Keep up with great interviews and valuable resources related to healing at my new site:  http://www.jaimeromo.com/blog/

This week, guest blogger, Mr. Ray Higgins, offers support for therapy to survivors of clergy abuse.  Thursday features another fantastic interview with an advocate to promote healing and end sexual abuse.

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I first met Jeannie years ago at a SNAP conference.  I continue to appreciate her wisdom, honesty, transformation and joy.

JR: Thank you for participating in this interview. I experience you as a nurturer or guide in various kinds of survivor healing efforts: the Farm, SNAP, and individual support. How would you describe your kind of advocacy?

 JW: Back in the early 90’s, Jaime, when everything ‘hit the fan’ for me, I was overwhelmed with memories of the abuse. They didn’t seem ‘real’ – I felt totally out of control of my life and yes, crazy, for lack of a better word. I started hearing about other people with similar experiences. I started reaching out – I jumped into the advocacy movement of exposing the crimes of the church without much focus on my personal journey towards healing. I researched priest’s assignments through the church directories for people all over the country; I worked with a reporter to expose the issues locally; supported other survivors… It took quite awhile and painful insight to realize that in my personal journey, I was using all the activity to keep one step ahead of my-self and outrun, so to speak, the work I had to do to reclaim my life and really heal my soul.

For me, now, advocacy has a much different meaning in my life journey. It’s much more ‘quiet’. I’m learning that responding, versus reacting to situations opens up opportunities to share my story and hopefully that offers support in a way that encourages people to ask more questions. Being observant and respectful of people’s ability to take in the scope of the traumatic effects of any kind of abuse is a tough challenge, when it can trigger my old pattern of outrage and the adrenaline rush of needing to challenge and change institutions and systems that enable abuse. I believe that becoming the person I was meant to be in this life – healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and especially spiritually – is an extremely powerful force that can instill hope and affect change. Encouraging other survivors to truly become them-selves is where the heart of my advocacy focus is now.

JR: You’re someone I see as deeply spiritual. What was your religious affiliation or identity growing up?

JW: I was raised Catholic; grade school education through a couple of years of college. However, I don’t equate spiritual with religious affiliation/identity anymore.

JR: We’ve talked about how, as unspeakable clergy or religious authority sexual abuse is, ritual abuse is even more difficult and upsetting for most people to even think about. What are your concerns and hopes about even discussing this topic?

JW: I have to say that even now, after so many years, my heart seems to skip a beat and I’m forgetting to breathe with this question. I wish I could say that it’s become a topic people are more willing to learn or talk about – at least think about – but in my personal experience, that’s not the case. This kind of abuse is very underground – a closed system usually involving groups of abusers. This elevates the danger involved in exposing this kind of abuse tremendously, which never should be taken lightly. And then there’s the credibility factor: exposing an individual priest as an abuser – doable; exposing ritual abuse groups within the church….?

The nature of the abuse itself – the grooming process, the ‘brainwashing’, the trauma itself, the isolation and the real, possible danger for the survivors are all things I’ve thought about through the years as I’ve processed my memories. In years past, I’ve asked questions of people much more in the know than I and I’ve always run up against doors that quickly close, but there are indications that there’s info known. Maybe someday. My concerns and hope go out to those who have experienced this kind of abuse; they are definitely not alone with their memories.

JR: Given that, can you say a little about your abuse experience?

JW: I experienced group ritual abuse involving priests and lay people. I was very young when it started and the ‘grooming’ process and abuse was extensive and traumatic. As I’ve mentioned before, my memories flooded out during a short period of time back in the early 90’s. It was years before I let myself talk about my memories outside of therapy or read about ritual abuse because I was terrified that I’d ‘imprint’ false memories into my brain. After a couple of years, through internet support groups like SNAP, I came into contact with other ritual abuse survivors. Time and time again upon hearing their experiences and me sharing mine, there were ‘rituals’ that were the same – people from all over the country. One gentleman even had known one of the priests involved in my abuse and talked about the priest’s abusive behavior towards him.

At a VOTF conference a man who was from a town where some of my abuse took place and was very familiar with a particular church building, knew exactly the room I described where I was taken to after a ceremony – down to a very unique door; I spoke with 2 women who suffered similar abuse in a parish very close to the parish I grew up in. Someday I hope that ritual abuse will be exposed – my experience certainly is not an isolated case.

JR: What have been some of your challenges in recovery/ healing?

JW: Certainly the credibility factor was a big issue for me at first. At first I kept my ‘flooded’ memories kind of off to the side. As I put pieces together, my life ‘story’ started to have a continuum that I never experienced before. I began to realize that I had always remembered so much more than I thought. A therapist I worked with would tell me over and over again that I had all the ‘answers’ inside of me…yeah, right! It’s turned out to be so true.

Another huge challenge in the beginning was the extreme changes that happened in my everyday life. I was a small business owner at the time who couldn’t run the business anymore in a town where I was pretty visible. Many catholic friends and many family members wrote me off – no questions about what happened – only condemnation. Everything in my life shifted. Nothing on my list of challenges is unique, for sure. Today, there are still challenges that pop up, but I’ve learned how to identify them, track them down, and deal with them in a healthy way. Not always easy, but certainly makes for a happier life!

JR: I think you have some valuable insights about re-programming (physically, mentally, emotionally) as part of healing from religious authority sexual abuse. Can you share some of what you’ve learned?

JW: Programming, Jaime, is SUCH a good word to use in describing the healing process! Physically…. I never knew that people “in the normal range” (I like to use that phrase versus just “normal”) felt their whole body at the same time! I grew up very disconnected from my body. I had to deal with many body memories throughout my recovery process. CraniolSacral massage therapy was extremely difficult but tremendously beneficial. (Very important to work with a therapist thoroughly trained to work with trauma victims!) I had to literally re-train my body to feel connected and remember touch and energy flow.

