Showing posts with label Mustache. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mustache. Show all posts

Friday, June 22, 2012

On My Ten-Year Anniversary of Ordination to the Catholic Priesthood

On June 22, 2002, I was ordained a priest. 

Minutes before the ceremony, a squirrel met its demise at the intersection of a power line, junction box, and the cathedral’s roof.  The ensuing explosion left those in attendance in the dark.

Everything in the Catholic Church seemed dark in 2002.  Accounts of bishops concealing sexual abuse perpetrated by priests inundated the news.  Daily, revered clerics fell in shame.  Victims came forward, their long-suppressed pain and anger finally being given voice.  Those on the left blamed the pre-Vatican II, conservative and sex-suppressing seminary system that had formed the elder generations of priest-perpetrators; they blamed mandatory celibacy.  Those on the right made the post-Vatican-II progressives and their sex-embracing psychology their scapegoats; they blamed gay clergy.  Being both a victim and gay, I was angry, hurt, heartbroken, shamed, and frightened.  I'd wanted to run. 

But trusted others dissuaded me: "Don't make decisions in desolation." "The church and god have affirmed your vocation for eight years; you can't run from that now."  “Doubt is the vehicle to deeper faith and commitment.” "You don't need to come out of the closet; that's just pride tempting you." "It's not lying if those asking don't have a right to the information." "Your sexuality is a gift from god, in god's image, but if you act upon it’s 'disordered,' sinful." 

I dissuaded myself: "Jesus will work through my wounds, if I sacrifice everything."

During the ordination rite, an endless succession of priests passed on the priesthood by laying their hands upon my bowed head.  I knelt before them.  My kneecaps pressed through the thin cotton of my alb and ground against the hard floor.  After a few dozen hands had pressed upon my scalp, spasms began to shoot down my back.  I focused on the residual scent of incense in the air.  I breathed into the pain, the depression, for I deserved it.

Ruled by shame, I begged god for the strength to resist my "depraved" homosexual "urges."  Ruled by fear, I did nothing as the priest, who had assaulted me during confession and then sexuallyexploited me in college, placed his hands upon my head.   Ruled by redemptive suffering, I nailed my anger at him and all the corrupt priests and bishops to the cross.  There were no other options.  I accepted the only path prescribed to gay Catholic men: silent celibacy.

Thankfully, I no longer owe obedience to these clerics.  Ten years later, I am no longer a priest, no longer a Catholic.  The collective clerical closet in which I once lived is eight years abandoned. 

Others continue under that yoke.  I understand their plight, their fear.  It’s difficult to turn your back on the institution that “formed” you.  It’s terrifying to speak out against your superiors’ abuses.  It’s mindboggling to imagine a future beyond your career and community. It’s painful to witness cherished relationships end, as those, who cannot accept your truth, shun you. 

To those of you remaining, it is possible.  There is a life of health, peace, balance, joy, purpose, communion, love, and truth that exists beyond the Catholic church. 

Ten years after being ordained a priest, eight years after leaving the priesthood, and seven years after evicting the guilt imposed by my old religion, I can tell you that it does get better.  You can speak out about the abuse you endured.  You can build a new career.  You can make gather new friends and communities.  You can regain your mental health.  You can protest on the steps of your cathedrals.  You can find a creed or philosophy that brings you peace.  You can marry the man or woman that you love.  You can give of yourself to the world.

Not a day goes by that I regret leaving the priesthood and the church.  Ten years makes a difference indeed.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Adults Are Also Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

     A recent Religion Dispatches' article, "Sex Abuse in the Catholic Church: When Adults Are Victims," tells a story that I know all too well from my own experience of being sexually assaulted, exploited, and abused by my priest while I was in college.  The article tells the story of Katia Birge, who at 25 was raped by a charismatic lay minister in her Denver parish only to be bullied by church officials when she came forward and sued.  (Click here to read the full account, which because of it's length I will not repost.)

