“You have to ask yourself,” the hospital priest said to me, “what you did to bring this upon yourself.”
His words shamed me, and immediately I felt the crushing weight of responsibility on my chest. The color rose in my cheeks, and I was tearing up.
“But, they arrested him…” I began, lamely trying to defend myself from a second attack I was not prepared for, one I had not expected in the least.
“God will deal with him as he sees fit. Just as God knows what you did to bring this on yourself, and only He can judge your actions. If you do not forgive him God will hold it against you on Judgement Day. What you hold on Earth will be held against you in Heaven.”
I could not believe what I was hearing, propped up in a hospital bed at Saint Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, California, in May of 1980, just days after an emergency operation to remove my appendix, which burst as the surgeon removed it.
The night before an orderly had raped me, incorrectly assuming I was sedated. When he realized I wasn’t tranquilized he panicked, and shoved my head face-down into a pillow. When I stopped struggling he left the room, assuming the worst, and continued his duties.
I did nothing – paralyzed in fear, playing dead. I laid in that bed at the age of 16, certain he would come back and finish the job.
Finally, I could hear heels clacking on the tile floor, and knew it wasn’t him. It was the mother of my roommate – another 16-year-old girl, but one who had gotten her sleeping shot – who came back from dinner to check on her zonked-out daughter one final time for the night.
I lifted my face out of the pillow, gasping in cool delicious air, daring to hope.
“Hello?” I called out to the woman on the other side of the divider, “I… I think I was molested by the orderly…”
“My god…” the woman gasped as she came over, “Then Cheryl was telling the truth about him last night?”
Can we please stop pretending that the Catholic Church hasn’t known about the multitude of sexual predators in their midst going back to forever? Can we stop acting surprised?
Pope Francis’ statement about the *latest* revelation that the Catholic Church is rife with sexual predators who prey on and abuse minors is standard Catholic bullshit:
“I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics”.
Blah, blah, blah.
You know what will Change? Dick all.
Absolutely nothing will happen, except a few old transphobic men wearing dresses will pretend to be shocked and outraged – and I guaran-fucking-tee you that as I put these words to long overdue paper that someone, somewhere within the church is at this very moment abusing a child – and NOTHING will be done.
Forever and Ever, Amen.
I grew up in the Catholic Church, and our parish was Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Sun Valley, California, in the eastern San Fernando Valley. My brothers attended school there until the nuns who were teaching primary school voted to stop wearing a full habit, and were disappeared by the church one weekend.
The Church had no concerns that the full habit the nuns were forced to wear in non-airconditioned classrooms in Southern California were causing them to pass out from heat exhaustion. It did not matter that the priests could dress in clothes appropriate to the climate or the activity. The Church demanded these women continue to wear voluminous clothing indistinguishable from the chadors that ‘Good Christians’ despised Muslim women wearing. They came to school one week wearing modest dresses, and faced the fury of parishioners rabid at the notion their children had been exposed to the arms and calves of a woman who has sworn herself to celibacy.
People openly made jokes about rapist priests and not being alone with Father Pick, a man who was first accused of raping a child in 1947, and whose last assignment was Holy Rosary when he ‘retired’ in 1969. Father Pick left in ignominy, a sloppy drunk who groped the alter boys, including one of my brothers.
The entire parish tut-tutted about Father Pick before he was forced to leave, but those things were just to be accepted. Use the buddy system around Father Grab-Ass.
But, a nun speaking up for their human rights or refusing to put Church over health? Well, now, THAT was something people could whip themselves into frenzies of outrage about.
How DARE these women married to Jesus give a thought to their own health or comfort!!
The congregation of hypocrites came to a critical mass on the weekend of the annual school fund-raiser Fiesta when one of the nuns wearing a dress that brushed her knees, and short-short sleeves on a hot June Saturday night, was caught swaying to the music, and even moved her arms a bit.
After mass the next morning there were knots of indignant parishioners clucking their tongues, and demanding *something* be done about these shameless hussies.
