Advanced Catechetical Instruction
In 1964, when I was a sixteen-year-old eleventh grader, I went to my usual Catechetical class one Wednesday evening. There was a substitute Jesuit Brother teaching that night who supplemented his talk by showing a movie about soldiers in Korea.
Four soldiers were nestled in a foxhole when a hand grenade was thrown into it, prompting one of the men to throw himself on top of it. The grenade exploded and killed him, but the other three men were saved by this heroic act. The point of the lecture was to illustrate the beatitude of self-sacrifice and in particular the notion that there is no greater love that one man could have for another than to lie down and sacrifice his life. After all, Jesus had done the exact same thing for all of humanity, had he not?
After class the Brother asked me to stay behind while the other boys filed out, then sat down next to me on one of the proverbially generic folding chairs. He then used the movie to segue into a mini-sermon about personal self-sacrifice, asked if I knew what that was really all about and if I knew the myriad ways a person could sacrifice himself to another.
Meanwhile he was edging progressively closer, then put one arm around my shoulders while he placed his free hand on the inside of my thigh and began to grope.
Not at all enamored by the direction the situation was taking and although not yet consummated, I was already dead sure that my sexual preferences leaned as a polar opposite direction to this one. I extracted myself from the room, went to the parking lot, got into our car and silently waited for the usually quick ride home.
My mother, however, was not so quick to turn the key over or to go straight home.
- Why are you so late? I’ve been sitting here for twenty minutes. All the other boys left with their mothers. The parking lot is empty.
- Sorry mom. The brother kept be behind and then tried to feel me up.
It was like watching a fuse blow in stop frame photography.
- I should have known better. I’ve hated that Catholic Church since your father made me convert. They’re all a bunch of hypocritical phonies. I wasn’t going to tell you, but now I will. Last month when we had a dinner party that fat derelict, Father Raetz, drank too much bourbon, backed me into a corner and tried to feel me up. He said he always loved my tits. That’s it. I’ve had it with all of them. From now on you’re out of Catechism and we aren’t going to Mass any more either. Phony rotten lying bastards. And another thing I’m going to tell your father is that we’re never going to visit his mother’s grave again. I can think of a lot better things to do with my time on Sunday than listening to bloated sot perverted priests beg for money, then have to spend the next hour crying over his fat, stupid, dead mother.
It would have been unheard of in those days to complain about sexual harassment in the Catholic Church. Not only would no one ever have believed it to be true, but it would also have been completely suppressed. Or if not that, no layperson would even remotely consider the risk of either direct or indirect divine retribution from the powerful ecclesiastic system.
It really wasn’t until the early 1970’s that the first allegations about sexual assault by a priest on an adolescent boy were made in Louisiana. Even then those parents paid for it dearly before it was over as the all powerful and ever righteous Church assaulted both their character as well as their overall credibility.
However, I didn’t give one thought to any of these implications. All I knew was that from this point forward I did not have to go to church if I didn’t want to, that I was taken out of Wednesday night Catechism, and best of all I would never have to waste a good part of any other Sunday morning in the maudlin exercise of praying and slobbering over Grandma at her headstone.
It was the first time in my life I truly believed there actually was a God.