“We Irish Think Otherwise.” Bishop Berkely
“The Annunciation” by Fra Angelico
Secrets of the Confessional
(For Pope Benedict XVI)
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
It has been one week since I last
confessed and I have disciplined
that sin of peeking of the past,
but a friend had a picture book,
and I confess, I took a look.
Were these dirty pictures, my son,
girls, or boys with their pants undone?
(I’m thinking why would anyone
want to look at school boys undone
since he can see them every day
in the boys’ gym at towels’ play?
I began to see the priest had
more ideas of being bad
than I ever had and could teach me
how to flesh out his fantasy,
suggesting sins I could commit
or was too ashamed to admit.)
Poetry is not fiction, and the incident presented above actually happened to me in confession in Los Angeles at the age of eleven–before I quit the Church for Good (and I mean that literally) at the age of thirteen. I still remember my feelings of shock and wonder why anyone would want to look at pictures of naked or exposed young boys. The priest seemed quite interested in the act of confession as a kind of phone sex in which he asked me if I looked at pictures of boys, touched them “down there,” or touched myself “immodestly.”
At the time the boys in the schoolyard had invented a game called “Squirrels” in which they grabbed one another in the crotch and yelled “Nuts!” Being a philosophically inclined child, I remember wondering why they were always talking contemptuously about queers, but liked to grab one another’s nuts.
The tough Mexican pachuco who dominated the alpha male hierarchy of the seventh grade liked to brag about his seven inch cock, so we all began to take our school rulers home to see how we measured up to his standard. He also stole cars to impress us with his daring. As the best student with the highest grades in the class, I was, of course, beaten up, first by him, and then by his Aide-de-Camp. Ireland may have been “the Land of Saints and Scholars,” and is what E. R. Dodds called “a Guilt Culture,” but Mexico is a “Shame Culture” in which you are to identify with the students and their leaders, and not the teachers. Excelling beyond the group, except in athletics, is an act of group disloyalty. So I was asking for it when I was attracted to scholarship and learning.
I remember one day, his lieutenant got my Irish up and I exploded in a fury and beat him up. For this, I gained the respect of the pachuco—the word Anglos used for Mexican rat-pack gang members in the nineteen-fifties—and I was granted permission to exist. He was, after all, more powerful than the priests or the nuns in our parochial school; they might occasionally terrorize us, but he really terrified us. In recognition of his status, he had as his consort the pretty girl I liked, Marion—who at eleven already had full breasts. She, however, was only for him, but she would allow a schoolyard game in which you could push your fist slowly into her stomach which would cause her to stick her breasts farther and farther out toward you. Their fifties pointy bra-enhanced shadow covered my toes and my soul.
I also remember at our first school dance in the seventh grade that Archbishop (later Cardinal) J. Francis Macintyre dramatically appeared and shut it down because he was shocked to see us all dancing so close. Coeducation had consequences that had to be stamped out.
So the priest’s interest in boys puzzled me in the confessional, since precisely because of coeducation I liked girls for all the obvious reasons, but also because they were allowed to be smart and get good grades, so you could actually talk to them. Guys at school never talked, they just shared primate identity-signals about sports teams, the best cigarettes, or getting their “first”–all to be cool and gain status. At home, after Sunday mass, my two older brothers and I would have long philosophical discussions with our Dad about whether God really existed, or whether Truman was a good President.
I was also interested in girls because I had no sisters at home but did have an Irish Catholic mother who was embarrassed at any talk of sex or reference to those body parts. I did not learn about the facts of life from her or my Dad, who lazily commissioned my older brother to explain the facts of life to me. My brother in his embarrassed efforts to explain sexual intercourse neglected to inform me that a woman had a vagina, because at 16 he didn’t really know all that much about sex himself. A year later at the age of twelve, after the unpleasant task of explanation was out of the way, my Protestant Scots-Irish father confided that if we were still doing things the right way that they used to do in the farmlands of rural Indiana when he was a boy, he would have taken me to his favorite whore and asked her to break me in. The alternative to the Catholic cosmology of sex and the Fall was the Protestant Enlightenment’s initiation into sex in a whore house. I didn’t get it, because I liked girls and just wanted to find out about sex with them.
