I happened upon this story today. It’s an interview with Kerri Rawson, the daughter of the BTK serial killer Dennis Rader. Rawson talks about the trauma she experienced finding out who her dad was and what it’s like living with the knowledge. She also talks about how she would give anything to go back to that time when she had her dad (who is in prison for the rest of his life) and she didn’t know about his criminal past.
I experienced some of the same feelings as Kerri when I was coming to terms with who my perpetrator really is. I had known and admired him as a priest for several years before the destructive dynamic commenced. He was and still is a prominent, influential, well-loved member of my community. He’s both a wonderful, talented priest and a scoundrel and a predator.
I tell my kids that the most potent evil is the one that most closely mimics the good.
Disclaimer: I don’t condone or encourage violence to counter exploitation of women by priests. Nevertheless, I like the featured image. I like the spirit of courage and resistance it portrays. It’s a 16th century drawing by Lucas Cranach. It’s called “Uprising Women.”
I don’t know the original sentiments expressed by the writer of the song featured below. When I hear it I feel emboldened and strengthened to keep my footing and represent the truth against the corruption in the Church. It strengthens me.
I call him Fr. Phil. That’s not his real name, but the name I’ve given him: Fr. Phil Anderer.
Around the corner from the parish is an old two-door garage with stucco walls and corrugated metal doors. Father was there with his boat and his fishing buddy (henceforth called “Buddy”) the first time I met him. They were readying the boat for a trip and we were leaving after mass (if I remember correctly). Our children were enrolled in the parochial school and Father Phil was the out-going pastor; he only had a few weeks left in the parish. Father’s next job was to be the Regional Superior of his order. The religious order had just purchased the property next to our home and Father Phil was overseeing the transition of the property to a regional headquarters.
I saw Fr. Phil as we loaded the kids into our van and told my husband that we should drive over and introduce ourselves to our new neighbor. Father Phil and Buddy were on the passenger side of the van as we approached, so I rolled down my window and spoke to him.
“Are you Father Phil?”
He exchanged suspicious glances with Buddy and answered me with defensive body language and an aloof tone to his voice. “Yeah,” he replied sheepishly. He didn’t make eye contact. I thought that odd. I told him my name and the name of my husband and that we were his new neighbors. We were met with more defensive posturing. I thought to myself, “He seems to think we’re about to mug them.”
I explained that we owned the property next to the new regional headquarters. He recognized our last name and said, “I hear one of your children is a genius.” I felt at the time that Father was being flattering to create psychological distance. It made me uncomfortable.
Our first grader could already read when he started in the parochial school. He is in his twenties now and still very intelligent. I replied to his assertion about genius. “Perhaps. We are all gifted in some way, Father.”
He relaxed a little bit and smiled briefly. He was still avoiding eye contact. “Yes, we all have gifts.”
I told him welcome to the community and we left.
That incident has always seemed strange to me. Knowing him now (though with little contact in the last four years), I think he may have believed we were going to invoke some priestly obligation that might have interrupted or delayed his fishing trip. He has poor personal boundaries and will hide from an obligation or not show up to a promised meeting, but saying “no” face-to-face is not something he does. I can only guess why he felt defensive that day. I believe now that he’s a man of many secrets, so his comportment could have been motivated by many things.
Father told me years later in an unrelated conversation that he and Buddy had “borrowed” the money from the religious order to buy the boat. Father lives under professed vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. When he told me about the “loan,” Buddy had recently died of cancer (in the fall of 2015). Buddy’s part of the debt was left unpaid. Father wanted to sell Buddy’s old, dilapidated truck to my son to alleviate part of the debt. I said that wasn’t feasible.
The COVID-19 shutdown of churches has had its silver linings. Currently my diocese has dispensation from attending Sunday mass through the end of August. Mass attendance has not been obligatory in my diocese since mid-March.
Today is Sunday. Our family watched mass live streamed this morning while the kids bickered and fidgeted on the couch. I used to go to daily mass. Daily mass is available at a church within easy walking distance, but I don’t go with any regularity to any church any more. I do still watch mass live streamed most days.
In February I was out for my walk, something I try to do daily. It was actually several days into the suspension of all masses last March that I remembered my prayer as I walked that afternoon in February. I remembered distinctly discussing my disillusionment with God.
I made a request: “Lord, couldn’t I possibly have a break from going to mass and still be a faithful Catholic? I’m really sick of priests. There are people who live in the middle of Wyoming who don’t go to mass because they can’t. Is there some way to arrange that for me?” It was within weeks that mass became unavailable due to the pandemic. God came through for me.
We have been very fortunate with our employment situation and our charitable giving has risen sharply with the pandemic.
I do not enjoy wearing a hot face mask. I don’t like the restrictions on travel, loss of availability of service to which I am accustomed or products I normally buy. Restricted access to public recreation areas is a bummer. Then there’s the looming threat of illness. Nevertheless, I have been grateful to be relieved of the obligation to attend mass for the last three months.
I’m doing my best to stay in the present and not worry about what I will do as the end of August approaches. I might need to go back to mass to be considered a faithful Catholic. My husband expects it of me if the dispensation is not extended. I want to be a faithful Catholic; I just don’t want to have to be in the same place with a priest.
Some things about the pandemic are okay with me. Some things about the coronavirus even feel paternal and secure, like they’re protecting me. It’s worth considering that a deadly virus feels more sympathetic to me than the Church.