Monday, August 18, 2014

Walk Across Pendleton --rerun from August 3, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

Walk Across Pendleton

Moonrise Over Pendleton

The East Oregonian, Pendleton’s newspaper, carried a nice article on me on Friday, July 31, but also referred people to contact the local Domestic Violence Services in Pendleton and Hermiston.  I was very happy about that.  I am overloaded as is.  I can't support many more survivors than I already do.  I want people to access local services.  I want to raise awareness about the issue.  I want to present some new ideas about healing, but most of all I want to help survivors come forward in safety to people who can help them.

The response to the East Oregonian article was very positive.  One person e-mailed the newspaper thanking me for telling my story about my own child sex abuse.  Another thanked me for bringing up the issue of clergy abuse and the need to know and do more for survivors.

Both mornings in Pendleton we ate a continental breakfast at our motel’s reception areas.  Other motel guests remarked on our shirts.  I explained that we were walking across Oregon through towns and scenic trails to raise awareness about child abuse.  One woman from Utah asked about the burlap patch I wear -- The Sack Cloth Penance Patch.  I explained that as a Catholic I wear that patch to express my sorrow and apology for Catholic clergy abuse.

"It isn't getting better?" she asked.

"It's worse than you think," I said, "Too often survivors come forward but are not believed and supported by other Catholics.  Too often other Catholics want them to forgive, forget and move on when it can take a lifetime to recover from abuse."

The Sack Cloth Penance Patch designed by Ann Czuba of Portland, Oregon, allows me to bring up the issue of clergy abuse gently, offending no one.  I only speak of abuse to those people who ask about the Patch.
We started walking at Roy Raley Park in Pendleton on Monday, August 3, 2009.  A staff member from the local Domestic Violence Services joined us.  We walked on the River Walk along the Umatilla River until we got to Main Street and then walked down main street.  My daughter wanted to look at toys and candy so we went into a store to look at toys and candy and buy cold drinks. Boy was it hot in Hermiston and Pendleton -- 101 degrees.  Then we went down to the Heritage Museum only to discover that we needed to do more homework.  It was closed on Mondays.  Then we went back to the store that sold toys, candy and cold drinks.  Someone in the store opened up to me.  He saw my t-shirt and asked if I was the person in the newspaper.
"I am," I said.
And then he told me a horrendous story of child abuse.  I found myself wondering if it was true, but I know aspects of my own life story are unbelievable.  I am not in the business of verifying facts, only in supporting anyone who says they are wounded.

We walked back along the Umatilla River to my car.  We were supposed to walk to the offices of the Domestic Violence Services, but my children were wilting in the heat -- it was 101 degrees F.  I am not in this to prove a point about my athletic prowess.  I put my children's needs first and drove to the offices of Domestic Violence Services.  I had to drive around a bit before I finding the right building.

Domestic violence shelters are never marked because too many abusive men would come and hurt or murder their wives and girlfriends, but in Pendleton, Oregon, the offices of Domestic Violence Services are not marked either.

The staff of the agency explained that it is very difficult for survivors to come forward, there often isn't support in the community.  The agency has to keep a low profile.

After visiting with the staff of Domestic Violence Services, we went swimming in the local Aquatic Center -- the perfect place to be on a 101 degree day.

© 2009 Virginia Pickles Jones

Sunday, August 17, 2014

    Dispatch From Grant County, Oregon -- rerun from Spring 2010

Mary Ann said,  “It’s not that people don’t care.  They do care, but the issue is so intimidating.  They don’t know what to do, so they don’t do anything.”

Mary Ann is the Executive Director of Heart of Grant County, the local agency that supports survivors of domestic violence in Grant County, Oregon.  Since the county has fewer than 8,000 residents in an area twice the size of Delaware, Heart of Grant County also advocates for survivors of other forms of abuse.

Mary Ann continued, inspired by her passion for supporting victims.

“When the Aryan Nations wanted to set up a headquarters in Grant County, people joined a coalition to stop hate crimes and came out and marched and rallied against the Aryan Nations.  Hate crimes are a good cause to rally against, but violence against women and children are much bigger problems in Grant County than hate crimes. Unfortunately it is really challenging to rally people to come out and march against violence against women and children.”
I know what Mary Ann’s is talking about.  Been there, experienced that, done that. When I was six years old I told my mother about the two teenaged boys who touched me in an inappropriate way.
My mother said, “That’s where babies come from,” but she didn’t do anything.

