Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Every Person is Sacred: Part Two of the Screening of Hand of God

The conventional wisdom has been that survivors of Catholic clergy abuse could only rely on other survivors for support and belief, so we worried what would happen when we brought survivors together with other Catholics and members of the community for the screening of the film on clergy abuse, Hand of God, in September 2007.  We found that the conventional wisdom was wrong.  Not only could we come together without wounding each other, together we experienced spiritual healing and transformation.
On that Saturday in late September 2007, we experienced the sanctity of the community.  We also experienced the sanctity of each individual present.  Each person who came, brought their own special gift.
Paul Cultrera, the subject of Hand of God, and his brother Joe, who directed the film came to Portland just for the screening.  However when another guest cancelled, they agreed to fill in the gap in our schedule despite the fact that Paul Cultrera was exhausted.  A business commitment on Friday night kept him up until 2 AM on Saturday morning. but Paul stayed with us the most of the day, sharing his story and his journey of healing.
Other survivors told me they found Paul’s presence and his willingness to share his story very healing.
“His story is my story,” one survivor said.
Joe Cultrera, who had hoped to get in some sight seeing in Portland, gave up his free time and shared his presence and support with us for most the day along with his brother.
In addition to Paul and Joe, we invited clergy abuse survivor, Billie Mazzei, to contribute to our event.  Billie is from the state of Washington.  She studied with Marie Fortune of the Faith Trust Institute.  For many years she lead retreats for survivors of clergy abuse.  Now she is semi-retired, but she still offers spiritual direction and small groups for survivors.  Both Elizabeth Goeke and Billie Mazzei spoke about how to heal the wounds of clergy abuse.  Billie’s offerings will be included in future blogs.
Clergy abuse lawyer, Kelly Clark, who was on a tight schedule, walked in during Billie’s presentation.
“Who is the woman who is speaking?  She is excellent,” he said.  
Kelly Clark filed the lawsuit that went all the way to the Oregon State Supreme Court and opened up Oregon’s court system to allow survivors of abuse to sue for civil damages within three years of realizing they have been harmed.  More importantly, he is a compassionate lawyer who tries very hard to connect his survivors with support services to help them heal.
After Billie finished speaking, Kelly spoke about the process of helping survivors figure out if they want to file civil lawsuits for damages caused by abuse.  He advises that the process is often painful and best taken if justice and some sort of public acknowledgment of abuse are needed by the survivor for healing.   Sometimes suing the Church is the only way survivors can get the resources they need for healing.  Moreover, as painful as these lawsuits have been for Catholics, they have pushed the Church to work much harder to keep children safe.
Kelly also spoke about the importance of apologizing for abuse.  Many Catholic clergy abuse survivors do not feel apologized to by the leadership of the Catholic Church.   Sometimes these apologies have the right words but are made to a room full of Catholics in an event to which no survivors have been invited.  Other times these apologies are worded in ways that diminish the apology (I.e. “If in hindsight, people were hurt, we are sorry…”).
Kelly Clark recounted one time he was present during a sincere apology.  A survivor wanted an apology from a Bishop.  The Bishop agreed, and he spoke from his heart.  
While Kelly Clark was speaking, Franciscan Friar Fr. Armando Lopez, then the pastor of Ascension Catholic Church in Portland, Oregon, walked into the Hollywood Theater.  Fr. Armando was impressed when he heard a clergy abuse lawyer praise an apology made by a bishop.  
The screening of Hand of God also brought forth two special people who were not clergy abuse survivors and who had no connection to the Catholic Church.  One of those people was a man I call Eddie.  I told his story in an article, Giving Eddie a Break, published in the Fall 2009 issue of Alternatives magazine as well as on the Abuse Tracker Blog.  Eddie was never sexually or physically abused.  But he had been abused by society and by our legal system.  When I spoke on a local radio station about why we were screening the movie, Hand of God, he was drawn to my words and wanted to join our Gatherings.  Eddie helped to remind us there are many forms of abuse and that all forms of abuse devastate lives.  Another special person who came to the screening of the movie, was a mother whose children were sexually abused by the same man.  Her children came to terms with their abuse too late for their abuser to be prosecuted and imprisoned.  Frustrated, the mother struggled to find support and justice but found very few people who would even listen to her compassionately.  In September 2007, Colin Fogarty, who was a reporter with the local National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate, interviewed Elizabeth and me.  The mother heard about our group on the radio and came to the screening of Hand of God.   Although the man who abused her children was not a Catholic priest, she wanted to find someone, anyone, who could understand the anguish she and her children had gone through.  It was this mother who decided to Walk Across Oregon to stop child sexual abuse.
When we see each person as special, we open ourselves to receiving the gifts each person has to offer.  The Walk Across Oregon has given us the opportunity to meet many survivors of many forms of abuse.
Sadly, the mother’s story is a common one.  These last forty years we have made it much safer to talk about sexual abuse, but many survivors still experience judgment and little or no support when they come forward.  Too often those who abuse slip through the cracks in our legal system and go on to abuse many others.  This is true not only true for clergy abuse survivors, it is true for ordinary sex abuse and rape survivors as well as for survivors of domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse.  The more I Walk Across Oregon, the more stories I hear.
An abusive man, who had custody of the nieces and nephews he abused, just moved when authorizes began to investigate.  He was a respected foreman in his field of work; finding another job was easy.  It was years before authorities removed the children from his home.  They say that justice delayed is justice denied.  Four decades have passed; the survivors live crippled lives.
A grandmother grows increasingly hysterical when authorities won’t listen to her stories of how her grandson is being abused.  Reacting to her hysteria, officials tell her that she is the problem, not the person she accuses of abuse.  But what loving, healthy parent or grandparent would not become hysterical upon finding out their child or grandchild is being abused?  
I have many stories of pain and healing to share, so stay with me, dear reader.  Together we can explore what can be done to stop these abuses and heal the wounds.  Every story is special.  Every person is sacred.

