I remember the evening my childhood died. It was cold and just before Christmas; the lights were strung up on storefronts. Far across the parking lot, I could hear the ding-dings from a Salvation Army bell in front of the K-Mart. A pay phone rang, and I reached for the receiver. Thereafter, the lights all around began to bleed.
My father used to take our growing family to Pappy’s Pizzeria for its two-for-one Tuesday-night pizza special. Pappy’s had a piano that played by itself and a large glass window that kids pressed their faces up against to admire the pizza-tossers.
Thirty steps away from Pappy’s was Foos Fun, a small arcade that offered a dozen or so pinball machines and an air hockey machine. It was tradition for my siblings and me to spend a few minutes at the arcade before the pizzas were ready.
A pay phone was situated between the two establishments. Strangely, on this December night, it was ringing. As a curious eight-year-old boy, I must have thought, Why would a pay phone ring? I reached for the receiver.
I stood by myself in the cold when a man’s voice on the other line verbally raped me — not that I knew what that meant. He used words, terms, and descriptors I didn’t understand, but he was quick to teach me for the next several minutes. The voice started our one-way conversation by telling me he was looking directly at me, and that I was a beautiful boy.
The pizzas were on the table, but I was still on the phone. One of my siblings came out to tell me the pizzas were ready. I forced myself to meekly put the phone back on the receiver. In from the cold, I told no one what happened, and sat in Pappy’s wooden booth like a boy in a graveyard at midnight. Nothing was ever the same.
Many years later, when the greatest crisis of the Church hierarchy in Catholic American history became known in the summer of 2018—Theodore McCarrick’s depravity, the cover-ups detailed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, a deluge of reports of an immense homosexual Catholic clergy culture, and of serial predation at seminaries in Chile, Honduras, and Argentina—I felt the part of the boy I once was at the payphone. That voice spoke again. Everything became blurry, and nothing would ever be the same. I would never regard the Catholic Church in the same way.
Continue reading at Crisis Magazine