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The Hands of God
February 11th, 1989
I sit at the breakfast table as Jacqueline prepares us coffee and muffins. The mornings are always filled with nuances of contentment. From our comfortable silence to her hair haphazardly tossed into a bun with pieces hanging on the sides of her round face, there is nothing I love more than our routine.
As Jacqueline sets my black coffee down on the splintering table, I pick up the remote to turn on Dublin Today, our favorite morning news program. The bulky television set wakes up as we do, and a man in a crisp suit speaks about all of the day’s most fascinating issues.
“People are beginning to speak out about the Catholic Church’s sexual abuses towards children in Ireland from 1920 up to the present. Although only a few cases have been uncovered, more people are beginning to share their stories of their mistreatment as Catholic children.”
My vision briefly blurs as I attempt to comprehend what the put-together man in front of us had just said. I stare into the contents of my mug, reading “Proud to be an Irish!” My wife usually drinks out of this mug.
“Can you believe this nonsense?” Jacqueline asks me, although she is somewhat thinking out loud, “People are actually lying about being abused by priests! How disrespectful to God and to the world. I guess people will do anything for attention.”
My vision starts to break up. Trying not to pound my fist through the table, I calmly respond, “People these days.” My hands tremble in my lap, shielded from Jacqueline’s incisive comments.
“I’m going to go outside for a walk,” I mumble, not looking at my wife.
“Are you crazy? It’s eight degrees out! And it’s nine o’clock in the mor—“
Before she can finish her sentence, I am tripping down the stairs of our front porch, wearing only my sleeping clothes and a plaid bathrobe. Dizziness keeps me aware that I am not trapped in another night terror. It is impossible to suppress my past any longer.
The wall that I had built around myself, sealed by cement and hardened by trauma, did not protect me from Jacqueline’s wrecking ball. But I could not warn her to refrain from insensitivity. How could she have known?
March 4th, 1949
Unlike most blistering winter days in Dublin, the sun shone brightly, bouncing off of windows and illuminating the seemingly everlasting dullness that the season had put upon my town. Piles of snow melted into puddles as the clear sky reflected the emergence of spring. For the first time in months, my daily walk to Saint Kenan’s did not leave me with the imminent feeling of frostbite in my small, eleven-year-old toes.
Every step towards my school left gaping trenches in the ground. My shoulders were shovels, pushing me deeper and deeper into the Earth as I trudged on. Just weeks earlier, my father had suffered a fatal heart attack and passed. All my mother could do was stare blankly at the ground. All I could do was look up, praying to God above that the pain would one day subside.
Once inside the church, I sat down next to my acquaintance Peter for the weekly sermon. We exchanged empty smiles, turning forward immediately after our awkward interaction. The shining sun reflected off of the stained glass that watched over the Holy Cross.
As if in his own natural spotlight, Father O’Malley stood in front of us. There was an intrinsic charm about his moving sermons, not only through his channeling of God, but through his glistening smile and absolute humanity towards all beings. I truly believed that he was sent from God to protect me. His supernatural ability to paint magnificent images with his words left me baffled in idolization. I longed for even a brief moment with the man who stood before me.
Clusters of children huddled and chatted as they walked out of the chapel to return to class. I stood alone, but I did not feel alone. My invisibility gave me power that the others did not have. I could stand on tables, bang on walls, scratch on chalkboards, and I would still slink off without even a glimpse from the other children. Although I was not seen, I knew that one day I would be heard. I was convinced that I was different from the other rowdy boys who carelessly flung about their words, defacing God’s pristine image.
Sitting down for my first class of the day taught by one of the many nuns at Saint Kenan’s, I was eager to fill my brain to the brim with knowledge. Sister Margaret was a terrific educator, but did not have the same sort of expertise that Father O’Malley possessed. I still was always a passionate learner, scribbling notes in the margins of my composition book and always receiving high marks on my assignments.
As I sat in class that clear afternoon, I craved Father O’Malley’s approval. If anybody could console me for the loss of my father, it was one of God’s descendants. However, I was just a little boy, and he stood hundreds of feet above me.
While I tapped my pencil and attempted to listen to Sister Margaret speak of creationism, another nun knocked on the creaking wooden door. She was one I did not recognize, but seemed rather youthful.
“Is Ian Fitzpatrick in this classroom?” she softly asked.
“I am he,” I replied, confused, standing out of respect.
“Father O’Malley would like to see you.”