© 2009 Virginia Jones

Monday, November 15, 2010

Coming together in Community is a Sacred Act: Part One of the Screening of Hand of God

I was baptized Catholic in 2001, by a dynamic priest who was removed 11 months later because he abused boys.  These events caused me to look closely at how the Catholic Church handled abuses inside the Church as well as to look closely at the abuses I experienced as a child and young adult.  I concluded that the Church needed to do more to care for survivors of clergy abuse.  After discovering that other Catholics were often unable to listen compassionately to the stories told by survivors, I learned the spiritual discipline of Compassionate Listening from The Compassionate Listening Project and Eryn Kalish of Workplace Solutions.
The first time I brought other Catholics together to listen compassionately to a survivor of clergy abuse was the first Sunday of January 2007.  We met in my living room and listened to Elizabeth Goeke tell her story of being assaulted by a priest when she was a young nun.  Then she listened as we parishioners told our story of coping with the removal of an abusive priest.  Everyone present felt uplifted by the experience.  We all felt that more Catholics and survivors would come together for mutual healing and understanding if only they knew how good it felt.
Ten days or so after this event, the Public Broadcasting show Frontline, screened the film on clergy abuse, Hand of God.  I liked the film very much, but for me the story was one I was very familiar with.  I didn’t realize how much impact the film would have on other Catholics.
The movie moved one of my supporters at Ascension parish in Portland, Oregon, to act.  That parishioner connected with other interested parishioners and pushed to show the movie at Ascension Catholic Church.  We screened the movie in the parish on a weeknight.  Only ten people attended.  After the film ended I listened as other parishioners spoke about their feelings.  I could see the lights going on in their minds as they came to a deeper understanding of the issue of clergy abuse.  Hand of God tells a very personal story of one survivor, Paul Cultrera, and his devout Catholic family, as they came to terms with his abuse by a Catholic priest.  Paul and his family were lied to and treated unkindly by Church officials when he came forward.  Later, the local Church officials closed the parish Paul Cultrera’s devout Catholic parents attended, treating the parents and other parishioners much as the Church had treated their survivor son.
One Ascension parishioner said, “That movie makes me mad at Church leadership all over again.”
That same parishioner confessed that he stopped attending Mass for a few years after the abusive priest was removed from our parish in 2002.
Another parishioner recounted her grief after her daughter permanently stopped attending Mass in 2002.  Others admitted they still had unanswered questions form the events in our own parish.
That evening I saw how the movie, Hand of God, touched Catholics and helped them better understand the clergy abuse issue.  I concluded that we needed to reach out to more Catholics and show them that movie.
That is how Elizabeth Goeke and I ended up hosting the screening of Hand of God on September 22, 2007, at the Hollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon.  Unfortunately, interesting other Catholics in the clergy abuse issue is really difficult.  Those attending our screening included the usual, supportive parishioners from Ascension Catholic Church and a few other members of the community including a couple of ex-Catholics, a nun and a Benedictine Oblate, two priests including Fr. Armando Lopez, the Franciscan pastor of Ascension Catholic Church, Billie Mazzei, a clergy abuse survivor who studied with the Faith Trust Institute, a dozen or so other survivors, clergy abuse attorney Kelly Clark, and Paul Cultrera and his brother Joe, who directed Hand of God.  We used the concept of Compassionate Listening to set the atmosphere.  We came together at 9 AM.  Although some people drifted in and out, many people stayed for the entire day of movie screening, presentations, and discussion -- until 6 PM.  Survivors criticized the Catholic Church backwards and forwards, upwards and downwards and every which way all day long.
Yet, many of the Catholics who approached me that day and the days to come thanked me for the uplifting presentation.
As St. Francis would say, we Catholics sought not so much to be understood as to understand.
When you listen compassionately, when you set aside your own agenda to be present to a person in pain, you become a part of their healing process, and as they heal, you experience your own transformation.  As Elizabeth Goeke explained to me after the screening, when you walk with Jesus to the crucifixion, you end up being resurrected spiritually yourself.
Our group didn’t come close to filling up the 300 plus seats in the Hollywood theater; there was plenty of room to spread out.  One woman sat in shadows at the back of the theater.  During one discussion this woman came forward to express her feelings.  She was angry.  Why hadn’t female clergy abuse survivors been mentioned?  She had other complaints, but we did not argue.  We listened.  During breaks people went up to her and offered their support.
When the time for the closing ceremony came, we held candles and stood together in silent prayer.  The angry woman joined the rest of us, but her anger had dissipated, a faint smile rested on her cheeks.  Fr. Armando stood with us in his brown Franciscan habit. After a while we broke apart, giving people a chance to mingle one more time.  
One clergy abuse survivor who had been thrown out of his parish many years before said, “I want to go back to church.”
“Come to our next Gathering at Ascension Catholic Church in November,” I said.
“No the man,” said, “I want to go to Mass tomorrow morning.  Your church seems like an open church.  I want to go to your church.”
As I led the man to Fr. Armando to talk about attending Mass at Ascension, another survivor commented to Fr. Armando, “If it hadn’t been for St. Francis, I would have chucked the whole ‘kit and caboodle’.”
The next day after Mass, Fr. Armando said to me, “You are a very brave woman.”
Fr. Armando knows that I have faced fierce opposition from other parishioners for my support for clergy abuse survivors, but no matter what happened to me I never lost my faith or stopped attending Mass.
From then on, whatever Elizabeth and I wanted to do to support clergy abuse survivors at Ascension Catholics Church, Fr. Armando supported us.  In September 2007, he experienced himself how Compassionate Listening brought about healing and reconciliation for survivors of clergy abuse as well as for survivors of other forms of abuse.  
Next Blog:  Every Person is Sacred:  Part Two of Screening Hand of God in Portland, Oregon.
© 2009 Virginia Jones

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Shareds Story: The Spiritual Dimensions of Healing from Abuse by Priest

by Elizabeth Goeke, co-founder Compassionate Gathering

I write my story of abuse as a way of saying thank you to the many survivors of priest/church abuse who have shown me the path to my own truth by their bravery. For the past five years I have mentored others along the path to healing as an advocate for those abused. I have heard the stories of several dozen survivors. Each person who told me pieces of their story made it easier for me to face my own fragments of truth, deal with my psychic and spiritual wounds and weave those pieces of self together in a story of injury and journey into recovery of self. 

Here is my attempt to tell a story that is still unfolding.  I tell my story, not as an expert, but as a traveler on a confusing and twisting journey. I tell my story with the hope that my sharing will create space for seeds of hope and glimmers of insight as we stumble along together through the valley of abuse by priest/church. In my telling, survivors will find themes and points where my story intersects with theirs. At many points we share a story. We have different and unique lives and pains. We also share a bonding experience. 

