Out of the Fire 4: On Leaving Roman Catholicism (Ashamed or Redeemed?)

Phyllis Nissila


“How (Christians) fail every day is noted by God,” said the radio preacher, “and may result in personal shame at the (Bema) judgment seat of Christ.”

Her guest concurred, but he was quick to add this “assurance”: it has nothing to do with our salvation. The personal shame each of us will experience, he noted, is just “one of those things that sparks us on to live better lives…”

Sparks us on to live better lives?

Well, ah, yes, of course, a sense of personal shame over wrong-doing does shape our choices…we hope, ah…everyone, not just believers, experiences shame over bad behavior and then makes the appropriate apologies/recompense for harm done….but…ah…

A mix of emotions tightens my chest. Nausea rises.

I am back in the second grade classroom, St. Joseph’s Elementary…




The smell of chalk dust permeates the air. Sister Gloria is at the black board scratching out the list of sins we might confess to Father at our First Confession, coming up soon.

The thirty-odd second-graders attending to her instructions print the list on their tablets. Some of my classmates appear bored, others, afraid. Many, including me, are anxious. There is a lot of information to write down, a lot to remember.  

There are many different kinds of sins, and a certain way you are to report them to Father in the confessional.

First and foremost, you must make sure that you have specified the exact number of each sin so that you don’t make a “bad confession”.  If that happens, Sister says, it cancels your forgiveness.  In addition, you will have committed yet another sin and all of the original Purgatory time will increase. She does not, nor does anyone, ever, indicate how much Purgatory time a given sin will “earn,” but we know that Purgatory means we burn alive for days, weeks, months, years, or centuries.

We do not want to burn alive.

In order to make sure we do not make a bad confession, Sister explains the advantage of doing a nightly “examination of conscience” in order to keep track. Before we go to sleep, we should try to remember each sin we committed that day and how many times we committed it. Many people wait until just before they go to confession to do this, she explained, but it works better on a daily basis.

We write down each of the sins for reference. For example, “I disobeyed my mother and father (insert number of times, here); “I told a lie (#) times;” “I said an unkind word to ____ (#) times; “I was mean to____  (#) times;” or “I cheated in school, (#) times” and so on.

Later on there would be more kinds of sins to confess, such as, “I made out with my boyfriend/girlfriend (insert amount of seconds as well as times, here, as there was a point at which “making out” instantly changed from being a venial [Purgatory-worthy] sin to being a mortal sin [Hell-worthy]. In the ninth grade, Fr. S., the high school principal, would clarify the amount of time and other specifics in his ‘talk’ with the freshman classes).”

Sister Gloria went down the list of the Seven Deadly Sins with us (at least most of them) so that we wouldn’t negate our very first opportunity to come clean before the priest and get his/God’s forgiveness for our sins and thus secure, hopefully, our place in heaven one day.

Of course, we could cancel this hope the next time we committed a sin (if it was one of the mortal sin variety), or at least accrue some time on the burn pile of Purgatory (if it was venial). But Father would be present every Saturday afternoon to “hear” our confession, so at least once a week for a few minutes, anyway, we had the hope of salvation without fire.

Next, we had to memorize the exact words we were to use when entering the dark, tiny confessional booth.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.” (Ever after, I am to say, “It has been—insert amount of time, here—since my last confession.)” And then on to the list, and a prayer at the end and then to our “penance,” usually a few more prayers or perhaps we were to “say the Rosary”.

I wasn’t always the best little kid and I knew I had certainly committed my share of sins, but to tell them to a stranger? What if I forgot some? We’d been inside the confessional; it was dark. If I had to bring a list, I couldn’t read it. What if he could see who I was through that little window that separated sinner from priest? How embarrassing! And then, if I spent too long in the confessional, what would my classmates and friends and family think?

As I pondered all of this, and especially my list of sins, anxiety increased, shame intensified.  And I hadn’t even been to confession yet…

 Back to the radio program.

Shame as sparking us on to good behavior?

Why, yes. Of course. Hopefully.

But there’s a fine line, I believe, between appropriate shame that deters evil and inspires one to change ways, and the kind used to instill fear, tension, anxiety, dread, and humiliation. The kind that is used as a control mechanism, keeping some people at the “mercy” of other people.

And, sadly, for many ex-Catholics and other people reared in a shame-as-motivation-to-behave religious system, this brand of shame often leads to the desire to leave “religion” entirely. The shame, though it may be deserved, is only half the story of our redemption, but a potent half, I believe, for those who know how to use it for their own devices.

After all, who wants to be the “star” of a peeping-sin show in front of the entire universe? To have the dirty laundry of one’s transgressions aired for, literally, all to see? Worse, at least for Catholics, for whom shame is inextricably tied with sin and penance, who wants the absolute certainty of burning alive that results from all that unless there is some way to avoid it? [See footnote 1 re: “indulgences”]. However, even the stay of execution from Purgatory and/or Hell is but a short stay of execution for a Catholic.


