Haunted by History: When A Priest Betrays Our Ultimate Trust

For the past week or so I’ve been obsessively thinking about junior high. I’ve never before had an urge to return to those days -- that dawn of knowing my carefully feathered bangs and name brand clothes bought at discount stores were no match for the stylish perms and preppy outfits worn by the popular girls with the cute bubble handwriting. I always knew I was shy but in junior high it was made official, at least in my head:  I was a wallflower in every sense of the word. Stand back away from the action; smile; try to blend. I wasn’t an outcast, but I wasn’t in the “in” crowd either. I was background, not foreground, and I was happy about that. 

I remember being terribly uncomfortable with myself, as I’m sure most junior high school kids are, and because of that the one passing interest from a boy I received was squashed on the false assertion that I wasn’t interested. There was never a word spoken between us, just a note passed through friends, a sweet note really, telling me I was a good person and seemed really nice and would I like to go to the dance with him.

I wish I could remember the exact wording of that note, but I ripped it up in a fit of embarrassment when my sister found it in my bedroom. I so wish I hadn’t done that. It only punished me. 

Truth is I’d had a crush on that boy for a long time, which made the next day’s act of telling my friend to tell her friend to tell him that I wasn’t interested especially privately painful. I was simply too afraid to say yes. 

I’ve thought about that many times over the years. I’ve thought about how terrible it felt to rip up the nicest thing anyone outside my family had ever given me, and how powerless I felt to the embarrassment that made me do it. I’ve thought about saying “no” when I wanted so badly to say “yes,” and I’ve tried to use that disappointment in myself as a springboard to more confident decisions in later years.

I’ve thought about that brief moment in my life only as it pertained to me, not thinking much about how the boy felt by my rejection, not spending any time considering how he’d carefully chosen his words to me. It was not a romantic note, even by junior high standards. It was more like “You seem kind and good. Can I be with you?” I even learned that this boy had asked my friend who he should ask out, me or another girl he knew was also nice. She’d picked me, so he had too.

Some time ago I learned that he, this crush from my youth, was terribly, repeatedly abused by our town’s Catholic priest. The abuse started at about the time we entered junior high. He told no one for years.

I am not so drenched in self-importance that I think if I’d said yes to his note he would have confided in me. I’m quite sure he wouldn’t have said a word, he probably didn’t even understand or couldn’t yet register the hell that was happening to him. But the thought that he might have needed a friend, despite all the ones he already had, haunts me. I want to turn back the clock. I want to snatch the note back from my sister and not rip it up. I want to say yes, on the off chance. 

In my fantasy we go to the dance together, we become friends. He trusts me. He tells me. I help him. 

In reality, I can do nothing but send encouraging text messages and emails as he waits for a verdict in the trial just ending that hopefully will convict this demon who demolished his youth and the lives of so many others. It has been a great test of my faith to pray for not only my friend, but for this broken man, this lost soul who forced boys to close their eyes and pray while he betrayed them and God.

To seek justice in the courts seems too shallow for this crime. I rest easier knowing God is just, and mighty, and this criminal will be made accountable for his sins. But shaking my fists feels empty; I hate what he did to my friend, who I love. I am filled with sorrow that anyone, any child, endures such agony. I know other victims of sexual abuse, and I know it never goes away. For my friend, there is no embrace warm enough today to erase the cold and bitter history of junior high. 

Unfortunately, that’s all I have to give him, that and my prayers — for peace, that he might find it, and closure, that he might reach it. Mostly, though, I pray that he still has faith. That he didn’t completely lose sight of God when surely God seemed hidden, or cruel, or simply nonexistent. 

My friend today is a man of integrity. He is beautiful and intelligent and funny and kind and loving. What happened to him may cause some to question God’s existence. But I say his life, the very man he has become, is proof of it.

[This post was published with my friend's blessing, and at his urging. The priest was convicted today of all four charges against him. He is facing possible life in prison.]


Christi said...

What a beautiful post about such an ugly story. Praying for your friend.

Kristen said...

I'm crying. Again. I wrote something as well but have been cares to share it. I might send it to you later.

Anonymous said...

I am touched by your post. Also praying for your friend. Thanks.

Christopher said...