Thursday, April 29, 2010

When Mary Wed Abby

(Celebrating Six Years Of Romantic Justice)

The water is wide, I can't cross over
And neither have I wings to fly
Build me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I

Once, long ago, they charted different courses and followed different stars as they sailed toward their destiny and ever closer to each other. Neither knew the other would appear along the way like a treasured companion once lost and now found, nor that all of us—a church filled with friends, relatives and well-wishers—would gather to celebrate and honor this love they had shared for seventeen years.

There is a ship and she sails the sea
She's loaded deep as deep can be
But not as deep as the love I'm in
I know not how I sink or swim

Theirs was a voyage and a love affair not embarked upon lightly. Two women whose intentions of the heart broke society's rules of acceptable behavior with each smile and tender thought that passed between them. Now, no longer guilty of some unnameable crime, no longer forced to hide their love as if it were shameful, no longer barred from rites and privileges held high and unreachable by a world so myopic it could only recognize the most ordinary of love's many guises, they came to our church to sanctify and solemnize their bond.

Oh, love is handsome and love is fine
The sweetest flower when first it's new
But love grows old and waxes cold
And fades away like summer dew

How the heart overflowed to see their faces lit with joy and, yes, the nervous uncertainty of brides. How like brass horns welcoming home a host of angels did the words of the brief ceremony cut through the darkness of our separate lives to feed our hungry spirits. We were there to celebrate life and love, and to bear witness to two lives joining as one. There was no place in this centuries-old sanctuary for fears or concerns about hateful people, peevish politicians or homophobic religious groups. Such negativity could not be kept at bay indefinitely, but it would not find itself a welcome guest at this particular wedding.

The water is wide, I can't cross over,
And neither have I wings to fly
Build me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I

Now they are wed. The two are joined as one. And the voyages they chart, the waters they navigate, will from this day forward be mapped out on a single axis. A few short years ago, no one could have predicted we'd gather today to celebrate their marriage, in a church that has seen marriage vows exchanged hundreds of times in its 329 years. And though something profoundly different happened this morning, something also remained profoundly unchanged. So that one day, perhaps, with the sharp vision hindsight often brings, it may seem less significant that two women were married this day than that love, once again, overcame all obstacles.

Build me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I
And both shall row, my love and I

Copyright ©2004 Paul Steven Stone
"Water is Wide," traditional lyrics

Next month we celebrate the sixth anniversary of legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. I wrote this commentary at that time to celebrate the wedding of two women who, after years of sharing their love on the fringes of society's acceptance, were now allowed to step openly into the center where all God's children belong. I am proud to live in Massachusetts where even in our imperfection we sometimes get it right. This was one of those times.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Church of Sacred Vampires

“Father Porter is coming!” a terrorized child would shout. Within seconds the hallways of St. Mary’s Grammar School would empty, its children fleeing in abject terror, knowing there was no one to protect them, no one to stand between them and a serial rapist and pedophile priest. A pedophile priest who loved to feast off their youth and innocence like a hungry vampire. A vampire who had been placed in their midst by a church seemingly, amazingly, shockingly unconcerned with their welfare.

A church that would move Father Porter from one parish to the next, from one hunting preserve to the next, for the next 14 years, putting hundreds of unsuspecting children within his sights and suddenly at risk.

Father Porter’s sexual crimes against children began before his ordination in 1959, but stepped up to epidemic levels in April 1960 when he was assigned to St. Mary’s Church and its parochial grammar school in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. By March 1964 he had been removed from his pastoral duties after molesting anywhere from 30 to 100 children—depending on whose estimates you believe—many of them repeatedly, some on a weekly basis.

After a year of treatment that included electro-shock therapy, Father Porter's cure was accepted as a matter of faith, his transgressions were forgiven, and he was reassigned to Sacred Heart Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he would molest another 28 children before being removed to a different parish in just a year’s time.

