Thursday, November 29, 2012

The "System" is Abusive: Why Compassion for All Heals Wounds of Abuses

“The system is abusive,” the homeless man told me as he shared his story with me.              

This was many years ago that he shared his story with me, many years ago when I was young and living in Seattle.

He told me what it was like staying in a shelter -- how lights went out at 10 PM or 11 PM and how you had to be up and out by 7 AM.  How you couldn’t drink or use drugs in the shelter.

I understood those rules.  Many homeless people use drugs and alcohol, but drug use is a coping strategy that harms the user.  I also understood the shelter hours.  Shelter is provided but you really don’t want people to become dependent; you want them to move forward and onward.

But as I worked with abuse survivors, I heard more details as to why these seemingly sensible rules don’t work.  The survivor who felt loved only by his dog could not go to a shelter because he could not take his dog.  The homeless female survivor who was married to another homeless survivor could find no shelters that took couples.  In all these cases all the survivors would have had to leave their primary source of emotional support in order to have shelter over their heads.

I also discovered that much more help with housing exists for homeless people who have drug and alcohol problems and other psychiatric problems than for the ordinary homeless person who lost job and home and is having trouble pulling themselves up without a mailing address or phone or computer or the ability to maintain decent, clean clothes and take a shower.

Moreover, we “housed” people truthfully have trouble understanding what it is like to be that insecure.  I’ve found the people who work with the homeless to be good and caring people, but sometimes there is a disconnect and their compassion gets expressed imperfectly or not at all.

The homeless are not the only ones struggling with an “abusive system."

First, let me make a disclaimer, All the people I've met who worked for Child Protective Services compassionate people wanting to do their best to advocate for children.  The same goes for all the therapists I’ve ever met.  They are all good, kind people trying to heal a broken world or at least broken individuals.

All the same, I hear complaints.

A few years back I met a frantic grandmother who kept on trying to report the obvious abuses her grandson kept experiencing at the hand of his mother, only to be told, “You are the problem.”

One problem CPS has is knowing what to do with accusations of abuse that are a little too old to document well.

The grandson would be taken the Emergency Room for breaking his arm, his mother says, after falling out of a tree.  The grandmother later sees very visible handprints on the boy’s arm, but because the boy was only occasionally in her care, by the time she saw these handprints and reports them to CPS,days have passed since the event causing the broken arm and the evidence is not good enough to support the accusation of abuse.  But then some other bruises appear on the boy and he tells his grandmother that his mother beat him with a stick.  Once again the accusations are made too late to obtain good documentation, and the grandmother, an immigrant who speaks imperfect English, does not understand why nothing ever happens to the mother who beats her son badly enough to break his bones at least twice in his short life.  The grandmother grows angry at CPS workers and that is when they told her, “You are the problem.”

In another case, a father reported a mother to CPS after she held her newborn baby in her arms while smoking and cooking.  She burned herself while dumping out hot pasta water while holding the baby.

She didn’t drop the baby but the father was worried about her lack of care.  They separated shortly after the baby’s birth, and he reported her to CPS.  The mother was very careful to tell CPS that the father, who was a child sex abuse survivor, suffered from chronic depression and occasional outbursts of anger from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Instead of investigating the mother’s parenting style, CPS investigated the father's mental disorder and questioned his fitness for parenting while praising the mother for being protective of her child.

Let me make a disclaimer because I think the main problem with CPS is they have too much work and too little money.  The CPS investigator in this case was in her early twenties and fresh out of college.  She soon moved on to a better paying job.

Every time a case is mishandled there are many factors causing the failure -- too little time, too little experience, a bad day or a bad week or simply a bad case.

We all have bad times.  We are human.  However, when child abuse is invoked, the stakes are very high all the way around for everyone.

I met a mother who had one child who sexually abused the other.  The abuse was disgusting but none-the-less far from the worst case I’ve ever heard about.  The family did the right thing and reported this abuse to CPS.  The child abuse advocates could not believe how the mother could love both children.  They treated the perpetrator as disposable even though he was not yet a teenager.  The family went deep into debt providing therapy for everyone all around and paying for accommodations for the perpetrator who could no longer have any contact with any siblings.  The abused child had very mixed feelings -- feelings of disgust for what had happened mixed with feelings of love for the sibling all the advocates seemed to hate.  No one outside the family acknowledged the validity of those feelings.  Fortunately the family eventually found a sympathetic therapist, but they felt deeply and profoundly wounded by child abuse activists.

That is not to say that the activists were not well meaning and caring people.  They most certainly were.  But maybe the model is wrong.

To be fare to CPS and the advocates for child abuse victims, not all complaints made about them are fair.  I’ve had complaints made about me.  Most recently a clergy abuse survivor contacted me and hinted she was alone for Thanksgiving.  I knew she wanted me to invite her to my house, but I’ve been going through a pro-longed family crisis that has nearly silenced this blog.  I knew that I could not bring a fragile survivor home to my kids.  I called around to my friends to see if any could come over and help interact.  All had other invitations.  It would have been just my kids and me and the survivor.  I knew that was the wrong mix. I did not invite the survivor to Thanksgiving.  The survivor stopped e-mailing me.  I am sure the survivor felt alone and uncared for although that was not my intention. 

I have found that many times when fragile survivors call me up, they share information about their plans for future actions which I know will harm the survivor.  When this happens, I have offered advice, but I’ve learned that when a person is wounded, offering advice tends to make them feel judged and unsupported.  I’ve been more successful offering advice only when asked for it.

From my experience, when someone complains about me, even when there is unfairness in the complaints, it challenges me to be a better, more compassionate listener.

What I can do, what I am struggling to learn to do, is to listen unconditionally, without judgement and when I do, the person sharing their story opens up and trusts and shares their story more completely.

I’ve been working with someone who made mistakes with her child and paid a high price in losing that child.  She hates telling her story because telling her story involves her telling about her mistakes.  The facts of her story are not all sympathetic, which causes her great shame and doubles her pain.  At the same time she needs to tell her story to process what happened and to find a way forward.  She has refused on many occasions to tell the full story to me.  It comes out in bits and pieces, here and there.  Recently when we were speaking, her phone died.  I thought I had offended her and caused her pain, inspiring her to hang up on me.  So I wrote her a kind e-mail apologizing for unintentionally saying something that hurt her.  She called me back immediately and told me more of her difficult story and shared more about the child she lost.  She had never abused her daughter or left her uncared for.  She had only made mistakes in her relationship with her ex-husband.  Even those mistakes were ones of trusting the wrong person and not of perpetrating abuse herself.

