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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".