The Healing Mass: Through the Eyes of a Catholic School Teacher and Clergy Sex Abuse Survivor


GUEST BLOG BY C&C

When I got the invitation to attend the healing mass, I had already only recently begun dealing with the damage to my relationship with the Church and God, my inability to participate at mass, and my anger that so many leaders were more concerned with the reputation of the Church than they were with the children entrusted to their care. Someone asked me simply, “Do you want to go?” I said, “Yes, I want to go.”

Why? Well, I am not going to let this mess ruin the the good parts of the relationship of a lifetime. I am not going to stay away and let them talk about distant, faceless victims. I am going to stand right in front of them and let them see my face. I know that many might find it difficult to understand not knowing my whole story, but I hope you will trust me when I say that, despite the harm done, my relationship with the Catholic Church and the many good people in it, saved my life.

When I was a teenager, I could have fought harder to bring the bad situation to light, but I let them play on my fear that my reputation would be destroyed, that I would suffer more by exposing what had happened. How do you fight against that as a child? When you grow up Catholic, almost everyone you know is Catholic. How can you face being questioned or doubted by everyone who matters in your life?

Back then, I had no way of knowing that I was not alone. It was not until the past decade that I became aware that it was not just this one man who had taken advantage of me.  I was not alone and the conspiracy to cover this up went all the way to the top.

Stepping inside the cathedral and looking Archbishop Chaput in the eye as he delivered his homily was my symbolic action that I am going to reclaim what is good in my Church and work from within for some justice.  I am here and I am not going away. You cannot talk about me and pray for my healing from a distance. I am standing here right in front of you. I will continue to tell my story to anyone who will listen with an open mind and open heart. Many of the people with whom I have shared some of my story are surprised. I am not who they imagine when they think of victims.

They think of me as the Catholic school teacher. They see me as someone who loves the Church and all the good it has done for me. I do love the Church- the individual people who make up the Body of Christ. I see the priests and the bishops as OUR servants and I will be working to remind them that they have twisted that relationship, separated themselves and lifted themselves above us.
One of my students from over 20 years ago asked me to go to dinner on Saturday. I told him I was going to the Mass for Healing for Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse. He let me know that he would pick me up, go to mass with me, and take me to dinner after. To have someone who has thanked me for having a positive impact on his life be willing to stand beside me is an overwhelming gift I cannot begin to explain.

When I first stepped inside, there were women with baskets handing out hand knitted squares and prayer cards. Later, I realized that these little squares were prayer cloths knitted by Senior Hearts in Action. I wondered if these senior citizens had considered the number of cloths. The AD says they sent out around 200 invitations. Those are just the victims they know about and are willing to accept mailings from them.  Just how many of us are there?  Think about how that number grows as we consider that this is a worldwide problem.

Just before we got started, there was an announcement. We were told that it was “inevitable” that there would be some protest. We were assured that security was there to to help us maintain our focus. I had to laugh at this. There was security to protect us from the the people for whom we were praying and their advocates. On my way out, I counted at least four bored Allied Barton security guards standing at the back.

As the priests and bishops processed up the center aisle, I was struck by a smell of the incense and the sight of the bright purple Lenten vestments.  I had chosen a pew that would allow me to see the face of the archbishop quite clearly during his homily. I looked around and realized that we were the only occupants of this pew. My companion and I agreed that the place felt a little empty.
During the Liturgy of the Word, I listened quite intently to the readings for this 3rd Sunday in Lent. I also looked around and got the sense that those in attendance were perhaps the same people who would have been there anyway.

During this particular service, I expected the intercession for the healing of victims of clergy sexual abuse. I think this should be included frequently in all parishes throughout the world. Not just this one day. How are things going to change if the people in the pews are not going to acknowledge it? Despite the press and all the public attention, so many still refuse to see. They see the attention as an attack on their faith from outsiders and bad, fallen Catholics. If they hear it often enough, perhaps they will begin to be curious and begin to take back some of the power they have relinquished to the leaders of their Church.

At one point during the mass, a woman abruptly walked up one of the side aisles toward the altar, crossed the center aisle and made her way down the other side. I was too far to hear her, but she seemed to be saying something in a low voice.

