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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Second place (tie) — High school essay contest: Liliana Austin

Liliana Austin

Growing up Catholic in a prison of guilt

FFRF awarded Liliana $3,000 for her essay.

By Liliana Austin

In Catholicism, you’re born a sinner, live a sinner and die a sinner. You spend your whole life attempting to redeem yourself for sins committed centuries before your birth, to be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

The guilt that comes with Catholicism is crushing. You second-guess every action, every thought, asking, “What would Jesus do?” You live in a perpetual state of shame, knowing you are not and will never be good enough. There’s a voice in the back of your head whispering threats of eternal damnation, fire and brimstone. Life is hell and, it seems, it’s only the prequel.

I was born to a single mother and raised Catholic, a contradiction in itself. I went to Catholic school, where I learned that my very existence is a sin, that my family is wrong. I am wrong, double-damned, extra-unworthy of Christ’s sacrifice. Hitting puberty and discovering I like girls was the cherry on top.

Becoming agnostic didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow process, small things plucking at threads until the whole tapestry was shredded. The first thing was money — our church couldn’t seem to get enough of it. They passed around the collection plate twice per mass, guilt-tripping even those who had nothing to give. Not a cent went to the poor.

Next was the sexual abuse. Then it was the Church’s views on just about everything: homosexuality, birth control, divorce. I started noticing how much shame the Church pushed onto people, and then I noticed how much shame the Church pushed onto me. I had this feeling of being suffocated by guilt I did nothing to deserve. I realized that I didn’t believe in God; I simply feared the punishment I would receive if I didn’t.

I don’t know if God exists. I do know that I’m alive and that counts for something.

Agnosticism has freed me from the prison of guilt the Catholic Church trapped me in. I don’t know if it’s the right answer, but it’s one that doesn’t tell me I’m an abomination every day of my life.

Liliana, 18, is from Brampton, Ontario, Canada, and will be attending the University of Ottawa, with plans to major in biomedical science. She is a boxer, published poet and science enthusiast. She dreams of becoming a doctor and working with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).