By Monday morning they were gone. Disappeared in the middle of the night. Replaced by various parents who did their best to hold the classroom down until someone acceptable – someone who wouldn’t dance or show their arms – could be secured. Their replacements were humorless nuns with varying grasps of the English language. The important thing was they would keep wearing medieval garb and take orders unquestionably from men they knew to be drunkards and pedophiles.
My brothers were moved to public school shortly after that, and the school never recovered its reputation or the quality of teachers they had before reinforcing the Catholic truth that nuns are chattel.
That episode is what saved me from having to be brainwashed in a school setting by a misogynistic cult that approves of child predation.
Make no mistake, the ‘modern’ Church is no different.
Pope Frankie is no friend of the children – not by a long shot. Never forget he allowed Cardinal Bernard Law to die in Rome, unscathed by the sex abuse scandal over which he presided, and unable to be extradited to face the consequences of his actions.
I mean – the whole reason Pope Benedict stepped down (itself an unprecedented scandal) and Frankie became Pope was because Ol’ Benny just simply didn’t want to deal with the Boston scandal. Which is different from the Los Angeles scandal, which is different from the Philippine Scandal, and the Irish Scandal and the Canadian scandal…
Forever and Ever, Amen.
I don’t know why this iteration of the Catholic Church pretending to be shocked about the child rape they encourage is the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. But, it is, and I’m speaking out now, and I’m speaking out Loud.
I realized that my silence about what happened to me is a sort of complicity.
I was threatened into silence by being told I would go to hell if I didn’t keep my mouth shut about what I brought upon myself.
They did SUCH a good job at shaming me into silence that it was only last night that I told my 30-year-old son what had happened to me.
30 years and he never knew that before I had a driver’s license a man raped and tried to kill me – in a hospital bed.
How does that happen?
Father Rick was a sensation at Holy Rosary. He arrived in 1973, a young man of 28, full of ideas to engage the young people in the parish. He started a Youth Group, and a Folk Mass on Sunday afternoons that quickly became more popular than Father O’Donohue’s still-drunk-from-the-night-before rambling sermons during morning mass.
Father Rick was dynamic, and engaging. He knew how to work a crowd. One blistering summer afternoon shortly after he arrived, as the congregation was turning into puddles, he got up for the sermon. Surveying the crowd he said, “It’s too hot for you to listen to me pontificate. The moral of my sermon is ‘A House Divided Against Itself Will Not Stand’. Let Us Pray.” With that, we moved on to Communion, and finished mass 20 minutes early.
Another time he regaled the parishioners with a story from his college days. About the time before he’d dedicated his life in full to God and the Church. He was at a county fair with a few friends and he saw a lithe, young, blond woman, and pursued her down the Midway. When he finally got close enough to talk to her she turned around, only for him to find it was a young, bearded man with very long hair. Moral of the story: Things aren’t always as they seem.
Father Rick visited me in St Joe’s when I had my tonsils out, and brought a half gallon of Rocky Road ice cream (my favorite) for my recovery at home. He loaned me The Chronicles of Narnia, and let me hang all over him.
He took my brothers to the batting cage, and I remember the afternoon my mother and I came home from an interview for a commercial to find all of my brothers gone with Father Rick to the driving range. His black cassock hung up in the doorway between the living room and the hall. Something about seeing his clothes in my home set off alarm bells in 10-year-old Me. But, my mother laughed heartily as she pinned a note to the garment that said, “Who left this lovely black dress for me?” When we got home from the store he had written an answer on the note, which he’d left on the kitchen counter: “It goes well with pearls.”
Father Rick was disappeared like the nuns were. One Sunday he was just gone, and a strange priest with a strained smile was there to conduct the service.
The Youth Group swore it was jealousy that caused Father O’Donohue to banish him from the parish. Other people claimed he’d had an affair with a married female congregant. What ever the case, my appeals to the priests to tell me where he’d been sent were fruitless. I needed to return The Chronicles of Narnia – they didn’t belong to me.
One day I called the Rectory and asked the woman who answered the phone if she knew where Father Rick was. I was still searching for my hero.
She put the phone down, and I could hear a conversation between the lay-woman who had answered and a male voice. She asked if he knew where Father Rick had been sent, and he told her Gardena, but that she was not to pass that information along to any of the congregants. She gave me the brush-off, but I had the information I needed.