After mass, we made our way through the slow procession as everyone exited. The group holding signs was neither confrontational nor disruptive. They formed a tight line right at the exit so that anyone exiting would have to see them and could not avoid reading at least one sign. I wish I could have stood with them and attended, but I had to make the choice that was right for me on this particular day.
It seemed that everyone was out in Center City enjoying the fairly pleasant evening. We drove around for quite some time to find a parking space and discussed our impressions of the homily. My companion just happens to be in need of healing from a broken relationship. So, what struck him was Chaput’s lesson of the many biblical associations with romantic relationships starting at wells. He got a little caught up in that imagery because of his recent experiences

In that moment, I came to a realization. What had struck me was how many times he had said the words, “sexual abuse.” Of course, I would focus on that, but what effect would his words have had on the others? We rarely listen without connecting to our own experiences. For those never touched by clergy sexual abuse, the message was probably was probably adequate. For me, it was only a beginning.

As we chatted over dinner, we talked about healing. The archbishop said the we needed healing that only God could provide. Prayer is only one part of healing. Catholics don’t rely solely on God for healing. For many other causes, we have been encouraged to take action. To heal, we must recognize the cause of our sickness and do whatever we can to treat the cause- not just the symptoms.

I want a leadership of the Catholic Church that is able to demonstrate by clear and consistent behavior that they believe that priests who abuse their children are not just sick sinners also in need of healing but criminals who should be held accountable to their victims. As they taught us when they asked us to confess our sins for the first time, reconciliation occurs when you are truly sorry for your sins and you are truly committed to sinning no more.

I am glad I went simply because it was something I needed to experience for myself. I am new to this process of confronting what happened in the past and have just started working on healing.  As I continue to reflect on it in the coming days, I will continue to ask myself what I am going to do in the future to guarantee my own healing and to guarantee that no other child feels compelled to remain silent and contain the frustration, pain, and anger alone for a lifetime.

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32 Responses to “The Healing Mass: Through the Eyes of a Catholic School Teacher and Clergy Sex Abuse Survivor”

  1. Until a complete list of bishops involved in the coverup is released I consider all of them suspects. I won’t trust my soul or my child to a RCC bishop.

  2. C&C when you wrote “Many of the people with whom I have shared some of my story are surprised. I am not who they imagine when they think of victims.”

    I had a conversation with an acquaintance and she asked me “what are THEY like?” it was an honest question as she was trying to gain some insight about the victims..I responded “THEY are just like you”. I could tell that my answer surprised her. Many victims came from very involved Catholic families… catholic school students…altar servers..parents involved in the parish..People need to imagine the victims to be some type of ‘fringe” Catholics to make themselves feel better.

    The security guards present because of the protesters..I think you hit the nail on the head when you said ” There was security to protect us from the the people for whom we were praying and their advocates.” If that doesn’t send a message then I don’t know what does. I have been at some First Friday vigils where any clergy make a dash away from the victims while the lay employees barrel down the stairs and though the line as if the victims are invisible..and then of course the victims being watched by security . I always say I feel like I am in a present day Bible story

    • Kathy – it is the comment I hear the most when I share my story. When I told my best friend of 15 years that I had been abused in High School, she was shocked. Her next question was – “why didn’t you tell anyone?” She knows me as I am now – confident, self assured.

      “What are THEY like?” – I came from a solid home. I had relatives that were clergy members and Catholic educators. Twelve years of Catholic schools. I was an excellent student – graduated in the top 10 of my High School class. I was in the National Honor Society and other activities. I did not drink or do drugs, wasn’t out partying on the weekends. I went to college and then graduate school. I own my own business and make a very nice living. I still give money to my Catholic grade school and high school – but not a dime to the Archdiocese.

      “THEY are just like you” – and I was. Like a typical High School kid, everything was drama magnified 100%. My abuser, rather than counseling me that all kids go thru this – fights with your parents, pressure from all sides – decided to take this opportunity of shown vulnerability and use it to his advantage. Stories I have heard from his other victims are the same. I looked to him as a friend, a confidant, a guiding presence. He looked at me as another notch in his belt. When I graduated, he was already on to his next victims.

