In one of those really creepy life-imitates-art moments, Father John Geoghan, pedophile priest and molester of the Masses (heh - get it?), was beaten up and murdered by a homophobic neo-Nazi in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center when the guards weren’t looking.
I say it’s a life-imitates-art moment, because it’s almost exactly what happened several years ago on everyone’s favorite HBO prison drama, except that on the show the homophobic neo-Nazis were a little more inspired. They actually nailed the miscreant priest to the gym floor when the guards weren’t looking. It's still close enough to give one pause, though.
The Geoghan murder, not entirely unexpected given the low regard in which child molesters are typically held in our nation’s prison system, was just the sad aftermath to a terribly sad story and I feel sorry for just about everyone involved. Even for Geoghan, who is probably, at this very moment, slow-roasting on a spit somewhere in the fiery bowels of Hell while Satan teaches him a very painful lesson about why it’s not nice to put unwanted foreign objects into other people‘s private places. But I feel particularly sorry for all the victims. Because even after all that has transpired since the abuse scandal broke, the Catholic Church still doesn’t get it. Father Christopher Coyne, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, appeared shortly after the Geoghan murder to assure us all that he was busily praying for the repose of Geoghan’s soul - which was, to be fair, a kind and charitable thing to do, considering the peck of trouble the old coot had gotten them all into. But one would think that Coyne might also have added, “And, victims? We know this is probably going to fuck up your healing process even more than it already is, so here’s $100 million. Go get yourself some counseling on us.”
Nope, not a word. Instead, the Church slunk back to its tired old party line: it was only a “bad element” (read:gay) of the priesthood that was responsible for the hundreds of children who were raped and otherwise tormented in the name of Our Lord. Yawn. Just wait. Give them a couple of years and they’ll have come up with a way to blame gay priests for the Spanish Inquisition too.
The fact is, the whole molestation scandal was bound to surface sooner or later, and I can pretty much guarantee you that it goes a lot deeper, and back a lot farther, than anyone even suspects. It was inevitable. If you’re brought up in the Catholic Church - and I was - you spend your entire life being told that sex is twisted and evil and wrong, except when it’s done for the sole purpose of making new little Catholics to supplement the weekly collection plate. It’s absolutely not supposed to be any fun, although the Church has backpedaled on that a bit in recent years, allowing that it’s now okay to let the woman get on top once in a while as long as there aren’t any condoms in the room. In other words, they’ve got a long way to go before they can convince anyone that they really believe there is anything remotely normal or healthy about sex.
So what does this mean? Well, it means generation upon generation of Catholics who are pretty damn fucked up about sex, for one thing. It also means that a lot of little boys who are bound for the priesthood get some very weird messages about what is and is not normal from a lot of bigger boys who don’t have the slightest clue themselves what is and is not normal. And when these little boys, stunted in pre-adolescence, get older, and when the loneliness and repression get to be too much for them to bear, of course they’re going to turn to boys who are the same age they were when their own sexual growth was nipped in the bud. It’s the only type of sexuality they can relate to. It’s not a gay thing. It’s not a straight thing. It’s a Catholic thing.
Like a lot of people who were brought up Roman Catholic, I spend a great deal of time pondering the concepts of Death and Hell (and I’ve got the therapy bills to prove it). That’s how most organized religions work. They suck you in and then keep you so worked up about the fear of going to Hell that you’re convinced that you have to do whatever they say or you’ll face eternal damnation. And nobody wants eternal damnation. It’s fucking uncomfortable down there in the fires of Hell. Those pitchforks hurt when they’re jabbing at you from all directions. Just ask Father Geoghan.
At this point in my life, I’ve committed a host of mortal sins (and this blog entry will undoubtedly put me over the top). And, even though I ran screaming from the Church many, many years ago, there’s still a little voice in the back of my head - okay, a big, loud, yelling voice - that’s telling me that I’d better get my ass to Confession one of these days soon. Only with my luck, I’ll probably get hit by the Number One Bus on my way to the church and suddenly find myself toasting marshmallows over Father Geoghan, up close and personal.
It’s hard to say what, precisely, turned me against the Catholic Church. Well, there were all those molesting priests, of course, but since I myself was never molested by a priest, I’ve got to dig a little deeper than that.
