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Granite Bay author voices criticism of Catholic Church

Sexologist writes book about Catholic nuns' thoughs on sexual repression and liberation
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Two years in the convent was enough for Fran Fisher.

Then 20 years old, she left the place she'd entered straight out of high school to forge another life, and one that didn't involve becoming a Catholic nun. The native of Manchester, England married and had children, eventually moving to Granite Bay.

Fisher, 62, authored the book, "In the Name of God, Why?" as a way to reflect on her experience in the convent and how her Catholic upbringing shaped her life.

Much of the research is drawn from her Ph.D. dissertation on human sexuality. Fisher interviewed 28 former nuns about their lives and thoughts on sexual repression and liberation. But she didn't publish the book immediately.

"I sat on it because I was still very intimidated by the Catholic Church," Fisher said. "I was sitting on these women's stories and they told them to me for a purpose."

She became "so disgusted" with the church that she finally worked up the courage to publish her writing in 2010. Rocklin resident Katherine Paul recently read the book. Paul was raised by a strict Catholic mother and attended parochial schools. In the book, she learned why some women become nuns.

"Growing up, I thought one would have to be perfect and receive a spiritual calling (to become a nun) that would be without a doubt a way to be closer to God," Paul wrote in an email to the Press Tribune.

She felt guilty for not choosing life as a nun. But through the book she realized that many nuns had childhood experiences with abuse - and found a way to hide from the shame or stigma by entering the convent.

"I was growing further away from my Catholic background because I could not believe some of its teachings," Paul wrote. "It just never felt right that nuns and priests were not permitted to marry. Now from personal history, we can see why some leave their vocations and find other lives wherein they can love and be loved emotionally and physically."

For Fisher, publishing her book cumulated a lifelong journey. Raised in a religious household, she never talked about sex. She discovered this same "shut-down" approach with other nuns.

"No one was taught anything, except 'Thou shall not,'" she said.

In her 40s, Fisher faced an emptying home as her son graduated high school and daughter announced plans to attend a university in Scotland. Fisher decided to pursue a post-graduate degree and attended a seminar at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.

"It blew my mind," Fisher said. "It totally freaked me out how ignorant I was about the topic."

Despite having been a nurse for 20 years, Fisher felt uncomfortable discussing human sexuality with her classmates.

"I thought, I'll never, ever go back there again," she said. "But the ignorance, it eats me alive."

She eventually enrolled in the Ph.D. program. For the past nine years, Fisher has run a private practice in Granite Bay, working with clients on their struggles with relationships, intimacy and sexual abuse. She also works as an operating room nurse.

Through her book, she gets the word out about how she thinks the Catholic Church has repressed women's sexuality and inhibited women from controlling their own bodies. Studies have found that lack of education regarding sex may lead to increased rates of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.

"We're leaving our young people wide open with no education, no power, no control - all we're telling them is to follow the rules," Fisher said.

The Catholic doctrine, she said, teaches that women are dangerous.

"It's all fear-based as if a woman is intrinsically evil," she said, adding, "What the church is doing to women is to de-focus what's been happening to boys and repressing that and I think they're making a big mistake."

Fisher is also frustrated with the Vatican's recent criticism of U.S. nuns for their social justice activism and allegedly failing to promote church teachings on same-sex marriage, abortion and all-male priesthood.

A woman from Grass Valley, who asked to remain anonymous, said Fisher helped her see that she has "permission to explore who I am and permission to be who I am."

"My relationship with my life partner, with the world at large and especially with myself has changed and flourished as a direct result," she said.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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To purchase Dr. Fran Fisher's book "In the Name of God, Why? Ex-Nuns Speak out About Sexual Repression, Abuse and Ultimate Liberation," visit www.amazon.com.