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.