The Mission Priest

The Mission Priest

Although my mother officially pulled out of the Catholic Church after the Jesuit Brother tried to feel me up in Catechism class, we did make arbitrarily random appearances at Mass. It may have been related to residual guilt or perhaps something as abstruse as a maintaining a small investment in the religious insurance policy that guarantees a place in heaven. Old indoctrination sometimes dies a long and painful death for anyone having been brainwashed by it.

On one of those particular Sundays, when I was about seventeen years old, as opposed to the usual boring pap, the Pastor gave an extremely unusual electrifying sermon about next week’s highly anticipated visit by the “Mission Priest.” He then riveted everyone’s attention and hammered in the final nail by announcing this man was a special envoy from Rome itself. His home base was the Vatican and he was being sent to us for a brief respite from his hard work of converting the dark ignorant masses in Africa. The rhetoric ended with an appeal for everyone to let this man “hear your specially blessed confession.”

He said:

  • It will be the next best thing to having the Pope himself absolve your sins.

This was a first for our small Parrish, so the local priests were beside themselves with eager anticipation. The parishioners all bought into it too, resulting in longer lines on the pre-visit confessional Saturday than any other in the church’s history of collectively expunged sins. 

Although we did not go to that confession, on the following Sunday, curiosity got the better of us and we did go to the Missionary’s mass.

The man must have just arrived from some dismal assignment in darkest Africa, where the heat or some latent insect borne disease must have partially emulsified his brain, because it turned out to be the closest thing to a tent revival show that could ever be seen in a Catholic Church.

He was at once charismatic, energetic, mesmerizing, and was also just about one gearshift shy of being absolutely crazy. Leaping out from behind the pulpit his animated gyrations across the dais caused his robes to fly like sheets drying on a clothesline on a windy day, ultimately imparting the appearance of a purple dervish. With fire in his eyes and a message of brimstone damnation, the underlying theme to the sermon was that all men are guilty of everything until proven otherwise, ultimately making me feel that if he really dug in deep enough he could even get the Pope or Mother Theresa to lay out a litany of hidden dark spots on their souls. 

In making the congregation so paranoid about eternal damning fire in Hell, on the next Saturday the confessional lines were even longer; which unfortunately included my entire guilt-ridden family.

I should have known this was a bad idea because when I came face to ear in a small dimly lit cubicle with this nasty little Ambassador from Rome I had only just recovered from an adolescent guilty perception that Jesus, because he  must have had even better powers of ocular X-ray vision than Superman, was probably watching me when I went to jerk off in the basement bathroom. 

Beginning with the usual banal litany that usually worked so well with the regular priests, who never listened anyway,  we went through the boring routinely rote driven drill, I said:

  • Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been three weeks since my last confession. These are my sins: I have talked back to my mother; I have disrespected my father…
  • Cut the crap. How old are you?
  • Seventeen.
  • So, seventeen, eh. Have you started to date yet? Do you like girls?
  • Yes, Father.
  • And, so, what do you do on your dates with these girls?
  • There’s only one girl, father.
  • So what exactly do you do with this one girl on your dates, eh? Do you kiss? Do you pet? Do you touch her genitals? Does she touch yours? Have you ever had oral sex or actual penetrating sexual intercourse? You know what that is, don’t you? Now tell me exactly what you do with this girl. All the details, too. I need to know EVERYTHING!

On and on went the terrifying interrogation while I gulped, coughed, mewled and sputtered some pathetically trivial answers.

After all one cannot lie to any priest, much less the special ambassador from Rome itself. In retrospect I was also too naïve to discount the possibility as he sat back in his little black booth, that he may have been getting his rocks off by hearing a long string of vicariously graphic descriptions of teenage sex spewed out by stuttering terrified sexual neophytes.  

I finally capitulated: Yes it was true I had kissed my girlfriend, and yes it was true that we had done some heavy petting. 

By the time the encounter was over, along with the usual banal lecture about saving oneself for the holy bonds of marriage, the special grace of entering marriage as a virgin, ad nauseam and ad infinitum, I was doused in a cold wet sweat that left me completely exhausted. 

He gave me the worst penance I ever had, sending me to kneel at the Alter with a burden of doing three entire Rosaries and four Acts of Contrition. Being used to far less cursory punishment, I thought this one was a bit too steep for the sin of heavy petting, so I did the task like doing a multiplication table. After every prayer, I simply muttered: “times ten” or “times four” and got out of the Church as fast as I possibly could; worrying that the maniac behind the screen might leap out of his little dark booth to haul me back in for Round Two. 

