An Airport Encounter

It was only the third time it had happened to me in my nearly thirty-five happy years as a priest, all three times over the last nine-and-a-half years.

Other priests tell me it has happened to them a lot more.

Three is enough.  Each time has left me so shaken I was near nausea.

It happened last Friday . . .

I had just arrived at the Denver Airport, there to speak at their popular annual “Living Our Catholic Faith” conference.

As I was waiting with the others for the electronic train to take me to the terminal, a man, maybe in his mid-forties, waiting as well, came closer to me.

“Are you a Catholic priest?” he kindly asked.

“Sure am.  Nice to meet you,” says I, as I offered my hand.

He ignored it.  “I was raised a Catholic,” he replied, almost always a hint of a cut to come, but I was not prepared for the razor sharpness of the stiletto, as he went on, “and now, as a father of two boys, I can’t look at you or any other priest without thinking of a sexual abuser.”

What to respond?  Yell at him?  Cuss him out?  Apologize?  Deck him?  Express understanding?  I must admit all such reactions came to mind as I staggered with shame and anger from the damage of the wound he had inflicted with those stinging words.

“Well,” I recovered enough to remark, “I’m sure sorry you feel that way.  But, let me ask you, do you automatically presume a sexual abuser when you see a Rabbi or Protestant minister?”

“Not at all,” he came back through gritted teeth as we both boarded the train.

“How about when you see a coach, or a boy scout leader, or a foster parent, or a counsellor, or physician?”  I continued.

“Of course not!” he came back.  “What’s all that got to do with it?”

“A lot,” I stayed with him, “because each of those professions have as high a percentage of sexual abuse, if not even higher, than that of priests.”

“Well, that may be,” he retorted.  “But the Church is the only group that knew it was going on, did nothing about it, and kept transferring the perverts around.”

“You obviously never heard the stats on public school teachers,” I observed.  “In my home town of New York City alone, experts say the rate of sexual abuse among public school teachers is ten times higher than that of priests, and these abusers just get transferred around.”  (Had I known at that time the news in in last Sunday’s New York Times about the high rate of abuse of the most helpless in state supervised homes, with reported abusers simply transferred to another home, I would have mentioned that, too.)

To that he said nothing, so I went in for a further charge.

“Pardon me for being so blunt, but you sure were with me, so, let me ask:  when you look at yourself in a mirror, do you see a sex abuser?”

Now he was as taken aback as I had been two-minutes before.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Sadly,” I answered, “studies tell us that most children sexually abused are victims of their own fathers or other family members.”

Enough of the debate, I concluded, as I saw him dazed.  So I tried to calm it down.

“So, I tell you what:  when I look at you, I won’t see a sex abuser, and I would appreciate the same consideration from you.”

The train had arrived at baggage claim, and we both exited together.

“Well then, why do we only hear this garbage about you priests,” he inquired, as he got a bit more pensive.

“We priests wonder the same thing.  I’ve got a few reasons if you’re interested.”

He nodded his head as we slowly walked to the carousel.

“For one,” I continued, “we priests deserve the more intense scrutiny, because people trust us more as we dare claim to represent God, so, when on of us do it – even if only a tiny minority of us ever have — it is more disgusting.”

“Two, I’m afraid there are many out there who have no love for the Church, and are itching to ruin us.  This is the issue they love to endlessly scourge us with.”

“And, three, I hate to say it,” as I wrapped it up, “there’s a lot of money to be made in suing the Catholic Church, while it’s hardly worth suing any of the other groups I mentioned before.”

We both by then had our luggage, and headed for the door.  He then put his hand out, the hand he had not extended five minutes earlier when I had put mine out to him.  We shook.

“Thanks.  Glad I met you.”

He halted a minute.  “You know, I think of the great priests I knew when I was a kid.  And now, because I work in IT at Regis University, I know some devoted Jesuits.  Shouldn’t judge all you guys because of the horrible sins of a few.”

“Thanks!,” I smiled.

I guess things were patched-up, because, as he walked away, he added, “At least I owe you a joke:  What happens when you can’t pay your exorcist?”

“Got me,” I answered.

“You get ‘re-possessed’!”

We both laughed and separated.

Notwithstanding the happy ending, I was still trembling . . . and almost felt like I needed an exorcism to expel my shattered soul, as I had to confront again the horror this whole mess has been to victims and their families, our Catholic people like the man I had just met . . . and to us priests.