I listened impatiently because I was busy and facing a deadline for some of my work.  Then I realized what a tremendous compliment this woman was giving me.  I have known her for seven months.  She has been mistreated and disbelieved by so many people in the “system” that she took seven months to tell me some of her most painful secrets.

To reiterate, she shared her deepest, most painful secrets because I had apologized and expressed compassion for her.  In expressing compassion for her pain over losing her daughter, I had become a part of her healing process.

This life is wounding.  Yes, there are joys, weddings, the birth of a baby, sunrises and sunsets and waterfalls and wildflowers.........

But much of what happens to us is painful.  A child is abused or wounded in some way.  The messy adult survivor continues to struggle many years later with drug addiction, homelessness and broken relationships but no one wants to care for that messy adult. The mother, the father, the brothers and sisters, the whole community are all wounded by the abuse in their own way.  Each struggles with their own experiences.  Our current model is to treat the abused child as a discreet unit.  The wounded child receives our compassion most readily.  The mother and father and brother and sister of the survivor all remain less visible.  The view is adults can take care of themselves, but who us going to take care of a child not relegated to the foster care system -- the mother or the father or the older brother or sister.  How can we not care about the whole family?

I first read about Restorative Justice relative to abuse in 2005 and it was like being struck by lightning. The article recounted how justice was handled by many American Indian tribes before we white people wiped out most of their culture.  Everyone in the tribe would sit in a talking circle and each person would share their side of the story of a crime.  All were listened to with respect.  I knew here was an answer.  I got my start as an advocate for survivors after an abusive priest was removed from my parish.  The survivor advocacy groups only spoke about wounded survivors.  The church leadership kept insisting that we parishioners needed to respect the priest and what he wanted and needed for healing.  Meanwhile attendance at mass dropped by one third.  I wondered why parish leadership seemed paralyzed and unable to address the fact that their parish was deeply wounded and struggling.  Eventually, by searching the internet for answers the Church leadership left unanswered, I realized that Church leadership was aware of accusations of abuse against this priest going back twenty years.  The coverup of abuse left a huge trail of abuse over many years.  I connected the wounds of the elderly parishioners who had never been told any details of the abuses perpetrated by the priest they continued to love and support to the wounds of the survivor whose story had been denied for 20 years.

I realized the whole community is wounded by abuse and the whole community needs to be involved in the healing process.  This is also true for families.  The whole family is wounded by abuse and maybe there needs to be concerns for the healing of all the family members, not just the survivor, because who is going to care for the survivor unless they become a ward of the state?  We heal wounds by listening to everyone on all sides of a crime with compassion and respect.  There have to be consequences for a perpetrator of abuse such as placing him in prison for the rest of his natural life, but we accomplish the most healing and gain the most information about the abuses perpetrated and receive the most support for the the survivors when we are compassionate with everyone.

Copyright 2012 Virginia Pickles Jones

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Final Results of Survey on Clergy Abuse

In 2007, inspired by several survivors of Catholic clergy abuse I constructed a survey of survivor wants of needs related to healing.  I received some positive support from survivors and advocates and an instructor of Social Work from PSU.  I approached SNAP, therapists, the instructor of Social Work,, the media, and several clergy abuse lawyers but received little help in distributing and publicizing the survey.  I had previously approached three Victim Assistants who worked for the Catholic Church and was essentially told to let professionals handle this.  I attempted to work with the local Voice of the Fruitful and was told that I was too angry and hurt and drove people away.

I was hurt and angry.  I was baptized Catholic along with my young children in 2001.  After baptizing me, he proceeded to groom me and my 5 year old son although I have to stress that nothing bad ever happened.  My son sat on the priests lap for almost 2 hours one time, but I and my daughter were present the whole time.  I was aware that this was unusually familiar, but my son, who I had been told was on the autism spectrum, had severe separation anxiety and would only interact with about 6 adults other than me.  I was happy to see that he was bonding with another adult.  Church leadership  knew about accusations of abuse against this priest for 20 years when this happened, but had never bothered to tell parishioners.  If I had known about these accusations, I would not have entered that priests office with my children, but then, he probably wouldn't have remained a priest if the accusations against him had been made public.

So even though no one in my family has been abused by a priest, we ended up in the middle of the clergy abuse scandal.  When the priest was removed, forums were held.  People were angry and hurt and divided between people who could not believe the severity of abuse the priest had perpetrated and those who could not understand people who would support a pedophile.  I struggled, knowing that my private story cast doubt on the priest's innocence.  I remained silent even when a Youth Minister came forward with a story that cast even more doubt on the priest's innocence.  She was harassed so badly by other parishioners she left the Catholic Church.  Who knows what would have happened if I had spoken out in the forum, but I needed time and space and support to come forward and ended up having to struggle mostly by myself to come to terms with what had happened.  I formed a prayer group to support the priest, but I also researched the clergy abuse scandal on the internet.  Eventually I read enough to firmly believe the survivors.  I handed out newspaper articles about the clergy abuse scandal in my parish and was thrown out.

In the meantime, my parish struggled with many people leaving the parish in the months after the priest was removed.  In time I came to realize that abuse and the cover up of abuse wounds the whole community and that the whole community needs to be involved in the healing process.

I felt that as a parishioner and as a mother of a potential victim, I had a role to play, but I have not been treated that way by any more than a few, individual clergy abuse survivors and a few individual Catholic parishioners.  Sadly, I have not been able to inspire more than a few Catholics to become more involved with this issue.

I've been told by one parishioner, "The bishops have taken care of everything.  We don't need to do anything."

I was told by another, "SNAP has taken care of everything.  We don't need to do anything."


So I posted my survey online in 2008 and finally advertised it in a blog in January of this year. Before publishing the blog, I spent a week analyzing the data I had received in dribs and drabs over the years.  After I posted the blog, I received three new responses in the next few days.  The survey and blog remained on the internet for a few more months, longer than I anticipated, but no more responses came.

Of the three new responses, one came from someone abused by an Episcopal priest.  No one made interesting comments that I could share with all of you.  I decided not to take the time to add three new responses to my analyses that I made in January.  It simply takes too much time and without more support and interest, it simply isn't worth my effort.  I've already put hundreds of hours into this with little to show for my effort.  I have to put my effort where people care and help out and give back.

But I promised to republish this fall what my results were.  So here they are again along with my explanation for not including the three additional results.

My one comment is that if people want anything to change concerning clergy abuse, maybe more people need to take individual responsibility for acting instead of waiting for someone else to act.  If you wait for the people who "lead" you to change things, you will wait a long time.

Changing society for the better is not a spectator sport.

My other comment is that in working with survivors, I know they are healing when they reach out and help others.

