I felt sick. I was nauseous. My stomach hurt. I stood up, turned around, and headed for the exit. Outside in the hall, I looked around. I saw a sign and walked towards the restroom. Moving as fast as I could, without running, I pushed open the door and hurried into a stall. I leaned forward and vomited. Once I thought I was finished, I went to a sink and washed my hands, but then I threw-up again. I closed my eyes, straightened my back, and took a deep breath. I said to myself: “What the hell am I doing here?” I answered: “I always seem to end-up in the toilet.” I put some cold water on a paper towel and wiped my face. I wondered if I should go back. I hesitated for a few seconds and then returned to the large conference room. On the dais in front of the audience, a priest was finishing his presentation on how to gain the trust of an LGBTQ child.
I raised my hand and I asked the teacher if I could go to the bathroom. There was a large boy’s lavatory at the end of the hallway. I pushed open the door and went to a urinal. The room was empty. Within a couple of seconds, I heard the door open again. It was silent. I turned to left and the right. No one. I got tense. I started to zip-up when I sensed someone standing directly behind me. They stopped me.
After that, although I was never an energetic or boisterous child, I became increasingly withdrawn and incredibly insecure. Other boys recognized my reluctance as a sign of weakness. Teasing became a daily occurrence. I had very few male friends. Sometimes, even my so-called friends would ridicule me in front of everyone else. As a result, I was instinctively mistrustful. But simultaneously needy for male affirmation and friendship.
In high school, I often sat alone during lunch or disappeared into the library. For a while, I glommed onto a group of girls who barely tolerated my presence. Eventually, they tired of me. I was desperate. One day, a handsome older boy put his arm around me and said he wanted to be my friend; then, he proceeded to shove me into the girls locker-room. Not long after that, on a dark night, I sat in a car with an older man. At a dimly lit church parking lot – I couldn’t see much, but I sensed him inching closer to me. I liked him, and I wanted him to like me. Very few men ever took an interest in me. I was overjoyed when he did. According to him, God made me gay. In a world where I felt alone, I suddenly had a friend. Someone who understood. Afterwards, he asked me if I wanted to become a priest.
What followed were years filled with pathetic attempts to recreate those pivotal and tragic moments in my life. In the gay male community, I unwittingly discovered an environment in which that was a distinct possibility. There – I found myself in a hundred public restrooms and automobiles where anonymous sex with countless men wasn’t difficult to find. I always looked for something, but I didn’t know what – the perfect man, a friend, a savior? Slowly, whatever happened to me as a boy – became a nearly forgotten non-issue, because almost everyone I knew had a similar story. However, an unrecognized communal misery proved to be poor company. Amongst those who were equally wounded and needy, the affirmation I had always sought I never obtained.
My trip down the “yellow brick road” was a dangerous one. Along the way, I met a Roman Catholic priest dressed in black leather. Those who claimed to offer guidance, only pointed the way to hell. Yet just when my fate appeared to be sealed, I hesitated and thought of God. Then, like the proverbial “prodigal son,” I eventually returned home. But despite the ordeals of the past, I nevertheless gravitated towards male authority figures. My desire to know God and for male mentorship merged in the priesthood. I sought them out, and oftentimes begged for their direction. Some of them were extraordinarily good; others were equally as evil. I was abused. Again. The good priests, could only drop their heads and pray. Their ordination gave them the power to absolve my sins, however they were powerless against their bishops and the corrupt Church hierarchy. For most of them, the utter lack of support and sadistic persecution that was heaped upon them by their bishop drove them to near madness – in most of their cases, it didn’t end well. Why did they submit to such abuse and humiliation? It made me angry. Shortly thereafter, I would do the same thing.
A film I have been fascinated with since my youth is “The Nun’s Story” (1959) starring Audrey Hepburn as Sister Luke. The plot revolves around a Belgian young woman (played by Hepburn) who enters a strict Catholic religious order of nursing sisters. During her postulancy, one of the older nuns describes how they should view the Mother Superior: “The Reverend Mother Emmanuel represents Christ among us. And as such she is loved and obeyed by us.” The priests that I knew, obeyed their bishop as if he were Christ on earth. But their treatment by a man who supposedly represented the Savior of mankind, more closely resembled that of a vengeful god from ancient Mesopotamia. Inside the BDSM dungeons of San Francisco, I had once submitted to such cruelty. Only that was make-believe; this was all-too-real. And for priests who disobeyed, the possible removal of their faculties or even laicization was used as a cudgel to keep them inline.