Mentally….. The first thing that comes to mind was my discovery that I had to go back and re-define words! What does “being safe” really mean? – much more than that I won’t be hurt today.

What does “friendship” really mean? – much deeper than someone just paying attention to me at the moment. etc. As a child being traumatized, I latched onto meanings that helped me survive. As an adult I had to re-define so many words through healthier eyes and experiences. Throughout my whole life, I’ve experienced situations where I can’t remember things no matter how hard I try. I’ve done a lot of reading about how trauma, especially early age trauma, affects the development of memory and that’s helped a lot in my understanding this difficulty. As a child it was far safer not to remember.

I’ve re-programmed my-self now to try and intercept the “you’re so stupid” etc. self-talk when my memory blanks out and slowly the “garage doors” – as I call them – don’t slam closed as often. Through CraniolSacral massage I’ve learned how to open them when they do. Present day stress at times still plays havoc on my memory and it’s a signal I have to pay attention to what’s going on.

Emotionally…. Again, from that very wise therapist who traveled with me on my healing journey… ‘my thoughts and emotions don’t define who I am – it’s what I do with them that matters’. It took me a long time to understand and realize that I did have control over what I did with my thoughts and emotions. I can go ballistic over something OR I could choose to simply look at it and respond in the best, healthiest, kindest, etc. way I could figure out. I’ll never forget a ‘homework’ assignment my therapist gave me during a time suicide seemed like a possible option to take away the emotional pain. I was to write down all the intrusive, depressive thoughts in one column – opposite I was to write down a minimum of 3 counter-active thoughts for each one. Example: I just want to go to sleep and never wake up. Choice: I could make a cup of tea and cuddle on my sofa with a blanket; go out into my garden; take a nap but set the alarm for 30 minutes. After the list was made I was to CHOOSE just one and act on it. A life changing exercise for me! I discovered I was scared to death of going outside the box of emotions and thoughts that were familiar and predictable – being happy was outside the box! In fact, I didn’t even know what being happy meant (another word I had to re-define for my-self). It took so much practice but now I know I can choose to live my life with a serene outlook even in the toughest circumstances. When it doesn’t happen easily, I can choose to do an attitude adjustment – my choice!

JR: Would you talk about your spiritual journey? What has been helpful? What have you gained?

JW: This is where my life now feels most fulfilled – in my spiritual journey. I feel I’ve finally made a connection to this world and universe. The most helpful breakthrough? Probably the recognition that the religious training (I prefer the word brainwashing) I took in throughout my school years had no critical thinking component – just the ‘believe us;’the church demands adherence. For me, breaking free of the tentacles of guilt, shame, fear, etc of leaving the church has been a long, hard fought journey. Watching survivors and supporters stand up to the church and expose the abuse and hypocrisy -so incredibly courageous – was an encouragement for me to grapple with the tough questions I needed to ask about the church myself. In the practice of just being quiet within my-self, I’ve come to know the God within me. I was created in God’s image – that I still fully believe and I have a purpose in this life. Learning to be in the present moment, I’ve become aware of how we’re all inter-connected in this universe.

JR: We’ve talked in the past about the addictive aspects of advocacy work or what happens for some survivors who take up public actions to expose abuse. What do you mean by that?

JW: I shared at the beginning of this interview about how I discovered I was using advocacy as a way to “out run” my dealing with the trauma of my childhood. My body learned very early in life how to kick in that adrenaline “rush” to help me survive the abuse and stay vigilant. The ‘rush’ became what I defined as feeling like I was alive. When I attended press conferences, support meetings, just getting together with survivors in my early days of advocacy, I began to notice that a collective agitation, anger often times surfaced and we ran with it…a feeling of being alive…but with an addictive quality to it.

Over the years, it saddens me to see some survivors stuck in that whirlwind… stuck in the beginning stages of healing with such raw emotions, anger, tears, clinging to the whirlwind because it is familiar and familiar often times “feels” safe. Advocacy can be empowering but it’s not a substitution for one-on-one therapy. What if we began to place the healing of survivors on the same priority level as advocacy? I think the time has come for us to take care of our own.

JR: What has worked for you to be less in a ‘Fight-Flight’ or ‘reactive’ mode, and more in an spiritually integrative mode in your day to day life?

JW: This is an easy question…….remembering to BREATHE!!  Does all kinds of good things. It gives me a pause to reflect and CHOOSE a response instead of a knee-jerk re-action; my whole-self gets a chance to participate in my-life moment; often times, with a moment of reflection, it becomes clear that whatever was rearing up to knock me off balance, really wasn’t all that important.                                     

JR: What is your sacred space now or what is sacred to you now?

JW: I think the sacred spiritual space for me now is when I feel connected to the universe; when I sense my purpose in life, guided by the creator of this world; when my inside matches my outside. What’s sacred to me now? Everything! My children, friends, my garden, waking up in the morning 🙂 I’ve learned to celebrate even the smallest pleasures. Someday, I’m going to be successful in encouraging survivors and supporters to gather together JUST to celebrate. Everyone’s invited!

JR: I know there is so much more to talk about and learn together. Thank you for your time and sharing. I hope to continue our conversation another time. Thank you!

Portia Nelson, in There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk, describes her life in five segments. In chapter one, she describes walking down a street and falling into a deep hole in the sidewalk. She’s lost and help­less, and it takes forever to find a way out. In chapter two, she walks down the same street with the same deep hole in the sidewalk. She pretends she doesn’t see it and falls in again. She is somehow surprised that she is in the same place. Again, she thinks it isn’t her fault and again it takes her a long time to get out.

