Richard Geary: Catholic priest took advantage of innocence
I was 12 years old when our local priest molested me. I thought I was younger at the time, but the lawyers who deposed me said he arrived in Helmville in 1959, so I had to have been 12 when it happened.
I had already spent two summers working on the hay crew, doing adult work for adult wages, but it was a big deal when he asked if I wanted to paint his kitchen. Working for the family was one thing, but getting a real job working for an authority figure like the priest was a big step toward adulthood. I took the job.
He was always touching and hugging the altar boys, rubbing his hands under our shirts as he gave us a hug when we arrived to help at Mass. Often, he loaded us into his car and took us to dinner in Helena or Lincoln. None of us liked to sit beside him in the car, because he was always rubbing our legs in a playful manner. Just naive country kids, we didn’t have a clue about his intentions, but it was still uncomfortable.
As I was painting one afternoon, he called me into the guest bedroom of the rectory. I thought he wanted help moving something, so I put down my brush and went to him.
When I walked through the door, he grabbed me, spun me around, and pushed me down onto the bed. For a fat man, that priest could move fast.
He fell on top of me. I still remember his cologne, which smelled very expensive (I had never smelled scents other than Mennen’s or Aqua Velva). I was a country kid – totally innocent.
He lay on top of me, running his hands everywhere, trying to unbutton my clothes. I struggled against him. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew it wasn’t right.
After a time, he gave a priestly shudder and stood up, leaving me on the bed, spread-eagled and stunned. He paused at the doorway and looked down at me. I don’t know if it was a look of contempt or hate, but it was intimidating. Maybe it was a warning to stay silent about the incident.
I stood up, rearranged my clothes and went back to the kitchen. I had work to do. That’s when the bad part started.
The priest was his former jocular self when I went back to work, but as I went up my little ladder, he called me down. He said he didn’t want to send me home with paint in my hair, so he fashioned an Aunt Jemima-type bandanna on my head.
That alone was debasing, but then he said that he didn’t want me to have paint on my clothes, so he found a chef’s apron, folded the chest part inward, and fastened the bottom part under my shoulders. It looked just like a dress, and I, who knew nothing but horses and hunting, was made to appear as a girl. I was extremely humiliating for someone whose only heroes were rodeo cowboys and John Wayne.
The dressing ritual continued every day until I finished the painting job. I never told a soul what happened in that rectory. Who was there to tell?
Afterward, my mother remarked constantly that I had turned into a bitter cynic, adding that she didn’t like cynics. That didn’t help.
So my altered life went on. It was only after I learned about physical sex that I realized what had almost happened to me.
Decades passed, and I rarely thought of the incident. Finally, when I saw his name listed as one of the predators in a recent lawsuit, I knew I had nothing to lose, so I included my name on the long list of victims.
The man served in 11 different parishes during his career as a pedophile. I wonder how many lives the man changed for the worse? Maybe the incident contributed to my years of alcoholism. I don’t know, but I’m sure I got off easier than many of the others.
The suit was settled about a month ago, and I received enough money to buy an inexpensive used car or something. I also got a perfunctory apology, purportedly from the bishop, but with a suspiciously lawyerly tone. Neither brought closure for me. Nothing will – for any of us.
Had I the presence of mind to exaggerate the incident during the deposition process, I would have received more money. But then others would not have gotten what they deserved for their respective ordeals, and I carry enough guilt as it is.
The ones I pity are those who still can’t admit to anyone what happened to them. God help them in their silence and undeserved shame.