Although there was much that I admired about these priests, I eventually fled them; I ultimately viewed such men as subservient and spineless. However, in the world of Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) Catholicism, I thought I finally came across a bastion of courage and fearlessness. Compared to some of the others, the TLM priests were occasionally outspoken and visibly devout – hence semi-revered by their parishioners who were used to Fr. Fund-Raiser, Rev. Radical, and Pastor Perky. It was within this environment that I first heard of the phrase: “In persona Christi.” For someone like myself, who was still subconsciously looking for a human savior, it made perfect sense; only such holy men as these could be “in the person of Christ.” In my mind, the rapturous fusion of priest and ritual was complete in the TLM – as opposed to the modernized vernacular mass that merely featured a priest-facilitator whose main purpose was to entertain the people in the pews with a sightly comedic homily.
Then, I did something I hadn’t done in a very long time: I completely trusted someone. They were, I believed: “In persona Christi.” But they manipulated and exploited me.
After that, I quickly discerned that even the limited number of “smells and bells” bishops were corrupted. For them, morality and abuse were measured by secular standards of legality. For a while, only the Pope, remained a true representative (Vicar) of Christ; in terms of John Paul II, then in the early noticeable stages of Parkinson’s Disease, his sickly pitiful countenance exuded the air of suffering and humility. (At the time, I wasn’t aware of his complicity in the rampant abuse surrounding Legionaries of Christ founder Marcial Marcel.) Little did I know, the following year, the putrid stench of corruption would spill out from the pus-filled wounds that filled the bowel-walls of the Church. In 2002, with a series of bombshell reports about priest sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston, what was superficially unknown became a front-page story. For those of us who lived through the reality – nothing looked that new.
Afterwards: Cardinal Francis Law was whisked off to Rome, the USCCB instituted a series of measures – while excluding themselves from any oversight – and Bishop Wilton Gregory (now the Archbishop of Washington DC) declared that “…the scandal is history.”
For me, after over 20 years as a devout practicing Roman Catholic, since 2002, nothing has really substantially changed: some of the victims are different, some of the predators are different and the methodology they use is somewhat different. But in my eyes – it’s actually worse. When I was a kid, the grooming of a child by a predator priest or layperson took place in secret; inside the church rectory; at a priest’s office; or inside a parked car. As I witnessed at the LA REC, nowadays, grooming occurs out in the open: from the pulpit; inside specialized ministries; and even from the Vatican balcony.
In my opinion, within the numerous sexual orientation and gender identity ministries of the Roman Catholic Church, predators (both clerical and lay) have a large pool of prospective victims. As the activist priest stated at the LA REC, children who may one-day identify as LGBTQ are oftentimes alienated from other children and their families; they can appear withdrawn. According to him, Catholic priests, religious, and educators should attempt to befriend such a child, gain their trust, and then help that child embrace an LGBTQ identity; all under the guise of a “God made you gay” dogma. It sounded a lot like what happened to me; thus, my almost instantaneous response of revulsion and nausea.
For years, even before the LA REC, I have known that opportunistic priests and laypeople are grooming vulnerable young people and adults to accept the God-given “gift” of homosexuality or transgenderism. Initially I believed that the propagation of “queer” dogma was primarily endemic to the Roman Catholic parishes of the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, but as soon as I started to write about my own experiences with rainbow stole-wearing priests and Pride-marching ministries, I received a plethora of emails and correspondences from those whose lives had been adversely affected by such pogroms; usually the author of the emails were the mothers of adult children who now identify as LGBTQ. Since their children are not minors, the best I can do is tell them to write their local ordinary. But I know that such an action is pointless.
For over a decade, I have been pleading with bishops to at least oversee some of the ministries that are operating inside their jurisdictions. They won’t. Instead, they invite the celebrity-priest propagators of these false doctrines to preach in their parishes and to appear at their catechetical conferences. These bishops are the primary enablers in the grooming process. After numerous meetings, mostly which take place at impromptu moments outside a cathedral following mass, I have nothing to say anymore to such feckless men. These bishops carry a crook – as a sign that they are shepherds to their flocks; yet, they have stood by and watched as chunks of flesh are ripped from my body – there is nothing left on my bones. They don’t care.
For the most part, these ministries at progressive parishes are the ultimate cover for predatory behavior; the bishops will not interfere because they think these ministries are a public sign that their diocese is being pastoral; the mainstream “Catholic” media will not touch this story because it will disconnect them from the episcopal access that they prize; and secular journalists are uninterested because the open promotion of sexual orientation and gender identity (even among children) in the Catholic Church is viewed as a giant step forward.
Even the so-called Vicar of Christ, who supposedly represents Our Lord, is actively complicit in this global grooming process. For he also repeats the God made you gay deception – including to those who were molested by priests; it’s the ultimate betrayal that rivals the worst machinations of Satan himself. Russian Orthodox hieromonk Seraphim Rose, a man who walked many of the same streets in San Francisco that I once did, remarked about his earlier existence: “I was in hell. I know what hell is.” Not because of my squalid former life in the ugliest pits of homosexuality, but due to my dealings with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, I know all-too-well what Fr. Seraphim meant.