I used the giant Los Angeles phone book, and searched for Catholic churches in Gardena. I could scarcely believe my luck when I called the Rectory at St Anthony’s, asked for Father Rick, and was told to hold on while he was told he had a call.
“Father Rick?” I asked breathlessly. “It’s ME. Claudia.”
“Claudia Lamb, from Holy Rosary,” I gushed. “You loaned me The Chronicles of Narnia and I need to return them! You left without saying goodbye!”
As I caught my breath to continue he hung up on me.
I heard the Bakelite receiver clatter in the cradle for a moment before the line went dead. There was no question in my young mind that he’d intentionally stuffed the phone in my ear – I could hear it. I was crestfallen that my hero had deemed me unworthy and had banished me from his world.
In writing this piece I accessed a database of priests in Los Angeles accused of sexual abuse between 1930 and 2003. I was curious what I would find about the church in which I was raised.
Besides Holy Rosary hosting a rapist priest in the late 1950s, and letting Father Grab Ass Pick run the place for 6 years, I found that Father Rick was a horrible, terrible predator whose acts were SO egregious the Catholic church defrocked him after he spent 8 years in prison for only ONE of his crimes. Do you know how AWFUL you have to be to get defrocked from the Catholic Church?
He was defrocked, but not before the Church did their damnedest to protect that monster in human form.
Father Rick Henry lasted 13 months at his first assignment, and 15 months at his next, which was Holy Rosary. The Catholic church simply bounced him to a new parish when he was caught raping little boys. He worked in 6 parishes in his first 14 years as a priest, and by 1980 he had a little boy living in his home on the weekends, with the okay of the boy’s parents.
He’d been grooming my brothers when he was shipped of to Gardena to attack a fresh crop of unsuspecting boys.
Henry went to prison for 8 years in 1993, after the church shielded him multiple times at ‘treatment’ centers and retreats. It’s a pity those treatment centers aren’t available for the people whose lives he ruined.
Even though Rick Henry was defrocked and the Mother Church turned her back on him, he only went to prison for ONE crime. All of the people whose lives were shattered and he faced just the one charge. It took 25 years and a prison term for the Catholic Church to FINALLY say Henry was not fit to minister to the public. Even then, when they forced him into the laity, the Archbishop offered prayers of support to the erstwhile Father Rick.
You can imagine my complete lack of surprise when I found out that the predecessor to the priest at St Joe’s who sat and coolly told me I’d go to hell if I didn’t forgive the man who raped and tried to kill me, had himself been a sexual predator.
Of course he was.
Of course he was.
I wonder how many other people were raped in Saint Joseph’s in Burbank? I wonder how many of my friends in the neighboring parish of Saint Genevieve were molested by the multiple priests and Monseigneurs (7, I think) who were sued and arrested for molesting boys there in the 1970s and 80s?
I wonder how many people will read this and say, “That’s terrible, but not MY priest.”
Here’s the thing: Yes, your priest.
They’re ALL in on it – all of them.
The priests all know who the abusers are, and they choose to stay silent, close ranks and deal with it ‘in house’. They’ve been doing it for centuries.
These reports about sexual abuse that pop up every few years that involve thousands of children and hundreds of priests? They’re not scandals.
Let me repeat: They are NOT scandals.
The rape and violence, and threats and shaming to keep quiet about them go back centuries in the Church. They are not anomalies or scandals: This behavior is part of the very fabric of the institution. They are what make the Church what it is.
You know what? Shame and threats from a person in a position of power work.
Why else would it take 30 years to tell my son about something terrible that happened to me when I was a child?
Why else would it take nearly 40 years for me to stand up and say, “I was raped in a Catholic hospital when I was 16, and the girl next to me was, too. The man who raped me tried to kill me – and the Catholic church hushed it up. He served less than 7 months in jail only because the prosecutor refused to let it go, and everyone from the priests to my parents told me never to tell a soul – not even to testify against the man who tried to take my life.”
Well, screw that. No more silent complicity.
My name is Claudia Lamb, and I survived the Catholic Church.
Forever and Ever, Amen.