Today, five of my poems were published by PANK. These poems are some of what I refer to as “my priest poems,” poems I am writing about the sexual abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests. I started working on these poems back in 2011 when I read that the Philadelphia archdiocese had finally gotten around to suspending 21 priests. In fact, these 21 priests were among 37 who remained in active duty in spite of being accused, credibly, for years, of preying sexually on children. This was more than eight years after American bishops pledged to move quickly to safeguard youth from the roving hands of their priests. I was stunned, and I wrote the first of my poems on this topic, “My Body Broken for You,” that same week. Not long after, I read the book Sacrilege by Leon J. Podles. I thought I knew a fair amount about the Catholic priest scandals. I thought nothing could shock me. I was wrong. This book, written by a devout Catholic, was so harrowing that I could only read it a little at a time. The history of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is full of such depravity, such horror and deceit and hypocrisy and evil and open-eyed, bald-faced collusion on the parts of the church hierarchy that I am astonished anyone can bear to take communion from a Catholic priest ever again. This book should be required reading for every Catholic adult the world over, and I highly recommend it to any person who wants to explore the corrupting nature of power and organized religion.
I have long believed, and this book convinced me forever, that the Catholic Church condones, approves of, and encourages the sexual use and abuse of children by its priests. There is no other possible explanation for the utter tolerance of the abuse, the nonchalance when it was reported, and the lack of regard for the victims and their families displayed by the Catholic hierarchy in this matter. No other possible explanation. It was long and widely known and documented that many, many, many priests were abusing many, many, many minors of both genders. When accused, these priests were routinely moved to fresh hunting grounds; they were promoted to positions of greater power; they were granted easier access to children; they were cherished and shielded and sheltered by their church superiors. And all of this was done in the context of a church known for its unbending lack of tolerance and flexibility, a church that is willing to let a woman die in a hospital bed when an embryo lodged in her fallopian tube ruptures rather than grant her the necessary surgery when the ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed. These are not people who falter when it comes to passing judgment on any person who commits what they actually believe to be a sin. If the Catholic Church found it reprehensible for priests to engage in sexual acts with children, the Catholic Church would have had no problem expelling these men from their flock. Instead, the church drew them more tightly in.
It was difficult to place these poems. They are disgusting and painful to read. They were disgusting and painful to write. I at first included no notes with them, but I recently added notes when I realized that people did not believe what I had written. A woman in a workshop actually recommended that I needed to do some reading since I clearly didn’t know what I was writing about. People were confused by the circumstances of the poems because most of us cannot imagine or conceive of abuse this terrible. The abuse was this terrible. I am deeply indebted to Roxane Gay for giving these poems a home, for being a beacon of courage to all of us in so very many ways.
I hope you will take the time to read my poems and all of the stellar work at PANK.