But for a short few months, one last time, I remained hopeful. In 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò released his first shocking letter in which he accused Pope Francis of promoting and enabling serial pedophile Cardinal Theodore McCarrick even though he knew that the American prelate had a prolific history of sexual abuse. Viganò revealed the depths of perversion in the Church. I thought Viganò’s letter would have a greater impact on Catholicism than the “95 Theses” of Martin Luther. It didn’t. Partly due to his own subsequent distraction with tangential issues and because the Church had changed since the 16th century – the letter became lost in the daily news cycle of Catholic scandal. Due to the fact that most self-professed Roman Catholics only rarely attend mass; the laity has split into two camps: one that celebrates the heretical “reforms” of Francis, the progressivism of the synodal system, and the blatant schismatic tendencies of the German Church; the other – is a devout minority that huddles into enclaves around the TLM. They revere the brave men that comprised the “Dubia Cardinals” and wait for a Pius XIII who will return the Church to a pre-Vatican II state of sanctity. Like I used to do, they wait for a savior; but I already met Him; or more accurately, He found me on the side of the road.
Then in 2019, I lost one of my dearest friends, a man who I had known since my darkest days in the Castro District of San Francisco. Both of us had been raised Catholic, and in middle-age we attempted to ensure that LGBTQ people received the care they deserved in the Catholic Church. While I became disgusted and gave-up, he remained stalwart and was convinced that reform was somehow possible within the institutional Church. At the end of year, we finally received a telephone call from the office of a local ordinary and a meeting was scheduled; after several years of trying. Only, my friend had died several months before. I didn’t want to attend, but in honor of my friend’s sacrifice – I did. It was a disaster; I met the man behind the curtain, except he didn’t even have a bag full of cheap consolation prizes.
Like Sister Luke in “The Nun’s Story,” I can no longer be obedient; I can’t even muster an ounce of respect for these men. Literally, they make me sick. A number of lay Catholic believe that the better part comprises remaining in the Church, despite the endless amounts of abuse, deception, and gaslighting that I have to endure. One day, many years after my death, I could be declared a martyr. It’s my place to suffer, they say. Only, such sadomasochistic torment does not make you holier, it just causes you to become increasingly angry, bitter, and hateful. At some point, daily life becomes a living hell. In my own personal inferno, I am Prometheus bound and forced to watch as others are abused like I was. Just as the good priests I knew, I am truly powerless. Well-intentioned Catholics will say: “You can pray.” But when someone is being brutalized in front of your eyes, do you stop and pray for them or do you try to stop the abuse? I knew there was nothing I could do and it was driving me insane. It was killing me; or I would kill myself. Now, for my own sanity, like Sister Luke, I have to walk away.
“Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.” ― Alexander Solzhenitsyn
I am not the sharpest tool in the drawer, but did you leave the Catholic Church today?
Last year. But thank you for asking. Blessings.
Divine Mercy flows like gushing waterfall.
May God bless you on your journey.
I love you brother, I pray & hope you return once more.
In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,
Joseph, how much I identify with your story. You have suffered from seeing the worst of the inside life of the church, and you know too well what children and young people will suffer, being taken advantage of, as you were. It fills decent people with rage, or ought to, to think for a second what you and hundreds of thousands of others, predominantly boys, have had to endure. Many commit suicide, the pain is too great. Just considering for a moment how these boys suffer, it could drive a person crazy. It is impossible to speak about predators and use words that are remotely civil. Every sentence needs the word millstone.
But I identify with your story so much, because I find most people utterly disappointing. Being a sensitive person has it’s risk, and the square pegs in the world have such a hard time of it. Where do such people fit.
Speaking as pretty much a lifetime Catholic, attending now the TLM for about 8 years, seeing what is going on, how nothing changed for the abusers, how many were promoted, and how the church is herself suffering under an anti-pope, we have not left, BUT, we understand it can all end at any moment. We have the TLM now, but there is not a guarantee in the world it will be there next week. We have excellent pastors, but that gives us no consolation. They could be gone next week. We, as I’m sure you as well, stay united to Jesus Christ alone. We will keep His Mother, the saints, the sacraments (when we can get them), the Rosary, devotions, scripture, prayer. If it ends in the pretty church, we will meet in gymnasiums or behind hedgerows, or we will drive long distances when we can. We have Missals, on Sunday, we’ll read them. We’ll play hymns.
