“Ok, Mike, what in holy hell is going on?
I had waited until last. All the blue-haired ladies had lined up in front of
Mike’s station self-consciously patting their hair and arranging their rosaries
just right. They all had crushes on Mike, a bespectacled, gouty man with a
Boston accent, because, I suspect, he delivered to all those dirty-souled little
biddies that squeaky clean feeling that forgiveness brings.
I tried to control my decibels and failed. The whole church heard me anyway
when I entered the confessional to exercise my sacramental privilege of Catholic
penance. All the little old ladies hissed and sighed at the sound of my voice.
Skipping the prerequisite formalities, I plowed right in. Loudly.
It was the first time I was back in the jump-seat for maybe 30 years. God
knew my peccadilloes already because I had installed direct trunk line to
heaven’s mailroom without the intercession of a priest.
I cop to my own sins directly.
And, I am innately suspicious, no actually conditioned to be paranoid, of
voluntarily coughing up my failings to a black-frocked human being. It gives him
what he needs: Power over my life. And in the olden days, I am sure that it did.
That was then. This is now, however.
Mike is a different kind of priest though.
And I needed answers.
“It’s like any family, Lin, and families have rotten apples. Just think about
that. I am sure your family has black sheep who make everybody miserable with
what they do. So do we. Pedophile priests are rotten apples and they must be
cleaned out of the barrel. And they will be. Now let’s go have a beer at the
That’s what I loved about Mike. He took one look at my face and knew what was
on my mind. And over Harp beers we talked and talked…
He knew I was lapsing. No, my faith was losing me, and he still loved me.
“Come stand here next to me young lady. Let’s just see what we have here.”
We knew that Monsignor O’Looney was coming to class for “Report Card Day”
because the nuns became all tiddly and excited dusting off shelves and spitting
on their hands to smooth down cowlicks amongst the “young gentlemen.”
The monsignor was their celebrity crush, all-Catholic style.
We kids stood as he imperiously entered the room in full black cassocked
Monsignor regalia. O’Looney would thoroughly embody his authority by sitting
king-like in the front of the classroom, removing his bi-nodal Monsignor hat
with the red pom-pom on top, and by going through up to twenty-five reports
In front of everyone.
His Irish brogue was a buzzing drone as he called each of us up to stand by
him in the front of the classroom while our grades were read off for the whole
class to hear, including conduct. I made sure I had visited the bathroom before
each of these events because I didn’t want any puddles forming under my knocking
“Linda, Linda, Linda. Do ye t’ink you’ve been mindin’ Sister here properly?”
“Yes, Monsignor. I do t’ink I have.”
Shining a big smart ass grin out to my friends, they stared at me with fear
in their eyes.
“Well, according to this, you’ve been a bit of a problem child. A “D” in
conduct is nothing’ t’be smilin’ about! You’re going to stop that infernal
whispering and fidgeting now, aren’t you? I want to see improvement in your
behavior young lady. Your grades include a C here in Math as well. You’ll be
bringin’ that up too before next time…”
And I always heard the “or else” lingering in the background like so much
incense smoke. And never a mention of the A’s and B’s I earned.
Somehow I don’t think this kind of thing would fly in schools now.
O’Looney was on the scene long before I was receiving his rough attention
for my report cards. In fact, I was just an egg in my mom’s ovary. When my
parents were engaged, it was this very man who would not allow them to marry in
the church unless my Lutheran mother signed a document promising not to raise
the children in any other faith except the Catholic faith.
“Luther was a heretic, y’know?” he snarled at her during the interview.
“What should I do now?”
“Pete, just put your hands in that incubator and bless my daughter. Please.”
Pete peeled rubber to make it to the hospital the day my daughter was
He was the new/ old priest at our parish and all the others were attending to
weddings and funerals the day I called for help.
Still not unpacked, he just got
on his rental car horse and rode like the wind…
My daughter was born a little early but her heart and her lungs weren’t
working on their own. We had to flick the soles of her feet and hope she would
take a deep gasp and to coax her heart to beat and her lungs to expand.
When Pete arrived, she was lying on her stomach naked but for a tiny diaper
and a pink visor attached to her eyes with velcro to protect them from the
glaring bilirubin lights. She looked like a midget pink Power Ranger with
Pete’s hands were what I remember best. They were chubby and his gentle holy
fingers sported a tuft of white hair on each knuckle. When he put his hands in
through the incubator ports and placed them gently on Tori’s little body, the
blessing just poured out of him like honey.
Tori wiggled and smiled.
Naturally, Pete became close friends with us in the English tradition of
priests home visiting parishioners. His was always a knock on the door at dusk
when he was winding up his neighborhood walk that day and wanted to undo all the
good he had done with his exercise regime. After a scratchy kiss on the cheek,
Pete would always make his signature demand.
