A Confession About Confession ~ Girl Victims of Priests
I was raised Roman Catholic. Attended RC schools from K-12, church every Sunday and holy day of obligation, and went to confession with the rest of the class once a month after receiving our holy communion in first grade.
Of course, we had the priests you hear of today. We had at least 3 who molested altar boys, and even a music teacher who did so for years until he was moved to another parish to hide it and was reported publicly at last.
Among those 3 priests were two who also did so to the little girls. I never heard anything of evidence in the case of one, but you just know sometimes. That he was always in the company of little girls and in the company of the other priest lends credibility to that speculation.
As for the one I know for sure, part of knowing was my own experience and perhaps narrow escape from becoming another victim.
I can clearly recall standing in line waiting for the new priest to hear each child’s confession, and sighing impatiently with the rest. We would go to confession once a month, every Thursday, during our religion class. Religion class lasted an hour, as did the other classes, but on this particular day, this particular priest took so long with each child, we missed the entire hour of our next class. From then on, we would have 2 priests hearing confessions to be sure we wouldn’t miss any other classes.
On this particular day with this particular new priest, I walked in just as every other Thursday for the past 2 years. I was in 3rd grade at this time and 8.
I headed for the kneeler as always, but was instructed by the priest to sit beside him.
For anyone unfamiliar with the differing confessionals, yes, you have your typical one shown in the movies where there is a wall separating the confessor and the priest with a small mesh window.
In our church and many others, there were also 2 confessionals that were like small sitting rooms. About the size of a guest bathroom. You had your choice of kneeling before a wall with the mesh window, or sitting beside the priest. Either way, he would see whomever entered as they walked around to the kneeler.
I did as told because one did not argue with priests and sat in the burgundy cushioned seat beside him. I started the traditional header to the confession, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned…” My voice trembled because I was nervous to be so near a priest. They were made to appear as extensions of God to us, and only a true believer would fear their holy presence.
He smiled at me and took my hand in his large, somewhat chubby one. He wasn’t really overweight. Just a little bigger than the other priests with hands that were thicker than thin men. My breath caught for a minute and I looked up at him, pausing for just a brief second in surprise at this contact, then continuing with my rehearsed speech. (We always had to know what we were going to say before entering so as not to take up other students’ time.)
“Such beautiful little hands,” he said softly and in such a gentle way, yet he was making me nervous. Little did he know, I’d been down this road before and he wasn’t going to trick me into anything, should he try.
I continued, trying to remember the sins I’d chosen to claim. I was 8. I had lived through virtual hell since nearly my birth. I’d done nothing to deserve any of it and was damned sure never going to do anything to instigate more. I had nothing to confess but I, as everyone else, was a sinner and must find something to say to please God and the church. My favorites were always lying and being mean to people. Neither of which I did, but not serious enough to warrant the priest condemning my immortal soul to eternal damnation.
“Such small fingers, so delicate and soft,” he continued, oblivious to my words, as he held my hand in one of his large ones and stroked the back of it with the other.
I stopped talking, not sure he even wanted me to continue but thinking I had to if I wanted to be forgiven for my fake sins (though, I suppose since lying about lying was, indeed, a lie, it was no longer a lie and was a sin). I softly started to speak again when he looked up at me and chuckled.
“You’re a child. What would you have to confess? Now, shhh…. I only want to hold your hand while you sit quietly.”
I wasn’t sure what to think. I was afraid, that’s a given, but one does not disobey a priest. Although, even in my youth I didn’t take much stock in their claim as the vessels of God. Anyone who broke the laws or hurt anyone was not fit to claim any resemblance to the god I would worship. Had he done anymore than he did, I would have run out and taken whatever punishment I would receive for being disrespectful and blasphemous for breaking confession.
We sat there for a pretty good amount of time, for a child at least. He holding and caressing my hands and fingers, cooing about how good they felt. Me wishing I could leave, thinking I was about to hurl, and feeling I was being violated somewhere within his twisted mind. Children know. An adult may see it as a kindhearted show of affection, but a child knows.
Finally, afraid the others may talk about me, saying I must truly be evil for taking so long, I said, “I think I need to go, father.”
He looked up from my hand, smiled “warmly”, gave my hands one last squeeze, and said, “Go then. I hope to see you again soon.”
I hurried from the confessional, meandered through the pews without making eye contact with anyone, and knelt with the sign of the cross to pretend I had a penance to perform for a confession I didn’t get to tell.
That memory slowly faded over the years. When at one time, I could remember the names of each child who stood behind me and in what order, I couldn’t even remember their faces by the time I became a senior.
I was standing in front of the door to home room early one morning before school with the rest of the early arrivals. We stood waiting for someone to let us in while talking about the weekend adventures, parental aggravations, uncompleted homework assignments, tests not studied for … the usual.
A girl I went to grade school with fast approached me from the courtyard entrance, and I took a mental step back in preparation for a verbal war.
She and I were never friends but weren’t enemies, either. Her class was next door to mine and we all mingled before school. Still, she never spoke to me. It was always more of a casual nod, an acknowledgment of each others existence for nostalgia’s sake alone. We lived in the same neighborhood, had some of the same friends, and still never spoke. So, when she hurried over to me, gazing into my eyes with a wide-eyed glare, I was understandably taken aback and went into instant defense mode.
