I left home on this day, aged 11, for junior seminary. It was a fateful day. It was a wrong road. A young boy’s interest in Jesus was taken by the Church as enough encouragement to lure him away from his family and his friends and his home environment, and to place him in a narrow world of training to be an obedient, celibate priest.
Normal life ceased for me from this point onwards. Idealism and the obedience of youth kept me on that religious road for many years. My quiet and obedient nature led me to trust that this path, walked by so many before me, was a good and safe path to walk. I had no awareness that a life of repression was already developing inside me, as I acquiesced in all that was put before me.
I took three vows to live that life – poverty, chastity and obedience. They effectively deprived me of growing up into my own self, of growing into my own maturity. Poverty deprived me of learning how to make my way in the world. Chastity deprived me of learning how to develop heterosexual relationships. Obedience deprived me of the power of exercising my own will to act responsibly for my own life path.
Today I read that the great abbey of Downside is closing down and the remaining monks are looking to move elsewhere. It stands as a metaphor for how the old Church is dying. A magnificent spread of buildings is now being emptied of its old life. Part of that life, sadly, involved the sexual abuse of children. This brings to mind the film, Spotlight, and the sorry story of abuse that was unearthed in the Archdiocese of Boston.
When that film first came out I did not rush to see it. I thought maybe it was a case of the Church’s enemies having a go. But when I did see it I was powerfully affected by it. I have watched it four times now. It is a powerful meditation on how the Church thought itself above this world, and not answerable to this world’s law.
In Lancashire the massive seminary building of Upholland College is a ruin. To me it stands as an image of the Church that got too big and too powerful for its own good.
Not far away stands my own little parish church of Sacred Heart, Hindsford. Closed now but still standing thanks to a preservation order. It is a beautiful little church and holds precious memories for me of childhood days and of a lovely community of Lancashire folk and Irish immigrants who lived and worshipped there. To me it is an image of what the future church might be: Smaller, humbler and homelier than the organised religious juggernaut that lured a child away from a happy home.
24 September 2021