Ours is not a time and place in which a man can easily wax rhapsodic about his childhood sex with married men and priests; but Sergio - an accomplished, handsome and quiet middle-aged resident of Wilton Manors, in a fifteen year relationship - wanted his story told, albeit anonymously. What happened to Sergio is not unique, but his conclusions constitute a confession usually never given voice. Over dinner, I recorded that story and deliver it to you in his own words. Without judgment. Without commentary.
“I grew up in a city on the Italian Riviera that had been devastated by World War II. It was rebuilt but it had lost its soul and its prosperity. My father struggled to find work to support his family of seven. In the 1960s, he took a second job running the movie theater owned by our parish church. My mother was the cashier and I sold candy in the lobby. My father was a deeply religious man. When the canisters of film arrived on Fridays, he would pre-screen them and if he saw a kiss or even a bedroom, he would cut and splice them. He didn’t know that I was downstairs in the theater watching the uncut versions. My job was to clean up the projection room for him. I would save the scraps he had cut and hold them up to the light in my bedroom. Very Cinema Paradiso.
“Parents dropped their kids off at the theater on Saturdays because it was safe. Before the movie started, the priest would get up on stage and make us say ten Hail Marys. The church was the center of our life and I was leader of the altar boys. We each had a card that the priests would sign every time we served Mass. After twenty times, we got a prize, like candy or a soccer ball. If you didn’t go to Mass on Sunday, you couldn’t play soccer on the church team or use the church recreation field.
“Even as a small child, I learned that sex was a sin. I confessed it all the time. There were seven priests in that parish. Each one had his own confessional with his name on it and a bell. When you rang the bell, that priest would come to the church and hear your confession. I went all the time because of sex and because they taught me that in confession I could wipe the slate clean. I had to lie in each confession because I didn’t want to admit I had just gone the day before. Each day I rang a different bell and confessed to a different priest so they wouldn’t know it was me again so soon, and I never said that I masturbated, only that I had ‘done bad things behind my mother’s back.’
“One of the altar boys who was my age took me alone into a room at the church youth center. He put my hand on his dick and taught me how to rub it. I loved it and wanted to do it every chance we got. Soon there were other altar boys in our group. This kind of fun is how we ended all our Catholic activities until one time, one of the boys ejaculated and that scared the shit out of us.
“When I was about ten years old, I was in the movie theater in the back row on the aisle. One of the priests was sitting next to me. He was the youngest of the seven, maybe 25 or 30, and he was in charge of the youth groups. The other altar boys were spread throughout the theater. I felt his knee against my leg. I didn’t move away. It felt very nice, all through the movie. Next week, the same thing, only I put on a lot more pressure. I started leaning against him. He took my hand and drew it into his robes and into his pants and I grabbed his dick, and I have to say it was the best thing I ever felt in my life. I didn’t want to let it go for the rest of my life. I didn’t move it. I just held it. I felt that either I had died and gone to heaven or that I was home. Next day, I went to the church and rang his bell. Instead of the confessional, he took me into the storage basement of the church where we were surrounded by statues and all the stuff used on feast days. The only thing I wanted was to take out his dick. I was really the aggressor. We did it frequently. I only knew that it felt good. He never asked me not to tell. He never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to do. Sometimes it was with the priest and three altar boys. Never kissing or hugging. Just the sex organ. No incentives offered, just my own pleasure. If I did not have that experience with the priest, I would have found it somewhere else.
“One time, my father kicked a man out of the theater because a boy said he had been touched by him, and my father chased him down the street yelling insults at him. The only thing I wanted to do was to run after that man, grab him by the hand and say, ‘Take me with you.’ I had fantasies about our family doctor, that he would take me away and we would live on an island where everyone was just like us. No wonder I live in Wilton Manors which is exactly that kind of island.
“After the priest, I started seeking other opportunities. There were always several married men at the church who I was having sex with. With one I had a code. If his wife was not home, there was a white towel on the door. With another one, I would go to the cemetery with him when he bought flowers to place on his wife’s tomb in the little chapel over the family vault, and that is where we had sex. In my little head it began to click that I should get married like them but still do this forever. The other altar boys I had sex with all got married. I did not want to be a priest. I hated the priests who came into our church to recruit for the seminary. They would take me for a walk and put their arms around me and say that Jesus was calling me.
“Also in my head it began to click that sex was forbidden by the church but that everyone did it anyway. We were strictly forbidden even to watch when the bull was brought to a neighbor’s house to stud the cows; but every time we saw the truck go by with the bull in it, all of us boys would say, ‘Okay, we know where we’re going later.’
“When I was 18, the pressure was on me to get married. For two years, I had a girlfriend who broke off our engagement because I would not have sex with her. I left the country and went to London where I joined a huge gay community. I met mostly older gay men and one friend brought me to an Anglican church that hosted gay nights with dances and raffles and events. My friend said, ‘Honey, you’re home.’ I went home with someone on my first night there. It’s funny that some church is always involved in the milestones of my sex life. The experience of religion is the experience of the erotic, and that is something people won’t talk about.
“They say we repeat our early sexual experience, but I would never have sex with a boy. I shy away from young people. I’m not comfortable. I don’t know why. I owe a lot to what some older guys did for me. Maybe I should be helping younger guys.
“I was absolutely not abused. After the first contact with his knee, I was going after that priest more than he was going after me. That is the truth. There is no doubt in my mind, that I wanted it more than he did. I have a very difficult time with these people who are suing priests because for me, there was no coercion. He didn’t even offer candy or gifts. There was no incentive but my own pleasure. All these years when all of these abuse stories came out, I never felt sympathy for those who brought charges against priests. I know that I was very young when it happened to me but I could have stayed with it or walked away. Some of my friends walked away. I didn’t. I went back. I rang that bell. I liked it.
“Today kids don’t have the same opportunity. Those married men would today be classed as predators. It never occurred to me, never crossed my mind that I would turn in any of them. I believe that now kids 12-16 are a lot more aware of things than I was. I think they have some malice that I didn’t have. I believe that what I was doing was not wrong. It was consensual. Some would say that you can’t have consensual sex when one of the parties is a kid. That’s bullshit. I was the aggressor. I had to ring that bell. I had to go up the stairs. I had to seek it out. Either I am a freak or there is something else that I either can’t explain or don’t understand.
“Sex comes with the baggage of guilt. The fact is that when I was a kid, I couldn’t talk about sex with anybody, and this sense of sin screws you up with your whole life. I think I am a better person because of what happened to me. That’s how I was able to understand who I was. That so many people in the church did what I did, there is not anything wrong with it. We are sexual beings. We can control our urges as we get older only because they diminish. The church gave me not just my sexual identity but my whole identity. It showed me that what they preach is not the truth, and I think the priests wanted me to know that. My experience freed me from big baggage.”