Recently in Catholic Church Category
As some of you know, The Oprah Show did a two-part special on childhood sexual abuse of males. I basically panned the first part in Why I Did Not Appreciate Oprah's "200 Men" Show because I felt it was overly sensationalistic and focused mainly on men telling of their graphic abuse details.
I was only able to watch the second show last week, and it was significantly better than the first. Probably it has done a good service to male survivors and their loved ones as many important themes were touched upon. To the uninitiated, to someone who has not started to heal, to spouses who are lacking closeness, I saw this as progress. So, for that I am thankful for the show. While the first episode is online in its entirety, the second is not. But I will do my best to summarize the show here as well as provide my own commentary, hence this will be a long post.
Because the show spent a significant amount of effort focusing on the impact on spouses and loved ones, my immediate reaction was that if my wife were able to see this show, it could sow the seeds of change for us as a couple. But she does not want to see the show even though it is on our DVR. As I have made significant healing progress these past couple years, I have realized that we are not on the same path. This is difficult for me because it makes me feel like the burden of healing is all on me. Of course, I understand the majority of healing is on me. But I do not think my wife appreciates the toll that all of what we have gone through has affected her and that she may need to do things to care for, and heal, herself. So, I will save the episode and hopefully someday she will be able to see it.
As I watched, I found myself crying. And I realized that I do still have some mourning to do, or maybe a lot. I had always thought I was all done. For expert advice, the show featured Dr. Howard Fradkin, a psychologist out of Ohio who co-chairs the MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery, see Male Survivor. Dr. Fradkin made a number of statements that hit home for me. He said many things so perfectly well. While Oprah clearly struggled with the topic of healing, Dr. Fradkin did not. He was the one who brought up the issue by saying: "it's absolutely possible to heal and recover completely and fully. It takes a lot of time and it impacts everyone in your life." I am "technically" in my 20th year of healing, which has changed significantly over the years. I know I have a long way to go, but I appreciate his statement. I found it hopeful.
The show then asked what is different for male survivors versus female survivors. Most of my survivor friends, either online or from the hospital, are female. For me, personally, I have not seen much difference. I see the struggles as the same. But, I have long wondered why I am usually the only male on the trauma/dissociative inpatient unit at McLean Hospital. I have often thought I was different in some way. I have had discussions with therapists about this in the past. Usually I understand it that men typically do not seek help. Or that men are more likely to channel their anger into drugs and alcohol or even land in prison. All of those outcomes make me sad.
But I am also make glad that circumstances for me were such that I broke down right after college in 1990 and sought help. When the 2002 clergy abuse scandal erupted, there was also a sense of coming together for survivors. The public outcry helped to lift the veil of shame. During those early years there were well-attended support groups here in Boston (the epicenter of the scandal) and there was definitely a sense of camaraderie. I suppose what I experienced was what Oprah was aiming for with this show. It was not at all always this way, but now am fairly comfortable identifying myself as a survivor and committing myself to doing the hard work of healing. From the language of some of the guests, I clearly can see that is not the case for many. Again, I consider myself lucky.
Sexual identity confusion was also discussed. This is an area I typically shy away from. Maybe this is not such a problem for me on the whole because the problem is so relegated to parts of me as someone who is dissociative. As grounded me, Paul, I have no problem identifying as a healthy vibrant husband and father. But, that is not the case for many young parts of me. The confusion has always been there. The show addressed a common myth: that male on male sexual abuse can cause homosexuality. The psychologist said, correctly, that sexual orientation is determined around ages 4 or 5, and since most abuse happens later, there can be no effect. But there still is sexual identity confusion. When a boy is abused by a man, the common response is that they do not know what to feel about the connection they felt, sexual pleasure, attention, etc. This confusion remains until it is addressed and healed.
In the next section, there was a discussion about moving from coping to healing. This was right up my alley! Oprah's producer, Ray, said he didn't want to live with the abuse having control over him anymore and that "you get abused by your abuser, and then you get abused again by the aftermath of the abuse." He further said on moving from coping to healing, "We all come up with clever ways in which to live our lives with it lurking in the background. And you're trying to operate and maneuver in the world with it there. I think healing is when you let yourself feel the feelings, when you are honest with yourself about what it's actually has done to you, and mourn that." For me, this was all code for talking about dysfunctional coping. Oprah talked about her promiscuous years. There was some talk about cutting. For me, I have long struggled with self injury and I want to be free of that! I feel over the past couple years I have begun to make the transition from coping to healing. That changes everything!
