My Catholic mother was strict and devoutly religious. After raising seven children she returned to college, earned a teaching degree, and taught 3rd grade at a Catholic school until she was stricken with cancer and died.
Mom was a natural-born teacher — always patient and kind and responsive. As a child, I badgered her with a gazillion questions about practically everything, and almost always she provided an answer or explanation.
We lived in a nice middle-class neighborhood in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Our street was populated mostly by older people, most of them Protestant. Mom had grown up in a predominantly German-Catholic neighborhood in Louisville called Schnitzelburg. She was somewhat self-conscious about raising a large, lively Catholic family in a mostly Protestant neighborhood in Jeff.
But no one complained about us kids. At the very least, we were tolerated. To some extent we were appreciated, I’m sure — because we mowed lawns and raked leaves and shoveled snow and painted and did odd jobs for our elderly neighbors.
It seemed the quintessential American landscape — but it wasn’t purely Norman Rockwell. For 10 years I attended Catholic schools — 8 years at a Catholic elementary school, and grades 9 and 10 at a Catholic high school. (There wasn’t kindergarten in those days.) Before we were even out of grade school, two girls in my class became pregnant.
Everyone knew about the pregnancies. I still remember the girls’ names to this day. One of them lived in our neighborhood. Her brother was part of the “neighborhood gang.” We never teased him about his sister’s condition, or even spoke about it, really. Rather, everyone respected the families involved and their need for privacy at that time.
The girls were gone for about a year. It was whispered, or rumored, that they went to a Catholic home for unwed mothers to have their babies, which were then put up for adoption. When the girls returned, they kept to themselves and were enrolled in public schools.
No one passed judgment or spoke badly about the girls or their families. We understood without being told that the decisions that were made and the actions that were taken were none of our business, really. The girls’ parents and doctors, and perhaps the clergy, were responsible for making those decisions.
My parents were originally from Louisville. When they moved to Jeff around 1950, there was only one Catholic church, St. Augustine’s, and it was located downtown.
My folks bought a house in a suburb a couple miles east of downtown Jeff. Mom got together with other Catholics there and successfully petitioned the archdiocese to build a Catholic church and school in their area. The new parish church and school, built at a cost of $240,000, was dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The first Mass at Sacred Heart was celebrated by Father Robert J. Walpole on Sunday, May 16, 1954 — which happened to be the same day I was born. Naturally my mother was unable to attend. Fr. Walpole sometimes teased her about missing the first Mass at Sacred Heart.
Then came several dark revelations that tried and tested my dear mother’s faith. First, she and several mothers learned that our scoutmaster at Sacred Heart, a 20-something failed seminarian named Michael Hunter, was sexually abusing some of the scouts. Fr. Walpole told them firmly that he would “take care of it.” They assumed he would report Hunter’s criminal misconduct to the police.
Instead Michael Hunter immediately vanished, and my mom and the other moms suspected that Fr. Walpole had not gone to the police, but had advised Hunter that he’d better leave town. Hunter’s parents vanished too — gone without a trace. To this day no one knows where the Hunters went.
Although my mom was deeply devoted to Sacred Heart—had been instrumental in its creation, in fact—she was so upset with Fr. Walpole, she started attending the only other Catholic church in Jeff, St. Augustine Church. Eventually it was learned that the longtime pastor there, Fr. Albert V. Deery, had sexually molested at least 23 children over the course of 50 years.
Fr. Walpole, a chain smoker, died of throat cancer, and Mom returned to Sacred Heart. I enrolled at Jeffersonville High School my junior year. As a Catholic attending a public school, I was required to attend CCD classes, Continuing Catholic Development. Walpole had been replaced by Fr. Andrew Murchie, who served as the interim pastor. Murchie conducted the CCD classes one night a week in the rectory.
Fr. Murchie showed us pornographic magazines and said he was bisexual — he liked both boys and girls. I told my mom about Murchie, and she contacted the archdiocese. She learned Murchie had come to Sacred Heart straight out of a rehab program out west for pervert priests. (A ministry called Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, New Mexico treated hundreds of priests for problems ranging from alcoholism to pedophilia.)
After my mother’s sharp complaints, the archdiocese tried to send Murchie back for more rehab, but he refused and quit the priesthood instead.
My mother’s older sister, Ann, attended St. Elizabeth Church in Louisville. So did my mom’s parents. It was the church my mom and her family had always attended. In 2003, the pastor there, Fr. Louis “Bill” Miller, was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to serve 30 years in prison. With at least 60 known victims, Miller was one of the Catholic Church’s most prolific serial abusers. But he wasn’t the church’s only sex offender. In 2019, the Archdiocese of Louisville released a report that listed 48 priests and members of religious orders within the archdiocese credibly accused of sexual abuse.
According to Wikipedia: “Spotlight, a 2015 biographical drama film directed by Tom McCarthy, follows The Boston Globe‘s ‘Spotlight’ team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in the United States, and its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests...it is loosely based on a series of stories by the Spotlight team that earned The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
“They learn through Richard Sipe, a former priest who worked to rehabilitate sexually abusive priests, that...there are approximately 90 abusive priests in Boston (6% of priests). Through their research, the team develops a list of 87 names and begin to find victims to back up their suspicions.”
The sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy was committed and covered up, not just in Jeffersonville and Louisville and Boston, but in virtually every diocese in America.
Correlation does not imply causation — and yet it seems more than mere coincidence that Catholics’ opposition to abortion rose in direct proportion to the bad PR resulting from the sexual misconduct of its clergy. Catholics desperately sought some moral high ground, so they became politically pro-life.
I’ve known some truly wonderful Catholics, beginning with my mother. But Catholics and the Catholic Church can’t lay claim to any special moral authority — not on the issue of abortion, and not on any issue.
Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.