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224 Responses to “An Airport Encounter”

  1. Eugenia Anaya says:

    Me da gusto que se aclare este asunto, ya que quienes atacan a la Iglesia sólo buscan ver lo negativo e ignoran todas las buenas obras de servicio y caridad que se hacen en el mundo. La experiencia de este sacerdote resulta muy enriquecedora, así como la fuerza de sus argumentos para el fortalecimiento de nuestra fe.

  2. C- Catholic says:

    Thank you for sharing this encounter with the world. I pray for you and all priest for all that you do and all that you have to endure.
    Peace Be With You!

    Side Note: When you are in Denver again I would LOVE to meet you!

  3. Rich says:

    Re: Bill O’Brien on April 2

    Hi Bill,
    Its very difficult in the short space alloted us on these blogs to really get into anything too substantive. Sometimes we can sound “disjointed”.

    My main concern is with the loss of orthodoxy since V2 and frankly it started decades before that. And yes I’m quite familiar with the Bible and writings of the post conciliar popes.

    As an example; I am immediately reminded of Acts 4:12 where our first pope preaches to his fellow Jews and tells them that there is salvation in no one else but Christ, and that they must repent and be converted to be saved (NOT stay in their religion. It was very plain and direct). Yet, unfortunately today we hear just the opposite from V2 documents like Nostra Aetate; and from Benedict XVI’s work Jesus of Nazareth II (yes, I understand he wrote this with the express caveat of it being his own thoughts and was not to be taken as magisterial). But, it seems as though the gospel has been watered down from its true meaning of Eternal Salvation to one of “Lets be nice and its ok to believe whatever you want as long as you don’t offend anyone else.”

    Again, thats just one example. My point is that bishops like Dolan and others need to publicly take stands for the faith in the face of un-apologetic “catholic” politicians and other national figures. Giving them communion (like here in Albany NY where Bp Hubbard gave communion to Gov Cuomo and his paramour Sandra Lee) and glad handing them while they publicly support abortion – sodomy – fornication, only serves to confuse others especially the young. Couple that with our woeful modern day catechesis and you have a recipe for disaster. That correction and shift in direction back to orthodoxy must ultimately come from the bishops who have the authority to change what needs to change, and can offer discipline when needed to defend the faith.

    The sex scandals, while horrific and inexcusable, are certainly not unique to the Catholic Church as you correctly state. And, the world always wants to tear down the Church since it is, and Paul says to Timothy, “The pillar and ground of the truth”. I like Abp Dolan, and enjoy reading his posts and listening to him on TV / radio. I just wish he would take a harder stand with those (both clergy and laity) who mock our faith from within.

    God Bless,
    Rich

  4. Sue Widemark says:

    Dear Archbishop Dolan, I totally love your blogs. That being said, this one is good even for you! I am broadcast emailing it – I will probably put the link on my website too. It needs to be said! Bigtime! And you said it, masterfully!!!!!! What a blessing you are to Jesus, the church and us Catholic folks….

  5. AndyP/Doria2 says:

    They don’t see it Rich. They really don’t see it. The fear is overwhelming.

  6. Anne says:

    While I agree that sadly sexual abuse is widespread in our society, I was dissappointed by one aspect of the Archbishop’s response.

    Archbishop Dolan does not deny that wrongs were committed by the Church leadership; rather he tries to temper the anger by pointing to similar actions by others. This response reminds me of Adam pointing the finger at Eve after eating the forbidden fruit. For me, the actions of other organizations are irrelevant. Shouldn’t the Church hold itself to a higher standard than secular organizations? Does the fact that not all cover-ups of sexual abuse are prosecuted make the Church hierarchy any less culpable? Do the motivations of those filing legal actions matter if the accusations of misconduct are true?

    Such deflections of blame which I hear repeatedly from pople trying to defend the church are not in the spirit of true reconciliation which is so desperately needed during this crisis. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers the following insight into reconciliation: “The confession (or disclosure) of sins … frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God … in order to make a new future possible.” (Paragraph 1455)

    The Church needs to admit wrong in cases where it ignored or covered up accusations of abuse, unequivocally take responsibility for these actions, and bear the consequences, no matter how difficult, expensive, or shameful. It is only then that true healing can begin.