Oprah repeated her favorite definition of forgiveness, as "giving up the hope that the past could have been any different." She said you have to mourn, but you can't stay there. Then the question was "How to move forward?" She said the first step is to speak up, so that shame can begin to heal. This touched home for me, because I have spoken up in various ways over the years. In the early 90s, just coming forward to get help was a form of speaking up. Then suing the church in the mid 90s, was speaking up further (although that was shrouded in secrecy). As I said, in 2002 the church scandal brought survivors together and there was more speaking up. But, the real watershed moment for me, and I have not ever said this here before, was in 2007 when there was a sex abuse scandal at my daughter's place of gymnastics. While my daughter was not involved in any way, it was the first time that my family life and my abusive past came together. Our town is small, and I spoke up in the local paper. I came forward as a survivor myself. For me this turned out to be a big deal. This speaking up changed things for me. This was when I really started to heal. Therapy made a dramatic shift and this was around the time Mind Parts was created. Lifting the veil of shame has been critical for me.
The low point of the show was when Oprah asked "How men are to find help?" The psychologist talked about therapy, but also about therapists being hard (if not impossible) to find, and so using Internet support groups or bulletin boards were mentioned as alternatives. That, to me, is poor advice. To the best of my knowledge, there are many therapists out there and many opportunities for men to find healing.
Oprah then ended by saying these wonderful words: "The reason why we wanted to do this show is because every man in this room, every one of you, represents the spirit of something dark that has happened to you, but also the spirit of hope and the spirit of survival."
The link to Oprah's shows can be found at: A Two-Day Oprah Show Event: 200 Adult Men Who Were Molested Come Forward.
It is difficult not to pay attention to the stream of news regarding clergy abuse in the Catholic Church. It is on all the major news sites I frequent, plus the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests issues daily e-mail press releases.
I really do not want this blog to become about clergy abuse. That is not at all my intention. My focus here is squarely on understanding trauma and dissociation particularly as they relate to my own healing.
But I do have to comment when I read something that begs for comment. I feel like it is sort of my public duty. So let me hop onto my blog soapbox for a moment.
The latest news is that Pope Benedict met with clergy abuse victims during a trip to Malta and 'weeped.' The news story included a press statement from the Vatican, which was telling:
"He prayed with them and assured them that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse, and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future."
One does not need to know much about any facet of this ongoing saga to know that everything said in that statement, after "he prayed with them," is demonstrably untrue.
It is also interesting as to who these "victims" are. They were undoubtedly hand picked and expected to say things like "[I am] trying to regain my faith." But those seeking to restore faith through the Catholic Church do not represent the vast majority of those abused. What about those whose faith has been shattered? Whose spirituality has been twisted by conflicting messages, teachings, and actions? How can that spirituality possibly be truly restored within the walls and constructs of an institution with such weight as the Catholic Church?
I struggle. In my head mostly. And I write. And I talk. And I pay attention. And I draw and paint.
The image above was done as an art therapy directive last week right after leaving the hospital. The directive was to "paint about something lost and something gained." What I lost is a spiritual direction. What I gained is a family, and an ability to ground and contain, and heal.
I know that someday these two sides will have to intersect. I cannot imagine that now, but perhaps they already are. I have had experiences of spirituality not tied to any religion. If you look at the early posts on this blog, you will read about my "consciousness" or "enlightenment" experiences. I also know that parts of my internal system have had similar wondrous experiences that were tied to religion. They were protected for those parts. But as I do the hard work of looking at myself as a whole, I cannot help to know they were really taken away.
That reality poses a huge dilemma for me. It is also one of the big questions that those of us with dissociative disorders have to face.
It could be asked in this way: How do I integrate parts of myself that were protected with parts of myself that were not without going crazy?
