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  • EXTRACTS

  • DADDY’S GIRL’S GUILTY AS HELL!

The Lonely Legacy of Catholic Guilt: A Woman’s Soul Imprisoned

By Susan Ni Rahilly

ISBN 0953566714 suZenYoga.com Digital eBook 222 pages December 9th 2010

Susan Ni Rahilly writes in an unashamed and direct style about the things which affect all women, for example perceptions of sexuality and intimacy in relationships;

There are many confusing and conflicting messages: women occupy the status of a Madonna or whore, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground; I must be to blame if sex with a man isn’t great but I must be whorish if it’s good. Heavy stuff!

As catholic women we’re given the virgin mary as a stereotype for a woman’s sexuality. The icon of the virgin mary and the concept of the immaculate conception came from Babylonian times. The Greeks and Romans also had the concept of the gods and stars coming down from the heavens to impregnate women who then gave birth to superhuman (male?) children.

The catholics must have absorbed all the myths that were around. And what has resulted is a ridiculous expectation to put on a woman that she has to have sex with her husband to have children but by being unable to have immaculate conceptions she is less than good. This is a state she can never get out of by her own power.

Grainne told me that her mother had so wanted her daughters to remain virgins until they married, she used to pray fervently every night and say her rosaries. Grainne was a virgin when she married. She was also dead guilty about having sex with her husband. Her mother only realised what guilt she’d passed down when Grainne told her; “Mummy, I can’t do it. You’ve prayed all these years for me to be a virgin, and now something that wasn’t alright a day or two, or a week ago, is suddenly alright?”

It took her six weeks to lose her anxiety about having sex with her husband.

And when I was married and Simon and I went home for my sister’s wedding, I had to ask my mother to put us in a room with twin beds. “Mummy, I can’t share a bed with Simon in Daddy’s house!”

I would rather have died than Daddy knew I was sleeping with a man under his roof – even though he was my husband.

Susan confronts the damaging guilt based Catholic expectation of women to remain in disastrous marriages regardless of the circumstances;

Eileen told me: “I remember I went to school in Dublin in the 40’s and 50’s and I went to a school friend’s house one day. It was very unusual then not to have the father living at home. And my friend explained to me that her father was an alcoholic and used to beat her mother up. Her mother would go for help to the priest and the priest would verbally attack her and say ‘you married for better or worse.’ It was just that awful way the woman was trod on then. And catholicism helped to encourage that control that the husbands just could be kingpins and the wives had no say – it was like signing a death warrant for a slow death if you weren’t lucky in your marriage, you know if you married the wrong partner.”

Eileen goes on to say; “Catholicism breeds such low self-esteem – among most of the women I grew up with. I find most catholic women lack self-esteem. It’s to do with the catechism and our brainwashing. The values put upon us…At a certain age I just felt so cheated by all the bullshit, the taboos instilled in me through my catechism…”

The effects of low self-esteem can be devastating as Susan illustrates from her own experiences;

I thought I was overweight and that my body shape was wrong. I dieted drastically and took slimming pills. Sometimes living on pills and black coffee and cigarettes, in my 20’s.

I thought I was not pretty enough, so I spent god-knows how much money on hairdos and makeup and clothes and accessories, sometimes getting into debt.

I couldn’t understand anyone loving me enough, I thought so poorly of myself I had problems with understanding what love was about and so I had difficult relationships and thought there must be something wrong with the men in my life for wanting to be with me – which eventually led to my early divorce.

I thought I was not clever enough so I couldn’t possibly be successful and as a result my jobs didn’t last that long and my businesses were either not that successful or the success would not last very long.

But what else, realistically, could I have expected? I was given a fear-based way of thinking about the world, which basically meant that I was going to have a very different way of seeing life from ‘ordinary’ people.

A selection of different women’s stories relating experiences of guilt:

Expectations and experiences within relationships;

As I was growing up, I saw society around me and I observed clearly the reality of most relationships (especially in our house!), but I was told about fairytale expectations: love and marriage and living ‘happily ever after’.

But what if it just doesn’t work out like that?

This is Roisin’s experience: “The key way catholic guilt has affected my life is through relationships. I feel cut off from feelings and emotions of a sexual nature. I freak if anyone expresses a sexual interest in me.

I remember when I was 20, I met a lad I really liked and started to develop feelings for him. I could not see this as a natural thing, I thought I must be wicked to feel the way I did. I didn’t dare tell anyone that I craved a physical relationship with him. I thought I must be abnormal.

