A reader writes:
The Dish seems to be the only place that is looking for our memories.
I was a Catholic boy in the early 1960's in a small town in UpState N.Y. A nice rural setting with lots of open fields for a boy to grow up in. My memories from the age of six till twelve are for the most part wrapped around lazy summer days in the fields and cold snowy days of sledding. Like all adults I gloss over the family problems, the worries of a small boy and the social problems of the day.
I do remember two Catholic Priests. One was a rather remarkable younger Priest who used to visit our house. He was not from our church and I always wondered why he was at our house. He once tried to bless me and I ran under the table and refused to come out. When he left the area he came over and gave me his dog, a wonderfully huge English Setter named Rocky who was my most cherished friend and guardian.
The other Priest was the one who scared you. He was the one who we boys whispered about and at the age of seven or eight the words were not as scary as the tone. No one wanted to be The Altar Boy (capitals reflect the sense we had of it). Such a hideous thing was forced on you by very religious parents.
We had only a vague idea of what happened to those boys but they always looked scared to me and I remember one of them saying only that he dreaded getting changed after mass and that "Father punishes you bad if you don't do what he says". I remember that because I was dressed in my First Communion suit and it was a beautiful spring day and I got in trouble for the grass stains because we were back behind the church hanging out.
Looking back, there was a lot of talk among boys about all the reasons you did not want to go to the local Catholic School. The reasons you did not want to go to the City with Father to see a movie when he took other boys. The concerned look my dad gave me the one time I asked about being a Priest some day (my mom got up and left the room) And there was the whole long list of boys who suddenly stopped going to church at all, I always wondered why they would suddenly not come any more.
So looking back I can clearly add my voice to your list of people saying that this scandal goes much farther back than anyone wants to admit. We knew, we boys always knew, we just never said a word, either when it was us or when it was our friends.
I know very few men who are over sixty-five, Catholic and close enough to reveal this kind of secret. For one thing, I'm Jewish. Yet I know three who were molested. One case helps explain the rest: central France, the early 20th Century, very conservative rural family. The local priest starts touching the young son, he tells his mother and she beats him for lying. End of story.
My grandfather left home at age 13 because his parents would not let him go to high school. He went to a Catholic boarding school in Wisconsin, where he worked his way through high school (kitchen, grounds-keeping, etc.). He told me - thirty years ago - that he had been molested by a priest there, and that his chronic deafness in one ear was from a blow to the head by another priest there. That he would talk about it, seventy years after it happened, testifies to its impact.