Tell Ruth the Truth

This is a moderated blog is a project of the Ruth Institute. Have a story to share? We're listening.


I still carry the emotional scars

1. Have you ever had flash backs?

Yes. Had the same nightmare for many years until I met my hubby. Suddenly they stopped. However, occasionally my husband will touch me or ask me to touch him as my grandfather told me to. I have to fight the vision and it was 40 years ago.

2. How does the public discussion of clergy sex abuse and the cover up affect you emotionally?

It makes me very angry because my mother knew of the four family members who hurt me and she did nothing. When I complained to her sister that her husband grabbed me, she said if I wrestled with him I should expect it. I will carry the emotional scars the rest of my life.


3. Do you have anything specific to say to Mahony or the organizers?

Do you have any idea the damage you have done to victims by not reporting abusers?

4. This happened ages 2-10 by my paternal grandfather…around 10 by my uncle by marriage, 12 by my maternal Uncle, 10 or 11 by my brother.

My maternal uncle was the hardest one to tell my mom because I loved him so much. But when I did she blew it off. It was about 10 years afterwards when I was married. He had come into the Catholic Church and in going to confession, realized what he did and apologized. It was easy to forgive him. My mom caught my brother the first time but he continued. I never spoke to her again about it. I told her about my paternal grandfather when I was 16. Again she blew it off. As an adult I told my dad, but I don’t think he believed me because he allowed my half sister to spend summer breaks with my grandfather..

My parents divorced when I was 8. Mom brought many boyfriends home and was open with her sexuality. I grew up thinking sex wasn’t a big deal. I was very promiscuous. Thankfully I never got pregnant. God has been very good to me. I am disappointed in the Church and how it has let society influence it.

I am a Catholic Convert who works for my local parish. I have seen a lot on how things are run. Abuse is everywhere. Abuse doesn’t have to be sexual and the perp can be a volunteer, lay employee or clergy. People have taken their eyes off Christ and are looking into themselves for their own joy and fulfillment.

Submitted by Katerina.


Sadistic abuse at a young age

1. Have you ever had flashbacks?

Yes. They revolve around being trapped, running away from the house (my grandmother’s house) after some times of abuse, begging my grandmother for help as she held the door while I was being trapped and wouldn’t let me out. I also have flashbacks about bleeding at night and in the bathtub, stinging panic and crying myself to sleep.

PTSD symptoms?

Some, like losing track of time. I have memory blackouts for much of the the actual rape. I know an old-fashioned pointed can opener was used on me several times. I remember the sadistic nature of abuse escalated because I wouldn’t show emotion. It was the only choice I had.


2. How does the public discussion of clergy sex abuse affect you emotionally?

I feel betrayed by the clergy and especially enabler bishops. They could have stopped much abuse and they chose to shield the abuser rather than defend the innocent. I can only imagine the emotional pain of victims who weren’t believed or treated like they were the problem. That’s how my grandmother treated me. I was four or younger when it started and certainly didn’t enjoy or ask for the abuse that evolved into sadistic rape.

3. How does the cover-up of clergy sex abuse affect you emotionally?

Asking for silence and an end to gossip instead of being willing to be accountable and let investigations go forward after the Viganò testimony was a huge betrayal of Pope Francis. His actions and public statements since August have been completely inappropriate and reprehensible. I cannot defend the Pope and this troubles me greatly as a lifelong Catholic. American bishops who were implicated as enablers or worse by Viganò continue to embarrass themselves and lead me to believe the accusations against them. The silence now of even good bishops grieves me greatly. Investigations into those allegations are warranted and should be moving forward, as many bishops called for at the time. It’s no less important now. The message to victims and their families is simple- the Church simply doesn’t care that much.

There appears to be an overriding push to make sure the homosexual lifestyle doesn’t suffer any bad press... this against so much evidence of gay networks and predatory behavior. Why the obfuscation? Because it collides with the agenda of many bishops to change teaching on moral theology? Again, this is a horrible message to send to people who have suffered immensely. While all victims matter, my heart breaks for seminarians and other male victims especially, as they are statistically less likely to report crimes of this nature.

