A reader writes:
I've been struck by the sense of -- well, futility, I guess -- expressed by some of the older abuse victims in your reader comments, particularly when the abuse occurred prior to the last few decades.
My father once told me a similar story that's haunted me ever since.
While supervising oil company workers in 1950s West Texas, my father (a non-Catholic) was once approached by a male worker requesting the day off. This was unusual, and my father asked why. The man explained that a delegation of parents was going to talk to the bishop, located several towns away. The delegation -- fathers, mostly -- wanted to complain about a priest at their church who was molesting little children. My father gave him the day off.
Later he asked the fellow what had come of it. "He won't do anything," the man shrugged, adding: "We're just going to go to another parish."
I know Catholic priests have done much good, particularly in economically-depressed areas, but my sense is this sexual abuse issue has been going on for a very very long time.
At our Easter family gathering, while discussing the sex abuse scandal with my five ex-Catholic brothers and sisters, my 89 year old mom surprised us by saying my father quit being an acolyte in the thirties because of a priest hitting on him. When my Dad complained to his domineering mother about the priest, she didn't believe him. Astonishingly, my father bypassed his own mother's doubt and quit being an altar boy.
As a grown man with a family, my father still made my Episcopalian mom raise us Catholic but he never seemed that enthusiastic about the religion that he forced on his family. I was actually the most ardent Catholic and to this day, I have the most anger about Catholicism. One time, my grade school nun had me and the other kids with non-Catholic parents stand up in front of the class to tell us that we better pray because those parents would not make it to heaven. It's no small wonder that I had chronic insomnia as a child. Admittedly, I was a sensitive girl who cried easily and perhaps I took it all too seriously.
My brothers and sisters were all, meh, who cares what the nuns or priests say. I was a ripe candidate to be overpowered and manipulated by the church, thank God, my Dad was not entirely like me.
I took it seriously too. Another:
My Irish/American father and his brother were altar boys in the early 50s. When I was growing up (early 70s), my cousin Bobby and I asked our parents why we weren't altar boys. They essentially beat us that day, saying that we would NEVER be allowed to be altar boys. I think my father was even pissed when I became a 'reader' at church after I moved out of my parents' house. He was furious.
And yet, Mom and Dad and My Uncle and family would dutifully go to church every single Sunday and Holy Day. I never got to ask my father or uncle about this - but in my heart I think I know why.
(Photo illustration by Jill Greenberg.)