By Ray Geaney
“Life is difficult” – M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Traveled.”
My first encounter with clerical abuse occurred at a young age. Now a father of four, I confess incidences of my guilt. The first episode occurred when I was 6 years old. Our local Catholic parish priest, known by parishioners as The Canon, was a tall, distinguished figure, elegant in his black clerical garb; a great walker, he carried a walking cane and was always accompanied by Patrick, his beige shaggy-haired dog.
He occasionally visited our house. From the main road he would stroll from our gateway toward the front door via a little graveled pathway. Once while I was playing on the path Patrick snarled and darted toward me. Petrified, I tried to defend myself, intuitively flaying and lashing. Regrettably my boot tip kicked the nearby Canon’s shinbone. Neither he nor my parents who witnessed my abusive behavior were amused. I received a severe reprimand despite my plea that it was an accident.
Another episode embarrassed me. One evening, a small gang – five or six boys and myself – encountered our local Protestant minister ambling by his church and we hurled rude, vulgar chants at him. Then, southern Ireland was 98 percent Roman Catholic and we pre-teenagers considered non-Catholics to be pagans. Either the minister did not recognize us, or through forbearance on his part did not report the harassment to the local police. In hindsight, our misbehavior – together with the fear of repercussions – was an early lesson for me of the menace, to others and self, of ignorance, prejudice and tyranny of majority.
A year or two later I attended high school. By then hormones coursed through my maturing body. An incident that occurred at Deadwoman’s Hill bus stop on the local roadway lingers in my mind. I was already boarded when a female student got on the bus. She and I locked eyes; she smiled, sat next to me. We chatted; our world changed. It was puppy love.
There were no coed schools, so occasional trysts – strolling the city’s main shopping street after school hours – were major romantic events of my youthful life. The year progressed; I exchanged my love of God for that of a goddess and almost lost both as she succumbed to childhood leukemia and passed away.
Consolation by clerics to her family and friends was abundant and comforting. Similar support and solace was proffered to my wife, my family, friends and me when some years ago we lost one of our daughters.
I cringe every time I hear of yet another clerical scandal. A symmetrical bell curve postulates that in any large distribution there will be some deviations to the extremes; so it is with the clergy. Recently, with heavy heart I walked the fields of Besborough Convent, County Cork, Ireland, where offspring of unwed mothers were ingloriously laid to rest. I read of comparable horrors at Tuam, County Offaly, of lifetime indentured servitude in Dublin's Magdalene laundries, and also of other scandals here in the United States and elsewhere.
Paraphrasing Mark Antony's Shakespearean funeral oration, “I wish to name and shame the guilty, not to excuse them; the evil they do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones."
Nevertheless, I remain proud of the many priests hunted with a price on their heads during the Penal Laws in the country of my birth, of Irish monks and scribes who maintained the record of Western civilization when libraries and books were lost and destroyed throughout the Dark Ages as well as all clerics worldwide who continue serving their religious mission.
Life, despite its difficulties, is a precious gift comprising and allowing for blunders, empathy, forgiveness, love, joy, hope and gratitude.
Ray Geaney, of Getzville, grew up in southern Ireland.