      To know me today, no one would ever think I was the victim of abuse. Hence, my best friend’s surprise. Today, a swift kick to the groin area and a call to police would be my defense. Then, a naive, impressionable teenager thought she had misread the situation – he was just being kind and nice – a priest wouldn’t do anything wrong – and, if he crossed a line, it was my fault – I led him on, gave the wrong impression.

      “THEY are just like you” – and could have been you. A different priest assignment lands an abuser at your parish. A roster change and you suddenly have Father X as your religion teacher. A decision to become an altar server puts you in the front line of an abuser.

      Over 75% of the priests at my high school are now removed from ministry. The priest that I always thought was so cute when I went to mass with my grandmother. Two priests that were in residence at my local parish. All removed.

      Perhaps, a better question might be asked right back of our Catholic officials. “What were the abusers like – THEY LOOKED ALOT LIKE YOU!”

  3. What a wonderful, beautifully written guest blog entry! There is only one line that I would like to add to: “Reconciliation occurs only when you are truly sorry for your sins and you are truly committed to sinning no more.” Can we add also: “and when you DO PENANCE for your sins.” These evil priests and bishops need to stand trial and go to prison for what they have done. Defrocking is not enough.

  4. I applaud C&C comment. It brought back memories of a session I had with my therapist. Like C&C I wanted every victim of abuse to be seen by those who abused us and those who protected them. I wanted those who were still living in pain to come forward to stop those who abused them from ever hurting anyone else.

    It goes back to the fault of my own that children were hurt by my abuser because I did not have the strength to come forward.

    Being treated for PTSD like so many others my therapist sent me home with some homework.

    She wanted me to come up with a plan on how I would bring to light to everyone the extent of pain suffered by clergy abuse victims. Both those who have suffered abuse decades ago to those who maybe be abused today.

    I thought about the challenge for sometime and when I went back to the therapist I had the answer she was looking for.

    Being a retired firefighter I thought I could use my past career to help. I wanted to do something that would gain the attention of as many people as possible and something the Archdiocese could not ignore just like C&C wanted to be in position that Chaput seen her.

    I told my therapist I wanted to make a commercial that consisted of a firefighter, a greasy haired tattooed individual, a medical doctor, a child, a school teacher, and an average looking male. In the commercial there would be headings at each character saying who they were. Not names but a description of each person. For example at medical doctor it might say general practioner. At school teacher it might say history teacher. The whole time the narrator would be saying can you guess who has been abused by a clergy member. Can you guess who has been living in pain. At that time the only person who would not step forward would be the child. The camera would then focus on the child and the narrator saying please do not let what happen to us happen to him.

    After telling her this, as I watched her jaw sitting in her lap I thought to myself I am not leaving this office unless I was wearing a white jacket. It was not until she began talking again I knew I must be on the right track to healing. “Do it” Do it” she said. Although this is only a dream of something I wish I could do. I knew I could not sit back any longer and this is when I began to be a voice on many blogs. Some that I would never recommend anyone to go to.

    Like C&C who wanted Chaput to see her face. I use my real name on any blog I go to. I have to be that strength someone else may not have and I have to gain strength from those who have more then me.

    C&C you are strong and so many people will gain strength from your words only. I know I have.

    • Nice to meet you Dennis!

    • crazedandconfused Reply March 24, 2014 at 2:08 am

      You are good man, Dennis. I do think you could make that video happen in this age of viral videos. I bet there are some people here who would be willing to help.

      I admire your courage in using your real name and sharing so much of yourself. I hope to get to that point one of these days.

      • Crazed and confused: I really admire the courage it took to go into the Cathedral on Saturday. Like Dennis, I have chosen to use my name when I post here . The same rationale that you used was my motivation. There was a point in my life that I would have never been that brazen.What I have come to realize is that I did nothing wrong. I was an innocent child. I have no reason to hide. I really admire teachers. My daughter teaches middle school and my brother teaches at a tech school. I believe that teachers have the most important job in society. And also perhaps the most difficult. It is a shame that many do not appreciate the work that they do .Many victims are on a path to wholeness.We all must travel the path that works best for us individually. You went inside, others stayed outside and some of us avoided the whole scene. Those of us who choose to post on this blog are on the same path. I am glad to have you as a fellow traveler. .