In chapter three, she walks down the same street, sees the hole, and falls in anyway because it is a habit. She takes responsibility for herself and gets out immediately. In chapter four, she walks down the same street and walks around the hole in the sidewalk. In chapter five, she walks down another street.

I can imagine how I came to write this workbook in five segments. Stage one: A deep hole. I was sexually abused by my pastor as a teenager, memories of which lay buried for nearly 30 years. From the time I left seminary in 1984, I worked to bring social justice and the incarnation of God into the world through education.

Stage two: Buried alive. As a professor, I participated in a week long summer program for Catholic University faculty. At this time, the Boston scandal was in the news daily. My flashbacks began around that time.  More abuse memories were triggered by seeing my sons sleeping shirtless; they were about the age I was when I was abused.

I called the L.A. Archdiocese to report what I thought others must want to know in order to help others. During the next year, I contacted an attorney, filed a police report and got in touch with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. In support meetings, I heard my own story in graphic detail through many others’ and I became a spokesman.

Stage three: Letting go. During the fall 2005, when I could no longer conceal that I could not read or effectively remember lectures and material, I dragged myself to a psychiatrist.  I was on emotional edge, working and conflicting with tenured colleagues who reminded me of church hierarchy. My PTSD leave of absence in 2006, before I began meditation, became my cocoon from my life of being a victim and survivor. When a registered sex offender came to my new church to worship there, I became a spiritual support team member, and met with this person weekly.  That experience was re- traumatizing as well as life changing towards my transformation.

Stage 4: Transformation. Shortly after the 2006-2007 academic year ended, I received notification that I would not be reappointed, which circumvented my bid for tenure.  My appeal to the Provost was denied. I participated in a Chopra Center program about healing and began my path of meditation, transformation, and writing.

Stage 5: Publication. I have written Healing the Sexually Abused Heart: A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers, and Supporters, to help others. 39 million people in the United States have experienced sexual abuse in some form. Sadly, most victims live among us with near-invisibility. Survivors and supporters say that this book is a valuable resource for victims of sexual abuse, their support groups, and others impacted by abuse and neglect.  That it is useful, inspirational and hopeful, and will literally help save lives. Even if I didn’t write it, I think it should be in every church’s library.

Victims of abuse and betrayal carry similar toxic experiences that can continue to impact mind and spirit long after the original physical abuse occurred. This workbook guides the reader through a self-questioning process that gently leads her or him through stages of recovery. Every chapter includes exercises to help readers recognize how their hearts and minds work together with respect to self-talk, responses to authority, boundaries, roles, and action-steps. This resource helps readers examine the past and understand present actions and ways of thinking that maintain self-victimization. Practical exercises teach readers to take responsibility for the present. Chapter 5 is particularly geared for those who aspire to be effective supporters or change agents in their particular religious environment.

Healing is possible; transformation is necessary.  See chapter samples on line at www.jaimeromo.com/workbook

Driving Miss Praisy

“Hoke, you’re my best friend.  You are.”  That’s a line from Driving Miss Daisy, one of the many shows I find on the television relating to Black White relations in Black History month.  That scene comes from a turning point late in the film, after Miss Daisy hears a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about the shameful history of the south where good people were silent or apathetic about racism.

There are many parallels in Black History and Survivors’ history.  Take names, for example. The fact that Black people received the names of their slave masters as their own at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. Latinos have a similar experience of receiving our surnames from the colonizers who abused our indigenous ancestors. Survivors received our spiritual names from the faith traditions in which we were abused. My family name comes from a place called, Rincon de Romos, (Romos’ corner), in the state of Aguascalientes, Mexico.

So, in a nation that is the middle of Black History Month, I ask, “Where do we stand in the fight against racism and white supremacy?  Are churches, temples, mosques and other faith communities seen as a valuable resource in this fight for equality and social transformation towards justice?”

There are certainly a lot of mixed opinions on the status of racism and white supremacy today. By racism, I mean the basic dynamic of prejudice plus power. In this sense, many people can manifest racism in particular contexts. White supremacy is a particular form of racism under which the world has suffered for over 500 years (i.e., since Columbus came to the Americas).

There is no question that we have made progress.  We have ended the Atlantic slave trade and slavery.  We have ended imperialistic colonialism and segregation.  We have established civil rights in the U.S. and in South Africa. We have even elected an African-American, Barak Hussein Obama, as president of the United States.

Some might be tempted to say that racism and white supremacy are dead.  Chris Matthews even (accidentally) declared recently that he forgot that Obama was Black.  Well, let’s not rush to conclusions that racism and white supremacy are dead.  We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a ways to go. We have made some progress regarding laws and civic policy, yet on the social and economic side, I don’t think we’re there.

Likewise, survivors may still sing with those who felt ripped from their homes and community, and sold into slavery, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” No doubt, survivors of minority groups may feel the compounded impact of racial marginalization and colonization, plus the betrayal and trauma of religious authority sexual abuse.

While religious people or teachings may have told us that we are children of God, the powerful actions by religious authorities told us even more loudly that we were our experiences of abuse. As a result of being sexually abused by people who we perceived to be of God, our self was damaged, if not practically extinguished from us. We were left with our experiences of abuse, which we could not acknowledge, but which became confused with our self.

“When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

Those words were spoken by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a distinguished author, editor, publisher, and historian, known as the ‘father of Black history.’  He believed that Blacks should know their past in order to participate effectively in society today.  He believed that Black history, which many tried diligently to erase, was very important for Blacks to build upon in order to be productive members of society.

I believe that there is a social parallel for survivors who are beginning to bring an important history, which many people would rather not have come forward, to light.  I believe that there is a psychic parallel for survivors who continue to ‘choose the back door’ of dignity, self worth, health and happiness, even when it appears that there is nothing holding us back.  I believe that many survivors must acknowledge that we have come to believe or act as if our proper place is to be invisible, unworthy, and/ or disconnected from ourselves and others, in order for us to become healthy and happy.

