First of all, I need to make something clear. I in no way compare myself to the thousands of children who have been abused by Roman Catholic clergy. But I did go through a situation in my little hometown church that left a lasting impression.
I received first communion in 1957. And as all Catholics know, this began a process commonly referred to as confession, on a Saturday, followed by Holy Communion, on a Sunday. For Confession, one would enter a confessional, and tell your sins to a priest who was listening from the other side of a screen. After hearing your sins, the priest would give you a set of prayers to be said outside in the main part of the church, and this was known as penance.
When you are seven years old, how bad are your sins? Its not like I was snorting cocaine from a hooker’s ass. My sins were pretty much the same as all other kids sins-lying to your parents, fighting with your brothers and sisters, and forgetting to say your bedtime prayers. Very rarely did my list of sins veer off dramatically from this steady group.
Now Father Slain, our regular parish priest, kept things calm in the confessional- he wouldn’t make any extraneous comments, he wouldn’t tell me I was on a rocket sled to hell, and he did not create a fearful environment.
But Father Slain was not the only priest to hear confessions. When Father Slain was on vacation, a visiting priest from the city would preside. And when we had the visiting priest, the confessional became a much darker, different place.
So one Saturday, I was saying my confession to the visiting priest. I confessed to lying. The visiting priest quickly asked me if lying was a good thing. I became very nervous and responded yes. The visiting priest went on an incredible rant that confirmed to me, a seven year old, that I would broil in hell for eternity. I was shaking uncontrollably and crying.
On the car ride home, my mother kept asking me what was wrong. I was unable to tell her. It took me a very long time to get over this.
Now we did not go to confession every week, like some families did . But from that point on, when we did go, I checked to see who the priest was. If it was Father Slain, I had no problem. But if it was a visiting priest from the city, I would refuse to go. I didn’t give a reason, I just wouldn’t budge.
I eventually recovered, and even entertained the thought that I might, just might, go to heaven. Now that I am an adult, my sins are a little more interesting than when I was 7 years old. But I gotta tell you, I still would take a pass on the visiting priest from the city.