This kind of incident happens to priests more frequently than one might think. A few months ago on a commuter train I was in my collar and I heard a woman say to her small son, "Don't get near that man." This is from Archbishop Timothy Dolan's blog.
It was only the third time it had happened to me in my nearly thirty-five happy years as a priest, all three times over the last nine-and-a-half years.
Other priests tell me it has happened to them a lot more.
Three is enough. Each time has left me so shaken I was near nausea.
It happened last Friday . . .
I had just arrived at the Denver Airport, there to speak at their popular annual “Living Our Catholic Faith” conference.
As I was waiting with the others for the electronic train to take me to the terminal, a man, maybe in his mid-forties, waiting as well, came closer to me.
“Are you a Catholic priest?” he kindly asked.
“Sure am. Nice to meet you,” says I, as I offered my hand.
He ignored it. “I was raised a Catholic,” he replied, almost always a hint of a cut to come, but I was not prepared for the razor sharpness of the stiletto, as he went on, “and now, as a father of two boys, I can’t look at you or any other priest without thinking of a sexual abuser.”
What to respond? Yell at him? Cuss him out? Apologize? Deck him? Express understanding? I must admit all such reactions came to mind as I staggered with shame and anger from the damage of the wound he had inflicted with those stinging words.