Survey of Survivor Wants and Needs -- Preliminary Results

All priests and members of religious orders should sign each reply (to this survey) submitted, and included their own estimate of how much money they personally intend to pay for the damages to victims and when.  Responses will then be initialed by their immediate supervisors, collated and tabulated by their superiors, audited by victim owned accounting firms, results published in all the places named in Question 8b, which would be mandatorily subscribed to by every church, and placed daily on the dining table in every residence inhabited by priests and members of religious orders.  The independent auditor would also be hired by priests and members of religious orders to conduct an evaluation of effectiveness for the aforementioned process with continual review and change, in perpetuity.
        --Anonymous survivor of clergy abuse

I really appreciate this survivor’s support.  I quite agree with him, but I can’t even remotely attempt to do this without much more support from many more people.  Please help for the sake of this survivor and many other survivors.  Both survivors and their family members or loved ones can fill out this survey -- please, only one response per survivor.
You can take the survey of survivor wants and needs here:  Survey of Survivor Wants and Needs for Healing

Origin of the Survey
I started working on this survey on what clergy abuse survivors want and need for healing in the Fall of 2006, after contacting Olan Horne.  Olan is a Massachusetts resident who was abused by the very prolific abuser, Fr. Joseph Birmingham.  He worked with other survivors abused by Fr. Birmingham to organize meetings between survivors and both Cardinal Law and Cardinal O’Malley.  He later met with Pope Benedict XVI.  Olan also participated in an advisory group for the US Conference of Bishops on a survey of survivors and their experiences with the Catholic Church.  Olan advised me to conduct a survey of what survivors wanted and needed for healing.  It seemed obvious to me that he was correct.  I wrote down a list of things survivors had suggested to me from Olan, Ray Higgins (father of a survivor and founder of the Therapy Trust for Victims of Clergy Sex Abuse) of Santa Barbara, California, and Elizabeth Goeke, then the SNAP support group facilitator here in Portland, Oregon, as well as ideas I had seen in numerous newspaper articles.  Some ideas included in the survey were inspired by the work of Aaron Lazare MD, former Dean of the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine.  Dr. Lazare studied apology for more than 20 years and is an expert on the healing power of effective apology.  I presented my ideas to three different Victims’ Assistance Coordinators who worked for the Catholic Church, but they were not interested in my in put.  So I sought advice on the construction of the survey from an instructor and researcher in the School of Social Work at Portland State University.  She advised me on the construction of the survey.
Obstacles to Disseminating the Survey.
To disseminate the survey, I first attempted to contact the leadership of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests.  They never returned my e-mails so I have no idea why they chose not to participate.  Please note that no one taking the survey criticized SNAP in any way, and 53% of respondents felt that SNAP support groups had helped them heal from the wounds of clergy abuse.
In the summer of 2007, I contacted several lawyers in Oregon who had represented survivors of clergy abuse and asked them to distribute the survey to their survivors.  However, I never received back any copies of the survey that I sent to various lawyers and have no idea whether or not any of the attorney I contacted ever made any attempts to disseminate the survey to their survivors.
Without any help from any of the major possible sources of help, I just let the survey lie dormant for a year.  Then, when we walked across Oregon to raise awareness about abuse for the first time in 2008, I paid a computer programmer $500 to post the survey on my website.  Unfortunately he did not manage to complete the project until after the Walk was completed so I was unable to take advantage of the media attention the Walk generated.  After the Walk ended, I e-mailed a link to the online survey to the survivors I worked with, but only three responded.  The survey is rather long, and I suspect some survivors or their family members found it difficult to find time to fill it out -- specifically because they kept promising to fill it out and did not do so.
In the fall of 2008, I contacted some of my media contacts from the Walk Across Oregon to see if they were interested but was informed they would be interested after I had significant results and not before hand.

The lack of support I received was very discouraging.  However, periodically, someone would find their way to my website and peruse it and fill out a survey.  Some people find survey time consuming to fill out but for others the survey appears to have given voice to some survivors who needed it.  Infact, over the years, a few non-clergy abuse survivors filled out the survey or asked to fill out a similar survey for non-clergy abuse survivors.

From the fall of 2008 to the spring of 2010, I waited, doing nothing to disseminate the survey, until after I started a blog.  I wrote a blog to advertise the survey, but then the news broke that the pope appeared to have known about the abuse of children when he was a bishop and failed to do anything about it, my writing turned to that issue and by the time media interest had died down, I had to pay full attention to the Walk Across Oregon 2010 and to my 501 (c) 3 application.  In the fall of 2010 I had to revamp my website to make it more user friendly, and then I fell and broke my elbow and all my efforts to work on the issue of abuse went on life support.

Once again, I have to revamp my website as I have used Apple’s Mobile Me to host my main website since the Fall of 2009.  Apple is discontinuing Mobile Me.  I want to build a new website that can do more than my current .org website so I have to dismantle the old website.  The survey is now rather old as it refers to the Healing Alliance, which has been defunct for some years, but the core ideas remain valid -- namely survivors are more likely to heal, the more they have in put and control over the healing process.  Somebody should ask survivors what they want and need for healing, so I will.
Below are the preliminary results from the rather small number of responses received from the survey along with the comments (in blue) survivors sent to me along with a few of my own comments (in red).
From the date of the publication of this blog, January 11, 2012, the survey will remain on the website for one month.  Then I will remove it.  I will publish final results in the fall of 2012 after the Walk Across Oregon 2012 is over.

I may conduct surveys in the future using Survey Monkey or some other resource, but construction of surveys, their dissemination and their analysis is time consuming.  I welcome help from interested people.  So if you like this survey, please contact me, Virginia Jones, at, to offer your help.    Both survivors and their family members or loved ones can fill out this survey -- please, only one response per survivor.

The full survey is available here if you wish to express your opinion:  Survey of Survivor Wants and Needs for Healing

 At the end of the survey I include a few comments about the scientific validity of the survey.
An Independent Assistance Fund can be established with money donated from the church, parishioners, community members who care about survivors, and from survivors themselves. The fund would be independent of the Catholic Church and would be operated by a board consisting of survivors, family members of survivors, and social workers who are not employed by the Catholic Church. This board would meet once a month, take requests for grants of money, discuss the requests, and give out money to survivors for various needs such as help paying past due rent and utility bills, mortgage foreclosure, college tuition, medical bills, therapy, drug and alcohol treatment, or even help paying for summer camp for a survivor’s children. The amount of money given out each time would total a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
82% of respondents were willing to use such a fund;
18% were not.  One of these people is a clinical counselor who does not believe it is helpful to give people money.
45% were willing to help set up such a fund or serve on the board of directors.

