At first going to St F seemed like a good idea for a number of reasons: the people were committed, the liturgy reverent, and I didn’t have to worry about the teachings being unorthodox or anything suspect. As soon as I got there, I was roped into teaching CCD classes, since the guy who was in charge of the program was a work colleague of my father and assumed (correctly) that Mickens junior would share the same high level of intellectual rigor as Mickens pere. I taught a wide range of age groups during my tenure at St F, from the pre-schoolers to the Confirmation students.
Everything should have been fine, but even during this “honeymoon” stage that was evidence that the environment at St F wasn’t a good fit for me. My first inkling should have been the fact that one of the priests drove a car with a Confederate flag sticker. And the priest in question wasn’t even American, so I really didn’t understand why he was choosing to field a dog in this particular culture war fight. Now if they’re one thing I hate is the Confederate flag and everything it stands for (more on this on a later post), but I decided to give this priest the benefit of the doubt and assume that he just didn’t know and was trying to fit in among Southerners.
Questionable bumper stickers aside, my experiences at St F could have been more or less decent, were it not for the scandal that erupted in early 2008. The story is somewhat convoluted and to this day, I’m not entirely sure I understand all the details, but I’ll try to explain it to the best of my abilities. The crux of the issue was that the two priests assigned to St F didn’t get along. Fr D was the French priest with the Confederate flag detail on his car, and as one with expect, he was also into the whole monarchist millieu that one finds among the hard right in France. This didn’t really sit well with the other priest, Fr B, who was a former Vietnam veteran with more “conventional” views, who probably didn’t appreciate his roommate telling him that his country was founded on “freemasonry,” Enlightenment values, small r republicanism, and the various other traditionalist bugaboos.
In any case, the conflicts between the two priests began to spill over into the congregation, and that’s when the drama really started. Because of my naturally standoffish personality, I remained blissfully ignorant of what was going on. I really wanted to fit in at St. F, but I didn’t fit into any of the pre-existing cliques that summarized parish life; I wasn’t a homeschooling mother, I wasn’t a retire-er with tons of time to spend going to First Friday or First Saturday devolutions, I wasn’t a guy so I couldn’t do altar serving or any of the other male-only activities. I was really jut floating around trying to find a place to fit in. There was a loosely assembled “young adult’s group” that I was only vaguely aware about, but they went to the high mass at 11:30, whereas I preferred to go to the 8:30 low mass so I could be done with everything by 12 (at that time, I was in graduate school, so my religious duties took up a good chunk of my time).
To sum up the drama, the dislike between Fr B and Fr D began to bleed over into the parishioners, creating factionalism. I know that this drama turned physical at times, requiring several visits from the police, but I can’t be more specific than that, since I learned about all of this after the fact. What I do know is that Fr D was eventually transferred from the parish. This shouldn’t have been too surprising, since priests are often transferred from one assignment to another, but a bunch of Fr. D’s supporters blamed Fr B for their favorite’s departure, so they ganged up on him and falsely accused him of every sin imaginable. The extent and things of what they accused him of doing is still shocking to me to this day, since you’d think that anyone with that many pathologies could either barely function in society or would be forced to design their entire lives around their wrongdoing, like an Ed Gein or a Jefferey Dahmer.
To make a long story short, the secular and religious authorities had to get involved (including the ones in Rome), and the priest ended up resigning from the parish, but was cleared of all charges. Because I believed the priest in question was innocent, Fr D’s faction ostracized me and wouldn’t let their children attend the CCD classes I was teaching. I would later learn that many of the homeschoolers at St F tended to be more into the SSPX way of thinking and thus thought that everyone outside of their clique (including me) was a heretic. I could never figure out why they didn’t go to the SSPX parish in the suburbs if they thought that St F was this hotbed of liberalism, but who knows? So basically, three years into my time at St F I was blackballed from the parish, with no allies or friends.
As hurt as I was by the blackballing, several incidents really stick out into my mind that indicate that this wasn’t the best place for me. The first was when I was teaching the Confirmation class for the younger kids (eleven years old), and it was time for them to take the written exam. The test was intended to be open book and didn’t cover anything that hadn’t been discussed in the course, but I got a lot of complaints that it was too hard. In particular, I got this extremely long and very abusive email from one mother, accusing me of wanting her “speshul snowflake” to fail and giving the youngest children the hardest test. I found the email to be so upsetting that I later erased it, but in retrospect I wish I had printed it out kept it as a reminder in case I needed to remember why I left in the first place. The CCD coordinator managed to straighten the whole thing out (at least superficially), so when I saw this mother the next day in church, she was all “baby” and “darling” and slopping sugar like you wouldn’t believe. Cue the song “Backstabbers” right here.
Then there was the time I went to lunch with the young adults in a well-intentioned attempt to be social. It started out well enough, but then they started talking about how they were going to “get Fr B” and how he was going to be “gone,” thanks to their efforts. I know it’s a cliche, but my blood ran cold, and I just left the restaurant without saying anything else, because I knew I couldn’t be around people who would just destroy a man’s reputation like that.
Then there was another incident that occurred right when Fr D was about to go. I was still troubled by the whole Confederate flag decal, but I wanted to think the best of him and thought that maybe he just didn’t know the whole back story behind the symbol. So I gave him a coffee table book about the Civil Rights Movement in the hope that maybe I could enlighten him. When I gave it to Fr D, I told him to wait until he unwrapped it, because I knew other people would understand the point I was trying to make. As good as my intentions are, I don’t think they made much of an impression on Fr D, since whenever I look at his web site, he’s still in love with the Confederate symbolism. I guess education isn’t the answer.