Yesterday had started innocently enough.
I had dreamt about an old high school teacher and wondered if he was still alive. Notable in my brain was a previous time I had dreamt about an old high school teacher, done an Internet search and discovered that she had passed a month prior. The one I had dreamt of the night before was a favorite teacher of mine, and I dreaded to hear the worst, but at the same time, sometimes you have to know, you know?
I never did find out. In the process of trying to discover whether this teacher was still living, I grew desperate. I found a reference to “a” person of that name, without the “Brother” attached to his name; had he left his order? Was it the same person? I didn’t know, so I kept looking. My next attempt was to search on the name of his order, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who ran my high school in Maine.
Then I found it. Someone I knew from high school — not the teacher I had dreamed of, but the chaplain and guidance counselor — had been accused of sexually assaulting one of the teenage boys in his care.
At a previous assignment. In fact, at the assignment right before his transfer to my school.
Did they know? When they transferred him from New Hampshire to Maine, did they know he was a sex offender?
But truthfully, that wasn’t my first reaction. No, that was shock.
This man had said Mass for us students at every holiday, every holy day of obligation, every school function at which it was customary for us to attend Mass as a student body. In my junior year, I had seen him on more than one occasion seeking his advice in his capacity of guidance counselor. When he left our school in 1984 (to go back to his previous assignment, incidentally), I’m pretty sure I gave him a hug. I cared for him. It was hard not to see him as a father figure.
I couldn’t believe that, of all people, he could be guilty.
But the truth is I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was inevitable, wasn’t it? Somewhere along my 18 years of attending Catholic Mass faithfully, twelve of those eighteen spent in Catholic schools, it was inevitable that SOMEONE I knew would be guilty of something. That’s why I had made it a point of not doing that search. “I don’t want to know,” I told myself firmly. And I wasn’t wrong. I DON’T want to know this. But here it is, where I can’t avoid it.
I’ve been crying at random intervals; having a hard time getting to sleep; asking Aset to take me in Her arms for only a moment, to give me some much-needed comfort. And She helped me last night; I’m sure it was because of Her that I was able to get any sleep at all.
And now here we are, my husband and I on vacation in another city, with me trying to process emotions that I can barely understand where they come from or why they are there. He didn’t abuse ME. I don’t even know if I know anyone who was abused, by him or any other Catholic figure from my past. Yet I still feel betrayed. Bitterly, horrendously betrayed.
Did anyone know? If so, why did they transfer him to my school, where he could (potentially) do more damage? If not, why didn’t they know? Shouldn’t they have known?
Is this really the way you treat the students in your care? Does anyone think this is responsible behavior?
And yet, the offender passed away twenty years ago. (The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Report came out five years later.) His karma is none of my business. He’s met his fate, one way or the other.
You know how there are some things that you gain clarity on only if they hit you squarely in the face? Like having to evacuate because of a hurricane; now I know exactly how everyone who has to evacuate their home, without ever knowing if they will come back to find everything safe or utterly destroyed, feels. The same thing is happening here.
A few years ago, I tried to let go of my anger and wish all parties luck in resolving things. Now? I’ll let you know; I’m still working that out.