  7. Suzanne says:

    Very well said, Anne. I, too, believe these deflections instead of admissions only add fuel to the fire. A profound apology and begging forgiveness by the Church to the victims of sexual abuse would probably diffuse a lot of the litigious situations and the Church might find itself in better shape financially. Sincere openness and apology, nothing more than asked of us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  8. AndyP/Doria2 says:

    One wonders about the true Catholicity of the prior 2 writers. Apologies have become part of the Catholic lexicon. There are apologies from the Pope on down to the Priest all over this land and in other countries visited by our Pontiff.

    Why would these two state that apologies are needed when they are given everywhere.

    Notice also that they throw the word “abuse” around like a baseball never mentioning that all studies have shown that this was homosexual abuse/rape. The overwhelming majority of cases are male Priest with young males, post pubescent males.

    No, it’s not pedophelia either. That word was made popular by our enemies in the state run media.

    I don’t need to say the horrors perpetrated by these homosexual rapists on young boys and the punishment I personally would hand out to these monsters BUT, the overwhelming majority of Priests are good faithful men who give their lives for our Lord and His Church and the enemies in and out of our beloved Church (as Pope Benedict said) should stop throwing mud and kicking us while we’re down.

    This Church will survive. Our Lord said “I will never leave you.” The enemies in and out of the Church will see this. I hope it’s not too late when they do. Pray for them.

  9. Anne says:

    Dear AndyP/Doria,

    If you have an example of church leaders admitting fault by the hierarchy and an apology for cover-ups and shuffling abusers around, please share them. While I’ve heard apologies about the pain caused by the abusers themselves, I have not heard similar apologies regarding the actions of the Church hierarchy. And all the apologies in the world mean nothing if they are not backed up by action and change.

    I am still waiting to see proof of change. I encourage you to read about the most recent abuse scandal in Philadelphia. After a grand jury investigation into sexual abuse was released in 2005, the Archdiocese responded with apologies and promises to change. But a second grand jury report released this past February found that the Archdiocese failed to remove over 20 priests with credible accusations from ministry. It was only after the second grand jury report was made public that these priests were put on leave pending full investigations. Further, the Grand Jury indicted a Msgr. in charge of priest assignments for endangering the welfare of children. Archdiocesan personnel records which were subpeonaed by the DA’s office show that the Archdiocese was aware of abuse allegations and still put abusers in parishes with schools without alerting the parishes. (The DA, by the way is a practicing Catholic)

    And about your initial comment. I don’t believe that being a Catholic involves always agreeing with, complimenting, or blindly following the Church hierarchy. It is our Church too, and we must hold our leaders accountable. I am struggling with the abuse scandal as all Catholics are, and I am finding it difficult to forgive and trust the hierarchy when they try to deflect blame.

  10. Jean Frost says:

    Thank you Father for having the courage to face that and take the time to explain. Most do not want to hear and forget there are other abusers out there. There have been those accused and because who the accuser was it did not matter. When families have important positions the innocent can suffer. The priest that was accused was very innocent but the accuser had fallen in love (he finally has publicly announced he was gay) with him and because he could not get anywhere with him accused him and ruined his life. He is not longer a priest. The accuser has left the Roman Catholic Church for, as he put it, better grounds. The Episcopalian Church has accepted him for being actively gay and he has joined that church. So next time you meet someone please don’t back down. Thank you for all that you do for Faith!

  11. AndyP/Doria2 says:

    Again Anne, maybe you should join the defenders of the Church instead of the propagandists in the state run media. No entity is working harder to attack this mess that liberals have created back in the 1960′/70′s.

    The Church has tightened the requirements on allowing new young Priests into seminaries. Homosexual men are now weeded out as best as can be done.

    The Catholic League is on top of this issue with truth not propaganda. Read on:

    NEW DATA ON CLERGY ABUSE

    Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on the 2010 Annual Report on clergy sexual abuse; it was released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops today:

    In 2009, there were six credible accusations made against over 40,000 priests during that year; in 2010, the number was seven. Moreover, between 2005 and 2010, the average is 8.3 a year.

    As usual, most of the accused are homosexuals: 83 percent of the alleged victims were male, and three-in-four were postpubescent. This is consistent with what we have known for years. In other words, it is a lie to say the Catholic Church has suffered from a pedophilia problem. Those who say that this number reflects the greater access priests have had to altar boys are wrong: the more priests have access to girl altar servers, the more likely they are to choose males (there has been a slight uptick in male victims over the past decade).

    As usual, the cases date back decades: two-thirds occurred between 1960 and 1984, and three-in-four of the offenders are now dead or have been laicized. The most common time period for new allegations made in 2010 was 1970-1974. That this was when the sexual revolution was at its height is no coincidence. Nor is it a coincidence that the discovery of AIDS in 1981 effectively ended the sexual revolution—not a change in mores.