It is maybe a trite expression now, but we didn’t leave the church, the church left us, but not completely. We have almost no hope for the mainstream church unless God intervenes.
We don’t look for friendships in the church, don’t look for saints, don’t look for fidelity. We’re just happy when we find it for the moment. We have to all wait on God.
God bless you, Joseph. If it’s any comfort at all, there are a million square pegs out in the world, feeling similar to the way you do.
Not a Catholic, but I read your blog. Where will you go then? I am sorry you have suffered so much.
This is truly heartbreaking to hear. I hate and despise what has happened to the Church my father loved so much as a child. When I was baptized at 30, I was wearing some deeply tinted rose colored glasses. I innocently thought that everyone loved Catholics, even if they didn’t agree with us, and that all priests were good and holy men. Then Father started showing up in rainbow vestments, and I started learning more and more about the filth and corruption in the Church. I was broken down to tears reading this post today. I could never leave, but I completely understand why you have. My continual prayer for you, a virtual prayer for the rest of my life, will be for the salvation of your soul, in that God understands your battles. I truly hope you will one day find a way to come Home. Until that day, may your guardian angel protect you, and may God have mercy upon you. I weep for your bruised and broken faith, for the abuse and exploitation you have endured. It never should have been that way. For you or any child.
Side note: We had a pedophile priest when I was in elementary school who was later exposed and prosecuted. He was quite careful and his activities were confined to areas outside the parish until a parent became suspicious and notified the authorities. I had wondered how he was ordained in the first place and it was not until much later that I found out that there was a certain toleration for “celibate” gay priests who remained closeted. When I later was assigned overseas, I noticed that this practice also seemed to cover those in concubinage. Bottom line seems to be that the Western tradition of celibacy must be maintained even in its violation. I do not have an solution to address the problem but it would seem that a provision in canon law providing for a married clergy to some extent would go at least part way to allowing for more rigorous efforts at eliminating those unsuitable for the clergy and even encouraging a larger interest by those seeking both the married state and the priesthood. There will probably never be a perfect answer to these problems but there will be no answer at all if it keeps being ignored.
Sometimes carrying a heavy cross makes a person physically sick, but to leave the cross is to leave Jesus and the road to salvation. I am sorry that you have lost faith in the Church God established apart from which there is no salvation, and I pray you may regain your trust in God’s grace to endure the fight for the Church, in the Church, for the salvation of souls. Just remember, in the end, you don’t want the end up outside of Heaven with the same men who makes you sick and disgusted here on earth for all eternity, because you rejected the cross that God has chosen for you. A cross He could lighten or even take away altogether as He see fit, for He is always in control. All we have do is remain faithful to Him in the Church he established, regardless of whether or not others in the Church, including the Pope himself remains faithful.
I am sympathetic to the pain you felt and still feel, Joseph, but dovetailing in a bit with what Mark set forth, I cannot give you a pass as others have done for leaving the One True Church established by Christ, and not by abusive priests. Moreover, being abused or otherwise wrongly dealt with by a priest gives absolutely no one any right or justification to disobey Christ by leaving His Church. You are old enough and should be wise enough to understand the difference between what the Church teaches, it’s perennial mission, and the wrongful actions of those entrusted with representing Jesus Christ as priests.
In essence, you are blaming God for what happened to you, and like many apostates of the past, you resort to the defiant Non Serviam approach, but all you are really doing is sinning and hurting yourself all the more by proudly declaring (as others have done) the erroneous rationale for your Non Serviam. To make things right, ask God to forgive your unjustifiable defiance, return to His Church post haste, and work on more healing from within. Good luck and God Bless.
[…] Sciambra, as your rationale for your recent withdrawal from the Church, you wrote, “I can no longer be obedient; I can’t even muster an ounce of respect for these […]
Dear Joseph , I am a mother of one son in a gay “marriage ” and another who caught HIV ( fortunatley now under control with medication ). Believe me, I truly understand your disgust, everytime I hear about James Martin spewing his propaganda.
I am a physician,I know the science , gays are not “born that way”, they are hurt deeply and have distorted self images as a consequence of there unresolved hurt . Even if they were born that way , we would still seek treatment, just like a baby born with a cleft palate or clubfoot gets treatment, we do not abandon him. It is up to those of us who see this truth to help the Church and the culture at large see it too.
I read your book a couple years ago, it was heartbreaking but also encouraging. Conversion happens. You have a grace and a platform in which to help the world see the light . Please do not give up on the Church, there are still plenty of us in it who pine for our own prodigal children and need every ounce of hope we can get from men like you who are living proof that Jesus can heal souls… and from there anything is possible .
I will pray for you as men like you are critical for the survival of the Church ( and my sons).
IN Christ, Veronica E.