Thursday, October 23, 2014

How Music Healed Me and Inspired Me To Fight Clergy Abuse

As I was preparing to sleep last night, I discovered that my cat vomited on my bed.

Was I annoyed?  Honestly, I don't remember feeling even slightly annoyed.

While I cleaned up the mess I  was singing and swaying to the music of Guantanamera from a new music DVD/CD set from Playing For Change.

Music helped make an unpleasant moment fun and uplifting.

Honestly, you don't want to hear me sing.  My voice is meant for showers and lonely mountain tops where only the ants can hear me.  I am lousy at making music.  I took piano lessons for two years as a child.  I liked playing but gave up because my brother complained constantly about how lousy I was and insisted that I practice only when he was not around to hear me.  When is became difficult to practice, I felt discouraged and gave up on piano lessons.

It was easier to play when the mood moved me.

Music and one's mood have much to do with each other.  While music can uplift and inspire you, sad songs can make you sadder.

Sadness accentuated by music isn't necessarily bad.  It can promote catharsis.

I experienced catharsis listening to sad love songs.  I always struggled with the ends of relationships, going into depressive funks that lasted two years or more.  It was only later, when I started to read about the symptoms of child sex abuse, I found that difficulty with the ends of relationships is a common problem for survivors.  Often a child sex abuse victim is groomed by their abuser, who then abandons them once they age out of the age of child their abuser is attracted to and then end up being dumped by the formerly attentive pedophile.  That wasn't my problem.  I think I felt abandoned by my parents who were struggling so much with their own problems that they didn't notice the child sex abuse I endured and disregarded it when I finally talked about it.

Aside:  Relationships with our parents really affect our self esteem and our ability to maintain healthy relationships and healthy boundaries.  We all need healthy relationships with both our mother and father.  We don't always get it.

I was devastated when a high school romance did not work out.  My way of coping in high school was to play music that expressed my sadness.  For example, I played the Moonlight Sonata over and over as the melody spoke to how I felt.  I also listened over and over to Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues.  As I listened to Nights in White Satin, words came to me that helped me express my feelings.  It was 1976, so I had to look the words up in my dictionary and my thesaurus.  The two words that came to me were mnemonic and catharsis.  Mnemonic is a learning technique that helps you retain a memory.  Catharsis refers to a purging or purification of emotions.  Mnemonic comes from a root word -- Mnemosyne.  Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory.  I did not want to forget the boyfriend who had parted from me.  I wanted to remember him as to remember him was to live through our best moments again.  At the same time those memories caused me so much pain.  Knowing the name of the Greek goddess of memory helped me find a way to cope with my pain.  I wrote a poem I have since forgotten about laying my memories at the altar of Mnemosyne.  I wasn't religious.  My parents had not taken me to church most of my childhood, but somehow this made sense to me.  Years later, when I came to the Catholic Church, a former nun befriended me.  As I went through the agonies of having the priest who baptized me Catholic revealed to have abused children and removed from the parish and then as I went through a divorce and ongoing post divorce conflict with my ex-husband, my nun friend told me to put my pain on the altar before Jesus.  In other words she was telling me that I was not alone.  Jesus had gone through incredible pain and was walking with me.  Now I understand what placing my memories on the altar before Mnemosyne in my poem did for me.  It connected me.  I was not alone in my pain.  Others have suffered lost love too.

The word catharsis is also from Greek origins.  It means the purification or purging of emotions.

The word catharsis also led me to references for the Phoenix which showed up in the dictionaries definition of catharsis.  You all remember the Phoenix from the Harry Potter novels don't you?  The Phoenix was the magical bird that belonged to Professor Dumbledore.  It would die in fire and be reborn from the ashes.  The death and rebirth of the Phoenix symbolizes catharsis.

J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels did not create the Phoenix.  The Phoenix is another creature from Greek mythology.

I did not want to be sad for the rest of my life.  I realized that I needed catharsis.  The death and rebirth of the Phoenix symbolized what I needed to go through.

The Moonlight Sonata has no words, and Nights in White Satin says nothing about catharsis or mnemonic.  It is as though the music helped me tap into the wisdom of the universe.

