Confession by Darlena Cunha

Darlena family portraitGood afternoon, Fr. John. I’m here for confession. No, I’d like the curtain back, please. I want you to see my face. I really need to talk to you, get my bearings. But this confession will not be solely about my sins, for, unfortunately, I am not sure I will ever change my ways.

Does that exclude me? Is Catholicism a club? Should my twin daughters, five years old, be subjected to scorn and pity that their mother is a sinner? That they were born in sin? They don’t look like sin, to me. They are light, and love, and happiness. They have shaped me, taught me, brought me into the woman I was meant to be. Is it wrong of me to want to do the same for them? Is it better to turn me out and lose two potentially pure beings who will make their own choices in their religion and could be devout Catholics, or put up with me in the hopes that my children will be more worthy?

I’m here because I like you, you know. I like Catholicism. It’s in my blood, my heritage, my family. And where I’m from, everyone belongs.

I was baptized, received communion, was confirmed, attended youth group. I went to an all-girls Catholic college my freshman year. Full-ride because I’m fairly smart, and I work hard. That’s where I lost Him, you see. I don’t know how, or why, but one early fall day when the leaves were crisp and bright but not yet falling, I looked up at the chapel on campus, and He was gone. Or He seemed gone.

Can you imagine the anger? The assumed betrayal? The fear? To live your entire life one way, sure that someone was there, looking after you, helping you, hearing you…then to have that suddenly vanish?

I transferred to a state school after that year was up. I majored in evolutionary biology. What I disappointingly found there was that we know nothing, scientifically speaking, about how we actually came to be. Sure, we’ve got puzzle pieces here and there. A few even connect. But the pockets of missing pieces span the dusty living room floor on which the puzzle is being laid.

Nearly everything I learned for my bachelors of science degree, ten years ago, has been disproven. There were no answers there, so I became a journalist instead.

Then the bad times hit.

Horrid job after horrid job led me back to the east coast, where I was what you would call blessed with a twin pregnancy. We got married in a quick ceremony six days after the girls were born. (We’re still married and very much in love, by the way. Someday, I’d like to do it in a Church, but I’m not sure that’s even allowed.) A lost job, a house with no value, two premature babies who struggled to thrive every day, and I was without hope.

I was travelling an hour and a half to work each day, then an hour and a half back. I was producing a show watched by millions of people. At 26, I was kind of a big deal, Father.

But I was so lost. My girls growing up without me, from infants to babies, their big brown eyes ever on me when I was home. Always loving. They’d crawl to the door when I’d leave, each morning, in tears.

Suddenly, the minutia of life was no longer enough. The war in Lebanon, the train crash, the car chase, they didn’t sustain me. I looked for work closer to home. I found a job listing for the Catholic Church.

In my cover letter, I wrote nothing but truth. I said I was searching for something each day that I couldn’t quite find. I thought maybe the Church would be the right place to start, to go back and unwind the tightened mysteries of my downtrodden life, to bring back joy and hope. Maybe God was there, after all. Maybe He hadn’t disappeared altogether. Maybe I’d just lost sight of him because I’d had my eyes on the ground.

I wish I could tell you that was the end of the tale, Father, but unfortunately, no. I got the position. I worked there a year, while my husband toiled at home, looking for a job. And within the inner-circles of the Catholic Church, I saw many, many things. I saw the good men of the Church, fighting for human rights, loving all people, cherishing life and bravely forging into the darkness to help those in need. I also saw abuses. Abuses of power, of people, of money, of fame. By the time I left that job, I was discouraged, disheartened, and more atheist than ever.

We’ve long moved, since then, and down here in the southern United States, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t back half because I don’t want the Baptists to get my kids. I realize that sounds awful, so let me explain. One of my twins is inherently religious. And being a child, she will be supremely susceptible to any form of organized religion, should one happen along her path, which it invariably will, here in the south.

My friends have asked me why I don’t switch to Protestantism, be a Lutheran or a Methodist. Catholic-lite, they call it. But I don’t want another religion. And I don’t want no religion anymore either. I want you, Father, and your faith. But I only want some of it, and that’s why I’m here. Because I’m not willing to compromise on my personal beliefs about human rights. I assume you won’t be willing to compromise either. So where does that leave us?

I am pro-choice, pro-birth control, pro-women, pro-gay rights, basically pro-equality for all. I’m also a Catholic. I want to raise my kids Catholic. I just need to know if there are enough Hail Marys in the world to make that okay. And if there aren’t, what next?

