Red and I were sitting in his truck, for the moment keeping our mud spattered bodies out of the rain. The trencher had done its job, the conduit was in and now all we had to do was backfill two hundred feet of muddy dirt back into the trench from whence it came. I mentioned that I’d be serving as liturgist this Sunday at my church.
"I don't church anymore," he said, head suddenly drooping like some painful memory had come up. "Don’t have anything to do with it at all.”
I might have let it go. But there was a story here. Red hadn’t just stopped going to church. Something had driven him out. I could see that the way he fell silent and turned his face to the window, to stare at raindrops running down the glass. So I asked him why. I’d heard a few 'no way' stories before. The time the ladies of the church saved the best of donated clothing because ‘it was too nice for the poor”'. I have a buddy whose Nazarene pastor told him the dinosaurs never existed, they had been made up to justify evolution. There was Bernie's funeral where the minister more or less told us that a nice old man was burning in Hell now, but we still had a chance if only we'd repent. I wanted Red to let it out, let him know that faith really didn't work that way.
“I feel that God betrayed me.” He stopped to refill his cup of coffee, then straightened up in his seat and turned to face me. “You’ve heard about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church.”'"
I nodded. No way to miss that one. Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston driven to resign in disgrace. The entire Catholic Church in America threatened with bankruptcy. Members leaving the church. Worst of all, it all came about because they chose to sweep the problem under the rug rather than face it squarely.
“I was thirteen. His name was . . . well his name doesn't matter now. He found ways to be alone with me, to touch me. And it felt good. I admit it. It feels good when someone touches you there.”
I sat in stunned silence. Red? I’ve met his wife, she’s a lovely. Their daughter just finished her degree in civil engineering. He’s the last person I would ever have thought a victim of sexual abuse. Yet his words ring with truth. I wonder why he would say it now, and to me. Maybe the scandal has given him permission.
“I stopped going to mass right after that. The priest, they moved him away without a word. I know where he went now, of course.”
'The Catholic Church is full of homosexuals. They let each other know that the priesthood is a good place for gay people to go.”' I can feel his anger. I've followed the scandal, and know Red's accusation is both true and false but for once I forego my natural desire to set the record straight. I followed the growing scandal.
The truth is that Catholic clergy are far more likely to be gay than in the general population. As a former priest who now counsels other priests put it, “It takes a very strong man to accept the Gift of Celibacy.” The homophobia present in modern society and particularly strong among many believers says to gay people that if they want sexual intimacy then they have to turn straight.. What a fantasy. I’ve known enough gay people growing up to recognize that they didn’t wake up one morning and decide they were tired of pussy. They fought and struggled with their identity for years before accepting themselves for who they are. That’s one reason suicide rates among gay teens are so high.
People outside the sexual mainstream often believe God wants them to never have sex at all. A priest is about the only man who can be forty, unmarried and no one will ever say a word. If you are a person of faith who believes they can never, ever have sex what better place than a job where everyone is expected to be celibate?
Thing is, that works for a while. You make the decision to seek the priesthood, there is seminary, ordination and the excitement of your first parish. During that rush the often can put off having to face themselves. But what do you do for the next thirty years when your goals have been met and suddenly it isn't so easy to suppresses Mr. Penis anymore?
That’s when men fall. That’s why it takes a strong, healthy person to remain celibate, because the initiate really has to know what they’re giving up.
Red took another sip of coffee then turned back to me. “'I haven’t gone to church since. Never will. What kind of a Loving God allows his representatives to do that to children?”'
I told him that I didn't think God worked that way, but I had no real answers for him either. That there really isn’t anything to say to a person betrayed that way except that it wasn’t their fault.
“'Yeah, but it felt good.”'
“'Like with Sandy?”
Red grinned. “Not that good. But you don’t need to know about my married life.”
"I was hoping you had pictures.”
Red laughed again. He knows he’s a lucky man. Lucky to have come through all that so well. Lots of people never do. Maybe Sandy’s the reason. Maybe meeting one person who really loves you is better therapy than a small army of psychologists. Maybe he had a therapist. I decide not to ask.
'"You’ll find one for yourself one of these days,” he tells me, gently punching my bicep like guys do. And suddenly the conversation is not about him any more, but me. Red is like that. I think about the Priest who betrayed him so long ago, who thought about himself rather than the God he had promised to serve.
This writeup is true, and the dialogue correct to the best of my memory. The names and places have been changed to protect the innocent.