Survivor comment: I think something life the Farm (former Healing Alliance retreat center) a healing place away from the Church would be useful.  Skills could be taught and new projects could be funded through staff/board.

One model for helping survivors of trauma heal is mentoring by another survivor further along in the process of healing. Mentors typically validate feelings and experiences and offer their own experiences with coping strategies, therapy, etc.
64% were willing to mentor other survivors
64% were willing to be mentored by another survivor
82% wanted more information.

Some survivors are able to maintain a relationship with the Catholic Church. Others are uncomfortable working with church employees. In some places survivors are able to go to other survivors for assistance in dealing with church employees, such as a Victim Assistance Coordinator.

73%  wanted assistance going to a coordinator
36% would be willing to assist others in contacting the coordinator
82% were willing to participate in a retreat
9% was not willing
73% wanted trained survivors leading retreat
64% wanted experienced therapist leading retreat
36% wanted a non-Catholic organization leading retreat.
Sharing story in church
45% wanted to share without anonymity
27% would share if they could be anonymous
18% did not want to share their stories under any circumstances
9% said maybe

My comment: The co-founder of Compassionate Gathering, Elizabeth Goeke was one of the people who was dubious that she’d find the experience of being listened to by other Catholic healing.  However, she found the experience very uplifting when she participated in it.  She had been so wounded by her experiences with other Catholics she was dubious if it could work.  When we trained Catholics to listen with compassion, she found the experience very uplifting and supported further efforts to listen to other survivors.

Ways people were willing to share their stories with others:
Photographic Display 45%
Booklet of stories: 55%
Small group of parishioners: 55%
Larger mixed group of survivors and other Catholics: 55%
Large group of priests (as in Philadelphia) 27%
Small group of priests with other survivors 45%
At a penance Mass ( Boston) 27%
Survivor comment:  All depends upon the openness of the priests participating.  What is the agenda?
Public apology from bishop or head of religious order: 45%
Personal apology from bishop or head of religious order: 27%
Public apology from abuser: 27%
Personal apology from abuser:  45%

What did survivors want to see in an apology:  These ideas are based on book and articles by Dr. Aaron Lazare.

55% want statements of responsibility which make clear who are the offenders and who are the offended.
36% Want statements acknowledging the clear failure of the leadership of the Catholic Church.
55% Want clear statements acknowledging the suffering of survivors.
73% Want statements that survivors are not responsible for abuses.
64% want assurance that the abuse and the cover- up of abuse won’t happen again.
36% want assurance of punishment for those perpetrated abuse.
45% wanted opportunities for survivors to grieve in a compassionate setting
36% wanted personal apologies from abusers
27% wanted a personal apology from Bishop of head or religious order

1 person added that they wanted apologies from family and friends to failed to support and believe them.

Survivor comment: Please be aware that an official apology from the Archdiocese of Portland was offered several years ago.  I know in my parish the apology was offered from the lectern and at a church service where victims came forward anonymously (sic) and told their story (briefly) to a priest.  This was very helpful, however it was a one time shot.  .......As I stated above, the “apology” was done several years ago and there have been Eucharistic Services dealing with this issue in a very non-confrontational manner.  I believe more could be done however.

Advertising of resources for survivors:
100% wanted the church to actively advertise resources for survivors
63% in church bulletins
45% in church newspapers
63% in major local dailies papers
63% in alternative papers
63% wanted television stories
55% wanted pubic service radio announcements
55% wanted radio news stories
63% wanted resources actively advertised on Archdiocesan websites.

How helpful were various resources?

Justice and compensation from lawsuits against the Church
Very unhelpful 1 person -- this person was not able to sue the church
somewhat unhelpful 1 person -- this person sued in a landmark case.  He hoped for healing and found himself not feeling very healed when the lawsuit was done.  However, he felt it was extremely helpful and important for survivors to be able to sue the Church.
A little helpful 9%
somewhat helpful 18%
Very helpful 45%

The Church releases some personnel files of selected abusers
1person found this unhelpful -- this person felt that the Church should release complete files for all abusers.
18 percent -- somewhat unhelpful
9 Percent -- a little unhelpful
9 percent somewhat helpful
27% -- very helpful

Church releases all personnel files of all abusers
18% somewhat helpful
45% Very helpful

Church names abusers in newspapers, websites and television news
9% -- very unhelpful
18% -- very unhelpful
18% -- somewhat helpful
45% --very helpful

Church writes letters to former parishioners of abusive priests asking if they or their family members were abused by that same priest
9% -- very unhelpful
9% -- somewhat unhelpful
18% -- somewhat helpful
27% -- very helpful

My comment: Please note this has happened.  The Santa Barbara Franciscans did this in 1993 and quite a number of survivors came forward.  This was also done by in New Jersey in the case of Fr. James Hanley.  There may be other cases I don’t know about.

Church leaders publicly apologize for failing to take action on reports of abuse
18% -- very unhelpful
9% -- a little helpful
9% -- somewhat helpful
27% -- very helpful
27% -- did not respond

Church lobbies politicians for more time to come forward to charge abusers with crimes (extension of statute of limitations for criminal prosecution)
9% -- very unhelpful
9% - somewhat helpful
63% -- very helpful
19% -- did not respond

Church lobbies politicians for more time for survivors to come forward in order to file civil lawsuits
9% -- somewhat helpful
63% -- very helpful

Survivors sharing their stories with other Catholics in a safe environment:
18% -- very unhelpful
9% -- a little unhelpful
9% -- a little helpful
9% -- somewhat helpful
36% -- very helpful
18% -- did not respond

My Comment: Please note, most of the people who responded to this have never shared their stories with other Catholics in a safe environment.  This is one of the activities Compassionate Gathering does for healing the wounds of clergy abuse.  One person, Elizabeth Goeke, the first survivor to take this survey, responded to this question with ambivalence.  Then she shared her story with the group of parishioners from Ascension Catholic Church, who had been introduced by me to the concept of Compassionate Listening.  Everyone participating found the experience uplifting and Elizabeth became a full partner with me as we went on to facilitate more such interactions, including the reconciliation between Steve Fearing, who was abused by a Franciscan priest in the state of Oregon, with, Fr. Armando Lopez, a brother Franciscan priest from the same order as his abuser.  Steve’s 1992 lawsuit went all the way to the state supreme court and was not resolved until 2001.  His legal victory opened up Oregon for many more such lawsuits.  My thought is that survivors who are doubtful that it is possible to have a good interaction with other Catholics probably have had bad experiences with other Catholics and can’t imagine support from anyone in the Catholic Church.  Fortunately some of us Catholics are trainable -- we can be taught to listen with compassion.