Darlena Cunha is a former television producer turned stay-at-home mom to twin girls. She blogs daily at, and writes for The Huffington Post and Thought Catalog. She’s been published in McSweeney’s, The Feminist Wire, Fem2pt0, and OffBeat Families, amid dozens of others.

18 thoughts on “Confession by Darlena Cunha”

  1. Your children don’t look like sin to me, either. A very wise Blauvelt Dominican ( once said to me, “Find God where you can.” You might not find Him/Her within the Catholic Church, but you might. You have started a journey of unknown destination. If being Catholic is what is important to you, then be on the look out for a progressive parish. I am confident you’ll find one.


  2. Darlena, I love your family portrait – the girls are totally beautiful. And as another R Catholic who believes as you do, I know there are lots of us holding our tradition outside the institutional barriers. We need to link up, and this is one place to do that.

    Blessings in abundance for your family.


    1. As Barbara said, there are many of us who hold your beliefs. many of us can be found in Call to Action and other groups. Just nourish your beautiful girls and your family. We’re all on this path of searching. It really never ends. (I’m 76.)


  3. Perhaps there are other varieties of Catholicism, like the metaphysical Liberal Catholics (different from liberal Catholics). Move to California! You can surely find a home here for yourself, your girls, and your family. There’s all sorts of religions here.


  4. Darlena, I am sure you don’t need another man trying to solve your problem but…here I go.
    Have you ever (I am sure you have) asked Him for guidance? I know that sound an obvious first step but I find to talk to many people who are looking for God, but only in the places where they think He is. When the place seems empty at first glance, they move on to the next, or give up altogether. Yesterday, I had a conversation with my younger sister who was despairing over a situation in which she felt abandoned by God. When she asked her if she has ever reached out to Him and actually addressed Him and asked for His help and guidance, she looked at me with wide eyes, shocked that she never thought of it. The best advice I have is one I gleaned from listening to various people who found God instead of their god, and they all uttered a variation of this: God, if you are there, please let me know, guide me to you, and guide me to the best worship of you.


  5. Darlena – The same thing happened to me when I went to college! It was via my “Introduction to Christianity” course (at a Lutheran college) that I became aware of the variety of religions and the limitations inherent in “believing” in any of them. After exploring earth-based spirituality (an awesome discovery of the divine Feminine – totally missing from my Lutheran upbringing), I eventually ended up as a Unitarian Universalist, where we focus on the questions rather than the answers, and where we include people from various religions, as well as agnostics and atheists. Our congregation includes many “recovering Catholics,” too. You can even become involved in UU via the “Church of the Larger Fellowship,” which is available online. Check it out:


  6. “I am pro-choice, pro-birth control, pro-women, pro-gay rights, basically pro-equality for all. I’m also a Catholic. I want to raise my kids Catholic. I just need to know if there are enough Hail Marys in the world to make that okay. And if there aren’t, what next?”

    What a beautiful and thoughtful post! Bravo! One of the best one’s I’ve read this year! You captured the way I felt while coming to terms with what it meant to grow up “Catholic” and to be completely the opposite of Catholic teachings. Wonderful post!


  7. Try the Episcopal Church. Catholic in liturgy, protestant in theology. When I was at St. Mark’s Capitol Hill, we got lots of Catholics in just your situation. I think we served them well.


    1. Heck, my sister-in-law grew up in a big Irish Catholic family. They always wanted one of the kids to become a priest. It turned out to be her. She’s been an Episcopal priest for 20 years and is good at it. Good luck to you. God is everywhere.


  8. I think Darlena will be much happier in this life once she realizes that she is indeed not Catholic nor does she really want to raise her kids to be Catholic. That is if this life is more important to her than her next life..


  9. I’m not Catholic (but my husband is). For a while (long before I met him), I had a really hard time understanding Catholicism, and couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to go through the intellectual hoops involved in Catholic theology. And then, somehow or another, I stumbled onto Rosemary Radford Ruether’s works (particularly Sexism and God-Talk; and Gaia and God). She is Catholic, too, and has stayed Catholic, though her views have often placed her at odds with the Vatican. If you are looking for a way to continue being Catholic with intellectual integrity, consider reading her works (if you haven’t already). Good luck with your journey, and God/dess bless you on it. Yours is a sacred struggle.


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