Likewise, there is a parallel for good people who do not speak up to challenge religious authority supremacy, who allow members of their churches, temples, and mosques to treat survivors of religious authority sexual abuse  as if we are invisible or second class citizens.  There is a parallel for religious leaders who sidestep laws that are intended to protect children and vulnerable adults and act as if the culture that promoted the system of religious authority sexual abuse is dead and gone.  After all, the pope met with some survivors. Some survivors received letters from bishops, didn’t they?

I got one of those letters. It says, in part, “I am so sorry for the very long, difficult journey you have suffered.  I apologize for the pain you and your family have had to endure.  I am ashamed at what you have suffered through.”  I might expect that from any bystander who didn’t have an integral part in the supervision and transfer of pedophile clergy. The letter didn’t say, I will work to repeal statutes of limitation related to sexual abuse. Or, I will speak out against my fellow religious leaders who resist repealing statutes of limitation in their states. Or, I will release the documents today that I have pledged to release ( under threat of bringing hundreds of cases to trial). Or, l will go to jail, as my attorneys repealed the criminal convictions of priests, scout leaders, and many other convicted sex offenders in their efforts to protect the churches’ interests.

I think it is appropriate to ask “Where do we stand in the fight against sexual abuse and religious authority supremacy?  Are churches, temples, mosques and other faith communities seen as a valuable resource in this fight for transparency and accountability that will lead towards social transformation and social justice?”

Dr. Jaime Romo is the author of “Healing the Sexually Abused Heart: A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers, and Supporters.” http://www.jaimeromo.com/workbook

David Clohessy is the National Director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). I appreciate his courage and dedication to change laws, reach out to survivors and supporters, and be the face of a movement to end child sexual abuse, particularly religious authority sexual abuse.

JR: You’ve been at this work of speaking up for victims of clergy sexual abuse for many years.  What has changed for the better in this societal problem?

DC: Not nearly enough. To a small degree, I suspect kids are more apt to tell, parents are more apt to believe them, families are more apt to call police, police are more apt to investigate, prosecutors are more apt to file charges, juries are more apt to convict predators, and Catholics are more apt to believe independent sources (rather than just blindly accept whatever the bishop claims). But this is anecdotal and far from widespread.  In the overwhelming majority of cases, it still takes years – even decades – before victims can realize they’ve been hurt, the harm is severe, the effects are on-going, they can get better, they have legal options, their perpetrator is likely molesting others, and that they have the strength and a duty to act.

JR: What seems to be a new challenge as you continue to work to prevent and end religious authority sexual abuse?

DC: In the media and politics, one problem is called “issue fatigue,” which, simply put, means people getting tired of hearing about all this horror. But an even bigger challenge we face, I think, is what I call the “surely” problem. The conventional thinking goes: “Surely, after all these terrible media stories and expensive lawsuits, the church hierarchy has now reformed.” There’s plenty of basis for this assumption, because in virtually every other aspect of society (business, government, non-profit), a continuing crisis of this magnitude certainly would have brought reform.

But here’s the rub: the church is radically different than every other aspect of our society. It’s the world’s only global monarchy. In the United States, other secular – or even religious – institutions must respond to crisis or die. But not the Catholic Church. Only 5-6 bishops have ever been forced out of office because of the crisis. (And four of them stepped aside within the last few weeks in Ireland.) Otherwise, there’s not a bishop in the world who drives a smaller car, takes fewer vacations, does his own laundry, or has experienced any real consequences for covering up child sex crimes.

So the bottom line is this: those in decision-making capacities in the church hierarchy have no incentive to reform. In fact, they often see colleagues who have ignored or hidden child molestation getting promoted. And they see the extremely rare, courageous whistleblower (like Tom Doyle) getting ostracized. So the lesson priests and bishops learn is sad but clear: Do what we’ve always done, and you’re (at worse) safe or (at best) rewarded.

So not only have church officials not reformed, but they will probably never reform. Our challenge, then, is to help people understand that the alleged “reforms” adopted in 2002 in the US are largely unenforced and unenforceable window dressing, nothing more.

Finally, another challenge is to help non-Catholic spiritual figures avoid complacency and help allegedly non-hierarchical denominations (like the Baptists) realize they can and must do more to protect kids.

JR: What has been the impact on you over the years as a result of your advocacy?

DC: I’m a healthier, happier, and I think a more compassionate person. Whenever someone thanks me, I almost always respond “You’re welcome, but you should know that this helps me as much or more than it helps you.” My involvement in SNAP has been a life-saver for me and led me to a much more fulfilling, peaceful life.

I’ve become more pessimistic than ever about institutions reforming themselves, especially ancient, rigid, secretive, powerful all-male monarchies. At the same time though, I’ve become more optimistic about the willingness and ability of abuse victims to speak up, take action, heal themselves and protect others.

JR: At several events, I have seen you wear a photo of yourself at the time of your abuse around your neck. I know that many survivors do that and some prefer not to do that.  What is the value for you or for these conversations in wearing that photo?

DC: Here’s a secret. My real reason for carrying the photo is to show people that although I’m ugly now (you said it, brother), I once was cute! OK, all kidding aside, I think it’s crucial that people remember and clearly see that although some of us may present ourselves as somewhat competent adults now, when we were assaulted, we were innocent, vulnerable, confused, helpless kids. And it’s crucial that people understand that we’re not just fighting for healing and justice for ourselves, but for safer and healthier lives for children.

JR: SNAP began with a focus on Catholic priests or leaders because you, Barbara Blaine and others were abused by priests.  Is the reality that religious authority sexual abuse is pervasive in all religious groups? What have been some of your experiences and lessons learned in working with others from other faith traditions?

