I need to tell someone my story. With deep shame and confusion, I've sat down to write these words several times without success. Maybe this attempt will be the one. I'm hoping it will be cathartic as the events I describe are both troubling and arousing to me, though as you will read, I've become more accepting of what happened. I want to remain anonymous because my career is at risk from this becoming known. You can call me Peter, but that's obviously not my real name.
I am a Catholic priest currently on staff in a large city in Pennsylvania. I'll leave it to you to imagine where. And yeah, I know the stereotypes of the 'pedophile priests' might make you assume that that's what I'm admitting, but you'll soon see that's not what my story is about at all.
I'm in my 50s and I've served in several locations around the world since my mid-20s. For almost two decades, I was celibate, but I regularly masturbate to relieve the urge to make contact with someone. My last sexual experience, the last before what I'll describe, came when I was 24 and involved a young woman I'd known for years. It was enjoyable and I sometimes wonder if I made a mistake becoming a celibate clergyman.
In my mid-30s, I lost my faith in God. I still wanted desperately to believe in a higher power, a kind and benevolent father who would look out for his children and ensure lives were meaningful. I couldn't bring myself to hold that belief when I witnessed the tragedies and struggles I'd seen around me. Being on the 'inside' didn't help, the hidden truths and carefully concealed secrets were always bubbling just below the surface of what the public could see. For a time, I considered leaving my position, but instead I decided to use my role to help where I could, and reduce the suffering of those in need.
The Catholic Church, despite its deceptive aura of piety and wisdom, is a hotbed of gossip and rumor about sexuality. I and many others often discussed sexual confessions we'd received, and I knew of several priests who had lovers, enjoyed prostitutes, or otherwise broke their vows of celibacy. There were, as you can imagine, many rumors about priests taking advantage of young boys, and girls, who were members of the congregation, but I never knew for certain anyone who acted that way. I knew it happened, but that wasn't my way and I never was terribly tempted by anyone, not even consenting adults. At least until I had an encounter with a married woman that still leaves me shaken and disturbed by my lack of willpower.
I'd been handling confessional one morning when ... I'll call her 'Rebecca' ... entered the other side of the booth. We weren't really supposed to know who was on the other side, but after you've talked to people and got to know their voice and their manner of speaking, it wasn't too difficult to be certain who was visiting.
Rebecca told me her story, some of which I knew, but the sexual thoughts she rattled off were not something I would have expected from her. Rebecca was probably in her late 40s, and told me she was a mom to two teenage girls and an 8-year old boy. I knew that already. She loved her husband and they were close. I had assumed that as well. She admitted feeling lust for someone who wasn't her husband and felt guilty and shamed by her thoughts.
I'd heard this sort of confession many times before and wasn't particularly shocked to hear a married mom tell me she had thoughts about another man. As I prepared to launch into my normal advice about dealing with those thoughts and controlling her own behavior, she went further and left me speechless for a few minutes.
Rebecca revealed that the man was a respected community leader and always looked so lonely. She assumed he'd likely not had any sexual comfort in a long time. She hurt for the man, couldn't understand how anyone could go so long without the pleasure of another, and she longed to, at least once, give this man comfort she felt he needed, and desired.
It hit close to home. Here I was, a man celibate for many years, with the weaknesses and desires that most any man would have. I felt personally the hurt and need she described, and I struggled to give my rote message about love and faith in God to give her strength. I felt so hollow. A hypocrite. A non-believer, lonely, needful, and unable to have faith in a higher power. My words trickled out on their own and I waited for her to respond. Usually, there was acceptance and a thanks and a quietly closing door. Rebecca wasn't finished.
She felt so strongly about this situation that she'd nearly acted on her impulses several times. She revealed that she'd seen him just moments before and saw the tired sadness in his eyes. She wanted so badly to help, even if just to give him a moment of forbidden pleasure. 'Forbidden.' Yeah, she used that word and I felt panic as I understood that she might be talking about me. I stumbled over my words, assuring her that God had a plan for everyone and that her faith was being tested. All she had to do was not act in this way.
Rebecca was quiet for a moment and then softly thanked me and left. My pulse raced, my heart in my throat as I tried to digest her words and not feel them so personally. Soon, the door on the other side opened and a new confessor entered. I returned, barely, to my role and spent another hour listening and advising.
After my time in the confessional, I returned to my office near the back of the cathedral. I removed my robes and donned my evening attire, consisting of slacks and a collared dress shirt. A knock at my door stopped me and I invited the unknown person in.
Rebecca walked through the door and I nearly fainted. In theory, she didn't know I was the one in the confessional, and I didn't know what she'd said. But the look on her face gave away her understanding of the situation and I watched her slide quietly into a chair. I did the same and waited for her to speak.
"We're moving. My family and I are going to Wisconsin. My husband was relocated and we're packing up the last bits today. Moving truck will be here in the morning. I'm so nervous but I think it's going to be ok." Rebecca trembled a bit as she spoke and I couldn't know if it was the move that had her shaking, or what she'd confessed to me earlier that day.
In a drawn voice, I congratulated her, tried to assure her this was a great thing, that her husband was lucky to have a job which would pay for everything, and wished her well in her new location. I couldn't surface my thoughts about her confession and let the silence build for a bit. When she simply sat, looking at me, I voiced a question. "Rebecca ... is this why you've come to visit me today? Worried about your move?"
She shook her head a bit, shoulder-length brown hair twisting against her neck. "I..." She didn't continue for a moment. "I ... Peter ... There's something I need to do. Something I think is right. Something I'm struggling with but the more I think about it, the more certain I am it is the right thing to do ... If you thought something was the right thing to do, would you do it, even if it might go against what you think God wants?"
It was a very difficult question to answer and one I wasn't really prepared for. "It's ... It's hard to know the mind of God. Sometimes things seem so clear until you realize you've interpreted his message the wrong way ... sometimes this causes harm and leaves you worse off. Sometimes, though, you have to do what you think is best. We all struggle, every day, with these sorts of conflicted thoughts, and it's only through reflection and prayer that you can find your answers." I lied, but she had no idea about my lack of faith in the words I spoke.
"I have ... I have struggled and reflected and prayed and the more I do, the more I find I have to do this thing. Just one time ... Peter ... I know ... Peter, just ... This is the right thing ... I just feel it ... I don't know what I'll think when it is over, but right now, I can think of nothing else..."
.... There is more of this story ...