What Was It That Made Me A Catholic?

Well it was nothing really, just the fact of being born of my mother and encouraged by my father.  My mother was Catholicism personified, of North Manchester Irish stock, she came from Corpus Christi parish, off Oldham Road.  Prior to the 1914-18 war every other house in that district was Irish and Catholic.  My father was a Protestant farmer’s son from Denton, who on courting my mother and enamoured of her Irish Catholic charms became a convert to the Catholic faith and became a better Catholic than most, judged on the standards of those far off days.

From my earliest days I was surrounded by candles, rosaries, prayers and hymns.  There wasn’t a mass or a church, especially in North Manchester we did not go to.  A benediction here, a stations of the cross there, a high mass somewhere else.  We travelled miles to go to ordinations, visitations and consecrations.  I have kissed more bishop’s rings than was wise for me.

When you woke up in the morning there were prayers, during the day there were all sorts of reminders of our Catholic way of life, prayers at meals, prayers before bed and for my parents a complete social life organised by the parish of St Robert’s in Longsight and managed most strictly and severely by that giant of a man, Fr Vincent O’Shaughnessy, an Irishman of no mean stature, who was later promoted to Dean and then Canon in recognition of his sterling work in the area.  He it was who taught my father Catholicism, baptised him into the faith, married my parents in 1941, baptised me in 1946, gave me instruction in confession and held the host to my lips in 1952 for my first communion.  He it was who welcomed me onto the altar in 1953 and managed my religious life until I served at his funeral in 1961.

We did not have to think we were Catholics, we knew we were.  Our lives were deftly managed so much so that we never knowingly spoke to a person of another religion.  I was bound up in tradition, ceremony and performance.  We were completely brainwashed or immersed into the whole idea of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, where we the people strove to be good, where the priests were supermen and the bishops, emperors of all.

I served on the altar which involved early morning mass, Sunday mass, Benediction in the afternoon, Stations of the Cross during Lent, mesmeric recitations of the rosary during all seasons and attendance at church 24/7 during the feasts of Christmas and Easter.  I sometimes think that up to the age of 16, I had spent more time on my knees than in any other position but I certainly knew I was one of the lucky ones.  I was destined for heaven and the rest for hell, however there was no resting on our laurels, there was always one more hurdle to climb.

Everything was going well, I was going to St Bede’s College, the epitomy of Catholic splendour, there was even talk of me becoming a priest.  That must have been why I was put into the Classics stream at 12 years of age, I had the makings, O’Shaughnessy must have been whispering to Monsignor Duggan, the Rector of Bede’s.  You can see we did not have to think, everything was laid out for us by this seemingly grand design.  Just put one step in front of the other was the unspoken command.

Then something happened, like a light being switched on, girls appeared on the scene albeit Catholic girls.  I was doing things with girls and they were doing things with me that seemed to go against the grain of everything our priests and teachers had taught us and I was enjoying it.  Only I suppose because they were good Catholic girls and we had confession to fall back on, to wipe our slate clean and start again on what was clearly looking like a downward path.  Heaven knows what would have happened if these very enthusiastic Catholic girls had been Protestant.

Along with girls came drink and as always taken in excess and soon I had stopped all the nonsense of ceremony, prayer and ritual.  I rebelled against the excessive physical abuse at school which for some hardly discernible reason was to keep us on the straight and narrow.  We started to think or at least I did for the first time in my life and I decided the regime was unjust, the authorities rebelled and threw me back onto the streets.

I was on the road, more or less a long distance kiddie, travelling the country, seeking work all over the place and good work, well paid work with plenty of shillings in my pocket to spend on the two aforementioned evils.  Catholicism had lost me albeit temporarily.  That life is not really what I wanted and then I met Helen, a good Catholic girl, what else and just like my father I stopped my gallop and like him turned to the Church because of our love for a woman.

I’ll just stop here, a thought as just entered my head.  If it was not for women the Catholic Church would have died out long ago.  It has been women and only women who have kept the light burning.  I wonder whether it is jealousy because the hierarchy revile women, they are second and third class citizens and yet they are the ones who keep everyone and everything in place.

Helen, who is an intelligent sort, obviously saw something in me, God knows what, as I was as rough as they come having been honed in the school of hard knocks that was the construction industry for eight years.  I was almost uncivilised but she saw that flickering flame and kept close and eventually close enough to marry me.  Obviously she saw a talent there to be nurtured.  Well without a doubt there was and it took a long time for her to make a man of me but she eventually succeeded.

