Shakespeare’s Hamlet begins like this: A terrible crime lies hidden. Brother has secretly killed brother, and the killer has gotten away with it. Life in Denmark continues, as if nothing evil has happened. The murderer has inherited the crown, and insists that things proceed happily as before. Everyone conforms; even the widow queen agrees to marry the secret murderer.
Everyone conforms, that is, except young Hamlet. He languishes in grief. And the murdered man’s ghost doesn’t conform, either. He haunts the cold Danish nights.
In other words, some interior force of nature rebels at the patina of normalcy. It won’t allow such a terrible injustice to remain hidden. A crime like this cannot pass un-reckoned into forgetfulness and oblivion. So the ghost’s weary footsteps shake the earth, drawing young Hamlet into the hidden mystery of what actually happened.
Hamlet perceives the ghost of his murdered father and hears his demand for justice.
But is it real? Can the young man trust his midnight vision? How can he prove to himself that the ghost speaks true? This force from beyond the shaky peace of day-to-day life has confirmed something that the prince vaguely suspected. But how to make sense of it? What really happened?
The drama of the play then unfolds, and the royal family convulses through a confused agony of reckoning.
At 35 years of age, Chris O’Leary had fond childhood memories of Father Leroy Valentine. Two-and-a-half decades earlier, Father Valentine had made the young Chris feel special, paid attention to him, gave him fun things to do–when Chris’ father was distracted making partner at his law firm.
But something was rotten in the Denmark of Chris’ grown-up soul. He had anxiety about living in his hometown of St. Louis, but he couldn’t move away for good, either. He had zig-zagged through his twenties, never quite settling down and developing his career.
In March of 2002, after the Boston Globe uncovered the decades’-long sex-abuse cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston, the New York Times ran an article on the subject. The article mentioned Father Leroy Valentine of St. Louis. Father groomed his victims by paying special attention to them when their dads were absent. He started with wrestling and proceeded to sodomy. (The article also mentioned that Valentine denied having done anything wrong.)
Chris saw the article, reprinted in a St. Louis paper. He wondered, ‘Might Father V have abused me, and I can’t clearly remember? But he’s one of my favorite people on earth! How could he have done that?’
Chris called the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The new auxiliary bishop, Timothy Dolan, called him back. Chris’ old friend. Father Dolan had lived in the parish rectory with Father Valentine, when Chris was finishing elementary school.
“Bishop Dolan, maybe Father V molested me? I have memories of wrestling moves that touched my privates, and of being on Father V’s couch…”
“No way, Chris! I know Father Valentine–have known him since seminary. He could never do anything like what they say he did.”
So Chris thought: Ok, that’s that. Cross that one off the list of possible reasons why I can’t think straight, or remain calm with my wife and kids, or get along with my older boss. My memories, thank God, do not mean that I was molested by my favorite priest. Phew. Maybe I have Asperger’s or adult ADHD.
Case closed? No. The Hamlet’s ghost within Chris would not–could not–tolerate a heinous crime passing into forgetfulness and oblivion.
Chris had a panic attack at his daughter’s first confession. Then at his son’s first confession a couple years later. Then he saw an altar boy in a cassock and surplice–like he himself had worn, serving for Father V years earlier–and Chris had a psychological meltdown worthy of Prince Hamlet himself.
Twelve years had passed since Chris’ conversation with Bishop Dolan. By relentless investigation, Chris discovered that the bishop had received two other phone calls from victims of Leroy Valentine that same month, March, 2002.
The Archdiocese knew that Valentine was guilty. They just didn’t tell Chris. A force of nature inside Chris told Chris, over the course of a decade of agony.
Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes. (Hamlet, Act I, scene 2.)