The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal is erupting all over the country. I have written extensively on the scandal since it broke last week. Throughout I have received consistent feedback from Catholics that these crimes are abnormal and didn’t happen in their churches. I believed them because as a former member I also knew no one affected by the scandals. Then it occurred to me that I might know either a victim or a priest involved in the scandal. My gut feeling I might know someone entrenched in the scandal were confirmed this morning. My former Pastor Gerald Grieman was accused by two boys of sexual abuse.
I understand the need to defend priests. Growing up in the church, I viewed Priests as an extension of God. I feared and respected them. The church I grew up in had a large congregation. Most of our priests were older. As a child, I felt it harder to connect to the older priests. They seemed stuffy and out of touch with the world around us.
However, that view of priests changed for me when I met a priest while studying for confirmation. My freshman year of high school I started my year-long journey preparing to be confirmed into the church. We learned the covenants of the church. Our leaders prepared us to become adults within the church.
As we got closer to the confirmation date, our leaders let us know we were going on a retreat. The retreat was sold as a way to connect as a group, learn, and spend time with church leaders. I remember being excited about a weekend away with friends.
When the weekend of the retreat arrived, the entire confirmation class met at an old Victorian Home in Minneapolis. Our weekend was planned out from the time we came until the time we left. Our leaders invited some of our sponsors, older kids in the church, to attend the retreat with us. I was excited because my sponsor spent the weekend with us.
The first day we did a lot of group work. We watched videos and discussed various sins associated with becoming an adult. Of course, much of the time was spent discussing premarital sex.
On the evening of our second night, all of us had to one on ones scheduled with Father Gerry. The mansion we stayed at was enormous. There was a large basement with a pool table. Our leaders put music on a boom box. They dimmed the lights and put on black lights.
All day our leaders gushed about Pastor Gerry. They told us he was the best priest. He was in his 40s and young compared to our more senior clergy at our church. We were told he would make us all feel comfortable. All of our sponsors encouraged us to use our one on ones to confess our sins to Pastor Gerry.
When it was my time to meet with Gerry, I felt nervous and scared. I never enjoyed confession of any kind. He led me into a dark room. The lights were so dim I could barely see his face. We sat side by side on a small couch on the side of the room. There was a little night light on. I could see the outline of his face but nothing more.
I remember he sat close to me. At the time I felt uncomfortable because I hadn’t been in that close of proximity to a priest. However, he seemed approachable and kind. He listened intently to my sins. We discussed a range of topics. After about 15 minutes, I got up and left the room. For the rest of the night, I watched kids go in and out of the dark room.
For some reason that setting has always been stuck in my mind. The whole situation always felt weird to me. Why did we sit in a pitch black room with an older man? When I sat there why did he sit so close and nearly touch my legs as I confessed?
He was a nice guy. I remember thinking he was the first priest that found ways to relate to me. Despite the weirdness of the confession, I grew an affection for his kindness. We saw Pastor Gerry a few more times as we finished our up confirmation classes. Once I was finally confirmed, I never saw him again.
A year later I was out with my sponsor having dinner; we talked about church. I asked her about Father Gerry. Even though I hadn’t been to church in ages, I wanted to know how he was doing. I remember she just blankly told me he was no longer at the church. She said the diocese moved him to St. Paul. Just like that Father Gerry was gone from our community.
After I got the news he had left our congregation, I reached out to other friends at the church. Everyone had the same story. One day leadership decided to move him. No one gave any details on why our priest was transferred.
I never forgot about him. His departure from the church was abrupt and mysterious. Over the years I have thought about him from time to time. Then today in a google search of Priests accused of sexual abuse I found his name listed by the St. Paul Minneapolis Diocese.
Father Gerry never lost his good standing within the church. The church released a statement that the abuse victims weren’t credible. However, both stories are eerily similar. The abuse happened around the time I was in confirmation. I realized this morning that dark confession room could have been a place where he abused boys. When I made that conclusion, I felt sick to my stomach.
No one ever said anything negative about Pastor Gerry in the entire time I knew of him. He was a beloved priest by all the children. I never heard a word of any abuse in the whole time I was in confirmation or my previous years of catechism class. His victims were silent. The congregation was clueless.
Now I believe Catholics when they say they don’t think the abuse happens in their churches. The abuse occurred in my church, and I had no clue. A priest that I confessed to had abused multiple boys. He probably abused boys in my class, and I had no idea.
Abusers do a great job of conning everyone. They groom their prey. Predators can be incredibly charming and beloved by everyone. Catholics must stop saying the abuse doesn’t happen at their churches. The truth is that no one knows where a predator is hiding. I had no idea Father Gerry was a predator. Under his calm demeanor, he hid a monster.
Catholics please stop saying you don’t know a predator priest. Stop saying you don’t know anyone affected by this scandal. All of us know someone that has been touched by this abuse.
When Catholics fight about the cause and refuse to believe the abuse, they fail to remember the actual victims of the case. There are adults around the world scarred by the horrible crimes of thousands of priests.
Every Catholic knows a predator.
All of them know a victim.
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