Looking back, I am now glad that I had not learned that Jesus is my friend in that system. I knew Him only as the one who hung on the cross for my sins. Had I thought of Him as a friend, that little introduction into the full on meaning of “confession” and “penance” and shame and Purgatory in the Catholic Church would have been a shocking awakening. I would have felt grossly betrayed.

What friend makes you burn alive? What friend shames you in front of God and everybody?

(Sadly, as a result of shame-focused religious systems such as Roman Catholicism, many abandon God and anything to do with Him before they ever hear the Good News. And a sort of “spiritual, post traumatic stress disorder” sets in, obscuring [especially for the young] any of the true Gospel that might have been imparted in the mix of teachings on sin and punishment and Purgatory, for Catholics, and Hell.)

Shame, motivating?

The shame-based religion of Roman Catholicism motivated me right out the door of what I thought was Christianity…

It was only the unmerited grace of God that years later, saved me—and healed me of that experience. Still heals me.


After I became a Christian it took me several years to shed many of the false and extra-biblical teachings of Roman Catholicism. And many years to learn the truth, perhaps most importantly, that Jesus is, indeed, my friend. Perhaps the words of this old hymn say it best:

What a friend we have in Jesus,

all our sins and griefs to bear!

O what peace we often forfeit,

o what needless pain we bear,

all because we do not carry

everything to God in prayer.


Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged;

take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful

who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness;

take it to the Lord in prayer.


Are we weak and heavy laden,

cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge;

take it to the Lord in prayer!

In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;

thou wilt find a solace there.

(Text: Joseph M. Scriven; music: Charles C. Converse)

And these truths continue to heal me:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6, NIV).

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear (cowardice, timidity-Strong’s); but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV).


the_scream_1895_pastelNo one really knows yet the exact nature of what will go on at the so-called Bema seat, although Scripture notes both reward and judgment and, truth be told, sometimes in spite of our best efforts we simply are a shameful, despicable, worthless bunch, aren’t we? We deserve to be ashamed of ourselves! In addition, even if we appear to be doing the right thing (pastoring, ministering, helping the poor, etc.) our motives could stink.

But it’s even worse than that, if you really think about it. There are probably a lot more than just seven, Deadly Sins. Look around! Look inside!

Why, given any REAL thought on the subject, we might as well, like some Roman Catholics, even engage in “corporal punishment,” i.e., “mortification of the flesh” [2] as a way to subdue our horrific sin nature because nobody can ever really know how much shame and punishment will, if such efforts can, purge our evil ways and appease God…





Jesus, Himself, though knowing my nature, the long list of my faults and failures, my inability to behave the way I should/could/would (will, no doubt, again), still chose to die for me, to present Himself as the one and only perfect Lamb of God Who became the reparation for my sins.

Once and for all time as prophesied, as realized (see Bible, Old Testament; Bible, New Testament).

And not only mine, but whosoever else chooses to accept this gift, so that, relieved of the burden of even thinking we can somehow earn our own salvation, we can now move on from cross to resurrection to new life in Christ and to the desperately needed work on this dark plain: encouraging, teaching, exhorting, and comforting each other and any and all who will listen to the Good News as the time grows short.


I am no longer motivated by shame, though I deserve it. It failed me anyway. (Is it any wonder?) It is the love of God, now, that “sparks me on to live a better life,” keeps me motivated to learn and grow as a Christian, and, most importantly, inspires me to stay close to Jesus.

Sometimes, still, though, the old Catholic Shame Specter comes into the periphery of my vision trying to draw me right back into the continual introspection, the constant “looking in” at my failures, the number and nature of them, the shame. But the specter no longer has any power.

Because of Jesus, a much greater power, I can finally move beyond sin and shame and penance and lists of venial, mortal, commission, omission, thought/word/deed sins and constant attention to them, and get on with maturing as a Christian.

And, most importantly, I can rejoice!

Shame at the Bema seat? I deserve every shred, but I know I’ll have a Friend there, too, a Friend of whom it has been said: “Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate (me) from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39, KJV).

A Friend Who said, as He was dying on the cross, “It is finished.”

A Friend, indeed.


