Houston Chronicle
May 7, 2002

My father's story: Abusive priests nothing new

I know what my father would say about sexual abuse by Catholic priests if he were alive. He would say that the abuse of children by priests has been going on for many years. This is not something new. It is a secret that has been hidden by the Roman Catholic Church for as long as it has existed.

He would tell this story: His mother died when he was six and his brother, Fred, was four. His two sisters were placed with relatives. There was no room for my father and Fred. They were placed in a Catholic orphanage in San Antonio. Fred was still wetting his bed at night, and my father and he were called to the head priest's office to be reprimanded for Fred's problem. The punishment was that the priests would fondle my father and Fred as long as Fred continued to wet his bed. My father felt responsible. He had vowed to take care of Fred now that their mother was gone. Fred would cry himself to sleep. After a while, my father, through a child's willpower, would stay awake during the night. He would allow Fred to sleep for a while, then he would walk Fred to the bathroom in the dark. Luckily, their father was able to get back on his feet, and he and an uncle removed them from the orphanage and took them home. It was a period in his life that my father always remembered. The s!
cars from the memory never left him.

I am sure that if one were to look into this more seriously we would find many stories like these.

The question is, why has the church not done anything about this problem? Would the church have done anything had the victims not come forward? Of course not. We read that pedophilic priests have been sent off to parish after parish to hide their secrets form people.

We read that Cardinal Bernard Law from Boston blames the child and his parents for the sexual abuse at the hands of his priest. We read that the pope and the cardinals and the bishops must meet again to formulate a policy. I just read in the Houston Chronicle that a teacher of theology at yhe University of St. Thomas is cautioning us not to overreact. I am reacting. I am angry.

The church needs a new policy? A policy for what? How to further circumvent the law? How to buy time to hide more priests from prosecution? How to silence more children? How to intimidate more parents?

I left the Catholic Church several years ago, and had it not been for my children, I would have left it even sooner. I knew what was going on. My best childhood friend became a priest, and he confirmed everything that I suspected was wrong with the priesthood. He did not offer the information on friendly terms, either. He confessed over the telephone as he was attempting suicide, a suicide that he tried to blame on me for not being more understanding. He did not die but lived to be assigned to a church in Texas. I wonder how much damage he has done.

Oh, I know one can say that there are good priests. I know some but they are very few. I can imagine what these honorable priests are going through. But do you know what would have happened to them had they spoken out for what is right and decent?

Most priests are corrupt. They have to be to believe as they do, that the priesthood confers purity of character no matter what you do, when, in fact, it is used as a disguise for evil intentions. Make no mistake about it, these people are smart. They know what they are doing. Have you heard one of them cry out to God for forgiveness? Have you seen one of them bow his head in shame?

One lawyer was quoted in the Chronicle as saying that the handling of this sexual abuse matter by the church was "stupid." It's not stupid. It's evil. The former president of the University of St. Thomas, Joseph McFadden, was quoted as saying: "There is no question that over the last 25 to 30 years these questions have not been honestly dealt with." Try 1917, McFadden. Try earlier.

Again I quote McFadden: "I think all that demonstrates is how little we understood this problem." What is there to understand? It is a criminal act to sexually abuse children.

McFadden: "We can hardly say our primary motivation was to protect the children." Why is this not said in plain English?

If the Catholic Church does not stand for children, then it stands for nothing.

A church that does not love its children loves no one.

The real shame of it is that all organized religion feeds on itself to the exclusion of its believers. If you ask yourself, as you should about this problem, which of the two is the most important to any church -- the church or its people -- you will always come to the conclusion that the church is first of all for its survival. So it follows that religion is not about helping people but about helping itself.

When he was close to dying, I asked my father why he had remained a Catholic all his life, and he said that the guilt of not being one was greater than the fate that confronted him and my uncle Fred. How sad that a person can be conditioned to believe this. And then, he said, who would have believed an orphaned child and his little brother?

Garcia is an award-winning novelist, short story writer and playwright from Seabrook.