There is nothing “one of a kind” in my story. All the elements in my story belong to each of us who have been touched by this traumatic experience. Some of the common elements are:  minimalization and denial; finding ourselves standing alone in life; being silenced for years; thinking we were the “only one”; shutting the abuse away in an inner lock box of embarrassment; to survive we distance ourselves from our faith in our church and in the process we often lose faith in ourselves; protecting our families, especially our parents, from “our fall”; having our loyalty, our belonging to our church, questioned by the very fact of our being victims of abuse and then re questioned and re traumatized when we find  the courage to speak of the abuse. After priest/church abuse, we discover ourselves in a state of fear, broken dreams, fractured faith and a distorted sense of self. The after effects of this abuse vary from victim to victim. It might show as emotional scaring, trauma dealt with through addiction and mal adaptations of living skills. There is one after effect that every victim shares, which is a profound spiritual wounding. Walking my own path and sharing that path with other survivors during these past years, I know that spiritual recovery is difficult and requires the victim to travel through dangers and uncertainties to discover their own truth and own spiritual authenticity. 

 I tell my story, (our story) for those who cannot tell their own story: those who were too young at the time of the abuse to be ever able to form words and concepts to the experience; for those who died of despair and suicide; for those in prison; for those who are too afraid, too alone, too vulnerable to tell their story. I tell the story for Sharon, a woman I know, who gave birth to two children fathered by priests. As Sharon, a bright and beautiful graduate of a local Catholic college, descended into a permanent state of psychosis, the children were taken from her. Today, Sharon appears as a homeless or near homeless, mentally ill woman of the Portland streets. Finally, I tell the story for those who sit in church each week, afraid of a harsh reaction from their families and fellow parishioners lest their secret be revealed.

From the Cradle

As my bio says, I am a cradle catholic. I was not only raised from the cradle to be catholic, my life was shaped, formed in every detail by the cradle of Catholicism. Born in the mid forties in rural Missouri, I am the second daughter and seventh child of Ed and Rosella Goeke. My father was of German immigrant stock, shopkeepers and shoe cobblers by trade. Each generation was marked by those who became priests and nuns. Two Catholic churches were present in my father’s childhood town to serve the total population of 1000. Two churches across the street from each other: St. Pat’s for the Irish Americans, and St. Joe’s for the German Americans. My mother was from a different background. My mother was a fervent convert to Catholicism. To my mother, Catholicism was the most precious gift in the world. Her mother, Mary Westoff, was raised Catholic in a very non-Catholic area along the Iowa/Missouri border. There were few Catholics and fewer churches.   Mary was courted and then married by Grandfather Levi, the oldest of a huge Mennonite family of sons. Levi, was a self described “bad Mennonite”, because he loved to dance and sing. Levi met Mary at a town dance and fell in love with the woman he described as “the prettiest girl in the county”. Although he did not adhere to his family’s religion, he forbad Mary to baptize their eight children and throughout his life, refused to set foot inside a Catholic church. My mother was the eldest and the first to leave home. Immediately upon moving from the farm to town, she took instruction and became a Catholic, as then did her siblings.   She met my father at a church ice cream social and devoted the rest of her life to making a devout Catholic family.

Every day and most activities of our family were focused on church. Mother was in the altar society. I learned to iron while pressing the altar linens. I cleaned the gold candlesticks, learning to melt the wax without scratching the beautiful holders. Each Saturday, I would bake with mother as we made cinnamon rolls to sell after the 10:00 Mass.   My father was also very much of the church. He and my older brothers were in the Knights of Columbus.  Dad was choir director and as a family of musicians we could ourselves provide four-part harmony and the organist for Mass.  And we all belonged to the Legion of Mary. I was in the Junior Legion from middle school on. I learned to garden so that my Mary altar could have fresh flowers and extend many months beyond May. Besides daily devotions, and weekly meetings, I visited the sick and the shut ins. My social conscience was shaped by visits to the Adair county nursing home where I encountered the mentally ill locked in cubicles, screaming in an age prior to anti-psychotic medications.

I learned about purity and “keeping safe”. I was taught that it was the girl’s behavior, which caused the boy’s actions. Therefore it was all about proper behavior at all times. Watch the hem of the skirt, watch the tightness of the blouse and watch the eyes, watch the hands. And always tuck a quarter into your shoe, for if the boy companion lost control, even with my watchfulness, I was to quickly get to a pay phone for emergency help. Above all, and at all times, I was to  “keep safe” (meaning keep my “virtue”)…my body safe.

All that watchfulness was good training for convent boarding school and then convent life with the Benedictines at St. Mary’s in Nauvoo.  A religious life, living fully to serve God and the church in a life of prayer was an easy, natural and deeply satisfying career choice. I loved the music and the chant; I was a cantor and occasional organist. I loved the silence and the sisters. After first vows I was prepared for the classroom. I was the first of my class to go on mission. St. John’s was a tiny school in a remote town in central Illinois. St. John’s needed a teacher of first and second grades, who could also teach music and play the organ. 

A Hard Lesson in Life

Mother had prepared me for out-of-control boys. The convent did not however prepare me for out-of-control priests. When our confessor (a priest who came from another town in the area) arranged for me to be alone with him on Christmas Eve, I was not on guard. When he stated that he was going to have sex with me, because “it was Christmas” I found myself in a place beyond my imagination, my knowledge, my scope of understanding, my life preparation and my spiritual definitions.   Stunned and dazed, enough of my mother’s conditioning kicked in and I fought and got away. I was bloodied at the face where the coif was torn, my arms bruised and I was shaking, but there was not time to have a crisis as I had two Christmas services to play, and that ancient organ required my full attention.

It was a week into January before anxiety set in. I had to deal with the situation, and I did what I knew to do:… I went to confession. Not to “that confessor”, but the extra-ordinary confessor who came “from a town somewhere else”.  He, unlike the other, was young and kind. His  first question was “Did you enjoy it?” With that clearly out of the way, we settled into coping with the situation. First, he said, I was not to blame…. that was good. Second, I was to tell no one, except him in the confessional.

Confession after confession we “worked on the situation” together. My anxiety did not dissipate; it grew.   I had decisions to make. I had renewal of vows coming up in the summer. I was miserable and knew I could not request vows. I was not the same person I had been before Christmas. I was “less than” that person. The community did not know the person I had become. I could not tell them. Father told me I could not tell them. “It would cause the community problems, it would cause me problems”. My anxiety grew more, and Father consoled me that it was time for me to recognize that my vocation had changed. It was clear to him that God no longer wanted me to be a sister. I was being called to a different life of service. My service was to live a life of “sealed lips”. A life, which Father assured me, was God’s plan and for which I would be abundantly blessed, showered with happiness. 