    While this is good news, it is still disconcerting to see hundreds of alleged victims coming forth every year—with their lawyers in tow—expecting that their allegations of what happened many decades ago can somehow be substantiated. Just as distressing is the tendency to call the cops over such matters as “kissing girls on the top of the head,” etc.

    We are happy to note that the release of the eighth annual report coincides with our full-page ad in today’s New York Times on this subject.

  12. Tom Cwiok says:

    Your Grace

    I understand that as a Catholic priest you are poised for childless life and therefore the full understanding of child psychology is beyond you.
    But I do not understand why as an intelligent man you are making groundless claims—there is no research showing that the rate of child abuse is equal or even higher among such professions as Rabbis, Protestant ministers, coaches, boys scout leaders, foster parents, counsellors or physicians, because we are dealing with acts of crime and such acts may be unearthed by criminal investigation not a scientific enquiry. What you are pointing to is guess work and play on the numbers.
    Your Grace had better posted a link to a recently published article on Time about a former bishop in Belgium who recently admitted to abusing more children than he had admitted to when the whole hell broke loose a year ago.
    This is the link to that article or your convenience:
    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2065579,00.html
    As a priest you should be praying for purging the Catholic echelons of child-abusing priests rather than downplaying the problem by pointing to child abuse across other professions!

  13. bob cratchit says:

    I was raised in the church and have NEVER been abused nor do I know of anyone else. I was an alter boy as was my 2 older brothers. I spent most of my summer days at the rectory talking about the priesthood. Helping with chores, mowing grass, etc. We had priests who would come to the house and visit for hours. Most of them were meek, humble servants of Mary and of their parishes. Sickens me that the media persist in their outrageous, unreasoned and unjust attacks.

  14. Jean says:

    Bravo Anne and Suzanne. I couldn’t agree more with you.

  15. Phil Brady says:

    Everyone is so quick to judge priests today. When Fr Edward Hinds in Chatham’s St. Patrick Church Church in NJ back in October (2009) was slain in the rectory by the church janitor , Jose Feliciano, (stabbed this priest 32 times) I was sickened at how the blogs instantly portrayed Fr Hinds as being the victim of a jealous lover.
    When the smoke cleared, the truth about how Feliciano did not wiant to comply with a required background check because of his past criminal record started to shine the light on the matter.

    How a man can look at ANY priest and see a child molester is beyound me. To instantly judge ALL priests in that catagory comes from a heart that has lost more thatn just faith, but has also lost LOVE for Christ in the Eucharist. What a hopeless place to be.

    These incidents remind us of our daily need to pray for all those who have “justified” their retreat from the Chruch.

  16. Dear Anne and Suzanne,

    It may be overstepping to say so, but I don’t believe Archbishop Dolan is trying to avoid the issue of abuse by priests. It seems that he is trying to point out the fact that the vast majority of priests and faithful Catholics are not child abusers. It is unfortunate that the clergy have been portrayed as being overwhelmingly pedophiles, but if we were to translate the same statistics to everyone you and I might be accused of being abusers as well, in fact the statistics might lean more toward you being abusers than they would toward me. It seems that Archbishop Dolan is calling upon all of us to take a step back and look at the reality of child abuse. Priests have not been excluded from the ranks of pedophiles but the Church has certainly taken more steps that anyone else in trying to correct the problem.

  17. Juan Pablo says:

    I have attended Catholic school my entire life and I have never felt threatened or abused by ANY priest. The priests I have encountered in my life are devout men, determined to serve God and their parishioners. It sickens me the way that the media slanders these men because of their own hidden agenda. It is clear that modern media outlets are strongly controlled and influence by the enemies of the Church (liberals, atheists, pro-choice groups, etc.). Yet while the media reports thousands of cases of abuse within the Church only a minority of those are proven to be true. The Church has already apologized many times over to those who suffered at the hands of priests, yet the world it too quick to judge our beloved Church. We must remember that while the Church never errs on its teachings over matters of faith and morals its practices are sometimes corrupted by the actions of men, because our Church is made up of human beings who are flawed. If one of Jesus’ own hand-picked apostles (Judas Iscariot) betrayed our Lord how can we not expect the same to happen among Christ’s disciples in the modern age? I believe that as Catholics we should be proud of our Church because of its great accomplishments. It was the Church who developed the scientific method, who first began charity, who first established universities and schools. I am proud and honored to be a Catholic, I am proud of our priests and I fully support the actions of our holy father, Pope Benedict XVI, his bishops and those of the Catholic Church.

