I grew up with two uncles who were priests. They were my father's brothers. And as you know, when you grow up with something, you think it is the most normal thing in the world. My baptismal certificate is signed by my uncle, the photos of my baptism are complete with a couple of priests who are my uncles. My brothers and sister were all married by one of my uncles.
One of my priest uncles was a worker bee priest. He humbly did his job in priestly anonymity. He lived in another state, so we didn't see him as often as the other one. The other one lived in a nearby city and we saw him a lot. He was also, in the 50s and early 60s, a famous priest. He wrote a lot. He was an editor of a Catholic publication. He was very handsome and articulate, and brilliant. He wrote music, including several masses. In school, on the first days, the teacher would invariably ask me if I was related to Father ___. I would sheepishly say "yes." But we were all proud to be related to him.
As the early 60s mutated into the mid and late 60s, my uncle mutated right along with them. He started traveling the world. He started acting strangely. I heard my parents whisper that they thought he was using drugs. I remember a particularly uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner when uncle brought a young runaway girl as his guest.
Then it got worse. He started calling me on the phone. He said he was going to leave the priesthood to marry me! I was 14 years old! It was horrifying. He came to visit - by this time we were living in a suburb of Chicago. He told my father he wanted to marry me. I don't really know what happened, surely my father told him he needed to stop this craziness.
By the early 70s, he had written a scandalous book and was making the rounds of the talk shows. My poor brother was his namesake - as was his son - it was very embarrassing for him at that time. There was not a lot of recognition for the name outside of the Catholic church, but it was such a scandal in our family.
A year or so later, the first newspaper stories started appearing. He was accused of molesting a boy. Then more boys. There are still boys, now men, coming forward to say they were abused by him. He was sent away to a priest rehab. Then he was no longer a priest.
I just did a google search - I found a newspaper article about him and other priests, the tag line behind his name is: "a convicted child molester who died in 1984."
He died in a very suspicious car accident in 1984. It looked more like suicide.
I did not attend the funeral.
Over the years, I suppose I have more compassion for him. When people talk of these priests being monsters, I think of my uncle. What he did was despicable, intolerable, horrible. But I cannot bring myself to hate him or any others.
Over the years, I remember him now as the young handsome priest I was so proud to be related to. I do not dwell on the memories of the derelict, alcoholic, deviant person he became. I am certain his victims have no option other than remembering the horrible person. I do though.
I can pray for him and I do.
Last year in Biblical School, one of the questions asked what we thought happened to the souls of priests who had abused children. Oh, you should have heard the vile things that my classmates said! I simply said that I hoped that God had compassion for them. It is not a popular sentiment. I don't know if he can or not. But I can hope that he does. Please do not take this to mean that there is any excuse for his behavior. I can think of none.
Real life is so complicated.
And so now I have written some of my darkest secrets. I never spoke of my uncle until very recently. And then very tentatively. For years, I was afraid my name would be recognized at my church, by some priest, or at school. If it has, no one has asked me about it.
But it is part of my history.
Lord have mercy.