“The Wrath of God” A fictional story of a victim who becomes a murderer

postman pat“Postman Pat, Postman Pat,

Postman Pat and his black and white cat,

Early in the morning,

Just as day is dawning,..”

The children’s tape player sang the words through its red and white face. Primary colors for a baby’s room. The tape was a distraction for me, and it covered my cries – but his hand usually sufficed.

People ask, How could a man, a priest?  It’s popular to ask, now, those taboo questions. Safety in numbers for those who dare to criticize God’s men.

But that night, so many nights, no safety. No one questioning. Not even the mother. And the father? He was around.

My face hurts now, as I tell you this. Pain in my jaw like after a long session at the dentist. As if it had been stretched wide beyond its comfort. And my throat is tight, golf-ball sized anxiety, so I can’t catch my breath. Give me a minute, here!

…..

…..

It was always hard to breathe during story time.

And now the inevitable pain in my rectum. Even though I am telling you this over 50 years later, the pain memories are so near. They live in my muscles under my skin.

In prison there are similar pains for many of the inmates. But I am separate. Solitary. Suits me just fine! Dangerous, they say, to myself and others. A sociopath by nature, or a victim whose violation of his body caused an irreparable tear in his soul through which all feelings escaped. Which am I? Maybe you don’t believe in souls or God. That’s fine. I’m The Wrath of God … and no one wants to believe in me.

I sought out one of them, one of the owners of those bodies that stole my breath and my sanity. One of the Men in Black. I burned holes in his body where he had torn holes in mine. Pathology or justice? Am I a righteous man or a criminal?  It’s up to you to decide, my twelve peers. But let me ask, first, that you take my place for just one night in that child’s bed, just one, and then you can judge me.

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Cold

cold

cold, cold, hard, damp tiles

bare feet

they didn’t care

with their thick shoes and heavy clothes

pale legs above bloodless toes

the cold hurts

before it numbs

but fear is hot

insides shaking

lips trembling

don’t cry, she warns

don’t whimper or weep

it will be worse for you

stand strong, little mona

stand and stare

see what they point to

see it and know

there is no safety

for little girls

who don’t do what they are told

tears fall silently

on downy cheeks

please don’t notice

i promise i’ll be good

i won’t make a sound

i’ll be daddy’s good girl

you’ll see

Priests sharing victims…not just in my family

Five charged in church sex scandal

February 11, 2011|By David O’Reilly, Inquirer Staff Writer,  Philadelphia Inquirer
According to the grand jury report, Lynn (Msgr. William Lynn, former secretary for clergy) was aware of credible abuse allegations against the three priests, but did not bar them from contact with minors, thus enabling four rapes of the two boys.

The accused include the Rev. Charles F. Engelhardt, 64, an Oblate priest most recently a parochial vicar at the Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord in the city’s Rhawnhurst section. He is charged with orally sodomizing a 10-year-old altar boy in 1998 in St. Jerome’s sacristy.

Despite the boy’s resistance, Engelhardt allegedly told the Rev. Edward Avery, a diocesan priest then assigned to St. Jerome’s, about the assault. Weeks later, Avery, now 68 and defrocked, assaulted the boy in the same way, according to the report.

Bernard G. Shero, the boy’s sixth-grade teacher at St. Jerome’s parish school, allegedly learned from one or both of the priests about the assaults and one day offered the boy a ride home. Instead, the grand jury said, Shero, now 48, orally and anally raped him in his car and then left him to walk home.

One of my struggles has been getting my head around the fact that two priests knowingly conspired in the abuse of members of my family, and confessed and absolved each other.  Even if I can admit the fact that two different priests abused us, the thought that they knew each other, supported each other’s behavior, covered for each other … it was just too grotesque, too evil to be true. But in Philadelphia the grand jury uncovered just such a story of collusion, of victim sharing.  Priests really can be that evil.

To be fair, the third abuser was not a priest, just someone they included in their little circle of pedophiles. How nice of them not to be selfish but instead to share information about an easy mark, a child who would be desperate to get the support of a safe adult.  Child rape … just a game they played with children’s bodies and with children’s lives.

But the rape is never just of the body it is rape of the soul too. The faith in their priests, their Church, their sacraments, their God is ripped apart and bloodied along with their bodies.  And too many of these children will die, perhaps not at 11 or 15, perhaps at 35 or 55, because the violence done to them then continues to be compounded by the violence inflicted on them today through the indifference of bishops and advisory boards, through the adversarial tactics of lawyers, and through their ostracisation by parishes and support structures within their Church.

Dear Pontiff — Day 2

Dear Pontiff,

As you prepare for your visit to England I just want to express my support for your bishops in my homeland. I want you to know that I realize responding in any kind of meaningful way to accusations against priests takes time. Of course the accusations must be investigated. It would be tragic if a good priest was wrongfully accused; my brother is a religious and I am very protective. But I really think that sixteen years is a bit long for justice to be served.

The only corroboration to my accusations (that I know of) comes from other members of my family who were also raped and molested, so maybe that is problematic. But I wonder if you might try to expedite some help for me. I have spent over $100,000 on therapy, medication and hospitalization. I don’t expect to recoup that, and I am not interested in bankrupting any diocese. But help going forward with therapy would sure be useful — this millennium preferably.