4. Do you have anything specific you would like to say to Cardinal Mahony, or the LAREC organizers?

Please, consider the vulnerable who have suffered and/or are suffering because of sexual abuse of clergy. Please accept accountability for enabling abusers through silence and hiding the problems.

How can the organizers claim to care about vulnerable immigrants and be so tone deaf to the pain of vulnerable sexual abuse victims? It’s like asking those with a wide track record of contempt for immigrants to offer presentations on addressing the suffering of sex abuse victims. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s deeply hurtful to people like me.

5. Any of this information that you are willing to share, would give people the context that would help them understand:

a. Your age when the abuse took place?

4 or earlier to 7

b. Were you abused by someone you knew and trusted? Clergy? Coach? Relative?

Step-grandfather, with the knowledge and assistance of my paternal grandmother

c. whether people believed you,

My mother did. My father didn’t want to, but the family pediatrician confirmed internal damage and scarring.

d. how long it took for you to reveal what happened

The pain was too much by the time I was seven. I was told by my father not to tell anyone or they’d hate me- so as to save my grandmother from embarrassment. I didn’t say anything to anyone until I was 15-16.

Submitted by "Lee Ann."

 

 



Abuse testimony--"It's a miserable existence."

1. I have PTSD symptoms frequently (once is enough!) and unexpectedly. I go into a zone of terror; it's a terror that paralyzes like a deer in headlights. I cannot think rationally and those around me are not truly present to me.

2. The public discussion of the clergy abuse makes me feel physically ill, and I mostly avoid reading about it. There is no way I could ever read the PA report.

3. Emotionally speaking, the cover-up feels like gas-lighting.

4. To Cardinal Mahony, I'd like to say, humble yourself, be honest about the past, and repent, both publicly and privately. Don't make things worse by speaking from a place of authority because you've lost the credibility necessary.

5. My age: starting at 11 to 15 from a friend of the family. And then at about 17 from my father.

 


 

I told my mother at about 15, and she believe me. I told my father, having somehow suppressed what he'd done, when I was in my late 20s about the friend of the family, but he became defensive and did not validate my pain. It was his best friend's oldest son. 

These two traumas have affected my life in a myriad of ways. First, I must say that I've healed from both tremendously over the last decade with the help of the Church, sacraments, and good therapy in person and books.

But there are profound effects that I still struggle with and need more therapy. I have trouble sleeping at night. I fear sexual perversion ALL the time ~ even among my own children. It's as if the internal sensor that would alert me of danger is broken, and I can't tell what is real or perceived. I'm uncomfortable around priests now and worry about my kids going to confession or alter serving. I worry that my husband of over 20 years will turn out to be a pervert and abuse our children. I was especially triggered by a friend whose husband went to jail for sexually abusing their only daughter. I'm inhibited sexually and feel ugly without clothes. Not always, but I still can't seem to relax. It's a miserable existence.

Submitted by "Laura."

 


Abuse victim: misplaced guilt and shame

I am a victim and survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I was 10 years old when my father began abusing me, and approximately 17 when the abuse stopped. The attempts to manipulate and punish me for my defiance in finally getting up the courage to say I didn’t “want to do it anymore” went on for years after that. I think for those who have never been abused, it is often hard to understand why an older child or teen doesn’t tell anyone and doesn’t simply refuse to accept abuse. You have to understand that in most cases the abuse didn’t start when we were 17 year-olds: it started when we were young children, and quite probably there were years of “grooming” before that. In one sense, we were “stuck” in that early childhood stage and never got to grow up; and in another, we were grown beyond our years. Soiled by an intimate encounter with evil from those we should have been able to trust most.


