Thump! The morning newspaper lands at my door. Thud! My heart drops as I read another article about clergy abuse.

Whenever this occurs, I think back to when my little brother was born. I, at the age of 8, became his baby sitter when my parents went shopping on Saturday night. I was terrified to be left alone in the house at night. I would cry and cry as my parents were leaving. No one came to my aid — not my big brother, who was off with his friends; not my sister, who accompanied my parents out the door.

I want to emphasize that this only occurred occasionally, and in no way was it like having one’s childhood taken away by a sex abuser. But as a result I have great sympathy for children, and I can realize when a child desperately needs an adult advocate.

My own experiences as a child in the Catholic Church were, thankfully, positive ones. I attended a brand-new St. Athanasius School in Rumford and was taught by the Sisters of Mercy. Father Benjamin Rybokas worked with us altar boys teaching us the Latin: “Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” (“I will go to the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth”).

In the fourth grade, we learned about St. Isaac Jogues, a Jesuit priest who came over from France to work with the Mohawk tribe in New York state. He became my hero. The Mohawk village is now a shrine in Auriesville, New York.

Later, with five other candidates from Maine (one was a World War II veteran), I attended the Grand Seminary in Montreal. In 1957, at the end of four years, we came down on the Grand Trunk Railroad to Portland for ordination (the Grand Trunk Railroad ceased service to and from Portland a decade later). A seventh seminarian joined us to be ordained as a military chaplain.

I know of no child molesters coming down with us on the Grand Trunk Railroad, but the clear and simple fact is that child molesters did get into the ranks of the clergy. It has been tragic, and it has been well documented. I am very sure, however, that today in the Catholic Church in Maine, the process of preventing and responding to sex abuse has become very thorough.

If you have been abused as a child by anyone and lost your happy childhood, you have every right to weep over it. But you don’t have to stay there. Counseling by trained counselors is very beneficial. You are a survivor, but you can go even beyond that and reach a stage where we may well find you among people who are doing great things.

Let us all get more in touch emotionally with children, always being their advocate, making sure they are having a happy childhood.

I’m talking about Catholicism here and this is how it works. You start with the Sunday Eucharist, where you personally meet Jesus today, where He says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Then you go out and share the love of Christ with everyone you meet, taking care of the sick, feeding the hungry, which is what American Catholics are doing very well today with our Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim friends. But you need a confector of the Eucharist, and in the Catholic Church that is the priest. So we do perform this important role.

I am sitting here in the chapel of Mercy Hospital waiting for Mass to start. Then up to the altar goes a young black priest who has left his home in Africa to make possible the Eucharist for us here in Mercy Hospital, a modern Isaac Joques. As he advances I recite: “I will go to the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth,” and I pray that from now on there will always be joy among all the youth in the church.

The Rev. Joseph R. McKenna is a Portland resident, a Rumford native and a retired priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

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