DC: Just to be clear, Barbara started SNAP, almost single-handedly. I’m grateful I’ve been with the group for 20+ years, but she deserves all the credit for launching this outstanding organization.

Both abuse and cover up are found in every religious group. A huge reason for that is structural. In public entities, there are at least a) some rules around disclosure and b) some “checks and balances.” With a school district, for instance, one can file “Freedom of Information Act” requests that militate against unhealthy secrecy. And one can defeat corrupt school board members in elections. But many denominations lack these simple, healthy, common sense safeguards.

Working with activists in other faiths has been tremendously rewarding and enlightening for me, whether it’s Rev. Marie Fortune or Christa Brown (StopBaptistPredators.org) or Julie Hokinson (SNAPPresbyterian). Christa has been particularly heroic and helps me remember that in many respects, those abused by Baptists face an even tougher road than those of who have been molested by Catholics.

Finally, some non-Catholic religious leaders, when confronted about recklessness, deceit or callousness in child sex cases, eventually defend themselves by claiming “Well, at least we’re not as terrible as the bishops.” That’s ridiculous, of course. The standard for spiritual figures must at least be “What would any decent person do in this situation,” not “Let’s look at what Catholic bishops do and do just a tad more or better.”

JR: What do you think have been some of the most significant developments in preventing and ending religious authority sexual abuse in the U.S. in the past 10 years?

DC: Tough question! Certainly SNAP’s growth and maturation has been significant because thousands have been empowered to start healing, expose pedophiles, change laws, educate others, and safeguard kids. The painstaking work of investigative journalists, starting with the Boston newspapers of course, has been very significant, because it has finally helped millions shed their illusions about church hierarchies. The belated and largely still timid response of police and prosecutors has been significant, because in a very real sense, it has taken some predator priests away from kids and put them in jail. The involvement of more lay people in exposing cover-ups and protecting kids is significant, especially through groups like Voice of the Faithful, Call To Action and others, because it shows lay people that they aren’t powerless.

It should be noted that much took place in the 1980s and 1990s that was significant and deserves honor. Few of us ever acknowledge the pioneering reporting done long before 2002 by journalists like Jason Berry, Gerry Renner, Tom Fox, Marie Rohde and Tom Roberts and others. Their ground-breaking work has enabled millions to better understand, and further expose, the hierarchy’s complicity.

Likewise, few of us even know about, much less appreciate, the many brave survivors who “went public” before 2002, notably Ryan DiMaria, the Gauthe victims, the Porter victims, the Kos victims, and others. They were, and are, significant because they paved the way for so many of us who came later, and helped make citizens and Catholics start looking beyond Boston and start realizing this is a truly global crisis.

JR: Can you comment on progress at the international level?

DC: It’s extraordinarily and painstakingly slow and requires even more courage and persistence than we in the US have shown and are showing. In most countries, religious figures enjoy a much more exalted status than here in the US. So abuse and cover-up are much more likely. And many nations have less aggressive journalism, a less independent judiciary, less well-funded law enforcement and fewer legal options for victims. That makes combating abuse, exposing predators, protecting kids and personal recovery much, much more difficult.

In the US, for decades, we somehow looked at each case that did publicly surface as an aberration. “Gosh, look, there’s a bad priest in Peoria. A couple of weeks ago, there was one in Idaho,” we’d think. Finally, in the early 1990s, we started to realize “Hey, there are a lot of these guys. And their bosses, the bishops, don’t seem to care or do much.” (Then, the Fr. James Porter case made national headlines, bishops pledged reform, and sadly, we slipped back into the naïve, comfortable but reckless assumption that things were pretty much getting better.)

Finally, in 2002, many understood that this is a systemic, on-going crisis or scandal that’s truly widespread.

I bring this up because we’re making the same mistake now on a global level. “Boy, did you hear about the problems they’re having with clergy sex abuse and cover up in Ireland?” one person might say. And the other person responds “Wasn’t there some of that in Austria or Italy a while back too?”

But we just have to “bite the bullet” and accept this sad, simple fact – abuse and cover up are in every diocese in every corner of the world, and more extensive than we’ll ever come close to knowing. Not were, but are. In any organization that excessively values loyalty and promotes clericalism and hoards power and lacks oversight, predators will hurt kids and supervisors will respond callously. We’ve got to stop asking ourselves “Gee, I wonder why the church hierarchy in this country or that country is so corrupt” and accept the fact that it’s corrupt across the board. That realization is the first real step toward progress.

JR: I’m particularly interested in how you describe your spiritual life at this point.  Can you say a little about what your spiritual life means to you now?

DC: I have no spiritual life and haven’t for years. I’m an agnostic, some days regrettably so, other days less so. To put it bluntly, I have no idea what, if anything, happens after death or what a ‘creator’ may want of us. But it’s crystal clear to me that right here and now, people are in pain and need consolation and kids are at risk and need protection.

The Anniversary of My Death,” a poem by W.S Merwin, probably best sums up my spiritual leanings or belief.

JR: Was there a significant time or event or decision that helped you to shift from being a survivor to what I call a thriver, a co-creator of her life, environment and by extension, the world?

DC: You flatter me. But in a nutshell, I attribute whatever growth or shift I’ve experienced to my incredible wife, tons of therapy, joining SNAP and filing litigation. It feels like every forward step I’ve ever taken has been because some loving person was behind me nudging me and another loving person was ahead of me and guiding me.

Filing my lawsuit helped show me that I’m not a powerless kid any more. Talking about the abuse helped me feel less dirty. (I talk about it openly now, because I’ve found that the less I act ashamed, the less I feel ashamed.) My first support group meeting was a huge breakthrough, because I finally couldn’t deny the simple fact that if the folks in this room weren’t to blame for their victimization, I’m not to blame for mine.