 

And then there is the misplaced guilt and shame. During the years of my abuse, I could not think in concrete terms about what was happening to me beyond the vaguest prayers of “please, make it stop.” Even though I was a writer, the words to describe sexual abuse were far too threatening for me to ever put to paper, both because I could not deal with them and because they were too dangerous. I believed that I was responsible for my own abuse, that I could never admit to someone that I was being abused because in the same breath I would have to admit that I was not doing anything to make it stop. That I was too scared to even say “No.” I did not have it in me to understand that telling was an attempt to end the abuse. My father involved me in the cover-up of my own abuse from an early age, with phone calls directing me to clean up his soiled under garments as one example. By a strange twist of reality, I believed that I was both the other woman and that I was holding my family together by my silence; that’s a very sordid and heavy burden for a young person to have to carry.

I was 20 years old and in college away from home when the truth of my abuse finally came out. I had been seriously suicidal for many years without any real understanding of my distorted thinking. I was seeing a counselor, talking about my abuse, writing papers on incest, even entering the long-dreamed of world of romantic relationships. I was finally “safe,” and yet it was there, in college, when the numbness of years began to wear off, that I attempted suicide. And it was in the aftermath of my suicide attempt that I was finally able to unburden myself of the secret that I had been keeping.

Flash forward 30 plus years to the summer of 2018. The Church’s “Summer of Shame.” Today I consider myself a healthy, stable person. It took me many years of struggle and healing to reach this point. I am a wife, mother, committed Catholic. And I have been obsessed with the clergy abuse crisis. It is like a very personal train wreck which I cannot bring myself to look away from. I read everything. I actually lived in PA during the years of my abuse. I read the PA Grand Jury Report in its entirety because I had to know if any of the priests I knew had committed sexual abuse against children. (Thankfully, not.)

Over the last months, I have felt the most searing sense of betrayal. I have had persistent thoughts and memories of my own abuse. I want every sexually abusive priest and every prelate who covered up clergy sexual abuse gone. Not today, not tomorrow; I want them gone YESTERDAY. Each new revelation in the clergy abuse scandal is like pulling off a bandage from a raw wound, again and again and again. I count myself lucky that I have not experienced flashbacks, nightmares, or suicidal thoughts this time around, but I am no stranger to these signs of trauma. They were the substance of the years I spent in healing from my own abuse, and I expect they are the substance experienced by many survivors of sexual abuse, and in particular clergy sexual abuse, today who are still in the trenches dealing with their abuse.

I cannot begin to recount the nightmares and horror I lived through during and long after my own abuse had finished, but I can share with you here a raw slice of the suffering I have revisited in the wake of the Church’s “Summer of Shame” and the months that have followed.

Sunday was the most dangerous day”

For a child who is being sexually abused, it’s all about survival. Your sense of reality is skewed. You don’t think in terms of pleasure or happiness. You think in terms of danger, and danger is always relative. You think in terms of coping strategies that make the situation a little less dangerous. For instance, if you are wearing some clothes, if you are out of bed, if there are others in the home when the abuse episode begins, the situation may not get as bad. You might be able to control the level of danger. You never have the control to stop it, just a thin veneer of relative control. So you do your best not to be caught in bed or dressing or alone with him. Clothes will still come off, abuse will still happen, but it may not be quite as bad if you can control these factors.

The situation will still escalate, but the starting place for the escalation will be lower, so maybe the escalation won’t go as far.

You learn numbness, because it’s all about survival, and you could never survive and keep this huge secret if you had feelings. So you shut down. You compartmentalize. You never allow yourself to cry. How could you stay in control if you cried? How could you keep the secret you’ve been burdened with? So you close yourself off.

You learn coping strategies that may offer thin protection in the time of abuse, but which are actually dysfunctional in the time post-abuse.

For instance, when you’re struggling to get through one more day - and that’s what it’s like surviving childhood sexual abuse - thoughts of suicide might get you through. You might dream of suicide as a solution. You might fantasize about suicide “if it ever gets too bad.” You probably hold onto thoughts of suicide as a form of ultimate control in a world where you have no control. Images repeating in your head of all the ways you could kill yourself. If that’s the case, by the time you’ve made it out, you’ve probably built a rich fantasy world featuring suicide as escape, revenge, a way to shut off the pain, and the only viable way to make a statement about what’s been going on. And then you go out into the real world, post-abuse, and one day you just snap, and you attempt suicide for real. Because you’re finally feeling after years of numbness, and feeling is painful, intense, too hard to bear.

