MY KIND OF PRIEST
This is a text of a semi-improvisational theatre performance monolog I did in 2002.†
It is about the kind of priest I would probably be if my grandmother had gotten her way.
My Grandmother, a very powerful person in my life, wanted badly that I be an opera singer or, if not that, certainly a priest.† I wonder what my life would have been like if I picked one of those paths.† This is about the kind of priest I like to think I would have been.† You are part of a group visiting me at the Campion Center in Weston, a home for retired priests.† You are crowded into my small living cubicle. You are from the parish where I used to be pastor, a parish now closed.† You remember me from then.
Props:† I am wearing black pants and sweater.† There is a bottle of red wine on a small table. I keep sipping wine from a glass as I talk.† A large painted wooden crucifix is on the wall with eyes fixed on you. And you see what looks like family photos on my shelf.
Father Benedict Vincent Giuliano:† Thank you for visiting me.† I donít see many people from the outside now-days and I appreciate it.† And I appreciate your curiosity and desire to get my personal view of the what has been going on in the church.† Have you got any questions for me before I start?
From the audience:† Why donít you just go ahead, Father?
Father Benedict Vincent Giuliano:† I donít know where to start, but perhaps to say that I am not at all typical. †Not a typical priest, so what I have to say is not typical either.†† For me there was never a distinction between Godliness, helping people out in a loving way and having fun.† Couldnít have one without the other.† My God is a loving forgiving type, into fun and helping us discover things, not a heavy crusty old-testament type.† I realize the current Holy Father and some of the old Cardinals around him may see things somewhat differently.†
So part of having fun and helping people out for me was always going beyond what ordinary parish priests do.† This got me into trouble with the Bishops and Cardinals and even with Rome sometimes.
For example, drive-through confessionals was one of my ideas.† Back in the 60s when I was Monseigneur at Saint Ignatius in Medfield, we were the first to start with drive-through confessionals.† Had two auto lanes snaking around the Church.† Some times there would be three dozen cars there in line.† Saved people time and was perfectly confidential.† We engineered the confessional booth windows so they matched right up with the car windows Ė even had a black cloth that covered up the gap to insure confidentiality.† Nothing in church doctrine said we could not do that.† So we did it to keep up with times.† Before they cracked down there were twenty or thirty other churches around the US doing it, and the movement was growing and growing.† We got a big write-up in Catholic Digest and another in People Magazine.
They didnít have a good reason to close the drive-through confessions down, just old-fashioned conservativism.† I think it was word from Rome.† They said it lacked dignity.† Dignity, my little pinky!† There is dignity wherever God is.† We insisted that the driver shut down his engine and be alone in the car with the radio turned off.† Apparently the Church thinks cars are less holy places to be in, and I think thatís nonsense.† God does not care where he is.† Everywhere is his.† Right now, right here.
Nearly got transferred to the boonies for that one; they were talking about Onida South Dakota.† MíGinty was Cardinal at the time.† A buddy.† We went to the seminary together.† He covered for me, pulled my tail out of it.† Make no mistake, the Rome boys were after me.† That squinty-eyed Cardinal Morgoni the Papal Nuncio was really gunning for my tail.
Drive-by exorcisms was another thing we got going.† Make no mistake about it, we knew there was plenty of sin in the parish and we knew where it was concentrated.† As long as that sin was going on, we were not going to get far in the parish.† We knew exactly where the devil was working Ė like houses of prostitution and gambling parlors.† And some of the local mortgage offices and banks and loan-shark storefronts.† They were ripping off poor people right and left,† Also, the devil was getting to individuals on the street, like hookers and their Johns or gang leaders threatening to rumble.† So with Father Blahrfield, we decided to set up a swat team to go after the devil itself, a mobile drive-by exorcism unit.† We used the old black Parish buick.† We would fly the parish flag on the radio antenna.† A deacon would drive, I would hold the cross and in back Father Blahrfield would man the censor.† We would together read from the book and chant using bullhorns.† Father Dunn would chant too; he had the voice of a banshee.† The idea was to get to the sin site quickly, by surprise, do the exorcism and get out before the devil knew what was happening.† It was fun and it worked.† More than once, I would see a prostitute or young gang leader in confession the day after the exorcism.† And the police would sometimes follow through and raid places after we softened them up Ė spiritually that is Ė first.† And some of the loan-shark operators Ė you know, the ones that cashed your paycheck for a big rake-off Ė they moved right out of our parish.†
We got publicity for that too, especially when the Chanel 5 TV crew would follow us.† Of course, some times we had problems.† Got busted once for having open bottles of sacramental wine in the car and drinking them.† The sergeant on duty in the police station was a good parishioner, though.† He let us go as soon as the arresting policeman left.† In fact, he gave us back the bottles of wine which were taken for evidence,and we shared the wine and had some good laughs with the sergeant before we left.††
I donít know if you remember the story, but one of the tabloid magazines picked up the drive-by exorcism thing, followed us a few times in their own car, and blew the story way way out proportion.† My picture was in every supermarket and convenience store in the country.† The Boston Herald did the same thing.† CBS was going to make a network show out of our exorcism raids.† Pope Paul the First, I understand, got a good laugh out of it.† He was a great Pope.† But the Vatican bureaucrats did their best to try to pack me in for it.† Well, to make a long story short we had to stop the drive-by exorcisms too.† Order of Rome.† But, I donít regret a second of it.