Much of my life I struggled with depression, low self esteem, relationship issues, problems with touch.....
What if my mother had done something to support me instead?
To my shame, I too, failed to report an incident of domestic abuse that I witnessed a few years ago.
I shared this story with Mary Ann when we chatted on the phone in early April.  I had called Mary Ann to interest her in supporting my Walk Across Oregon to Stop Abuse and Heal the Wounds.  We started the Walk Across Oregon in 2008, specifically to address the issue of child sex abuse, but in Winston, Oregon, we ended up witnessing domestic abuse.  Our support van parked across the road from a house on a rural road, and, as we paused to refresh ourselves by drinking water and eating snacks, we noticed that there was a man standing on the front porch of that house.  The man held a beer in his left hand while he shouted and gestured at a woman.  She circled the house as though she was looking for a way into the house, but she never entered.
We watched this interaction unfold for more than thirty minutes, debating on what we should do.  Although we were all profoundly disturbed by what we saw, we ended up doing nothing.   We ended up walking away, and while we were walking away, the man continued to stand on the porch and shout and gesture at the woman, who continued to circle around the house.  Later, when I recounted the incident to domestic violence advocates, they told me that we should have called the police.  
It is hard to know what to do.  Sometimes abuse doesn’t rise to the level of criminal conduct at a time and in a way that social workers can conclusively document.  Sometimes, victims of violence and abuse are struggling with their own relationship and self esteem issues and don’t welcome outside interference.  Sometimes the perpetrator of the abuse is a well-respected man in the community, and people can’t believe he is an abuser.  Sometimes the perpetrator is a woman, and some people can’t believe that women are capable of abuse.  But there are consequences for not reporting abuse which impact our whole society.  
A few years ago I was posting flyers for the screening of a film on clergy abuse that I hosted.  I decided to give a flyer to a man selling Street Roots, a newspaper written and sold locally in Portland, Oregon, by people struggling to overcome homelessness.  Upon reading the flyer, the man confided to me that he was chronically abused as a child in nearly every foster home in which he lived.
Then he added, “I haven’t told the guys down at the shelter about that.”

After our conversation ended,  I walked down the street to the Park Blocks, and offered a flyer to still another man selling Street Roots.  He, too, confided that he was a survivor of chronic child abuse.  Certainly many homeless people are on the streets for reasons other than child abuse, but I’ve gotten in the habit of asking, and I have found that around 50 percent of the homeless people I spoke with were victims of some form of child abuse mixed in with the war veterans and others who appeared to have biologically based mental challenges.
So victims of abuse and emotional trauma suffer depression, anxiety, low self esteem, problems with trust, boundaries, relationships, jobs, drugs alcohol, and housing -- often so severe that they cannot maintaing jobs and housing other people find routine.
And there are other, more severe consequences......
In November 2009, at least five Oregon women were killed by ex-husbands or boyfriends who preferred to kill the woman in their life rather than give up control of her.  In December 2009, a 15-year-old girl named Jeanette Maples was tortured to death by her mother.  Friends and family reported her case numerous times to the Department of Human Services, but caseworkers concluded that she was old enough to advocate for herself.  But like many victims of abuse and violence, she was too cowed by those who abused her to tell the truth to authorities.  In another chilling case that made the Portland Oregonian newspaper this spring, a five year old girl living in Portland suburb died after repeated beatings by her father’s girlfriend.  Investigators said they found it hard to believe that no one around the girls observed the violence perpetrated on her, but there are no records of any reports made to authorities.
Why should we care?  
Because all the forms of abuse are related to each other.  If children are being abused by a father, it is likely that the mother is also being abused by that same man.  Moreover, Mary Ann told me if the children aren’t victims of violence, but the mother is, the children still frequently suffer from undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from all the violence they are witnessing.  Moreover, as child victims often grow up, they often have such poor self-esteem, that they are vulnerable to even more abuse as an adult such as date rape and domestic violence.  The cycle of abuse goes on and on..
Why should we care?
Because the cycle of abuse won’t stop until we become brave enough to talk about it, report it and support the traumatized survivors.  Supporting survivors is another important issue, because it is so much harder to heal alone and unsupported.

