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Letter: Church should apologize for corporal punishment

Church should apologize for corporal punishment

The Buffalo News editorial urging the Buffalo Catholic Diocese to make a full disclosure of the priests accused of sexual abuse is long overdue. But so is the story of those grade school students who were beaten with sticks, slapped and punched in Catholic schools decades ago.

Maybe it wasn’t sexual abuse but we were beaten every day for eight years, from first grade through eighth. Often the nuns would beat the entire class – all 30 of us – walking up and down the rows of desks slapping each child a few times on the head and neck, like some twisted ritual, making sure that every child was beaten equally.

A long procession of altar boys practiced for weeks leading up to Holy Week services and any mistakes brought indiscriminate beatings inside the church, with all the statues and Jesus himself looking down upon us.

When a sister would break a blackboard pointer over the back of some kid, the boys would furtively collect the broken splinters and hide them until year’s end when we’d compare our stash of wooden “trophies.”

There will be no lawsuits and nothing to litigate, but after 50+ years, it’s time for a reckoning and an apology. Other Catholic students in the region never experienced any abuse whatsoever, so it’s possible that St. Vincent DePaul parish elementary school in North Evans was an outlier. I hope so. The parish was also home to a popular young priest, later exposed as a sexual abuser, but nobody I knew ever saw any sign of that.

But I’m sure that the daily beatings administered by nuns are still etched into the memories of thousands of victims many decades later. The Diocese of Buffalo needs to apologize to those “kids” who are now retirees. So should the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph – those who are still alive. Even today, as a Catholic refugee, I remember that confession and redemption are central to Catholicism – a remembrance that was beaten into my head long ago.

Bob Catalano


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