I suppose it’s even possible that my resistance to submitting myself to the authority of those strange, alien, probably harmless religious men might have been caused by some subconscious sense that there was risk involved. A few years ago, Andrew Sullivan collected readers’ stories about their brushes with child abuse in the church. One wrote about a particular priest, “Father K,”
who was much beloved by students. He was the only priest to ever visit our classroom. We were always thrilled to see him when he would show up unannounced for a visit. He was warm, engaging and energetic–the only priest that parishioners could relate to. We had 50 kids in our class, about half were boys. Fr. K was in charge of the altar boys.The whole series is here. Needless to say, I’m not suggesting that all coercive parenting or schooling is somehow like exposing kids to sexual abuse, or that inaction doesn’t have its own risks. Just that kids can have hard-to-articulate reasons for their choices that shouldn’t automatically be ignored.
When it was time to sign up for training as servers, something stopped me. I don’t know why I didn’t sign up and I lived in fear that my teacher, a nun, was going to come down on me for failing to volunteer. It turned out that two of my friends didn’t sign up either. Our teacher never said a word, even when we were, conspicuously, the only three boys left in class while the rest attended the occasional altar boy meeting. I envied classmates who left during the school day to attend meetings and serve Mass across the street and yet something had stopped me from volunteering. You know where this is going.
In the late 1990s, it was revealed that Fr K had been molesting altar boys in the 50s and the early 60s. I had a rough home life and would have been a perfect target for abuse. I’ve often wondered over the past ten years if our teacher knew what was going on and that’s why she didn’t give us a hard time. . . .
I still don’t know what stopped me from volunteering to be an altar boy. All I know is that I was one lucky kid.