I think it is helpful to note that the consumption of drugs and alcohol was never involved in my healing process in any way, shape or form.  I was listening to music without imbibing anything other than water or chocolate milk.  For me, chocolate is all the intoxication I need or want.

The next time that I relied on music to help me cope with pain occurred when the priest who baptized me Catholic in 2001, was removed from ministry in 2002, because he abused children.

Finding out that the priest who pastored your parish and baptized you abused children is bad enough, but the priest had groomed my son and me, which thoroughly confused me about what I should feel, say and do when he was removed.  I have to emphasize that nothing criminal happened between the priest and my family.  My son has Asperger's Syndrome, and the most prominent of his symptoms was severe separation anxiety.  If removed from my presence, he acted out.  I was exhausted of being the stay at home wife caring for children without much help from my professional husband who worked 70 to 80 hours a week.  My parents were dead.  His were far away, and we were new to Oregon.  I had no one to turn to for help.  I was alone with my children and all their needs most of the time.

I suppose that aided my conversion to Catholicism.  We attended Quaker meeting when we first came to Oregon.  Modern Quakers still retain some of the dour Quaker nature.  It was not understood why I could not take care of myself and my family and besides, there were too few Quakers to help me anyway.  When I first started attending a Catholic Church, my children preferred Quaker meeting because during First Day School (Sunday School in Quaker terminology) they got to go to the park.  But when Halloween rolled around and the parish hosted a Halloween party loaded with candy, my children became devoted Catholics.

But back to the trouble with caring for my son with Asperger's and his severe separation anxiety and the dynamics his needs created….because of his needs, I was not able to place him in daycare, or preschool or even a private kindergarten.  I gave up on farming out his education and care and going back to work and homeschooled my son.  My daughter did not want to be left out so I taught her to read and write and do simple arithmetic right along with my son.  I also attended Thursday noon Mass due to my need to be connected to other adults.  I also sought spiritual direction from the priest.  My reasons for seeking spiritual direction were honest enough.  I had many spiritual questions caused by mystical experiences I had been having.   I went to spiritual direction with the priest with both my children present a total of three times over a year.  I always brought along a dinosaur dig for my son because the dinosaurs digs sold in the chic kids' toy stores had the capacity to mesmerize him for hours.  But instead of digging for dinosaurs my son climbed up into the priests' lap.  The priest leaned back in his reclining chair with my son and looked as though he was in seventh heaven.

I did not know the priest had accusations of sex abuse of minors against him going back twenty years.  I would not have allowed my son to site on his lap, nor would I have allowed him to baptize us all Catholic if had this information.  The church never bothered to tell us, his parishioners, until one of his survivors managed, after several tries, to finally get his story into a newspaper.  Without knowing about the priest's past, I merely thought the priest missed having a family and was experiencing the pleasure of having family like interactions.

In addition to allowing my son to sit on his lap for an hour and a half, the priest made other intimate gestures towards me and my children such as embracing me for 30 seconds or so after Mass, looking at me in the eyes and embracing my son after Mass.  Looking back I never remember him embracing my daughter.  That was as far as it went.  Nothing more ever happened.  I understand now that the priest was grooming my son and me, but neither my children nor I were ever alone with the him.  ….  But I knew there was something going on in his head.  I appreciated his attentions because my life was one of a lonely single mother with money.  But I was still mother and wife.  At the time I was still happy in my marriage.  When my husband had time, we certainly enjoyed our fun time together.  We used to go to Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon.  Powell's is a Mecca for book lovers from around the world, and I and my husband both loved books.  We would eat a soup in the bookstore cafe and then my husband and I would take turns reading books in the children's section to our children and the other parent would wander the aisles and read books and magazines.  I even did this a time or two with my ex-husband after we divorced because we so loved these outings.

Oh, and my husband and I really enjoyed family road trips through California and Oregon, and we loved museums and walking on beaches and eating fresh fish along the coast and driving Highway 1 along the Southern California coast and more.

