The curtain of the temple was torn in two, and the world was suddenly a much darker place.
Let me backtrack. A few weeks before the party, which took place in , I happened to become involved in a conversation with some friends about the clerical sex abuse of children. In response to a general agreement that, sadly, no one would trust a priest or any man, for that matter to be alone with young children these days, I replied that I had the privilege, as a kid growing up in the Dublin of the s and s, of having come under the positive spiritual influence of a saintly cleric, a paragon of virtue, a man beyond reproach.
Or so I thought. Neither of us had suspected anything. Neither of us had been abused. Within days I had sought him out in the Murphy report and was once again physically sickened when I read what he had done.
From between the lines I could hear the distressed voices of the abused — some of whom I may have known — ringing in my ears. This was a priest who for me and countless others had embodied Catholic virtue — an image of Christ, beard and all. The innocence of my childhood was finally destroyed. The rug had been whipped from under my feet, and what was broken has never been fixed. His left arm was paralysed as a result of a birth injury, and he had told us on many occasions that photographs of him holding a wafer and empty chalice had to be sent to Rome for him to be passed fit to take holy orders.
Despite his disability he could play the piano Fats Domino and The Beatles and the mouth organ and could juggle small apples and oranges one-handed. He viewed his physical vulnerability as a blessing that brought him closer to those in need of spiritual succour — and to God.
He visited and reputedly cured the sick, anointed the dying, and blessed new cars and house extensions and throats prophylactically. When he visited homes he would lay his right hand gently on the bowed heads of all who stood in the hallway, bestowing blessings as we lined up to say goodbye. He was especially devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to his own widowed mother.
Mothers loved him.
One moment please...
He also loved their young sons. He hinted that they might join up some day. He regaled his audiences with hilarious accounts of the high jinks that he and his classmates got up to when they were away studying for the priesthood — all good, cleanfun. Because he loved soccer, and gave their sons the chance to play with leather footballs rather than plastic ones, fathers liked him, too. He was wary of daughters and older brothers who were interested in girls, and they were wary of him and kept their distance.
Young boys loved him. Although he was a priest, he was like one of us. He had a good right foot and could bend a ball long before David Beckham could. He often told us about his namesake, Dominic Savio, who even as a very young boy wanted to be a saint. Despite his devotion to Our Lady he used one of them to comb his own hair, as a joke. Although mothers thought it a little disrespectful, they let it pass. Because he had taken the vow of poverty along with those of obedience and chastity he could not own a car. An almost telepathic consensus, among the working-class women who idolised him, that his ministry should not be restricted by a lack of transport led to the purchase of a small car, along with the tax and insurance, for him to use.
As a named driver the Capuchin could now travel far and wide — without breaking his vows. Not even the canon lawyers could catch him. Parents considered him both harmless and trustworthy, and they willingly entrusted their children to him. Behind the smokescreen of vestments and incense, like many of his ilk, he preyed on his defenceless charges. Convicted of nine counts of indecent assault against one victim, he acknowledged up to offences against 20 children and was judged to pose a significant risk to boys between the ages of nine and He is now dead, and his name is rarely mentioned.
This story is, tragically, not unusual. There are thousands of similar stories, replicated in almost every diocese on every continent. They are now part of the narrative of the Catholic Church, better known to many than the liturgy of the Mass. We can but imagine the physical, mental and spiritual pain suffered by those who were molested and raped and had their lives destroyed by paedophile clerics.
I want to be one of them, but wanting is not enough. The position of standing on the periphery is one that I share with many men of good will; the state of being a lapsed Catholic is so painful that it sometimes seems to generate a positive charge, as though it had in itself a certain religious validity. Perhaps some of the prayers that go for the souls in purgatory might occasionally be used for us.
Those souls at least know where they are. Anthony Burgess — was a novelist, poet, playwright, composer, and critic. He is best known for his novel A Clockwork Orange. This essay, which first appeared in the February issue of Triumph , is reprinted with permission of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. Close Login.
This Lent, the Pope has a message for lapsed Catholics: It's never too late
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Confessions of a lapsed Catholic – Sheila Cassidy
Thanks be to God! Very inspiring talk! Andrew - Sikeston, MO This talk is for anyone who knows someone who claims to be atheist or agnostic.
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It really helped me understand their thought process and it has given me hope that their hearts might be changed. Ida - Leesburg, IN Wow! What a wonderful witness to discovering the Truth.
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Laura - Newtown, PA It was interesting hearing the perspective from someone who was born as an atheist. What a powerful witness! I need to know if you have a CD about her thought process on how she and her husband finally understood the Church teachings on contraception. I loved Jennifer's honesty. I loved her critical way of determining if Catholicism is true or not.
Her story was very moving and I am so grateful to have heard it! Lynn - Gilcrest, CO Ms. Fulwiler was clear and concise and she appeared to be very sincere. Though she made no references to scripture per se, she appeared to be well versed and knowledgeable. I'm very much interested in looking into her blog - I hope it still exists. Thank you. Made me explore more deeply into my faith. I could use this talk with my high school students who are searching for truth about God and faith.