     This particular quote from the article sums up what I learned in therapy after seeing my case covered-up:
     To Jeb Barrett, Denver Director of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a peer counseling group that Birge turned to after the attack, her story follows classic lines of abuse of authority. “There are many cases where very charismatic men develop very close and controlling relationships with the people given to them for pastoral care. There’s a kind of intimacy that’s of a different level than the grooming of a child. You groom a child with favors and candy and strokes and get their trust. With an adult, it’s different.”
     Adult victims could comprise up to 25% of all clergy abuse cases, estimates David Clohessy, National Director of SNAP, but often face considerable skepticism about their stories. “In the eyes of the law, victims like Birge are adults. But that doesn’t mean that emotionally, psychologically, in the presence of a trusted, powerful, charismatic clergy person, that in fact they can function like adults.” Considering the abundant ethical and legal prohibitions against doctors or therapists having even consensual sex with patients, in recognition of coercive power imbalances in play, Clohessy notes, “none of us have been raised from birth to think that a therapist is God’s representative or that a doctor can get me into heaven.”  [Another estimate is that over 95% of the victims of sexual exploitation by clergy are adult women.]
     In my case, I was completely groomed by my perpetrator.  Like Ms. Birge, who's perpetrator (Hernadez) called her a "whore" and told her that no man would want to be with her, after he'd just raped her, I was told by my confessor/priest/perpetrator that I was "seductive," "manipulative," and "sinful."   Because he was "God's representative," I believed him.  I believed that I was was the depraved sinner who had corrupted a holy priest.  This dynamic gave him more power over me by increasing my dependency upon him for his spiritual insights and sacramental graces, including forgiveness.  After I escaped his grasp, it took years of therapy and the recognition that my perpetrator was continuing to groom other barely-legal students--who my friends at the time referred to as "the new Tom"--for me to find the strength to come forward.

     Here are a few more paragraphs from Ms. Birge's case that ring true to my experience of coming forward:
     To victims’ advocates, this level of intimidation, and the attempt to recast Hernandez as an insignificant volunteer, is par for the course across the country, and especially in Denver, where Church lawyers have used increasingly aggressive, victim-blaming tactics as part of a brutal Church defense industry, composed of attorneys, insurers and the bishops who hire them. 
      “That’s been our experience here,” says Jeb Barrett, “that people who have gone to the Archdiocese have found their families scrutinized and questioned. It’s revictimizing, and it discourages other victims from coming forward.”
     I was told by the powers-that-be to be extremely careful with whom I spoke about my accusations and that reputations were at stake.  They asked "Why would you want to hurt your parishioners by scandalizing them with this?"  Those in power refused to speak to my parents and to respond to my sister's emails, even though my family was reeling in the face of the abuse and in need of pastoral care.  My counselor's advice and prescriptions were summarily dismissed, for she was a woman, and a lay woman, at that.  (This wasn't 1950.  It was 2004.)
     If anything, adds David Clohessy, “I think Church officials are even more reckless and callous when a predator exploits adults.”
      This is very true.  A priest exploiting an adult is almost a relief to some bishops: "Well, it's not like he raped an altar boy."  But the psychological/spiritual damage to the victimized adult is horrendous.  Like Ms. Birge, I also suffered depression and panic attacks.  After church officials covered things up, I became suicidal.  While I left the priesthood, my job, my community, and the church, losing everything I knew, my perpetrator was given a promotion to be in charge of "Catholic Identity" for the diocesan schools and remained in his campus ministry position, where he continued to have an ongoing supply of handsome, naive, and malleable young men fresh out of high school; gay boys like me, who were closeted, feeling rejected by the church's anti-gay teachings, in need of acceptance and love by God and his ministers, and ripe for exploitation by a known predator allowed to remain in power.

     Thank you Ms. Birge for coming forward.  May your witness inspire other adult victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests to speak out.  The scandal doesn't end at the age of consent.

If you or anyone you know has been abused by clergy, here are some resources:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vianney Renewal Center (Club Ped) Exposed, Fr. Mustache Missing

     When priests in the Midwest are accused of sexually abusing children or sexually exploiting adults under their care, one of the places they are sent is Vianney Renewal Center, near St. Louis, Missouri, which is run by the Servants of the Paraclete.

     This center has been the recent target of a news investigation by KSDK, after a previous employee spoke about the center's pedophile residents, many of whom avoided prison by going to Vianney.  These priest-perpetrators are allowed  to wander unsupervised, to hang out in a jacuzzi, and to view the pornography of their choosing.

     After I came forward to my archbishop with sexual abuse allegations, my perpetrator, Fr. Mustache, was quietly sent for a psychological assessment at a place for priests who'd failed in their celibate commitments.  The place was in St. Louis.  

     I know that Fr. Mustache admitted to the archbishop that my accusation was true, but how this was worded, I don't know.  He may have played the perpetrator-tested "the kid seduced me card."  When I inquired about what he'd said, the archbishop barked that it was none of my business.  He had professional boundaries to maintain, of course, in order to protect Fr. Mustache, who'd violated all of my personal boundaries, repeatedly.  

