Since this is going to be a story about sex and children, let’s start with a bit of groping in the priests’ chamber.
I must have been 12. My confederates and I, all suited out in our little Scout uniforms–demure blouse, ribbon tie, sash of merit badges across the chest, jaunty tam-o’-shanter–were mustered in the rectory of St. John Gualbert’s, there to be investigated on our knowledge of and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. This was the last step toward our achieving a Catholic girl’s honor called the Marian Award. I remember the word “investigated.” I remember, too, sitting on the long bench, looking at the heavy draperies, the carved legs of the vast dining table, waiting my turn in the half-dark, feeling the gaze of the stripped and suffering painted Jesus behind me while, at the head of the table, our resolutely unmortified investigator began asking first one girl then another such questions as “Where do babies come from?” “What do you have between your legs?” “What do you have here?” laying hand on breast, and so on like that. Hmm, I thought, these were nothing like the sample questions in the manual I’d been reviewing for days. And what was he doing easing my friend up across his tumid belly and onto his lap? I’d never liked this priest. He was florid and coarse, with piggy eyes, a bald head and thick fingers that he’d run along the inside of the chalice after Communion, smacking his lips on the last drops of the blood of Christ. My mother didn’t teach me about sex–I don’t count the menstruation talk–but, without quite saying so, she taught me to regard authority figures as persons who had to earn respect. Obedience was rarely free, never blind. Time has stolen what this priest asked me, where, if anyplace, he touched me; I remember him stinking of drink is all, and myself standing schoolmarm straight and reciting, with the high-minded air I affected for such occasions, the statement I’d been preparing: “Father, I fail to see what that question has to do with the Marian Award. Girls, let’s go.” We escaped in a whirl of gasps and secretive giggles, rushing to telephone our Scout leader. I had no inclination to tell my mother, but most of the other girls told theirs, and soon the priest was relieved of child-related duties. We got our Marian medals without further investigation, and before too long the priest dropped dead in the street of a heart attack. Even now, as middle-aged men weep about the lifelong trauma inflicted by an uninvited cleric’s hand to their childish buttocks, I consider my own too-close brush with the cloth as just another scene from Catholic school.