Confessions of a Lapsed Catholic

Confessions of a Lapsed Catholic

Sheila Cassidy
Darton, Longman and Todd, $34.95

Most of the 1,000-plus books in my (these days reduced!) library were bought at places or given by people unknown.

But I recall vividly the small Christian bookshop in Lae, Papua New Guinea, where — some time in the early 1980s — I purchased Sheila Cassidy’s paperback Prayer for Pilgrims.

What Evangelicals were doing (back then!) selling books by a Catholic I wouldn’t know. Prayer for Pilgrims is a prized possession: one of the lesser-known yet most brilliant little books on the subject I’ve ever read.

Here’s its thesis:

“We only deliberately waste time with those we love — it is the purest sign we love someone if we choose to spend time idly in their presence when we could be doing something more ‘constructive’. And so it is with prayer: there is a very real sense in which prayer is a waste of time.”

I next read her powerful autobiographical Audacity to Believe in which this Australian-born doctor writes about being arrested and tortured during the time the Allende government was overthrown inChile.

Her crime? Giving medical help to a freedom-fighter! Particularly moving, for me, were the responses of one or two of her young female friends — coming back to the cells joyful and laughing after the most gruesome and painful tortures.

Wikipedia tells us that on her release from custody and return to the UK, Dr. Cassidy’s description of her experiences, including her account of her torture … and her imprisonment, did much to bring to the attention of theUKpublic the widespread human rights abuses that were occurring at the time inChile.

After a period of recovery from the physical and psychological effects of her ordeal (during which she briefly became a nun), Cassidy continued to practise medicine in theUK.

In 1982, she became Medical Director of the new St Luke’s Hospice inPlymouth, a position she held for 15 years. She then went on to set up a palliative care service for thePlymouthhospitals.

Confessions of a Lapsed Catholic begins with the all-too-common responses sensitive, intelligent and progressive people — especially women — make towards a male-dominated, sometimes abusive church.


* “Imagine my dismay (which later turned to fury) when our chaplain made it clear that he would not give Holy Communion to the ‘non-Catholics’.”

* “Another set of circumstances which made me question … is the sad revelation of the cruelty of the Magdalen Sisters inIrelandto the illegitimate pregnant girls in their care.”

* “Hours of prayer, daily attendance at the Eucharist and generous renunciation of sexual love and marriage does not necessarily produce kind, gentle, honest, humble nuns and priests.”

* “To deliberately miss Mass on Sunday was a mortal sin and, if I didn’t confess and receive absolution, I would go to hell for all eternity … I came to believe that the church’s teaching … was unreasonable, if not ridiculous.”

* “Why do Catholics put the Pope on a pedestal and dress him up like a king? Where did they get that from? Surely not from the gospels…. (A friend) looked at the Pope on television last night and said, ‘Where are the women? How come Christ’s representative on earth is surrounded by men, and celibate men at that?’”

* (Contraception): “How dare the men in Rome manipulate women into having more children than they can emotionally or physically care for?”

Then, of course, she has the customarily progressive views about priests marrying, and the ordination of women.

An “aha” experience occurred in Florida, when she heard F. W. Faber’s hymn for the first time (don’t Catholics sing this one?):

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,

Like the wideness of the sea;

There’s a kindness in His justice,

Which is more than liberty …

For the love of God is broader

Than the measure of our mind;

And the heart of the Eternal

Is most wonderfully kind.
Throughout her adult life she’d got to know some of the “living saints” — Michael Hollings, Jean Vanier and so on — not to mention the girls raped and tortured in Chile — Gladys Diaz, Nieves Ayres, among others. These special people rescued her from irreparable cynicism; as did the sentiment in the memorable aphorism “God writes straight with crooked lines”.

It apparently took her a long time to realise that, “For me, God is more likely to be experienced in empty churches than full ones.”

Christmas is coming: get one of these for a teachable someone-you-love.

Rowland Croucher



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