Or it could be asked in a much simpler way: How do I heal?
Perhaps this journey, partly documented here, is my spiritual path. Perhaps I am meant to heal. Perhaps I am meant to live.
On Good Friday, the Catholic Church, through the pope's personal preacher, compared the current scrutiny of both the pope and the church to the historical suffering of Jews. Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa said, "They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms." To make matters worse, these words were spoken during the homily of the Good Friday service in St. Peter's Basilica, while the pope looked on.
I can understand that the church feels under siege. It is and should. Everything that is happening now is a direct result of the church's own doing, and as I have said before, none of this is surprising when seen in its proper historical context. The responses are typical, and sad—that facts are being misrepresented and that the church itself is the victim.
These statements, from which the Vatican has since backtracked, are merely a public admission of what is the predominantly held belief of the church hierarchy. A belief that is the foundation of all that is wrong with the church. A core belief that has put so many children in danger for so many years. A core belief that has led to the suicides of so many clergy abuse victims. A core belief that has been a true obstacle to healing of physical, emotional and spiritual wounds of untold thousands.
What do such statements say to those who were sexually abused by deviant clergy and whose abuses were covered up for decades? I will tell you what I heard and felt: That we survivors are demons. That we survivors mean nothing. That we survivors merely incite violence.
The irony of these statements by the church is that in reality they do not apply to church suffering at all, but to the suffering of victims of clergy abuse. In fact, this is a parallel I made in Jews.
Whenever I think there is hope that the message I heard loud and clear as a child and teenager and adult is now different, I am given a dose of reality that it is not. These statements have served, in my mind, to nullify any prior or future statements of empathy or support for the abuses and cover-ups that have occurred. The Catholic Church does not have the right to say one thing one week, do nothing at all in its deeds at the highest of levels, and then say something so appalling and unholy the next week on one of the holiest days of the year—and expect to retain any shred of credibility.
I am certain Jesus does not at all approve of what the church has become, supposedly built around his life and teachings. If Jesus were giving the Good Friday homily, I would suspect he might repeat Matthew 21:13 in which he said: "My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves."
On Good Friday, the hours of 12 noon and three are known as the Three Hours' Agony, representing the last three hours before Jesus died on the cross. Tradition holds that these hours are for specific prayers and acts of reparation for Jesus' suffering; acts meant to repair the sins against Jesus. For me, this year, I spent these hours in a psychiatric hospital, tortured by internal conflicts about religion, God, Jesus, and Satan. When I read these statements spoken on Good Friday, precisely in the middle of these three special hours, I could not help but have the immediate reaction that I should die. It was then not easy to stay safe, and eventually I found myself sleeping in a hospital Quiet Room.
But I fought.
A couple days removed, I have gained some perspective.
In Galatians, Jesus said that we are all sons of God. My interpretation is that these acts of reparation are meant to acknowledge all of God's children who have suffered in the name of religion.
Instead, in St. Peter's Basilica, we are not reached out to; only the church is the victim.
Unfortunately, this leads me to conclude that the words of the Catholic Church are clearly not the Words of the Lord.
- Holy Week, Church Visit, Scandal, and Miracles (March 29, 2010)
- Thoughts on Catholic Church Abuse Reports (March 15, 2010)
- Ireland's Church Abuse Scandal and Personal History (May 24, 2009)
I knew the Christian season of Lent was going to be challenging this year. It always is. But I had a number of important clues for why this one would stand out from the rest. For one, I have a level of internal awareness now that I have not ever had before. For another, internal parts that have dealt with religious issues have been active to a degree I have not experienced in well over a decade. I have had to attend to them, and since things are different now, the way I attend has taken on new significance.
This religious season did not start out well. And I was quite discouraged. On the very first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, there was a self-harm event that completely caught me off guard. I had somehow not remembered the importance of that day, even though we had talked about it several times in therapy. But parts inside clearly remembered. I then rededicated myself to do better and work more collaboratively to keep "all of me" safe.
