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The Catholic Church and Me

Religion comes up an awful lot on this blog, and lately the Catholic church has pretty well dominated the discussion.  I’ve made no secret of my intense dislike of the institution, to the point where I’ve repeatedly been accused of being an “anti-Catholic bigot.”  But a bigot is someone who hates without rational cause.  A woman who comes to loathe the husband who abuses her is not being a bigot.   

Anyway, just for the record I’d like to set out my own history with Holy Mother Church.

 My parents were Catholic.  I was a very naïve kid, and I internalized quite passionately what the priests and nuns taught me.  I was so much into it, I actually went to the seminary in 9th grade.  When it became clear to me that I wasn’t cut out for what is smilingly called “the religious life,” I left, at the end of my first year.

My parents sent me to a local Catholic boys’ high school.  And that’s where the real shit occurred.

There was Father Cal (as they always say in pieces like this, not his real name).  He was one of the most gorgeous men I’d ever seen.  Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Jeff Stryker rolled into one.  I’m not kidding—he really was that hot.  And he was a jock, with a fantastic body.  He used to play basketball with us, stripped to the waist, wearing nothing but shorts and sneakers.   I fantasized about him more times than I could count.

Now, I was just at the point where it was beginning to dawn on me exactly what it means to be gay in our society.  I was, to put it mildly, scared and confused.  I had had sexual encounters with other boys (as I’ve written here before).  But all the implications were only beginning to sink in.  And as I said, I was really naïve.  It never occurred to me that the people entrusted with my education were systematically lying to me about everything important—starting with my own nature.

You can see where this is going.  One day, just shy of my sixteenth birthday, Father Cal invited me to his room.  Before I knew what was happening, he had my zipper open, had pushed his hand into my pants, and was jerking me off.

It scared the hell out of me.  The disconnect between what I was taught in “religion class” and what was happening was more than I could deal with.  It had to be a trap or a test to see if I was queer.  I ran away, terrified.

But when I got home and calmed down, I realized he meant it.  He was, I reasoned, someone I could talk to.  (And quite honestly, I was hoping that once we talked, we might do more than that.)

So the next time we had confession, I made sure to line up outside his confessional.  And when my turn in there came, I spilled it.  “Father, I think I’m a homosexual, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

Support?  Guidance?  Compassion?  Forget it.  Father Cal gave me a hellfire and thunder lecture the like of which I’ve never heard before or since.  I was a sinner.  I was one of nature’s mistakes.  I was a freak, a queer.  And he told me—this is the kicker—that I should have been born a woman, and that since I wasn’t, I should kill myself.

To this day, I don’t know where I found the strength not to break out in hysterical tears.  I left the confessional and headed straight home and tried to find a way of dealing with the most traumatic thing I’ve ever experienced.   To be honest, I did think about suicide for a time.

I’m quite certain, after years of reflection, that Father Cal knew it was me on the other side of the confessional screen.  I was talking.  He had to find a way to keep me from spilling the beans.  And so he did what he did.  But if he didn’t know it was me, that really isn’t any better.  How may other gay kids had he told the same thing to, then?

When I finally got over the trauma, I was done with the Catholic church.  I went through the motions for another couple of years, out of habit, but then I stopped even that.  I have never looked back, and I can’t imagine I ever will.

The last I heard, Father Cal was the principal of another Catholic boys school, in a neighboring state. The vilain had been promoted.  Rewarded.  Encouraged, at least implicitly.  Other kids complained about him (I never did) and it all got swept under the rug.  Other “religious” faculty members were also complained about; nothing happened to them either.

And that’s the story.  I hope I haven’t been to self-indulgent in posting it here.  Thanks for reading this.

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