The Deacon's Bench

Shortly after I posted the news item about the priest pedophile Msgr. Othmar Schroeder, I wandered over to Rod Dreher’s blog and noticed he’d linked to the same story. But then, Rod added his own footnote, remembering a friend he called “John”:

John was somewhere between 50 and 60 when I met him. It was hard to tell, because he was a recovering alcoholic, and the boozing had ravaged his body. He had come back to Catholicism after many years spent as a drunk and promiscuous homosexual. His liaisons occurred chiefly with priests. I came to trust him when he started telling me about hush-hush things going on in the archdiocese regarding sexual impropriety that would later come out, or could be independently verified.

John grew up a working-class Irish kid in one of NYC’s boroughs. His mother sent him to Catholic school. When he was around 10 or 11, the priest who ran the school called John into his office, and anally raped him. John went home and told his mother … who slapped his face hard and told him never to say such things about a priest. From that moment on, John was trapped: the priest made him into his sex slave, abusing the child in the rectory and elsewhere. “What could I do?” John said. “Nobody believed me. We were Irish Catholics. You didn’t question the priests in those days.”

John was ruined, morally, spiritually and psychologically by his abuse. As I said, he went on to become an alcoholic, and as an adult made priests his lovers. His initial abuser went on to become a famous and well-regarded figure in the Church, and died honored and beloved by the community.

An interesting thing happened to John not long before I left New York and lost touch with him. He’d heard that Father Zlatko Sudac, a Croatian priest was coming to town, a young man with a reputation as a mystic and a stigmatist. John went to see him on his last night leading a prayer service at a Catholic parish in the city. John hung at the very back and stayed quiet, observing. Toward the end, there was a long line of parishioners who wanted to receive Father Sudac’s blessing. John decided that he should too. As I recall his story, he was one of the last in line. He hadn’t talked to anybody there, and to his knowledge, no one at that parish knew him.

As he knelt and received the priest’s blessing, Father Sudac, who spoke no English, whispered something to his interpreter. The interpreter leaned over and whispered to John, “Father says to tell you that the Virgin says she was with you in the rectory, and suffered along with you. You were not alone.”

When John told me that story, he started crying. He didn’t cry because he thought, “If you were there, why didn’t you stop it?” He cried because he was now convinced that he had not suffered alone. God, and the Virgin Mary, had seen what happened. That was enough for John. He had begun to heal.

The story is stunning on so many levels, but strikes very close to home for me.

Because the parish where this occured is my own.

Fr. Sudac appeared at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills, Queens several years ago. Thousands came to the prayer service, braving a rainstorm and a parking nightmare, to see and hear the fabled mystic and stigmatist. He spoke no English, knew no one at the parish, and relied entirely on an interpreter. But at one point during the mass, he offered prayers and petitions for very specific problems and illnesses. People who attended the mass told me later they were stunned to hear him mention their circumstances. (“There is a little girl who has leukemia,” he would say. “She is in the hospital. In New York. Her mother is here with us. We pray for her and her little girl…”) Many who left that night felt comforted, and more than a few said they felt healed.

Rod Dreher’s friend “John,” it seems, had a lot of company.

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