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  Priest Settlement Localizes Scandal

By Michael Antrobus
Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
April 25, 2002

A truth about priests in general is revealed in recent stories of inappropriate sexual encounters and molestations by some of them. It is one often overlooked by those of us trained since childhood to regard "men of the cloth" as divinely inspired representatives of Christ on earth.

That simple truth is that priests are very human.

The product of 17 years of Catholic schooling and more than 1,500 Masses attended - including at least 100 as an altar boy - I have seen my view of the priesthood evolve considerably since childhood. Recent revelations of sexual abuse by priests continues to reshape my understanding of these men.

As a child I considered the priesthood an ideal lifestyle because it offered its members an unencumbered passage to heaven. I understood the calling to be free of struggle and doubt and priests to be individuals with a coveted inner peace.

Not to mention, they could call upon God's awesome power, absolve sin or condemn souls to hell. They turned bread into body, wine into blood, and made water holy. For these reasons, I thought priests more closely resembled superheroes than real people.

My view that priests were not like the rest of us remained mostly intact until I reached high school and met one who helped dispel the myth.

My high school religion instructor, Father Dan, was unexceptional as a teacher - which is to say, dull. But he made up for that outside the classroom. He spent time with students on an individual basis. He attended football games with us, took an interest in our lives, talked to us without pretense about the mundane.

We teased him about never marrying, and he responded that he was married - to the church.

Still, priesthood seemed more like a vocation to Father Dan than a divine calling. He was a person who worked as a priest like a doctor is a person who works as a physician. His job was to say Mass, give blessings, visit the sick, attend to the holy sacraments.

During the summer he took groups of us fishing and water skiing. We sometimes played racquetball. After I graduated and moved to Boston to attend college, he occasionally wrote to check on my progress. He counseled me that Jesuits make good spiritual advisers. He warned me against "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" as my new independence brought about increased agnosticism.

By my senior year of college, I had fallen out of touch with Father Dan. He turned up years later at my grandmother's funeral, where he was gracious in his condolence. In the late 1990s, I contacted him because I needed a priest for my wedding.

He turned me down, explaining he had taken a leave from the priesthood. I was disappointed but not altogether surprised. The surprise came later.

I was reading the paper about the latest Catholic sex scandal when I read my friend's name. An anonymous source had leaked Daniel Lemoine's name to local television stations as the priest involved in an inappropriate sexual affair with a teen-age boy.

News accounts of unknown Catholic priests having sex with teen-agers in other cities are mildly disturbing to me as a journalist who has covered murder trials and photographed bodies. However, learning a friend has been accused of this is utterly disquieting.

Secrecy surrounding legal settlement of the case in question prevents me and anyone else from knowing precisely what an unknown person accused my friend of doing. I might never learn. This leaves me uncomfortably unable to pass a final personal judgment upon him.

Perhaps nothing would be completely satisfactory in helping me reconcile the friend I thought I knew with the one I'm now uncertain I know. Perhaps unfairly, my friend has put a three-dimensional face on the unfolding church scandal, testing my understanding of basic moral concepts of love, betrayal, forgiveness, redemption. Deeply ambivalent feelings arise from learning a good person has been accused of an unambiguous wrong.

In its pure form, evil is easy to process in our minds. Once we identify it, we move to destroy it. But abstract concepts don't exist in their pure form in reality. Bad deeds do not erase already established qualities in a human being; they can, however, overshadow them.

Michael Antrobus is an editorial writer for the Advocate.

 
 

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