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Hi,

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.

If you signed up for Healing and Spirituality posts via the RSS feeder, please sign up again at http://www.jaimeromo.com/blog/

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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.

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“And as I looked and wept, I saw that there stood on the north side of the starving camp a Sacred man who was painted red all over his body, and he held a spear as he walked into the center of his people, and there he laid down and rolled. And when he got up it was a fat bison standing there, and where the bison stood a Sacred herb sprang up right where the tree had been in the center of the nation’s hoop. The herb grew and bore four blossoms on a single stem while I was looking – a blue, a white, a scarlet, and a yellow—and the bright rays of these flashed to the heavens.”

According to Duran and Brave Heart, in The Trauma of History, when the young Black Elk saw this vision, he understood it as the restoration of the nation’s hoop—the healing of the Indian nations. Black Elk also understood that the healing would take place seven generations after Wounded Knee—our generation today.

Today is a good day for healing and to end sexual abuse everywhere.

Several survivors I’ve spoken with recently seem to have gone through a period of being in a cocoon. Some were devastated by the effects of clergy sexual abuse; some fatigued by the public, draining and sometimes re-traumatizing advocacy work to make Church documents public. They’ve been retooling, re-evaluating, and rebuilding their lives.  They’re still concerned about the Church documents that have not been released—and they’re trying to find balance, find different lives.

Eric Dyson, professor at U Penn, wrote, Come Hell or High Water: Katrina and the Color of Disaster.  He commented on the tension between generosity and justice, related to the outpouring of attention and individual resources sent to victims of Katrina.   He could have been talking about many religious authority sexual abuse survivors and supporters.  He said that people have made an initial response, a generous and right response of generosity to the victims of Katrina.  However, justice requires an ongoing disposition or habit or practices of generosity and people are ‘disaster fatigued’, which makes it difficult to sustain the attention and energy necessary to bring about the institutional changes that reflect justice.

I think I see fatigue in many survivors and supporters from working so hard to sustain the attention and energy necessary to bring about systemic change re: child abuse.  Emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical fatigue. Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem, Interrelationship, sounds like it could be written by survivors of religious authority sexual abuse.

“You are me, and I am you.

Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.

I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.

I support you;
you support me.

I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.”

Despite the fatigue, and maybe because of it, it is time for both the bystanders and the victimized of clergy sexual abuse to work differently. The longer the mutual demonization continues, the more both parties find themselves sucked into the vortex of mutually reinforcing victimization. We must see our inter-relatedness.

What makes the experience of the survivor of sexual abuse so toxic is that when we bring a heart-felt pain, others silence us because survivors effectively ask others to question their’ profound trust and belief in religious authorities.  This calls into question, others’ self- understanding and understanding of the world.  In this way survivors have triggered a dynamic that is much larger than any of us can individually understand or dismantle.

To survivors, it may feel like those who feel protective of the church in which clergy sexually abused children and vulnerable adults hate survivors. In that sense, I believe that the message Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke, is as challenging for survivors as it was for African Americans who were at their breaking point with rage and frustration with the American dream.

“Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you….But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”[i]

So on the part of survivors who have experienced some healing, we must be a force that does not bring in hostilities, but rather brings hope and reconciliation to the forefront. A force that creates a platform for reconciliation that forgives but never forgets.

I know many survivors and supporters, as with civil rights workers in the 60s, may feel discouraged after so much effort to expose crimes concealed by religious authority seems to produce little evidence of changed behaviors. To anyone who feels discouraged by the ongoing fight be church leaders to release documents promised in court settlements, don’t give up.

To those who concentrate on the trauma wreaked upon survivors by religious authority abuse and its cover up, take courage in the work that others have done before us to change society. Martin Luther King Jr. said that if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl.  But keep moving.  Keep moving.  This struggle is, in short, for civilization. This struggle is bigger than any one of us and has an impact on all of us.

Keep moving.  Hold on to the vision of healthy and happy children and a society that respects and protects the vulnerable.  Keep moving. Healing will take place in our generation today.


[i]James Melvin Washington A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr. (Harper & Row Publishers; San Francisco, no date on paper) Page 256.

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Are We Graced or Disgraced?

Today’s Blog is a wonderful reflection by Margaret Schettler. You can read her interview from December 10. Margaret writes a timely piece, as we celebrate the life and influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I appreciate her insight and the thought provoking questions she leaves us with.