My therapist and I have been planning for Easter beginning back at the turn of the year. And, in fact, one of the steps we discussed was going back to the church where a lot of my childhood abuse happened (see photo above). We knew this was a huge step, not to be done without careful consideration. But specific parts were very vocal in asking for it. We talked about all the pros and cons and thought it through carefully. And we waited and resisted the temptation to do it impulsively. We went together a couple weeks ago. The experience was validating, but there were all kinds of different responses. For the first few days, it was all seen as only a healing experience. But then one younger part thought it meant we can now go back to that church and even participate in the ceremonies (presumably as an altar boy). Other parts, particularly those who dealt with the more extreme conflicts about religion, were not heard from for at least a week. That troubled me. When I did finally hear from them, they were not happy, which is the mildest way I can describe their responses.
Immediately after going to the church, the clergy abuse scandal in Europe escalated. This was not any surprise to those of us who have dealt with this for a long time. But it has been big news for the scandal to reach the steps of the Vatican. The news has seemed relentless to me. As I wrote in Thoughts on the Catholic Church Abuse Reports a couple weeks ago, I know bringing abuses into the light of day will lead to healing and increased safety of children. But such news has always been destabilizing for me. That it comes right in the middle of the holiest time of the year, makes it even more so.
On March 19th, Pope Benedict read publicly a letter apologizing for abuses in Ireland. Last year, he read a similar letter during his visit to the United States. But the words were typical, saying some bishops made some "errors in judgment." And there were only words, not action. Then on March 24, the New York Times broke a story that the pope, then a cardinal, was the person who stopped church investigations of a Wisconsin priest who was accused of abusing hundreds of boys at a deaf school. The Times article said:
"Even as the pope himself in a recent letter to Irish Catholics has emphasized the need to cooperate with civil justice in abuse cases, the correspondence seems to indicate that the Vatican's insistence on secrecy has often impeded such cooperation. At the same time, the officials' reluctance to defrock a sex abuser shows that on a doctrinal level, the Vatican has tended to view the matter in terms of sin and repentance more than crime and punishment."
Swiss President Doris Leuthard has called for a central register of pedophile priests in her country. We would do well to have one in the United States as well. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there should be a special offender registry in the cases of any civil action of child abuse (in any church or organization, such as the Boy Scouts). There currently exists none. And in the Catholic Church, since civil cases were filed and settled with the Church, there are no civil authority records on most all priests. Most are listed by the non-profit group Bishop Accountability, but that is not the best solution for protecting children. I believe our sex offender registries are a bit of a joke, since someone can be on it for misdemeanor lewd conduct having nothing at all to do with a child, yet a defrocked, civilly sued, pedophile priest with dozens of victims, is not on the registry. That inequity is not in the best interest of protecting children. So, our governments must hold some responsibility in all of this and need to step up.
To slightly change the subject, but to give an idea of how disconnected the Catholic Church is from reality, Pope John Paul II's track to sainthood is being questioned. The former pope died five years ago. One requirement for sainthood is that there needs to be two attributed miracles. Here's one miracle in his file: A nun in France, had prayed to the pope for relief from what was believed to be Parkinson's disease. Two months after the pope died, she had a medically unexplainable cure. That's probably a miracle to someone, but how is it attributed to him? Recently, there has been news saying that she may not have suffered from Parkinson's at all, but rather another neurological disease which can be cured. Talk about misplaced priorities!
So much is happening at the same time for me. I am being inundated with Catholic Church news, which normally I do not pay much attention to. Inside feels like it is all rushing to a head coinciding with Easter. I have, as a result, been losing lots of time to dissociation, orders of magnitude more than usual. I know I have been psychologically switching self states like a revolving door. I also know that most of the time I am able to show to outsiders (including family) that I appear to be totally normal. This is validating in a sense, because it makes me realize how it was possible for most of my youth. That ability, really, is what dissociation was designed to do (and I will write more about this later).
In the process, safety—that overarching responsibility of mine—is being severely tested. I am trying my best to navigate through all of this muck. I am utilizing all my grounding and coping skills. But I am acutely aware that all of my best efforts may not quite be enough this week.
If anyone had the impression that the Catholic clergy abuse scandal, which erupted in Boston in 2002 and spread quickly throughout the United States, was limited only to this country, they were mistaken. There was clergy abuse elsewhere, of course, and scandals at other times, including here in Boston a decade earlier, in Ireland last year, and in Germany and other parts of Europe right now.
