The Ripple Effect of the Catholic Sex Scandal

By Jerry Earl Johnston
Deseret News
October 19, 2018

People gather in St. Peter's Square as Pope Francis recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. A top Vatican cardinal issued a scathing rebuke Sunday of the ambassador who accused Pope Francis of covering up the sexual misconduct of a prominent American cardinal, saying his claims were false, "blasphemous" and demanding that he repent. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

I just read another news story about the sex-abuse scandal inundating the Catholic Church.

For Catholics, it is becoming a moral holocaust.

And yet, for decades, there have been inklings of a serious issue.

While jokes and cartoons about priests and altar boys might have been around for more than 50 years ago, even appearing occasionally in mainstream magazines, nobody's laughing at those cartoons today.

The Catholic sex scandal has exploded, leaving thousands of victims in its rubble. Like a hand grenade, it has produced collateral damage. Millions of bystanders continue to be hit by shrapnel.

I am one.

And though my pain will never compare to those whoíve suffered directly at the hands of predator priests, Iíve had to deal with my own wounds.

Iíve had to recalibrate a special friendship of 40 years.

When I first started at the Deseret News, I wrote a story about priests and pastors in Salt Lake City who wrote poetry on the side. One priest/poet and I became lifelong friends.

He introduced me to Christian writers I cherish to this day.

He counseled me through tough spots and more than once went to bat for me. He helped me negotiate the ebb and flow of faith.

As a poet he was clever and warm. His poems seemed to hover above the page. I turned to him often for insight, advice and stimulating conversation. When my own book was about to be published, I asked him to write a brief introduction for it. He said it would be best if he didnít. He told me was a pedophile.

To his credit, he didnít hedge. He said a man had come forward who claimed my friend had abused him as a boy. My friend said he didnít remember the boy or the incident, but feared it was probably true. His evil secret was out of the bag. He would no longer be serving as a Catholic priest. Heíd be praying and repenting and living in solitude.

He waited for me to saying something, but I couldnít think of anything to say.

Now, 15 years later, I still canít.

As a columnist I took pride in my ability to take the measure of people. But I had been completely buffaloed. Everything weíd shared, all the lessons he'd taught me, did this new information make it all a mockery?

Were the things he made me feel at all real?

I began wrestling with those questions the same day he told me.

Iím wrestling still.

Sadly, peripheral stories like mine aren't unique. But they have become commonplace.

For every victim who has suffered the direct assault of a predator, there are thousands of smaller, sidebar stories involving people like me. Our relationships and loyalties have been changed forever.

Do I still read my friendís poems?


The betrayal I feel in them is too distressing.

My pain, of course, is minor compared to the wounds of the sex-abuse victims themselves. But my life is not the same.

Iím not even Catholic, yet the church's sex-abuse scandal has rippled into my life.

Where will the fear, anger, deception and radiating pain end?

I quote the Beach Boys.

God only knows.








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