Recently in Personal History Category
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.