The Rev. Alfred Vincent Keane is not above faking a little mystical hocus-pocus to get what he wants. Nor will he hesitate to curse the man who deserves cursing. ("Excuse my language, but what the hell," says the priest.) And once he yelled, "Jesus Christ" very loudly at a U.S. Army general whom he knew was particularly vulnerable to such talk.
Father Keane steps out of line with reason. He is seeking a fair deal for the racially mixed children in Korea abandoned by their GI daddies. For the last 10 years the Boston-born Irishman has used his Korean mission to get these children adopted in America.
Since June he has been touring this country, lobbying and lecturing. He wants a national law that would make it easier for Amerasian children to come to the country of their fathers.
So much has been written about the fathers and so little about their children. You may have met the fathers in a grand novel about GIs like James Jones' "From Here to Eternity." Just good old regular guys horsing around the Pacific. Getting themselves a native shack job. Making lovely, unusual-looking babies.
Father Keane met the children while touring poor villages like Tong Du Chon, Ui-Jong Bu and Munsan. With the American fathers gone, the children are outcasts. In Korea, and much of Asia, the father's background determines the child's standing in society.
Fly-by-night American fathers have no standing. The mixed children are called I-ee-no-koo, meaning love child, or person who is in-between who belongs to no one. No swear word in English gets that low, says the 48-year-old Father Keane.
A blond Amerasian once wrote the priest about his life: "I who never should have been born, was born on Jan. 2, 1953. For whatever reason I did not then understand, when I was a young child my mother would shave me bald so that no one would ever find even a single (blond) hair on the top of my head . . . I was always getting into fights. The reason for this is that I could not stand to constantly hear the horrible names the other children called me . . . 'Your mother was nothing but a whore to a westerner.'"
Korean mothers of these children, says the priest, often wind up in debt. They are given credit by village businessmen in the belief that the American husband will return. When he doesn't the businessman may take the child as payment.
Father Keane works to get the children freed from this indentured condition and adopted by American parents. He uses whatever tactics he must. "The first step is usually to organize the girls in the village to spit and curse at the people holding the child. What the hell; you gotta do what you can. So when that didn't work, I gave them my priestly curse. I stood in front of the house and gave the curse. Within a week some relative always falls off a truck or something like that. Then they say, get this kid the hell out of here."
In the last four years, Father Keane has placed about 600 children for adoption in the U.S.
He has helped undermine the South Korean adoption black market. Often, racially mixed children brought to America through the adoption black market did not stay in America. A large number, say Father Keane, were sent back to Korea by adoptive American parents who didn't like the kids. "I had one, he was adopted [on the black market] as a baby and when he was 12, his American parents gave him a plane ticket and told him the name of his real mother. They said, 'We're not your real parents.'"
Such kids find their way to Father Keane's home, who then finds them a second American home through legal adoption channels -- if they are under 14.
If they are older, they cannot be adopted. They must go through regular immigration channels, which, in practice, guarantees that they will never get to the United States.
When Father Keane began working on that problem four years ago, no one listened. He went to embassy officials and military brass, acted politely and got nowhere. That taught him the value of a little well-placed anger.
He visited U.S. Army Gen. John Cushman, one of the top military men in South Korea and a good, conservative Catholic.
"I said we need a meeting of all the groups about the Amerasian problem," the priest says. "He said he was very busy. And I said, 'I'm here in the name of Jesus Christ and we need that meeting.'"
They got that meeting. And the priest has not stopped meeting since. He had a bill filed in the House of Representatives which would give the approximately 80,000 Amerasians in South Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand immigration priority status.
That does not mean, he says, there would be an onslaught of 80,000 more immigrants. The United States permits 20,000 South Koreans into this country each year under the current quota system. This bill would simply give the Amerasian children top priority under the existing quota system.
It's the only moral route to go, he says. He has long since given up trying to work with American fathers.
"I called one father on the phone. He said, 'I have enough problems of my own without worrying about that bastard.' The question is," says the priest, "who's the bastard? Excuse the language."