     Fr. Mustache's admission came during the first few days of February 2004.  He was allowed to return to his campus ministry position until mid-March, before he was sent to St. Louis for his assessment.  During those months, he had access to the college boys that I'd seen him grooming just as he had me.   After Spring break, he returned to ministry without anyone knowing he'd been whisked off to St. Louis.  I don't know what the mysterious place in St. Louis concluded in Fr. Mustache's assessment.  I was told by the archbishop's go-between that it was none of my business.

     The last time I saw Fr. Mustache was in May 2004 at the annual archdiocesan summer gathering of priests.  Trapped between two priests in the middle of a pew during evening prayer,  I fought off a panic attack when I saw him leading the gathered clerics in music at the front of the chapel.  At the dinner that followed, Fr. Mustache received a standing ovation from his brother priests when the archbishop thanked him for his campus ministry leadership and promoted him to a position having something to do with being the head of Catholic identity in the schools.  The only priests not standing were those in my priest support group, who knew the truth of what had been covered up.

     This morning, I looked up the phone number of one of my old support group friends on the archdiocesan webpage, where I discovered that Fr. Mustache is no longer in his campus ministry position.  He's currently receiving mail c/o of a religious order in St. Louis, MO.  I don't know where he is or what he's doing there.

     I'm fairly certain that I wasn't his only victim. 

    If you are also a victim of Fr. Mustache, please, feel free contact me at  You are not alone.

Here are the KSDK reports on the Vianney Renewal Center 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Catholic Laity Flood the Vatican in Show of Support for Pope Benedict XVI, Enabling Abuse & Blaming the Victims

     Over the weekend, a number of Catholic lay organizations rallied at the Vatican to show their support of Pope Benedict XVI, who has been connected via his signature to cases of enabling child rape by his priests. Between 120,000 and 150,000 Catholic faithful attended.

Pope Benedict's Adoring Crowd
by CNS' Paul Haring
     Can you imagine if that many Catholics attended a Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) meeting to show their support of the persons whose lives were turned upside down by priests who raped them, while preaching their god's love and forgiveness to the adoring throngs?

      Can you imagine if that many Catholics filled the Vatican with signs demanding Benedict's resignation or gathered in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York to demand Archbishop Timothy Dolan's resignation, or in front of the Los Angeles cathedral to demand Cardinal Mahony's resignation?

     Can you imagine if lay Catholics banded together in the face of the mounting evidence against the pope and the bishops that shows they've continued to protect some abusive priests, since publicly proclaiming the Dallas Charter in 2004, which was supposed to have stopped this illegal practice?

     The Catholic News Service reports this choice comment by Andrea Olivero, speaking on behalf of an Italian Christian workers group at the rally:
     The abuse scandal, he said, "should be experienced as a cross by all of us. We cannot allow our pastors to be the only ones who live with this suffering, which is a suffering that affects the entire church."
Kevin Flannagan, 
     I would agree that the "abuse scandal" has affected all Catholics, but Olivero says the ones living with the suffering are the pastors.  He's concerned for the clergy.  This is the default Catholic response to sexual abuse claims.  In parishes where priests get accused, often the bulk of the parishioners side with the priest and against the victim.  Victims are cast out and ostracized, because the larger community is in denial and is complicit in a system that caters to abusive priests.  Trust me, the pastors are not living with the suffering in the same way as those who were raped and sodomized by priests.

     Here are a few more quotes from some Catholic laypersons at the "We Support Out Pope" rally, via the National Catholic Reporter (My comments are interspersed.):
     “We want Benedict XVI to hear our affection, after months of repeated attacks against him and the whole church,” said Gabriele Brunini, president of the National Confederation of Mercy, a Catholic charitable group in Italy.
     "Repeated attacks against the whole church"?  This is the mafia-like, group-think of the Catholic faithful.  An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.  No wonder that victims are afraid to come forward.  They have to experience the violence of their assault all over again by the Catholic "faithful" who stand by their pope, bishops, and priests no matter what. 
     “We can’t forget the people who’ve been victims of abuse,” Brunini said, “but to utilize the scandal of pedophile priests to strike at the pope and the church, trying to reduce them to silence, is something else entirely.”
Tom Cheemuk of Alaska, victim
     "To strike at the pope and the church, trying to reduce them to silence"?  No one is trying to reduce them to silence.  We want them to talk.  We want an admission and apology, not double-talk, excuses, and cover-up.  We want to see some accountability and action taken to ensure that future generations of children are protected.  

