The melody of a church hymn filled DPAC as Michael Mack walked center stage. His only props: a desk with a phone and a laptop, a chair, a piano and a blackboard containing three words – “Heart and Soul.”
Mack, a playwright, poet and performer, brought his striking one-man show, “Conversations with My Molester: A Journey of Faith” to FSU last Wednesday, Sept. 18, as part of the President’s Distinguished Lecture series.
The series, now running for its third year, was created in 2011. According to Interim President Robert Martin, it was created “to bring to campus presentations on thought-provoking issues, ideas and thoughts.” The theme of this year’s series is “Live to the Truth.”
Through a series of descriptive monologues, Mack opened up and told his gripping story, beginning at his childhood.
“Before I knew the Magna Carta, treble clef, mitosis, meiosis or the German word for Sun, I knew one thing: I wanted to be a priest,” he said. “I knew it like I knew how to ride a bicycle. It was easy.”
He established a precise image of his deep religious beliefs, then went on to describe the single event that changed his life and perception forever.
He was just 11 years old in Brevard, North Carolina when he snuck into the basement of the church and found a piano.
“I’m just playing,” Mack told the priest as he came downstairs.
The priest told Mack, “I’m playing too. I’ve got a project upstairs sewing costumes for an Easter play. It’s our Lord’s resurrection on stage! Would you like to help?”
Mack soon found himself in the rectory with the door closing behind him, about to endure a life-changing experience. Though leaving out most of the the audience got the picture of what occurred in the rectory that day.
“When father opened the door to let me out, he put his finger to his lips and swore me to a secret… I felt like someone else, different, special, cupping a secret.”
Four days after the incident, the priest moved out of town without saying a word, and the Mack family left soon after, five hundred miles to Washington. He said that he, “would pray to forget Brevard, but the memory tingled like a phantom limb, sticking out sideways… the phantom limb that itched and crawled and I was the only one who knew, well I and one other.”
At age 14, Mack had far from come to terms with this occurrence. “I would return to that memory again and again and again in fantasy, powerfully attracted and powerfully repelled, finding self-loathing its own dismal ecstasy, each turn proving to me that I wanted it to happen, invited it to happen, made it happen, deserved it.” He yearned to have a conversation with the priest, with his molester. He would practice and rehearse what he might say.
When Mack became a camp counselor at age 16, the memory still burned. He came close to becoming a predator himself as he helped console a camp goer that wasn’t feeling well. He described himself moving in closer to the boy, smelling the baby shampoo in his hair, apples on his breath, and radiating warmth of his cheeks, as he put his arm around him and asked, “Hey, wanna help with a project?”
Mack described the vivid flashback he had at that moment – a flashback of his own molestation. He quickly withdrew his hand from around the boy realizing the atrocity he almost committed and he told the boy he should go, all the while thinking, “forgive yourself for what you never did.”
In 2005, nearly 40 years following the incident with the priest, Mack finally decided to search for his molester, Father Gordon Ignatius Anderson. He did his research and found his name linked to multiple charges of molestation in the news.
Mack picked up the phone and called, but hung up as soon as he heard a voice. He decided to write him a letter instead. It was not until a full three years after it was written that it was sent out.
A few weeks after Mack sent his letter, he conducted another Google search, and what he found was astonishing. “Gordon Ignatius Anderson, age 79, killed at home in a fire,” filled news headlines. He realized the conversation he yearned to have would never happen.
Mack traveled back to Worchester and attended the priest’s funeral services, where he met Aiden Kincaid and Father Al, friends of Father Gordon, and Mack admitted what had happened that day in the rectory.
“It was a very serious problem, the man needed help,” Father Al admitted about his friend Father Gordon. Father Al was very friendly to Mack, asking to meet up with him again and offering introduce him to the group of clergymen that Father Gordon had been spending his time with.
The next week Mack tried to call Al, but the line was dead. He tried calling Aiden, but his line was also dead. He turned to Google again for answers, and was shocked at what he saw.
Aiden Kincaid, “Defrocked, stripped of his pension. He faces a lawsuit, multiple complaints. One accuser said he was part of a group of men who met at a house and played ‘pass around the boy.’”
The audience let out a small gasp as this was revealed. Mack put more emotion into the following five minutes of his performance than the first two hours combined.
“The image had already singed my mind… Shame! This child is not your possession, this is God’s child, this child is me! How many years will this child live in the prison of this memory? All his life! 43 years and still it snakes and squirms through my mind! I kneel to pray and I get aroused! I say the word ‘father’ and I cringe.”
These were the only moments in his performance where he revealed the true anger that was within him.
He concluded his performance with a return to the church where he had been molested to find out it was converted into a children’s art center. He found the new church in town and went to confession for the first time in over 40 years.