And on and on it sadly went…

These days, stories of the Catholic Church shielding and enabling pedophile priests are so common it is easy for the mind to focus on statistics—the tally of children violated, names of parishes afflicted, millions of dollars paid to victims—that we often lose sight of the nightmare the victims endured or the young lives that were destroyed one after another by one rapacious priest after another.

Imagine what it must have been like for 11-year-old Paul Merry to be fondled by Father Porter on a weekly basis for three years. Or to be viciously sodomized, as happened to an 11-year-old girl who tried to intervene in Father Porter’s rape of a six-year-old child. And think what a living hell life was for two hundred boys who were repeatedly molested in a Wisconsin school for the deaf. The priest this time was Father Lawrence Murphy, and he regularly violated defenseless deaf boys in his office, his car, on class excursions, at his mother’s country house, in the confessional and in their dormitory beds at night. There was no safe haven from Father Murphy, no “Get Out Of Hell Free” card for these deaf and vulnerable children of God.

Father Murphy, who was never charged with a crime or defrocked for his sins, had been promoted to run the school in 1963 even though students had complained about his predatory behavior back in the late 1950s. Documents show that three successive archbishops in Wisconsin were told of Father Murphy’s crimes against children but never reported it to criminal or civil authorities. Instead, the not-so-good Father was eventually transferred to the Diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin where he spent his last 24 years working unhindered with children in parishes, schools and even a juvenile detention center.

Anyone who reads a newspaper knows these events aren’t isolated, nor are they anomalies. Given the large number of children molested, the many years those crimes were kept hidden, the long list of bishops and cardinals involved in the cover-ups, the number of dioceses and countries affected, it’s shockingly clear the leadership culture of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church is corrupt. So corrupt it could foster the commission and concealment of unspeakable acts against two generations of children. So completely corrupt it would take outsiders and lawsuits and a rising sea of outrage to force the church to finally start valuing the safety of children over the privileges of priests.

When you read how blithely and indifferently the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church responded to the savaging of children by priests, when you watch with disbelief as archdiocese after archdiocese, country after country, joins the list of the vampire priests’ feeding grounds, you realize those who stand guard over the Vatican long ago abandoned Jesus’ precepts in order to protect and perpetuate their own power and privilege. Even when local church officials took action, as did Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee who asked his superiors to defrock Father Murphy, requests were almost uniformly met with an indifference that resonated all the way from the inner walls of the Vatican.

How strange then that this enabler of pedophile priests, this destroyer of childhoods and lifetimes, this institution too-tightly-held by the corrupters themselves to ever really change, should tell others how to live their lives, how to vote, who to like, what to think.

That these men who kept sacred the freedom and hunting privileges of priests who feasted on children could lecture the world on the inviolate rights of the unborn! What hypocrisy, what sham morality!

When will someone tell them they have lost their moral authority?

When will someone tell them they gave it up long ago on an altar of sacred vampires and broken childhoods?

And when will they ever change?

My apologies to any Roman Catholics who take offense at what I've said. My anger and disgust is not with them, nor with their religion, but with an institution that could so grievously abandon its responsibility to its flock. Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me." I can't imagine what he would have said about predator priests who cruelly suck the lifeblood and innocence from little children.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Candle For Those Who Never Give Up


On this Easter Sunday I light our chalice for all the resurrectionists in the world. The ones who always get back up after a fall…those who lose at love but stay in the game…those who lose their job and let that loss be the gateway to a new career…those who come back to their sport after a devastating injury. I especially light this chalice for those who experience losses of unimaginable impact—the death of loved ones, the loss of their retirement savings, the destruction of their homes, the taking of their freedom—yet who refuse to succumb to cynicism and despair.

I light this chalice to honor and recognize the unconquerable resilience of the human spirit.

The above words were spoken as I lit the chalice last Sunday at my Unitarian-Universalist church in Hingham, MA.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tales Of The Book Part Fourteen


Somewhere long ago he was once a child.