     Why is a movement to hold the pope accountable for his actions seen as a "strike" against the church?  Is the pope above the law?  It would seem that those supporting him believe so.  Would they support a superintendent of their public schools if the superintendent's signature was on numerous documents that delayed the removal of pedophile teachers?  No, they'd sue the bastard and scream for him to be jailed.
     Claudia Nodari, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Italy, struck a similar note   “We’re with the pope,” she said, “against the effort to cancel out all the good the church and its ministers have done, and are doing, for the spiritual and material welfare of people all over the world.”
     This is the lie that Catholics in the pews tell themselves so that they can justify their support of a system that has protected pedophiles and shunned victims: those who challenge the church are trying to cancel the good that the church's priests have done.  This is just bullshit.  Victims want justice, accountability, and protection of future generations.
     Credibly accusing a priest or bishop of sexual abuse is not an effort to cancel out the good of the church, but an effort to stop a criminal.  The news reports that have exposed Pope Benedict as complicit in the cover-up for priest-perpetrators is not an effort to "cancel out all the good the church has done all over the world" but an attempt to ensure that innocent children are protected from rape in the name of god all over the world
     Guido Boldrin, a member of the “Communion and Liberation” movement who made the trip from Milan to Rome to take part in the rally along with his wife and four daughters, said he wanted to protest the “cynical and unjust” campaign against Benedict XVI on the part of the “national and international media.”
     Would Guido still be there if one of his four daughters or his wife had been raped by a priest?  Would he still think that credible news reports that have exposed Benedict are cynical an unjust?  Or would he throw out his abused child instead, calling her a whore, saying that she led the priest on, that she deserved it,or that priests are fragile celibates that the devil targets with temptation and that she let the devil use her?   

     I'm living proof of this ostracizing system that the Catholic church imposes on those who challenge it.  I was a priest who brought an accusation of sexual assault, exploitation and harassment against my college priest, Fr. Mustache, whom I went to for confession and spiritual counseling to work through my being sexually abused by a pediatrician during puberty.  The trusted and well-respected priest used me for his gratification, all under the guise of helping me discern the priesthood.  When I showed him that I'd been accepted by the diocese to go to seminary, Fr. Mustache blew me.  How's that for spiritual counsel?  

     In my seminary formation, I was told that what happened to me was my fault, it was my own sin.  I was told not to come forward with accusations because it would ruin my career, but Fr. Mustache continued his ministry on the college campus, where my old college friends called his new young male sidekicks "the new Tom."  

     When I returned to the diocese as a priest four years later, Fr. Mustache continued his former ways, surrounding himself with young boys, wrestling with them, giving them titty twisters, taking them to dinner, and entertaining them.  I told the bishop everything.  I was ordered to be silently obedient and to return to my post, because the church had "already seen enough scandal."

     I lost my career, my livelihood, my community, my vocation, and my friends because I came forward with an accusation against a priest.  I've been called Satan by old Catholic friends and told that I "betrayed" them.  Some of them continue to share meals with Fr. Mustache.  Some even trust their children with him, as does the bishop, if you count the thousands of college students that continue to receive their pastoral care from the abusive priest.  I've had family members tell me that I need to turn from my my sinful ways and return to the priesthood, because it's god's will for my salvation.  I've had others cut me off with no explanation.  I'm not alone in this.  This is the reality that faces many victims who come forward.

     These responses are typical of many Catholic laity.  They are the voices packing the Vatican in support of a pope that participated in the enabling of priest perpetrators.  A pope, who had he lived in the fourth century, would have ignored St. Basil of Caesarea's cries against monks screwing boys in their monasteries, or had he lived in the eleventh century would have ignored St. Peter Damian's demands to address the sexual molestation of minors by clergy in that time.  These are the Catholics that give their money to a system that protects abusive and exploitative priests.

     Victims come forward because they don't want others to experience the same horror and violation that they experienced.  Catholic laity, who continue to claim the church and pope are under attack, need to listen not to the legal defenses of the pope and bishops, but to the victims who lost more than their sexual, spiritual, and psychological health not only to an individual perpetrator, but to a community that prizes obedient communion above all else.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Some Catholic Pedophile-Priests Don't Consider Sex with Children a Violation of Celibacy

     What role does priestly celibacy play in the crisis of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church?

