My paternal grandmother was born in 1903 in Swinford, Ireland, into a family of 11. At 16, her parents, because of poverty, put her on a ship to America to live with her older sister, knowing they'd probably never see her again.
My grandmother's impoverished beginnings and living through the Great Depression caused her to be singularly frugal. I'm convinced she had the same ketchup bottle for years. Each time she'd add just a little more water to it. While frugal with material things, she was richly generous with her love.
My grandmother spent her final years living in the Wynhoven Apartments, a retirement high-rise run by the Catholic Church in Marrero. As a kid I loved spending the night with Grandma because she adored me. She made me feel loved, peaceful and safe.
Her apartment was at the end of the hall on the eighth floor. To her immediate right was a door leading to a balcony overlooking the Hope Haven-Madonna Manor orphanage. The view was spectacular with the Spanish-colonial architecture. It was like going back in time. We would often watch kids play at sunset from that balcony. I also remember thinking how sad it was the kids didn't have parents or someone like my grandmother to make them feel wanted and loved.
I haven't thought much about those kids since then until this past week when the Archdiocese of New Orleans released a list of 57 clergy members credibly accused of sexual abuse. Eight of the accused priests were assigned to the church-run orphanage in Marrero. Six of the eight priests are now dead.
Hope Haven-Madonna Manor was founded in 1925 as a place for kids whose families either didn't want them or were unable to raise them. It was supposed to be a sanctuary for the unloved, innocent and vulnerable. But in 2009, the archdiocese settled 20 lawsuits for $5.2 million filed by an undisclosed number of adults who said they were beaten and sexually molested during the 1940s into the 1970s at the orphanage.
Their attorney, Frank Lamothe, says the stories of abuse were horrific.
"Anal rape," Lamothe told WWL television. "There was one child that I recall anally raped multiple times. They were orally raped. They were fondled."
Lamothe says it didn't stop there.
"They were also dealt with by the sisters who were there in a sadistic way. There was a lot of sadism. They were beaten. I had one nun testify when I took her deposition that she could hear the screams when they were being beaten."
Lamothe says when he first started looking into the case, 18 boys spoke up. By the end, 47 others came forward.
It's difficult to begin to understand the depths of evil someone must reach to rape a child — especially children in an orphanage who were already feeling unloved and forgotten. And to do such a thing as a member of the clergy makes it all the more reprehensible.
What's important now is each of us demand clergy members credibly accused of being a sexual predator be exposed and removed immediately. And it's long past time for some of these priests to end up behind bars. New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond releasing the list of 57 clergy members is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, other Louisiana state bishops will follow through on their pledge to do the same.
Former publisher A.W. Tozer once wrote, "What you believe about God is the most important thing about you."
Children abused by clergy had to spend much of their childhood believing the very worst of their creator. And the shame they dealt with must have been unbearable. Leaders of the Catholic Church now say they have zero tolerance for clergy when it comes to child sex abuse. Let's hope so.
Email Dan Fagan at email@example.com. Twitter: @DanFaganShow.