My childhood bishop was a good man. I write this story not to blame him but to blame the system that would put an untrained man in a room with young children asking sexual questions. In my first interview with him, he asked about masturbation. I didn’t know what that word meant, and I mistakenly thought that every time I had ever had an erection, I had masturbated. I proceeded to tell him in agonizing embarrassment about every erection I could remember (as a 12 year old boy, I never even woke up without one). Since I didn’t have the understanding at that age to explain otherwise, my bishop concluded that I had a years’ long habit of masturbating. He immediately jumped to questioning me about pornography, and he didn’t believe me when I honestly told him I had never seen it.
At the end of the interview, he told me I couldn’t take the sacrament for the next 2 weeks. This experience was absolute Hell. To this day, I remember the pew my family was sitting in, the order of my entire family in the pew, and which deacon passed us the sacrament. I had committed the sin next to murder, and now everyone knew it. Due to the events of that week, my parents decided to have the birds and the bees talk with me, where I finally learned the meaning of the word masturbation. I wonder now if my parents clarified my confession to the bishop, since that week he caught me in the hallway and told me to start taking the sacrament again.
Despite the sacrament ban being lifted, I felt continued unworthiness because the bishop hadn’t believed me when I told him I had never seen pornography. He was the representative of God, with the gift of discernment. He must know something I don’t! For weeks I racked my brain trying to remember what pornographic sin I MUST have committed. I finally remembered. I had once seen an advertisement in the back of the Reader’s Digest for Vagisil cream. That must be the sin the bishop was discerning. I sat on that sin for months, terrified of having to skip the sacrament again. Even more terrified of the possibility that I might get in a car wreck and die, condemned for an eternity in Hell because I was one step away from being a murderer. After months of anxiety and shame, I finally summoned the courage to schedule an appointment with the bishop again. An appointment solely to confess having seen one advertisement for Vagisal cream years earlier. This time the Bishop asked the right questions to figure out what I was talking about, and told me I had nothing to worry about.
Like I said in the beginning, I feel like my bishop was a good man. He was simply following the instructions of his church leaders. This compounded with a complete lack of training on how to talk with children (kids aren’t just tiny adults, it’s amazing just how much went over my head at 12 years old) led to extreme feelings of anxiety and shame for me and I’m sure many other