The church’s capacity to cause hurt to people was almost limitless. Of course, it was never our intention to hurt anyone, we were simply upholding church regulations and canon law. We were simply people obeying orders.
One lady told me of her baby being born prematurely at her little cottage miles out of the town. The baby was stillborn. When the ambulance arrived, she was made to walk out of the house, still haemorrhaging, and her husband was left to gather up the body of the only child they would have. They made a little grave in their garden; there being no-one who cared enough to give them any support, they buried their baby themselves. No clergyman said any prayer, nor, I suspect, would he even if he had been asked.
Another man told me of his little son, being born at a similar time in the 1960s. It was their only child. The little boy was born in hospital and lived for two days before his heart gave up. The hospital authorities wanted rid of the body and the man was told to make the necessary arrangements. His wife was unfit to leave the hospital and no clergy wanted to know about the little boy who had not been baptized. So with a coffin from a local undertaker and having made arrangements with a local cemetery, the man collected his baby son and went and placed him in the grave, alone. No ceremony, no ritual, no acknowledgment on the part of anyone that this human being had ever existed.
It became fashionable in the 1990s to denigrate the Roman Catholic Church, it becoming an easy target after being beset by sexual abuse scandals, but it had no monopoly on causing hurt and pain.
There are plenty of stories like that of the man in his late 40s who still bore hurt from his childhood days when at every parish occasion the clergyman refused to use the boy’s surname because the clergyman did not recognize the boy’s mother’s relationship with the boy’s father. When it came to any roll call, prizegiving or party, when every other child was called by forename and surname, the little boy was simply a forename. There are stories of Presbyterian and Methodist church members who were told that they could not be Godparents at the baptisms of nephews and nieces and who were told that they could not receive Holy Communion because they had not been confirmed by a bishop.
Perhaps the latter stories are in a different category from our complete failure towards grieving parents, but in close knit, conservative rural communities they were sources of decades long hurt and resentment.
Given our capacity for inflicting pain, perhaps what is remarkable is not how few people now go to church , but how many still go.