You ever notice how taxi cabs are frequently places of fascinating conversations?
The elderly Irish cabbie who drove me from the airport to the papal trip press center this morning at 7 a.m. told me he was going to knock off work at 11 because so many city streets are going to be blockaded because of Pope Benedict's movements from the United Nations today.
He said he was a Catholic himself, and planned to follow the trip on TV. He expressed outrage at Bill Maher's verbal assault on Pope Benedict XVI, was fiercely protective of all things Catholic and fondly remembered having his hand getting whapped with a ruler by the school nuns. "But if you were in Catholic school, you learned something. You sure learned."
He said he appreciated Pope Benedict meeting clerical sex abuse victims yesterday, but said he didn't think it was right that people would wait decades before accusing a priest of abuse.
He said he himself had been molested as an altar boy (lingering hugs and pats on the behind in the sacristy), but he and the other kids in the rough Irish neighborhood they grew up in decided they'd do something about it themselves. Seventeen of the boys rushed the priest, shoved him in a vestibule closet and threw in stink bombs. (I asked how you make a stink bomb. He said you take camera film, roll it into a ball, twist a piece of paper around it like a candy wrapper, light one end and when it starts smoldering, drop it and stamp on it. The smoke stinks.)
He chuckled at the recollection of the priest "screaming" to be let out. They did eventually let him out, they told him he had it coming, and the priest apologized. "Then we became best friends," he said. That was the last incident.
He doesn't go to Mass anymore, and hasn't in years. He doesn't believe in confession, but thinks he might be able to confess to a married priest "who'd understand what it's like to be married and have to pay the rent."
"But I believe. I believe," he insisted. He drew on his faith recently when he learned he had colon cancer. He's still undergoing chemo treatments and complains of nausea.
"But everybody needs salvation. Especially when you get older. That's why these priests got it so good."
And he's ready to take on anybody who's got a bad word about the pope.