It’s not an accident that people rarely attempt suicide in terrible situations. They attempt suicide after it seems the situation is getting better, and then it takes a turn for the worse. They attempt suicide after they’ve begun to dream of something more, because they can’t bear the pain of lost hope.

Post-abuse, that sense of danger still exists in your mind. You don’t expect happiness or safety, and it’s all still relative. You wake from nightmares. The horror still lives within you. It never goes away. But this time you wake from nightmares into the reality that you’re not actually being abused as you sleep. So it’s all relative. The danger doesn’t seem as bad, because you can wake up from the nightmare.

Many sexual abuse survivors turn to drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, even prostitution in their efforts to deaden the pain. These were not my personal “drugs of choice.” I went with suicide and numbness. And luckily for me, I had some good and caring friends, counselors, and priests; I came back from my suicide attempt; I reclaimed my Catholic faith. I do not say it was easy, but in time, healing happened. Not everyone heals or survives. So many are lost to drugs, alcohol, prostitution, suicide. So many are broken and have left the Catholic Church following the clergy abuse scandals. Can you blame them? Finding out that the predator is with you in your Catholic sanctuary when you finally thought you were safe, that it was all over, is the stuff of nightmares.

For me, Sunday was the most dangerous day because my busy family split up and went to different Masses, and I was expected to go to the later one with my father. Catechism classes for my age group consisted of an interactive, once a month, two-hour rap session, following the later Mass. And on those other Sundays... it was well-known in my family that I liked to sleep in. How could I tell anyone I didn’t want to go to the later Mass? Then I’d have to tell them why. And that was something I could never talk about.

Sundays broke my rules for relative safety from danger. I was in the house alone with my father. The abuse might even happen before I’d gotten out of bed, or when I was dressing. And it would be bad.

Afterward, we stood in Mass together and exchanged the sign of peace. How laughable is that? I was dying inside because of his abuse, and we shared the sign of peace.

I have my own unresolved issues about confession. My father told me once, in the course of a conversation about our “relationship,” that he went to confession. I always wondered, did the priest tell him to say “3 Hail Marys” and his sins would be forgiven? Did the same priest hear the same confession from him again and again and do nothing to protect me? I know the seal of the confessional is sacred, but couldn’t he have refused to grant absolution? Maybe he did refuse. Maybe my father went once to a visiting priest and said something vague like he had broken his marriage vows. He was a canny, manipulative man, after all. But I’m still haunted by the thought that a priest somewhere knew what he was doing to me and did nothing. I haven’t been to confession in years.

How do you think it makes me feel to know priests were abusing children in the confessional? That those children were living the same awful lie I was living at home, but it was being done by their spiritual fathers. By our spiritual shepherds. Msgr. Charles Pope describes clergy sexual abuse as “spiritual incest.” (NCR Blog Feb 2, 2019) That’s not far off.

I read everything. Including the PA Grand Jury Report and the LA Times Investigative Report from 2013. How do you think I feel knowing that our bishops, our spiritual shepherds, knew about abuse and did nothing to stop it? That they protected abusers over the children, blamed and defamed victims of clergy sexual abuse. Moved predators from one parish to another so they could keep on abusing children. Moved them out of state or out of country to protect those abusers and their own reputations. Colluded to protect the predators from the law and to leave the innocent children at their mercy. That’s what Mahony did. And he lied. He claimed he reported clergy abuse whenever he was informed of it. Not even once did he do so. He lied.

How do you think that makes me feel? I’ll tell you: Sick to my stomach.

And now they want to honor him by having him speak at a conference attended by 40,000 Catholics? A conference most likely attended by victims still suffering from the clergy sexual abuse Mahony enabled? In a city still teeming with the fruits of his betrayal?

How do you think I feel when I read about Bishop Zanchetta of Argentina invading the privacy of seminarians as they slept at night with his flashlight and his sexual filth? I’ll tell you: Violated. Violated on their behalf. How do you think I feel when I read that Pope Francis returned his good friend Zanchetta to ministry after the first complaint and then created a prestigious position for him at the Vatican after later complaints? I’ll tell you: Betrayed.

