Finding Little Solace in Sharing of Long-Guarded Secret

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Rev. James Moran was asking his usual questions during his chaplain rounds one day last summer at Washington Hospital Center: How are you? Would you like to pray together? Maybe take Communion? But one of the patients on his "Catholic" list bristled at the sight of a clerical collar.

The Catholic Church hierarchy's treatment of clergy sex abuse victims was disgusting, the patient told him.

"Believe me, I'm not trying to force Jesus down your throat," answered Moran, a beefy 60-year-old with an agonizing secret he had only recently started to let out: "I'm a victim of a priest myself."

The patient stared at him from the bed. A question came, point-blank: "Then how can you be a priest?"

Moran spoke the words he had said so many times to himself since August 1970, when he was a 25-year-old seminarian. It was then, he says, that an older priest climbed on him one night in an attic bedroom, held his hands down and performed a sex act on him.

"I'm just trying to do the good to offset the bad," he said.

But Moran heard the question in a new way this time. He heard a permission, the possibility of a door opening to a different answer.

Maybe it wasn't possible, he thought, to reconcile his love of God and priesthood with his anger at church leaders who he felt had ignored the victims.

It was time to leave, he decided soon after that conversation, and he arranged to retire May 31 on a medical disability. But first, he wanted to let loose the whole secret -- not just the abridged version. He wanted people to know that the fallout of clergy sex abuse is not over, even if it has waned from headlines. And he wanted to do it during Holy Week, the week before Easter, the time when priests renew their vows.

The decision would bring more pain than liberation.

A Longtime Dream Dies

Moran was a city kid, a good boy among more rebellious cousins. His mother was elated to give her only child to the church, and Moran remembers feeling only peace about his decision. He was coming to the priesthood with no sexual experiences, just as he had dreamed.

The dream died on that summer night in 1970. He was doing an internship at a small parish outside Boston, preparing to be ordained the next year. He panicked: Had his virginity been violated? Could he honestly be ordained?

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