On ways to earn a “plenary indulgence” in the Roman Catholic Church:  http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/indulge/plenary.htm

Definition of Roman Catholic indulgences, both “partial,” and “plenary”: http://www.fisheaters.com/indulgences.html

Another definition: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07783a.htm

[2] A scholarly treatise on the philosophy of “corporal punishment” and its acceptance within Roman Catholicism: http://cssronline.org/CSSR/Archival/2005/Geisler_149-172.pdf

And Opus Dei priest defends “self punishment”: http://www.rickross.com/reference/opus/opus56.html

On the Roman Catholic belief about its power to forgive sins through confession: http://www.catholic.org/clife/prayers/sacrament.php?id=4

Images from the public domain

This entry was posted in Commentaries, Ex-Roman Catholic/Catholicism, most recent posts, Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism, Purgatory and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Out of the Fire 4: On Leaving Roman Catholicism (Ashamed or Redeemed?)

  1. Shirley Anne says:

    Hi Phyllis. When I made reference to your post about Job on my site it was only that one post I read. Now in response to your comment I have been browsing more of your posts and was especially interested in this one. There is only one member of my family as far as I know who is a Catholic, a daughter-in-law but I meet quite a few Catholics in my capacity as an electrician, going into homes and such. I have found witnessing to them extremely difficult, they all seem as closed books, completely resilient to any doctrine different from what they have been taught. I have read much about the Roman Catholic faith, the falsehood and dare I say their blasphemy. It is such a shame the laity is being fooled by the priesthood and they are unaware. The best folk to witness to Catholics I feel are those who have seen the light and come out of her. A very thought provoking post which I hope has been well-read. I think you ought to re-post it occasionally. Blessings and love in Jesus
    Shirley Anne x


    • pnissila says:

      Hi, Shirley Anne. So glad you liked my post. As you can tell, I wasn’t just a nominal Catholic, nor was my family, my schools, my community growing up…

      It is difficult, very difficult to reach Roman Catholics with the plain, no frills, powerful, Gospel message. AFTER I became a Christian, as I’ve noted in other posts, it was a full six years before I was extricated from so much wrong information that had kept me going to Mass, etc. Fortunately, I had several very understanding, patient, loving Christian friends/mentors who loved me through all my questions… And I IMMERSED myself in the freeing truths in Galatians, and in Hebrews (chapters 9-11 in particular).

      But here’s the really good news: considering my intense indoctrination into the non-biblical aspects of Roman Catholicism (and there are MANY), I truly believe, if God brought me out, so to speak, it can happen for ANYBODY. We just need to follow the example of my dear friends and love Catholics in ways the Holy Spirit leads. And remember that, like me, many Roman Catholics may already have turned to Christ, it’s just that the brain-washing and indoctrination has such a strong, strong, effect especially on the early years, it might take some time for the “grave cloths” to be “unwound,” like Lazarus’, when Jesus brought him back to life and he needed a little assistance to walk free.


      • Shirley Anne says:


        Shirley Anne x


      • pnissila says:

        By the way, thanks for your suggestion to re-post it. I actually do get the most “views” and direct links to my ex-Roman Catholic posts. It occurs to me now to link each of them to each other. (I’m a low-tech person…if anything looks good on here it’s the WordPress helper monkeys). 🙂


    • Cathy says:

      Catholic’s Are Not Receptive to Witnessing!
      They are indoctrinated to their FALSE belief system from early childhood. Today ALL Christian denominations have been lured into Romes Mysticism. The news has been filled with the Concave Election of a Pope (a human as God, veiled in human flesh!) The One World Religion is forming and many Evangelicals think it is Islam…..WRONG!
      In Revelation, it says Babylon has Fallen…Babylon = Roman Catholic Church!


  2. Cathy says:

    I have been paying them money, to watch some videos. This may seem like I am trying to “Buy their Souls!”….but young adults want $, especially, students! So I show them the anti-Catholic films, and they can make up their own minds! They certainly know what I feel and I do not hide my love for Christ!
    Do you think I have gone too far, with giving them money to watch, what they won’t listen to , in conversation?
    We live in such an “instant…entertainment world!”


    • pnissila says:

      Cathy, Ultimately, it is important to do what you feel the Holy Spirit is leading you to do. I completely understand why you would want to get them away from the non-biblical and extra-biblical teachings of Roman Catholicism, just as you would want to protect them from the teachings of any belief system that draws away from the Gospel.

      That said, I can only tell you how my “exodus” from Roman Catholicism “worked” and what I felt the Holy Spirit was and is leading me to do with my loved ones still embroiled in that system.

      As you know from my story, after I became a Christian, it was several years before I felt entirely FREE to leave RCism. During that time, I was reading the Bible constantly, attending Christian Bible studies and evangelical churches, and continually asking questions about this or that belief (Catholic, non-biblical). As I grew as a new believer, I was learning, learning, learning the REAL Gospel, while understanding the history and nature of Roman Catholicism. I had, as you know, been completely immersed in the system, having gone to Catholic school K-12.

      But in addition, I had some lovely Christian friends who were mentoring me. They had not been Catholic, so in a sense, when I discussed some of the Catholic issues with them, they were able to see the obvious discrepancies and answer my questions clearly and directly from the Bible.