A dear former colleague at my parish loved to quote an author she admired. I can’t remember the author’s name, but the quote went something like this: “At every moment I am equally graced and disgraced.” When the clergy abuse crisis first burst into our consciousness, many outraged Catholics said , “That is not MY church!” My friend would say, “Oh, but it IS. It is both graced and disgraced”. When things went well at work we’d laugh together and say, “There’s the grace!” When they went they went badly, we’d joke, “There’s the disgrace!”

Owning both the grace and the disgrace is the first step toward the possibility of meaningful reform for individuals and organizations.

In his memoir, True Compass, Edward Kennedy chronicles decades of work toward achieving racial equality in the United States. Many in Congress believed that the landmark legal decisions and civil rights legislation of the 1950’s and 60’s would change the course of history. However, in the mid and late 1960’s instead of a national mood of celebration, unrest and racial violence spread across the cities of the U.S. Kennedy says that President Johnson and members of Congress were dumbfounded and felt a “crushing” sense of betrayal, particularly since many had risked their political careers for these issues to which they were deeply committed.

Kennedy points out that leaders of the time were overly optimistic in believing that civil rights reform had been achieved simply because new laws were enacted. In themselves legal victories did not mean that as a nation we had put an end to racism or its effects. The laws in the 1960’s did lay an important foundation for future progress toward racial equality. However, much remained to be accomplished before the changes in our laws would translate into a daily experience reflected in the lives of average American citizens of color.

There seems to be a similar disparity in viewing the progress of reform related to the clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Church leaders highlight progress as they see it. Skeptics and critics highlight areas where they see a lack of progress.

In 2004, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Wilton Gregory, referred to a report on the extent and causes of the clergy abuse crisis and said, “The terrible history recorded here is history”.

A few years ago I attended a Virtus Teaching Touching Safety training session at which the US Catholic Bishops’ progress in the area of child abuse prevention education was praised as “unprecedented in the history of the world”. There was no reference to the unprecedented revelations of sexual abuse of children by clergy, or the cover up of those crimes that prompted action by the bishops. I contacted an archdiocesan leader to voice my concern about the use of such a misleading claim that never mentioned clergy abuse survivors. A few weeks later I was informed that clergy abuse survivors would be specifically acknowledged at all future adult training sessions through a specific prayer for victims.

At a meeting in 2008 on L.A. Archdiocesan finances I asked Cardinal Mahony what provisions were made in the budget for future sexual abuse claims following the global legal settlements of the previous summer. He quickly replied that there would be no further legal claims because we were doing such a great job with abuse prevention education in the L.A. Archdiocese. Surely he knew that his answer was an exaggeration. In reality individuals continue to come forward with previously unreported allegations of sex abuse by clergy.

How do you measure progress, or lack of progress towards justice and a healthy organizational environment related to religious authority sexual abuse?
By the numbers of people participating in sex abuse prevention classes in a diocese?
By the numbers of times church officials called law enforcement to report abuse allegations against an employee?
By the numbers of bishops who resigned or were fired for enabling or covering up for known abusers?
By the numbers of dollars spent on psychological counseling for abuse victims?
By the numbers of victims who meet with the Pope?
By how many children report abuse as soon as it happens?
By the numbers of pedophiles who are monitored and supervised to prevent them from re-offending?
By the numbers of laws passed extending criminal and civil statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse?
By the numbers of formerly confidential church documents made public?
By a declining percentage of suicides among clergy abuse victims?

Does progress in one area translate to progress in every area? Does failure in one area negate progress in other areas?

It is easy to criticize and blame. Consciously taking steps towards meaningful change is easier said than done. Systemic change is slow, uphill, going against the grain. It requires new ways of seeing, thinking, and relating to an issue. It often feels uncomfortable. It’s everyone’s work over time to make sure that it goes so deep that people no longer have to look at the policies to know the right thing to do.

Over the past several years how has your thinking changed related to religious authority sexual abuse, or child sexual abuse in general?
What brought about the change?
What is your role in making sure that needed changes are not just on paper?
How has a change in your thinking affected your actions?
How do you measure progress toward ending child sexual abuse?

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An Interview with Eric Large

I first met Eric Large almost two years ago, when I visited Blue Quills College, in Alberta, Canada. I met many survivors of abuse from the Indian Residential Schools and learned about a history previously unknown to me. More info on the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement is at: http://www.residentialschoolsettlement.ca and for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at: http://www.trc.ca

JR: You are a member of the Cree nation. I understand that you attended an Indian Residential School. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the Canadian experience, would you say a little about the First Nations involvement with sexual abuse and IRS?

