Letters — 18 September 2015
The Altar Boy

Dear Editor,

       Papito started as an altar boy at the age of 7 years old and took his religious duties very seriously.  Born into a solid Catholic family in Benque Veijo Del Carmen, Belize, on the Guatemalan border, he was taught to respect the priest and the church and have pride in his position assisting the Jesuit priest in the daily rituals in the Benque Catholic Church.

       Even if sometimes his daily religious service was strenuous, the hands in blessing on his head were always reminding him that he was doing an important job. In his innocence he was rather happy with his life, and his dream was maybe one day after finishing school he could become a priest too.  After only a few years as an altar boy, at the age of 12, coming into puberty, his harmonious life got turned upside down when one schoolmate a year older than him called him a “maricon”.  It was the year of 1961, and in this small British Victorian-ruled colony sexual education was not yet in the curriculum for the primary schools.

       So he asked around about what that meant. His mother could not tell, his teacher could not tell, but one of his friends told him he was a “faggit”, a “queer”, somebody who had sex with another man.

       After disputing with his friend about what he had said, he came to the realization that he had been sexually abused by the priest for all those years that he had been an altar boy, that the hands, in blessing, were only to adjust his head for more pleasurable moments for the priest, not as a blessing for his religious services.

       He was freaked out by the idea of his denial. What he had been experiencing as a religious service for all those years was a total lie, a mortal sin in the eyes of his peers, an abomination, something totally degrading his budding masculinity.

       By the time that he had to go back to his church to fulfill his duties and after the service when the priest demanded his usual service, the poor boy was so angry that in his rage about all those years of the abuse, he lost his senses, went for the priest when he was steering his penis towards his mouth and bit his testicles off. It resulted in the priest very slowly bleeding to death on the floor in the sacred space behind the altar.

       Knowing that he was going to meet his Maker, he got up to his office to prepare himself for that, when Papito came back to confront him, still in a rage, with the question: Why?  The priest’s answer must have so aggravated Papito that he went for the machete with which he cut the church yard and hacked at him in his anger, so that he really bled to death quickly.

      And then Papito ran… across the border and disappeared into Peten.

       But now they called him a murderer, not only that he had murdered a priest, but a white man of authority, and of course, that deed could not be left unpunished by the colonial authorities, while the priest’s role in the story which led to this was lost in a web of lies and denial.

       So when I heard this story from Sam the Rasta who was looking after this man in jail as a social service while he served his sentence, I barely could believe the story. So I contacted the only reliable Catholic source in Benque I had, to ask him if he knaew anything about this story. Funny enough, he had researched this murder story himself, but there were too many inconsistencies between Sam’s story and what he had discovered in his research, so I would have to go to Hattieville and find out. I have to admit that I believed Rasta Sam more, because I do not think the parishioners of the Benque Catholic Church would like the spotlight turned onto this terrible injustice of what I believe is God’s Law.

       This was last year when there was trouble with the prison’s administration and the warden, so I decided to wait, until last week, when I heard the story again from the cousin of somebody in the prison administration, who promised me an easier access to this prisoner in Hattieville.  They really did not know what to do with this man, as they knew that he did not belong there and it might be a good thing that this story would come out. Sexual abuse, especially by the clergy, was never talked about in Belize.

      The reason that I wanted to follow up this story was my own experience with the only two Catholic priests I met in my life.  The first time when I met a Catholic priest was when I was a young kid travelling in Italy and within just five seconds after we met he started to sexually molest me and had the intention to rape/have sex with me.

       Now for me this behavior of a man of the cloth was shocking. I was paralyzed, like people are when they get attacked by a snake. What was the most disturbing was that he could do this with the unquestionable authority of priesthood:  I take what I want and because I am who I am, so I can do this.

     I managed to get away from him.

       The second time I met a Catholic priest was here in Belize when I assisted a Garifuna friend who was a devout Catholic with the baptizing of her daughter in a private ceremony in her garden    The priest approached me to ask why I did not want to share Communion, so I told him that I was not raised Catholic so….

      “Well, I feel it is not only that you are not being Catholic, but that you do not like Catholic priests,” he said.

      “Wow”, I answered quite surprised: “I did not know it was so obvious, but the reason is that the first Catholic priest I met tried to rape me”.

       So he turned around and laughed at me with a wicked smile and asked me in an effeminate voice:  “Ahh, did he manage!!??”

        Now I had to suppress my instant reaction, because my first reaction was to smack him right in the face with the bowl of food I had in my hands and then kick him in a specific spot.  But, you know, as the only “white bwuay” beside him at the celebration, it would have been a little awkward to do that to him, who was after all, the priest doing the baptizing.

      Anyway, that could explain to you my aversion towards organized religion and why I live inside The Garden, in which I try to live in His Spirit.   What I have been trying to create is a bigger Garden which I could share with people of the same Spirit.

   Now the thing is that I found a place like that on the Hummingbird Highway and I am trying to create a space for a man like Papito where he could end his days finding healing with the help of Mother Nature in what I call The Garden or The Church of the Beauty of God’s Creation. This could be the place where he could get somebody to look after his needs and cook him some good Escabeche and scrub his back.

   I am even willing to travel to Rome and present his case to the Vatican Office dealing with the abuse of the clergy to get him some sort of compensation.   I could even try to ask Pope Francis to get help for Papito to the Garden. Miracles do happen!

   With this intention I went to Hattieville Prison to visit, where the warden told me that the prisoner was not in a condition to receive visitors, and confirmed that Papito was imprisoned for life in 1974 for the manslaughter of the priest in Benque, that his legal papers had disappeared and if I wanted insight into the court papers, I needed to apply to the Supreme Court.

  I was told already that the court case probably had been behind closed doors, so the details would not come out to the public, and that he was pardoned after 30 years by Queen Elisabeth.  But when he came out and went back to Benque, he started asking confronting questions and telling people about the abuse.

       It was no surprise that after a couple of days, he became very disturbed by the different people’s response.

       Soon after he was picked up by the police and put back into jail under the cover that he was crazy and since there was no alternative for psychiatric treatment, he was imprisoned in Hattieville again.

    So with one small break he has been there since 1974.  For 41 years!

       When I started talking to different people about this article, one said I better start watching my back and that I could not change anything and that there would be a lot of powerful people who would not like this story to come out. I believe the cover-up by the church/clergy has extended the suffering for many of the abuse victims and their families.

   Did the Church ever recognize that abused children are struggling the rest of their lives with issues like love, trust, honesty, betrayal and authority figures? It’s like their souls shatter into many pieces and it seems that they never can fit together again, because the events which were forced on them destroy all sense of right and wrong.

      What do we go to Church to learn?  The 10 Commandments, the teachings of Jesus about his love, trust and compassion…… Did I just hear a rooster crow three times?

    I actually came to this conclusion by working through what was also for me a very sensitive question. Because of the assault by the priest I became more aware of being assaulted as a baby by my father when he was drunk and tried to choke me to death with a pillow so he would not hear me cry.

        Now that led to my going into therapy when I was about to be a father for the first time myself, some 30 years ago, so that I would not again abuse my own child as my father was abused, growing up in an orphanage.

      You must have read all these stories in the Amandala the last couple of months about all those murders of life-partners, always implicating abuse.

       It is a known fact that very often a person who got abused as a child will abuse their own children or their partners again.   And that is why this evil of abuse has to come out into the open, so that people become conscious of their past. That is the only way to break the cycle, to stop this vicious circle of abuse destroying our marriages and our children’s lives.

Commentaries: from the Garden,

Chriss Roggema,

[email protected] Facebook.
Caye Caulker, Belize.

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