Retreats provided by Catholic Church
27% -- very unhelpful
9% -- somewhat unhelpful
28% a little helpful
18% -- somewhat helpful
18% -- very helpful

Retreats provided by non-Catholic spiritual groups
9% -- a little helpful
27% -- somewhat helpful
36% -- very helpful
18% -- did not respond

Retreats organized by survivors
9% -- somewhat unhelpful
27% -- somewhat helpful
27% -- very helpful
27% -- did not respond

Spiritual Direction by the Catholic Church
9% -- somewhat unhelpful
18% -- a little unhelpful
9% -- a little helpful
9% -- very helpful
55% -- did not respond

Survivor comment:  I would need better information about the person (offering Spiritual Direction).

Survivor comment:  I was given Spiritual Direction by the Vicar in charge of survivors abused by clergy, and he was extremely helpful.  He went on to establish a council comprised of different people who deal with the abuse in the diocese.

Spiritual Direction offered by a non-Catholic group
9% -- very unhelpful
18% -- a little unhelpful
9% -- a little helpful
9% -- somewhat helpful
45% -- very helpful
10% -- did not respond

Seeking therapy and support by yourself from a Church employed Victim Assistance Coordinator with a choice of therapists recommended by the Church
45% -- very unhelpful
9% -- a little helpful
36% -- somewhat helpful
10% -- did not respond

Another survivors assisting you when you seek therapy and support from a Church employed Victim Assistance Coordinator
18% -- very unhelpful
9% -- very helpful
27% -- somewhat helpful
18% -- very helpful
28% -- did not respond

Therapy provided through a church employed Victim Assistance Coordinator with the survivor choosing the therapist
9% -- Very unhelpful
9% -- Somewhat unhelpful
18% -- a little helpful
36% -- somewhat helpful
28% -- very helpful

Therapy provided through an independent assistance fund run by survivors and social workers who do not work for the Catholic Church
9% -- a little helpful
9% -- somewhat helpful
36% -- very helpful
46% -- did not respond

Help with emergencies such as medical emergencies and past due rent or utility bills provided through an independent assistance fund run by survivors and social workers who do not work for the Catholic Church.
9% -- very unhelpful
9% -- a little helpful
18% -- somewhat helpful
55% -- very helpful
9% --did not respond

Mentoring from another survivor on coping with the damage from abuse.  Please note that independent scientific studies found that this is the most effective form of assistance given to survivors.
9% -- very unhelpful
9% -- a little helpful
27% -- somewhat helpful
45% -- very helpful
10% -- did not respond

Support groups run by the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests
9% - a little helpful
18% -- somewhat helpful
36% -- very helpful
53% of survivors responded to this question

Attending activities held by the Healing Alliance or other survivor support groups
9% -- a little helpful
9% -- somewhat helpful
73% -- very helpful
9% -- did not respond

My comment:  Unfortunately the Healing Alliance is now defunct.
Church actively advertising resources of support for survivors
18% -- a little helpful
9% -- somewhat helpful
63% -- very helpful
10% -- did not respond

Clearly survivors want the church to provide lots of information in multiple venues so survivors can easily find out what resources are available
18% were willing to meet with bishops or heads of religious orders to present their concerns and desires
36% were not willing to meet with bishops
46% did not respond

Survivor Comment: Most clergy abuse survivors will turn away if any “church involved” issue is a part of the task.  The attitutde “the church can help” should not be  apriority, it should be a secondary action onlu suggested for those that still think the bishops give a sh#*.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Into the Abyss; A Survivor Struggles With Romance and Relationships

I've been going through a prolonged family crisis and have not posted recently.  Life is too difficult and too demanding.  I keep trying to do my work and trying to care my children.  I don't have time for much else, but I decided to share some poems I wrote some years ago about old boyfriends. I was sexually abused at age four.  As a survivor, I was used to painful relationships, and I kept repeating the pattern, one variation or another, over and over.  Until I could afford more effective therapy, diaries and poetry were my therapy.  The pages of my notebooks listened patiently to what others tired of hearing -- the weepy sadness over loves lost.  I haven't figured out this part of my life yet.  I think my life needs to be easier before I can date again.  The easiest response is to retreat altogether.  I've retreated in part because alone is easier, but also because life is too damned difficult for dating.

Well, anyway, the subject of this poem, a young man, now old and grey, was a wild land firefighter from my field biology internship back in 1980.  He had committed to a girl in high school who left him after four years of a long distance relationship.  He wasn't ready for commitment again so soon even though he knew I could not handle a casual relationship.  He said so.  I was too fragile.  There were others who came after him, and not a few, because I had this habit of working with firefighters and fishermen, neither of which professions are inhabited by chaste men.  But when the summer of 1980 was over for good, and August heat gave way to September breezes, I was never the same.  The relationship and its demise was a turning point in my life.  I was raped the next summer, the summer of 1981, as I struggled to cope with depression and low self esteem caused by love lost the summer before.  I trusted the wrong two men, and a part of my life switched to off with 50 strips of duct taped over the toggle to hold it in place.

I wrote this poem during the summer of 1982 -- the year after the rape.  I was thinking about the wild land firefighter from the summer of 1980.  I was still grieving lost love as well as that newly lost portion of my wounded soul.  I still worked in the same general area for a wild land government agency.  I could stand in the yard of my house looking southeast across the Modoc Plateau and know he was out there, working with some of the same people I worked with.

I had been bold enough to visit the fire station where we had both lived and worked the summer of 1980 during the summer of 1981, just two weeks after I was raped.  He was still there, still fighting fires.  I held  talk about the rape inside of me.  I told no one.  It was date rape.  Why had I been so stupid?  I knew why.  Low self esteem, depression, clinging to the hope that these crumbs of attention might be something more, and they were more, but in a bad way.

At any rate, during my visit to the fire station in summer of 1981, my old fire fighter boyfriend seemed happy to see me when I stopped by our old station two weeks after the rape.  He brought me ice water and cracked nervous jokes as we sat and reminisced with other firefighters. He invited me to come back the next day to give the station chief my gift of a can of olives in person instead of leaving them and not coming back, but when I came back the next day, the firefighter remained distant.  Other firefighters tease him about me during the summer of 1980, and I wondered if they teased him once again, and he was not strong enough to be kind when others were making him miserable.

That third summer, the summer of 1982, he moved on to another fire station to a position with higher pay.  I knew that.  People we knew in common persisted in telling me about him. By then I was tired of grief.  One day at dusk I sat on the floor of my lonely house and looked out the window at the distant range across the basin and thought of how he was out there, just fifty miles away across a few more ranges and basins, if I could walk that far and fast over the basalt rocks and sagebrush.  Not so far away, but an eternity away.