EL: Yes, I am a member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation and I resided at the Blue Quills Indian Residential School from the 1952-53 school year to the 1964-65 school year consecutively. In my area, the first Blue Quills Residential School was located on the Saddle Lake Indian Reserve from about 1898. The federal government and clergy from a Roman Catholic entity had firm control over the education of the children. The federal government policy was to assimilate the Indian children through industrial/agricultural training and very basic education. This policy was pronounced in the 1920’s as “to kill the Indian in the child”.

In 1931, a new residential school was built on federal crown land about 15 miles east of the Saddle Lake Reserve. The children were transported there by teams of horses and wagons and later by grain trucks and buses. The parents were put under duress to place their children in the residential school. Individual students suffered physical, sexual, and mental abuse from staff members. They also were separated from their parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family members and their First Nation COMMUNITY. The male students that were in residence prior to about 1952 worked manually on farm chores, feeding cattle, milking cows, cleaning barns, digging potatoes. The female students cleaned dishes, pots and pans, mended and sewed clothes, washed floors and other indoor tasks. Boys and girls were separated. There was a lot of routine, going to church, praying, and there was also play outdoors. But the academic teaching and encouragement was lacking. I suspect there were very few qualified teachers.

JR: A year and a half ago, a Truth and Reconciliation Agreement was initiated with the Canadian government. What is it and how is it going?

EL: The Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners had an official Kick-off at the Governor General’s Office in Ottawa October 15, 2009 at which I was present as a support for a survivor and his extended great grandchild from Saddle Lake. Their work schedule is being waited on by everyone, especially the former students and their families.

JR: When we first met, you were part of a team to interview survivors and help them file their claims of abuse in the T & R process. How has that been?

EL: The abuse claims called “Independent Assessment Process” (IAP) applications are increasingly applied for. It is not part of the T&R as such. It is compensation, as specified in the Residential School Settlement Agreement, is for claims of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, consequential harms, and for loss of opportunity and loss and loss of income suffered by a former Indian Residential School student. The instructions recommend that a claimant to obtain the services of a lawyer because of the legal issues involved and the obtaining of supporting documentation.

JR: As with the Latino communities in Mexico and in the United States, I imagine there are some cultural issues that make it difficult for survivors to come forward and work directly on their healing process from religious authority sexual abuse. What cultural issues do you see that are important to understand with survivors from Indian Residential Schools?

EL: That these students were taken from their parents, away from their home, relatives, and community who had their Indigenous and tribal customs of kinship, identity, livelihood, language, songs, recreation, ways of worship, that formed cohesive communities and provided stability and continuity. Much of this was lost and must be recovered.

JR: On the other hand, what are some of the cultural resources that First Nation people can access that promote healing?

EL: We still have some elders and carriers of cultural knowledge. We still have singers that can sing and drum ceremonial songs, pow-wow, and round-dance songs. There are still ceremonial practices that are held sacred and that can be passed on to younger First Nation people. One round-dance ceremony involves the commemoration of deceased relatives by family members carrying the photographs of deceased relatives in a circle in the room. The family members are encouraged to make amends (reconcile) with themselves personally, with their parents, grand-parents, their community, and with other people both Native and non-Native.

JR: What’s it like for you to hear the stories of so many survivors? How do you take care of yourself?

EL: First it was difficult to hear the stories of abuse. There was anger, anxiety, distress, and tears. But I learned to listen to my fellow survivors. I try not to take this burden home.

JR: What is going on at the national level with the T & R process?

EL: On January 8, 2010, the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, Tribal Chiefs Ventures Incorporated, and Blue Quills First Nations College co-hosted the 2nd Annual Indian Residential School Information Workshop. It focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. All three Commissioners attended (Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chief Wilton Littlechild, and Marie Wilson. There were also representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, United Church, Presbyterian Church, and the Anglican Church. The Commission is going across the country to talk about their mandate and roles and responsibilities and trying to engage former IRS students to talk about their residential school experience. It’s a slow process with a 5-year timeframe. It is not quite set-up yet.

JR: How have you grown/ developed in this process?

EL: I believe I have grown in patience and listening. I am challenged to show some leadership at my community, region, and the national level. There is still the challenge of adequately communicating the various aspects of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement to former students and families. It is complex, lengthy, and comprised of legal and bureaucratic language than can be intimidating.