I admit I have not ever paid close attention to clergy abuse news. It has been just too personally triggering for me. I do not search out news on the clergy abuse websites (e.g., The SNAP Network and Bishop Accountability). In fact, I avoid them as best I can because it does not help me to know everything. I also am well aware that I was completely destabilized in 2002. The constant stream of news at the time triggered my second round of collapse and then recovery. As I have written before, my first round was in the early 1990s. While it was known then that there was institutional cover-up and deflection, its scale was not known. I felt a certain sense of peace that came from all of this not being too publicly prominent.
However, I now know that public awareness of child abuse leads to accountability and makes children more safe. The Catholic Church thrived on secrecy. Left to their own devices, I am convinced there would be no pressure to change. For an institution with Jesus Christ at the center and guiding influence, I find their behavior unconscionable. But I can understand it. All institutions—and governments—want to avoid scandals, many even at the cost of innocent lives.
It really is not the abuses that bother me the most. Data shows that there are more offenders, by percentage, in schools. And, percentage of abuse of children by males in the general population is also higher. What is most hurtful to me personally was the cover-up, lack of empathy, and treatment of child abuse victims, and their families, as "disposable." I told I was being abused in the 1980s as a high school student, and though I greatly minimized what happened, the situation was resolved by our family moving to another church and not talking about it. The place we called our spiritual home for four generations was taken away in the bat of an eye, and the pedophile priest who had only been there for a decade, and who was attacking children, remained.
Obviously, I did not know much about justice back then or how to find it.
In Boston, the church did make efforts in the early 1990s to "reach out" to victims through internal investigations. But that was a case of "too little, too late." For me, a decade of silence had gone by, and I was in the midst of a complete psychological collapse. I simply could not trust the church. And I had good reason not to. Even through these investigations, they did not move to isolate pedophile priests and protect children. The only recourse for victims was to come forward and press criminal charges or file a civil lawsuit.
The focus of the church was always about its image. And since the church was "above the law," at least in practical terms, they had the upper hand. In many cases, there are voluminous records (see Bishop Accountability) clearly documenting abuse and acknowledgement by church officials that abuse occurred. However, this information was never disclosed to victims who came forward. The message from the church, through their lawyers, was never about validation and support, but about making the barriers to justice higher and higher.
Now, in 2010, the collective voice of survivors from all over the world is exposing the truth. We seek justice. We seek healing. But we also seek to stop abuse against children wherever it exists.
It was a decade that began, for me as a survivor, with the public airing of the clergy abuse scandal in January 2002. I had thought that was all behind me. I had dealt with all of that a decade earlier, surviving some tortuous "healing" years in and out of the hospital in the early '90s.
By the mid '90s, I filed suit with the church, settled, and then completely distanced myself from therapy and the hospital. I wanted nothing to do with all of that. I was very clear that dissociative identity disorder, then called multiple personality disorder, was made up. While that was a huge piece of denial, and I know that now, somehow that allowed me the space to get married, buy a house, build up my career, and twice become a father. But, really, while many good things happened during those years, my life was severely partitioned. I just wasn't aware. Hurting myself would happen in its own box. Being petrified would happen in its own box. Everything went back to the way it was in the '80s, except I now had built a life for myself, which was very real but also somewhat of a facade, something I could hide behind.
It collapsed like a house of cards in 2002. It's shocking to me how quickly it all happened. The more functional parts of me thought they could handle things; the talking to reporters and details of my abuse being in the big daily papers. But something strange happened. I started to realize that my life really was a bunch of partitions or rooms and that things not only were not right in 2002, but they weren't right all along. I was kidding myself about how much I had healed. The depression, the switching, the suicidality, the eating; these all were back again.
After a series of false starts with various random therapists, I called my old therapist, I like to call him Freud, and asked if I could go back to see him. We started working together again. It was hard. I became increasingly symptomatic. I became more fragmented. I acted out in self-harm a lot. And I ended up in the hospital again. And again. And again. But it was different from the '90s and I can't quite put my finger on how. We worked hard. But it was slow progress.