Night fell and the Milky Way and a multitude of other stars blinked on over the plateau.  All things astronomical came to my mind and the poem wrote itself from the tip of my pen marking the paper pages of my diary.

Into the Abyss

by Virginia Pickles Jones

Last thoughts only as I fall away,
A particle of planetary debris
Sucked into the black hole.
Whose gravity not even light escapes.
Now you see me;
Now I am a billion light years away
Across the universe,
Reborn as a microwave pulse oscillation
In your radio telescope,
Invisible to the naked eye.

Are we not all doomed to eternity
as Subnuclear particles,
Locked into the endless
Oscillations of matter,
Each of us
Our own black hole universe?
Our lives lost
In tidal expansions and contractions.

As you reach out to me
I am already gone,
Traveling away from you at the speed of light,
Matter to your antimatter,
Doomed to mutual destruction whenever we meet.

copyright 2012 Virginia Pickles Jones

Please help me pay for my work.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Clergy Abuse Won't End Until Parishioners Step Up

I was in Eastern and Southern Oregon walking through small, rural towns and on scenic trails to raise awareness about abuse when the news came about an abusive priest, Fr. Angel Armando Perez, in Woodburn, Oregon.  The abuse was very recent and the child reported it, and his family supported him, and the police supported him, and the priest was arrested.

The family support and the arrest frequently did not happen in the past.

We’ve made progress, real progress.  The abuse happened, but at least most of the response to the abuse was appropriate.  

I could not comment on what had happened when I was walking through towns and on trails in the distant parts of Oregon.  My internet access was intermittent, and I had my two teenagers to care for and a schedule to keep, and the two teenagers didn’t want to share the computer with me.

When I returned home to Portland, I read Abuse Tracker and saw Randy Ellison's blog on the case.  Randy is the Board President of the child sex abuse survivor advocacy group, Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service (OAASIS).  Randy reported in his blog that a group of parishioners showed up to support the priest in court.  

No surprise there.  Everybody deserves emotional support, although I am sure there are quite a few survivors who believe that Angel Armando Perez belongs in hell forever and if not that, then the depths of a deep, dank prison forever.

Parishioners supporting an abusive priest sounds familiar to me.  Happened in my parish too in 2002.  An article about abuse perpetrated by the pastor of my parish, who I will call Fr. X, appeared in a Southern California paper on a Saturday in mid 2002.  The Fr. X announced the accusation during Mass on Sunday.

I remember his words.  I sat and listened to him at the end of Mass that Sunday, stunned and hurt, not wanting his words to be true.

“These accusations were investigated twice and found to be unsubstantiated.”


“Who knows where this will go?”

I knew what those last words meant.  There would be more accusations.  The accusations came out immediately in California and Nevada and resulted in lawsuits against the Fr. X and the Church.  The only accusations that came out in Oregon were quiet, behind the scenes accusations by adults.  I suspect the priest also abused teenaged boys in Oregon.  Those boys would be in their twenties by now, but they have not yet come forward.  It would have been hard for them to come forward in 2002.  A former Youth Minister from the parish came forward in 2002, with her accounts of suspicious behavior by Fr. X.  She was so badly harassed by other parishioners that she left the Catholic Church.

Who would come forward with stories of abuse when other parishioners will support the priest and harass you?

And coming forward is so very hard for teenaged boys.  So often the think they are old enough to know better and are filled with shame and guilt and self blame.  They don't want anyone to know and suffer alone and in silence.  Or they struggle with addictions, depression, outbursts of anger and other problems and don't know why.

At least in my parish we have had discussions and forums and have given out the Sackcloth Penance Patch during Lent.  The Sackcloth Penance Patch is a two inch square burlap path with a brown ribbon sewn to the middle.  The Patch signifies sorrow and penance for clergy abuse.  However, the lack of support for survivors of clergy abuse remains a significant problem at all levels of the Catholic Church.

In order to bring awareness and healing to this problem, I co-founded (with clergy abuse survivor Elizabeth Goeke) Compassionate Gathering in 2007.  We bring survivors of clergy abuse together with other Catholics for mutual understanding.  We could help those parishioners in Woodburn better understand their actions if only someone would ask for our help.  But we have not received a warm embrace by the local Archdiocese or by other parishioners.

In 2007, Fr. Armando Lopez, the pastor of my Catholic parish here in Portland, Oregon, instructed church personnel announce our Compassionate Gatherings in the Church bulletin.  When Fr. Armando went on pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, in 2008, the Archdiocese ordered Compassionate Gathering announcements out of the parish bulletin.  Later, when a survivor abused by a Franciscan priest spoke at our Franciscan parish, Fr. Armando was able to say this was Franciscan business and ordered the  event announced in the parish bulletin with my phone number as a contact.

The Sunday that announcement appeared in the parish bulletin, I received a phone call from a parishioner who did not want to hear the survivor abused by a Franciscan priest share his story.  Actually she did not want any announcements about clergy abuse in the parish bulletin at all.

She said to me, “There is something wrong with you.  You need to have your head examined.  You have to let go of this clergy abuse issue.”

I tried to speak, and she interrupted me, “There is something wrong with you.  You need counseling.  You need to let go of this clergy abuse issue.”

I tried to say, “It sounds as though you are hurt.”

Or at least I would have said that, but she interrupted me again to tell me once again that I needed to have my head examined for bringing clergy abuse up in our Catholic parish over and over and over again.

She never did let me speak, and when she was done telling me that I am mentally ill for caring so much for the clergy abuse issue, she hung up on me.  

I wonder if she she would have been in court supporting Fr.  Angel Perez if she had been a parishioner in his Woodburn, Oregon, parish.

Working on the clergy abuse issue has been a lonely effort all these years.  First I tried attending Voice of the Faithful meetings.  At first meetings were well attended, but then attendance dwindled, and the group folded in 2005.  Then I helped Elizabeth Goeke run a support group for SNAP.  Then I was told that I could no longer attend SNAP support group meetings because I am not a clergy abuse survivor, and Elizabeth was told that someone else would lead the group.  That is why we formed out own group -- Compassionate Gathering -- to gather together people from all sides to listen to anyone wounded by abuse compassionately.  In the meantime the SNAP support group became dormant.  Later Jeannie Cratty came to Oregon and became the SNAP support person.  She shared her story with Compassionate Gathering in 2010.  Unfortunately, it has been tough to attract Catholics who care about clergy abuse and want to support the survivors

I’ve been told by different Catholic parishioners that they did not need to do anything about the issue.

One said, “The bishops have taken care of everything.”

Another said, “SNAP has taken care of everything.”

Survivors also struggle about the issue of clergy abuse.  Few survivors seem able to take on the advocacy role.  Most want to move on with their lives.  Some go through strugglers too deep to advocate for others or connect with other Catholics. 