She brought me back on board and we lived the whole of our married lives within the body of the Church.  I was reattreacted to a lot of the demands but was never able to get over the hurdle of confession.  By then in my eyes and with my experience the priest had been relegated from superman to one of the crowd and what was the point in confessing to him, you might just as well blurt it out to the first person you met in the street.  With the lack of confession and because of the scruples I had been taught at school, I found I was not able to take communion, so immediately I was demoted into a sacramentless Catholic and no matter how good I was I could never be as good as those who lined the altar rails every Sunday and then I started to study those who did line the rails and realised they were bigger sinners than me with their sanctimonious old guff and their better than thou philosophy.  It did not put me off and in my born again state I did the best I thought I could, helping my neighbour whenever I could, whatever religion he was and working hard to bring up our six children in the best way we could in this Holy Catholic Faith.  Loving the music, song, ceremonial colour and above all the fuss they made of you when you were dead.

After my toils were over I retired to Ireland enjoying the masses in the futuristic church of St Joseph’s and watching with a smirk the same people crowding the front benches as I used to see in Manchester, different people obviously but exactly the same modus operandi.  With time on my hands I started to think and I took up blogging as a means of improving my writing and at more or less the same time the Murphy Report on Clerical Abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin was issued.  Like 99% of Catholics, I had let critical thought wash over me and promptly forgot what it was but now I was pulling my thoughts into printed words and these thoughts became a lot less abstract.  I started to analyse what I was thinking and my thoughts on clerical abuse of children gave structure to my now new disbeliefs in the Church.  I realised I had been kidded all my life by these so called religious and whether it is 1%, 10% or 20% of the priests who are abusers, these buggers knew it went on and kept it covered up.  This cover up, this fraudulent version of the truth and the hierarchy denials was the destruction of everything I held dear.  My church moved from St Joseph’s on the Carrick Road to my head in Wooden Bridge and there it will stay forever repelling all Holy Catholic pleas.

The production of my blog took over my life, I had a tool to fight this crime and I started to fight against this con trick that is the Catholic Church which is just a machine constructed by a few to make money.  Yes some parts are good but we all have to be honest and outlaw evil.  The Church did not do this and therefore the whole of its operation is blackened by this canker.  As they told us at school, the end does not justify the means.

I now despise the Church and the men who run it, I have now lost all belief in everything.  Funnily enough Helen pulled away from the Church at the same time as I did and under no coercion from me.  She has kept her belief in God whereas I have not.  What made up her mind was the wealth of evidence that was pouring into our house about the sexual abuse of young boys at St Bede’s College.  She wanted no more to do with these priests.  I was just mad at myself for accepting all this claptrap for all those years.  The catalyst for me was the cover up, Helen thinks it was my blog.  Either way I am in a better place now, away from those people that once tried to make me a Catholic.


21 thoughts on “What Was It That Made Me A Catholic?

  1. Paul, you are absolutely right that critical thought is the enemy of catholicism (and, indeed, of all religions). My route to becoming a card-carrying atheist was a lot shorter than yours, because I had been trained in critical thought in maths and science (first at St Bede’s, ironically, by some good teachers: thanks Wuff, Gus and Bob Lee) and later at university. Being trained in science to ask for evidence, I naturally wanted to see some evidence for the claims of christianity. I soon realised that there wasn’t any.

    The process was further accelerated by the work I did for gay rights, beginning in 1974, which was my first real introduction to catholic hypocrisy. Gay people faced terrible oppression and persecution in those days. (Things are not ideal even today, but they are obviously a lot better.) It would have been perfectly possible for the official catholic position to be something like “we think that homosexuality is morally wrong, but we strongly condemn all forms of discrimination and oppression – and we will act positively to eliminate them”. That would have been an honourable position (even though I disagree with the first part of it). But they didn’t take that line. They joined in the discrimination and oppression, sometimes in really horrible ways – while simultaneously claiming that they had nothing whatever against gay people. The extent of the hypocrisy was breathtaking.

    (However, I do want to acknowledge the chaplain at the university catholic chaplaincy, who looked the other way as we used the chaplaincy’s printing facilities to produce some campaigning material at the time of the Gay News blasphemy trial. I think he was delighted at what we were doing, but considered it imprudent to say so openly. Individual catholic priests can be thoroughly decent people. It’s the institution that is rotten to the core.)

    1. Well said Linda, the Catholic Church official stance on women and the gay confraternity is nothing less than repugnant. Thank God we do not even have to consider the Church in our new found ideology.

