Last Christmas while visiting my parents, I attended Catholic Mass in the simple, sparsely decorated hometown church where I'd made my First Holy Communion and Confirmation, in Plainville, Massachusetts. The priest, Fr. Gary Thomson, made such an impression on me that I sent him an email when we returned home, thanking him for his homily (sermon). Unlike other Christians, who'd been moaning and groaning about the travesty of Santa Claus and how Christ was being cut out of Christmas, Fr. Gary spoke of Santa's spirit of giving and love for children. He sat casually on the edge of a pew as he spoke to the congregation. He was warm and kind, and I left the Mass feeling great.
Two weeks later, Fr. Gary was dead.
Just after Christmas, officials from the Archdiocese visited Fr. Gary and removed him from the rectory. He had been accused of a count of sexual misconduct some fifteen years earlier. He left his Parish and went to his home in New Hampshire, where he died.
As the local news story read, "News that their pastor had been put on leave just two days before his death because of an allegation of sexual abuse has left parishioners at St. Martha's Church stunned and asking questions.
"Parishioners learned from the Archdiocese of Boston this week that Rev. J. Garret Thomson, 55 -- affectionately called 'Father Gary' -- was facing a single allegation of sexual abuse of a minor."
In an official update to the parish on the following Monday, the Archdiocese noted that "the allegation concerns conduct alleged to have taken place approximately 15 years ago."
The official story given to parishioners (my mom attended the meeting) was that he died from complications of his diabetes. Did he become so heartsick at the allegations that his diabetes spiraled out of control? Or did he commit suicide in a manner that would be "undetectable" given his condition, out of shame, guilt, or both?
This past week, I sat in church in Trumbull, CT. There, the priest announced that the Bridgeport Diocese was asking us to fight against a bill in Connecticut that would remove the statute of limitations on sex crimes, opening up the Church to more accusations. I was aghast when I heard this request. As a mom and a garden-variety human being, I think sex crimes should be brought to light no matter how far back they may have occurred.
Worse still, when I returned home and looked at the Bridgeport Diocese website I saw that the stated goal was to protect Church property -- not priests, and certainly not the victims. Here's the legislative alert that the Bishop posted:
Much like last year when we needed your help to defeat bill 1098 that sought to reorganize the Catholic Church, we need your immediate assistance to stop the Connecticut General Assembly from passing an unwise, unfair, and unnecessary bill that threatens the property of Catholic parishes, schools, charities, hospitals, and dioceses in our state.
Called Substitute HB 5473, the bill retroactively eliminates the statute of limitation for childhood sexual abuse claims against Catholic and other nonpublic institutions. The Judiciary Committee approved the bill on March 29, and the full House of Representatives will vote on it soon.
I am disgusted by the protective, political stance this diocese has taken on many issues. For instance, three weeks earlier, the Diocese asked us to contact Congressman Jim Himes to demand that he vote against health care because it would "expand access to abortion." Again, I had to hold my spit as the priest made the announcement. I suppose if a woman is able to see a doctor for the first time in years, she just might happen to be pregnant and choose an abortion. But what about the men? The kids? The post-menopausal women? The Church was willing to deny everyone health care because of its stance on abortion.
I've been asked, "How can you remain a Catholic?" I admit, my cafeteria tray is getting a bit light. I go because it has built community support for my children (who have autism). Kind of ironic to go because of kids, I realize. I tend to march directly into fights, not away from them, assuming I can do more by speaking out than walking out.
I guess life with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads is the price all priests must pay for the sins of the predators and criminals within the Church, and for the lack of action from the Vatican to the local parishes. I liked the Fr. Gary that I knew for one hour. I'm sad that he died under a shadow. But I will never accept that sex crimes, because they are old, should not be prosecuted.
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