And hearing from Janet and Horace Patterson was a turning point for me. At that juncture, I really was ready to give up. But hearing and feeling their pain (and later, seeing their courage) really enabled me to commit to this struggle for the long haul.

JR: What do you imagine could be the best thing that could happen related to preventing and ending Child Sexual Abuse (CSA)? That’s a broad question, so how about for survivors to do and for non-abused people in society to do.

DC: Let’s start with the easy, common sense steps. We can all stop rewarding criminal and near-criminal behavior.

Let’s rescind honors to predators and enablers. In St. Louis, we have a public park named after a priest ousted because he sexually harassed underlings. In Toledo, there’s a street named after a monsignor who blocked a murder probe. In Wyoming, a wing of a children’s home is named after a bishop against whom five child sex abuse lawsuits have been settled. This callousness deters victims, witnesses, whistleblowers – young and old – from speaking up, exposing predators and protecting kids. (“Why bother saying anything. No one will believe me or do anything.”) And it rubs more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of suffering victims and betrayed church-goers.

Let’s also stop promoting the corrupt. In Rome, the ‘poster child’ for self-serving, arrogant and deceitful bishops – Cardinal Law – enjoys a position of vast power and prestige. An auxiliary bishop harshly criticized in the Philadelphia grand jury report, Joseph Cistone, was recently promoted to run his own diocese. A complicit Louisville auxiliary bishop has just been elevated to run the Owensboro diocese.

If the callous or corrupt are promoted and praised, they will be emulated.

Next, let’s put our money where our mouths are and stop supporting corruption. We have so little power, it seems to me. So why give money to institutions that endanger kids when you can give to ones that protect kids? Why squander what little you have? Why, if you’re upset at what’s happening, do you keep supporting what’s happening with your money?

Next, let’s get brutal with those who suspect or see or know of child sex crimes but stay silent. That’s how to show we’re serious about kids’ safety and how we deter callousness and complicity.

I’m morally opposed to the death penalty. But even if we executed child molesters, we’d still have child molesters. The threat of execution, I believe, doesn’t and won’t ever deter compulsive, driven predators.

On the other hand, though, the threat of a mandatory five years behind bars (or similar penalties) may well make a timid teacher call the child abuse hotline about a colleague. To me, this is just common sense.

(These ‘mandated reporter’ laws are commonplace but rarely enforced and carry very lenient sentences.)

Finally, and perhaps most important, let’s reform or eliminate the archaic, arbitrary, predator-friendly statues of limitations that give criminals and their accomplices incentives to intimidate victims, threaten witnesses, destroy evidence, fabricate alibis, hide wrongdoing and ‘run out the clock,’ then keep hurting others. Keep in mind the root cause of the crisis – the virtually limitless power of bishops and the structural inability of institutions to reform themselves. Given these two facts, it’s crucial that we increase the role of the time-tested, open, impartial justice system – both criminal and civil – to catch wrongdoers more quickly and to deter wrongdoing more effectively.

On our website there’s a very specific list of about 20 others ways people can help:  http://www.snapnetwork.org/links_homepage/wanna_make_difference.htm

JR: What or who inspires you as you continue to work to end CSA?

DC: Since “day one,” I literally felt thrilled every time a survivor gave a media interview, pursued criminal charges, filed a civil lawsuit, starting going to therapy, or disclosed to his or her family. Honestly, that thrill has barely diminished over the years. I still often get Goosebumps when a survivor tells me “I bought The Courage to Heal today,” or “I called and made an appointment with the sex crimes detective” or “I told my husband last night.”

Specifically, Christa Brown inspires me. I just can’t imagine a more recalcitrant church hierarchy than the Southern Baptists. I’ve seen Baptist officials be stunningly cruel to her – in person and in print. Yet she soldiers on, with class and compassion, against phenomenal odds and relentless opposition. Somehow, there’s virtually no bitterness in her, which astounds me. (If you aren’t familiar with her blog, you should check it out: StopBaptistPredators.org)

Barbara Blaine inspires me. No matter how tired or busy or dispirited we are, her ‘default’ setting is permanently on “Let’s do it!” And so often, we push beyond what we ever thought we could do, and the results are terrific. There’s a reason SNAP exists. And there’s a reason we’ve been around 21 years. It’s her indomitable spirit and drive and energy, plain and simple.

Barbara Dorris inspires me. She works incredibly hard while being calm, caring, and competent. Without a doubt, she has the best sense of humor in our movement (though Peter Isely right up there too).

Judy Jones, Dan Frondorf, Joelle Casteix, Bob Schwiderski, Joey Piscatelli, Mary Grant, David Brown, Ann Webb, Peter Pollard, Beth McCabe all step up to the plate often (despite jobs and families and other obligations), seeing and seizing opportunities to reach out and help to survivors. . .I could go on and on and on. . .

The younger survivors who’ve come forward in their teens and 20s amaze and inspire me – Megan, Sean, Brandon and others. My younger brother Patrick, who has overcome so much pain in his life, inspires me.

And I’m inspired by, and extraordinarily grateful to, lay Catholics who could easily have turned away from our struggle but instead embrace it: Anne Barrett Doyle, Terry McKiernan, Carolyn Disco, Kris Ward, Paul Kendrick, Frank Douglas, John Shuster and so many others.

I’m also inspired by social movements like the struggle for civil rights in the US. I’m grateful that our efforts, while often met with hostility; don’t provoke beatings, lynchings and jail. I’m in awe of the fearlessness and sacrifice and determination and grace of those who fought and fight for all oppressed people all across the US and the world.

About every three months, I re-read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which might be the most inspiring piece of writing I’ve ever found.

Poetry inspires me. Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Hunchback Girl,” Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son,” ee cummings “Conscientious Objector” all speak very powerfully to me and energize me.  I read them over and over, and have these and other poems taped to my medicine cabinet and my laptop.

