Stuff

Defrocked: Our Beloved Priest Was Actually A Pedophile

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After high school I travelled to Lille, France to become a jeune fille au pair. Much like my older sister who paved the way, this was to be my year off towards self-discovery. While in France, I received a devastating letter from my mother that would inevitably change the way I viewed religion, God and humanity for the rest of my life.

I recall my mother’s letter being very brief. It also contained a yellowed newspaper clipping. If memory serves, there was a shrouded image in the foreground – much like the darkened images they use on TV to protect witnesses – of the young boy who had accused Father Charles Griggs, my childhood priest, of sexual abuse. The picture contained a menacing picture of St. Bede’s Anglican Church, the place where my sisters and I had been baptised, in the background.

I immediately called home after reading the letter. My 18-year-old brain had not been accustomed to processing such information. After all, things like this only happened to people on television – and certainly not at “our” church!

Suffice it to say that the investigation would uncover years of “unproven” egregious pathological behavior on the part of the priest. Implicated also were the many men and women who had allegedly colluded to promulgate Griggs’ crimes – crimes that unveiled the inherent dysfunction in the church’s governing body in which these cover-ups had allegedly occurred.

The thing is: how were we to know to question the sexual predilections of this unassuming, mild-mannered individual who arrived from Vancouver? How were we to know that he had a spotty employment record and had been moved from church to church often due to improprieties the likes of which were never discussed? How were we to know that he had deep psychological problems? We didn’t know. And we couldn’t ever know. We simply embraced the jovial stranger, the so-called “representative of God,” with open hearts, an open mind and open arms.

Charles Griggs resembled a modern-day Santa Claus with his snowy white hair, round rosy cheeks and ample girth. He was soft-spoken and he smiled easily. He preferred short-sleeved button-up shirts, and looked like a professional hugger. I recall that whenever he was engaged in conversation with adults, he would sweat profusely, which rendered his entire body pink. You could see the pink flesh desperately trying to escape from inside his priest’s collar, which he removed after each service.

He carried a white handkerchief that he’d use to wipe his drenched forehead, removing clear bifocals hidden behind watery blue eyes each time he did so. He was single, and shunned the advances of the single mothers and others in the church who openly flirted with him. And flirt they did. In fact, when one of the women who was in obvious pursuit of Griggs suggested that the congregation keep him around after the sex abuse scandal had broke, my mother confronted her and asked her what if it had been her two daughters who had been abused. Such was the denial of some people. In fact it was hard to reconcile the fact that “such a nice man” with the charming personal character was capable of committing depraved acts on children. But he did.

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