At Easter, mother prioress came to visit. We had a private meeting in the same parlor where the abuse had happened. I told her I would not be requesting vows. Mother prioress asked no questions. Mother expressed no regrets. Mother gave me a blessing and said that the community would pray for me.

In June, at the end of the school year, the other two sisters left me alone on Saturday while I changed from the habit into one of the two dresses sent from the motherhouse.  It was lime green. I attempted to push my hair, newly grown out for these few months into a shape. I drove away from the convent life with my oldest brother and father in a VW bus. The first night was at my brother’s house where his wife (not I) remembers today her question to me…. “ Why did you leave? “Because priests have too much power!” She did not question more, she says, because the answer made so much sense.

My father was gracious and generous in helping me establish a new life. In my time away, mother had died. It was awkward, but not unhappy to be back in our hometown. I did not know how this new life would go. My only plans were to finish a degree at our local college and learn of my “new vocation”.

Within weeks, I was back at confession. It was Saturday. My hometown church, the only Catholic Church for miles, Mary Immaculate. It is right downtown on Washington Street.   It is a comfortable, familiar, beloved building. This is the church of my baptism, my first communion, and my confirmation. Here stands the altar where I had knelt to receive the Eucharist all of those mornings of daily mass. The altar of those pressed linen cloths and wax free candlesticks. Here is the choir loft where we had sung so many masses and below is the church basement where we had served all those cinnamon rolls. All my life, this church, huge in my memory and my mind was the place of prayer, self-definition, purpose of soul. It is my family’s place of baptisms, weddings and funerals.

It was Saturday. It was summer. It was hot. I had not been to confession outside of the convent for years.  It was vacation time and there was a visiting priest “from a town somewhere else”.  I was the only one waiting as the confessor entered the church. He entered the confessional.  I entered the side box, and moved the little door, “Bless me father, it has been two weeks since my last confession”…..
I don’t remember what I said next, but I do remember what I came for…. I needed to ask for direction for the “new vocation” I was starting. Since I could only talk about “the situation” in confession, I came for help. But something I said pushed the wrong button of this visiting priest, a stranger to my parish, the priest from “somewhere else”. He started to yell at me. He called me a name; I think the name was  “dirty woman”. He expressed disgust with my words, he was angry that I would dare to waste his time. In a loud and terrifying voice, he ordered me out of the confessional and out of the church. Get Out!

I went to the car, the car my father had just given me, and I quickly drove away. I didn’t know where to go. I was crying. I drove to the cemetery, to the graves of my mother, my two brothers, my paternal grandparents. I had just been thrown out of my church. This was really it. First the abuse, then being sent away from the convent and now thrown out of the church….three strikes. I’m out! Now I had a crisis!  In time a strategy came to me. I would obey the orders from the confessional and stay out of the church, but not in an obvious way. I needed to be subtle and secretive.  I had to protect my father. I could not let him know what I had become. That would kill him. I arranged my activities to pretend to attend Sunday mass at different times than the rest of the family. I did go to church, but during the day, during the week, and I would sit in the quiet at the side altar before the statue of Mary. I’d just sit. I had nothing to say, nothing to ask, I was out of words and out of thoughts.

 I kept busy. I attended college and completed majors in comparative religion and philosophy: the boxes, which neatly fit my course work from the convent. I worked to support myself by teaching piano lessons. To keep up appearances, I volunteered at the parish school. I taught remedial reading to fifth graders.   And I looked for a boyfriend.  I found one, a returning vet, my age (older than other students at 24), bright, verbal, arrogant and strongly anti-church (like Grandpa Levi). After graduation we accepted an invitation to move to Oregon. I continued to pretend with my dad. I pretended to marry in the church.  I pretended to be happy in my marriage.  I pretended I was living as a Catholic. I visited my father once a year. I arranged visits mid week to avoid Sundays and mass times. When he was dying, I sat by his hospital bed and recited the rosary by the hour. He died a bliss filled death. I was grateful that nothing had come between us.

I returned to Oregon, filed for divorce and started graduate school to continue in my career in community mental health. I gradually let my siblings know that ”I don’t do church”.  In time I chose another partner, a Quaker fellow, a conscientious objector. We’ve been married for decades; have grown kids, grandkids and a lot of fun in our lives.

Breaking Silence

So what’s the problem about this old abuse thing with a priest? How did that pop up again? The silence had worked for so many years, and the “I don’t do church “ explanation was all that was needed.  On September 11, 2001 we all found ourselves living in a place of new fear and uncertainty. As a nation we looked around and within to find ways to deal with our grief.  In 2002, my life slowed down with cancer and my family was touched with crisis. Then the clergy abuse story broke. I was vulnerable when I went back to the convent.  There was a reunion. The trip was a gift of dear friends.  The Dallas meeting of the bishops had just happened. Catholics were talking.

My classmates and I talked round the clock as we gathered in the retreat house, sharing intimacy as women do. On Saturday night, after a full day, a gentle woman, a faithful churchwoman, turned and asked, “Why did you leave? You, of all our class, seemed so suited for the convent” I automatically said, “The year on mission I learned that I was not cut out for the life.”… THEN something of the closeness of the evening, the honesty of the past days combined with the vulnerability of my life, flowed together and created a moment, a flash, in which my tongue loosened, and without checking with my brain, my mouth spoke the words, “And there was the fact I was abused by a priest.

They gasped, I checked to see if I remained in one piece. I was asked if the sisters knew…No, I had not told them.”…. “You must tell”…. “Yes,” I promised. We talked more. I minimized the abuse…”Oh, it wasn’t really all that bad.” Another friend said, that she also had been abused by a priest…. same year…different place, and also…really not such a big deal!

I didn’t sleep much that night in the retreat house. We talked late and I rose early as I had asked to join the sisters in prayer before mass. In the chapel, the morning office started, the light was streaming through the windows and I experienced something breaking inside: profound, deep, firm, shaking me to the core. Something broke. Something opened.   I started to cry with a homesickness that could not be contained.  I was overcome with a flood of unbearable longing. The desire and demand to “Come Home” was an earthquake, which has shaped every day since.