My heart pounded as I followed her up an everlasting staircase, dizzying me to a point of nausea. I was being reprimanded for something I had done, surely, although I could not recall a time when I was ever defiant or belligerent. I then turned to my optimistic self, teasing the idea of perhaps a reward for my benevolent actions as a student and avid Catholic. Each step yielded a new emotion: peril or positivity.
As I approached the door, I took a deep breath from the bottom of my lungs and lightly knocked on the glistening mahogany.
“Come in!” a boisterous voice suggested.
I tiptoed into Father O’Malley’s office. As I stood before him, I began to examine each detail of his being. His flowing robes, the beaded necklace that hung from his neck. His aging face sent an alarming chill throughout my body, suggesting that something about him seemed different from the man who delivered those stirring sermons.
“Mr. Fitzpatrick, I heard about the recent passing of your father and I wanted to share my condolences with both you and your family. May God be with you. Be aware that everything will be all right. It is all a part of His plan,” he consoled.
“Thank you very much, Father,” I said as I began to walk out.
“Mr. Fitzpatrick, wait for a moment please. I called you in here today for I see something special in you, Ian. You are truly a unique little boy, and I think that we could be great friends,” Father excitedly proposed.
I beamed with exuberance. I knew that Father had been watching over me through my hardship. My individuality was verified by one of God’s messengers.
We talked for a great while about Catholicism, my family, the importance of education, and my outstanding grades. He seemed to be complimenting me between every sentence. I could not help but beam of pride.
“So, Ian, now that we are friends, would you do me a great favor?” Father asked me.
“Of course, Holy Father,” I responded immediately.
“Thank you. What I would like you to do is stand over there,” he instructed as he pointed to an area in front of his desk, and I skeptically stepped towards where I was directed.
“Now, stand in front of me.”
“You really are special, Ian.”
“Will you please remove your trousers?”
I do not recall ever uttering the word “no” in my lifetime. If my mother needed help with preparing supper, I picked up a spoon and began to cook. If I were told to go to bed at 8:30, the lights were out by 8:29. So when Father O’Malley granted me my greatest wish, that being a glimmer of his attention, “no” was not an option.
April 9th, 1951
Two years passed, colors darkening with each fleeting moment. Walks towards Saint Kenan’s Catholic School every day dragged on for seasons: I most surely saw autumn turn to winter. The doors of the everlasting Church seemed to tease me as I approached, shouting and taunting,
“If God loves you, why would he treat you in this way?”
I shook in fear prior to each of my biweekly “appointments” with him. He stared at me in ways that could only be the wicked tricks of a higher power. However, I did not believe in God anymore. His face was replaced by a pair of dead eyes and cold hands.
As I walked up the spiraling stairs to Father O’Malley’s office as I did routinely, I was not led by desire or longing: I was led by requirement. It was an April day, as sunny as it was when it all began. The ceiling did not feel as elevated as it did when I was ten years old. In fact, the walls seemed to creep in on me, inching in with every stair.
I reached his chamber. Another heavy, deep breath in, and I knocked. I never stopped myself, although I was easily able to sprint home to fall into my mother’s arms. I did not know her embrace anymore. I knew only the embrace of Father O’Malley.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Fitzpatrick,” he said as if we were both unaware of the events that were to ensue. I nodded my head at him, avoiding eye contact.
He stood up. As he slowly approached me, he looked down at my trousers, insinuating what neither of us needed to be specified.
Fifteen minutes later, I wrestled myself out of disassociation. He softly spoke to me, repeating the mantra I had heard millions of times,
“Do not forget: this is our little secret, and God loves you.”
“I will see you soon, Ian. Give your family my blessings,” he said as I walked towards the door.
As I descended down those spiraling stairs, my solution seemed bleak. All I desired was to shout. I wanted to step behind the podium where he preached his false, empowering sermons and shriek. I yearned to yell at the congregation that they were being spoon fed nothing but falsehoods and deception. But the state of Ireland tightly clung to the construct of Catholicism. No matter where I scampered, I could not escape. The Irish people tightly gripped to their beliefs. Catholicism brainwashed an entire country into believing that their every action was pious and instructed by God.
Nobody would believe a boy who claimed that a priest had abused him. A story so fabricated it would only come from the mind of a troubled youth who felt defiance towards the Church due to an intrinsic desire to rebel. I could not even speak to Mother anymore without finding each letter in her words to be influenced by her adherence to God. If I were to tell her that Father O’Malley had abused me, she would scoff and send me to my room for lying.
