When I was in fourth grade, the parish priest asked me if I’d ever abused myself. Abused myself? Why on earth would I do such a thing? And how would I go about it? Hot stove? Hammer? Sewing needle? No, I told him, I had never abused myself.
A funny story, I’ve thought. The sexless old man asking the sexless little boy about masturbation … and using that word – “abused.”
But wave after wave of scandal lapping the shores of the Holy See has given me pause. Was the good father’s question a test of readiness? It was asked during confession the same year that a young and very crush-worthy Sister Mary Emily told us how babies are made, so anybody familiar with our curriculum would have known that a seed of a certain kind had been planted. A time to sow and a time to reap, maybe. Just speculation.
Press coverage of Sinead O’Connor’s recent calls for the Vatican to admit its complicity in sheltering pedophile priests reminds me that absolute power really does corrupt absolutely. On the other hand, with the possible exception of the confessional incident just described, I’ve never – not once – sensed anything “off” about any priest, brother or nun. Most were authoritarian, some were friendly. They all smelled good. But none were sexual, not in the slightest. Not even Sister Mary Emily.
Was I lucky? So it would seem.
O’Connor says that her complaint is with the bureaucrats who run the Church, not with the Church itself. They should confess and ask forgiveness, she says. They should do penance. That’s the only way she believes the Church can heal.
While I couldn’t care less about the death or transfiguration of the Roman Catholic Church and I long ago stopped thinking of myself as connected to it in any way, I agree with O’Connor in principle. Our leaders should lead by example. No institution is too big to fail.
But O’Connor and I part ways in practice. The Church isn’t the Vatican. It isn’t the priests or the ritual of the mass. It’s people like O’Connor. It’s people. Listening to her impassioned plea for reform yesterday, I thought, “That woman is holy. Absolutely holy. And she’s absolutely wasting her time.”