When I was about 10, my family went to a church picnic after mass one summer morning. While there, the pastor came over to my three teenage brothers and I, and with great exuberance, asked, “Would you like to travel the world, meet amazing people, and serve God?” My older brothers, knowing where this was going, shuffled their feet, stared at their shoes and mumbled into their collars. But I excitedly answered, “I want to do that!” To which this pastor responded, in a kind but disappointed voice, “I’m sorry, but you can’t do that.”
I think I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to prove this pastor wrong. I studied hard, got theological degrees, and followed my vocation to teach high school theology and work in campus ministry. I did this for many years, certain that this was God’s will for my life. And I was good at it, even receiving the highest award in Catholic education given in the archdiocese in which I live.
However, in the last few years of my job, there was a change of leadership. The lay person that hired me became a friend and mentor who I trusted implicitly. Though he still held a leadership role in the school, a member of the religious order that “technically” ran the school (in basic ceremonial roles for the majority of my tenure) was given top billing. This priest was familiar with my work, as he and I had been interacting for a few years. But with his new leadership role, he took to micromanaging my job.
Bit by bit, he began to tear down my confidence: second guessing my choices, double checking my details, and generally causing me to go down the rabbit hole of self-doubt. Like any good manipulator, his tactics worked. I began to slip and make errors I had never made. I started to doubt my own abilities, never realizing why I was doing what I was doing. I was convinced that I was losing my touch and getting too old for my job.
It just took one moment to see everything with clarity; the moment he spoke to me in that demeaning way he spoke to our teenage students. He reprimanded me for a comment I made among colleagues; a comment that I had made 3 months prior, at the end of the previous school year. It was not a comment that I regret making, for I spoke a truth about our Church. He then felt entitled to follow his reprimand with a personal attack that went right to the heart of everything I believe about myself. In that moment, I was that 10 year old girl, being told that I couldn’t serve God.
So I made up my mind that day–at the very beginning of a new school year–that this had to be my last year there. I knew I could never go to another school; I had too much love and devotion for my principal to do that.
In the #metoo movement, I have nothing dramatic to claim: just a few clerics thinking that they are inherently smarter, infinitely more worthy of authority, perhaps even more deserving of God’s grace and love than me. In light of the most recent Church scandals, this is what terrifies me the most about the priesthood, and the future of the Church. Until the church hierarchy can acknowledge that its seminaries helped to form this, we’ll continue to perpetuate the formation of a group of people who see themselves as other, as better, and who treat women (not to mention anyone other than priests) as less-than. Though I don’t know any women who have had dramatic experiences of sexual abuse by a priest, I know far too many who have been treated as utterly and completely inferior. The damage done by the choices of a few priests who have done unspeakable actions has caused grave harm to the Church, but I wonder daily about the lesser harms, like those that happened to me and too many other women.
By the grace of God, a new ministerial job fell into my lap. I left a job where I had been for the entirety of my adult life; a job that I had poured my heart and soul into as I felt that I was living out my vocation. Even though I knew that the Lord had opened new doors for me, leaving was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m still working for the Church, but in a different role (and not for a school). And I’m still trying to find, heal, and re-inspire that little girl who had always felt like God had a plan for her.
The author worked in Catholic high school for nearly two decades and is now engaged in a parish faith formation ministry. She would like to return to high school education someday.