JR: I don’t believe that any settlement in itself will bring healing to those abused by a religious authority. What do you think would bring healing to First Nation people?

EL: Right, I believe financial compensation by itself will not bring healing. Each survivor, his/her family, community, and First Nation will need to consider the impact of residential schools and attempt to recover at their respective levels. Each survivor will need to consider his/her mental well-being, understand what happened, and bring balance to all aspects of their life, if possible.

JR: Thank you for your witness and work in supporting survivors and preventing future abuse. I wish you well in the Truth and Reconciliation process.

EL: Thank you.

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Spiritual, not Religious

I heard the other day that the third largest religious group behind Catholic and Baptist in the United States was ‘spiritual, but not religious.’ It makes sense from the context of clergy abuse. Religious authority sexual abuse (RASA) victims were victimized because they were deeply religious. I was once one of those religious people who worked hard to be the perfect follower, and later a super-priest at that.

Given the ongoing reports of religious authority sexual abuse and cover up, why would why would anyone continue to be religious? In my December 10 interview with Sue Griffith, I referenced Thomas Doyle and Marianne Benkert’s article about Religious Duress, which makes that intuitively obvious point clearer.

On the other hand, I recently saw the documentary, One, which I recommend, about many people’s views of spirituality. Fr. Thomas Keating beautifully answered a question about the spiritual path (not the religious path). He said that there were three stages in the spiritual path. First, a person realizes that there is an Other, a higher power, God, or whatever we discover and call it. Then, a person tries to become that Other. Then, the person realizes that there is no Other. In other words, we are the Other. We are One.

Some religious people are in that first group, knowing that there’s something out there. Some are in the second group, working hard to get it right when it comes to a particular religious practice to get to that something out there. I think that Keating and many others are pointing to a counter-intuitive step that transcends religion or being religious: realizing that there is no God out there. As many of the interviewees from various faith traditions echoed, we are all God.

I’m not saying that survivors have figured spirituality out, although many have taken the first step: to let go of religiosity. I imagine that many survivors are stuck without religion just as there are many stuck with religion. I believe that the next act is to step into the unknown and take on a new practice, one that is internally centered and not defined by inherited or external practice.

Imagine the most beautiful and valuable art piece you know of. Years ago, I spent a week in a remote town in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, called Mata Ortiz. I worked with one of the master potters, who had been trained by Juan Quezada himself, the second citizen in Mexican history to be declared a national treasure for his restoration and expansion of the ancient Paquime pottery tradition. We collected clay from the riverbed, prepared it for use, built the layers and formed, sanded, oiled and then carefully painted the pots before firing the pots (all without electricity or other modern help). Our paintbrushes were fashioned from strands of hair from our own heads, just as they had been done hundreds of years ago with the Paquime Indians, which makes the extraordinary painting done by these potters even more impressive. I was surrounded by phenomenal artists. When I imagine precious art, I think of their works.

Religion, scripture studies, and theology, in my mind, are much like these exquisite works of art. Some people dedicate years of study, research, and focus to be experts in these fields, to be able to differentiate between real art and high or low quality artistry, between authentic scriptural interpretation and misinformation. In our religious formation, we developed a world view through religious education; we came to associate great value with the teachings of these traditions. Perhaps they became as awesome or as precious as Michaelangelo’s David or the Sistine Chapel or whatever your most valuable art piece is. These are breathtaking works of art.

The art piece may cost tens of thousands of dollars, even millions. Think of a Rembrandt or Van Gogh painting and appreciate the story of its creation, preservation, and brilliance. Let it inspire you and confirm that its maker was touched by God to have produced something so valuable, so extraordinary, so worth millions of dollars. Fall in love with it.

What if the spirituality, enlightenment, healing or deep happiness was inside the David? What if your salvation were on the other side of the Sistine Chapel and could only be reached by breaking through it? Would you do it? Is salvation so important that you would break what you have held to be priceless, even touched by God? Rather than destroying a church, temple or people who worship where you or others were abused, I suggest letting them go if you desire happiness and peace.

I believe that happiness and peace following RASA are the bi-products of reconciling our former abuse with the joys, desires and hopeful experiences and our own spiritual lives. My suffering, depression, and PTSD led me to an appreciation that I was spiritually dead, and that it was time to let go of the sentimentality or veneration of the religious traditions in which I had died. My difficult and painful mourning was the key that opened the door from my virtual death row sentence to my spiritual release.