How do you think I feel about the Church’s silence on the sin of actively homosexual clergy when it is clear that the vast majority of clergy sexual abuse is homosexual in nature?

Clericalism??

How do you think I feel?

DEVASTATED.

Submitted by Odilia.

 


Interview with a sexual abuse victim

1. Have you ever had flashbacks? PTSD symptoms?

I don’t think I had any flashback or classic PTSD symptoms. Though as a teen I misunderstood sleep paralysis and thought I was being attacked by demons and wondered if it was related. I also felt very uncomfortable in later years sleeping in the same bed where the abuse had happened as a child (in current terminology, that might be called triggering). At points, I questioned my own sexuality and I know my ability to form lasting relationships has been affected (I am over 50 and still single). In many ways I have overcome the effects of what happened, and I don’t like to dwell on it or use it to excuse my shortcomings. Still, I think it helps explain/understand some of them (including continued struggles with the common vices associated with the deadly sin of lust).

2. How does the public discussion of clergy sex abuse affect you emotionally?


 

I have very mixed feelings. I don’t want all clergy (much less the charism of Holy Mother Church) damaged by the actions of some. But, when a culture of corruption and coverup and complicit silence develops; it is hard to know who to trust. I am currently in spiritual direction with a retired bishop, and don’t know if I can even trust him to recognize the seriousness of all of this. I don’t know if he appreciates how hard it makes it to witness to my niece, nephews and godchildren about the beauty of the church.

3. How does the cover-up of clergy sex abuse affect you emotionally?

It angers me greatly, less because of my own abuse than because of my experience working with other survivors and because of the damage it does to the Church’s credibility in other areas.

4. Do you have anything specific you would like to say to Cardinal Mahony, or the LAREC organizers?

Sardonically: Get a damn clue?

Seriously: How can we maintain any credibility as a moral teacher when we celebrate and advance those acting with such blatant disregard for the truth and/or morality. It is not that forgiveness isn’t possible. It is that lack of repentance and lack of accountability is galling and makes us think no one cares.

5. Any of this information that you are willing to share, would give people the context that would help them understand:

5a. Your age when the abuse took place,

I’m not exactly sure, repeated occurrences somewhere between the ages of 4 and 8?

5b. Were you abused by someone you knew and trusted? Clergy? Coach? Relative?

An older brother.

5c. whether people believed you,

Generally, yes.

5d. how long it took for you to reveal what happened

I was probably college aged before I first started talking about it (so at least ten years, probably more).

5e. whether the Church treated you appropriately (if relevant to your story)

Not relevant, my brother had no church position at the time of my abuse. Interestingly however, my brother eventually spent several years in the seminary; but, the abuse happened long before then and I don’t think it was known to them. For whatever it is worth, he did not make it through until ordination (though he got close).

Submitted by Oliver.


To this day, looking at the white collar that priests wear sometimes causes anxiety.

I was 15 years old when I experienced several months of sexual abuse at the hands of a parish priest while I worked weekends in the rectory. Although it's been close to 20 years since then and despite years of hard work in psychotherapy to address PTSD, I still suffer from occasional flashbacks. Thankfully, these have improved with time. For years, I suffered from anxiety attacks. I've been blessed to have held onto my faith and am still very much a practicing Catholic but, even so, sometimes walking into a church is physically and emotionally painful. Intimacy with my husband can be extremely difficult when the flashbacks hit or when the specific dates of particular attacks come around (I become very depressed on the anniversary of my rape in particular). To this day, looking at the white collar that priests wear sometimes causes anxiety.


In regards to Cardinal Mahony speaking at the LAREC, I am feeling a lot of anxiety surrounding that because I can only begin to imagine how I would feel if someone who supported or covered for my rapist was going to be a speaker at an event. I feel for the victims who were affected by the Cardinal's actions (or lack there-of). His public presence is nothing short of degrading and triggering for survivors. Cardinal Mahony's actions were criminal and he should be treated as such.

