Prior to writing my previous post A Thousand Tears, national news headlines had been saturated for days with the torrent of Catholic abuse stories pouring out of Pennsylvania. Every article caused me to shudder with grief until my knees grew weak and I was forced to sit down. It was then I realized, I had to write and post my story, but I didn’t want to.
It’s in no way satisfying for me to cast my parents in a bad light. Whether deserving or not, it’s a painful, deplorable chore. Complicating my feelings, is the compassion I have for them. I can sympathize with their past actions when I consider the institutionalized, religious oppression they were raised in. I was subjected to the same, and for many years, like them, I willingly submitted.
Fundamentalistic belief systems, even those considered wholesome by pious church-goers, often result in robbing good people of their rationale and basic common-sense. In the void, blind acceptance and conformity gain strength. Until at last, the unthinkable occurs: desperate souls willingly sacrifice their own children, just to please their new master(s).
Over three-decades ago, behind the church camp cafeteria, my father and Deacon Scott exchanged heated words. Scott promptly packed his bags and quietly left before lunch. The rumor around church camp was, a local farmer had called. Rain was in the forecast and Scott’s help was needed. Even though our farming community was experiencing a drought, no one seemed to question his hasty departure.
Two days later, once the annual summer camp had concluded, we returned home exhausted to the quaint parsonage sitting next to our quiet country church. Over the following days and weeks, the only thing that disturbed the peacefulness of our simple abode, was the occasional chiming of our front entrance doorbell.
Sadly, it was always Deacon Scott on the other side of the door.
Over the course of a few weeks, he and my dad continued their exchange of words. I was never privy to their ongoing conversation. It always took place on the front porch late at night after I had gone to bed. However, my mom’s worsening nervous condition informed me, it wasn’t going well.
Over time, I was eventually able to piece together what transpired every time the doorbell rang. Apparently, Scott had been determined to plead his case. In his mind, the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. Eventually, his persistence paid off, and my parents started casually speaking of how, “Boys will be boys sometimes; it’s unfortunate, but it happens.”
I don’t think my parents ever fully believed what they were telling themselves. If they had, such a grievous offense would have warranted a severe, biblically-inspired whipping for me. Weeks passed by as I patiently waited with nervous anticipation, but it never happened.
Regardless, my parents were desperate to accept some form of explanation, which would allow them to forgive, forget and live in peace. Scott succeeded in meeting their desperate need with his less offensive, more palatable story involving horseplay.
After all, he was “just a loving camp counselor” who foolishly wrestled with his favorite camper late one night.
In the months which followed, peace and tranquility returned to our home–for them… not so much for me. This lasted for two years, until once again, the solitude of our home was dramatically disturbed.
After supper one night, my parents sat me down in the formal living room. The look on their faces was exceptionally grave. They had something very serious to discuss with me. My sister was exiled to her room to do homework and memorize her daily bible verses. Once they heard her door close shut, they commenced with divulging the horrific details.
Scott was getting married. My dad was the officiant and I was to be a groomsman. If I did not comply, he had assured my parents he would change his story. He would tell the entire church how I, as a 12-year old, had seduced him when he was 26!?! Apparently, this version would have been completely believable for the faithful, pious church-goers attending our quiet, country church.
In that moment, I felt like the small, plastic mouse in the board game Mouse Trap. This entire time, the adults in my life had been playing a diabolical game, and now the trap had just been sprung. Not only was I the bait, but the prey as well.
Long story short, under great protest I was forced to comply. Next to Scott I stood with my father to his right, as the three of us watched his bride slowly walk up the center aisle. She was young and small with a boyish figure. She was also a little bit “slow” as my parents would say. She may have had a learning disability. I’m not sure.
Following the wedding, my helplessness and despair sank to all-time lows. I was buried under the grief of being victimized, as well as, the shame for being made complicit. The next Sunday morning, I came to learn how deep my hole of despondency was when I learned, Scott and his new bride were making plans to be foster parents.
Whether my dad took part in the application process or not, I have no idea. Although I highly doubt it. Administrative duties were not his forte. It’s my understanding, they never did become foster parents. Whether or not they eventually had children of their own, I have no idea.
I wish all of what you’ve read, in this post and the previous one, had not happened, but it did. I wish these events were not part of my past. but they are, and always will be. No one in their right mind would wish any of this on another human being. Sadly though, many have similar stories, and some far worse, as the headlines continue to reveal daily.
Therefore, with all who have been abused and oppressed,
I STAND IN SOLIDARITY, refusing allegiance to belief systems, bigoted traditions and tribal loyalties which persist in covering up crimes.
I STAND IN PROTEST, refusing to kneel with the masses as they habitually pray for the hurting, while kissing the rings of criminals.
I STAND IN DEFIANCE, refusing to enter in through church doors, which remain closed to honesty, transparency, morality and justice.
I wonder what would happen if, every Sunday morning, people would stand in solidarity outside churches, refusing to attend or give money until legal justice has been served? Perhaps, Pennsylvania would be a good place to start.
It’s called consequences.
The artwork in this post is by the very talented illustrator Julie Roth. She’s local, here in West Bend, WI. I’ve admired her work for years, but had no idea who she was until we met this morning at the downtown farmer’s market. I bought a print of Push 1. I’m gonna order Push 2.