Small Mistakes


Email to Al Sullivan



If I knew how to control it, father, I wouldn't be writing this. Perhaps the priesthood was never a proper vocation for me, though I thought I would spend my life loving and serving God. Perhaps if I had insisted upon a transfer earlier before taking on teaching duties here, things would have been different. I had asked for an assignment at an all-girls academy as to keep this from becoming a problem. And I did come to you and ask for acceptance to the East African assignment then available.

But you said America needed good priests, too, and the sores of the soul were as important as those of the body. I do believe America has become a wasteland of immorality. But I am part of the problem, not its solution and I should have insisted.

It is not lack of love for this church. This parish is much like the one which inspired me to the cloth. There is great power in our calling far superior to those of politicians or police; we hold the power to mold men's minds and save their souls.

But I ached over your decision and after much prayer convinced myself I could live with my problem and knew the church would accept me if I did not give into my urges.

To tell you the truth, it was never as much a problem in seminary as I thought it would be where the naked forms of muscular men seemed more abstract than attractive. It was younger boys full of vigor and innocence which attracted me, and since coming here where they proliferate, I have bruised my knees in chapel asking for answers to this insanity, this throbbing, madness that had come into my life as an unbearable torture. Half this prayer was as punishment for my wicked thoughts, bursting unwanted into my head. Half was to occupy my time and keep me from any remote opportunity. For it seemed safe to teach them their letters and religion. That was public. I simply raised my eyes above them, teaching to the walls and weaving spiders. And perhaps if it had gone on this way, I might well have remained in my solitary prison, my problem affecting no one but myself.

But it is not the position of a priest to be insular. We must make contact with our flock from time to time, and in this school, it is often our duty to reprimand those whom others cannot.

This was the case with the boy.

He came, maybe not humble or innocent, but vulnerable, looking up at me with all the tender admiration and fear I had had at his age, admiring me the way I had admired my parish priest. His eyes asked me to be kind.

I was not-- though at the time the caresses I offered him may have seemed so. Even when it came to something more, he did not cry or refuse, as if he understood my need.

Since then, the full implications of my crime have come to haunt me. No, I have not been discovered, though the fear of it taunts me daily, and I jump with every knock and see accusations in the gazes of everyone I meet.

It is my own ghosts, guilt and passions which betray me. And perhaps I could even live with myself knowing that something ugly inside of me has been satisfied. A stained priest can still save souls. But I know better, father, I know the restless beast inside of me and it hungers again.


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