One can argue about what is the best way to raise awareness about abuse and advocate for survivors.  I tried handing out newspaper articles in my parish -- an act that got me thrown out the parish until Fr, Armando Lopez (not Perez) welcomed me back in.

Church leadership need not have bothered to throw me out.  Positive responses to my efforts were few.  One third of parishioners were concerned but did not want to get involved or rock the boat, or, if they acted, they simply left the Catholic Church.  One third didn’t know what to think, and one third were mad at me for bringing up the issue and insisted that the newpapers were printing lies.

Despite Catholic parishioners' desires for the issue of clergy abuse to go away, it hasn't.  Fr. Angel Perez has just reminded us that clergy abuse still happens.

These current accusations against Perez brought back memories of what happened in my parish in 2002, when Fr. X was removed.  Fr. X was dynamic.  His Masses were standing room only with people gathered in the vestibule to hear the his  humorous and meaningful homilies.  After Fr. X announced the accusations against him, he was removed very quickly, never to be seen again by most parishioners.  At first parishioners clung to the church in their pain and their confusion.  Forums were held, but facts given out to parishioners were murky and allowed for lots of interpretation.

I met elderly parishioners who thought Fr. X could not be guilty of anything more than a misunderstood hug.  I was not so naive, but I could not imagine Fr. X raping anyone.

But I did two things that parishioners rarely do.

I read all about the clergy abuse issue and eventually learned much more about Fr. X than other parishioners, and then I reached out to clergy abuse survivors, especially Fr. X's survivors.

A year and a half passed before I learned more details about what Fr. X had done.  One of his survivors told his story to a newspaper in California around Christmas of 2003.  Fr. X had gotten him drunk and forcibly raped him.

Stories like that try your faith in the Church.  Church leadership should have told us.  They knew the accusations from 1980 that they did not tell us about until the survivor managed to get his accusations printed in a newspaper in 2002.  I let my son sit on Fr. X's lap.  I think he would have been abused by Fr. X if the clergy abuse scandal had not exploded in 2002.  Why did the Church keep the accusations against Fr. X secret for so long?  I still feel that sting of betrayal although I learned about those accusations so many years ago.  My son, my precious son, what would have happened if he had been abused?  He is a hardworking student who scores well in school.  What would have happened if Fr. X had not finally been removed?

I suspect that Church leadership knew in 2002 about the additional accusations against Fr. X that were printed in a newspaper on Christmas 2003, the ones about Fr. X getting a boy drunk and raping him.  I think it would have helped if they had told parishioners these painful and ugly truths.  But they didn't

Without complete information about the accusations against Fr. X, the parish became very divided between the parishioners who loved Fr. X and were convinced he had simply hugged a boy too tightly, and those who felt that we were lucky to be rid of a pedophile.

At first, after Fr. X was removed, parishioners clung to the parish in their pain, but when the answers to their questions about Fr. X never came, parishioners drifted away.  Attendance dropped by close to 30% within six months.

I eventually met the survivor who came forward in May, 2002.  I found out from an Archdiocesan press release that he had come forward the fist time around 1980.  His accusations were not reported to the police.  His family sided with the Church.

The survivor came forward again in 1993.  Once again Fr. X was not removed.  The survivor came forward yet again in 1995 and 1996.  The Church continued to keep Fr. X in ministry.  Only when the clergy abuse scandal became so overwhelming in 2002 that newspapers finally printed the survivor's allegations, was Fr. X was removed.  However Church leadership never acknowledged the truth of the survivor's allegations publicly.  

The lack of support deeply wounded the survivor.  He received a year of therapy from the Church, but it wasn’t even close to what he needed.  When I last had contact with him in early 2005, he remained fragile, but he never stopped seeking the justice that he never fully received.
In 2003, Fr. X was placed into a friary attached to a parish, not to serve in the parish but as a place to live while he went to school and found a job and tied to restart his life.

But the Church made a mistake.  They didn’t tell parishioners that Fr. X was there.
How do you think you can keep such scandal a secret?  Fr. X's survivor could not rest as long as Fr. X was near children.

I learned from that situation that the best way to support an abusive priest is to support his survivors.

I repeat.

The best way to support an abusive priest is to support his survivors.

The best way to support an abusive priest is to support his survivors.

I am convinced that the survivor abused by Fr. X had such a difficult time healing precisely because for so long all the support and belief was given to Fr. X and not him.  I realized that Fr. X and the Church would never know peace until the survivor knew peace.

Sadly, because the survivor was not listened to in 1980, the Fr. X went on to abuse many others.

How does denying abuse help the perpetrator of that abuse?  Is he better off being left out there to abuse again?

I was determined to give the survivor whatever justice I could, so invited him to come to Portland to share his story in my parish.

“I can’t,” the survivor said, “I will be hurt if I do that.”

I didn’t fully believe him until I shared his story in a forum in my parish.  The forum was moderated by Church personnel.  I was interrupted by other parishioners who criticized me and put me down.  The church employed moderator limited how long I could speak and did nothing to stop other parishioners from criticizing me and interrupting me.
I was depressed for a while after that.  The experience was so awful.  I believed in citizen diplomacy, but I found out you can’t bring survivors together with other Catholics because the Catholics will hurt them.  
If Catholics don’t support survivors of clergy abuse, how can there be an end to clergy abuse?  

I discovered how to teach Catholics to support survivors of abuse.  I learned how to listen and respond to promote healing and reconciliation and it worked beautifully.

Compassionate Gathering facilitated a reconciliation between Steve Fearing, who was abused by a former Franciscan priest named Mel Bucher, and his brother Franciscan, Fr. Armando Lopez.  I facilitated other reconciliations between survivors and other Catholics.

We have some modest support from lawyers representing clergy abuse survivors, but none at all from Church leadership.  We have received a modest amount of participation from a limited number of Catholic parishioners and priests, including Call To Action members, and three Franciscan priests serving in Oregon.  A few other priests have been sympathetic but have not participated in our Gatherings.

But that isn't the point of this blog.  I really haven’t gotten to the point.  I’ve just circled around it.

Responses to clergy abuse in the Catholic Church are much better than they are in the past, but there is still much that needs to be done.  For example, some people may notice that I have removed some of my blogs.  These blogs concern another priest accused of abuse that took place after 2002.  Church leadership contacted me and hinted at legal action for libel and basically told me things about the case that were the opposite of what I had been told by the survivor.  I don’t think the survivor lied abuse.  
I think the survivor told the truth about the abuse.

