So, the tendency when you or anyone is around a priest is to respect the boundary of the collar. Father may play basketball with the kids and maybe be even really cool and have a beer at a picnic, but you might find that dad doesn’t swear when his team doesn’t make a touchdown and long ago packed away holy items may make a reappearance before Father comes to visit. Wherever a priest goes….so does church. And where there is church, there is church behavior.
We all know logically that there is a man underneath the priestly garb. But as long as the collar is there, we address him as “Father” or “Reverend” and he is automatically elevated to the status of teacher, judge, grantor, chosen one, most holy, deliverer of penance, and one bestowed of power beyond that of the average man. And as much as we tell ourselves that he is just a man like everyone else, we have been trained to react differently to a priest. Automatic respect, turn the other cheek and do your penance is ingrained when around a man of the cloth. There is a wall there that logic can’t cross. We know there is a man under there somewhere, but one that is different and one at whom we don’t want to look at too closely or personally.
I’ve always thought of priests as asexual or married to God, with a shield around them that anything sexual bounces off. As far as their personal life outside the public eye, I figured they read the bible, prayed, went to mass, discussed God with other priests, watched G rated movies and family shows, and probably collected stamps or photographed nature. Maybe they honed up on their singing skills. That would be in between writing sermons, visiting the sick and elderly and saying mass, of course.
Like I said, we don’t want to look to close. If there is sex going on, they are probably masturbating or perhaps they have a more personal relationship with another priest. Maybe they have a secret girlfriend. Some cause for gossip but out of respect, it is not recognized publicly. Or perhaps we don’t want to acknowledge anything that may alter our perfect image of a pure priest.
In any case, the average parishioner’s knowledge and curiosity about the existence of a priest’s sex life tends to end at the door of the rectory. Don’t want to know and don’t want to talk about it.
Unfortunately some people do get to see what goes on behind that door. I say “unfortunately” because what is found on the other side can be creepy, dishonest, illegal, disrespectful, hurtful and downright horrifying. And since people who go beyond that door only know that priests equal love and Jesus, they may go there innocently and without fear….as a sheep would follow a wolf who appeared to be the shepherd.
On the contrary, they expect to be treated with love and kindness. They expect to be recognized for the beauty that lies within their souls. They expect to be held warmly within the walls of what is the heart of the church.
But for many people…..most I think, what they find on the other side is the reality of what is the sex life of a priest. Much of it is mucked up with confusion and blame, but the reality is not a love affair. It’s finding out you are one of many people being used and strung along, or being taken advantage of at a vulnerable time in your life, or raped, or coerced into being at his beck and call for him or perhaps for him and his friends like a prostitute. This is sometimes accomplished with threats and the use of power, control and blackmail.
It’s not as romantic as they would like you to believe when the door has closed behind you and you are being enticed to go further.
But you see, it’s not just cut and dried either. Predator priests can be skilled manipulators. And it takes time….sometimes a long time…..for an adult victim to understand that they most likely are not the priest’s “first” and are only special in what they can do for him, not for who they are.
It can be extremely difficult to realize you have gone behind the door where few fear to tread, only to realize that there will be no love or comfort found here. To put it bluntly, you are simply a hand job or an orifice. And once you begin to see things for what they really are, that you are an unpaid sex worker, do not expect a sincere apology from anyone.
Expect to be shunned and ignored and not believed. Because nobody really wants to hear about it and nobody wants their perfect version of reality tarnished. Basically, you are seen as the person who is at fault. Because it’s easier that way. Less messy. Less changes have to be made. Nobody likes change. Stick with the majority. It’s only sex. Just a little sin. Wink, wink. So he was getting a piece of ass….who was he hurting? He’s a man after all. Women are the temptresses. Victim shaming still alive and unwell. The victim is victimized once again.
The priest can hide behind his vows and, of course, sin. Temptation. It’s weakness, not a crime. He’s certainly not a dangerous narcissistic psychopath who should not be around unsuspecting and trusting children and adults. Because, God help us if he is and and we prefer not to speak up but instead allow this wolf to continue to disguise himself and hurt others. God help us if we choose to look the other way because it feels less messy.