Then things changed. In 2008 I started working with an art therapist. By late 2008, I stopped working with Freud as my main therapist and switched to the art therapist as my main therapist. And things took off, like I was shot out of a cannon. I was not used to working in this new way. The old way was to intellectualize everything. The new way was to explore feelings, draw and paint, hug each other when leaving, and use all those healing words and phrases. The new way acknowledged internal parts in a much more direct way. She wanted to know what they felt too. We started paying attention to everything. I started taking journaling very seriously and now use it to keep connected to my life, no matter how chaotic and confusing. Also, this website was born.
Here's what I accomplished in 2009 (in rough chronological order):
I wrote my first submission to the Many Voices newsletter, a print survivor newsletter that's been in existence since 1989 and one I have read off and on since way back.
I started experiencing body memories for what I thought was the first time. I am sure they were not the first time, but with my new "awareness", it felt like it. These are, at times, completely debilitating. But they are often followed by new knowledge.
I started to gain a sense of the level of injury I sustained from my abuse. I remember seeing the movie "Deliver Us From Evil" about the clergy abuse crisis and then crying for days, which I assume is grieving. I don't think I ever grieved before.
I asked for, and obtained, the church records on my case; all 182 pages. These were were made public after a criminal investigation and kept by an organization called Bishop Accountability.
Through my journaling, I started to really come to terms with these huge changes of consciousness (or switches). I am sure this was the way it always was, but that I was just not aware of it or didn't try to document it carefully.
I started to allow parts of me to express themselves and stopped trying to control things so much. This has led to me learning so much more about parts of me than I ever thought possible. The therapist is focused on exploring this and she's convinced me it's important.
I started to address the self-harm in a much different way. This has opened things up for a couple of "darker" parts inside and work is now being done on helping them and keeping us all safe.
Night panics began and usually this meant young parts kept up the wife and we had to enlist her help. Eventually, it was discovered that a lot of it had to do with an adverse reaction to too much Risperdal (called akathisia); so that drug was stopped.
I made a conscious decision to stop relying on psychotropic medications to get through and dull experiences. This actually began in Summer 2008 when I stopped antidepressants. I had completely relied on Risperdal and Klonopin during the day to get through difficult times. But I did start taking pain medication for the body memories. And I document every pill I take.
Part of the reason why I was able to lessen my dependency on medications was that I changed my lifestyle a bit. I started advocating for what I needed. This caused conflicts within the family. But I started to know what my limitations were, at home and work, and decided I owed it to all of me inside to take them seriously. This ushered in a new level of trust inside.
With this trust, came a new ability to accomplish tasks. While there were many times I have not been able to do work, there were other times where I shined gloriously. I started to experience what is often called "flow" in a much more whole kind of way. It was not the old way where parts just did their thing. This was a new way and it felt good.
Bought an iPhone 3GS to add to my Apple family of products. That is life changing in and of itself, and I promise to write a post just on how important the iPhone is to someone dealing with dissociation!
I wrote my first ever "contract". It is not just a one page list of don'ts. It's a very direct and important document; the culmination of not only a year's worth of work, but an adult life's worth of work.
Whew! I've done a lot. And luckily I did a lot in this decade. So, when I refer to the "2000's", it will be known that there were many highs and many lows, but lots of healing, and it ended in a bang.
I do give up sometimes. I cannot deny that. In fact just a few hours before I wrote the "contract" a few weeks ago, I wrote to my therapist that I was giving up. But now, looking back, on this decade and a little bit on the decade before, I must know that I can never give up. Too much has been gained. I am a different person. I have healed in more ways than I could have ever imagined. And I look forward to the next decade, even though I know that there will be lots of hard work ahead of me. It will all be worth it!
Happy New Year to all of you!
Until now, I have focused this blog on aspects of healing. I have not talked at all about my personal history or made any political statements.
Recent news has compelled me to stray a bit from that approach.