     An Australian bishop exposed one way pedophile-priests interpret their promise to live celibacy.  The Inquirer reports:
     Some pedophile priests believe molesting children does not breach their vow of celibacy, a retired Australian Catholic bishop said in a magazine interview.  Geoffrey Robinson, former auxiliary bishop of Sydney, told The Australian Women's Weekly he had made the observation during years of work with victims of child abuse within the church.  "We've met it often enough to see it as a factor. That's what the vow of celibacy refers to, being married. If it's not an adult woman, then somehow they're not breaking their vow," the 72-year-old said.
     This is the same kind of compartmentalized thinking that I heard when I was a seminarian and a priest.  Many priests tell themselves that if it isn't vaginal sex, then it's still celibacy.   This is a perfect example of the  "what's the least amount I have to do to  meet the prescriptions of church law?" morality, which is widespread among Catholics.  

     Here's example of how this "morality" works.  Let's say that the bishops release a pastoral letter encouraging Catholics to practice the sacrament of reconciliation (confession/penance) regularly for their spiritual betterment.  They may be hoping folks will spill their sins once or twice a month, but if the letter strongly encourages Catholics to go to confession during Lent and Advent, most Catholics will go twice a year, once during each of these liturgical seasons.  What's the least amount I'm required to do and still be a good Catholic?  What's the bottom line?

     When it comes to sex, rather than treating the entire continuum of sexual acts as holy, natural, and good, the church has developed an entire hierarchy of sinful sexual acts.  The church trains its children to compartmentalize sex, into distinct acts, from the very beginning, with only one act, unitive and procreative vaginal sex between a man and a woman, who are married to each other, considered holy.

     Catholics have all sorts of ways of dealing with this.  I had a Catholic friend in college, who vowed she would be a virgin until she got married, but she blew most of the guys in the theatre department.  It was okay, because she wasn't having sex, and neither was President Bill Clinton.  It's not adultery if you don't swallow.

     In seminary, I believed I was still a virgin, because I had never had sex with woman.  Men didn't count, so the fooling around I did in college with my roommate and my sexual exploitation by Fr. Mustache didn't count.  After all, sodomy isn't real sex, according to Catholic teaching, so blow jobs between two men are even lesser versions of sex, mutual masturbation even lesser, and naked back rubs were nothing.  (Fr. O'Baldy taught me that one.)  

     For all you Catholics out there, don't worry. Besides Fr. Mustache and Fr. O'Baldy,  I didn't "act out" (which is such a loaded negative term, adapted from addiction vocabulary), after I learned that celibacy also involved chastity, which meant no masturbation.  Of course, I did masturbate, but prayerfully, thinking about communion with god.  And ,I didn't "act out" with someone else in the room until after I graduated from seminary, but that's a story for another post and it was love, not "acting."

     All Catholics are called to chastity, and I would venture to guess that 99% of them don't live chastely.  They masturbate alone or with their opposite sex spouses.  They have oral sex, anal sex, boob-sex, dry humping sex; anything and everything that isn't penis-in-vagina-with-no-artificial-birth-control-and-a-successful-deposit-of-semen sex, because if they did that, it would be a sin.

     There are such guilty, fearful, and grandiose expectations placed upon the sexual act in Catholic moral teachings.  Few Catholics can live up to these prescriptions; therefore, people develop ways of rationalizing their behavior, so that they can meet the church's unachievable sexual sainthood.

     It is no shock that pedophile-priests would not consider raping children, and the lesser sin of groping a child, a violation of celibacy.  The system of Catholic sexual ethics sowed the seeds of their distortion and their crimes long ago.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pope Benedict, President Obama, Hitler & Malta's Pedobear

Why is it that when people paint a Hitler mustache on images of Pope Benedict, they're called vandals...

...but, when people put the Hitler mustache on President Obama, they're called patriots?

     The Catholic News Service reports:
     A spray-painted message discovered April 13 on the birthplace of Pope Benedict XVI in southern Germany was quickly painted over, police said. Police spokesman Konrad Rutzinger said the message appeared to be connected to the abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. He declined to provide details of the graffiti's message.  Graffiti also was discovered on billboards promoting Pope Benedict's April 17-18 visit to the island nation of Malta, according to The Times of Malta.
     The vandalism included what is known as "Pedobear," an image that has become a symbol in online communities to mock people showing a sexual interest in underage girls. Other vandals painted images of the pope with a Hitler mustache. The bear image also showed up on the choir stand next to the stage being built for the April 18 papal Mass, the newspaper reported.
     What is this Pedobear?

     Times of Malta explains:
     Pedobear is one of the most popular memes on non-English image boards, and is gaining recognition across Europe. Although the meme is apparently unknown in Poland, it has been used as a symbol of paedophilia by Maltese graffiti vandals.
     Pedobear is the new sign of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, an internet symbol used to mock those having sex with under age children.  Pedobear is a mocking tool used against people and institutions that sexual abuse children.  For more information see "A Beginner's Guide to Pedobear, the Internet's Favorite Pervert." 

