Dennis Nason, pastor of All Saints Parish, steps down Oct. 1. He’s struggling with cancer and decided to step aside so the parish can move on. He’s earned a tribute here. He made a believer out of me by coming clean about his own sins.
We have it in our heads that priests are supposed to be perfect and sinless. That’s why the sex scandal hit people so hard. We were taught to trust priests at all costs, and some of them betrayed that trust in evil ways.
When you’re a screw up like I once was — and still am in some ways — and you find someone you hope will help you out of the abyss, it’s a crushing blow when the mentor fails.
But as I’ve settled deeper into my Faith, I’ve realized those mistakes are part of the long journey out of Hell.
But for that theory to work, all parties involved have to have the capacity for honesty. That’s a big theme in the 12 Steps, too. Honesty is a bitch when you wrestle with addictions. I’ve said it before, addicts are the best liars on Earth. The depth of my own deceit was like a bottomless pit by the time I hit bottom.
That’s where Father Nason took me to school. He was an alcoholic who could have covered his tracks and carried on. Instead, he revealed everything to everyone. What follows is an older post I wrote about that very incident and what it has meant to me:
The Priest Who Came Clean
Originally posted on April 11, 2010:
I’ve met many priests, some good and some not-so-good. People criticize priests because they’re athiests or they’re angry about the sex abuse scandal. Father Dennis Nason made a believer out of me by coming clean about his own sins.
You would have to be sick in the head NOT to be outraged by the sex abuse, and especially of the cover-up. In the end, though, people forget that priests are human, with all the sin-making embedded into their genetic code just like the rest of us.
When a priest is able to lay his own flaws bare for all to see, I think it takes an extra level of courage, since there has to be a lot of pressure around the lofty standards they are held to.
Father Nason rose to the occasion.
I met Father Nason about 11 years ago. He took over our parish, All Saints, when several other churches were closed down and consolidated into the All Saints Community.
He had a lot of angry people on his hands. One’s church becomes home, and when you close it and force them to go someplace else, trouble is inevitable.
Then the priest sex abuse scandal burst open like an infected sore, shaking the Faith of a lot of people like never before.
I started going to All Saints regularly in 2001, the year my oldest son was born. It would be another five years before I chose to convert, but by then the church had become a source of comfort at a time where my mental health was starting to snap off the rails.
At one point over the summer, Father Nason vanished. Few knew why.
Then at one Mass, the deacon read an open letter from him.
In the letter, Father Nason revealed that he was in rehab for alcoholism. It would be several months before he emerged from rehab, and while he was there the sex abuse scandal really began to explode. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks also happened around that time, and people’s souls were tested like never before.
Once he did emerge from rehab to rejoin his parish, there was a new sparkle in his eyes. It was like a weight had been lifted. Then another weight dropped on him. It turns out one of the priests in our parish was one of those sexual predators we had read about in the papers.
Something like that would test the sobriety of anyone forced to come in and deal with the mess. Father Nason met it head on.
He was angry with his archdiocese over the fact that pedophile priests had been enabled for all those years; cases swept under the rug like dust. You could hear the anger in his voice and see it in his eyes. He would rage about it in more than one Homily.
His reaction is a big reason I stuck with the church instead of bolting.
Around that time we also had trouble hanging onto the other priests. One left after less than two months, apparently freaked out by the amount of work this parish demanded of him.
Through it all, Father Nason kept it together and brought his parish through the storm.
I don’t always see eye to eye with him. Sometimes I think his administration is disorganized and that his Homilies are all over the place; though when he nails it, he really nails it.
But those are trivial things. When he came clean about his addiction, it hit me deep in the core. At the time, my own addictions were bubbling in my skull and preparing to wipe out what was left of my soul. I just didn’t know it at the time.
His honesty kept me going. And now that I’ve spent the last few years getting control of my own addictive behavior, I have a much better appreciation for what he went through.
This post isn’t meant to put him on a pedestal. He is only human, after all, and he sometimes misses the mark like the rest of us.
It IS meant to thank him for the time he came clean, inspiring me to do the same.