Can’t remember the circumstances that brought Father Kevin to our house but I was thrilled to bits.
I would have been about 16, it was after school and the parents weren’t home from work yet. Having a priest visit you at home was really something and I’d imagined how special I would feel at school the following day when I told everyone that Father Kevin stayed for tea and had a beer with my father.
In a school full of O’Briens, O’Neills, McDougals and McGuires we immigrant types were somewhat on the outer. Just about everyone of Irish origin had a priest or brother in the family. They filled up the church pews on Sundays, perfect families who prayed together and stayed together and played golf and tennis.
The nuns loved those families, especially if they made substantial donations to the church — like new carpet for the altar, that sort of thing — and singled out the kids for praise during class.
Priests were incredibly special. They were vicars of Christ in the sense that they took Christ’s place on earth and had a hotline to heaven. Priests and Christ were more or less interchangeable.
Father Kevin was young and a somewhat confusing pin-up boy for teenage girls. You knew you could not talk about him in the same way as you could about Mick Jagger.
Anyhow, my father came home and was rude to Father Kevin. It was the way he glared and barely shook the priest’s hand before stomping out to water the tomatoes.
I was mortified. Why, why, I ranted later, why have you ruined my life once again?
All my father would say was that priests had no business hanging around young girls.
It seemed at the time that my family wasn’t doing much to help us blend in. Okay, we could never pass as Irish Catholic but we were of the One True Church. They could have done much more to make us look like good Catholics, but it seemed that effort was beyond them.
After particularly terrifying sermons of hell fires awaiting people who missed Mass on Sundays I would run home crying to my mother. You won’t go to heaven because you are committing a mortal sin, I’d blubber.
Rather than putting on a hat and going to Mass like the other mothers, she said that God knew that she was a good woman and didn’t need to see her at church every Sunday.
Apart from weddings and funerals they only went at Christmas and Easter, my father squeezed into his best suit and perched in the last pew so he could sneak out and gossip with the other immigrant blokes who were doing the same thing.
My grandfather was worse. He didn’t even bother with Christmas and Easter.
I used to hear him rant about the priesthood during his many political discussions with mates. I have no idea what part of European history he was referring to or what the priests did. But whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
Although they supported the One True Church, my family separated priests from God. God was in his heaven and you did not bother him too much unless there was trouble. Priests were paid to do certain work but they were men with the foibles of men.
My family knew stuff too. In fact everybody in their village knew things. Ask my mother about the village priests and she’ll tell you about the one who got his housekeeper pregnant, and the one who was stripped naked and rolled in nettles by the village boys after discovered behaving inappropriately with a young man, and the one that slapped women in church and denied them Communion if he’d seen them out and about wearing lipstick. There were good ones too, the ones she calls real gentlemen.
I think about this a lot as the church gets into more trouble about the behaviour of its clergy, and I think about my friend Patrick who wrestled with a priest.
Pat came from a family where priests were revered. Undoubtedly a lot of clergy deserved the honour but certainly not the one who came to eat dinner at Pat’s family home. This priest took a fancy to 13-year-old Pat, and because he was priest/Christ, Pat’s family encouraged outings and camping trips.
Pat remembers being frightened and confused, trying to fight off this priest as he tried to fondle him and get into sleeping bags with him. Being bigger than the weedy churchman, Pat was able to prevent the vicar of Christ from doing what he set out to do, but his moral universe was destroyed nonetheless.
This wasn’t about any old bloke doing bad things, which would have been bad enough, this was about a God figure doing bad things. And who do you go to for help and comfort when your parents, priests and God are fused together in one belief system? It took Pat a long time to sort it out and get away from the drugs and alcohol.
Father Kevin, who eventually ran off with a hairdresser, wasn’t up to no good — just pastoral work with an immigrant family. But I am really glad my family separated God from priests.
That stupid deification of mere men in funny frocks, undoubtedly developed to maximise power over the poor masses, demands a cover up when criminal things happen.
You can’t let it be known that a God figure is behaving badly. Twitter: @violetgrumble