Monday, November 16, 2015

Guilt by association

Back in 1992, I was prior at Holy Hill and my subprior and I attended a meeting near St. Louis with a number of bishops and other clergy. It had to do with preparations for an anticipated visit of (then Pope, now Saint) John Paul II to the United States.

Following the meeting, he and I paid a courtesy visit to the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Clayton, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb. We stopped at a large mall to get something to eat in the food court. Since we had just come from a meeting with bishops and were on our way to visit a conservative community of nuns, we were both wearing clerical collars.

Unfortunately, that morning newspapers had carried headlines about the ongoing pedophilia crisis that was shaking the American Catholic church. I don't recall what the details of the story that day was, but that doesn't matter.

As we carried our trays to a table in the crowded food court, I saw a number of people glance at us with overt hostility. It took  a moment to register and then I realized the problem: We were obviously priests -- although for all they knew, we could have been Protestant clergy, some of whom wear clerical garb -- and priests were pedophiles. It was right there in the newspaper and on the television monitors scattered around the area.

I think that was the only time I felt uncomfortable in quite that way. (I felt plenty uncomfortable about the very poor handling of the pedophilia crisis by the bishops, and that ultimately was a factor in my own decision to leave the priesthood and ultimately the Catholic church. But that's another story.) I experienced what it is like to be hated for something someone else had done, something that I also found reprehensible. 

It was a helpless sort of feeling. My companion felt the same animosity, and we ate hurriedly and went on our way.

It made me try to be more aware of my tendency  to judge other people based on easy and perhaps ill-informed assumptions.


Anonymous said...

When I was 14 I experienced what it is like to be hated for something someone else had done. I learnt that people could hate another person because of what they symbolised.
It was the last day of term. A half day. We decided to go to the movies in the city. My girlfriends and I were all wearing pink. We looked like the privileged private school girls we were. We decided to go to McDonald's (we were teenagers) for lunch before the movies. There a gang of Maoris "befriended" us. They were in their 20s. Life had not been kind to them. They were shouting abuse at us. One of my girl friends, who was very tall, and slender, and blond, and naive, and everything they weren't, antagonised them without intending to. One particular woman started to get stuck into my tall gorgeous friend. I was strong. I had a twin brother. I thought I knew how to fight. She was my friend. I went to her rescue.

I was pulverised. Broken cheek bone. Broken nose. Lots of bruising. Her Maori friends held back the crowd of city workers who gathered to watch in their lunch break. It finally ended when a nameless aboriginal guy came to my rescue and broke it up. He disappeared before I could even thank him.

That day I learnt that I could be hated for what I represented. I learnt that some people have been so damaged by society that they are willing to attack a child that is symbolic of those who "have".

She had so much hatred in her eyes. Back then I was the sort of kid that everyone liked. I assumed the world was going to like me. I'm still a lot like that.

The fight didn't last too long but it changed my outlook on life forever. As I was being pummeled I was thinking to myself "she is trying as hard as she can to hurt me". I had to psych myself up to punch her back as hard as I could. Before the aboriginal dude came to my rescue I did get one good punch in.

It was such a forceful punch that later when my watch stopped keeping time and my father took it to his watch maker - the watch maker made the comment that it appeared my father's son had been in a big fight based on the horizontal direction the springs had moved. Later my father realised it was the fight his daughter was in. I liked wearing boys watches back then.

That experience made me a lot more aware of the marginalised. As a young adult I spent a lot of time at a Kings Cross drop-in centre. Open from 8pm until late. I learnt a lot during that time including alternatives to violence for breaking up violent situations.

Michael Dodd said...

What a painful way to learn that lesson! My own experience was purely one of discomfort, not an actual attack or even verbal abuse -- just hateful looks. I am glad you came through it.
It is interesting to see how the same sort of experience can affect people differently. John of the Cross, for example, grew up very poor and learned generosity. Others in the same situation learned greed. Experiencing being hated teaches some people empathy; others learn to hate back.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting how the same sort of experience can affect people differently. I started journaling a few months before that experience. I haven't re-read my 14yo reflections. I'm curious now to see how my perceptions have changed over time. The eclectic experiences of ones life journey.

Anonymous said...

It is exhausting to hate. As a teenager my father taught me to hate my grandmother (his mother-in-law). Hate is such a destructive emotion.

Mitchell is Moving said...

A very well-timed post. Thank you. Sadly, your preaching to the converted. Will people never learn?