Less than Sacred Memories


Today, looking for something else, I stumbled over a webpage with detailed information about one of our parish priests from when I was young, Fr. Robert A. Marcantonio. I actually remember him fairly vividly. He got my attention by being completely different from any other priest I’d encountered.

We had catechism class with him when I was in high school. He told us that because his official time was divided between the two parishes in our town, that we could not attend catechism at the church, as usual, but would have to come to classes at his apartment. He had an apartment with no other priests, instead of sharing space in one of the rectories, for the same reason. He was a grad students at the local university, and that was why he wasn’t assigned to a particular parish, but helped out a bit at both of Catholic parishes in town.

I remember arriving at his apartment the first time. He answered the door in casual wear. I don’t mean casual for a priest, I mean CASUAL. Shorts. Rumpled. Sports shirt or tshirt. Sometimes he even taught class in a sleeveless undershirt, the kind now called a wifebeater. Sandals. I had actually seen other priests wearing sandals, but I had never seen a priest without a clerical color or a crease. I hadn’t seen priestly skin aside from face or hands. Once I thought about it I figured it made sense. They had to let down their hair sometime, right? After all, they are still people, right? I was young enough that this was a revelation. Despite being in high school, at least officially, I was younger than most of the other kids in my class and pretty naive. My kids tell me I am still pretty naive.

His apartment was tiny. I suspect he would have had much more room and comfort in either of the rectories. He didn’t really have much in the way of a kitchen or dining area. He had a refrigerator, but only a half size one. It was packed, which was no surprise, but with only one item: beer. THAT was a surprise! This was the first time in my life that I had seen a fridge packed with nothing but beer. Cheap beer. Something like Miller or Bud in cans. Fr. Marcantonio drank beer during our classes. We didn’t drink anything. Maybe some water sometimes. He said he figured since we were in high school we were old enough to find out that priests are people, just like our parents. Something like that, anyway.

As a grad student, he seemed smarter than the average priest, or perhaps it was just more willing to bring up esoteric bits of knowledge, quoting literature beyond the sacred, placing ethical questions in a secular context. I kind of appreciated that. I was always pretty intellectual, a big reader, and it was nice to not be completely bored. On the other hand, Fr. Marcantonio was incredibly foulmouthed! I was absolutely shocked by the range and frequency of curse words he used during catechism classes. Being a bit on the prissy side, that was, shall we say, something I didn’t appreciate as much. I chalked the foul language up to the beer, since he didn’t always seem entirely sober during our classes.

He also seemed a bit angry. I didn’t know why, and I wasn’t interested in knowing why. I just wanted to get through the class and get out. I had never been in a single man’s apartment before, and I didn’t like it, even if it was a priest. He didn’t feel like a priest. He was a large bodied, muscular, hairy, loud man. Hairy as in hairy over his body, although he also had bangs that fell in his eyes. How did I know this? The shirts and shorts didn’t cover everything that was hairy. Neck, arms, legs, all muscular, covered with thick dark wiry fur. Barrel chested, with hair sprouting from the sleeves and neck of his tshirts. He was coarse, crude, slovenly, angry. I was quiet and timid around him, for the most part.

Well, the website I saw today explained why he was angry then.

“Marcantonio was sent to Iowa to attend graduate school and to receive treatment from a psychiatrist who was also a priest, and who knew Marcantonio when he was a seminarian at Louvain, Belgium (per 1998 legal complaint).” BishopAccountability.org: Rev. Robert A. Marcantonio: http://www.bishopaccountability.org/assign/Marcantonio_Robert_A.htm

Legal complaint? Psychiatric treatment? You can probably guess why, but I was surprised. According to the records, he molested boys, lots of them. Over and over again, in parish after parish, state after state. Some, yes, in my hometown, during the time I would have known him. This all came out in a series of news articles and legal complaints (six!) ranging from 1994 to 2008, with the information seeming to peak around 1998. Fr. Marcantonio died in 1999, after taking a decade long leave of absence from serving the church in an official capacity, a year after the biggest legal complaint broke. He was young. He would have been then the age I am now.