catholic schools.

    I say this with no sense of vindictiveness on my part; merely the desire for honesty & true justice. While the situation in the US was/is different from that in Ireland, there was one common denominator:

    The creation of a systemic culture of abuse. In the schools (in both faculties & students), and thus in the home - as it was learned in the schools. And got back-up from the pulpit & the parents at home.

    Therein lies a BIG clue about the creation of bullies......

    The whole attitude displayed by both the secretary & the Mother Superior toward you is....typical. You are a mere peon; they are 'superior'. No matter what they do, they are always in the right.

    I recall that as a kid in Catholic school I walked up to the teachers desk on her request. A kid intentionally tripped me. Resulting in a trip to the hospital & stitches.

    Result: the teacher & principal vehemently denied that "I had permission to leave my seat" or that the other kid had tripped me.

    Not that it made any difference then or now, but the culture of lie & imperious dupicity was and is...rampant.

  4. I can appreciate all you say with one reservation.

    I am a former principal and I know that that principal should have seen you immediately given the seriousness of the situation, and you would have had the benefit of hearing what she had to say.

    My reservation concerns the line, "At a time when a Catholic school had come very close to driving my daughter to suicide",...

    Was the school that diabolical? You make it sound as if the school was intent on your daughter suiciding.

  5. RomanRenegade, My daughter was dealing with a tough disease that when puberty hit was made more complicated from a blood sugar standpoint. The up and down yo yo in her blood sugar was also expressed in her emotions.

    The kids didn't help her emotional state and neither did her eighth grade teacher. She did get hugely depressed through all this and one acting out attempt. This incident at the school just opened my eyes to the truth of some of the things she alluded to about her school experience. She was hesitant to tell us everything because her dad was a fourth degree knight.

    Speaking of which, he was NOT pleased with me. Oh well, life goes on. In retrospect, I've never been sure the secretary ever told the principle the entire reason I was there or how angry I was, which may have had something to do with the tone of the letter I received.

  6. Butterfly, your point about parochial schools being a kind of white ghetto back in the day is so true.

    My mother also pulled me out of a Catholic school more or less because my boredom level got me in more than my share of trouble. She enrolled me in a brand new junior high which featured one of the first programs for gifted kids plus a noticeable contingent of international students. I was sooo out of my depth except the classroom where I found out I actually had received a very good eduction. I had spent too many years in uniforms and was totally clueless as to what was 'cool', amongst other things like a much more open interaction between the sexes and to some extent different cultures.

    After six months the family moved to Montana and I found myself in the exact opposite circumstances. A school with eight grades and 26 total students. It really was Little House On The Prairie. Our teacher was a 'groper' and we girls spent most of our time concocting ways to divert or embarrass him. Our parents would never have believed the poor old man had such intentions. Abuse is found everywhere and too often kids are just targets of opportunity.

  7. Shades of the movie "Doubt!"

    Catholicism seems to be afflicted with an unhealthy obsessions with rules and regulations.

    “Some of us, supposedly standing for law and order, are merely clinging on to old habits, sometimes to a mere parrot vocabulary, its formulae worn so smooth by constant use that they justify everything and questions nothing.”

    (The Diary of a Country Priest.)

    And, with apologies to another movie/play - "Oliver" :

    Rules, glorious rules!
    What wouldn't we give for
    That extra bit more --
    That's all that we live for
    Why should we be fated to
    Do nothing but brood
    On rules,
    Magical rules,
    Wonderful rules,
    Marvelous rules,
    Fabulous rules.

    Jim McCrea

  8. My opinion is that a core issue in today's Catholic schools is simply that the parish schools are grossly underequipped to deal with adolescents. There is both a lack of variety of activities, and the lack of a broader social circle that kids need at that age.

    Our daughter's education through 5th grade was excellent, and 6th grade was decent. If I had it to do over again, I would not have put her through 7th and 8th grades.

    She is going to a Catholic high school despite my skepticism, simply by my being overruled 2 to 1 by her and her mother.

    Among teachers, parents, and students, I think they convince themselves en masse that they'd be chewed up and spit out in public school. I have no reason to believe that, despite living in a majority-minority public school district.