                                                     Breaking Silence: Opening the Wound, a Spiritual Opportunity

I wrote a letter detailing the abuses…and how I couldn’t “do church”, on the flight back to Oregon.

Five years later, I know that when I broke the silence I opened my heart. I opened my heart, by breaking through the scar tissue of an old wound.  I opened my heart and started a spiritual journey to find my way “home”.  This has not been a clear or straight path. It has been both painful and rich in treasure.  The crooked road takes me into my shadow, my shame, my feelings of unworthiness, my loss, my grief for my young self, grief for what might have been. It is a journey which has taken me into my fear: first, a fear that my current life will lose its balance if I open this Pandora’s box of old memories; then fear of being crushed, destroyed, hurt if I break rank and defy the authority of the church; fear of putting my loved ones at risk, of causing pain and embarrassment to my community of sisters; fear of new rejection, again of not being wanted, by a church I once loved with every ounce of my body.

The road has not been pleasant but abandoning the journey is not an option. This is my life and my chance to “get it right” to understand myself and my purpose. I am a gardener and I understand that ground needs to be broken, softened for new seeds to grow. One of the new crops in my growth is  compelling curiosity. Where will this road go? What is ahead? What will  I learn? How can I best and most fully serve?  Who will I become?

So I follow the path as I have for the past five years. It is twisting and turning.  For a while, it turned back toward the church. For months, I assumed this journey would take me back into the church. I was intrigued and started to inquire and study.

A friend suggested that I begin my reintroduction to the Catholic Church by reading the National Catholic Reporter. I started reading online. My inquiry took me to the current happenings of the Church. I read of the events around the disclosures of abuse around the country. I read that victims were being questioned, challenged as to the authenticity of their stories and the realness of their experiences and their claims of injury and pain.

I was outraged. Persons abused by church are already suffering a loss of spiritual definition and spiritual comfort. Instead of consolation and pastoral kindness, the Church was treating victims of abuse as the new lepers, the despised and unwanted of the Church family. I was moved to raise my voice in support of victims and their truthfulness.  I become a volunteer with a national survivor network and began to get calls from survivors around the state seeking validation.  I found myself within a new community of persons with whom I continue to share common experience and camaraderie.

I continued to deal with my own abuse. I pushed the sisters and had them get me the name of the abusing priest. I had no names of any of the three priests in my saga. None of them were a priest of my parish. I knew them only as “confessors from somewhere else”.  (Part of my healing is to acknowledge I have never had a bad experience with a priest I knew or who was in a position of pastor to me).  I pushed the sisters because I had to have a name; I had to know if my abuser was alive (he is not). After a false start the sisters got an identity by locating former nuns at St. John’s who had been abused by the same man. These women had more stories/rumors of other abuses including rape and impregnated women. I filed abuse reports with the diocese of Peoria.

As my journey turned to the church, it just as suddenly twisted again away. I made a request for “reconciliation” with the diocese of Peoria, and instead of reconciliation; I experienced another round of rejection. I opened myself to a new level of vulnerability and told of my abuse. However, I was not welcomed as the lost daughter, the one kidnapped and hauled off into foreign lands…the one coming home after all these years after crossing miles of desert and sand to find my way back to the home camp… which was my self image.

The church did not want to hear my story. I spoke; therefore I was suspect, maybe even someone who might “file a lawsuit”, the worst kind of traitor. There was no “reconciliation” with the diocese of Peoria. I was ignored, repeatedly.  This rejection caused turmoil.  This time I had no place else to run. This time I did not have youth to escape into. This time I was rejected for the mature and aging woman I am. I saw myself as a peacemaker, a problem solver, and part of the solution. The church saw me as a troublemaker, a traitor, and a problem to be avoided. There would be no reconciliation. There would be no apology.

The World Goes On

However, my needs were more internal than external. There would be no apology but the drive to walk into my own true discovery had to continue   My head was wrong with the assumptions of where the path would lead; however, my heart directed me to continue. The journey to spiritual healing is bigger than my story, even my life. Spiritual healing is the need of the entire world. There will be no peace until millions of us embrace our own spiritual healing and regain our own spiritual strength. To be concerned about my family, the state of this nation, the peace of the world, the environment of the globe was to make the commitment that Peace begins with me.

To quote Lao Tse, Sixth Century, BCE.  “If there is peace in my heart, there will be peace in my home. If there is peace in the home, there will be peace in the neighborhood. If there is peace in the neighborhoods there will be peace in the cities. If there is peace in the cities there will be peace in the nations. When there is peace in the nations there will be peace in the world”. My own healing efforts are all I have to offer to the world peacemaking needs. 

I am a different person now. The glass floor and ceiling of my old defenses prior to Sept 8, 2002, were shattered. The journey continues as a spiral. My joys of the spiritual journey continue to pile up, one after another. I now find delight in being a Christian. I have found books and study. I see both the ugly and beauty of Catholic history and tradition and hold both as my inheritance. I continue to be excited to learn of the scholarship and wisdoms of the historical Jesus and AramaicYesuah.  I have been befriended by Taize, that wonderful service which calls for the wounded, the hurt and the broken to come and receive the grace of music and healing. I have fallen in love with the Labyrinth, a sacred pattern of pilgrimage and journey to God, direct from the great Mary Cathedral of 1200:Chartres.

To my surprise, I find pleasure at the Mass and joy within the Eucharist (at the Episcopal church). The spiritual search has not brought me back into the Church or any other organized faith.  It has brought me to places of comfort and prayer within a variety of diverse organizations, ranging from institutes of spiritual learning to contemplative retreats. It has brought me into a need and appreciation for silence. It has brought me to a place of honesty and peace of heart. It has brought me to a place without pretense and without fear. 

Most of all it has brought me to reconnecting with a piece of myself, which had been severed. With this reconnection, this action of being made whole, I now experience living at a deeper place.  This is an inner place. It is a bigger place that can hold more of the polarities of my life experiences. I am learning to hold the extremes with some tenderness. It is place of more peace where I can live more gently with the ebbs and flows of life.  From this place I love more deeply and have more patience for myself, my family, the others in my world. From this place I more often appreciate the awe of the present moment.