You all probably remember the last things that got us in trouble, the Sin Hot Line and the Sin Saver Street Patrol.† And the local rock holy-music stuff we were starting to do with cell phones and Internet.† Lots of you parishioners got involved with those. †I think we did a lot of good, before they shut them down too.†
You parishioners loved almost everything I did.† You and MíGinty pulled me out of just about every kind of trouble I got into.† Not like the current guy, Cardinal Law, you know.† Itís like he has a ramrod up inside his intestines.† Heís getting it now though.
Touching and child molestation is another thing you may wonder about.† I canít spend time with hardly anybody from the outside lately without being asked about priests having sex with kids.† Well, to start with, I would never do anything to hurt a child or young person.† Now, itís important to understand that today what abuse means is different than what it meant when I was young.† Touching was regarded to be part of life starting with baptism, and it was OK to paddle boys in parochial school who were up to mischief.† Priests and nuns used to touch everybody.† I remember Father Meegan hauling me around the classroom by the ear in 10th grade when he thought I was not listening.† It was sore for months and thatís probably why my left ear is longer than the right one.† I think some of the priests who touched boyís private parts thought they were just in this tradition.† They did not see any sin in doing so and it was not regarded to be sex.† Priests could get away with just about anything back then.† Of course, they were way over the line from how people look at things today.† So, some fine priests have been suspended now, and it is too bad.† I am not talking about those who did sodomy which is clearly a sin.† Many Fathers who did this confessed their sins and were cleansed afterwards, at least in the eyes of God.† But I was never personally comfortable with someone who sinned, got forgiven in confession, and went out and did the same sin again.† And then they did this over and over.† The whole thing is a rotten shame.† Thank God I have not been directly involved in any of that.
I enjoy a deep spiritual consecration with Sister Maria Agnes.† You may know she is in retirement at the Holy Nativity convent in Brookline.† I am an old man and at peace with God now.† So I donít want to pretend my life has been free of sin.† To start, there were the novices I was with while I was studying at the Seminary, like Theresa Ursuline and Ludmilla Immaculata.† Those relationships were sweet but short and are now long-forgiven.† Later, there was a young devout nun, Sister Maria Agnes.† She was a wonderfully committed Latin teacher in our parish school.† We had a deep and mysterious spiritual relationship for many years.† And we were also often carnally involved.† I would lock us in the Sacristy where we had some plush couches.† We would ask Godís compassionate forgiveness before and after lying down together, each time, and I think God heard us.† He gave us a child, my daughter Patricia who visits me here every week.† And she brings my wonderful grandson Michael.† Although they are atheists now, I cannot imagine how empty my life would be without them.† Marie Agnes and I remain mystically entwined, and you canít believe the ecstasy in that.† †I do not sin with her any more but once in a while we meet with our daughter and grandson.† It is such a celebration of Godís forgiveness. †I used to confess my relationship with my friend-confessor, Father Flaherty.† Each time we would together beg Godís forgiveness and I would be absolved.† Father Flaherty and I understood each other.† You may know, Flaherty was later defrocked and is now in jail for pedophilia.† He is one of those good men who needed psychotherapy at the time when the church thought the confessional handled everything.† The hand of old Rome again.† No wonder the priesthood is decimated and donors have stopped giving.† Now they are trying to sell off our parish property in Quincy, our old church that we thought would always be there.† It is a downright shame.
This current Pope John Paul II is living back three centuries ago.† I had my best years, and the church had its best years during the reformation period of John Paul I Ė from 1963 to 1978.† No accident this coincided with the hippy era of the 60s.† This Pope, Paul II, is the supreme ruler of the church but I donít think he is in good touch with the lives of Catholics in America.† And we have the strongest concentration of Catholics in the world.† We are the bastion of the Church.†
My life here is modest, I live here in this little room and I pray a lot.† And I look at my photos of Marie Agnes, Patricia and Michael. †and I ponder our spiritual connections.† I remain open.† If I could think of some fun holy thing to do, I sure would consider doing it.
Well, I have a lot of other stories, but I think I would rather just answer any questions you may have
Parishioneer: Father, would you be a priest if you had to do it over?
Vince Today: I am happy my grandmother did not get her way.† She died a devoted Catholic nun.† Yet I think she would look very forgivingly on my life even though I have had four wives, sired five children and raised another three in addition.† And she would like it that I live in a happy, stable and contented family context where we are all close friends.† She did not have that for herself.† Although I said goodbye to Catholic School and Catholicism at the age of 14, I regard myself to be a deeply spiritual person.† To see a short essay on my current views on religion, please click here.