    • Very nice to meet you Dennis.

    • Thank you Dennis. You have put a face to another survivor as well as you name. I know the accounts of child abuse survivors have affected the staff of the PA reps. Just need the reps to vote for opening a window for SOLs on child sexual abuse so the abusers can be named and the truth entered into legal record of what you and others have suffered.

    • Dennis your career as a fire fighter literally had you willing to risk your life for the protection of other people..while these men could not pick up a phone to report an abuser and protect children. I can imagine when you are willing to sacrifice possibly your life on a daily basis due to your chosen occupation , it only compounds to the bewilderment of why others can’t perform the most basic decent tasks for the sake of another person, especially a child.
      I always say about Msgr Lynn that people give him an out saying he was following orders and there was nothing he could do. Nothing? He could have picked up a phone and called the police..he could have been a hero..but he wasn’t ..heroes run into burning buildings to save people…they protect children..they are willing to give something of themselves no matter what the cost.
      We can never rationalize why these men committed the cover up crimes ..and you know why..because we would have never done it..ever. I don’t know that I could run into a burning building, I do know as a social worker I have picked up the phone to report child abuse. I take back what I said about Lynn being a hero if he turned them in..that is not heroic..that is common decency. I was not a hero reporting child abuse, it is an act done by thousands of people every day

    • Hi Dennis:

      Denise

  5. Thank you C&C for your insights. I, too, am a victim of sexual abuse, but by a vowed, religious sister, not a priest. I, too, taught in Catholic schools for many years. Unlike you, I have separated myself from the Catholic church. I have personally heard too many stories similar to yours and mine and listened to the way so many survivors have been treated by the hierarchy of religious congregations or the church, that I cannot be a part of it at this time. I would so much like to continue teaching young children about God’s love and their relationship with God, but that also means teaching about the rules and attitudes of the church. It is difficult for me to separate out the many good, holy people in the pews and the good, holy priests from those in the pews who say it was our fault, or who do not believe our stories. It is so difficult to separate the good priests from those members of the hierarchy who still believe that they are above the law and better than us. I was a young sister when I was abused by the superior. I had been taught that the superior was God’s representative on earth, that God spoke through her, that we were to obey her in all things without question. Imagine my horror when my superior began coming into my bedroom at night to get her sexual needs met using my body. She constantly told me that she was 13 years older than I, that she was the superior, and she had been in the congregation longer than I. Translation: if you tell anyone, whom do you think they will believe? For many years I told no one, and when I did, I might as well have been talking about the score of a ballgame. When my provincial told me I had to end therapy – after only several months – I took a leave of absence from the congregation to continue. During that time the provincial and her council treated me like I was the criminal. When I asked her for a car loan, (I was in a congregation where we did not handle money; only the superior did, so I had none) she told me to “get a bike.” I was living and teaching in the Bronx. So, I decided to leave the congregation entirely.

    I truly hope someday the ordinary Catholic in the pew will acknowledge what happened to thousands of us and make such a fuss that something will HAVE to be done.

  6. Such a courageous sharing, c&c.

    Thank you for it.

  7. The real mass and communion was at dinner with your friend 😀 . The church is a cage complete with security guards , where they let you out now and again for good behaviour.

  8. Kathy and Susan – Can these stories and reflections (like Gabe/Dennis/Jim and others) who share here be archived under a separate title on this website?

    I know that the life of a nun/sister could be very manipulated and oppressive but never considered sexual violence and abuse by superiors like Gabe has just shared.

    Bless you Gabe for your courage in helping reveal the truth to Catholics like me.

  9. Victim’s Sister, I’d be happy to set that up. It’s been suggested that we have a page specifically for victims’ accounts. I will use this post and related survivor comments as the start to that page. Look for it later today or tomorrow.

  10. With all of the pain, suffering and heartache poured out on this website by victims and their families in light of the “healing Mass”, I just cannot contain my outrage and disgust that Archbishop Chaput would use the following phrase in his sermon:

    “…..”the negligence of the church’s pastors”…..”

