Bellingham native writes of his fall from grace after seminary school

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 21, 2013 

Bellingham native Fred Moody is the featured author at the Chuckanut Radio Hour on Thursday, Nov. 21, at Whatcom Community College's Heiner Center Theater.

Moody will share his candid memoir, "Unspeakable Joy," about his years at two California seminaries that had a profound effect on his personal philosophy and day-to-day life.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. You must be seated by 6:45 because the show begins promptly at 7.

Tickets, $5, are available at Village Books and BrownPaperTickets.com.

Here is the back story on "Unspeakable Joy."

Question: Why did you write this book?

Answer: I told an audience member at a reading recently that it took me 40 years to write this book. I first started trying to capture the experience in fictional form back in the 1970s, and worked on and off on it until around 1986-87.

But I couldn't make the book ring true about how strange and disquieting seminary life was (I now understand it's because I didn't really comprehend what made it so strange and disquieting), so eventually gave up. But when the scandal broke in 1993 or so, the scales fell from my eyes, so much of the creepiness of those years suddenly made sense, in that I realized sexual abuse was going on all around me, that friends of mine were victims.

My guilt over my obliviousness at the time was overwhelming.

Another near-20 years went by, with more and more revelations coming out, reports on Father Mario Cimmarrusti (at St. Anthony's in Santa Barbara) and I kept trying to figure out how to write about all this, but couldn't get my emotions in order.

Finally, a few years ago, I found a box of stuff I'd saved from the seminary, and forgotten. And then I found out I could get my records from St. Anthony's. With all that in hand, and with my thinking/feeling having evolved (I guess), I saw the way forward with this book.

And I think, too, that a lot of the waiting had to do with me learning the full extent of the horror there, and finding the right narrative approach, a structure and tone that felt appropriate to the subject.

Q: What were you like when you entered seminary?

A: I did have a tremendously "spiritual" approach to life when I entered the seminary. It's safe to say that the invisible world (the world of angels, devils, God, saints, etc.) was as real to me as the physical world.

I think in retrospect that a lot of this was yearning; that I was trying to feel and sense these things because I felt that that's the way a properly spiritual and virtuous candidate for the priesthood should be perceiving reality.

Q: Bob Dylan was also instrumental in shaping who you were, right?

A: A lot of my "theology" translated into social justice issues - this was something common to all of us in that first seminary - and the emergence of Dylan, who melded social protest/justice themes with all this biblical language in his songs, just blew me away.

I saw him as very much an Old Testament prophet, a Jeremiah; I think my fascination with him was as much a function of that religious dimension I saw in his work as it was in normal adolescent rock 'n' roll (or folk-rock 'n' roll) enthusiasm.

I felt like we in the seminary understood him better than anyone on the outside; really like he was one of us. It was a hugely powerful identification I had with him (probably enhanced, now that I think about it, by the fact that both he and I had a "relationship" with Joan Baez).

Q: How did these years affect your faith; falling from grace?

A: My "fall" was pretty precipitous. First came disillusionment with priests when I lived with and saw them from up close; then disillusionment with my fellow seminarians; then the realization that I no longer believed in God.

Once I understood that, I no longer felt "fallen"... it was more that I felt angry at having been conned for so long. I remember, too, going to a lecture during my freshman year of college, when the professor referred to "the Christian myth" over and over again. It was eye-opening, liberating, that lecture; another scales-falling-from-the-eyes moment.

Q: What are your thoughts now about Mario Cimmarrusti; what you saw but did not acknowledge?

A: Since finishing that book I've found out a lot more information about Fr. Mario. He was a tormented soul, struggled with his homosexuality for his whole life, and even today doesn't think what he did to the seminarians in his care was wrong, or even sexual. He's a terribly sad figure now, from the descriptions I've read. But I still feel tremendous anger toward him because of the suffering he caused.

And I'm really torn up about having been there and not allowed myself to understand what was going on. I feel that if I hadn't been so willfully repressed, and so terribly self-absorbed, I'd have figured things out and said something.

I can't get out from under the feeling that if I'd been a better person then, 30 years' worth of victims would've been spared. This may not be realistic, but I'm haunted by all those victims, not only of Mario but of the other friars there in the years after I left. I think that more than anything, along with the way people still try to ignore what happened in that place, is what led me to finally find the way to writing this book.

WWU MUSIC DIRECTOR TWEAKS CLASSICAL CONCERT WITH TWEETS

A few weeks ago I had a long phone conversation with David Ramael, newly appointed music director of Western Washington University's Western Symphony Orchestra. He's looking forward to building connections with other music organizations in Whatcom County, including Bellingham Music Club, Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and the Bellingham Festival of Music; and he's really excited about using social media to promote and highlight concerts at Western.

In his first concert of the season, 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, at Western's Performing Arts Center, he will combine social media and the world of classical music, with interactive Twitter and Instagram feeds posting live supplementary content, questions and audience reactions.

The program includes Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 6 ("Le Matin"); Richard Wagner's Prelude und Liebestod from "Tristan und Isolde" and Jean Sibelius's Symphony No. 7.

For more insights on what he has planned; search on YouTube for WWU Symphony Orchestra Concert Nov. 26 2013.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com. Follow Bellingham Entertainment on Facebook or @bhamentertainme on Twitter.

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