The same thing happened with Fr. X and his survivor who came forward in 1980.  In 2002, parishioners were told that the allegations against Fr. X had been investigated twice and found not substantiated.  In 2002, I believed what Church leadership said.  Then I met the survivor who made those “unsubstantiated” allegations.  Eventually I even heard through the grapevine that Church leadership privately acknowledged the truth of the allegations made against Fr. X in 1980, and doing the wrong thing at that time, but that acknowledgement as never made public and there never was an apology for the survivor for the repeated public denials of his accusations.
To end clergy abuse, Church leadership must tell the complete truth all the time.  I doubt that will happen any time soon, so the rest of us Catholics have to take responsibility for ending clergy abuse.  Clergy abuse won't end until we do  

We, the people of the Catholic Church, have to stop saying, "The bishops have taken care of that," or, "SNAP has taken care of this.”

Rabbi Hillel, a great Jewish teacher who lived around the time of Jesus said,  “If not me, who?  If not now, when?”
Why does everybody keep on waiting for someone else to act?

What can we do?  Well, we can bring up the issue over and over.  One way of doing this is to give out Sackcloth Penance Patches during Lent.  The Patch is a gentle reminder to parishioners to support clergy abuse survivors.  It has yielded few negative responses.  In addition, we managed to get permission from Church leadership to give it out, which makes it easier to approach parish leadership with the idea.

The patch is made of burlap with a brown ribbon sewn to the middle.  We give it out with a prayer and a parish bulletin insert explaining what it is for.

During Lent in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, we gave out patches in several parishes in Portland, Oregon.  The Patch inspired several survivors to come forward and yielded some media coverage of the issue.  Most important of all, it kept the issue of clergy abuse in the open for discussion by all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What Would an Angel Do? Or Why I am Walking With the Homeless

One day a dozen years ago or so I pulled my car into my driveway after grocery shopping to find a middle aged woman rummaging through my recycling bin and placing my used soda cans and bottles in a shopping cart.  Instantly I felt annoyed that someone was taking my stuff even if it was my garbage.  So I honked my horn at her.
She looked up, her eyes wide with humiliation.
By the time I parked my car at the top of the driveway I experienced a change of heart.  I wondered the woman or her husband had lost a job or if someone in her family was struggling with a major illness.  So I opened up the hatchback and grabbed a loaf of bread from a grocery bag and ran to the base of my driveway.  My driveway is short, and I live in the middle of the block, but the woman and her grocery cart were gone.  I peered up the block and down the block and across the street, but I couldn’t even see any sign of her anywhere.  I wondered how a middle aged woman pushing a grocery cart could run so silently and so quickly.
Carey shared a similar story with me recently.  Carey lives at the Right2Dream2 Rest Area at 4th and Burnside in downtown Portland.  The day we spoke, he sported a closely shaved head and face and clean, khaki colored pants and shirt.  He recounted how he was out and about in downtown Portland some days earlier when he overhead two men talking about the Right2Dream2 tent community of homeless people.  Members of the community prefer the word “unhoused” as they have a home with each other.

Right2Dream2 Rest Area

“Why does the city of Portland allow those people to stay there?  They bring drugs and crime to the city,” one man said.
The other man concurred, “Yes, they are so dirty.”
Carey felt compelled to share with them.
“Do I look like a criminal or a drug addict?”
“No,” the two men replied.
“Well, I live at the Right2Dream2 Rest Area,” Carey said. 
While there are people who have struggled with drug addiction and other problems living at the Right2Dream2, the community tightly controls what comes in through their hospitality gate.  Every member is expected to serve a 2 hour shift once a day or 14 hours a week monitoring that gate.  If people behave in disrespectful or irresponsible ways, they lose their right to shelter for 12 hours.  If they commit repeated infractions, they lose their right to shelter permanently.  These rules are self imposed; the community is run democratically.  Every member participates in decision making during weekly meetings.   Because they are expected to take responsibility for themselves, Right2Dream2 members develop new skills. For example, members organize fundraisers and other events designed to raise awareness about homelessness.  They are even trying to organize employment opportunities for themselves by offering their services such as lawn mowing, house painting and garden installation. Truthfully, the members of the Right2Dream2 shatter many of the stereotypes of homeless people such as the homeless being too lazy to get a job.
People struggle with joblessness and houselessness for many reasons, including suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by child abuse or combat, job losses caused by poor economic conditions, domestic violence, and records of felony criminal convictions.  Symptoms of PTSD include depression, anxiety, outbursts of anger, low self esteem and self medication through drug and alcohol use.  These symptoms make finding and keeping employment and housing difficult.  Healing wounds of one sort or another is a major issue for many unhoused people.
Leo Rhodes, a founding member of the Right2Dream2 community, says, “Homeless people are the best support group for each other.”
He recounted something another community member told him.  She was seeking help from a counselor, but the counselor was there for her once a week while other community members provided her emotional support every day.
In addition to emotional support from peers, rules against drug and alcohol use implemented by the Right2Dream2 community may be more effective than those imposed by a Social Worker.
Unfortunately, the Right2Dream2 Rest Area exists in legal limbo. It violates city zoning laws and restrictions against overnight camping.  Every day it remains in the vacant lot at 4th and Burnside, it racks up fines it’s residents have no hope of ever being able to pay.
Government and not-for-profits provide many valuable services to unhoused and other low income people, but need greatly exceeds capacity.  
I don’t have all the answers.  I only know what is in my heart.  I think of the woman rummaging through my garbage and how I honked at her because I didn’t want to give her my garbage.  How do I explain that to Jesus?
As a Catholic Christian I am reminded of what Jesus says in the book of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 25 to 40:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.”

For this reason, I am choosing to walk with the members of the Right2Dream2 community to raise awareness about the causes of homelessness, to celebrate the dignity and humanity of the homeless, and to heal the wounds of homelessness by having fun together in our beautiful city of Portland.
Please come with us as on August 24.  We will begin at 9 AM at the corner of 4th and West Burnside Street in downtown Portland, Oregon, and walk around downtown Portland and the Willamette Waterfront distributing t-shirts, meal tickets for Sisters of the Road, and Rose City Resource Guides from Street Roots to the unhoused people we meet as well as being good neighbors and picking up some garbage along the way.  We will end by sharing a potluck of food from street vendors.  Donations will help us pay for more meal tickets, clean t-shirts and food from street vendors.  Please walk in small groups of 4 to 6 people so we don’t block sidewalks or businesses.
What would an angel do?

Steel Bridge over the Willamette River

Me, Virginia Jones, wearing a Walk Across Oregon T-shirt and walking along Willamette Waterfront in downtown Portland.

Copyright 2012 Virginia Jones

Please donate to help pay for food and T-shirts for unhoused people.