Every time the subject of clergy sex abuse comes up, I feel as though the wound is being ripped open all over again. While it is a part of my history and a part of who I am, I don't typically dwell on it 24/7. However, since the information regarding years of sexual abuse was released from Pennsylvania last summer, the issue has been on my mind almost constantly. This has made life extremely difficult as I am a wife and homeschooling mother of three. It's been years since I've had as many difficult days as I've had over the last several months. The wound has been opened and it hurts – me and my family. I am grateful that I have been able to speak out about what happened to me on several occasions over the years, and my primary goal has always been to offer hope and support to other survivors.

Being able to come forward about the abuse within a relatively short period of time (a year later) was truly a grace. It was upon the unexpected death of my oldest brother that I was sent reeling into a tailspin. My parents, who knew nothing at the time although they knew something was "off" with me, put me into grief therapy and it was there that I was finally able to embark on the road to healing. Telling my parents was like having a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, and knowing that I was (finally) not dealing with it alone was like no feeling I can fully describe. There are fewer things in life that feel more wonderful than knowing you are loved, supported and believed! Sadly, not everyone has had the same support as I have had.

Knowing that there has been so much cover-up of clergy sex abuse is extremely infuriating and so very hurtful to survivors. In 2002, the hierarchy had the opportunity to air all the junk when news of covered-up sex abuse broke in Boston. The release of the information was highlighted in the “Spotlight” movie released several years later. I never watched it as I knew it would be too triggering for me (I was baptized by Ronald Paquin and he spent time in the same jail as my rapist). However, the hierarchy could have aired all the junk from all those years. They failed to do that. Instead, too many leaders chose to remain silent and now an entire church is reeling as a result and survivors are, once again, being shown that their suffering means little to nothing to some of our supposed leaders.

My own case turned into a bit of a media frenzy because the other cases that came to light had been in the past. Mine had been recent. Thankfully, my rapist was dealt with appropriately – he was removed immediately after a complaint from an adult woman was made. I eventually chose to face Kelvin in court upon learning that he had had other victims (although I was the only known minor). What hit me really hard was learning that the pastor at the church where Kelvin had been stationed before he was transferred to my parish, had received a complaint from a woman claiming to have been raped by Kelvin. The pastor brought Kelvin into the same room as the woman and asked him if her allegations were true. Of course, Kelvin denied it. The pastor believed him. If that pastor had taken the appropriate action and reported Kelvin to the police and to the archdiocese, I might never have had to go through what I did.

I am having a really difficult time understanding why the LAREC organizers asked Cardinal Mahony to speak in the first place. I certainly hope that his years of covering sexual abuse is not a reflection of the LAREC and what they stand for. His behavior was criminal! As for Cardinal Mahony, he should be doing what he should have been doing all along – he should be putting survivors first. He can't change the past, but he can alleviate some of the pain that survivors like me feel when someone like him is being put into the limelight as if he is someone to be admired. Lives were ruined because of his lack of action. I can forgive but that does not alleviate the need for justice! Whether it's his own pride that's causing him to not back down from this speaking engagement or some other reason, I don't know. I do know that he is, once again, failing in his role as a shepherd. How many souls have been led down the path to hell because of his lack of leadership and his lack of action? How many more people must suffer? He is not the kind of person who should be speaking at a religious education conference. Religious education strives to put children and family first, something Cardinal Mahony clearly understands nothing about. If that meant anything to him, he would have protected those victims. He would have taken appropriate action and reported those priests. He would have put a stop to the abuse, not allowed it to continue. If Cardinal Mahony is the best the LAREC can come up with for a speaker, then they need to do some serious soul-searching and one has to wonder at the kind of religious education programs they are providing. As a parent, I would not entrust my children's religious education to the hands of an organization that invites a speaker who has covered for the sex abuse of children. If the LAREC wants to be seen as a trust-worthy organization, an organization that truly cares for the physical and spiritual safety of children, they need to disinvite Cardinal Mahony.

Submitted by "Eugenia".