“Where’s my ham sandwich and my gin and tonic?”
For the first time in my cradle Catholic life, we had a priest, a real live
priest friend with spiritual benefits, at every one of our family events.
As is the practice in the Catholic Church, no priest really remains long
enough in parish to put down roots, it gets too emotional, and Pete was
transferred to Georgia after a while.
We made plans to visit him next time we headed north.
At Mass one Sunday, the new priest in a matter-of-fact tone, announced that
Pete had died. It was a punch in the stomach. I gasped so loud the church went
silent and all heads turned to me. I felt my knees buckle in grief. I had to
“Have you said your morning prayers?”
“My whole day is a prayer Father.”
“But have you said your morning prayers? No? You know you’re driving the
nails into His hands yourself! Kneel down here now and say them!”
“The bus will wait!”
Every morning Fr. Manning would stalk the bus stop interrogating us about our
prayer life or obscure Baltimore Catechism questions. It was an art form to
avoid him by arriving at just the right second to board the bus before he could
sneak up and pin us down.
He scared us mostly with his graphic passion for the more violent aspects of
crucifixion and martyrdom. He always told the stories of the saints who were
made so by becoming lion food or for enduring the untimely ripping out of one or
more body parts while still consciously professing the faith...
When I went on to high school, I didn’t see much more of him. I assumed his
senility had advanced and he was being kept under a tighter rein much to the
relief, I am sure, of the grade schoolers who had been tormented by him at the
After I achieved a successful run as the lead in the school play, Father F-,
a young progressive priest fresh from seminary, proposed that I do a new thing
during the Mass at church.
He invited me to be the first girl ever to present the scripture readings at
a full-on Mass. This was even before girls were thought of to be altar servers.
This was going to break down some barriers…And I was thrilled.
For the first time in my life as a Catholic, I thought , “I can do this!”
It makes the whole Mass thing something in which I can really participate
rather than passively sitting- standing-kneeling. No more hokey-pokey rigamarole
through every dreary service…This was getting interesting.
So young Fr. F- and I rehearsed and rehearsed and studied and delved deeply
into the theological interpretations of each piece until I felt like I knew
exactly what I was sharing with the congregation perfectly.
And my father was so proud. Bonus!
The Sunday of my groundbreaking came and Fr. F- and my father proudly
escorted me up to the church entrance.
Suddenly, a figure in black blocked out the sun and my way in.
Looking up, the butterflies in my stomach turned to vampire bats.
He was in full black cassock and hat, literally shaking in anger with a look
of pure disgust on his face. Looking closely, he had not remembered his dentures
that morning so his face was all sharpness and angles. He spit a little when he
“This girl will not enter this church until we get something straight. She
will not be allowed at the pulpit if I have anything to do with
Fr. F- tried to intercede. “Alright Michael, it's ok. Maybe she can do the
readings in front of it.”
“Absolutely NOT!” His voice was booming. “She is PROHIBITED from even
approaching the sacristy by church law! It would be an
My father, now so conflicted between his pride in me and the authority of the
priest confronting us, blurted the central question, “Why?”
“Don’t you know? What kind of Catholic are you? She is female. She
I was moved to write about these priests, both good and bad, so that I might
discover some way of reconciling my profound sadness and, yes deep anger, with
the Roman Catholic Church.
I feel mortally wounded on a spiritual level by the Vatican’s recent
misogynistic rulings. Although as a cradle Catholic with obvious past
healed-over flesh wounds from which I have recovered, I cannot reconcile the
obvious categorization by the Church of women as potential egregious violating
wounds on the body of the faith any more.
To borrow from Someone who would’ve found all this so very wrong: It is
“Here's what the Vatican's internal prosecutor, Msgr. Charles J.
Scicluna, said from the news conference in Rome, when asked to explain why
ordination of women was included alongside of rulings concerning sexual
exploitation of children and the disabled by male… priests: ‘Sexual abuse and
pornography are more grave dealings, they are an egregious violation of moral
law. Attempted ordination of women is grave, but on another level; it is a wound
that is an attempt against the Catholic faith on the sacramental orders.’ In a report from the AP, reporter Nicole Winfield explained that "The
rules...list the attempted ordination of a woman as a ‘grave crime' to be
handled according to the same set of procedures as sex abuse -- despite
arguments that grouping the two in the same document would imply equating
them.... Scicluna defended the inclusion of both sex abuse and
ordination of women in the same document as a way of codifying two of
the most serious canonical crimes against sacraments and morals
that the congregation deals with. “ -From Psychology Today by Regina Barreca, Ph.d