M

Wolves in shepherds’ clothing

“The sexual abuse of children is a crime; sexual abuse of children by a Catholic priest is also a spiritual tragedy.”

(From Hurt to Healing, PublishAmerica, 2004)

As a child and through my teens my parish church was a place of refuge. I loved the smell of candles and incense; I loved the sound of the organ and the harmonizing of the choir. Somehow my abuse by a priest did not affect this experience. I suppose it was because, although I never forgot the abuse, I didn’t reflect on it. In my mind I didn’t associate Fr. D with my parish experience; he abused me at home and I never saw him celebrate mass. He was a family friend and benefactor. And like a typical victim, I felt the  abuse was my fault, that I had somehow attracted this evil to myself. So I was not angry at God or the church, instead I turned the anger and hatred on myself.

I was very involved in my parish. As a teen I was a founding member of the first guitar mass choir and I belonged to a prayer group and the youth group.

Ironically it was not until I began to deal with my abuse by Fr. D in therapy that I began to experience anger towards the church and God. But I still felt that this experience was about who I was; I still carried blame and shame. Then the issue of Catholic priests abusing children became a national and international scandal. I could no longer labor under the delusion that my experience was unusual. Not only was it not unusual it was known to the bishops and popes of the Church. So many priests had been involved that there was a document specifically written on the subject of how to deal with accusations of abuse with the least amount of damage to the Church’s reputation and bank balance. And this document was decades old.

At the time I was Theology Department head in a Catholic High School. I had made it my goal to explain Catholicism intelligently, without resorting to “we just have to accept it on faith” kind of answers. I encouraged critical thinking and did not get offended by respectful challenges to Church doctrine from my students. I like to think I brought more skeptics closer to God than sent further away.  But even as I was defending and explaining Church teaching I was becoming sickened by the stories of abusive priests, day after day, in the newspaper headlines. And day after day the bishops of my church, the church I loved, were shown to have lied and covered up for the priests, and intimidated into silence and paid off the victims.

So it wasn’t my own abuse, or the abuse of my brothers and my parents, or even the abuse of so many thousands of other children that broke my Catholic heart, I could argue the abuse away as the evil of individual, sick, perverted men. No, what robbed me of my trust in the Catholic Church was the knowing and complicit behavior of its leaders, men who were not themselves driven by sexual disorders and compulsions, but men who were rational, sane, healthy, religious leaders for whom the rape and abuse of children was unimportant, for whom the spiritual welfare of the victims and their families was unimportant. “Shepherds” who had no concern or compassion for their youngest, most vulnerable “sheep”  but instead protected the rights of “wolves” in shepherds’ clothing to devour these sheep, and then protected the “wolves” and sent them off to hunt among other flocks.

One Touch is Enough

“One touch. Just one. Changing a child’s life in a second. What power!  Perhaps that is what sexual abuse of children is about—power. I don’t remember the first time Fr. D  touched me, but I cannot forget the last.  He touched me once, and I didn’t tell, so then I was his to touch whenever he chose. He had the power and could do anything he wanted. There was no going back.”
(From Hurt to Healing, PublishAmerica, 2004)

When I wrote this I thought that the time I experienced my first orgasm (on Fr. D’s lap) was the last time he touched me. I don’t know that this is the case, though.  I think it may be that after this experience I was no longer fully “present” when he touched me. But I’m not sure.  I was somewhere between six and nine.  I do know that after this experience I was still exposed to him a couple of times a month and my mother sent me to visit him and let him take me and my sister on outings. I have memories of these events but not of any sexual contact after that moment of very confusing pleasure. My clearest memory after this is of having my first period at eleven and deciding that I could not let him touch me again. So, I guess that confirms that he hadn’t stopped.

As to the pleasure, I didn’t know what I was experiencing, I just knew it felt very good and yet I felt very bad about feeling so good.  I remember putting my arms around around his neck and wondering if I loved him and if I had to marry him. Apparently it is possible for children to experience pleasure even at such a young age. It wasn’t until I was in therapy that I described this experience and learned how traumatic it must have been.

But, as the quote points out, it is not a matter of how many times a child is abused; once is enough to cause a lifetime of pain and anguish. And when the abuser is a priest, the levels of that pain and anguish are multiple: hatred of oneself, hatred of God, hatred of one’s body, fear of sexual pleasure. Strangely, I have a very difficult time accessing anger towards Fr. D, himself.

Where to begin?

There is no comfortable place to begin. I have been writing about my abuse for a few years but that doesn’t mean it is easy. I still consider myself Catholic even though I sometimes wonder what I mean when I say that. I will not be describing my abuse but I want to share some of the personal and faith struggles it has created. Suffice it to say that my abuse lasted for a number of years and I was not the only victim in my family.

If you were a victim of sexual abuse as a child, reading this blog could create difficulties for you. So please be kind to your child-self. You deserved to be safe then; you deserve to be safe now.

I am not sure how this blog will take shape. I think I will create separate pages with excerpts from previous writings. I will try to make it easy to navigate as I know that your visits may be brief.