My marriage had it's flaws, but I was content until the priest gazed into my eyes and even then I did not want to end my marriage.  The  priest was a priest.  I adored him for that and merely wished to be a friendly parishioner.  I wished to support him in his role as a priest.  I thought he was good at it.  He was dynamic.  He gave great homilies.

And then the accusations of one of his survivors came out in the newspaper.

The priest was rapidly removed from the parish, and most parishioners never heard from him nor saw him again.

Such a precipitous event left parishioners reeling.  Some loved the priest and refused to believe the accusations against him.  Others felt we were lucky to be rid of a pedophile.

Forums were held.  Modest amounts of information were given out in ways that gave people broad latitude to think what they wanted to think.

"Fr. X was accused of inappropriate touch of minors….."

In other words, church employees used legal language that left room for plausible deniability.

I went to one forum during which a former Church Youth Minister came forward and told a story about the priest seeking a situation that would probably allow him unsupervised contact with minors.  She would not agree to carry out his directions.  He treated her badly, and she sued him although she later dropped her charges and agreed to an out of court settlement.

Although some people supported the Youth Minister, many people were very angry at her, believing that she helped to ruin the priest's life and reputation.

I remained silent, perfectly aware that my story validated hers.

Although my story did not involve criminal acts, it certainly looked as though the priest was struggling to keep appropriate boundaries with both children and adults.

In the long run I remained silent because nothing bad had actually happened and because my loyalties were with the church and the priest.  The journey of how I switched sides is long and winding one and not for this blog.  Suffice it to say, the events that followed the removal of the priest who baptized me Catholic from my parish were very painful.

I went into a depressed funk for a few months, and then my marriage fell apart as my jealous husband attempted to control me rather than support me.

You can't change hearts and minds by threatening people or criticizing them or demeaning them.  You drive people away by doing this.  If he had been able to give me enough space…. I probably would have stayed.  In the long run, it wasn't the abusive priest who divided us.  It was another man -- the part time, stay at home father of my kids friends.  The sinful act I committed was to allow my kids to have an unsupervised play date at this man's house.  It certainly didn't involve the slightest hint of infidelity on my part.  When my husband found out about this playdate he exploded at me.

Didn't I know that men sexually abuse children much more than women do?

The kids' friends' father was also a teacher who had been finger printed as all teachers are.  His father was in law enforcement and was a leader in advocacy for victims of child sex abuse and domestic violence.  His family was well known in the community and had a stellar reputation.  Of course, in other places and cases, there are similar situations in which the person in question is guilty of abuse, but no one has ever made accusations at this man at any time ever.  Period.  It was just my husband who did not want me to leave my children in the care of any male whatsoever, not even the father of his children's friends.  And besides, just read Huffington Post and you will read about lots of women who sexually abuse children too.

My husband yelled at me for two hours that night after he found I let my kids go to a playdate supervised by a man.  For months he yelled at me for at least two hours about three times a week.  Sometimes I got angry and yelled back.

My husband yelling at me killed my love for him, and it caused me to become depressed and anxious.  Then I stayed in the marriage because I had not worked for years and what was I going to do with the son with Asperger's and severe separation anxiety who I had never been able to integrate into a classroom situation?  How could I work and support my children under the circumstances?

In the end I could not stay married to a man I was constantly afraid of.  Even then, we might have healed and stayed married had the Catholic Church not contacted him and tried to tell him what they knew about the priest and me……

I had even told the new pastor of my parish that my husband yelled at me.

The female Pastoral Associate asked my friend if they should go to my husband and tell him I was obsessed with the priest.

My friend advised, "I wouldn't do that if I was you."

But the Church went to my husband anyway.

You see, I had become obsessed with the knowledge that Church leadership had known about the accusations of abuse against the priest for more than twenty years, and I was handing out articles about clergy abuse to other people in my parish.

I am not ready to tell the full story.  I don't know if I will ever be ready to tell the full story.

Suffice it to say, I know there are individuals in the leadership of the Catholic Church who are not limited to celibate male priests but do include celibate male priests who are quite ready to harm people who they think pose a threat to their beloved Church.  I guess they believe that what they are doing is moral because the people harming the Church are mentally unstable fanatics like me.

