What I know about sexual harassment in Catholic seminars

So, today we were sitting in the kitchen, here in our Swedish apartment, drinking some roibos-cactus-orange tea, and watching a documentary on child abuse and pedophiles in the Catholic church. “You have been for so many years hanging out in the Catholic church,” — said Bella, looking at me straight in the eyes — “it is not possible that no priest ever abused you.”

As a Canadian friend of mine used to say — with some creepy sense of humor — maybe I was not cute enough, as a child. It is true, however, that a priest I knew in my teenager years has been recently convicted for rape and abuse of a pre-teen girl in his parish. But I will not talk about him, here. Not today.

When I was 14

But no, I’ve not been abused, even though I have maybe witnessed some inappropriate behaviors toward other kids. Not that I have really seen things, but yes, there were voices, other kids were making allusions to some priest alleged interest for young boys. I was in the seminar, at the time — not a secret, I had this idea of becoming myself a Catholic priest, when I was 14 — but this is definitively another story.

There were three priests, taking care of the seminarians. They are still alive, and still active. And I do not want to be sued in a court of law for defamation. So here I say that I have no suspicion of any crime committed, nor I can even think of them having abused their authority. I will just tell you my story. As seen by a 14 years old boy.

And here comes Wilma

Still, I remember that we — the seminarians — nicknamed one of these priests with a female name. Forgive the homophobic attitude of a group of young apprentice Catholic males. As a matter of fact, I have no doubt that at least half of those guys were without any doubt gay. So probably, the homophobia of our talks was just a symptom of acute denial.

Oh, yes, the nickname. I am not sure to write it down. A couple of those guys who were in the seminar with me, and now are actually Catholic priests, read this blog. Or at least potentially they do it, since they are my friends on Facebook! So, I will change it a little. Just in case. We will call the priest “Wilma” — not far from the real nickname.

A fraternal hug

Wilma was, and still is, a career oriented clergy man. I can’t say anything really bad about him. He earned his “Wilma” name, as well as the fact that we were — among us — referring to him as a “her”, due to his (sometimes) ambiguous attitudes. Wilma had the habit of inviting, each week, one of the seminarian to his office. To have a coffee, and to talk. I remember then, guys telling one to the other how Wilma put his hand on their legs. Or in a fraternal hug, to hold his arm around their neck, while talking.

In those times, some 25 years ago, I never heard about pedophilia. And probably it was not. Once again, I never heard of anything more than these hugs, holding hands while talking, or touching the knee, all this for long enough to become uncomfortable for a teenage boy. But the name “Wilma” was there. And those promoting it, were mostly those two chubby guys, with the most accentuated effeminate behaviors.

Was it sexual harassment?

Myself, I had my times to drink coffee and talk to Wilma. As the other seminarians warned me in advanced, I got his arm around my neck, while him was talking to me about Jesus, my laziness in doing home works, and how one day I would have become a leader. I also remember Wilma holding my hand. Nothing more. But yes, I felt really uncomfortable. If not abuse, today I would call it harassment. Sexual harassment.

Then this new seminarian arrived. A troubled guy, sexually confused, devoted to the Virgin Mary, and assiduous guest of Wilma’s inappropriate coffee talks. Needless to say, the two chubby kids — now respectful priests — soon nicknamed the newbie with  a female name. He absorbed all the attentions of Wilma. Somehow. I imagine they had long chats holding hands.

Wasn’t it?

Was it child abuse? Should I have reported it? And to who? Holding hands, hugging, touching a knee over the cloths, were simple paternal gestures. Maybe. Or maybe not. Because it made us to be uncomfortable about it.

Sometimes I have some doubt. I’d like to talk with the other former seminarians. But most of them are now at the head of some parish. The two chubby ones, the feminine newbie. All priests. There was another guy — who actually liked girls… I still remember when a brunette named I. dumped him — this guy is also a Catholic priest, today. He was somehow smarter than the others. Well, maybe I should ask him. But I guess he will deny.

It was all in my head, wasn’t it?

One response to “What I know about sexual harassment in Catholic seminars

    May 4, 2013 · by Shinji. I too grew up catholic.

    I’m about to publish a book, I hope, and I’ve been trying to find where I got the restored leonardo da vinci photo you’re using with this post. I’ve looked all night for the source online and I just can’t get to the bottom of who owns the picture so I can get permission.

    Do you know?
    I appreciate any help…

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