by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St, Simons Island, Ga.
April 16, 2002
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- We used to call them "funny uncles" when our little friends had extended families living at their house.
"Don't go inside when you call for Gina, she's got a 'funny uncle.'" And we knew better than to get too close to Gina's mother's brother. He (and this is most of them) usually stayed in his room smoking and listening to the radio. (Reading magazines?) He went to work and paid "board" to his sister, who thought he was wonderful.
We didn't share this enthusiasm. He'd greet us with an innocent tickle and then a not so innocent grope when out of the line of anyone's vision. No one paid attention. "Oh, that's just Uncle Guido," they'd say. We laughed when the tickled points forced involuntary giggles but we felt helpless and hated what was happening.
"Guido just loves it when the kids come around," she'd laugh good-naturedly. "He's just a big kid himself."
Guido was Gina's uncle; Patrick was Maureen's. These perverts (our terminology since pedophile hadn't been said outside of textbooks in those days) were lonely characters of every nationality in the city. Were they lonely because of these habits, or did loneliness precede their acting out?
They weren't having fun with the children, the kids were pawns in the games they played with themselves. First step, make them laugh; second step, make them blush; third step, they "just want to go home." I have been there, I know those feelings.
The 10-year old is too young to know what is happening but old enough to want to scream, "Hey, what do you think you're doing?" But no words come out, not even a scream. Whatever this is, it's not something I want to yell out "I just want to go home" about, but none of us told our mothers. We just didn't go inside those houses anymore. We discussed it among ourselves, but not in front of Gina, or Maureen. Did they experience the same groping? And now, over 50 years later, we still don't look back and laugh. It's never funny. It's never all right.
These were the days when every seat in the movie theater was filled. You might try to keep the seat next to you empty but invariably, someone would shuffle into the aisle and ease into the leather seat. If within the next 15 minutes, we felt something on our knees or under our arms, we would hold our breath to be sure we felt what we thought we felt and then scramble out to the aisle on the other side.
"Mrs. Hankins, Mrs. Hankins," I remember telling the white-garbed theater matron, there to keep the peace on Saturday mornings, "that man over there, the only tall person in that row, well, he's, he's, he's, 'bothering' me."
"Well, I can't do anything about him, little girl, he's a pervert. Just change your seat. And, don't sit near him anymore." And, I didn't tell my mother. As I look back, though, she probably would have said the same thing, as torn up as she would be that I was his victim.
We learned very early not to be afraid of rape by a pervert or by a man exposing himself. (Again, a useful word like "flasher" had not been coined for this purpose.) But we ran. Adults warned us. Newspapers carried the stories that a car pulled to the curb, door pushed open by a man reaching across the passenger's seat, asking a girl if she wanted candy. He would be naked from the waist down but by the time the sweet little innocent realized this and ran, he'd be gone in his dark blue sedan.
It was always a dark blue sedan. And, he was nicknamed "The Creeper."
If Gina's and Maureen's families knew about their brothers' perversions, they kept it to themselves, not even confronting him, I would guess. "How embarrassing," they'd say. Or, "I can't tell Mike, he'd killmy brother." They would choose instead "not to air the family's dirty linenin public."
As I think about it today, that is the option I firmly believe Cardinal Law took in Boston when faced with what to do with a priest whose deplorable conduct was disgracing not only himself but the entire Catholic church. No one excused the behavior. (In the Catholic church we hate the sin, but love the sinner.) Bishop Law did what he felt at the time was the proper course of action. He realizes now it was a serious error. We won't see that happening again - and I mean the course of action to remedy awrong, not the wrong itself.
It appears that pedophiles have always been with us and statistics prove there is no greater number of pedophiles in the priesthood than in society at large.
We have the problem but we have not as yet addressed a solution. This affinity for fondling young boys and/or girls starts in the early years of puberty. And, those so disposed realize quickly how anti-social the behavior is. They need to be protected from themselves, they reason, and what better thing to do but devote their lives to God and live in wholesome, prayerful surroundings, away from temptations of the flesh? Their families will be so proud and never suffer shame from their predilection.
In time, they learn this is not a true vocation to the priesthood,but an excape from reality. And then reality sets in, temptation isyielded to, guilt, shame, cries for help, too late. The hatred he feels for himself for betraying the trust of the innocent is greater than the hatred society feels for him. But I'll sing no sad songs for him.
Could something have prevented this? Yes. This is not a crime, it is a serious psychological problem, about which I know nothing. Are they born or are they made? I don't know. Can they function in society? If you ask us to make that judgment we would say yes based on what we "see." But, he knows what we can't "see" and had a moral obligation to seek help.
Instead, he let the walls come tumbling down.