      Secondly, over time I witnessed the love of God through these people who were so patient with me and so kind and that had a powerful effect. They must have been frustrated with my “keeping one foot in Catholicism,” as it must have looked like I was doing, but they loved me anyway, knowing I was hungry and thirsty for the real Gospel.

      In telling you all this, I am saying that because you and I have “been there” in the dark mysteries (non-biblical) of Roman Catholicism, we have a much more urgent need to get people out! I am also saying that, like Lazarus, for some people it might be (like it was for me) a process of removing layer after layer of “grave clothes,” that is, though Lazarus was already resurrected, before he could walk freely from the tomb, he needed the be unbound from that which immobilized him from joining life again.

      In my case, though saved and committed to Christ, I still had layers of false doctrine to be rid of before I was free in many regards from the Roman Catholic system. Yes, I think complete deliverance can happen in an instant, but in my story, too, and others for whom it is more a process over time, the glory of God is revealed.

      So, although I know it’s frustrating and you might not be too sure of how to best help your loved ones, God IS at work.

      As for my family still in that church, with some, it has been a sort of “instant exit,” though issues and questions come up later. With others, the process unwinds, so to speak, from years past to this day. But I have learned to be patient with the process. I have also learned to pray for other Christians to “cross the paths” of some of my loved ones, especially the young people. As you know, sometimes a family member or relative is the last person someone will listen to because of many different reasons.

      And, one more thing, as my sister Claire always reminds me especially these dark days in our history, “keep yourself in the love of God” against which there is no law.

      The patience, kindness, “long suffering,” peace, etc., which are the fruit of the Holy Spirit, are very, very powerful.

      I can recall, and may yet write about, so many very small things–a word here, a gesture there–that released me from yet another false teaching. In some cases, the Christian who spoke or performed these ministries probably had no idea that what he/she was doing was such a mechanism of deliverance for me. Certainly, whoever was praying for me the night I got saved (all alone by myself in my apartment in Racine, Wisconsin, back in 1973) will get a big Thank You when I see him/her one day in eternity. Or, perhaps, it was a series of prayers by many people over some time who witnessed the path I was on and loved me enough to approach God with this information.

      So, Cathy, I hope this encourages you. I understand the urgency of your desire for your children, but I also know that God is limitless in the ways He “customizes” the mechanisms by which we are loosed from the bondage of false doctrine. For some, it’s a quick process, for others, it takes a little time. But as long as someone is contending for someone (a mom for a child, say), God if faithful and will orchestrate the means of salvation. No doubt much is already at work in the lives of your children.

      And for you, although praying children out of Roman Catholicism is a tough calling, God still means for you to have His rest and to experience His joy, even in the midst of this. And who knows, perhaps as you walk in greater freedom of your salvation each day, this will be a powerful “message” in itself for your children.

      Blessings, Phyllis


  3. Cathy says:

    Shame…..that is where Mother Church is a “Deciever”! She allows her people, total dependency on her Priest for remission of Sins! This is a mammouth lie, for Man cannot forgive our sins!
    They will give their scripture to justify their Reconciliation by Man!
    What is even worse, Transubstantiation, where their Priest brings God down from Heaven and makes the wine into blood and turns the bread ( Eucharist ) into the body, soul and divinity of Christ.They “Contain” God, and worship the Eucharist as God!
    The RCC says…Their Mass satisfies the Justice of God! Your sins are forgiven at the Mass…until you sin again, and repeats all over again! That way they keep you coming back! —Clever Deception, and the most “brilliant minds” believe they are experiencing “His Presence” in the RC Mass! During the Inquisition, in the name of Christ, they murdered All Heretics, who wouldn’t submit to their Pope and take the Eucharist, as God!
    This is Antichrist!
    How could the Latin Vulgate and the Greek text be so contradictory on Penance and Repentance? You tell me this is not the working of Satan’s Plan?
    The Catholic Bibles want you to do Penance by command of their Priest, but God wants you to Repent and change your way!

    Shame…Shame on them!
    Jesus came, to be our Ransome, to take our sins away……the Greatest Free Gift for All that Believe!


  4. Carl Gordon says:

    I have a nephew who is an “atheist” after departing Roman Catholocism who could benefit by knowing Jesus and reading this. I appreciated every word personally.


    • Cathy says:

      I will tell you I am worried about my daughter’s turning Atheist! They basically go to the RCC to please my husband, they are very sceptical about Organized Religion. I am afraid that my rejection of the RCC might send the wrong message to them!
      I don’t think they get my belieth :
      In Grace Alone
      In Faith Alone
      In Christ Alone
      I truly believe, a person is chosen and Convicted by the Holy Spirit!


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