“Oh, my god! Come here, I have to tell you something!”
Just like most 17 year old girls, she didn’t know the finer art of pleasantries or personal space, and she grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away from the little crowd at the door to reveal what must have been earth shattering news. What she could possibly have to tell me that I would take the slightest interest in, I had no clue.
She was into all the fashion clothes, Cosmo mags, expensive purses and shoes, 5 pounds of makeup, 1 can of Aquanet, diamonds – as many as allowed by the dress code – on ears, fingers, neck, and wrists. I loved my waist-length hair that I would curl into long, thick ringlets, mascara, flirting and silver jewelry, but that was about as far as it went before switching to tomboy mode.
We were polar opposites and yet, there was something so ground breaking that she had to tell me. “Me” being the operative word, leading me to believe it was something that would change my life forever. Or something less melodramatic. I wasn’t sure.
“Remember Father Mike?” she asked with wide eyes. It was her way to enlarge her eyes to their human extent without popping out anytime she had news she thought others would find as fascinating as her.
My brows creased as my eyes moved about in an effort to aid my memory. I shook my head slowly as I tried to remember, still not speaking as was my habit before I knew what someone was about.
“Yes you do!” she said confidently, hand on hip in prissy valley girl fashion – though we were in Louisiana. “Remember the one who always wanted to talk in confession? He did that with you, too, right? Held your hands and talked and didn’t want to hear your sins?”
My breathing stopped. I always believed, or wanted to believe, I was the only one. I didn’t speak for a second, and tried my best to stay rigidly unemotional. It was something I still do to avoid showing how close someone is to seeing secrets I have buried deep inside.
I couldn’t fight my weakened knees, however, and sat on the concrete bench with a slow, passive, “Oh, yeah, okay,” like it was really no big deal to remember him when, in fact, it was.
What did he do, I wondered with dread but didn’t say it out loud.
She sat down beside me really close, looking around to see if anyone was listening, and continued in a lowered voice. “Well, remember Michelle _______?”
“Yeah,” I said with kind of a chuckle. We all remembered her but it was for something I am terribly ashamed for now.
I didn’t realize it back then, what was going on, and now that I do, I feel so sad, so angry for not saying something to someone who could have helped.
Michelle often spoke of pornography and sexual behavior, making the rest of us mock her as if an 8 year old could know of the things she described. Well, Michelle had a grandfather who let her read his Playboy magazines. I didn’t think back then that it could be a cry for help, believing as everyone else that she was lying, and now it tears me apart that I was one of the ones mocking her claims of knowledge about things that should have been reported to a teacher or policeman.
I suddenly grew cold inside at what she was about to reveal to me. I knew it had to be really bad and I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it.
“I saw her at MickyD’s [McDonald’s] Saturday,” she said. “We talked about OLOM [our grade school], the bitches teaching there, Jeremy and Ryan, stuff like that. She said she’s not Catholic anymore and really doesn’t know if she wants to believe in God…”
I expressed the expected “What?!” gasp, though I inwardly, secretly related to part of that.
“So, we’re talking and she asks if I remember Father Mike. I told her, ‘Yeah, dirty old bastard!’ and she says, ‘Yeah, did he rape you, too?’ “
She stopped talking and looked at me in wild eyed anticipation of my reaction. It was at exactly that moment the bell rang but I couldn’t move.
“Oh my God,” was all I could say.
I expected her to say he molested Michelle because I often believed he molested other kids. I avoided his confessional after that first encounter, and I remembered at that moment seeing odd expressions on faces of other kids who didn’t. Molestation is bad enough, but I still had some ounce of hope that I was wrong about him. That he raped a child not only shattered that hope but brought the issues of the priests we knew to be pervs in a whole new perspective. If one did it, so must have the others.
Father Mike was reassigned just 3 months after his arrival. No one knew why and all the adult parishioners were heartbroken. He had quickly earned their adoration with his “gentle appreciation for the youth” and his “unique approach to guiding our children to God”, as was said of him at his farewell dinner.
We were all there. All us kids. All sharing glances of disgust at those words, but no one actually coming out and saying what had happened to them. I saw the looks and wondered, but it was in my nature to choose to believe only I experienced what I had and that was the end of it. To believe otherwise would mean I would have to accept how close I came to being a victim again, and that I would be one of those who did choose to come forward and probably treated as sinners for speaking out. It was only coincidence, you know, that he was being reassigned after such a short time.
When I think on it now, I remember just how many priests we saw come and go in that Parish, and it sickens the hell out of me to realize what that probably meant.
She and I both grabbed our things as our teachers called for us to hurry before the second bell and parted with saddened eyes and shaking heads. We never spoke of it again after that, but she did speak to me a bit more often. About once a week as opposed to never.
When all hell broke loose and started hitting the news about pedo priests, I wondered as I do now when the female victims of the priests would be acknowledged, or if it will continue to be an issue for the anti-gay bandwagon. And damned the girls for being victims, too.