     The Pedobear-Priest is a true sign for the Catholic Church of the new millennium.

     Postscript:  Click here to see the video of Pope Benedict's Billboard with a Hitler Mustache.

Image Credits:
Pope Benedict BillboartDefaced, or Unmasked & Pedobear from Times of Malta
Pedobear on the Papal Stage form Times of Malta
Pedobear from Daily Dish

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Spiritual Direction Canceled

I awoke this morning to find the following email from Fr. Hate:
15 November 2009          3:37 AM
Dear Ht. Tom:
     I must apologize.  I can't meet you at the Abbey for spiritual direction this morning.  It's just too frightening.
Fraternally yours,
Fr. Hate
 My response:
November 15, 2009          7:17 AM
Dear Fr. Hate,
     Thanks for your note.  It's no problem that you can't make it.
     I realize that it was a lot to invite you to meet me at a gay restaurant/bar for your first gay discernment/spiritual direction meeting.  If you'd be more comfortable meeting somewhere else, I'm happy to do so.
     It's okay to be scared to talk about this stuff.  When I first said, "I'm gay,"  back in seminary, the words felt so foreign, even dirty.  I didn't want to be one of "them."

     For years, I'd been haunted by the memory of seeing Pat Robertson pray over a boy who'd been sexually abused by an adult male.  He was praying the gay "demons" out of the boy, who'd been "infected" by his perpetrator.  I saw this on TV around the time that the pediatrician was abusing me and became frightened that he'd made me gay. 
     So, I had to be successful, get perfect grades, be the perfect son, and excel at everything I did in order to prove that I was normal and hadn't been affected/infected  by the sexual abuse.  Perfection would wash away the pediatrician's soiled, gay fingerprints from my body and his stench from my mouth.
     Until my mid-twenties, I believed that if I told anyone I was gay that they would take me to bed and hurt me.  What else was I supposed to believe? Of the first three priests in whom I confided about being sexually abused, two exploited me; the other harassed me. 
     When I moved to Baltimore for major seminary, I broke away from the abusive priests.  I knew if I was going to be a healthy priest that I had to get the secrets that these other clerics had been using to control me out in the open.  I had this counselor, Fr. Butterballi, and I knew that I had to trust him with all of it.  But to open up meant that I'd be vulnerable to him, so I resisted.
     After a few months in therapy, the dam broke.  Sobbing and shaking in fear, I confessed to Butterballi that I thought he was going to take me to bed as the other priests had.  He didn't.  And, the truly frightening thing is that I was so vulnerable in that moment, so conditioned by the cycle of sexual abuse in my life, I probably would have obeyed him had he demanded sex.  For that's what I'd been conditioned to believe love between priests and their gay subjects was all about.
     Fr. Butterballi helped me to break that cycle of trauma and abuse.  He showed me that two gay men could love one another and work together professionally and intimately in therapy, confession, etc. without sleeping together.  He offered me real love; something that none of the priests who'd abused me had ever shown me. 
     Butterballi also helped me to begin facing my own homophobia.
     Homophobia isn't only a heterosexual phenomenon.  We gays can be plenty homophobic.  Now, that's nothing to be ashamed of.  Hell, we live in a hetero universe where we were raised by our straight parents, formed by the sodomy-obsessed church, and bullied on the playground into being straight.   We learned at a young age to "pass" and that being different was bad.  No wonder we feared others who were out of the closet or more flamboyant than ourselves.  We had to fear them to survive.
     So, I know what it's like to be frightened of taking the step to talk about one's sexuality.  I know your fear, your shame, and your pain, Fr. Hate.  I understand completely that you don't feel ready to talk right now, but, please, know that when you are ready, I'm here for you.  I won't abuse your trust.
Heretic Tom

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Hate Post-Traumatic Priest Disorder

     For me, going to the doctor is always a textbook lesson in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Whether it is the antiseptic scent of the examination room, the feel of the examination bed’s paper covering crinkling beneath my bum, or the sound of the doorknob turning and the latch clicking as the doctor enters, no matter how many years and therapy sessions pass since I was sexually abused by the pediatrician in my early teens, the PTSD is always there. The sensory stimuli relentlessly take me back to that cold examination room and the multiple abusive genital “examinations” that I suffered.