  2. Paul and Linda

    I agree 100% with the above comments. The current Catholic Church has about as much relevance to most peoples’ lives as the Knocker-Upper, 8-track stereo tapes, Betamax videos etc…

    However, I always have, and will remain, Christian in most thoughts and deeds. It’s the actual Catholic Church Establishment I have real problems with, not Christianity itself. Not all its teachings are perfect, but then again, what is? Get ready for the usual rush to church for Christmas, with the usual drunks attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, their either regular annual or bi-annual visit (together with Easter)to the hallowed sanctum.

    An idea of how behind the times the Catholic Church is can be best illustrated by the fact it took till 1965 before the Mass was said in English in the UK. ALL TOGETHER NOW, “In nomine patris, et filii, et spiritus sancti…..”

    Apologies for my Latin. I am aware there should be a line over the u in “spiritus” in order to lengthen the vowel. I stand to be corrected on the rest, please make allowances, I haven’t done Latin since 1969.

  3. The arrogance of the church in assuming that we would never question “the Racket” was,and is, amazing.Turning us into questioning,literate aspirants to a middle -class (ie greed and selfishness unconfined!!) lifestyle has backfired big-time.

  4. My early life mirrors yours Paul. Now I am also adrift on the sea of faithlessness and hopelessness. I have no answers for what has happened to us. We were taught not to expect heaven on earth and we were “socialised” very well into believing that salvation rested within the catholic church – only time will tell whether that is indeed the case!!! I wonder how many of us will have that last final desperate deathbed re-conversion? David.

    1. Well I will not David, my revulsion is total and complete, though I might have a witch doctor or even a butler to bring me one last G&T.

  5. All I want on my deathbed is a quadruple Bells, or three, and Sheik Mansoor on hand for a blessing.
    I would be disappointed, though, if at least one of the Church’s teachings is not correct, ie, the existence of Hell, where I trust Duggan and his ilk, including the cover-uppers, are roasting nicely.

  6. Well Paul
    My life as a young girl was a mirror image of yours. Indeed I was a pupil at Loreto in Moss side at the same time you were at St Bedes. I used to take the 82 bus to Picadilly with some of your contemporaries, although my real love was a guy from De La Salle with whom i hoped to catch the train from Victoria to Oldham central.
    He never really looked at me with any longing!
    I read with sadness and dismay your accounts of the abuse at St Bedes. I had no knowledge of this and can say with total honesty that although the nuns were strict, I really loved my years there. I left for uni in 1964.
    Unlike you, I have stayed in the church and do not see any contradiction in this. I do not want to sound pious and hypocritical, but there is much in the church that I find worthwhile and real. For me it makes sense and I am glad to be in it. I am fortunate to have a great husband for whom faith is a gift.
    I want you to know that there are are other aspects of our faith that do not deserve to be dragged down by the horror and evil of abuse. We are scandalised and ashamed as well but we seek to portray our church as a force for good. Being so bitter diminishes you as well.
    In no way would I wish to diminish the situation of which you speak. I was compelled to write to you. I do not usually respond to anyone this way
    I live in Scotland now but come to Ireland frequently. It would be good to link up sometime.
    With every good wish

    1. Eileen,
      Thanks very much for your comment, I’m glad to see their are some decent people about who can live with this problem and cast it aside. Unfortunately I considered I was duped and since then I have began to realise what a sham the Catholic religion and in fact all religions are. They are just ways of corralling people and getting them to think the same, all the easier to control them. I would love to link up but you have no chance of changing my mind, do not come with the word Saviour tattoed on your forehead. I am, in your words diminished, it is possibly better to leave it at that. I enjoy my diminished state.

  7. Eileen and Paul Thanks for your words. My mother God Bless her used to say also that “faith is a gift – and if you are not given it then tough”!!! I don’t know where that leaves us but if we were indeed given it then we are also free to reject it. I suppose we are not talking about faith as such but The Faith – as we Catholics were taught. By the way I dont think you would need to re-convert Paul – because – Once a Catholic always a ….. – isn’t that so? Anyway cheers and have a good year.

  8. Poor Eileen!! My mate Dave Smith travelled on the Owdham train from Victoria to Mumps. He woud have sorted you out!!

  9. Now that Mr Lefley has dragged me into the discussion (and even though I have lived in New Zealand for 50 years) I can still say one thing with great certainty. You take a number 62 bus to get to Victoria from Moss Side so an 82 is quite pointless unless you wanted to walk for bloody miles. By the time you got there the DLS guy would have taken the 4.15pm and be sitting at home watching Dr Who.

