As kids who loved baseball, we should have been able to hit those mice at least once.
Someone from my grade school in Brooklyn started a Facebook page. I came across it and joined last year. I attended Fourteen Holy Martyrs from second grade through the beginning of the seventh grade, so I was twelve years old when we moved to The Bronx in the fall of 1972.
The second floor walk-up, with the bathroom in the hallway, provided me with a no-frills base on which to form my perspective on life.
There were seven of us in that apartment, Mom, my four brothers, Tony, Raoul, Ralf, and Radi, my sister, Malta, and I. Privacy was never an option. The school was only a half block away.
Memories fade, so it’s not surprising that I remember the names of only a few of my classmates. Looking over class photos posted on that Facebook page yields only the vaguest of memories, so my recollections of that time can only be shared from the bits and pieces of information that have stayed with me over the forty years that have been lived since.
I remember the mice. My brothers and I would try to clock them with our shoes and sneakers from our beds. Those rodents would emerge from the spaces between cabinets, seemingly without fear. This was their apartment.
I remember the roaches. You couldn’t avoid them – especially at night. My Mom was always cleaning. She fought a long but losing battle to keep them at bay. She couldn’t get them all.
I remember doing everything together. The neighborhood was rough and Mom would not allow us to become “street kids”. Only bad could come of that, so we did a lot of inside things: board games, TV, books, roughhousing, and things like that. Straight to school and back was our routine. Given the variety of trouble that my brothers and I could have gotten into if we were given more freedom to roam, I’d say that Mom made a good decision. I was ecstatic when we moved to the Bronx to an apartment building across the street from Crotona Park and its baseball fields, swimming pool, and handball courts. Sports filled my non-school hours for the years that followed.
I remember Father Hugo Bedoya; we just called him Father Hugo. He was a smallish man with a kind disposition. I was an altar boy who sometimes visited him in the Rectory.
I posted a comment to the Facebook page asking if anyone had heard from him. One person LOL’d and wrote that she didn’t think anyone remembered him. Another person wrote: “Boys don’t have positive memories of Father Hugo; I’ve never heard anyone else tell stories.”
Those comments have bugged me ever since. As a Catholic, I’m angered by how the Church hierarchy perpetuated the abuse of children by transferring offenders and otherwise ignoring allegations for many years. Unlike some of my fellow parishioners, I’ve never condoned their approach. There could be no punishment stern enough to make up for the damage that has been caused to so many lives.
But now that one of the accused is someone who I remember fondly, I’m conflicted.
I Googled him and learned that Father Hugo was named in a $300 million dollar lawsuit with 23 other priests in 2003. The suit had been brought on the behalf of 27 complainants whose experiences with the priests spanned four decades, the 1950’s through the 1980’s.
The suit claims that Bedoya sexually abused an altar boy between the ages of 9 and 11 while stationed at Fourteen Holy Martyrs in Bushwick. The abuse allegedly occurred in the rectory, in the “ready” room before mass and on a church-sponsored trip. The suit alleges that, in addition to other odd sexual behavior, Bedoya examined the genitals of his altar boys to make sure they were clean.
Bedoya, contacted at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, referred calls to diocesan leadership.
Source: Keach Hagey, Queens Chronicle, October 9, 2003, New Bishop Inducted As Diocese Faces Yet More Claims of Abuse.
I found this article repeated on numerous websites including BishopAccountability.org, which also contained a searchable database of publically accused priests. The only thing missing, at least in the listing for this case, was the disposition.
I’m not about to make any claims against the person who alleged abuse at the hands of Father Hugo – I wasn’t there. Only they know what happened or didn’t happen. I can only tell my story.
I may have been a perfect candidate for an abuser since I was a fatherless, introverted boy who respected authority, but things are not always as they seem.
Father Hugo and I had several talks. During one visit to the Rectory, with the aide of a health textbook, we discussed hygiene. Father Hugo asked me if I was circumcised. I was not. He went on to instruct me on how to pull back on the foreskin in order to clean away the smegma that can accumulate underneath.
With no father at home, I had not been taught this.
We also talked about sex and reproduction, much as would be taught in school, again while referencing diagrams in a health textbook. He spoke of cleanliness and responsibility. Father Hugo advised me to continue the conversation with my mother at home.
I remember following his advice. Mom was washing dishes and I stood beside her. I began by telling her about my conversations with Father Hugo and then I asked her a question about sex. I don’t remember what the question was, but I remember her answer.
“Don’t talk about these things again.”
Moms can’t be expected to be good at everything.
My question must have surprised her and made her uneasy. Looking back, I’m glad that Father Hugo took the time to educate me in these matters, because it wasn’t likely that I would have learned those lessons from anyone else.
What are we to make of this single claim of abuse? Other priests who have been exposed as abusers routinely have scores of accusers. Could Father Hugo have done what he has been accused of doing? Of course he could have, but what if he didn’t?
We will never know. I searched the Queens Supreme Court database to learn the disposition of the case. It was dismissed on August 23, 2004 when the court accepted the defense’s motion to dismiss the charges on statute of limitation grounds.
Not all stories have satisfying endings.
Update – September 16, 2012: I received an email from an alleged victim of abuse and I wrote about what he had to say in the post, When Blogging Gets Serious.