Fifty-five years later, I can still feel the scratch of his stubble and the smear of his spittle on my cheek.
Although the memories of Brother Gary and what he tried to do have dulled under the weight of decades passed, they still ooze to the surface occasionally from my personal quagmire of Catholic schooling buried deep within. Disturbing revelations of serial sexual abuse by 286 priests in Texas – suppressed for years until the end of January – act as a trigger that causes the spam-like files to crawl back into the inbox of my mind.
Even though he wasn’t one of my regular teachers at Father McDonald Memorial High School, I looked up to Brother Gary in every possible way. I had considered, at least as seriously as any 13-year-old altar boy on the brink of puberty can, to one day become a priest, Brother of the Sacred Heart or missionary, like the one who visited our home to regale me with tales of doing the Lord’s work in Africa.
Brother Gary approached me to help him sort books in the school library after school one day and suggested I give my parents a heads-up that I would be late for supper. After the school had cleared, including the last janitor emptying the trash cans in each class, I found myself trapped on the lap of his six-foot-four frame with no way to escape, the vice-like clamp of his arms coiled around me like a boa constrictor. Wracked with panic and a feeling of impending doom, I feigned submission just long enough to knock his glasses askew. He reached up to catch them, and I was out the nearest exit in a blink, running the entire mile all the way home. I can still picture the family all seated at the table and my mother retrieving my dinner covered in aluminum foil from the oven.
I never said a word about what happened, too rattled to even know where to begin. I did approach my homeroom teacher, Brother Emilio, a few days later in an effort to address the feelings of confusion, shame and guilt that were causing sleepless nights. The Catholic church lost another recruit for during the 15 or so minutes I listened to Brother Emilio, he defended Brother Gary’s behaviour implicitly, accused me of instigating what took place and said that I had perverted what was clearly a case of “paternal affection.”
I never served another Mass after that day and found myself fooling my father by slinking out the back door every Sunday as soon as the service started while he was distracted ushering the flock’s late arrivals to the few remaining seats.
And so once again I feel a sense of pity and anguish for the countless victims whose childhoods were savaged or destroyed by predatory criminals masquerading as clergy, this time in Texas. I was one of the luckier ones, but how many others are forced to relive the sordid details with no hope of simply shrugging it all away. Relief is fleeting at best, knowing it’s going to raise its ugly head again with the next news of systemic abuse in some other country.
Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.