This process of reconnecting to a lost part has led me to touch my center. The center within each of us. The center which holds steady through the chaos of our lives. This place described by spiritual writers is always within us, but is not always so obvious to us. The only way I know to get to my center is with the practice of mindful breathing. Breathing in new creation and exhaling those parts of memories, experiences, enmeshments, expectations, knots and ties, which no longer serve me in becoming who I most deeply want to become.

That is what I hope happens with the writing and reading of this story, that myself and the reader will find new ways to more fully become the persons we deeply want to be. Each survivor has a story of events, which has disrupted that dream of who they wanted to be.

What heartbreaking stories: Women abused as nuns who then had their communities turn against them, women abused before they became nuns, which ended that path for them, old women who were abused when they were little girls, women abused as young college students, women abused as young converts.  Some women abused by rape, others by seduction, all hurt and wounded.  Men, seminarians and pre-seminarians hurt as young men, forever feeling separated from their spiritual paths, goals and dreams. Boys abused when their religious eagerness led them to become altar boys, others because they were students in a Catholic school. Each person hurt because they were close to and trusted a member of the clergy, religious or staff. Our individual stories have kept us in a prison of silence, shame and isolation.

With the telling of the individual stories, a release happens, the heart opens a bit and I believe that each time a survivor tells his/her story, a hero is born. A hero who is breaking the shackles of shame. A hero who is walking beyond the limits of his/her personal story to search for true authenticity.  A hero on a unique and sacred journey to discover her/his spiritual self, the highest self. .

None of us know where our road will lead us throughout our life. An open heart is often surprised.

I expect my journey to continue to be that of a Catholic in exile. I sense that I am doing a cradle to grave dance with this church of my birth. It is a rough dance of attraction and rejection. It is a compelling dance; it is where I continue to learn of my true self, my wholeness, and my holiness.

I am starting to be aware of another dance, even more encompassing. Is this the dance of life? The dance of creation?
I know that –
                             Within this bigger, deeper, wider dance, as at the center that holds, 
                                         Now, as in my beginning,

  I feel gentled
into the arms of God.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Listening to Bartimaeus: Why We Need to Pay Attention to Angry Survivors of Abuse as Well as the Nice Ones

I think blogging is therapy for me.  I am feeling frustrated right now and find myself needing to write.  I've seen a blog that accused me of being a professional writer paid to blog or of being a front for a group of priests.  I wish my life were that easy.  No, it's just me writing this blog with occasional help from a friend.

I am struggling to find my way between all the sides of this issue of clergy abuse. So there are some survivors who think I am a shill for the Church.  On the other hand, there are Catholics in my own group, compassionate caring Catholics who have heard many survivors share their stories,  heard their pain and anguish over their lack of support from the Church they grew up in and yet these loving people still think that if only survivors opened their hearts and minds, they would understand how much the Church is trying to do for them.  These lovely, sweet, caring, well meaning Catholics make feel like a mother trying to raise an errant group of teenagers bent of rebelling agains my wise counsel because they think they know better.  (Actually, come to think of it, in real life, I am a mother trying to raise an errant group of teenagers bent on rebelling against my wise counsel because they think they know better.)

My perspective is that both sides -- hurt and angry clergy abuse survivors and confused and hurt Catholics -- have truth in their perspectives.  Both sides, survivor and other Catholics, include well meaning, caring people who want to end abuse and care for survivors on them.

However, sometimes when you are personally involved with a painful issue, you can't look at it objectively.  The clergy abuse issue is that kind of issue for many survivors and for many Catholics who are not survivors or their family members.  I think I can better explain myself using an example other than clergy abuse.  So I will tell the story about a grandmother I met on the Walk Across Oregon in rural Oregon.  She wasn't a clergy abuse survivor.  She wasn't even Catholic.  Her story began when her son died before marrying his pregnant girlfriend.  She begged the girlfriend to keep the baby, promising to help raise the child.  She cared for that grandchild two or three days a week.  When I met the grandmother, her grandchild was around ten years old.  Over the years she noticed that the child had many bruises.  He told her about how his mother beat him with a stick and shouted at him and criticized him.  A few times he had broken bones and had been seen in the emergency room.  One of these visits the child's mother said he had fallen out of a tree, but the grandmother noticed a hand print bruise on the child's broken arm.  She reported what she observed to Child Protective Services (CPS).  Perhaps she waited too long, because such injuries need to be reported right away to give CPS the greatest leeway in coping with them.  CPS is badly underfunded and way overwhelmed and has to cope with having enough of the right evidence to act.  Our justice system is based on the premise that we don't punish people unless we are pretty sure they are guilty.  Moreover, in the case of child abuse, there is a desire to protect the relationship between parent and child and keep the family intact if possible.  And sometimes relatives at odds with each other will make false accusations of child abuse.  So CPS has to be very careful to act only if the evidence supports action.

My experience working with people from CPS on the Walk Across Oregon is that CPS employees passionately hate child abuse and really want to end it.  They just have many constraints within which they must work.

So anyway, the grandmother was very frustrated with her interactions with CPS.  The next time her grandson came to her with a significant injury, she reported that injury to CPS again -- once again with indifferent results.

I am hazy on the exact details.  Eventually the grandmother got so frustrated with CPS that she reported her grandson's injuries to the police.  The policeman believed her and questioned her son's friends.   They corroborated what the grandmother said about what was happening to her grandson.  But that was as far as things went.  Once again, the grandson was left in an abusive situation.  The grandmother was getting angrier and angrier, and each time she went to CPS, she got more and more hysterical, trying to get them to do something, anything.  Instead, a CPS employee told her that she was the problem.

Then she had a verbal altercation with the boy's mother.  She threatened the mother, not with physical harm, but that she would report her to CPS.  Not a wise move.  If you are going to report an adult to CPS for child abuse, don't warn them what you are going to do.  The mother then forbade the grandmother to have contact with the grandson.  The grandmother had no custodial rights and that is when she met me. At ths point I have to keep the rest of the story confidential.

Put it this way, if you want people to pay attention to accusations of child abuse, don't get hysterical when nothing happens.  This is totally unfair because when you are a loving adult seeing a child you love being hurt, the human reaction is to get hysterical to try to stop it.  On the other hand, another human reaction is to withdraw from a person who is shouting at you or criticizing you.

