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.
Alarmingly, when Griggs confessed to the one or two crimes with which he was formally charged, he continued to be embraced by the church authorities who saw no conflict in having him continue as the priest of our church! It wasn’t until a formal complaint had been lodged by the church community itself did the bishop start proceedings to defrock my wayward priest.
When Charles Griggs arrived, it was accepted that he would not reside in the Priest’s Quarters adjacent to the church because it was ”too much house” for him, a single man. Instead he would rent a town home that was less than 30 minutes away from the church. He immediately set up Boys Only Clubs. Girls were strictly prohibited. Under Griggs’ authority, girls were stripped of their right to participate in church services as alter girls even though this was common practice prior to his arrival.
We later learned from a close family friend that after boys club outings, it was typical for Griggs to invite the boys to his town home. It was disclosed that he would often emerge from the shower wrapped in a white towel. Key testimony in the case would reveal that molestations took place after church services and in Griggs’ home.
I’m not sure how many boys or family members came forward, but once the story received media attention, it is likely that every parent combed their memories for evidence of anything untoward that had happened to their boys at the hands of my priest and the other priests with whom he associated.
Charles Griggs was the favorite church director at Camp Wapatek, The Anglican Summer Camp located in Kenora, Ontario. It was close to a First Nations’ Reservation. My sisters and I had attended the sleep-away camp for several summers. I remember that as much as this was a so-called Christian Camp, the camp counsellors and some of the older kids were always hooking up and sneaking off to sleep around with one another. Such was ”Christian” camp life. A young boy would always sleep in the cabin of the resident priest at the time, and would act as the priest’s ”gopher.” One can only speculate what happened in that cabin when Griggs was at the helm. After a while this tradition stopped.
There was also the Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) spiritual weekends where older teens would spend a week away getting to know Christ. It was like one huge love-in. The teens were ”not allowed” to talk about their experiences since it was a personal journey/experience unique to them. Charles Griggs and his associates had participated in those awakenings as well.
My childhood priest was in his 60s when this legacy of abuse ended, which means that it is likely he spent a lifetime physically and psychologically abusing unsuspecting people who entrusted their spiritual lives to them. It saddens me that the burden of proof lays with the victim and that the victim is relentlessly re-victimized every time he or she is asked to recall the details of the abuse. Sure, Griggs and people like him have been outcast and ostracized from the community. But is it enough? The damage has already been done. The violation cannot be retracted. I think of all the other victims who were not able to come forward, or who were ”discredited” or who didn’t know that what they were experiencing was abuse, since it came via a grown-up who claimed to be doing ”God’s Work.”
Which leaves me with my thoughts today. I attend church irregularly but I believe in God having children helped to solidify that belief. When I returned from France, I went through a period of disillusionment with the church. believing that God was a fraud. I had a friend in university whose father was a priest Griggs was a family friend and yet she was the most promiscuous woman I knew even as she taught Sunday School!
I had another friend who preached God-stuff all the time, but would tell me repeatedly how much she hated white people. This was the same friend who was convinced that I would be ”saved” on her watch, which only made me dig my heels in further and resist being saved because someone told me it was going to happen to me. It was then that I came to the conclusion: it’s not God, it’s people. [tagbox tag=”pedophilia”]
I don’t put my entire belief in people who claim to believe in God, or who claim to be doing God’s Work, because I think that people are fallible and can only do what humans are humanly capable of. For the most part, I think that people are inherently good, and whatever belief system(s) they use to help them guide their lives is strictly up to them. I’m not out to convert or dissuade anybody from the path they choose. And I can’t answer the ”Why does God…” question any more than I can answer the ”Why does Science…” I think that when we put our energies into discrediting another person’s belief we’re taking on a role that supposes that our belief system is ”better” than someone else’s. It isn’t. Get over yourself.
The church is like any other manmade construct in which dysfunctional human beings come to reside and share ideas and to hopefully cure what ails them. There are hierarchies within those structures in which someone must take the lead. Sometimes those individuals with power do good things and sometimes they do bad things. It’s a fact of life. I think we have to stop viewing the church as this bastion of holiness and goodness because it isn’t. Church-going people commit terrible crimes just like non-going church people, but they do so under the guise of religion. Does God ”approve” of this? I don’t know. Much like the pedophile priests who go into the profession to either to be ”cured” of their transgressions or to have access to their victims. It happens everywhere.
Did a similar thing happen to you? How did you end up coping with this issue in your life?