Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, my last confession was Tuesday ...
I was here in 2002 when Father Donald Becker disappeared from St. Mary’s Church, now part of Resurrection Parish.
He just left. Gone. No goodbyes.
The Diocese of Buffalo, when pressed, had only this to say: He was on leave for medical reasons.
This was 2002, the same year The Boston Globe detailed the vast coverup by the Catholic Church when it came to pedophile priests.
Rumor at the time had it that Becker had left for that reason: That he was among the many, many unnamed priests who had sexually assaulted children. Boys.
“No way!” some said. “It can’t be true. This is blasphemy. He was a great man and a wonderful priest.”
I spoke with Father Becker several times since he was appointed to the church in 1990. I liked him.
He served his congregation well and he served Batavia well, spending countless hours ministering to the needy, to the men and women at the VA, at the hospital and nursing homes and to so many lost souls.
“It was a very gentle unfolding of God’s plan for us,” he once told this paper about joining the priesthood. He said he felt a sense of “overwhelming joy, a sense of unworthiness and personal fulfilment” when he was ordained.
Now, we wonder.
In recent weeks, The Buffalo News has been detailing allegations of sex abuse by priests, interviewing many men who, now adults, have come forward. The articles are haunting and powerful and come at a time when there is increased pressure on the Diocese of Buffalo to confess. Release all the names of priests accused of being pedophiles.
All of them.
Then came an article about three men who claim they were sexually assaulted by Father Donald Becker, who retired to Florida.
He told The Buffalo News that “illness” was the only reason he left St. Mary’s. He denied ever sexually assaulting boys.
He was lying. The Diocese confirmed that Becker was removed because of sexual abuse allegations and then released the names of 42 priests of being pedophiles since 1950.
That was Tuesday.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned and sinned and sinned. It has been four days since my last confession ...
When is Father Becker, and, believe it or not, he is still considered a “priest,” going to confess? When is the Diocese of Buffalo going to confess? Just 42 priests? And all of these names are from the past, long ago, dating back to 1950.
Do you think this behavior suddenly stopped in 2002?
The church for years, decades, has been shoveling money down the throats of victims, choking them into silence. Moved priests from parish to parish where they could assault more boys.
Just look at the list: Most of these priests were sent to rural areas, the Southern Tier. Get them out of Buffalo and disappear them into the wilderness. Less likely to be found that way.
We are finding them, year after year more are discovered.
Releasing the names of 42 priests is not enough.
Isn’t it the church’s motto that to be absolved of your sins, you first must confess? That’s easy.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned ...
I forgive you. God forgive you. Say a few Hail Mary’s and you can have a clean conscious.
Or do we go old school and bask in silence and the cloak of secrecy of the church and wait for hail and brimstone to rain upon our golden temples?
Is forgiveness actually divine? Does “confessing” the names of 42 priests absolve anyone?
“Hey, we confessed. We came clean. Now forgive us.”
No. It’s not that simple. The Catholic Church is not who sexually assaulted these boys. It is not up to the church to forgive these men.
It is up to the victims to forgive them, and to forgive the church for allowing this to go on and on and on.
It is up to the pedophile priests to seek forgiveness, to stop the lying and to come forward and repent, not hide behind a Diocesan communications director and vague statements to the press.
Let the victims decide whether to forgive or not. It is their choice and their choice alone.
Forgiveness is divine?
I’m not so sure God would even forgive these sins. At least not any God I know.
I hope you have enjoyed your retirement in Florida, Father Becker. Maybe before you die you will finally make your first confession.
(Scott DeSmit is a general assignment reporter for The Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com.)