Finally, I have to mention several quotes which I use in speeches often. Martin Luther King said “No lie lives forever.” Gandhi said “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Eugene Debs said “While there is a lower class I am in it; while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” And Calvin Coolidge said “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

JR: Thank you for your time, honesty and dedication to promote healing and end child sexual abuse everywhere.

The End of the World

I saw parts of a documentary, “2012,” about Nostradamus’ predictions and scientific insights into the alignment of sun and Milky Way and the earth on December 21, 2012.  The Mayan calendar ends on that same day.  Will the earth freeze?  Will it explode, like the recent Hollywood action trauma? Oh, no! What will we do? Doesn’t all that hype and fear generated by this doomsday thinking keep us all very anxious and distracted from what we can do today about what is in our control?

There are plenty of real traumas that could use our attention.

I saw parts of the documentary because I was so bored by the ongoing fear and hype associated with it, I fell asleep.  I find even an explanation of problems without any sense of solutions pointless, and destruction without redemption worthless.

Mayans and others believe that we’re entering a new age, but one driven by survival of the wisest, not survival of the fittest. Not pointless destruction. If we created an economic disaster by spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like, then this new age might be more economically driven by wellbeing and sustainable, meaningful uses of time, talents and resources.

But what if we really take this end time warning seriously?  What if it’s true that we have less than three years on this planet as we know it? Wouldn’t it make sense to live this new age now and to help others live full and free lives now? I don’t remember the theologian who said that true atheists and true believers should both work to improve life for all now. Believers would be motivated by realizing the kingdom of heaven and atheists by the thought that there is no afterlife and this life must be as good and meaningful as we can make it.  Maybe I imagined I heard that during my seminary studies.

In any case, I don’t think that most people, particularly church leaders, believe that we’re facing the end times. If so, why do church leaders continue to protect the ‘interests of the church’, spending money that they claim to not have on public relations firms and attorneys or to stay out of courts that they supposedly don’t need to avoid, to respond to people they don’t like?  Why not begin to promote well being, healing and use the time, resources and talents they have to help survivors of religious authority sexual abuse be free?

What do we believe about religious authority sexual abuse? What if it’s true that most sexual abuse happens in family settings? Still, it’s very true that clergy abuse against children and vulnerable adults continues to happen. Numbers are hard to use that are context specific because there are so many variable in any one context.  That’s why the 39,000,000 number of people in the U.S. who have been sexually abused is such a conservative number.  Within the church context, a recent study by Dr. Diana Garland that included 17 Christian and Jewish affiliations concludes that “More than 3% of women who had attended a congregation in the past month reported that they had been the object of CSM at some time in their adult lives.”

So that means that in a congregation of 400 people, 60% of whom are women, that 7 women will have been sexually abused, as adults by a minister.  So what if it’s true?

And what if it’s true that Cardinal Mahony covered up sexual abuse by priests?  What if it’s true that rabbis and imams and monks and nuns and religious leaders everywhere have perpetuated, sometimes conspired with, child sexual abuse or abuse of vulnerable adults?  Is it the end of the church world?

Will the next vile revelation of abuse make a difference? Will it make a difference if a cardinal or bishop or rabbi or monk serves time in jail for his part in concealing pedophiles?

Will it make enough of a difference to change the practice of protecting church assets into doing justice for victims of religious authority sexual abuse?  Will it make enough of a difference to end the practical ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture about sexual abuse in churches, mosques, temples and other religious settings? Will it make a difference to those that act like the person on Oprah years ago who said about clergy abuse, ‘Even if it’s true, I won’t believe it!’

Maybe the end of the world isn’t about a physical calamity.  I believe it’s primarily about a shift in consciousness that will lead to changes by taking care of people and using things, and not the reverse.  About 10 years ago, Petco responded to the discovery of harmful pet food by recalling massive amounts of pet food and then reaching out to anyone impacted by the product.  Today, Toyota has already recalled 8 million cars and is making great efforts to protect people.  These corporations have acted as if they saw the end of their world and wanted to prevent it.  And they deal with pets and things, not children and vulnerable adults.

I welcome an end of the world of religious authority sexual abuse and welcome a world of believing what we see and not seeing what we believe.  I welcome an end of the world of clerics hiding behind religion and others’ unwavering, blind faith in their innocence to avoid accountability for their criminal behaviors.

Would it be the end of the world if a religious leader went to jail for his part in the rape of children and vulnerable adults?  I don’t think so. But it might cause a breakthrough in the denial in enough people’s consciences to recall unreliable and harmful people and fix the systems that allowed for the destruction of lives through religious authority sexual abuse.  That could bring meaning and redemption to a doomsday story.

Dr. Romo is an educator, consultant, and author of “Healing the Sexually Abused Heart:  A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers, and Supporters.”

I am pleased to share an interview with Marianne Benkert, M.D. in today’s Healing and Spirituality.  Dr. Benkert has served as past president of the Baltimore County Medical Association, and chair of the Ethical and Judicial Affairs Council of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland and in the UCSD psychiatry residency training program. She co-authored “Religious Duress and its Impact of Clergy Abuse Victims” with Tom Doyle.

J.R.   As a psychiatrist, you have worked with thousands of people directly and indirectly impacted by clerical sexual abuse.  What are some of the psychological imprints or traumas related to children who are abused?

M.B.   Childhood sexual abuse always interferes with the normal tasks of child development.  The age of the child at the time of the abuse, the natural resiliency of an individual child, as well as the severity and length of time of the abuse will be important factors determining the damage to the child. The sexual abuse of a child shakes and shatters their sense of safety and trust.  The child’s natural sense of playfulness and freedom is replaced with the burden of fear, shame and guilt.  The development of a healthy self-esteem is impaired. The child is confused about what the abuse means. When the abuser is a cleric the confusion is intensified. It is important to understand that for most victims the psychological trauma is not truly appreciated until adulthood.