  18. Patricia Sullivan says:

    “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” ; God be with you Fr. Corapi, we all have and will be accused by the many who cross our paths. What has your accusar been accused of or will be accused in the future. May you be a better man and a stronger man as others have been before you. Jesus is your model and redeemer.

  19. Daniel Garvin says:

    In the words of our Savior Christ Jesus……\Get thee behind me Satan\ Well said Father. May He continue to shine His light on your path and fill your heart with His Enduring love.

    In Christ,
    Daniel

  20. Eduardo Rivero M.D. says:

    Thank you and Bless you Msgr. Dolan for your answer to this man. I am 67 years old, I went to San Ignacio de Loyola School in Caracas,Venezuela. Much of whatever good is in me was taught to me by Honorable and Saintly men at San Ignacio.
    The fact that there are sick men out there has not stopped all the good things the Catholic Church has done for centuries.
    Let us all pray for the victims and do all we can to have the perpetrators pay for their crimes.
    May 3,2011

  21. Excellency,
    My wife,myself, and 11 children went through this issue back in the early 80′s. It did hurt when we were first informed about the priests involved in our parish. My wife said to me one day paraphasing St. Francis that she would still receive the Sacraments from these men because they had the power to bring Jesus Christ to her in the flesh and forgive her, her sins. So yes, while its devasting, I would still kiss the hands of the priest who consecrates the eucharist and gives me absolution for my sins. Then I would pray for his immortal soul.
    By the way I used to be an airline pilot with TWA for 30 yrs, I believe that’s when I first met you I doubt you remember meibeat. If I’m not mistaken I was the pilot who flew you to Rome a few times. I also flew your predecessors to Rome a few times starting with Cardinal Cooke. I was based in Rome for a few years flying 727′s to Greece, North Africa, and Kuwait City.

  22. johnny says:

    Excellency;
    Your response to the gentleman was published in our parish bulletin. I was disappointed in the defensive tone to your response. I am a 1st. generation Irish Catholic, now in my late 60′s, I grew up believing a vocation was a call from God to serve him. I was desperate in my teens to hear the calling. I prayed daily for the sign from God that I was to be called to the Priesthood. I never thought you could choose to be a priest, I truly believe you must be called. News of the sexual abuse within the Church has shaken my faith to the core. I accept and understand that a priest is a mortal man and subject to temptation and can sin like any other man. What I cannot accept, is the idea that a priest would engage in any kind of sexual activity with a minor and feel he should continue as a priest. Alcohol abuse, gambling, short tempered behavior are all shortcomings that should and could be dealt with. I meet with a large group of classmates and sadly we all agree our view of the priesthood has changed of the past few years. I don’t know what the answer is, I do know the Church remains an important part of my life and always will. I pray for those in the religious life daily, I pray they have answered a call from God. I pray they will understand why I feel my trust has been betrayed. and will work diligently to weed out those who have disgraced the priesthood.

  23. Patricia says:

    This article just made it to our Catholic Herald. I guess the midwest is just slow! I appreciated the article because I’m tired of complete strangers attacking my faith–I’ve had it happen a number of times. As for Archbishop Dolan avoiding an apology for the Church, he was in an airport! If people want to have a discourse regarding the abuse, they shouldn’t blindside a person! Here’s a sample case re: myself. I was in the parking lot of the Universalist church, buying daylilies. That lot is where the local daylily society sells their plants and the money goes to the society, not to the church. A woman was standing near me, and she asked whether one had to be a member of the church to buy plants. My reply was, ‘oh no. I belong to St. Dominic’s, but I certainly come to the Universalist’s parking lot once a year for my lilies.’ I was just being light and funny, when ‘whammo’. She began to blast me about the Catholic church, how it practiced exclusivity, etc., And that she had left it. Believe me, I wanted to respond strongly but all I said was, ‘that was apparently the right move for you.’ And I moved on! I have never and would never attack anyone else’s religion, though, and I would like the same respect. There are many many more good priests than bad, I love my faith, AND my nephew is a priest, hurrah!

  24. Oscar Olluga says:

    Thank you very much. It is totally unfair that so may holy priests who are living totally dedicated to God and their fellow men are looked upon suspiciously. I think your article (which I have forwarded to many) will do a lot of good. –and of justice