Tom Unger: Preaching Morality While Encouraging Sin

By Tom Unger
Post Dispatch
August 12, 2019

On July 26, the Archdiocese of St. Louis published a list of 61 members of the clergy with verified allegations of sexual abuse of a minor against them, and an additional three with verified allegations of possession of child pornography. Two priests on the list had been stationed at the church I attended when I was growing up, and I knew two others through another parish. One was a close family friend for decades.

The focus of clergy sexual abuse is usually, and rightly, placed on the offenders and direct victims of the abusive behavior. But the radius of the effects is much larger.

For me, the grooming began around fourth grade, as soon as I became an altar boy at our parish church. I went to the grade school connected to our church, so the segue was a given. My path into the inner circle was all but guaranteed since my older brothers had taken that route. It wasn’t long before a close friend and I were favorites of the priests — being pulled out of class to be altar boys for funerals, getting calls to serve weekend weddings, etc.

A select crew of us became the focus of the priests’ attention. We were their companions. Joining in on visits to the country house and boat rides, helping with Christmas shopping, running errands to buy them cigarettes, washing their cars, etc. To a devout Catholic teenager, this was gold.

I felt special and privileged, like I was being treated like a peer. Outside my own home, I spent most of my time in that rectory. In our household no one was more revered than priests. Priests were among the few friends that our family had and socialized with.








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