    The decision-making and/or conduct relative to clergy abuse allegations most definitely WAS NOT negligence. From the initial notification of such an allegation, all action, decision making, etc. was calculated, conscious and deliberately made by leadership down at 222 N. 17th St. in conjunction with legal counsel. How dare he minimize the deliberate actions of Church leadership by referring to it as “negligence.” This writer has posted several examples in the past of archdiocesan legal counsel’s statements which reflect a very deliberate, calculating and precise understanding and perspective which guided the decision-making in such matters.

    Archbishop Chaput, while you’re jetting over to Rome in company with elected officials and business leaders who continue to OPPOSE valuable legislation which would help to protect ALL the Commonwealth’s children, consider this:

    NEGLIGENCE: Conduct that falls below the standards of behavior established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm. A person has acted negligently if he or she has departed from the conduct expected of a reasonably prudent person acting under similar circumstances.

    Deliberately deciding to turn one’s back on the suffering, pain and degradation of the youngest of the Church’s faithful and failing to act on the criminal conduct of certain clergy under the leadership’s supervision and control isn’t negligence. You know that and every Philadelphia area Catholic knows it as well.

    Michael Skiendzielewski

  11. Jesus was truly present in all the connections and interactions that went on outside the cathedral on the sidewalks. When will the AD remember Jesus walked among our suffering and those in need of healing………..I was blessed by every single people I spoke too……such courage and compassion….. seen from survivors and their families……… there was also concern from people walking by…….people that attended the mass but didn’t really understand child sex abuse…….but who left the sidewalk after some interaction acknowledging they were a little shell shocked and that they admitted they thought they understood the issue but now realize they didnt……even very interesting interactions with security at the doors of the cathedral and the news people.. Hearts were changed for the good………..

    • Beth, I have felt the same way at the vigils and what always strikes me is the group that is missing to hear and see that message. I always feel like saying to the people who turn and walk the other way “you have no idea what you are missing”. The Good Friday vigil outside the cathedral 2 years ago was absolutely the most touching Good Friday I have experienced..and it was on a sidewalk with people who suffered.

      I asked an Archdiocesan employee one time his thoughts on why the clergy and employees treat the victims outside as invisible and his response was “because those people are trying to destroy the Church”
      What a twisted and sad commentary and he will never know what he is missing.

      • Beth, I am so happy to hear that what I saw on the sidewalk was just as I believed. In many of the churches I have attended over the years, sometimes the best interactions take place when mass has ended and the crowd gathers outside the doors.

        I do believe if Jesus was there with you because if he were physically here among us, that is precisely where he would be.

        The gospel reading for that day of Jesus with the Samaritan woman bringing the water of life reminds me that HE would have been right there. How amazing would it have been if the bishops had walked out to meet you?

        Kathy, you mentioned earlier that it is like being in a bible story. How true. I can hear Jesus reprimanding the apostles for believing that the victims and advocates are the ones trying to destroy the Church.

  12. C&C That was a wonderful blog. I just want to say again our survivors and their families are some of the most amazing people I have ever met and you are in my thoughts and prayers frequently and that I pray, hope and act so that hopefully thru many peoples effort especially those of our survivors one day all children will be valued and protected and adult survivors may have justice. I remember reading somewhere Archbishop Chaput( my understanding and paraphrasing) believed the media manipulated our survivors stories and the public and then that makes way for the greedy lawyers to sue the church for a lot of money. Sorry but ………that’s not the view from the ground level . Somehow church leadership has convinced priests and others that this is an attack against the church and it them(clergy) against us(survivors)…….its no wonder Jesus said that to enter heaven you have to become like a little child………..I don’t think the leadership even remembers what it is like to be a child.

  13. http://www.ncronline.org

    Pope’s new abuse commission is another promise waiting to be broken

    by Thomas P. Doyle | Mar. 25, 2014 Examining the Crisis

    The countless victims of clergy sex abuse have been waiting for 30 years for the Vatican to show it really understands the depth of the problem and is willing to do something real about it. Judging by the latest move, naming members of a pontifical commission, victims will have to keep on waiting. Those who have been deeply involved in this issue for the long haul had little hope the promised commission would make a difference, and we probably won’t be disappointed.