If you want to raise consciousness about abuse in the larger community, if you want to support survivors of abuse on the path to healing, then join us for the Walk Across Oregon.  We will be walking through John Day on August 4th with employees and supporters of Heart of Grant County.

Copyright 2010 Virginia Jones 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fun and Healing: The New Way to Stop Abuse and Help Survivors Come Forward -- reprint from 2010

by Virginia Pickles Jones

The reporter from the Wallowa County Chieftain was skeptical.

“You mean to tell me that you drive places and get out and walk?” 

“Yes,” I tried to explain, “We tried walking almost every step of the way in 2008, and found ourselves spending lots of time communing with wild turkeys.  This is not a march or a political statement. We walk to talk to people to raise awareness and support survivors coming forward.  We reach more people by walking through towns and scenic trails.”

The reporter was not impressed, and the Wallowa County Chieftain did not cover the Walk Across Oregon when we passed through the Wallowa Valley in 2009.

I always end up having to explain myself.  My approach to organizing the Walk seems new to people.  The Walk is not the usual race or run/walk fundraiser.  Nor is it a demonstration or political statement.  My hope is to never have a large group of runners or walkers, but to have multiple small groups of walkers following the same course, focused more on having fun than on impressing anyone with our athletic prowess.  Survivors of abuse often struggle to trust others, especially strangers.  They seem to need time to evaluate a situation to decide whether it is safe to come forward.  Coming forward to small groups of supporters is much safer emotionally than is trying to cope with a large crowd.  Moreover, a small group of supporters can give much more personal attention to a person in need than can a crowd.  And the support of a newspaper is not needed.

Our best day ever on the Walk Across Oregon with the largest number of interested people approaching us with their stories came in Independence, Oregon, in 2008.  Walking north from Ashland to Portland we had lot of media coverage in Medford and Roseburg and Eugene, but in Independence we had nothing -- no newspaper articles, no radio, and no television coverage -- no one to tell anyone why we were there and where to meet us.  All we had were our t-shirts and banner that said, “Stop Child Sex Abuse.”

We started in Monmouth and walked along Highway 51 to Independence.  The Mother who started the Walk spotted a Farmer’s Market, and we paused to buy fruit. Then my kids spotted a park and playground on the banks of the Willamette River, so we stopped and played. Then the Mother’s husband found a yard sale and stopped to see if there was anything he wanted to buy.  During each of these stops -- when we paused to enjoy ourselves -- people approached us to share their stories with us.  When we walked quickly from point “A” to point “B”, people did not approach us.  We didn’t give them time.

The second reason for pausing to enjoy ourselves is healing.  I am a sex abuse and rape survivor too.  I’ve struggled with chronic mild to moderate depression all of my life as well as low self esteem, anxiety, problems with touch.... I’ve been something of a loner a good deal of my life.  Hiking has always been one of my favorite past times.  One of my most memorable hikes took place in the Warner Mountains of California in the summer of 1980. I started hiking early in the morning.  I didn’t have a car so I just followed a dirt track from the town of Cedarville up into the Mountains.  When I reached the crest of the mountain range, not a tall peak, just the swaybacks between the peaks, I passed through a mountain meadow -- a small creek ran through a sparse Juniper woodland, carpeted with low sagebrush.  Along the brook grew a scattering of grey-green, velvet leafed Mule’s Ears flowers -- like a lazy row of foot high sunflowers.  Above and behind this meadow was a blue blue unpolluted sky of the high desert summer.

It was so beautiful.  I thought, This is “God’s Garden”.  No man could make a garden this beautiful.  I felt perfect joy.  My ever present depression was ever so far away.

The irony was that I was an agnostic who was not looking for God at the time.

I have felt this kind of joy on the Walk Across Oregon too.

Last year, in 2009, when we visited Joseph, Oregon, and Wallowa Lake, the local agency was supportive and sent our flyers around, but no one joined us.  

