When I Wore a Younger Man's Clothes

08-26-2018Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

In light of the sordid and criminal actions of the former Cardinal, McCarrick, we are witnessing the inability of the US Bishops to hold themselves accountable and therefore the complete collapse of confidence in the leadership in the US Church. At the same time, with L’Affaire McCarrick, the homosexual cabal that infiltrated the US seminaries, chanceries and bishoprics is being exposed. Many ask, “why didn't priests tell what was going on?” Part of the reason for that is because they, the cabal, controlled the levers of power in many places and would punish anyone who dared come forward. Maybe that’s a cowardly excuse but when you are a seminarian or young priest you had everything to lose by not keeping quiet. Even now I am sure some will come after me for the things I am going to say. That’s the risk I take, the risk we all take to rid the Church of this infestation. I know there are those who struggle with same-sex attraction and remain chaste or fall through human weakness, I am not referring to them but to those who have rationalized and justified living a double life.

This is difficult to read but this is what happened when I wore a younger man’s clothes… I came from a typical blue-collar working-class home. High School was fun, lots of proms, dances and girlfriends. Even though I attended a Public High School, I was still part of a Church Youth Group. In 1980 after HS I entered Seminary and I had very little knowledge about homosexuality. The seminary I attended was big on discipline: we had strict curfews, dress codes, no alcohol on campus, and lots of other rules including no sexual contact with anyone. Because the rules were enforced, any homosexual subculture in the seminary was hidden deep underground and initially I was unaware of its existence. But as the years went on I started to suspect it was there among some priest faculty and students.

At the end of my 4th year, we had finished exams for our Bachelor’s Degree and one of my classmates suggested we go out and celebrate. So off we went and when I asked where we were going he said, “don't worry it will be fun”. When we got to the place and entered, I noticed it was filled with mostly men. I had never been to a gay bar but it wasn't hard to realize where I was. I said to my classmate, “why are we here? And “are you gay?” (dumb questions, I know) to which he replied, “relax and have a drink”. I remember not relaxing and having lots of drinks to calm my panic. The next day, my classmate came to me and said, “You need to know that if you are going to go to places like we went to last night you are going to see people you recognize and you are asked to respect the code of silence.” To which I replied, “tell whoever sent you not to worry, I will not be going to such places.” That summer my classmate left the seminary for good. I admired his integrity for not trying to live a double life. After that, I knew and they knew I knew so I kept my distance. Having grown up around the Mafia I was well aware of “omerta”, the code of silence and I realized then that the homosexuals had their own “La cosa nostra”, hence a cabal. Just as my father detested the Mafia but knew you couldn't avoid them and had to play along, I realized this cabal could also easily make life very difficult.

By our seventh year, we were preparing to be ordained deacons. Another seminary friend was from a parish located not far from the seminary. The cook at the rectory there was a wonderful lady from Italy who loved to prepare meals for us seminarians. Every now and then we went over for a great meal. The Pastor would be there and he provided cocktails before, wine during and drinks after. It was at one of these dinners that afterwards he asked to speak to me about something. We went to his quarters, he gave me more alcohol and proceeded to well, call it what you will, molest, abuse, assault me. I remember feeling frozen, not knowing how to get out of there. On the way home I thought, if anyone finds out I will never be ordained. A prominent pastor and a nobody seminary student, who were they going to believe? The feelings of shame and fear were overwhelming. I thought to drive the car into a wall but gratefully didn't. I recall going to confession and the priest told me to report it and so I told the Dean at the seminary. After that, with no explanation, seminarians and deacons were not allowed to be assigned to that parish. Though the seminary never told him why the change of status for his parish, of course, then he knew I had said something. Afterward, he pursued me but I avoided him as best I could. He finally stopped harassing me when I promised not to tell anyone about what he did. That’s how the abuse game is played. Later I was ordained a deacon with a deep hole in my soul and sometime later he was made a Monsignor. The cabal takes good care of its own. I started the seminary with ideals and hope and finished with neither.

I share this not because I want to draw attention to myself or garner sympathy. Yes, that experience messed me up for some time but today I am at peace with the past. I own my part, I was above the age of majority, I had too much alcohol and I placed myself in an unsafe position. I share this because you have a right to know how it was possible that these things happened in the Church you love and support and how this whole corrupt web worked and why so many of us kept quiet. We never really knew who to trust, especially at the top. Taking them on seemed like a suicide pact. We watched many good guys leave the seminary or priesthood because of the cabal. Or those who did not go along with the cabal were harassed, threatened, subject of lies and half-truth to ruin their reputations, labeled ‘rigid”, “difficult” and given the worst assignments.

Now, however, is the moment for all of us to speak our experience in hopes that all this ends and that those like McCarrick or those who turned a blind eye will be exposed and stripped of power and influence. Please know to the best of my knowledge and experience our Bishop is not among them. So next time, what do we need to do to rebuild the leadership of the Church?

Love, Fr. John B.

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