To my knowledge at the time, no priest at Immaculate Conception School actually molested anyone, and the main sin of my group of altar boys was drinking the unconsecrated wine in the sacristy when the priest wasn’t around. Although no priest fondled or fellated me, I would still call the whole system of a Catholic education organized child abuse–of body, but especially of mind.
When I was seven and eight, I lived in a Catholic military boarding school all year round, summers included. When we moved from Chicago in 1945, there were no apartments in Los Angeles that were willing to take in noisy small children, so I was packed off to what was in effect a Catholic orphanage, where I was allowed to see my parents from 2:00 to 4:00 on Sunday afternoons after Mass. The school was run by a shell-shocked Major from World War II, who had a paddle with holes in it so that it would scream like falling bombs in the movies before it struck you. The other punishment–usually for fighting, insolence, or outright insubordination–was to stand in a uniform of collar and tie in the hot Southern California sun for the five hours between lunch and dinner. Children often fainted. I obeyed and was given holy cards, but I developed eczema and other psychosomatic allergies from life in that miserable penal colony.
I lived in a large dormitory of forty beds that was policed by a large scowling nun, who had a thick strap belt with which she would hit you on the calves or hands for slight infractions such as talking in ranks or talking back. She stood like a bouncer at a club by the open door of the boy’s room, and if you looked down at your penis in the fallen act of urination, she would yell: “Don’t look down. It’s evil!” Even at seven, I began to question the One True Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by thinking to myself: “What am I supposed to do, pee on my shoes!?”
The Pope and the College of Cardinals and all the Pope’s Bishops would like us to believe that all the thousands of reported cases of child abuse are just the cases of a few bad apples. But let’s do a little thought experiment to test this official theory.
Imagine that you are creating an institution in which you first exclude women because they are the source of the Fall and the presence of evil in the world. Then create for this institution a special faculty of priests who are not allowed to have any sexual relations whatsoever and certainly not with these evil women. Sex with women was like the fall of the soul into matter. Then further imagine that these special men get to wear long skirts called soutanes, and that the best of them get promoted and are allowed to wear lovely skirts with purple sashes, and for the best of the best, flaming taffeta dresses with lovely white lace negligees and the most gorgeous jewelry and costly accessories. And, best of all, these privileged men are granted a cadre of young choristers with angelic, unchanged voices and a following of assistants of young altar boys. What kind of people do you think would be attracted to such an institution?
Not the organ answering Job out of the whirlwind,
nor the tiny pointed notes of the harpsichord–
metallic and discrete as knights in armories
unfurled and elevated above the clubbed blood
of churlish battle or bones struck on mammoth skulls,
nor the sun’s arteries drained in stained-glass truncheons;
bound in cassocks to their claustral occulted place
where priestly functions anoint the choir boys’ throats
in Borborite eucharist older than the Mass,
cherub buttocks lean on the misericord’s hard love
tangled in wings of the dove and coils of the snake
that soon break sunset’s shaft on the rising full moon;
but now the pianoforte in thundering halls
breaks the hold in revolution’s noisy applause.
So the God’s Truth is that the One True Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is in its deepest essence an institution built on the hatred of women camouflaged by its adoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary–she of the Immaculate Conception. From Mary Magdalene on, the control of women and families has been through fabricated doctrine. In my extended family, one woman was warned by her doctor that if she had another child with her failing kidneys, she would either die of renal failure or go insane from uremic poisoning. She consulted her priest in the confessional, who told her it was god’s will and she had to have the child– the same priest who before had told her birth control was evil. She spent the rest of her life in an insane asylum.