I think it all started the day I began wondering about how it was, if Jesus said that poverty was noble and holy, that the Pope and all the Cardinals got to live in big palaces and get driven around in limousines. And why, if money was the root of all evil, an entire portion of the Mass - with a hymn and everything - was devoted to collecting said root of all evil in big baskets overflowing with tokens of goodwill from docile parishioners. And how come, if God loves us all freely and unconditionally, he made a Hell where He could dispatch the people who piss Him off to be tormented by demons for all eternity?
Needless to say, I was not the most popular kid in Saturday morning CCD class.
As I grew older, my questions became less philosophical and more practical. I wanted to know, for example, what was so great about Mother Theresa that she got to be a Saint. She helped poor women? Yeah, she helped poor women all right. She helped poor women stay pregnant and downtrodden by telling them that every child that they brought into the world to starve, suffer, and die was just another little gift from God.
Memo to Mother Theresa (wherever you are): With all due respect, starving children are not a gift from God. They are the product of a misogynistic, backward society that would have benefited enormously from your bosses at the Vatican selling some jewels, or perhaps a painting, to fund the construction of one or two Planned Parenthoods in your little corner of the ghetto. If you really wanted to help poor women so much, maybe you should have been dispensing condoms instead of empty platitudes when they came to you begging for help.
Of course, me being me, my final break with the Church came about for the shallowest of reasons. Two years after I transferred to Boston College (and promptly flunked Catholicism I, which was a required course) they picked newly appointed Archbishop Bernard Law to be our commencement speaker.
Man, was I pissed. I was so pissed that I skipped my graduation entirely (well, that, and the fact that I was so many credits short of getting anything other than a blank diploma I had to go to summer school anyway). All of the other colleges were getting good speakers - former Presidents, famous astronauts, world-renowned authors, and the like. But we got this pompous fat guy in a pointy hat who alienated the entire graduating class of 1984, and everyone else in Alumni Stadium that day, by using the opportunity (coincidentally, also his first major public appearance as Archbishop) to lecture the audience about what bad Catholics they were instead of delivering the sort of “good luck in the world, don’t come to me looking for a job” commencement speech that all the other graduating classes at all the other colleges were getting.
I have to admit that I was snickering pretty loudly twenty-odd years later, the day Law was ridden out of town on the proverbial rail of his overinflated ego.
Hey, I never said I don‘t hold grudges.
So it’s fairly clear that I don’t really care for the Church hierarchy. But I’ll tell you who I do like: Jesus. I like Jesus Christ.
What’s not to like? From everything I’ve read about him, Jesus seems like he’d be a guy I’d want to hang out with. A genuinely nice, unpretentious person who talked the talk and walked the walk (sometimes on water, no less!). You’ve got to admire anyone who’s willing to go up against The Man to defend his convictions, and, divine or not, he certainly did that in spades when they crucified him for it. No hypocrisy there, no sirree.
And I have a sneaking suspicion that if Jesus were to show up on Earth today he’d be utterly horrified at the outrages that are being perpetrated in his name.
Take, for instance, Judge Roy Moore, who seems to have failed to realize that his giant statue of the Ten Commandments is the very sort of graven image that he’s not supposed to be worshipping in the first place.
Or the televangelists who pretend to heal sick people while all the while bilking elderly retirees out of their life savings to fund fake churches and plush retirement homes in Florida.
Or Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertsen, the Reverend Franklin Graham and their whole merry little band of modern-day Pharisees who pervert the very message of love and understanding that Jesus preached, turning it instead into the kind of call to hatred and bigotry that hasn‘t been heard so clearly since the beginning of the Crusades. I bet if Jesus were to show up and confront them today, they’d crucify him all over again rather than let him blow the lid off the lucrative little racket they’ve got going.
Think about it. Jesus was crucified at the behest of political and religious leaders because the message he preached was anathema to their lifestyle of power, greed, and intolerance. Do you really think that Pat Robertson would let him get away with that today? Hell no. He’d be up there on top of that cross, hammer in hand, with Falwell standing right beneath him passing up the nails.
So, on second thought, Jesus, do yourself a favor. Stay far, far away from us. No good can come to you here.
I’ll catch up with you in the Afterlife.
That is, if I can dodge that Number One Bus long enough to make sure I get there.