When I was twelve years old, I was confirmed in the Catholic faith. The priest who administered the rite of confirmation was a man that I – in the manner of all judgmental twelve year olds who recoil at elders who seem weird and smell bad – did not like, although I did not, at the time, dislike him quite so much as I did the nun who led the weekly catechism classes for young members of the Church. Sister Anne was elderly, and terrifying; she wore her black habit like a suit of armor and carried with her a old wooden ruler, the kind with blade-like metal embedded along the outer edge, and she would menace us with it, sometimes cracking it down upon the side of a desk when some unfortunate child failed to list the Seven Sacraments on command. Sister Anne, my classmates and I decided, was not on the Right Side Of God.
Nobody that frightening could be good, we told each other as we congregated outside during a class break. God wouldn’t stand for it. “She’ll be punished some day,” someone said. “She’ll go to hell.” That thought was somewhat reassuring.
One of the boys disagreed. “God doesn’t seem to care all that much if the priests are scary, so why not the sisters? And the sisters don’t even do anything, not like the priests. He lets them” – he practically spat the word – “be the bosses of the church.” A few of the other boys nodded, and there was much shuffling of feet. Somebody murmured something about creepy being worse than mean, and a couple of the boys moved away from the group. “God doesn’t really care about what those guys do. He just cares that we know the sacraments,” he added. “It sucks.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew that I really didn’t like the way church felt at this parish – a parish that my family had only recently joined, after relocating – at this parish, with this priest and this nun and these scared children, and it seemed to me that if anyone was to blame, it was probably God, who was in charge of the whole business, as I understood it.