A child’s false God

My first “faith”: Catholic guilt, playing Purgatory, Priests who molested, and kissing cousins

biblegirlBY MARINA GIULLIANI — Read part 1 and part 2 of this Soul’s Code exclusive from the book, Sins of my Faith

Outsiders would say I’m a serial victim of sexual abuse. I reject the word victim because I consider myself a champion and I resist being labelled at all, as such a complex experience can’t possibly be generalized.

Having said that, when I realized my stolen innocence created the havoc that became my future,
my mind raged with the minute details of experiences long forgotten. . .

Even as a young girl, I never really bought into the whole Roman Catholic thing.

Getting up on Sunday morning to go to Mass was just a big pain in the . . . whatever. You had to look girly and be good so that you could sit there and listen to some pompous ass read prayers in Latin with his back to you, while you starved to death because you couldn’t eat for the three hours before Communion. What did that word mean anyway?

Even when they turned the altar around and started reading in English, I still didn’t get it.


As a little Catholic girl, I learned that Jesus’ mom, the Virgin Mary was “full of grace”, and that I should try to be just like her and ask for my soul to be filled with it too. I visualized “grace” as a semi-solid, transparent, squishy, gelatinous glob sloshing around in a white circle, sort of like a full moon sitting in the middle of your chest, which was your soul.

My indoctrination, one sin at a time

virginmaryI figured that grace filled the Virgin Mary’s entire body because she was a virgin, whatever that meant — and while I’m on the subject, what the hell was “the fruit of thy womb”? Anyway, Mary’s soul couldn’t possibly have any sins on it, because she was Jesus’ mother.

I figured that if a venial sin looked like a black spot, lots of venial sins must have looked like a Dalmatian, and a mortal sin had to be the shadow of a big black dog that covered that entire “moon” surface.

“We are all sinners.”  At least that’s what they told us as we prepared for our First Confession, and it was definitely a memorable day.  We young followers of the faith were expected to confess weekly, and were manipulated in a multitude of ways to keep us towing the party line.

However, just when they had you believing you could get off the hook by pleading guilty to a priest whenever you did something considered to be a venial sin (talking in church, missing Mass on Sunday or pummeling your sister on a regular basis) you were reminded that if you would definitely spend an extended period of time doing some nasty penance in a place called Purgatory before God would clear your entrance to heaven.  Trusting, junior Catholics that we were, we took these threats very seriously.

Our family rec-room game: ‘Let’s play Purgatory’

purgatoryAbout once a year we visited the home of my father’s cousin (who was my mother’s best friend from grade school), and her Italian husband and their children. After our dutiful hellos to the adults and the boy cousins, their sister Louanne, Angie and me would make a beeline to the rec-room where Louanne would joyfully exclaim, “Let’s play Purgatory!”

After rearranging the variety of couches and chairs into barriers and obstacles, we’d labouriously climb over hill and dale on our hands and knees until we thought we’d worked off enough sins to avoid the real Purgatory in case we were in an accident and died on our way home after dinner.

The seemingly endless journey through my earliest years were filled with stories of creepy Catholic-ness.  For instance, many years later, we were sitting at the dinner table with my Uncle Tom who was telling a story about his high school teacher. Father Brown (Brownie, as they referred to him) had been arrested recently.

For what you ask? Sexual molestation of one of his students.

As Uncle Tom explained,  “We all knew back then. Everybody knew not to let Brownie get you alone.” Apparently old Brownie would ask the young boys if they were circumcised and if they couldn’t answer, he’d conduct an anatomical check-up. When a victim complained, the old boys club would simply move Brownie to another school. My Uncle was fifty-five when he told that story. He started high school at fourteen.

I discover boys and their “toys”

couple

Being raised in a Catholic home could be completely confusing.  I wasn’t supposed to be “that kind of girl”, but who knew what “that kind of girl” was? I was especially confused when I found out what “that kind of girl” did, because I’d already done it, with a man my parents knew and trusted.

It was the summer before high school, and I was 13. You know, that time when hormones rage in young girls and boys? Well, the parents of some very handsome teenage boys brought their sons cross-country to meet some very average teenage girls, whom they had never laid eyes on.