The difference between religious and spiritual is the difference between illusion and disillusionment. Perhaps one of the best ways to understand the illusions is to face the abuse and abusers in religious settings. Perhaps this will lead you to join another church or temple where you find support and appreciation for your recovery and spiritual path. Perhaps it means detaching from external religious traditions and paying attention to your soul and spiritual life through meditation. Perhaps it means a combination of these paths.

I went to a friendly interfaith meeting of leaders from many traditions last week. We learned about a recent Parliament of the World’s Religions that took place in Australia. It sounded like a deeply spiritual gathering and set of experiences. And then we saw a video in which one Aboriginal elder gifted the Dalai Lama with a special animal skin gift. It was a bit funny to watch this cultural or religious clash, registered as surprise on his face and awkwardness in this vegetarian’s body language to sit comfortably with the animal skin. People in the audience were laughing.

The meeting ended with each person announcing upcoming religious events and extending invitations to everyone else to attend. The last person to speak was a deacon from a local Catholic parish who proudly announced a religious education conference that takes place in Anaheim every spring. He said it was a wonderful gathering, in the spirit of the gathering we had been discussing.

He must not have known that the priest who founded that conference sexually abused children. He certainly didn’t know that that same priest sexually abused me.

And I sat there, considering the sincerity of this religious gift he was offering, knowing that it meant something very different to me and many others than what it meant to him. I think that spirituality is the best of what religiosity is after. To me, spiritual means choosing and creating religious and other organizations that see beyond the illusions that allowed for child sexual abuse. Spiritual, not religious.

Dr. Jaime J. Romo is the author of soon to be released, “Healing the Sexually Abused Heart: A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers, and Supporters.”

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An Interview with Joelle Casteix

Joelle Casteix is a survivor turned advocate and mentor. She was one of the first people to bring public attention to the Southern California clergy abuse problem, and has served on local and national boards to promote understanding and healing among those impacted by religious authority sexual abuse. JR = Jaime Romo; JC = Joelle Casteix.

JR: We first met around seven years ago in the early days of the Los Angeles/ Orange awareness raising and survivor support meetings. What was your life of advocacy like in those days?

JC: I will always remember the first time we met – it was at the Anaheim Convention Center, and some lady – who had just slammed us for leafleting – tried to steal your umbrella. Her actions were such a profound statement as to the general attitude of many high-ranking Catholics. They will curse you for exposing the truth, yet continue to cover many ugly truths of their own.

At that time, I had little knowledge and understanding of the national picture. My only frame of reference was the Diocese of Orange, and I still believed that diocese officials had good intentions. I didn’t know the scope and scale of what was going on, and certainly didn’t understand how profoundly tragic the entirety of the Southern California scandal/cover-up was. That being said, I had no idea that I would soon become a spokesperson on a national level.

I have to say that advocacy was a little easier in 2003. The Diocese of Orange was not very sophisticated – or transparent – in their communications to the public and the media, and left me myriad opportunities to shine a light on all of their shenanigans. They have become a little better at PR.

JR: What major changes have you seen with respect to the church’s handling of clergy abuse?

JC: In Orange, we are now seeing perpetrators being arrested, which we have never seen before. That is a good thing … However, we still see a huge cover-up in how Diocese Officials publicize the news. They seem to think that it’s okay to limit an announcement to a church bulletin and do their best to keep the news out of the papers, where other victims may learn about the arrest/removal and come forward. The problem is that many of the newer perps are lay people, and the church has a responsibility to inform the public of the danger, not just church goers. These days, church officials are also very quick to point fingers at other organizations where sexual abuse occurs (i.e. public schools). What they refuse to acknowledge is that the problem is not the abuse – abuse happens everywhere. The problem is the cover-up, facilitation and protection of abusers; the legal battles; the PR campaigns; and the lies.

JR: You have invested years of time and effort into the case of the person who abused you. What has been the result of that case?

JC: I was molested by a man named Thomas Hodgman, who is now the chairman of the department of music at Adrian College in Adrian, MI. When I exposed Hodgman and the documents – which included his signed confession stating that he molested me and two other girls – the attitude of the school was that I was a “woman scorned.” It’s frustrating and sickening. One one hand, I have been quoted as an expert on the crisis in every major US media outlet and in thousands of media outlets around the world. I sit on two boards of directors for national advocacy organizations. My case has been proven in documents and confessions. I have been asked to speak all over the country … Yet, in the little town of Adrian, I am considered a crackpot – a woman upset because her teacher “broke up with her.” It’s one of the biggest disappointments of my life.

