Every Sunday looks the same here in South Carolina, especially if you’re a Catholic. The churches are vast, inside and out, with colored-stained windows depicting different scenes from the Bible. Their intricate designs set a feeling of security in these faithful people.
They stand in pews, listening to every word being read from the Bible. To some, the words spark something inside of their chests as if the spirit of God himself is there with them. And maybe he is. However, someone stands in the same pew as everyone else. They have tuned out the words being said with thoughts that scream, “I don’t belong here,” as a statue of Jesus Christ on a cross looks down at them. It’s a feeling that many Catholics, especially from Generation Z, feel. It is called, “Catholic guilt,” the term used for those who feel an excessive amount of guilt due to feeling as though they are a “bad” Catholic.
To explore this feeling of Catholic guilt, two students at the University of South Carolina talk about their experience growing up with Catholicism and their own experiences with Catholic guilt.
A sophomore at UofSC, who will be known as John Doe for anonymity purposes, describes his initial religious upbringing as, “being Catholic is the most important part of who you are.”
Doe explains how his upbringing did not affect his faith. He simply took everything Catholicism had taught him at face value because he felt he did not know any better. However, when he got older, he started questioning some of the topics he was learning in church such as its opinions on the LGBTQIA+ community and what you can and cannot do as a Catholic. “It began to not make any sense to me,” he says, “it came to a point where I’d zone out during mass but would start to pay attention if anything 'out of pocket' was said.” He no longer practices Catholicism but would go to mass every now and then to appease his parents. Doe describes his feelings currently by saying, “Catholicism now seems more of a chore rather than a religion. I’m currently just trying to keep up with appearances.”
Talking about how he grew up Catholic is a topic he tends to avoid. “Many people connected being a part of the Catholic faith, to being an awful person because of what some Catholic people believe about social issues,” he explains. He does not want anyone to think of him that way because of what other people who practice Catholicism have done.
When asked if he would ever try to reconnect with his religion, Doe hesitated about the idea. He believes that although the underlying message of Catholicism is filled with love and selflessness, some of the lessons that are taught are ridiculous and downright hypocritical.
Ruth Moniz, a sophomore at UofSC, talks about her own experiences with Catholicism as well.
“My family and I went to Mass every Sunday,” says Moniz. She had grown up around Catholicism and has practiced the religion for almost all of her life. She explains how her life was set up in a routine. She went to Catholic school. She said prayers before dinner, bedtime and whenever there was something she and her siblings were upset about, her parents told her to, “just pray.” However, she never saw anything wrong with Catholicism until she got older. “It was hard once I realized that I could form my own opinions about what I believed in,” she says. “I grew up with the same narrative being forced down my throat.” Moniz talks about how difficult it was to accept that the opinions she had about topics, such as abortion or homosexuality, were looked down upon by the Catholic Church. She feels as though the long rules and views of Catholicism are completely unnecessary, noting, “If Jesus really is all that the church makes him out to be, I don't think he cares much about what I do, as long as I am a good person with good intentions.”
A potent issue faced by the Catholic youth is the judgment of what others who do practice Catholicism think of them and, more importantly, the judgment of what God thinks of their actions. Moniz captures this feeling by explaining how she feels as though she has “disappointed” God by breaking away from the church and fears that if she no longer practices, she will go to hell. She expands on the guilt she feels when she thinks about the things the Catholic Church has done to other people. “It’s just knowing that I was a part of something that has caused harm to so many people. I can't help but feel complicit in that,” Moniz explains. “All the children that were abused by priests, the performative acts of mission trips, their stance on homosexuality. It makes me so angry.”
However, despite her feelings, she does think about going back sometimes. “I miss the gorgeous stained-glass windows and the way the organ played. I remember the chills down my spine when certain songs were played,” she says, thinking back to the times when she was heavily involved with her religion. However, she does not want to discount all of the good things her church has done for her. Her church back home had given her a sense of community and friends she still connects with to this day, but in the end, she despises the way the Catholic Church portrays itself to be high and almighty, but in reality, it holds so much unhappiness.
When it comes to religion, it looks different for many people. For some, it’s an unspeakable topic that hits too close to home. According to 1 John 4:16 in the Bible, it says, “and so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” But the question stands: who does God love? And does he truly love everyone?