To run an institution like the Catholic Church, you first have to promote this alienated class of men so that they can take charge of women and families through its control of sexuality. Next you have to take charge of history, and fabricate a myth of apostolic succession upon which to found your claim to a higher authority. To accomplish this Stalinist task of rewriting history, the early Church fathers rejected any documents they didn’t like, especially those like The Gospel of St. Thomas that showed that Jesus recognized the sacrality of women. A century or more after Jesus, they constructed Gospels that they doctored up to say were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and dismissed all the others as Apocrypha or Gnostic heresies.
In the early years of Anno Domini, the standard practice to gain authority for a text was to sign it with the name of a famous personage; thus we have the angelology of the Pseudo-Dionysus. Once Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon had constructed an orthodox canon by eliminating the Gnostics, the Church moved on to consolidate its institutional structures of power. Although the legendary Jesus was said to be a simple man of no fixed address and a wardrobe of one seamless robe, the Church Fathers created an institution of hierarchy and palaces for Bishops and Popes who would sit on thrones and give sermons about the virtues of poverty.
So it is not a case of a few rotten apples in the bushel; the whole institution is rotten at the core. To be sure, there are good folks in the Church doing good work in spite of the Vatican and the Hierarchy, and who sincerely believe that Catholicism is the religion of Christ and not simply the religion about Christ. But what we are experiencing in all the reports of child abuse now is a new revelation in which we must indeed regain the innocence of little children before they were indoctrinated by the Church if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Once Isis and Osiris was the religion of a Magnus Annus in the zodiacal precession of the equinox, then it was Jesus and Mary for the age of Pisces. Now in this new millennium, we are experiencing the cultural evolution from religion to a personal spirituality in which the unique mind learns how to immerse itself in the Universal Mind through a process of meditation: no churches, mosques, or temples needed.
In evolution, both natural and cultural, nothing ever disappears, it is simply incorporated into a larger structure. Ancient mitochondria still exist, but they are now part of the larger and more complex eukaryotic cell. So paganism did not disappear, but was incorporated into the magical rituals and relics of the Catholic Church, and pagan gods like Brigid were transformed into saints. Prehistoric shamanism is still being practiced, so I don’t expect to see the Catholic Church fade entirely away like the withering of the state in the Marxist utopian fantasies of communism.
At the present moment, the Catholic Church is in denial, lashing out at the New York Times and other media for exposing it, and closing ranks to defend the Pope: all of which is precisely the kind of behavior that got it into trouble in the first place with a philosophy of “protect the Church, not the children.”
For the Catholic Church to survive its current global crisis, I do believe a second Reformation will be needed and require a demotion of the infallible Pope as the singular Vicar of Christ on Earth to simply the human and fallible Bishop of Rome, a Bishop who would co-exist in a Christian ecology of mind in which the Bishops of the Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Celtic, Anglican, Greek and Russian Orthodox, and American Episcopal Churches were all recognized as equals. As in the case of the American Episcopal Church, priests should marry and women should be admitted to the priesthood, with celibacy reserved for nuns and monks. Since I don’t expect this Pope and College of Cardinals, or any future Pope and College, ever to be willing to demythologize its pretensions to authority through its fictitious doctrine of the apostolic succession, I expect they will continue as they are, and Catholics such as I will simply leave and move on to “fresh woods and pastures new.”
In Matthew 6:5-6, we are counseled not to pray and proselytize on street corners to impress our fellows, but to go into our closet and pray in secret to our Father in Heaven. In a personal and contemplative spirituality we learn how to quiet the linguistic prattle of the fidgeting monkey mind, and to follow the words of Psalm 46:10 , “Be still and know that I am God.”
A parking cop marks the tires
with chalk before he writes a ticket
for the over-stayed residents of time.
I marked out Portland with poems
as I prepared to move on in.
Impermanence is good for Buddhists.
We Judeo-Christians need to nail
down time to God, after all we
crucified Christ in Jerusalem
and Christianity in Rome.