The Confession of Father X
A convicted child molester, ex-con and former priest, Father X, who asks that his name not be revealed, was arrested in the 1990s and charged with molesting children over a seven-year period. During his 30-year career, he was a sought-after counselor and confidant, and for a number of years he worked closely with young people in his California diocese. At the time of his arrest, prosecutors charged him with 17 counts of child sexual abuse. Most of those counts were dropped because the statute of limitations had run out, but Father X, who claims he had undergone extensive counseling and treatment and was on the road to recovery when he was arrested, eventually pleaded guilty to one felony charge of committing lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under the age of 14 and one misdemeanor count of molesting a child, and was sentenced to eight years in prison. While serving his time, he wrote two books, both critiques of the American corrections system, under the pseudonym A. Companion. He was released on parole a little more than a year ago. Now in his 60s, he must register as a sex offender on each birthday for the rest of his life. He expresses deep remorse for his acts and agreed to speak with Time's Peter Meyer so that "others might be helped."
In the Beginning
I was probably eight years into my priesthood when I had my first abusive contact with a child. Physical touch was often all that I needed or wanted. Just closeness. My arm around him. But the sexual need--or lust, I'm not sure how to explain it--would just kick in, and I would find myself touching and fondling genitals. The boys were junior high age, basically. Their ages were 11 or 12, for the most part, maybe 13. But any kid who showed affection or showed that he liked me was probably vulnerable. And, of course, that happens very naturally with a priest and especially with kids at that age.
What Went Wrong
I grew up in a very good family. There was no abuse, no addiction. I have a younger brother and sister, and they have been wonderful throughout this; my nieces and nephews too. But looking back from a therapeutic perspective, I am very much like my mother, who was a housewife and who didn't share what was going on inside. My dad, a blue-collar worker, was more outgoing, but sharing didn't happen with him either. I think it was the times. These kinds of personal things were kept private.
I think I knew I was homosexual, on some level, but I would never really allow myself to say that about myself. And it surely wasn't a topic for discussion--except in jokes. Basically, I never grew beyond junior high from a psychosexual-development point of view. That was when I began having to really experience my own sexual feelings and was very confused about it. But there were no resources to help me. When I entered the seminary, it was to escape a girl friend who wanted to get married. I figured I'd go in the seminary for six months, and that would end that, and I'd come out and figure out what to do with my life. But I stayed. And in the seminary, of course, there was no chance to develop intimacy, no discussion of sexuality. We didn't even cover it as a theological treatise. I was convinced that the grace of ordination was going to give me that last push to get my whole sexual life together, and I was going to be a changed person and would live happily ever after.
I remember shortly after arriving at my first assignment, walking down the rectory hallway--I don't think I'd been there even a month--and I peered into a mirror. I had my collar on. As I looked, I said to myself, "You're the same as you were a month ago, except now you're a priest." And that was a really big moment, a profound moment. It was trouble.
From Intimacy to Lust
What would bring it on? I don't know, maybe fatigue, maybe stress. But I know that I worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day, as a priest. I didn't take a day off. But I was very good. That's how I got my identity. That's how I got my fulfillment. I was a good priest who did amazing things, but I didn't have a personal life. Among my many priestly activities, I worked closely with children. My reaching out to them was not to harm them. I was reaching out for affection, for intimacy, reaching out to belong, to have somebody who would be my friend, in the sense of what I didn't have. I was their age, on one level. The physical contact, the touch, was not in the strictest sense sexual. But the lust would take over at a certain point. I didn't see the casual physical contact as wrong. But when I would go to the genital contact, I had no doubt about that being wrong. I didn't think of it as harmful, really, but I knew it was morally wrong.
The Confessional Cover-Up
I'd go to confession; there would be genuine repentance; and then I would go for a period of time without molesting anyone. I would make a very real point when this was having to be confessed to go to another diocese to make sure the priest didn't know me. What I was after was the absolution, so that I could pick up the pieces and go on. I didn't see the big picture that I certainly see now.
It was on a Saturday in the 1990s. The bishop showed up at the rectory. I was very surprised to see him. And he said a couple of kids had come to him and accused me of molestation. I admitted to one of the two, but the other wasn't true. By this time I had moved to the point where I wasn't doing it anymore. I was feeling really positive and hopeful. But when these boys came forward and the bishop came, everything changed. I said, "What do you want me to do?" And he said, "Well, I'd like you to go into a program." I said, "Fine. I think I'd really like that." I was at the point where that sounded pretty good to me.
I don't know how things would have evolved ultimately, but it didn't make much difference once it all went public. When the old offenses came out and were in the paper and the whole thing started falling apart, my progress didn't make any difference to anyone but me, because it wasn't going to change anything that had happened in the past.
What I've Learned
I am finally comfortable with who I am. But it has come at a terrible cost. And what burdens me more than anything is, whatever good has come out of this for me personally--and there has been good, because I don't think I've ever been more integrated than I am now--it is totally meaningless to the people who are still hurting because of me, directly or indirectly. Whatever benefit comes to me is almost salt in their wounds, in a sense.
I've given up trying to think of a way to go back and make it all right. There have been a few of these young people that I've talked to because they have sought me out, and there has been a healing. But I can't change the harm I did. I can't go back and make it right. I spent many, many days and hours trying to figure out how I could do that--wishing it away, praying it away. It doesn't go away. And that's a tremendous pain and tremendous injury done. And I understand it now, really clearly. And it makes it all the harder to carry it myself. It would be bad enough if I were the next-door neighbor. But this is like God doing it. Jesus doing it.