Supporters had intended to come from Portland and Walk with me in Joseph, but various crisis interfered, and I was alone with my children.  No one spoke to us about child abuse or domestic violence or any other form of abuse.  No one even commented on our shirts the way they did La Grande and Arlington.  We’d had more luck the year before with two or more adults and children walking together.  No offense.  I guess people don’t want to talk about child abuse when they have only a mother and two children to talk to.  I was a little disappointed, a little depressed.
But we carried on, and as a mother, I am always paying attention to my children's needs.  To get my kids walking through Joseph during the morning, I promised three afternoons at Wallowa Lake.  The first afternoon my daughter noticed other people playing with rubber boats and inner tubes and asked me to buy one for one for us.  So, like the obedient mother I am, I bought an inflatable boat the next morning.  That afternoon, while my son rebuilt the Roman Empire in the sand and mud on the shores of Wallowa Lake, my daughter and I tried to figure out how to row that boat.  We put the oars in the oarlocks first.  My daughter couldn’t make the boat go anywhere so I took over, confidently telling her I would show her how to do it.  Well, it turned out I couldn’t row much better than my 10 year old daughter.  My daughter giggled at my flailing arms and oars.  I gave in and giggled too. What else could I do?  Next I suggested to my daughter that we row canoe style, without the oarlocks.  We finally managed to sort of make that boat sort of go places.  

Eventually I leaned back in that boat and took in the sunshine filtered through the clouds over the Wallowa Mountains with the blue blue sky behind and thought, This is what happiness is.

As an abuse survivor who has long struggled with depression, I know that depressed people often withdraw into themselves.  Staying home alone tends to make matters worse. While we need time and space for healing, the next most basic thing we can do for ourselves is to get out and do something healthy, wether it an urban activities of walking down a street with trendy chops and cafes, or a rural activity such as hiking along a scenic trail.  When the body gets moving, the mind follows.  Moreover, we need to get out to meet people.  It is much harder to heal alone, with no one walking the journey of life with us.

Fortunately, my children and I did not remain alone through the rest of the Walk Across Oregon in 2009.  We eventually met many supportive people. In Pendleton and Hermiston we were joined by volunteers with Domestic Violence Services of Umatilla County.  Kay Ebeling, the City of Angels Lady and family and friends joined us in Portland and the Columbia River Gorge, and Pioneer House residents and staff from Clatsop County Women’s Resource Center joined us Astoria.

In Hermiston, Oregon, the Walk worked the way I hoped it would.  The East Oregonian carried an article about us and interviewed both me and Marta Harville, the Executive Director of of Domestic Violence Services of Umatilla County, The article also included our local itinerary.  A family member of an abuse victim met us in Hermiston along with a volunteer with Domestic Violence Services.  The volunteer brought along her children and a friend.  We bought cold treats in a Mexican tienda and stopped in a local park.  Our children coped with the August heat by playing together in the sprinklers while the adults sat in the shade and listened to and supported the family member.  Then we all walked to Domestic Violence Services together and introduced the survivor family member to the people in Hermiston who could support her.

Why don’t you join us and help with raising awareness and outreach to survivors?  And heal by having fun in our beautiful state of Oregon?

Contact Virginia Jones at

Copyright 2010 Virginia Jones

Friday, August 8, 2014

Walk Across Oregon to End Abuse and Heal the Wounds 2008: Dispatch From Ashland

This is reprinted from my website from 2008.  Joan's name is June.

I will call her Joan.  She has to remain anonymous.  Joan wanted to do something to stop child sex abuse and support survivors.  Her children were abused.  They came forward after age thirty -- too late to file criminal charges for abuse.  Twenty years after the abuse ended to file a civil lawsuit, they were still too frightened by their abuser  There was no justice, no recourse, no support from an indifferent society.

(Did I keep my children anonymous enough?  It seems as though I eliminated their heads and their helmets are floating on air.)

Joan thought that if only the statute of limitations on criminal prosecution of child sex abuse could be eliminated, then her children could have justice and be confidant that the man who abused them would never abuse anyone else again.  So Joan went on a one woman campaign of knocking on doors, writing to politicians, contacting therapsits who worked with sex offenders trying to rally support for eliminating the statute of limitations.  Door after door slammed in her face.  She began to lose faith that anyone cared about child sex abuse survivors.

Then Joan heard on Oregon Public Broadcasting a story about two women, one Catholic and one a former nun, who were screening a film and hosting a symposium on clergy sex abuse in Portland, Oregon.  Joan lived far away from Portland, but she knew she had to go to that film screening.

At the film screening and symposium she met a small group of survivors of clergy abuse, their family members and other caring supporters   She also met Elizabeth Goeke and me, Virginia Jones, two women who put the film screening and symposium together. Later Joan came to our Compassionate Gatherings and told her story to others in an atmosphere of support .  She felt loved and believed.