Being the devout Catholic family we were, my aunt and uncle would never have considered that leaving us alone together would be a high-risk situation. Neither would my parents. I shared my first passionate kiss with a cousin, and had a crush on his older brother for over a year — and didn’t ever consider it weird.

Growing up with no guidance in this area, I developed my own twisted take on sex and intimacy from early experience. I lost my virginity twelve days after my seventeenth birthday to James, a twenty-year-old college student who continually told me something was missing from our relationship. When he dumped me one too many times I finally took control — and said no more.

From then on I lived by a code that went: “Once you’ve lost your virginity it doesn’t matter who you screw ‘cause it’s already gone”.

I learned early on that men could be controlled by sex, and that continuing to have sex with them meant keeping them under my control. You know, I never did figure out what was missing.

Love, actually . . . (to be continued)

sinsofmyfMarina Giulliani’s book, Sins of My Faith: Innocence Lost to Incest, chronicles a true story of stolen innocence and the ultimate redemption of a little girl raised in the Roman Catholic tradition.

Read part 1 and part 2 of this Soul’s Code exclusive from the book Sins of my Faith

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6 Responses to “A child’s false God”

  1. Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem Reply 28. Feb, 2010 at 11:21 am

    As a recovered Catholic I know the power of the indoctrination by the church and the harmful results to women’s self image. Thanks for drawing my attention to this book.

  2. Hi Marilyn ~
    LOL I always refer to myself as a “RECOVERING Catholic”.
    Thanks for checking in!
    ~ M

  3. I’m a devout Catholic, and based on experience, being a Catholic is the best thing that can ever happen to you. The relationships in this world that last are the ones who put the Faith at the center of their lives. Take a long, hard look at yourself, and check if deep inside, you’re really happy – chances are, what’s missing in your life is a strong foundation in the Faith, in particular a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary.. Check out this Catholic website on the Virgin Mary for articles that can help enlighten you in the Faith.

  4. Hello Arthur,
    I sincerely honour your choice and I’m happy for you that Catholicism is were you find comfort. Our journeys are all very personal and as the book continues you will see that I too have found a very deep peace though a Spirituality that does not include organized religion.
    I do have a connection to Mother Mary, as well as other many other glorious Goddess figures as they are all symbols of the Divine LOVE that connects us all to each other.
    Sending you love, peace and joy in your life.
    ~ Marina

  5. I never ever really “got” the Catholic religion. Why did I have to go through another person to talk to God, when I could go directly to the source? Not to mention making up “sins” for confession. I used to argue with the nuns about things they taught us. My mother, who was not Catholic when she married my father, began her catechism when I was four and I could spout Bible stories with the best of them. When I was five told the nuns I was going to be a nun too, and when I changed my mind at age 7 I was terrified for several years that I would go to hell for changing my mind. I also had similar sexual abuse experiences in my strict Catholic childhood, as did my brother. At the age of 12, my brother was raped by a man in our church who had a wife and 3 little girls. While all this was going on, when I was between ages 5 and 13 my next door neighbor, our dentist, a Catholic with a wife and two little boys, molested me telling me that I was “evil” and God told my parents to punish me and they told him to do this as my “penance.” To confuse issues even more, I was molested by two older girls at school as well. I have taken responsibility for all of these experiences and now see them as the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. Clearing these experiences and the beliefs I formed about myself has been the most difficult challenges of my life. I actually traced the karma back to a lifetime where I was a monk abusing boys and girls in the church. All in all it’s been a tough road to “recovery” but i wouldn’t change any of it.

  6. Thanks for sharing your story Mindy. The more light we shed on abuse, the better chance we have of saving our children.

    It is necessary to say that this is not a crime exclusive to the Catholic faith. Being raised in a Catholic community I know many many loving and giving people within the faith. I believe my experience and yours are common in all places where people blindly trust those in a position of “authority” with the care of their children. The recent arrest of the pedophile pediatrician makes this painfully obvious.

    I too see everything that happened to me as a gift, however our transformation is our own and should never be taken as permission for the perpetrators of these vile acts of abuse and control.

    With much respect and love
    ~ Marina