How to NOT Become an Altar Boy

Since the beginning, I can remember I’ve always hated the Church. I just could not stand it. Way before I first watched Joel Osteen and his Mega Church extravaganza and way before I first watched that sack of shit faith healer Benny Hinn fake heal someone, I never liked the Church. It has nothing to do with God or the Church itself; it’s just the people on the inside running the show.

And the rules too! I hate all the rules and the underlying tales of raptures, suffering and eternal damnation.

I found myself asking a lot of questions in my fifth grade St. Margaret’s classroom. “Why?” or “Why?” and “He was in a whale’s belly for three whole days? Come on…”

And finally, there are the Priests. I do not like them. I always viewed them as assholes, mean and condescending pricks. I never met one that I liked. I’m convinced my despise for the Church and their brotherhood stems directly from my Catholic school days.

DON’T WORRY! I’m not going to bore you with a snarky, hate fueled organized religion rant; I’m just getting the anxiety out.

Now, on the topic of the Roman brotherhood, I understand that far worse atrocities have occurred in this world, opposed to what was committed by a couple of hundred thousand Catholic priests and covered up by the Church. And yes I am highly referencing child molestation, but I’m not here to talk about other atrocities, I’m here to talk about priests. Let’s not forget that this column you are reading is called the Anxiety Monologues and us people afflicted with anxiety tend to focus on the smaller, irrational situations in life that we view as “problems.”

We, speaking on behalf of myself here, will always use this mental disorder as an excuse to get away with being selfish. Thank you.

Between mass every weekend and my dad vegetating in front of football on TV, Sundays were pretty dreadful, but dread would soon turn into fear after I watched a little Canadian miniseries on TV called The Boys of Saint Vincent. The Boys of Saint Vincent, based on true events, was a molestation scandal that took place in an orphanage in Newfoundland. It was horrifying to watch, utterly repulsive, but for some reason, all I could think about for the duration of the show was myself and my school. Everything that unfolded in that Canadian miniseries suddenly felt so close to home on account of attending Catholic school five days a week.

I was paranoid and entirely certain that after one look into my baby blues, I was going to get lured into the chambers of an elder priest, seduced with grape wine and you know how the rest of the story goes. Before I go on any further, I need to disclose that I am not making light of these horrible, everyday situations; it was just how my anxious little mind was wired back in the mid-nineties. I couldn’t even walk down a hallway and make eye contact with a Priest, let alone talk to one or make any kind of physical contact. They frightened me with their long black robes, oversized rosary bead necklaces, and little skull caps.

In the sixth grade we had a priest named “Father Alf,” and he was the first suspicious man of God on my radar. On at least ten separate occasions he had asked me to become one of his loyal altar boys, and on every one of those ten separate occasions I declined his invitation, but boy was he ever determined to get me into that little white robe. But it would only be a matter of time before his persistence would soon clash with my inner asshole. No pun intended.

Please understand that turning down an opportunity like this (altar boy) came with great discipline for a closet alcoholic like myself. I had heard of the many great tales from my friends who had made the ultimate sacrifice and became altar boys. They told great stories about getting to miss out on class every Thursday morning for mass, and the tips they would receive from families. Then the greatest tale of them all was the story about all the grape wine that you could get your sticky little fingers on, at least that’s the way I heard it. And if there was ever a little Irish Catholic boy who wanted to get his hands on some pocket change and take a relaxing swig of wine at 10 o’clock in the morning, it was little Richard De Fino.

But “NO!”, I told myself. That temptation wasn’t worth the risk of what those little Saint Vincent Boys went through. “Fuck that,” I said, “I’ll just wait until my older brother gets me a fake ID and I can drink in the woods behind the avenue bank as the eighth graders did.”

Right before school let out for the summer, Father Alf asked me one last time to become his altar boy, and he must have caught me at the right time because my filter was not existent at that very moment.

It played out simply like this: (Not verbatim, but close enough)

Father Alf: “Richard, why won’t you become an Altar Boy?”
Me: “Because.”
Father Alf: “Because of what?!”
Me: “Because I don’t want you to molest me!”

All I remember was Father Alf’s eyes opening wide with complete disgust, and I assumed that I had just bought my one-way ticket to the aforementioned eternal damnation. I was immediately pulled out of that school and thrown back into public school from which my father was trying to save me from in the first place. But I look at it like this; I did my father a favor by saving him a shit ton of money every month in overdue tuition fees that he couldn’t afford anyhow.

In my four years run at Catholic School, including doing two tours of the fourth grade, because math was really hard for me (still is), nothing horrible ever happened, not even remotely close. I made a lot of friends and got into a lot of trouble, but that’s what being a kid is all about, getting into of trouble and making memories for yourself.

Photo @Richard DeFino All Rights Reserved


Richard DeFino

Ricky De Fino grew up in New York City and currently resides in Buffalo NY. When he isn’t writing about his anxiety and his crazy Bronx upbringing, he enjoys watching countless hours of television with his wife Andrea, cat Bebe and dog Zeke. Two years sober, good coffee and veganism keeps him sane. His work can be found in Two Cities Review, tNY Press, Purple Pig Lit, Dialougal and Cycatrix Press.

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