But I do not think in black and white.  I see the shades of grey and pink and yellow sunshine as well as the back and the white.  I've met wonderful, loving and giving Catholics too.

Here is a partial honor roll:

Fr. Armando Lopez
Mary Lou
Sr. Kathleen
members of Call To Action
Fr. Roy Bourgeois
St. Francis of Assisi, ok I haven't met him because he's dead, but he still inspires me….

I could write more and more and more names…Just give me two or three hours.

We are all human and flawed and imperfect.  We are all in need of forgiveness and mercy.

But the whole point of this blog, which I have strayed from, was to talk about how music helped me heal.

What happened to me in the Catholic Church and the related events of what happened during and after my marriage were, quite honestly, a taste of hell.

Some days I was so sad, but by then, I had acquired two new favorite songs in my repertoire -- Amazing Grace and The Song of the Body of Christ.  I would sing them when I was down.

The abusive priest used to say, singing a hymn was like praying it twice.  He was right at least about that.

Amazing Grace and the Song of the Body of Christ inspired me to act when I realized that the church leadership had known about the priest's abuses for twenty years.  By then I had read in newspaper clips I found online about the life story of one of the priest's victims.  He struggled with depression so disabling that he was unable to work.

The second stanza of The Song of the Body of Christ reads, "We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor. We are called to feed the hungry at our door."

I knew what it was like to be broken and alone and unsupported after child sex abuse.  I knew from my own parish how many Catholics not only do not support survivors of clergy abuse but are actively hostile to them.

I knew, in the words of Rabbi Hillel, who was a contemporary of Jesus, "If not me, who?  If not now, when?"

The words of Amazing Grace simply reflected my spiritual brokenness cause by the events in my Church and my marriage and confirmed the everlasting nature of God's love and presence.

And why does Playing For Change inspire me and move me and uplift me so much?

Because I have lived through the divide between clergy abuse survivors and other Catholics.  I believe that if we come together with compassion we can heal the wounds we all carry and find common ground.

Only a very small number of people think war is a good thing.  Most people think it is a necessary evil.  Some of us think war is so evil it is virtually never necessary.  Catholics don't believe abuse is a good thing.  Nor do they think it should be covered up.  They are hurting and confused and don't know who is telling them the truth.  They don't know what to do, and they don't have the skills to deal with really angry people accusing them of wrong doing they were not overly aware of.  If I had known how to handle my ex-husband's anger better, maybe we'd still be married.

Music did not teach me what to do.  I had to learn coping and communication skills elsewhere,  but during times of pain, music lifted me up and inspired me and helped me keep going.

And music can bring us together.

Here is Stand By Me by Playing for Change:

According to the Playing For Change website, it is a "movement created to inspire and connect the world through music.  The idea for this project came from the common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people."

It was cofounded by award winning music producer Mark Johnson, who travels the world recording street musicians from New Orleans and Santa Monica in the United States to leading singers and musicians in Third World countries such as Baaba Maal from Senegal to leading musicians and singers from first world countries such as Bono (Ireland), Keith Richards (Do I really need to say who he is?) and Taj Mahal from the United States.

Just a side note, Mark Johnson also started a not-for-profit to bring music schools to poor countries and neighborhoods around the world which now also prominently feature in Playing For Change videos.

But all this is besides the point.  Playing For Change consistently produces music that inspires me and uplifts me, and I think it will inspire and lift you up too.

Another aside:  When I was visiting my late aunt who lived in LA in 2002 or so, she took us to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.  I was privileged to hear Roger Ridley, the lead singer in this Playing For Change music video, perform Stand By Me in person.  I immediately bought his modest, self produced album.  Sadly he passed away in late 2005 shortly after Mark Johnson filmed him playing and singing Stand By Me.

In any case, I hope you are lifted up and inspired by this music to stand by people in need.

One last thought: Supporting others through the healing process and speaking out about abuse gently has been a huge part of my healing process.  Thank you David Hass for the inspiration.  (David Haas wrote words and music for The Song of the Body of Christ.)

© 2014 Virginia Pickles Jones

The guilty cat who vomited on my bed.

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