The Other I

June 19, 2008

A glimpse of the less than the best

If Father Basil was an example to us of the best that a priest could be, we also had a glimpse of the less than best.  When I was about ten, our pastor at Holy Family parish died quite suddenly of a heart attack.  He’d had attacks before – several when he was saying Mass, but nobody knew at the time what was happening.  He had been a colourful pastor, and generally appreciated as dedicated and hard-working.  Once he actually went into the church and removed the life-size stone statue of the Blessed Mother holding the baby Jesus because he said we didn’t love her enough.  But when he died, the nuns all said Father Sammon had been a saint, and we all duly understood his various extreme behaviors in that light. 

That made him a tough act to follow, and there was some coolness toward Father P. who was subsequently appointed by the bishop to be our new pastor.  Within weeks, one of the nuns told her sixth-grade class that Father P. had stormed drunk into the church one evening.  When I reported this at the dinner table that night, my father looked at me and said that I was never, never to repeat that ever again.  I knew there was something wrong.  My father had never before, and never again looked at me like that and told me not to repeat what I’d heard.  My only point of reference was of stories in war-torn Europe when children were asked to keep deadly secrets to themselves.

But there was worse to come.  Within six weeks, Father P. mysteriously disappeared, and Father Archibald was assigned as our second new pastor.  I learned some years later that Father P. not only had a drinking problem, but that altar boys held a special attraction for him which, unfortunately, he did not resist.  My father and Father Basil learned about it, and agreed with the bishop that Father P. should quietly be removed without further scandal.

Looking back at this incident from my perspective today, I wonder about several things.  Would Dad agree to such secrecy again today?  How did he, even then, become convinced that quietly moving this priest on to another unsuspecting parish would do less damage than openly exposing the problem?  Perhaps the bishop gave an assurance that Father P would be helped.  Or at least kept away from working closely with children.  In this case, I don’t know what happened, but I do know that in diocese after diocese paedophile priests were simply moved from parish to parish to continue unaided in what were often failed attempts to fight their devils.

More latterly, I wonder about Father P. himself and hundreds of priests like him.  Were his paedophilic pursuits within his control?  I don’t know.  I think of the number of times I have sworn I will stay on a diet and the almost equal number of times I have succumbed to the temptations of chocolate and sugar, making excuses and promises that justify my behavior “just this once.”  Eating forbidden chocolate, of course, is not on the same level as sexual abuse of children, but it illustrates the narrowing of consciousness that destroys so many of one’s best intentions.  Perhaps Father P. hated himself, swore repeatedly that he would stop.  Was there any equivalent of Alcoholic Anonymous where he could call for help?  Was there anywhere he could turn?  Could he even lock himself in his own rectory until the impulse past?  No, of course not.  He had to walk over to the church and say Mass, joking with the same young boys who were the source of his tortuous temptations.

At the time, I thought that Father P. was unusual.  Perhaps Dad did too, and perhaps he was.  By the time I’d left the convent some fifteen years later, though, I discovered that if most priests were not paedophiles, an awful lot of them were womanizers.  They taught me a lot about my own limitations.  About which more in another post.

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3 Comments »

  1. What is so sad is how they just moved them around. And all the innocent children who were abused because of Bishops
    not doing the right thing. When you lie and cover up the problem you become the problem.

    Like

    Comment by DJC — June 21, 2008 @ 5:25 am | Reply

  2. I see this was posted in 2008, look what has been uncovered since!! In my catholic grammar school back in the 1950’s we were all told one day by our Mother Superior never to go to the rectory. If anyone asked us to go, come to her immediately!!, of course being children we do talk among ourselves. I told my father about this and he ignored the conversation, which was troubling to me, and confusing!!. As I became a adult and brought this up again same response (no words) ever were spoken. My dear father is 98 yrs. old, a devoted catholic, said a rosary 3 times daily. I believe I have my answer. (Pray for Priest’s) Barbara

    Like

    Comment by barbara Morris — August 9, 2014 @ 9:51 pm | Reply

    • Your experience sounds like a parallel of my own. I think you would agree, too, in retrospect, that covering up the problem only drove it deeper and made it worse. Pray for priests, yes. Deal with pedophilia with compassion, yes, but deal with it. Don’t cover it up thinking that the scandal will do more harm than facing it. And perhaps the Church should make some serious attempt to deal with sex in general with greater maturity than too often it has failed to do.

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I appreciate it.

      Like

      Comment by theotheri — August 10, 2014 @ 2:14 pm | Reply


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