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Today’s podcast is full of fantastic resources, so make sure you check out everything in the list below! The extra-long introduction tiptoes around the essay topic because it’s a tough one. This week I found out my childhood priest was named in another Catholic sexual misconduct report. I’ve got all kinds of feelings around this news and I worked some of it out in writing. That’s today’s essay.
Our guest Jillian Richardson is the founder of The Joy List, a newsletter full of opportunities to make friends. Jillian is passionate about bringing people together and eradicating loneliness and I’m so glad there are people in this world like her. We chat about the inspiration behind her work (which involves adult summer camp!), the awkwardness of friend dates, and cultivating meaningful friendships that turn into chosen family.
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Shark in the Water
Last night, I clicked on an article shared by a high school friend on Facebook: another list of Catholic priests accused of sexual misconduct, but this time from the diocese where I grew up.
I skim the article, paying attention to the ones from my hometown. “There are a lot on this list,” I say to myself.
I inhale sharply when I find the name of my childhood priest. I read it several times to make sure my mind isn’t playing tricks on me.
Father Miller was like family, the cool priest, the one who played baseball and had a pool table in his basement. Sometimes he cursed. Sometimes he drank beer. He always let us pick the cherries from the trees in his yard. He seemed like a normal guy who just happened to have a direct line to God.
As a young, devout Catholic, I was honored to receive four of my six sacraments from him. He even performed my last rites in our living room before my back surgery, just in case.
I was an altar server for his Masses on the weekends. During the week, I had cheerleading practices in the church gymnasium. In 1998, he and my mom worked together to reopen the school.*
I was at church a lot. I was alone at church a lot. I was alone with him a lot. I feel like I dodged a bullet.
As I read the article, I’m bowled over by emotions I don’t understand or recognize. I’m unsure how to process them. There’s a weird sense of fear and relief in my gut. I feel like I spent my entire childhood in a pool with a hungry shark but only learned of its presence once I was safely out of the water.
I feel angry. So angry. And confused. Who else knew? Why weren’t we warned? How did he get so close to my family?
I’m also ashamed… ashamed that I wrote off sex abuse in the Catholic Church as just another reason the institution is fucked up but I hadn’t given much thought to the issue as an epidemic. But I’m so grateful to the woman who spoke out against him, who has helped me understand that this issue is greater than any one parish or diocese. It’s woven into the fabric of the modern Catholic Church itself.
To all the survivors of assault at the hands of priests and clergy, I’m so sorry. I always believed you but didn’t want to believe these stories were just a drop in the bucket, the tip of the iceberg. I’m sorry it took me this long to decide definitively to leave. I’m sorry I convinced myself it was just a few bad apples. I’m sorry I didn’t realize how ingrained this behavior is. I’m sorry I had to feel personally affected by the issue before I could comprehend the magnitude of it. If my boring parish and sleepy diocese were complicit in this behavior, then they all are.
My rage is mirrored by the thunder outside. As though God herself is verifying these truths I now feel in my gut, as though she supports a new chapter of my faith, away from the Catholic Church, as if telling me that the rage I feel is the first step to healing. It rains all night, baptizing me into a fresh start.
*His victim was quoted in the local paper
: “When Queen of Peace started the school, I got sick. I started throwing up. I thought, ‘My God, they’re future survivors,’ and I couldn’t forgive myself for a long time for not talking about it then.”