A reader writes:
Thanks for publishing these. I feel more Catholic knowing we are fighting this.
Here's my story: In 1967, when I was 9, my devoutly Catholic family moved from a small Midwestern town to a small Massachusetts town. In the new town, on top of the culture shock of going from the plains to the coast, I felt a palpable tension in the working class parish that also had a convent and parochial school. Many of my classmates at St. Mary's school attended Mass at "St. Evan's" in the next town. St. Evan's was everything St. Mary's was not; it was newly built and progressive, and the St. Mary's parishioners seemed to resent it as if it were a rebuke. I thought it was because our parish was dying, and maybe it was. I always wished we could go to St. Evan's because our priests were either old and cranky, young and weird (the guy with the red silk-lined cape stood out), or wonderful and transferred soon, over the howls of the parishioners.
Years later I opened a Newsweek magazine and read the caption under a photograph of a man standing on some church steps. The church was St. Mary's and the story was about the sexual abuse of children in the parish by a priest named Father P. The time-frame of this abuse was the 1960's prior to 1967. I sadly realized the older siblings of some of my classmates must have been his victims. I wondered if it explained St. Evan's.
One of my dearest classmates at St. Mary's had been Billy, the youngest of a large Catholic family, and a fellow outsider.
One of Billy's older brothers died in a car crash in the summer of 1968. Another brother went to Vietnam and came back with drug problems. The third brother had legal problems before he was out of high school. Billy and I connected immediately and the nuns, bless their hearts, always seated us next to each other, a fact we stupidly attributed to their naivete. We lost touch after high school but in the early 90's I contacted Billy in Thailand (he had changed his name at least twice by then, and had not lived in the U.S. for years) .
I asked Billy about Fr. P and was shocked to learn it had been the sexual abuse of one of his surviving brothers, and the brave coming forward of his parents, that had broken open the whole thing. Billy suspected that the brother who had died (in a drunken accident while trying to jump a bridge abutment) had also been abused and was suicidal as a result. The family, and possibly the parish, was destroyed by this priest. I would have said at one time that sexual abuse by priests did not touch my life, but I know my childhood was drenched in it.
I grieve for the stories I don't know and the loved ones who I'll never know about who may have been abused and traumatized.