That night, I looked at Mother during supper with an expressionless mask. She wondered what dulled the once vivacious charm of her own son.
“Are you alright, my lad?” she inquired as she patted my leg.
“I am just fine,” I assured, quickly brushing her hand off of me, as it reminded me of exactly what I withheld from her.
“You used to be so lively, Ian. Your grades are faltering. I see you not paying attention during Church. What is the matter?” she pleadingly asked me, her voice shaking. I did not react.
I continued to eat my dinner in silence. Although she sat inches from me, I watched the gap widen between us with every unspoken word.
The next day during grammar class, I herd muffled phrases taught by Sister Abigail fly past my ears as I etched images into my wooden desk. The door creaked open, and there she stood. The Sister who defined my fate returned to drag me back to 1949.
“Is Peter MacKinnon in this class?”
Peter stood up from his desk, “I am he.”
“Please follow me. Father O’Malley would like to see you.”
My pencil escaped my hand and audibly thudded, and I felt as if the whole ground had shaken. As he walked out of the room, none of the other students even turned their heads to see him leave, without a clue of his fate. What he believed to be an opportunity was an inescapable tomb of secrecy and abuse.
The most perverse aspect of the situation was that I was jealous of Peter. Father O’Malley convinced me throughout my two years of pain that I was special. It was apparent that his actions as a priest were nothing less than systematic. The Church became a harbor of silence, all of us speaking our truths with pitiful glances and empty stares.
As months distanced me from that moment, I sat in my classroom, wishing time to pass more quickly. Sister Abigail scribbled on the chalkboard what looked like gibberish through my clouded vision. I was beginning to fall asleep as I heard the door creak open. An unfamiliar man with broad shoulders and a wide smile stood before us. He was adorned in Father O’Malley’s clerical robes.
“Good morning class, I am Father Walsh, and I will be your new Head Priest.”
The entire class erupted in whispers and mumbles, skeptical of the man who had conspicuously replaced Father O’Malley. All I did was exhale.
“Where is Father O’Malley now?” an inquisitive boy asked.
“He was placed in another parish somewhere in the United States,” Father Walsh replied gingerly.
As children erupted with confusion, I felt the burden that left me numb start to lift. I knew that the Catholic Church was merely working to hide their wrongdoings, but I did not care. I looked around the room and caught glimpses of children quietly sighing of relief to themselves, releasing their fear of Father O’Malley’s thoughtless touch. With a grateful grin towards the ceiling, I could not help but thank somebody for this miracle. Perhaps God was looking out for me after all. But His presence was too preposterous to even consider.
February 11th, 1989
I have been wandering for quite some time now. With each fast-paced step, I feel brigades built for protection shatter as memories buried deep within me rush back. His cold hands, his office abound with mahogany, the walk up those spiraling stairs, all creep around me and strangle me. I am sure that Jacqueline is wandering the streets of Dublin, looking for me. I am not aware of where I am going.
I hear people laugh at my ridiculous attire, but I ignore the teases. I finally notice where I am. Children of eleven years or younger race each other on the sidewalk despite the bitingly cold winter air, with mothers nowhere to be seen. Thirteen year olds stroll down the street, laughing and taking in every moment of the weekend. When I was their age, I did not have the privilege of being free. I wish that I could tell them to be careful, to not trust the Church. I know that they will never listen.
I glance to the right of me to find a phone booth. As I am about to continue walking, I stop. I remember something that was said on television as Jacqueline spoke of the Church.
“If you have a story to share of your experiences of abuse within the Catholic Church, please call the number: (01) 422-7503.”
I frantically search for a coin in my pocket. It is time for Jacqueline to know. It is time for my family to know. It is time for the world to know.
As if sent to me, I find two coins in the pockets of my bathrobe. I hastily walk towards the phone booth and make sure that the door to the glass chamber is closed.
With shaking hands, I dial the number said on Dublin Today. As the telephone rings I notice my reflection in the glass booth. The memories show themselves on my face, hiding between every wrinkle on my forehead. My blue eyes, once filled with
desire and promise, weigh my face down. My mouth is in the shape of a permanent frown. I had stifled my recalls for fifty long years, and it was now time to dig my story out of the casket that I had built for it.
“Dublin Today, how can I help you?” an aged woman with a thick Irish accent asks me.
“Hello, my name is Ian Fitzpatrick, and I am here to share my story of abuse within the Catholic Church.”