I hope this story can help both sides in the clergy abuse issue, survivor and other Catholics, to see the issue more clearly.  Both sides of an issue such as clergy absue or child abuse have valid points on their side.  Problems arise when we lose our temper trying to defend our point or when we shut down and stop listening to the angry voices we don't want to hear.  For survivors I'd advise you will be much more effective if you can communicate the information you need to communicate calmly and respectfully.  But the bigger burden of communcation rightly fully falls on the shoulder's of other Catholics who have told me they don't want to hear any more negative stories about survivors.  Yes, those stories are wounding, but they aren't nearly as wounding as is the abuse itself.

My reaction to Catholics who don't want to listen to hurt and angry survivors is two fold.  First, how can you understand a situation without listening to all sides?  If you never listen to survivors, you'll never know why so many are angry and estranged from the Catholic Church.  By refusing to listen, you short circuit opportunities for healing and prolong the scandal.  My second reaction is that listening is the most basic form of healing.  I don't mean just the mere act of sitting there and not talking while someone else is talking, I mean listening with your heart, trying to understand another's feelings even if you don't fully agree with them.

Listening was the at the root of the two events cause me to advocate for clergy abuse survivors.  The second event happened one Sunday in the fall of 2003. I heard a Bible reading in Mass about Bartimaeus the blind beggar.  The story is told in the Bible in the book of Mark 10: 46-52.  Bartimaeus was sitting on the side of the road to Jericho when her heard a commotion.  He asked the others around him what was going on.

"Jesus is coming," he was told.

Bartimaeus had already heard of Jesus.  He knew Jesus had this gift for healing.  Bartimaeus wanted to be healed, to be able to see, so he started crying out.

"Jesus heal me; Jesus heal me."

The disciples around Jesus were annoyed by this noisy man so they told him to be quiet.

Bartimaeus really wanted to be healed, so he would not be quiet.  He kept shouting, "Jesus heal me."

Eventually Jesus heard Bartimaeus.

He said, "Who is that man and what does he want?"

He ordered Bartimaeus to brought to him.  Then Jesus listened to Bartimaeus and healed him from his blindness.

No matter how much the angry words of clergy abuse survivors hurt, I wish other Catholics could see that survivors are just like Bartimaeus.

All survivors are saying from their hearts is, "Please love me, care for me, I am feeling abandoned.  Please make sure no more children are abused.

And so on that Sunday morning more than seven years ago, I knew someone needed to listen to the stories no one else wanted to hear and to advocate that others should listen too.

The first event that caused me to be so moved when I listened to the story of Bartimaeus in Mass was the removal of an abusive priest from my parish.  That removal was very painful.  Many people loved the priest because he was very dynamic.  Others were amazed and frustrated that anyone could support a pedophile.  Forums were held, and the former Youth Minster of the Church came forward.  Her stories indicated the priest had sought unsupervised contact with church youth.  The upshot of that was the likelihood that he had abused in the parish.  People were angry that the Youth Minster had revealed such information and blamed her for ruining the priest's life, and she was harassed until she left the Catholic Church.  So the forums did give people an opportunity to talk about an issue, and they served to dispense a modest amount of information to the parish.  What the forums did not do was help anyone heal.  There was no guide for how people should listen to each other's stories and feelings, and people were free to attack each other.  Someone always left those forums feeling wounded.

In other words, Jesus has quite a few disciples in the Catholic Church like those who followed him on the road to Jericho.

What they are saying feels to survivors like this, "Go away; don't bother us; let us be comfortable."

I knew that we Catholics needed more help with the listening than the leadership of the Catholic Church was giving us so I learned the spiritual discipline of Compassionate Listening from the Compassionate Listening Project.  But our group doesn't just listen to survivors of clergy abuse.  We listen to people on all sides.  We've listen ordinary parishioners and priests tell their stories.  We offered to listen to the Archbishop, but he decline the offer, telling us that the Archdiocese has its own program of healing.  I've heard from survivors about that program.  A few felt that what the Archdiocese was doing was fine.  More felt that what the Archdiocese was doing was inadequate.  Some were very, very angry at the Archdiocese.

The Archdiocese and other Catholic entities remind me of CPS in the grandmother's story -- good, well meaing people who are restrained in their actions for healing and prevention of clergy abuse by concerns over lawsuits and bad publicity and by the things their lawyers and insurance companies won't let them say or do.  At the same time the grandmother reminds me of clergy abuse survivors.  I'll leave my comments at that except to say I plan to offer a series of classes some time in spring 2011, on listeing and speaking with compassion to help people more effectively report abuse and heal the wounds of abuse.  

Copyright 2010 Virginia Jones

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What Fr. Lombardi Should have said in his Letter to Survivors' Voice

I am not clear on the details of what happened.  I've read different versions in different places.  So the Survivors' Voice survivors were not allowed into St. Peter's Square, but a Vatican official, Fr. Lombardi apparently did speak to two to several of the survivors privately, and he wrote a letter that was published online on John Allen's blog at The National Catholic Reporter.

I despair, as a Catholic.  I am sure that Fr. Lombardi is a nice, well meaning man, but it seems that his efforts at outreach went over like a ...well they don't seem to be well received.  I suspect it is very hard for a priest who is used to being in a position of authority to find himself in a position of humility and to know what to do.  And yet this kind of humility is central to the teachings of Jesus.  There are so many stories of Jesus showing compassion to those rejected by everyone else in society.  I'd advise Fr. Lombardi to try to reach out as Jesus might -- with absolute compassion. without preconditions.  I have some specific advice on what he could say and do instead of what he did say and do.

My first bit of advice is don't try to control the setting to where you are comfortable.  Try to make sure that the survivors are in a comfortable setting.  Ask the survivors where they want to meet with you and how many want to meet with you.  Try to accommodate as much as you can.  It is hard to be confronted with shouts and criticism.  You can do it.  See it as a challenge to grow in spirituality, rather than as a problem to be managed or controlled.

Below is Fr. Lombardi's letter in white.  My advice in red and my rewritten letter in blue.