His world was a child’s world where adults towered over the landscape in a wondrous sort of mute majesty and rarely slowed down to listen to children.

Somewhere long ago he was a blueprint of the man he might one day become. A youthful creature brimming with untested strengths and unexplored depths. But he was also small, needful and, most of all, vulnerable. He had to trust that the giants in his world would provide for his needs. That they would nourish and care for him, and keep him safe from harm.

Somewhere long ago he was once a child. And as a child he saw the world through an innocent’s eyes. So, when an adult in that world, a parish priest, rose up like a menacing shadow to darken his life, he could only fall back on his limited experience to understand what was happening.

And there was no understanding.

There was only a child lost in confusion and fear. A child deeply hurt and frightened. A child surrounded by people but engulfed by a sense of isolation. A child who felt guilty rather than victimized, as if by questioning the actions of a priest—a man as close to God as any mortal could come—he himself had done something wrong.

Somewhere long ago he was once a child and used a child's logic to order his world. Thus, when he learned he could no longer trust adults to keep him safe, he did what he must to survive. He created boxes in his mind. Boxes to hold those things that frightened or angered or confused him. Boxes he could keep hidden. Hidden from the world, hidden from the priests, even hidden from himself.

In one box he placed his anger at his parents for not protecting him. In another he placed the memory of the innocence that had been taken from him. In another he placed his fear of intimacy, having seen what happens when you allow someone to come too close.

And in the largest box of all he placed himself, an eleven year old boy frozen in time. It was the only safe harbor that child would know.

Many years later the boy had grown into a man, and the boxes which had been buried in the darkness of his memory began to fall apart like broken dresser drawers. They would spill out their hazardous contents at the oddest moments. When he found himself standing outside a church. When he noticed how vulnerable his children seemed while asleep. When people who thought they knew him, told him how lucky he was to have the gifts he’d been given. Or whenever he felt threatened or frightened, like a little child hiding in a grownup’s body.

For many years those leaking boxes and their toxic seepage dominated the man’s life. They undermined his most intimate relationships, they kept him running from job to job, they sent him searching for relief in alcohol, drugs and an endless succession of mindless distractions. Worst of all, they unleashed on those he loved the pent-up fury of a rage that had been burning for most of his life.

Sitting there on the TV screen, somewhere on the other side of the continent, he talks to a reporter about his painful past and why, after all these years, he is finally confronting his demons and opening up his boxes. He is one of a number of men who are forcing the Catholic Church to face up to a pattern of almost bestial behavior by some of its priests. Forcing the church to acknowledge it had condoned crimes any civilized society would condemn as savage and depraved.

He is one of many such men who, like the lost boys of Neverland, never lived out their boyhoods but instead placed themselves, frozen in time, in their own inner boxes. And now the boxes are being open. The victims are telling their stories.

The healing has begun.

And the church, perhaps, is being dragged from its own peculiar set of closed and darkly hidden boxes.

But as he sits there at his kitchen table holding his five year old daughter in an unconscious protective embrace, I see more on the TV screen than the angry victim, the outraged reformer and the loving father.

I see the man whose blueprint—once tragically unrealized—was now coming to life. Resurrected after all those lost years. Hopefully to blossom, even with all the discovery and pain that still lay ahead.

For that blueprint, too, had been hidden inside a box.

Waiting for years in darkness.

Waiting to be uncovered and brought back to life.

Waiting for an eleven year old boy to whisper it was now safe to come out and play.

From "How To Train A Rock" by Paul Steven Stone, ©2009 Paul Steven Stone. It's somewhat sad and amazing to realize I had first written this essay in 2002 and yet today so much still remains to be uncovered, so many wait to be healed, and, most sadly of all, those responsible for enabling, condoning and ignoring these bestial acts remain protected and unpunished. Later in the week I hope to speak further about the culture of complicity and elitism that allowed hundreds of priests to prey like vampires upon thousands of helpless children across the vast expanse of decades and continents.