J.R. What are some of the big challenges you see with adults and their healing when they begin to deal with their childhood sexual abuse?

M.B.  In adulthood, reasoning, judgment, abstract thinking and ability to integrate past experiences reaches its full development.  Only in adulthood can victims of sexual abuse understand how the damage of the abuse has touched them, and impacted on all aspects of their life. Adults may have to deal with one or many of the problems associated with their sexual abuse.  Problems often encountered are sexual disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety reactions, isolation, violence, troubled marital and familial relationships, multiple physical ailments, employment problems, depression, sexual ideation, and even suicide.  One of the biggest challenges for the adult victim to deal with is the sense of shame.  They feel they should have done something to stop the abuse and blame themselves for not doing so, feeling they were in collusion with the abuser.  They need to understand that this is a common feeling and that they indeed were used and abused for the gratification of the abuser.

J.R.  I think the article you co-authored with Tom Doyle, “Religious Duress” is profound. What prompted you to write it?

M.B.   Some of us who have been involved with the sexual abuse issue have talked of the added layer of trauma placed on the victim when the abuser is a cleric. We wanted a phrase that would help explain this special layer of trauma.  We spoke of the pressure that Catholics experience in the church where the levels of authority are so stratified.  We described this pressure as religious duress.  Tom Doyle and I collaborated on an article published in Pastoral Psychology (June 2009).  We felt this concept was not fully appreciated and wanted it to become more widely understood.

J.R.  Some people might say that a religious practice that does not question is a kind of mind control.  That’s blunt.  I have seen bumper stickers and t-shirts that say “Recovering Catholic”.  Can you talk about stages of learning or psychological issues for parishioners related to Religious Duress?

M.B.  Religious duress is psychologically a specific kind of constraint and threat that affects members of the Catholic Church because of its clerical power structure.  This is a structure that fosters awe of the priest.  The priest is like no other.  He represents Christ on earth.  To a devout Catholic, the priest is conferred with a trust that he did not earn as a person but because of his special calling as a sexually celibate ordained priest, representing Christ on earth.  He is the mediator between God and man.

Although this unhealthy deference began to diminish after the 2nd Vatican Council it remained strong enough for the Church to effectively muzzle the sex abuse cases which began to surface in the mid-80’s.  By the 90’s many people began to question the Church and its priests as suspect.  It was the Boston cases in 2002 which caused the American Church to explode and shocked the faithful.  Worse than the damage inflicted by individual priests was the negligence and incompetence of their leaders.  Now it was exposed for all to see.  I believe that parishioners are now more knowledgeable about how the Church operates and are becoming more mature in the decisions they make for themselves.

J.R.  If the Catholic Church leadership/hierarchy was a patient, how would you diagnose its major issues?  What kind of treatment might be helpful for it to realize healthy relationships?

M.B.  I would classify the Catholic Church leadership/hierarchy as a dysfunctional system.  It has shown this most clearly in the reaction to the sexual abuse cases.  It is a clerical power structure and has used all its resources in protecting its clerical members rather than reaching out to its most vulnerable members. The laity are the Church also, yet when sexual abuse happens, the victims are seen as a threat against the Church.  I would ask the hierarchy to stop worrying about their image and try to emulate the humility and simplicity of Christ in order to be more like Him, rather then focusing on maintaining their power. It might then be possible for the Church to reclaim some of the credibility and moral authority it has lost.

J.R.  Do you experience spiritual depression as well as psychological depression on the part of those who come to you?  How do you understand and respond to that?

M.B.  As a psychiatrist I have treated many people with depression.  I do not distinguish between psychological and spiritual depression.  People with severe depression feel cut off from everything that had meaning to them. They are unable to feel spiritual comfort.  Loved ones who reach out to try to comfort them are dismayed when they are rebuffed. The depressed person feels totally alone, joyless, helpless and hopeless. That is the pain of depression.  Each person has their own story but with the proper treatment, the pain of depression can be alleviated.

J.R.  Regarding soul death?

M.B.   There have been articles written about soul death and soul murder.  I see both these phrases as descriptive of the terrible consequences of sexual abuse by someone who is trusted and esteemed.  In the past, there was no one held in more esteem and respect than the Catholic priest because of his role as mediator between God and man, essentially a Christ figure.  The more trusted the abuser, the greater the trauma.  The priest held power over all aspects of a person’s life, and held the power of eternal salvation or damnation in his hands. The power entrusted to the priest was all encompassing. The trauma of the abuse feels as if life has been taken away.  What more is left?  How do you describe this feeling?  The perpetrator has committed soul murder; the victim experiences this loss as soul death. But healing can take place. Victims can be empowered in many ways and for each person they must find what gives them strength.

J.R. How has your religious or spiritual identity changed over the years you have worked with victims of sexual abuse?

M.B.  As a psychiatrist I have had the privilege of sharing in the life struggles of many thousands of people.  Their struggles and suffering have deeply moved me, and I have been inspired by the courage they have shown.  In more recent years, I have been dismayed by the clerical sexual abuse crises and the way the Church has responded, causing additional trauma to the victims.

J.R.  What do you see in society that encourages you about healing related to religious authority sexual abuse?

M.B.  The most encouraging change is that the legal system has been able to penetrate the secrecy of the Church.  The Church is now forced to be accountable for the actions of its clerics.  It is the legal system that has forced the Church to hand over its documents and secret archives.  The workings of the Church are becoming part of the public record, and more will be revealed.  The Church can no longer control the media and influence the legal system as it once did.  Victims are becoming empowered and are able to tell their stories.  Society is listening and learning.