    Seeing as I’m here I would like to compliment El Malpas for his stirring efforts on this site and elsewhere. While St Bede’s often employed some of the finest minds of the 13th century as teachers and school life was lived largely in a 1930w rear vision mirror we Bedians have in fact developed a certain shared style amongst us. One that could be vaguely seen as Christian no matter how quickly the Catholic patina might have worn off. It cuts boldly through the years and, at times, it warms the heart. I am very grateful for it.

  10. Well Dave Smith, I think you’re right, correct me if I go wrong. I used to live in North Manchester, and am also an Old Bedian. The two buses in question (62 and 82) took the following routes:-

    The 62 came from Grand Lodge (Heaton Park Gates, Bury Old Road), proceeded through Cheetham Hill down Bury Old Road, into Manchester Centre past Victoria Station, through Albert Square, then down to Alexandra Road, where it then turned right at Yarburgh Street,just near Alexandra Park gates, then on to Withington Road (past Bedes playing fields on Brantingham Road, right on to Wibraham Road (?), thence on to the terminus at Ryebank Road, alongside Longford Park, scene of many a Bedian Sports Day (most of which I gladly, like school Gilbert & Sullivan operettas) managed to avoid.

    The 82 came from Waterhead, Oldham, straight down Oldham Road, into Stevenson Square, Manchester Centre, then to Loreto, then turned down Moss Lane East and finished, I think, in Chorlton Village.

    Thus on the return journey for the 82 it would seem strange for someone attending Loreto wanting to catch a train at Victoria Station to get a bus home to Stevenson Square, then walk over half a mile to Victoria, when the 62 went right past the door. Also I can remember a number of lads in my year from Oldham who slummed it on the 82 into Oldham – no train for the likes of them.

    I can confirm the 62 route as I used to regularly catch it for 7 years, I had to catch another bus to or from the Halfway House in Cheetham Hill to get to and from home off Middleton Road.

    Isn’t memory a wonderful thing, especially when you get it right?
    Step forward Dave, you win tonight’s star prize!

  11. Just another thought for Dave Smith.

    The lady mentioned she got off the 82 at Piccadilly, then walked to Victoria station. Perhaps no-one at Loreto told her about the 62 bus in the years she was there? Either way, she must have expended a lot of time and shoe leather in the years she attended Loreto, if she’s correct. Her memory seems to have failed her, or she must have enjoyed walking through Manchester
    Centre. No sexist comments, please!

  12. Judging by the Berlinlike wall around Loreto, that blocked even taller Bede’s boys’ craning fforts on the top bus deck to see over, I doubt that any of the cloistered staff at Loreto would have known about buses let alone bus numbers.

  13. Dave, you’re probably right. As regards buses, like White Van MAN, perhaps WOMAN won’t ask the question regarding directions of bus routes. This is being equally sexist, I cannot be accused of bias. I would suggest Satnav has greatly helped White Van Man in his quest for achieving his destination. Maybe it’s a bit late for the other problem, around 50 years or so late.

    1. What as happened to the religion theorists, I’m sick and tired of pensioner bus inspectors. No wonder they all lived in North Manchester, we wouldn’t have them south of the city.

  14. Paul,

    I’ll have you know they recently moved the goalposts in the UK for people to qualify for a bus pass. Previously it was 60 for both men and women, now it’s on retirement only. Still 5 and a half years to go before I qualify. I’ll stick to the car and working in the meantime, paying my taxes so that the pensioners can have free bus passes. Hey-ho!

  15. Apologies to all for inadvertently switching the debate to arcane discussion of historic Manchester bus routes!

  16. To Brian Lefley, in particular, I say make no apologies for the trip down Memory Lane. Unlike some nostalgics, at least you got your facts right. Pity the poor sods at William Hulme Grammar School near Bedes who had Wednesday afternoon off, and as recent as late 1965, were still going in on a Saturday morning.

    I’m not making this up, a lad near where I lived once was on the bus on a Saturday morning, in full WHGS unform, I was in my scruffs going for a game organised by Gerry Robinson at Brantingham Road, Bedes Sports Ground. I asked him where was he going, he explained to school, as at WHGS they attended both Wednesday and Saturday mornings, with Wednesday afternoons off.

    And we thought we had a hard time getting up five mornings a week. Years later, then working in Kings Lynn, somehow the subject came up with a colleague who was a local and had attended Edward VII Grammar school there, where until around the early-mid 60s, they had done the same.

    Which idiot thought that one up?

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