My mother was raised Catholic. The stern, pious, judgmental, "look at me, I'm a martyr" old school Irish variety. It damaged her, and there were issues with her decision to marry my dad, who was — gasp — a Protestant (which was, at least, better than an Italian in the eyes of my grandparents). We, her children, would not endure the same torture. She enrolled us in CCD, and we had our grade school sacraments. But that was it. We never went to mass. Not even on the holidays.
Most of the time, this wasn't an issue. My grandmother had died, and a few years later, my grandfather remarried. Between my step-grandmother's family, and my mom's siblings still in Jersey, we didn't see my grandfather for many Sunday dinners, and only the occasional holiday. It was on those very rare major Christian holidays that her father came to visit us in Howell, and when that happened, my mother panicked. Handling stress was not her strong suit, especially when a meal was involved. Through the fog of cigarette chainsmoke, and the smoke of the roasting flesh in the oven (the sum of which is greater than both its parts, and is why I have never smoked, or cooked a roast), she'd beg us, "Please don't tell Pop-Pop we didn't go to church today. Please!"
My mom always struck me as brave, in a crazy, kinda combative way; she headed off the bullies before they could bully us. She never accepted the tiniest bit of attitude from anyone. But her father terrified her.
Maybe it was the lying — or at least the pretending — about our church attendance, or maybe there was old school Catholic residue in my DNA, but the guilt overcame me. When I was in 8th grade, I was struck by the feeling that I would go to hell, since I didn't go to church. I was 12: a few years away from serious responsibility, making decisions for myself, and my drivers license. But I knew I was hellbound; I felt it in my gut, if I didn't get to mass on Sundays. You may think I was hard on myself, being so young, and unable to drive. But my friend across the street walked to the Catholic school every weekday. I could certainly walk myself to mass in its church once a week.
So I told my mom that when I entered high school the following fall, I'd be going to church, with or without her.
Maggie was proud of me, and wanted to go with me. Also, she did not want my church experience to be like hers, so she encouraged me to join the folk group and the youth group, so I could have some fun, too.
I fell away from the church by the time I finished high school, but while I was involved in my Catholic social activities, I had some of the best times in my life. I enjoyed the cross-section of humanity: the smart, quirky geeks; the dopey, but effervescent jocks; and certainly, the older, long-haired bad boys with cars, who were in the youth group as a last stop before reform school.
There were retreats, and with that came sharing, and epiphanies. I never felt more safe than I did at my youth group meetings in the basement of St. Veronica's rectory; or away on those weekend retreats at Jeremiah House in Keyport.
I was hanging out with my sisters this weekend, and Karen was flipping through the community newspaper and saw that the priest I've called "douchely" in this here blog, had been arrested for allegedly molesting boys in the mid-1980s. "Holy shit!" she exclaimed, and we took turns reading the paper.
The Douchely Priest was in charge of the youth group at St. Veronica's while my sisters and I were involved. The Douchely Priest became my mother's friend, and an unfortunate fixture on our couch and at our dinner table during the mid-to-late 1980s. My dad, sisters, and I hated — let me repeat that for emphasis: HATED — him. We weren't flat-out priest haters — there were a few we liked — it was just this particular one was a pathological douchebag.
I could write more about The Douchely Priest, but this isn't really about him, even if he is the impetus.
The Douchely Priest is the second priest close to our family who was recently arrested for molesting boys, during the mid-1980s. The other was a guy we loved, who ran Jeremiah House in Keyport. Though I had long been non-religious, and uninvolved in anything remotely Catholic, the news of that priest's alleged crimes, was shocking. Truly hard to believe.
But why would anyone make that up?
It's not so hard to believe about The Douchely Priest, though. But it's still wretched news. In a very general sense, I think it's more difficult to be a girl, and woman; unless you are a boy with a priest after you, and later, a man who must deal with that.
I fell away from the church primarily because I didn't believe. I tried, and searched, and even struggled, but faith eluded me. Maybe part of it was the shitty role models? My church alone, that I know of, went through a whole pile of damaged priests. There was another priest picked up for diddling (though, years after); two who left — one dramatically during mass — to deal with their substance abuse issues. Another one was so mentally unstable that he was a danger to himself and others, and had to be committed. In the middle of that, The Douchely Priest was quietly ruining the lives of boys, and screwing up the dynamics of my family.
Why did St. Veronica's get all of these guys? Do other churches have the same record?
Up until a short time ago, I could look back at my active involvement in the church with fondness. But now I'm left wondering if my friends and I were only pawns and fodder for our ill-equipped, and often very sick, leaders; people we were taught to respect and trust. I wonder if the pastor took money from the diocese to harbor these damaged priests, putting vulnerable, admiring children in harm's way. Mostly, I'm left with a terrible feeling in my gut, because I'm certain I must know The Douchely Priest's accuser/s.
The Catholic Church's inability to screen for pedophiles, and policy of shuffling troubled priests from one unsuspecting community to another, makes me look back at what should have been a glorious time in my life, with bile in my throat.
I am a lucky one.