Joan thought that if we could do this work, she could do it too.

In the fall of 2007, Joan saw the documentary, “Run Granny, Run,” about Granny D, a 93 year old woman walking across a state when she ran for US Senate.

Joan thought, I should do that and tell people that the statute of limitations has to be eliminated on criminal prosecution of abuse.  She decided to walk from south to north on Old Highway 99 and recrutied her daughter to walk with her.  Then she found a documentary filmmaker to film her walk the way Granny D was filmed.  She had a friend at the Oregonian find the addresses of newspapers and televsion stations along the way to publicize her Walk Across Oregon.

Slowly Joan’s carefully set up line of doors started closing.

First, her husband got cancer and the time she intended to spend on planning went to supporting her husband through treatment.
Then her children told her they didn’t want her name in the media.  They remained terrified their abuser would see her or hear about Joan and do something to her or to them in retaliation.  Joan asked me for help.  She wanted me to speak to the media for her.
My own family has been scarred by abuse for generations.  I understood her fear.  I understood the lack of support survivors often experience. I told my mother about the teenage boys who abused me when I was six.

“That’s where babies come from,” she said.
That was all she did or said.  Another 40 years passed before I came to terms with the abuse I suffered when I was four.
First I recruited some abuse survivors and supporters from Compassionate Gathering to participate in the Walk.  Then I helped Joan shape her press release.  I knew she needed an itinerary so that news reporters, survivors and supporters could meet her along the way.  I checked out a road atlas from the library and fiugred out a route mostly on Old 99 that had Joan walking close to ten miles every day -- the way she planned.  Then, while visiting OMSI with my children, I saw Google Earth in the computer lab.  I checked out Oregon and followed, in mind numbing detail, the route I planned for Joan.  When I got home, I called Joan and we visited OMSI together, pouring over Goggle Earth to lay out her route with starting and stopping and meeting places and times for each day.
Finally, on August 31, 2008, I went to Mass at my parish in Portland, Oregon, and then drove three hundred miles through the rain to begin the Walk with Joan on September 1, in Ashland, Oregon.
Fortunately, September 1, the weather was mild and sunny.  We started at 8 AM by Albertson’s on Ashland Street. While a television reporter from KRDV TV in Medford interviewed me in my bright yellow t-shirt with “Stop Child Sex Abuse” on the front and “Walk Across Oregon” on the back, a gray haired man in shorts and white walking shoes came up and stood by us.  Next the television reporterter interveiwed Joan who wore a hat, a wig, and sunglasses.  I approached the gray haired man.
“Are you interested in joining us?”  I asked.

“I’m walking with you,” he said.
As we walked, his story came out bit by bit.  I’ll call him Andy.  He was abused as a teenager by the minsiter in his Episcopal church.  It took him 40 years to realize he had been harmed by the abuse.  Andy walked with us from Ashland to Talent, Oregon, and joined Joan walking from Eugene and again when we walked through downtown Portland..
Along the way, Andy, the Mother and I felt as though the four people behind us, an older couple and a younger couple, were following us.  We turned around and asked them if they were walking with us.
“No” they said, “But we really support what you are doing.”
The Mother explained her children were still terrified of their abuser and unable to do anything about it because the statute of limitations had run out when they came forward.
The older, gray haired woman interjected, “There is no statute of limitations on bad behavior.”
The older woman and her companion continued on their way after a few minutes, but a slender, young woman with long, streaked hair and a young man lingered.  The man did all the talking. The woman was silent, but her eyes glistened with tears.
I embraced her and whispered into her ear, “Are you a survivor?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
And she turned and walked away.  The man followed.
We had to pause and collect ourselves before moving forward.
The next television news reporter from Medford KOBI-5 caught up with us at our first planned stop at Triangle Park in Ashland, filming us in the shade of the tree filled park.  She had a piece of paper she kept referring to as she interviewed me.  It was an internet printout a copy of the September 1, Medford Mail Tribune article on the Walk Across Oregon -- “Spreading the word about child sex abuse, a step at a time.”  After the interview was over we continued down Siskiyou Boulevard.  The television reporter kept getting into her van and driving ahead of us to catch candid shots of us walking.  We’d pass a van or a tree or bush and there she was standing with her television camera mounted on a tripod.
Eventually we reached the most touristy section of Ashland -- a street lined with cafes with outdoor seating and trendy boutiques.
Outside Starbucks a man with long, dishwater blond blond dreadlocks, wearing a beret emblazoned with a peace sign, approached me.
“I really support what you are doing,” he said.
“Did you read the Mail Tribune article?“ I asked.
“No, I read your T-shirt,” he replied.
We chatted.  He told me that his sister and some of his nieces and nephews were abused.  He told me that when he and his wife separated, he was terrified that his daughter would be abused without him there to protect her.  My companions chatted with other Starbuks customers and then proceeded down the street..