JR: How have you grown/ healed through the advocacy work you have done?

JC: The healing process is an interesting one. I have learned to “compartmentalize” a great deal, and not take on the pain of the survivors I talk to every day. In addition, because I am so public, everyone knows I am a survivor. My story is not hidden or shameful – it is a source of my strength. Being an advocate has allowed me to care for the little child inside who was so hurt by acknowledging my abuse, confronting it, and making sure that what happened to me never happens to another child. No one whispers about me – I own my story. I don’t know if there is any other way I could have done that, except through public advocacy.

I would say that there was a long time in my life where my abuse was my shame (also the reason why child molesters are seldom reported). Now it is my strength. Oddly enough, my high school classmates have been my biggest supporters (thanks to Facebook). That changed my life.

JR: What has been difficult on one hand, and worthwhile on the other, as an advocate for survivors?

JC: There is always a downside to being public. I was at a party with friends of my father, when a woman my age came up to me and asked if I “yearned for the Eucharist.” (yeah, she really said that). Local Orange County Republican types are the first to criticize any public event I do. Certain friends from my teen years like to call the local papers to tell them what a big fat liar I am and that I wanted to “be the teacher’s girlfriend.” I worry about my son, who will one day have a friend at school ask him questions about his mom.

But on the other hand, I would not have the full, amazing life I have now, were it not for my public advocacy. So, I just thicken my skin a little, and learn what the important things in life really are. It’s none of my business what other people think of me. My business is my family and my work.

JR: What do you think may be significant about the recent revelations of testimony that Cardinal Mahony knowingly allowed pedophile priests continue in ministry where they abused more children?

JC: I was asked by a reporter a couple of weeks ago why I still do media events in front of the Cathedral and LA parishes about Mahony when I get little or no coverage. My response was this: Every time I am out there, someone sees or takes a flyer and tells a victim. Every once in a while, that victim finds the courage to come forward. Every once in a while, that victim’s civil case exposes explosive deposition testimony like the one you cite above.

Will Loomis’s testimony bring down Mahony? No. But it’s one more chink in the armor. Eventually, the armor will fall off all together. We all knew that Mahony allowed perps in ministry, but the deposition is something that cannot be ignored, even by apologists. Hopefully now, the entrenched LA political power base will begin to abandon the once untouchable cardinal.

One termite cannot bring down a tree in a day, but give him years, and he and his buddies will eventually succeed. I see my work that way.

JR: I believe there’s an expression attributed to St. Peter, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” What would you like the average parishioner to believe and do with respect to religious authority sexual abuse?

JC: Every person owns their own spirituality. No one – no priest, bishop or survivor – can take that away from them.

The Catholic Hierarchy is a construction of man – not God. As Tom Doyle always says: Jesus only got mad when he was at church. If you look in the Bible or the teachings of Jesus, you’ll see that the entire construct of the institutional Catholic Church has nothing to do with the relationship between a person and God. Standing up and pointing a finger at the leadership of the church is not disrespectful to God. It is respectful to children. I constantly tell people that they (the lay people) need to take over their church. I think that Catholics should stop donating, tell the bishops to stay out of politics, and empower lay people (especially women) to stand up and be leaders in faith.

JR: What dream do you have related to abuse by any religious authority?

JC: That it is only something that we read about in history books

JR: I know you have been tenacious, strong, and courageous in the advocacy process. I’ve admired and been inspired by that in you. What helps you to be a more balanced, healthy, and happy person?

JC: What a flattering question. Well, honestly, my husband and my son keep me grounded. My husband especially has taught me that there are times where I have to say no. And I say no a lot. I compartmentalize my work – I treat advocacy like a job. I still pursue my dreams (sorry, being an advocate was never my dream). I am a classically trained soprano, so I sing as much as possible. I write. I work out. I shut off the computer and the phone. I embrace my gallows humor.

JR: How have you evolved as a person and as an advocate to end sexual abuse?

JC: Every day is a part of the process. I don’t think that I can put a finger on how I have changed, but I can tell you that I like and respect myself a lot more now. I am surrounded by people who are healthier for me. I have met and befriended the most amazing people around the globe. I have become a bit of a conspiracy theorist. And I have no tolerance for injustice. Life is not always fair, but cheaters, thieves, liars and jerks who twist justice and hurt kids have no place in my circle – and now, they fear me. I like that.

JR: Thank you so much for your time, work and example.

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