This was the second Epiphany that made me realize I had to get out of this crazy religion. The first one had come at age twelve when my dog died and I asked the priest if he was going to get into Heaven. I was told then that animals are not allowed into heaven, only human souls, and now I was being told that sex was taboo as well.

But somehow I instinctively knew that my limited encounters with sex seemed pretty pleasant up to that point, and not even close to the horror these nutty priests were attempting to portray. So here I was being chastised by a semi-psychotic zealot for liking women shortly after a Jesuit Brother tried to seduce me, while my dead dog’s soul was lost forever in Purgatory or Hell. The hypocrisy was too much to absorb. 

I also realized that if I was going to go to Hell over heterosexual sex; which I intuitively liked, then it would probably be a bonus. The realization also struck me that if people like the Mission priest were going to Heaven; a place also devoid of simple comforts like house-pets; then I did not wish to be within a parsec of their eternal prudish and animal avoiding presence.  

I thought I would rather choose to be in Hell with my faithful old dog, sipping on a Vodka, having a naked woman sitting on my lap and watching Duke win another National basketball title on TV. 

Now, that would be as close to heaven as it ever gets.

 Mission Priest



Exceptions to the Rule. Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Exceptions to the Rule


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge)


Every rule has exceptions, ergo there are a few exceptions to the rule that professionalism and drugs or alcohol; just don’t mix.

This exception has occasionally held true at least in the literary world, although in the world of today’s top sports professionals it may also hold true for those athletes who are bulking up with androgenic or anabolic steroids while trying not to perform under the influence of other mind-altering substances. Perhaps, this is because steroids do in fact beneficially alter performance, although contrarily they also have been known to have severe adverse effects on the personality.

Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Lance Armstrong come to mind with enhanced performance. But then again ask Taylor Hooton’s father what he thinks of steroids after his 17 year old athlete son abused them, became depressed and committed suicide. Or ask the remaining family of steroid abusing Professional Wrestler Chris Benoit who killed his wife, his son and then himself.

Mickey Mantle may have been an exceptional case of an individual who could abuse a substance and still perform. John Daly almost made it too, but eventually fizzled out when alcohol finally overwhelmed his natural talent. Usual odds favor the probability that substance abuse will result in the crash and burn of any career.

In the literary world Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was reputed to be a cocaine addict, yet thrilled the world with his tales of Sherlock Holmes.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge actually admitted that his poem Kubla Kahn was ruined and left unfinished because while in the state of an opium reverie a “visitor from Portlock” knocked on his door and interrupted his entire thought process. He said he lost perhaps a dozen lines.

Then there is the case of Lewis Carroll, whose possible pedophilic addiction to pre-pubescent girls may have been quite a bit more sinister than using either opium, cocaine or both. Just ask Alice.

And who can tell how many modern rock music icons have written beautiful songs while under the influence of marijuana, opiates, amphetamines, LSD or booze; both before, during or after the fact of whatever substance they happen to be abusing at the time.

But for the ordinary, average every day working stiff citizen, I wouldn’t recommend at all playing golf, going bowling, skiing, playing softball or tennis, writing a song or a story or sometimes even attending a christening or a wedding, while under the influence of anything.

That is not unless the people you are up against or mingling with are hyped up on the same chemical substance as the one you are. In this circumstance you might be perceived as being fantastically talented, but only in relative terms.

  • Hey. After I snorted coke last night I had ten great ideas for making a million dollars.
  • Yeah. And after ten beers I shot a 65 on the driving range. You shoulda seen it.

First of all, being a legend in your own mind, you undoubtedly are not all that great at whatever the sport might be. You are also not creative enough to write or sing worth a wit, and you are not clever enough to hold a decent conversation while partially coherent mumbling or slurring; although as you utter them, those words resonate as music to your own ears.

One should always remember that although you might be inclined to think otherwise; the superstars who abuse drugs and alcohol have an amazing talent that gives them a towering leg up to begin with before they decide to waste, squander, or even exploit it in a myriad of other non-commercial enterprises. However, in our ordinary, mundane world, water will always seek its own level.


“It is cocaine,” he said, “a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?”

(Sherlock Holmes)

Advanced Catechetical Instruction

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.