“I have to go,” I said as I hugged the man.

“I am just trying to spread some peace and love in the world,” the man said as he hugged me back.
“Me too, “I said.
As the day progressed  the weather grew warm, but not hot.  We left Ashland and walked along Highway 99 towards Medford.  Buildings and houses with gardens gave way to Oaks and sun bleached Wild Rye Grass and a meandering bike path by the highway.
A Medford based KTVL television reporter called me and met us along the way, interviewing and filming us too, as we faced into the brig
ht afternoon sun.  Then we continued on our way, the television reporter once again dashing ahead of us in her van to film as we walked along.
The Oaks gave way to scattered industrial buildings -- the outskirts of Talent, Oregon.  We stopped by a restaurant for a rest stop.  A man holding a copy of the Medford Mail Tribune under his arm approached us with his silent, gray haired wife.
“You’re the Walk Across Oregon, the man said,  “We really support what you are doing.”.
“Hi, I’m Virginia Jones,” I said as I shook the man’s hand, “Healing from sex abuse is a lifelong process that takes one step at a time.”
His wife leaned away from me, her eyes wide and staring.  She did not offer me her hand.  While the man chatted with Andy and Joan, his wife stayed silent by his side.
Andy’s wife picked him up in Talent, and Joan and I continued to our next stop  on our itinerary at Annie’s cafe in Phoenix, Oregon.  We arrived just after jsut after 3 PM.  Annie’s was a white box wrapped with glass windows.  A sign on the door read “OPEN.”
We entered.
A plump waitress barked, “We close at 3 PM.”
So we sat outside Annie's waiting in case someone decided to come before 4 PM -- the time given in the itinerary.  I didn’t want to miss anyone who had read the article in20the Medford Mail Tribune.
A thin woman wearing her wispy dishwater blond hair pulled back into a pony tail and paint splattered blue jeans shorts and blue tank top approached us.
“What do those shirts say?” she asked.
“Stop Child Sex Abuse, “ we answered.
“I really support you, “ she said.
“Did sex abuse touch your family?” we asked.
She didn’t need much prodding to tell her story.  Her fourteen year old daughter was raped during a home invasion.  That night the family left that house and never went back.  The daughter identified the rapist, but he was let go when someone gave him a sworn and signed alibi.  The mother was too poor and too uneducated to seek other avenues to justice, so she took a baseball bat and set out to physically castrate her daughter’s rapist.  The man didn’t press charges against her.
“I’ll shut my yappy mouth and let you two go,” she said after chatting for thrity minutes.
“You don’t have a yappy mouth,” we said.  “You are a hero mother who will do anything to protect your children.”
I can’t support anyone attacking anyone else with a baseball bat, but I understand the mother’s pain over her helplessness to keep her own children and other children safe.
The mother went on her way, and Joan and her husband drove me back to 0Amy car at Albertsons.  I drove back to Portland to be with my school aged children who were startign the new school year.  Joan continued to walk throught he Rogue River Valley towards Grants Pass.  We would meet again ouside of Winston five days later.
There are others out there.  All over.  Two out of ten people  you meet every day will have been sexually abused as a child.  Many are too terrified to ever come forward.  Others come forward but have no support emotionally or legally for what they have gone through.  As we walked across Oregon we enountered many more people, many more stories.

Contact Virginia at 503-866-6163 or

Copyright 2008 Virginia Pickles Jones

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Every Person is Sacred: Part Two of Screening Hand of God in Portland, Oregon

This is a rerun from November 2010

Every Person is Sacred: 
Part Two of Screening Hand of God in Portland, Oregon

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.

Next Blog:  Billie Mazzei’s suggestions for healing.

© 2009 Virginia Jones