Sin of our Fathers

July 2002

It has not been a good year for trust. Or the major institutions that once held it.

Accounting firms. Stock brokerages. The Catholic Church.

The news keeps getting worse for the Roman Catholic religion into which I was born. Charges are being filed. Sentences are being assessed. Heads are rolling. Such is the paycheck when decades of abuse and arrogance come due.

None of this is a surprise to me. Although I was never subjected to any inappropriate advances, I have friends who were. One friend’s mother, a teacher in a Catholic school, warned the pastor of an assistant priest who was acting inappropriately with children.

The pastor fired her instead of the child molester.

I have a unique view on this issue. For a few years in my late teens, I answered phones in the office of the priests’ house of our parish. I had an inside look at the lives these men lived. It changed forever the way I viewed the Church and its pronouncements.

The priests I met were, by and large, good, smart, well-intentioned, hard-working men.

But I also saw them stripped of their gold vestments, clouds of incense, Latin chants, head-scratching Biblical references and the elevation of the pulpit. No surprise that what was revealed was a mosaic of men who were happy, sad, drunk, learned, goofy, troubled and fulfilled.

In short, humans who were utterly fallible despite the facade the Church wished its faithful to accept.

If anyone doubts the sometimes sad humanity of these men, just read Rembert Weakland’s letter.

There was one other thing I noticed about the priests. I suspected that many of them were gay.

Not all of them. But if you compared the number of gay men on my Dad’s Glenway Liquor softball team with the number of gay priests in the rectory, the priests would win the Village People Award.

And that is what changed me. The very hypocrisy of it all. Here were these gay men, who had committed their lives to, and preached the edicts of, an institution that essentially damned who and what they were.

There was another thing about the priests’ house. It was too quiet.

There were no sounds of the vital, healthy, rattle and hum of a full human household. Even though I was only 19, I distinctly remember feeling that the earnest men in that house were missing a whole part of life that adds balance for all guys.

Women.

The Catholic Church fears women.

They don’t allow women priests.

They don’t allow priests who are married to women.

The most hallowed woman in the Catholic Church is a virgin who gave birth.

Anyone seeing a trend here?

I recently returned from the Roach brothers’ stag fishing outing, a four-day marathon of beer, cards and men doing dumb things. By the fourth day all the guys are ready to go home to their wives. The trip is an annual reminder of how stupid us guys can be without the more cautious, compassionate influence of women.

The Catholic Church has been on an all-male fishing trip, with at least half of the fishermen being gay, for well over 10 centuries.

No wonder some of these guys are in jail.

Many of my Catholic friends are saddened and embarrassed by what has happened.

I feel differently. I’m happy.

Happy that the victims are finally being given their due.

Happy that the rapists and abusers – both gay and straight – are being prosecuted.

Happy that the Church is being forced to confront its failings and hypocrisy, for the sake of its followers and the good priests who have been publicly besmirched by the acts of their colleagues and the institutional arrogance of its leaders.

Happy that an institution that is capable of being a tremendous force for charity and justice will be forced to confront the fact that it is woefully out of touch.

Hopeful that some day, when trust is in the balance and priests and bishops are forced to meet in a study to discuss the predatory misdeeds of one of its own there will be someone new in the meeting.

A dad.

Or better yet, a mom.

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