     Over the years, I’ve come to deal with PTSD as an old annoying friend, who shows up on the doorstep when least expected. The door bursts open. The intrusion takes place, but then conscious choice comes into play. I can either let the old friend take over my inner space, or I can acknowledge the intrusion, recognize the old friend, and say, “Oh, you again. Been there. Done that. Have a nice day,” and go on about my day. Of course, there are days when the friend busts down the door and sprawls out on the sofa, eating everything in the house, hogging the television, and polluting the air with rancid farts.

     Today is one of those days.

     This morning, I had a physical, and that meant prostate and testicular exams and a code red terror alert for the PTSD sensors. When I moved to L.A. three years ago, I wanted a gay doctor, someone that understood the unique health concerns of gay men without judgment. I found one. Doc P. is trustworthy, compassionate, thorough, and the only health care provider who has spent an average of more than ten minutes in the room with me on every visit, asking questions and listening to my health concerns. He’s pleasant, funny, and greets me with a hug. Hugging in a doctor’s office! PTSD! Boundary violation! Codependency! Formation issue!

     In seminary and spiritual direction, I underwent comprehensive “formation” (their word) to become a “suitable” (their word) candidate for the Roman Catholic Priesthood. So, I not only have post-traumatic stress disorder from the abuse I endured, but I also have post-traumatic priest disorder. All the therapy in the world can’t remove their hack job on my brain. So, like PTSD, when the PTPD acts up, I have to acknowledge the visitor and then forcefully tell him to get lost.

     The following are terms that help to explain PTPD:
1. Formation Issue: Any issue that challenges one’s becoming the perfectly obedient, chaste, celibate (celibate means behavioral abstinence, including masturbation; chastity is total purity of being), prayerful, compassionate, and poor of heart (diocesan priests don’t take a vow of material poverty)  Christ-like priest that god (a.k.a. the church) wants one to be. Because I was a victim of sexual abuse, both as a child and in college (by the trusted priests “forming” me), and because I was gay, a thinker (not one to just parrot back what I was taught), and disposed to live the socially radical aspects of the gospels more so than the church’s imposed self-aggrandizement, I had numerous formation issues.
2. Boundary Violation: Doing anything that uses another person to meet one’s own intimacy needs. This reduces that person to an object, thus devaluing their dignity and the dignity of the entire human race.  Examples: any person who looks at porn, has non-procreative, especially non-vaginal, sexual intercourse, has abortions, or embraces embryonic stem cell research. It does not include persons who support a war, where actual national boundaries are violated, to invade a country and kill hundreds of thousands of people for oil and daddy’s pride.
3. Codependency: Anything that results in one’s actually relying upon another person for intimacy. All sexual and intimacy needs are enemies of celibacy and to be treated as sin, which is an addiction. Sexual Attraction = Addiction. Needing someone in one’s life, means one is codependent. Yes, a priest needs people and there are chaste and celibate ways of having emotional intimacy met, but if one relies on a single person, instead of one’s congregation or priest-support group as a whole, then one is codependent and has started down the “slippery slope" (their word) towards compromising one’s boundaries and ultimately one’s chastity, celibacy, vocation, faith, and salvation. If you look up “slippery slope” in any Catholic seminary formation guide, you will find a picture of me skiing downhill with a rainbow colored scarf blowing freely behind my perfect hair.
4. Homosexuality: A priest’s sexuality is a gift and in the image of god, but to use it genitally is intrinsically depraved. Are you a “priest who happens to be gay” or a “gay priest?” I never understood the difference between the two, but to the closeted gay, white, and male celibates that formed me to compartmentalize and treat my sexuality as an addiction, this made sense.
     So, when Doc P. hugged me today, I had a PTPD episode. However, I quickly reminded myself that it’s 2009, not 2002, 1995, or 1989. I am neither in the pediatrician’s office, nor am I in Fr. Moustache’s confessional. I’m no longer in seminary or the priesthood. I no longer believe the self-actualizing lies of closeted celibates, who told me that two gay men are incapable of real intimacy.

     And sometimes, when two healthy and honest gay men hug, a hug is just a hug.

Not this time!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why I Hate Mustaches, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and PTSD

            I stare at my Reeboks and the grey floor of the rectangular office.  The thin carpeting is immaculate, not a blade of fresh cut September grass, shred of paper, or dust bunny to be found anywhere.  I know, because I’m both janitor and lawn-boy of the red brick Catholic student center.  The extra cash pays rent on my studio apartment ($175/month), and cleaning the church gives me pride; lets me know I have a place at the university, an understanding community of peers and wise spiritual counselors.  The office in which I’m sitting must be spotless at all times, for it’s the campus pastor’s office.  Even the top of the door frame passes the white-glove test.  I know, because Fr. Mustache checks it monthly; therefore, I check it weekly.