The windows of my office at Vatican Radio are just a few metres away, and therefore it seems fitting to me to listen, and to make a tangible sign of our attention, to your meeting.
(My advice, Fr. Lombardi is just be humble.  Just come to learn and listen.)
I am coming here to listen, to try to understand how you feel and why you feel that way, to better know your experiences.  
This intervention of mine is not an official one, but because of my deep insertion and identification with the Catholic Church and the Holy See, I believe I can express the feelings shared by many regarding the object of your manifestation.
(My advice, Fr. Lombardi is to not try to explain the Church’s position to survivors.  You can’t try to solve problems until you’ve made a connection with the people with whom you are at odds.  Just listen.  Don’t try to do anything else.)
These actions of mine are not official.  I am acting on my own behalf.
In this, I feel encouraged by the attitude of the Pope, made manifest many times, that is, to listen to the victims, and show the will to do everything necessary, so that the horrible crimes of sexual abuse may never happen again.
 (In this part, once again, don’t try to defend the Vatican, just emphasize the importance of listening).
We in the Church need to listen to survivors with open hearts and minds.  We have started to do this, but we need to do much more.  We have done much to end the abuse of children in the Church and in society, but children and vulnerable adults continue to be abused in Church and in society.  We listen with open hearts and minds to your ideas about what we can all do together to end abuse everywhere forever.
I must say that, even though I do not share all of your declarations and positions, I find in many of these the elements on which one can develop a pledge, that will bring solidarity and consensus between us.
(Fr. Lombardi, keep it humble, in the mode of trying to learn and connect.)

It is true that I am struggling to understand some of your positions.  I have different experiences and perceptions from you, but I am trying to learn more about your perspectives, to see where we can come together.
It is true that the Church must be very attentive so that the children and the young, who are entrusted to her educational activities, may grow in a completely secure environment.
(My gut feeling is these are just not the right words.)
The tragedy is that in spite of all we have done, recent cases of abuse within the setting of the Catholic Church still turn up.  Clearly we need to do even more so that all children and vulnerable adults may be safe.
Yesterday morning, a hundred thousand young people were present in these places for a great celebration of their faith and of their youthfulness, and they are but a small part of the youths who take part with trust and enthusiasm in the life of the Church community. We must absolutely ensure that their growth be healthy and serene, finding all the protection which is rightfully theirs. We all have a great responsibility with regards to the future of the youth of the world.
(I’d delete the part about the hundred thousand young people who came to the Vatican on October 30.  It feels too much as a defense of the Church.  I’d keep that latter part of the paragraph but alter it slightly.)

We must absolutely ensure that the growth of all children be healthy and serene, finding all the protection which is rightfully theirs. We all have a great responsibility with regards to the future of the youth of the world.

I know, you think that the Church should do more, and in a quicker way. From my point of view – even though one may and should always do more – I am convinced that the Church has done, and is doing a lot. Not only the Pope, with his words and example, but many Church communities in various parts of the world have done and are doing a lot, by way of listening to the victims as well as in the matter of prevention and formation.
(These two paragraphs simply struck me the wrong way. Fr. Lombardi, you are still stuck in defending the Church.  I’d open up and include survivors in the process.)
And despite our efforts to prevent abuse, abuse is still taking place, perhaps we need to ask you for your ideas about what we can all do together to prevent abuse and care for the victims.  We have formed listening groups in many diocese.  We want to hear from you what works and what has not worked and what more you want and need so we can improve our programs.  How can we encourage more survivors to come forward to seek healing?  How can we get more survivors to participate in our programs for healing?  How can we make our programs better? 

Personally, I am in contact with many persons who work in this field in many countries, and I am convinced that they are doing a lot. Of course, we must continue to do more. And your cry today is an encouragement to do more. But a large part of the Church is already on the good path. The major part of the crimes belongs to times bygone. Today’s reality and that of tomorrow are more beckoning. Let us help one another to journey together in the right direction.
OK more defense of the Church.  You simply can’t reach out to the heart’s of victims of Religious Authority Sexual Abuse by defending the Church.  You have to reach out from your heart out of concern for preventing abuse and caring for the victims I’d delete the whole paragraph except for the last line.
 Let us help one another to journey together in the right direction.
But the more important thing that I wanted to say to you is the following, and I feel encouraged to say it, because it seems to me that you also are aware of it.
The scourge of sexual abuses, especially against minors, but also in a general way, is one of the great scourges of today’s world. It involves and touches the Catholic Church, but we know very well that what has happened in the Church is but a small part of what has happened, and continues to happen in the world at large. The Church must first free herself of this evil, and give a good example in the fight against the abuses within her midst, but afterwards, we must all fight against this scourge, knowing that it is an immense one in today’s world, a scourge which increases the more easily when it remains hidden; and many are indeed very happy that all the attention is focused on the Church, and not on them, for this allows them to carry on undisturbed.
This fight must be fought by us together, uniting our forces against the spread of this scourge, which uses new means and ways to reach out today, helped in this by Internet and the new forms of communication, by the crisis hitting families, by sexual tourism and traffic which exploit the poverty of the people in various continents.
What the Church has learnt in these years – prompted also by you and by other groups – and the initiatives that she can take to purify herself and be a model of security for the young, must be of use to all. For this, I invite you to look at the Church ever more as a possible ally, or – according to me – as an ally already active today in the pursuit of the most noble goals of your endeavours.
(My reaction to these paragraphs is too many words.  I got lost in what you are trying to say, Fr, Lombardi.  Keep it simple and brief.  The last words from the previous paragraph are fine.  I’d just add two more lines.)
What can we all do together, Church personnel, survivors, parishioners and other members of the community to forever end this scourge of child abuse whether by clergy or others and to support survivors on the journey to healing.  I look forward to hearing your ideas.
My one final comment of my own is to echo what Kay Ebeling said in her blog.  She wants the church to provide financial resources for healing but she wants the programs for healing to be run by independent groups.  My experience is that most survivors feel the same way.
If you want to express your opinions about what more needs to be done to prevent child abuse in the Church, what more needs to be done for healing and how what experiences you have had up until now.  Check out the surveys on my website at: http://compassionategathering.org/?pages/21 .
These surveys are anonymous.  I will never know who you are unless you tell me.  After I have sufficient results to release them, I will.  The data will be analyzed with the help of Mandy Davis, an adjunct researcher and instructor of Social Work at Portland State University.  The surveys will be available for a long time.  Currently, respondents are saying 4 to 1 that they want resources available from outside the Church rather than from the Church.  Survivors are split between wanting more apologies from the Church and not believing it is possible for the Church to apologize adequately.  However, one respondent has had a rather positive experience with Church personnel and programs.

In addition, Compassionate Gathering offers listening groups for survivors with other Catholics and member of the community independent of Church leadership.  If you want to meet other Catholics and tell them like it is and be completely free to say whatever you want, check us out at  Compsassionate_Gathering.com .