    With the healing mass already in the past without a favorable review I came across this NCR article that maybe a interesting read for others.

    The above is only the first paragraph of the article but I believe it only shows we should not hold our breaths waiting for any type of action to take place, and its only groups like Catholics4Change are helping victims and their families, not by anything the church has done but by how each and every victim/survivor is helping each other.

  14. “Because those people are trying to destroy the Church”. Kathy: I wonder where those sentiments originated. As victims we are seen as the enemy by the Hierarchy of the Church. It seems so incongruous that Chaput could celebrate a Mass for victims while at the same time have security guards protecting him from the victims who protested outside .The picture that is painted for those who remain members in good standing in the Church of victims is completely false. The motivations assigned to us are only in their paranoid minds .Victims, from the very beginning of this crisis wanted three things, in my opinion .They wanted the sexual abuse to stop. They wanted the perpetrators removed from access to children. And they wanted the Church to accept responsibility for their part in the coverup. The Church instead protected the perpetrators, attacked the victims and lied about their role. In my opinion, most victims only sought out legal recourse after they were ignored, lied to and painted as enemies of the Church. To this day the Church continues to send victims mixed messages. We are the enemy yet they pray for us. In my opinion they are simply praying that we would just go away.

    • Jim,
      I could not agree with you more. Chaput was too afraid to find out the truth himself and to interact with those that are hurting the most the families that recently lost loved ones. There was a young man that came out after mass and he engaged our survivors and things got alittle heated but that young man wanted to know the truth despite his fear of what he might find or be confronted with and I do admire his courage. He later said he was discerning whether to become a priest or not. I have to admit I was afraid going to my first vigil but I went anyway and what I found was very different than I expected.Of course our survivors and families are angry wouldn’t any normal person that has lost a loved one or been hurt so badly by a church that ignors, attacks and minimizes what they have been thru.

      • Beth the first vigil I ever attended was shortly after C4C began and we joined with the First Friday vigil. I was so furious about the 2011 GJ report and the fact that their were abusive priests who were left in ministry that I felt more fired up than fearful. Once I got to the vigil though and saw some of the people were victims and had signs with picture of themselves as children,I felt overwhelming guilt and could barely look them in the eye. I had guilt because I did nothing in 2005 after the first GJ report and guilt that although I was devastated overall about the abuse, I never gave much thought to the individual victims.

        There was an older woman holding a sign of a photo of a young girl wearing a communion dress, I don’t know if the photo was of her or a family member . There were young women whose deceased mother was a clergy abuse victim. There was a woman whose father was a victim. I felt such guilt. It was uncomfortable..of course..not easy facing something that I had ignored.

        We met Vicky at the end of the vigil . I will never forget that she thanked us because so many people showed up who were not victims or family members of victims and it meant so much to her that regular Catholic people were there to support the victims and stand up for protection of children. Since that first vigil I have spoken to countless victims and family members and have been blessed by the relationships.

  15. Against changing the SOL, sending the bishop who was against that in Colorado, Disciplining the pastors who would not allow abusive priests into their parish, hiring security to protect the survivors after inciting their employees and others that the survivors were destroying the church.

    I am not a survivor and I am C & C over this issue. Thank you for sharing. Glad there is C4C so there is a forum. Remember that lone voice calling the faculty house, he did get some justice in Delaware. Now we need the same for all of you in every state.

  16. I received a blog (Flocknote) that the author is using to follow the Philly delegation in Rome regarding the World Meeting of Families. It should be a joyous time for we locals, but I can only pray the massive cover-up in the City of Brotherly Love will be on the agenda. I added my comments to give those who are reviewing the blog a “heads up” on the trouble in Philly. See: https://uno.flocknote.com/note/198006

  17. B. Madden (formerly Anon) Reply March 25, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Dennis, your comments struck a major chord for me. As the son of a Philadelphia Fire Fighter (now deceased), I grew up in many of the firehouses around the City in the 50’s and 60″s. I know it takes a special individual to perform that task. For that alone, you have my respect.

    As for your commercial idea, if you were ever to be able to make it, I would be proud to stand next to you on camera. May you continue to heal.

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