My inhibitions about physical intimacy meant that I had to be ‘drunk’ before I felt able to respond to the man whom I felt love and trust for. As a result my only two relationships with men were brief and anxiety filled.”

Grainne told me that her mother had so wanted her daughters to remain virgins until they married, she used to pray fervently every night and say her rosaries. Grainne was a virgin when she married. She was also dead guilty about having sex with her husband. Her mother only realised what guilt she’d passed down when Grainne told her; “Mummy, I can’t do it. You’ve prayed all these years for me to be a virgin, and now something that wasn’t alright a day or two, or a week ago, is suddenly alright?”

It took her six weeks to lose her anxiety about having sex with her husband.

Eileen’s marriage didn’t get off to a good beginning. She was made to feel guilty big-time at the beginning of that relationship, victim of the ultimate shame for a catholic: ex-communication.

I got married in 1963 and in those days if you married a Greek Orthodox – or anybody out of your religion: A) you couldn’t get married on the main altar and B) by marrying a Greek Orthodox I was ex-communicated”

That was the catechism I had been taught in the 1950’s. One of fear, and a guilt trip for life.

A few years later, the pope and the patriarch met up and they became friends and suddenly it wasn’t a big sin anymore – you know, one could inter-marry. But I was very angry and bitter about it.

I remember my mother ringing and telling me ‘Eileen, it’s okay, I spoke to Father Murphy and you can go to mass now.’ And I said ‘Well, it’ll take the pope to come to London and ask me and maybe I’ll consider it!’

You know, I’m still very angry – all these years later. They just changed the rules and suddenly everything was okay!”

My sister Theresa also learned about the catholic rules at the beginning of her marriage. She too got ex-communicated. “I went to Monsignor Le H. before I got married to tell him my prospective husband had been married before. He told me that if I went ahead with the marriage I would be ex-communicated, and that I would not be allowed inside a catholic church again and couldn’t take communion. However, he also told me it was my duty as a catholic mother to bring any children I might have to church and make sure they got the sacraments. Bloody hypocrite.

I told our parish priest Father C. what had happened when I went to him to book the parish hall for the wedding reception. ‘Oh, you should have just come to me’, he told me, ‘it would have been alright with me.’” Theresa isn’t angry like Eileen, she just laughs at the sheer stupidity of the situation and what she calls the “ignorance of these stupid men in authority in the church. How can one of them have one rule and another priest has a different rule, when they’re all supposed to belong to the same organisation?”

Examples of the anger felt by many women towards the Catholic religion;

Caira has a story to tell. “My mother was rushed into hospital in labour – my father had beaten her so badly when she was 8 months pregnant.

And when the baby was born, it was stillborn. Mum was haemorrhaging and they took her down to theatre and gave her the last rites – they were so sure she wasn’t going to make it, she’d lost so much blood.

She had to have an anaesthetic and an emergency hysterectomy. So when she was brought back up from theatre it took her 3 or 4 days to get over the effects of the anaesthetic, she was kind of ‘in limbo’ as such. And when she finally realised what had happened, the head nun came into her and said ‘how many children have you got dear?’

Mum said ‘eight’.

The nun said ‘and what are they?’

Six boys and two girls’

Then the nun said: ‘then you don’t begrudge one to god do you?’ Meaning like, sure it’s nothing, you can get over it.”

Ciara herself is a mother of four: “And as everyone knows, it’s the hardest thing in the world for a mother to get over the death of a child – should she have 20 children! It’s still a life wasted, you know? That nun thought my mum had no right to grieve, that god had more right than she had.”

Eileen is angry at how rich the church has become. She said: “Oh, it’s a business – and I think most churches when they start getting too commercial lose contact with what christ’s teaching were. You know, who was christ? – a simple man; did he have gold chalices to drink from?

Something very important happened in my childhood. I think that’s when I started questioning. I was singing in Dominic Street choir. We would have our choir practice in one particular room at the back of Dominic Street church.

They were redecorating and we had to go through the sacristy, through the priests’ living quarters to practise in this one particular room. And remember, I’m talking about the early 50’s. Dominic Street was full of tenements, I’m talking about poverty in Dublin, 2 rooms, 8 children, you know?

As we went in the back to choir practise, I saw a door open and I was very curious. We opened the door. I remember seeing a sideboard, it was the dining room obviously, with a display of food which was unbelievable.

And I thought of the poverty outside. It hit me, it was the pits. I started questioning things then.”



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