On May 20, 2009, Ireland's Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse released a long awaited 2600 page report on the abuse of thousands of children at the hands of priests and nuns of the Catholic Church. Not at all unlike the scandal in the United States, which began in Boston, it was made known that church leaders knew what was going on. These church leaders' main goal was to protect their institution, and they were enabled by the Irish government who looked the other way amid a "culture of self-servicing secrecy." In Ireland, the government bears major responsibility because these children were generally outcasts, placed in a network of 250 Irish Catholic care institutions from the 1930s to the 1990s.
In Boston, the beginnings of the scandal began in 1992 when Fr. James Porter was prosecuted for abusing some 100 boys. This was just the tip of the iceberg. Less than a year later, the Archdiocese of Boston began to enact new policies to address the growing revelations of abuse.
At the time, I had been in the midst of my own personal crisis, healing from abuse by a priest which extended over a period of many years. I came forward during this time. For me, though, I had as much invested in keeping the abuse a secret as the church did. Despite the new policies, the main goal of the church was to prevent a scandal. This culture of secrecy, in my experience, permeated every aspect of the church and for the entire history of the church and society at the time. In my case, the church secretary knew, other priests knew (because I told them in an effort to get help), and eventually even my parents knew (which ultimately ended the abuse). But I was ashamed by what happened, afraid of retaliation, and felt I bore some responsibility. So, I couldn't imagine coming forward in the press or coming forward to the police. In my 1995 settlement with the church, I had to sign a document saying that I understood the church was admitting no wrongdoing. Looking back, that was a personal mistake.
I was able to eventually put my life back into some order. But, when the scandal erupted in Boston again in January 2002, the harsh reality of my past clashed with the present. I quickly fell apart, like I had a decade earlier, and embarked on a healing journey of proportions I had not previously envisioned. The task before me was immense and mine is but one of untold thousands of lives forever altered by abuse within the Catholic Church.
As a result of the scandal, the Archdiocese of Boston set up the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach which is focused on supporting survivors. They have paid for my therapy for the past several years. In a March 11, 2009 press release on the steps the Archdiocese of Boston is taking to protect children, Cardinal O'Malley reaffirmed his commitment to supporting survivors. He revealed Pope Benedict's direction to Bishops: "It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged." Cardinal O'Malley then wrote that this "directive could not have been clearer."
I believe in personal and institutional responsibility and appreciate I am in a somewhat unique position as a survivor. I know most survivors of family abuse and other forms of abuse (which in terms of numbers, dwarf those of the church abuse survivors) do not have the opportunity for this support. I don't take this lightly and feel I have a responsibility to heal.
It was only a couple of months ago that I asked for and received all the documents pertaining to my case; 180+ pages made public by the church in the course of government investigation. The records showed that my abuser denied almost everything I had come forward about, except sleeping with me and kissing me on the lips, which he said was normal affection.
I was struck by the fact that the church paid monthly stipends, medical care, and a group home for my abuser for nearly 10 years after the settlement, until he was defrocked by Rome in 2005. The Cardinal (which at the time was Bernard Law) wrote several supportive letters to him. In contrast, I spent a couple years embroiled in legal wrangling with church lawyers who disbelieved me and was given a legal disclaimer to sign prohibiting me from ever speaking publicly, along with a check for my troubles. I saw that check as a personal victory, despite having signed the document. I had won something, even though it was a settlement outside of court. I had gained some justice, however small.
This was not my goal, however. My goal, which I laid out very clearly to the lawyers when I originally came forward, was to stop my abuser from hurting anyone else ever again. I wanted to prosecute him and put him behind bars. But my case turned out to not be one where many victims came together. While I know there were other victims, which were confirmed by the records, I was the only one to come forward. I was advised that I didn't have a strong enough case to prosecute. This was not because my personal history was not sound enough, for it was, but because we didn't have the strength in numbers needed to secure a victory.
So, I have considered my victory incomplete. I take solace from the fact that it is my doing that my abuser is no longer a priest in the Catholic Church. But I regret that he was not criminally prosecuted and does not have a criminal background. He does not have to register as a sex offender. I have to live with the fact that I could not, in the end, completely protect other children.
I have since redefined what victory means to me. Victory now means healing. I know I cannot save the world, especially if I cannot save myself. The past year has been a period of remarkable growth and healing. I am well on my way to victory.