Robert Barron

Robert Barron

Robert Barron column: Search for parents goes awry

Deeply entrenched Catholic upbringing glued us to our chairs

I sometimes wonder at how naive I was when I was younger.

I was raised in a practicing Catholic family and attended Catholic schools (there were only Catholic and Protestant schools in Newfoundland when I was growing up, which only ended when the province realized it couldn’t afford two separate public educations systems) so it was ingrained in me at the time to treat members of the clergy with the greatest respect.

That respect would come tumbling down in latter years when all the sex scandals in the church were revealed, but before that, we were taught to deal with priests, brothers and nuns with reverence.

This would come sharply into play when me and a friend decided to go on a mission when we were in our early 20s that was very important to my pal Steve.

Steve was adopted and all he knew of his biological parents was that his father was a sailor at the American naval base in Argentia, located about 70 kilometres south west of St. John’s, and a Chinese woman who worked there.

In his quest to know who his parents were, Steve and I drove to Argentia and visited the priest who was in charge of birth certificates and other pertinent information in the area.

We were ushered into the office of the priest, a portly and pleasant fellow whose name eludes me, by his secretary and told to wait there until he had time to speak to us.

We sat quietly and kept our voices to a whisper when we did talk, as if we were in a church, and waited for the priest to arrive.

He finally did about 20 minutes later and Steve gave him what little information he had about his parents and his birth, and the priest began a search of his old records to find out what he could tell us.

This was in the days before computers so the priest spent a considerable amount of time going through dusty old record books before he finally found what he was looking for, while Steve and I sat straight up in our chairs as if we were in the presence of the pope himself.

He took a few minutes to go over the information and then looked up at us over the top of the book and informed us that Steve’s parents had requested that they remain anonymous after they gave him up for adoption and the information was not to be given out.

Steve looked a little crushed by that news as it was the only way we knew of to find out who his parents were.

The priest stared at him with kindly and sympathetic eyes for a few moments and then said he had to step out of the office for about 15 minutes and would be back to discuss what other options were available to find out the information we were looking for.

He left the record book wide open on the page where Steve’s parents were listed, stepped outside the door and closed it.

In retrospect, it was obvious that the friendly priest had meant for us to look at the records of Steve parents while he was gone so he, in case the matter ever came back to haunt him, could rightfully say that he never gave out the information to anybody.

But Steve and I, with our Catholic upbringing deeply entrenched in us, didn’t move a muscle toward the book.

In fact, it didn’t occur to either of us to get up and take a peek while the priest was gone.

Even though we were young adults with jobs and not school children, the thought of doing something behind the back of a priest, particularly in his office, was out of the question and not even considered.

These days, I would not have given a second thought to standing behind the priest peering over his shoulder when he got to the page where Steve’s parents were listed and commit the information to memory.

But that was then, and Steve and I were still sitting quietly when the priest returned exactly 15 minutes later, thinking that we had checked the book seconds after he left the room.

I haven’t talked to Steve in many years so I don’t know if he had ever discovered the identity of his parents, but I still have a chuckle when I think of that episode every now and again.

It still fascinates me as to how warped our minds were by the way we were raised at the time.

Robert Barron is a news reporter for the Cowichan Valley Citizen.