The following contains disturbing language and events involving abuse and children. Discretion is advised.
It was early in my adolescence, I recall in the seventh grade, where the boys were ushered into the church, almost as if it were a secret, and something told me it was not going to be mass. At twelve, I was an experienced alter boy and would shortly have 8 funerals and 1 wedding under my belt. I, along with my brother, was a lead alter boy for Sunday service. I recall this moment to be different. A senior priest appeared with hopes of initiating us into adulthood.
He said that whenever we pleasure ourselves we are not only committing murder but each sperm lost is a loss of a human being. He said, “You are no better than Hitler.” The point was not in celebrating the creation of life through a responsible act of sex; rather, it was to discourage pubescent boys in learning about their bodies and drown them with shame and humiliation. All sex became deviant sex.
Yes, every boy there was abused. We were abused because even if the Church did not believe in science or evolution, a basic understanding of reproduction and health would have informed the priest that the vast majority of sperm die in the testes. It would seem that these young boys were damned if they did it and damned if they did not. I lived decades of humiliation and shame.
Then early in high school, Father took us 15-year-old boys to a classroom, opened a closet, and began to pass around fetuses in a jar. The one that found itself on my desk was of a 6-month old. I was born at 6 months. The point of this exercise was to discourage us from having sex and to reinforce that abortion was wrong. I was more petrified that I would drop the glass jar and shatter what, if any dignity, a dead baby or human fetus had left.
That is abuse.
I was told by a Sister Hope that I would grow up to be hopeless, and I was told by another caring nun that “You just don’t care” because I could not do my math work properly. I was abused for 17 years, molested by a boy on a school bus for 20 minutes, grouped by a female nurse when being prepped for surgery, and dealt weekly with IED style rages from my late father, one that confessed to molesting young girls. My mom told me all the details when I was around 9-years old.
Sister, that is why “I don’t care.”
I quit school at 17, in part, because Father said, “I bet that you cannot do the math.” I took that bet, and I quit school. I wrote him later and said, “Father you should have said, ‘I bet you CAN do it.” I was labeled as “special” in school, a code word for retarded all my life. In truth, I strongly believe I had selective mutism.
I almost went into the priesthood because in my twenties, I never kissed a girl, never dated, never was hugged by a girlfriend, and had the sexual maturity of a troubled twelve-year-old. The Church seems a safe haven for one that did not want be asked, “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” “Are you gay?” “Are you a pedophile?” Instead people would see me as a man of God. All questions would stop. Just like my dreams stopped. I would, for the first time in my life, be treated with respect. I would seem an asexual, holy being.
When I was twenty-three, I almost took out a 15-year-old girl on a date with the encouragement of my own mother and the girl’s aunt. The night before the date, the aunt called me and said, “It’s not you, it is her. I have to call this off.” She may have saved two people that night.
We were going to go to Church for our first date.
I decided not to become a priest.
There is more abuse, but my story is nothing compared to what so many kids went through at the hands of yet another institution that ignored or maybe even encouraged sex abuse. Similar to sexual assault in the military, the breaking of trust between those one would lay down their life for, one that represents that hand of God for many Catholics, comes with severe and life-long consequences for the survivors.
At its most ugly, it can sever one’s relationship with God or spirituality. When someone says “Father” to me, I think of a sexual predator. Yet, using such words as monster, predator, and pedophile (often misused), distracts us all from the institutions in sports, in faith, and in film among many others that perpetuate abuse, often putting fire with gasoline. We call out the few, the worst acts, but fail to see so many.
Few can take away one’s sexual desire or attraction, and the Catholic Church must understand that it has severely failed in its complete misunderstanding and misdirection when it comes to human sexuality. I, for one, could never relate to Jesus because Jesus did not seem to have a sexuality. Most guys I know do, and it complicates their lives. If one buries it, it manifests, just like my nightmares, nightmares that are all too real for so many survivors.
The Catholic Church has become a fallen institution because it allowed sins worse than original sin to be committed on its most vulnerable parishioners, and when such an institution is supposed to uphold the teachings of Christ, the intensity of that broken trust can manifest itself ten fold.
For me, I could no longer believe a Church because it’s made of people that morally justify. I found freedom in being free of dogma and of a power structure the favors powerful men that, too often, brush off their own sins in favor of dominating others. Now, I prefer to see God through nature, where life simply exists without need of judgment.