            Every item has its place in Father’s office.  Endless volumes line the floor-to-ceiling corner bookshelf.  Next to the shelf is a window, whose vertical blinds are always open to the view of the ΣΑΕ house.  At night, drunken frat brothers can sometimes be seen peeing off the porch in the direction of the church.  On the window sill (and also covering every other empty, flat space in the office), are framed pictures of Fr. Mustache and the couples he’s married during his campus tenure.  Below the window stands a simple table, with a green fabric covering (liturgically appropriate) that holds a wooden stand and Bible, displaying Father’s favorite passage: Sirach 2:1-18, “The Crucible of Humiliation.”  Next to the table is another dustless floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, and in front is a black rocking chair on which I sit, wondering whether I have a place in the Church.

Fr. Mustache listens to my confession from his desk, which runs along the remainder of the wall up to a wall-sized window that looks out onto campus.  On a caster-mounted, padded, and black office chair, he sits and spins around on a transparent plastic floor covering to face his computer desk on the opposing wall.

He’s multitasking, probably working on his coming Sunday homily or a presentation for the archdiocesan building renovation committee; something important.  Really, I don’t know what he does in here for fourteen hours days (even when school is out).  I’d like know.  I’d like to know everything about what it is to be a priest.  But what’s the point?  As soon as I tell him what happened, my vocational journey will end.

Silently, I stare at the dark hair on my forearms, which are crossed in front of my concave abdomen and purple and gold T-shirt.  When did my arms and legs get so hairy?  I pick at the fraying edge of my loose-fitting jorts.  Nothing fits my skinny, boney, wimpy body.

Fr. Mustache's over-sized egg-shaped head and its tuft of salt and pepper hair stare at the computer monitor.  His short legs, small torso, and hanging belly are adorned in their usual black clerics.   His pianist-strong fingers, with their gnawed-to-the-root fingernails, punch away at the keyboard.

“Well, spill it already, Pastrone.”

I hate the nickname that he’s given me, but it does its magic.  I tell him my sin.

Something happened when I visited my childhood priest, Father O’Baldy, last weekend.  He’d invited me down after receiving my “I’m going to be a priest and in large part thanks to your positive influence on my youth” letter.   Fr. O’Baldy warmly welcomed and begged me to tell my life history.  (He was an old family friend and wanted details.)  Wholeheartedly, I trusted him, even with the truth of the sexual abuse I’d endured and about being attracted to males.  Fr. O’Baldy told me there was nothing wrong with my attractions, stripped naked, and invited me to do the same.  Confused and excited, I did.  We gave each other massages, but never touched each other’s genitalia.  (This was celibacy, after all.)  Then we masturbated in front of each other.

Fr. Mustache’s fingers stop typing.  He turns to me, his baggy, brown eyes piercing his glasses.  The plastic floor protector crunches as his chair rolls towards me.  The warm, moist scent of his coffee tongue overpowers my nose, which is now being prickled by his graying mustache.  My body freezes. His stubby fingers dig into my knees. 

“This is appropriate touch.”

His hands slide from my knees, move up my inner thighs, and grasp onto my tighty-whiteys, my soft cock and balls.  Squeezing.  Hurting.

“This is inappropriate touch!”

I’m no longer in the church office celebrating confession.  I’m in another rectangular room, smaller, brighter, purer.  Antiseptic.  The paper under my naked fifteen-year-old bottom crunches against the examination table.  The spicy scented pediatrician’s hand is on my penis.  His salt-and-pepper mustache pricks my clenched lips.  His tongue forces them apart invading my mouth, my soul.  The walls of denial tumble, each movement of the slug-like tongue confirming the truth that I cannot, will not, face: the genital “exams” of the past few years were not standard procedure—they were sexual abuse.  The pediatrician finishes before the nurse and my mother return.  I sit paralyzed, clothed in lies and denial that will protect me from the truth until I’m in college and I trust someone enough to tell the truth.  He’s a mustached priest, my boss, my spiritual director, my confessor. 

Ten months after telling him, I sit in my confessor’s office with his angry, repressed digits collaring my cock and balls. 

I’m paralyzed again, just as I was in the pediatrician’s grasp.  My eyes fill with tears.  Finally, I inhale.

“I’m sorry, Father…please…please let go of me.”

He does. 

And then, he absolves me of my sin.

Code of Canon Law:  Can. 1387 A priest who in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession solicits a penitent to sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is to be punished, according to the gravity of the delict, by suspension, prohibitions, and privations; in graver cases he is to be dismissed from the clerical state.