It’s only been a little over two years since I started this path of writing poetry. I write, of course, about things that register with me, usually in some emotional way: growing up gay in the time and place I did, my mother and her death, getting older, being more aware of impermanence, my meditation practice, my long term relationship, etc. When the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal first started getting widespread media attention, I did not know what to make of it. It felt disturbing and close to home, but I didn’t quite know how. I knew that a teacher at my all-boys Catholic high school had molested one of the only friends with whom I have stayed in touch over the decades. I did not know how else it all had touched me. I had not explored how growing up in the environment that “housed” such abuse may have affected me, even though I was not sexually abused in any physical way. I started learning a lot, and wrestling with lots of my own feelings.
I discovered that one of the parish priests who trained me as an altar boy, and with whom I often served Mass, was a perpetrator. I read some documents about his particular case that the courts forced my old diocese to release. I recalled some of his verbal behavior with me in the confessional that I am now pretty sure fits the category of abusive. I recalled a conversation with my mother that was about him. On Calvary Hill is about all that. It is the second poem that has made it to press about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It is in five parts, two of which are “found poems” with wording taken directly from all those documents. That poem will be out soon, with eight other poems, in the July 2014 edition of Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry.
New Verse News in February of this year, published Defrocking. NVN is an online journal and you can find my poem here: http://newversenews.blogspot.com/2014/02/defrocking.html. In many ways, it has a similar focus to On Calvary Hill, but not as much of a narrative poem, more political, and mostly has an angry and sarcastic edge.
I have other poems in various stages that focus on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. I hope that one or two of them will see the light day in publication. I am making this blog entry because I spent some time today working on one of those poems. I am often as left in a certain mental and emotional space after working on writing in the area. I thought sharing that might be of some use to others. I feel some anger, often less at individuals and more at the Church culture and system. I feel sorta sick to my stomach too and like I want to take a shower and get clean. But in the middle of all that, I feel better about myself—I often do when writing anything personal—like I am affirming that what I have experienced and have to say is indeed viable, real, worthy. When writing in this area, it feels like that sense of affirmation holds some extra power. I think for me it is saying that even though my damage was “collateral” so to speak, I too survived growing up Catholic at a time when sexual abuse was hidden but pervasive. It feels good to say, hopefully with some poetic grace and power—all that was pretty sick stuff and that’s where I spent a lot of my boyhood.