When I was 12 years old, Sister Eusebius washed my potty mouth with soap and pepper at St. Elisabeth's School in Oakland. I was cured, but I still hold a grudge against little Anne, the tattletale who recounted the details of my dirty ditty.
That was 60 years ago, and a lot has changed in the church, some things for better, others for worse.
I was ordained a Franciscan priest in 1965, during the Catholic spring of the Second Vatican Council under the leadership of Pope John XXIII. In the council's wake, a few of us joined the peace and farmworker movements.
Some friars, though, went to the dark side. Twenty years ago, I was shocked to see Tom Brokaw lead off the "NBC Evening News" with the report that nine Franciscan priests had molested 25 boys at St. Anthony's, the seminary I attended as a teenager in Santa Barbara.
St. Anthony's is a microcosm of the malaise and dysfunction that has affected the worldwide Catholic Church for the past four decades.
I wonder how the Vatican can deal with this honestly when evidence shows that the last two popes have played a key role in protecting clerical abusers and covering up their crimes.
For the most part, the abuse crisis is a male thing. If women shared decision-making in the church on all levels -- yes, including ordination -- many of these horrors could have been avoided.
Yet the Vatican has just launched an investigation of, and put into canonical
The sisters have decided to fight the charges that they are radical feminists who focus on serving the poor but fail to condemn such evils as abortion and same-sex marriage.
What is obvious is that in all their ministries, these nuns preach the Gospel with their lives. They have chosen to leave moral condemnations to the ultraorthodox clerics who wear satin garments with red bows and lead lives of privilege.
But even as the sisters make their case, there appears to be serious trouble in the engine room of the barque of Peter.
Within a week, the head of the Vatican bank resigned amid serious charges of corruption, the pope's butler was arrested for possessing leaked documents, and evidence has surfaced of high-level factional infighting.
This should be distraction enough to call off the witch hunt. But it probably won't. Experts say the sisters have no other choice than to submit to the clerics or lose their canonical status.
The big question is how much support the nuns will get from priests and the American Catholic laity. Decades of authoritarian rule have created a culture of fear and intimidation.
A new Catholic spring is definitely needed, but who will lead it? Theologians have been silenced, progressive bishops have been replaced by Quislings, and reform groups embrace only a tiny fraction of the Catholic population.
Yet as more evidence of Vatican corruption seeps out, the stronger the defense will be for these valiant women.
Recently, I toured St. Elizabeth's school, still run by those same dedicated Dominican sisters. It has a fresh coat of paint, and the students are now low-income Latino immigrants and African Americans on scholarships.
Oh, and the water fountain where Sister Eusebius washed out my mouth with soap and pepper?
It's long gone.
Mark R. Day, a former Franciscan priest, lives in Vista. He is the author of "Forty Acres: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers." He works as a documentary filmmaker and has won two Emmys.