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

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