Up Front and Personal

Priest Has Zero Tolerance For Bullying

by Father Anthony Raso

I never expected to write this, due to the ongoing “macho” of a 12-year-old boy from Bay Ridge, even 50 years later. However, society has taken a decided turn for the wiser, and this was reflected on the last page of The Tablet (Nov. 16) in an article about “bullying.”

I am very happy to read nowadays about the protests against bullying. When I was a boy in grade school and high school, I was a very unhappy victim of bullying. Looking back now, I am not that bothered by the boys who were the “perpetrators” because I guess that there will always be stupid kids who take advantage of quieter kids who don’t like to fight. What still haunts me however is the memory of the teachers, who not only permitted this to happen, but also made it clear that they found it amusing. In  my Catholic grammar school in Brooklyn, I was one day, while in the sixth grade, given a vicious beating by an eighth grader, one that left me bloody and with torn clothing. I had­ had enough, and in the schoolyard, when I saw the eighth grader speaking with his teacher, a religious brother, I went over and explained what had happened (which was also clear from my appearance). The teacher began to laugh at me, turned and winked at the student and told me, in so many words, to disappear. Then he and the student began to laugh again.

Being 65 years old now, I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I still vividly remember that disillusioning moment in the schoolyard, and I always will. This happened again in my Catholic high school, also in Brooklyn, but by then I knew that the brother would laugh and turn away so it was less painful – “less painful” not meaning the same as “not painful.”

The main problem with bullying, in my experience, was not the beating I took from the other kid but the much more serious and permanent damage inflicted upon me when the person who was sent – by the Lord –  to stand up for me, laughed at me, winked at the bully and walked away.

Now let’s not be over-dramatic about this: Was my faith destroyed by these events in Catholic schools? Not really. I’ve been a priest for 38 years. I was the pastor of St. Sylvester’s Church in New Lots for 11 years and was just installed as the pastor of Guardian Angel Church in Brighton Beach. I’m still here and shall happily remain so. However, in adulthood, I have had no tolerance, ever, for bullies. Also, as noted above, I am still haunted by that day in the schoolyard in grammar school – not by the dumb eighth grader but by the unfeeling religious brother. I was a big boy from a loving family. However, a classmate of mine, in both schools, who was less fortunate than I in various ways, was destroyed by bullying. I made it through life. He didn’t. The disinterest of those commissioned by the Lord to protect them can have hideous effects.

The Tablet is to be commended for the excellent article about bullying by Jim Mancari. The comfort and the hope it conveyed were priceless. God bless you, and God bless Jim.[hr]

Editor’s Note: Father Raso is also a popular Scriptures columnist for The Tablet.

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