While I am not going to beat myself over the head for living in denial and confusion when it came to my boss, who is a priest and was the head priest of the Tribunal and a Canon lawyer, I will break down what signs to look out for and what it can mean to someone who may be still waiting for the high that used to come from the hits of “love bombing” at the initial stages of grooming.
The first thing to know is not just that priests abuse adult women and men, but that they do so in alarming numbers and it has been said that adults are abused more than children. Just let that sink in. What do I mean by “adult”? Anyone from age 18 to age 100. Anyone can be targeted. Just this year, a Catholic priest in Texas molested a woman while he was administering her last rites. By “molest” I mean that the priest anointed the woman’s chest with holy water and then proceeded to rub lotion on her chest, her breast, pinched her nipple and try to put his hands down her diaper.
Not all priests are this easy to apprehend, however. Unless, perhaps he thought the woman could not tell anyone what had happened. But she was and she did.
My boss played a weird game of cat and mouse. In fact, he would often reference his cat and how he had used food to slowly tame her and finally was able to trap her inside by patiently moving the food closer and closer to his door and getting her to be comfortable around him.
There was a mixture of flirtation and yelling and and love bombing and punishment with my boss. Oh, and a lot of denial on his part and blame placing. It was a dangerous slippery slope and I thought about recording him but he usually came into my office unannounced or tell me that I was making him uncomfortable if I tried to ask him anything.
He would flirt and drop hints that made me feel a bit crazy and when I came out and directly asked him if he was asking me to come to his house, for instance, he would scream at me and I would feel like I had broken all of the commandments. So I figured he just wanted to flirt. And I accepted that.
But then he would push the regular limits…..with anger and staring at me during mass or showing up at my car….but he never said or did anything. Until afterwards when he would scream or intentionally ignore me.
And like I said, I am not going to beat myself up over what I should have known or what I should have done….because it wasn’t my fault. I tell myself that because I am the one who needs to know that. God knows I was told it was my fault by pretty much everyone who looked at this like it was a consensual relationship.
My issue was feeling ashamed and embarrassed and not wanting to rat out a priest who I thought was maybe having a sexual meltdown. I could not say the words to anyone because it made me feel….yucky.
But I knew enough to know that his words could disappear like smoke into the air, and as he began to get to the point where he pretty much said he wanted an affair but not outside the office and I had asked him if he expected me to initiate said affair in his office. And he did not say the words directly, but he answered “yes” and told me I “had better get over” (my hesitation) “and just do it….or else”…..and the “or else” seemed to range from me losing my job to ending up in the obituaries….safe to say I felt threatened.
But if we take a look at what this priest was doing, it was basically using grooming, manipulation, and gas-lighting techniques to get me to feel just enough loved and needed with a bit of threats and motivation to get me to initiate sexual acts with him.
What happens then if you fall victim to this ploy? Well, for one, how can you say that you were forced into sex? Was there a gun at your head? Do you have anything in writing or recorded to prove anything? Did he ever touch you? Did the good Father ever initiate a sex act with you? What did he say or do when you took his penis in your hand? Uh….well, he said he was shocked. Um…but he didn’t stop me. Really, what do you expect? Tell me again how this was his fault?
Well, I mean, see, he said we couldn’t go to his place…..
It’s been three years since I was fired from the Diocese and I keep learning things I didn’t think of before. Such as the main thing Father said when he went to Human Resources was….”I never touched her”.
It took me this long to realize that he knew well the position I would find myself in after the fact. He knew that if I (as other had) touched him, and I tried to tell anyone or go to the police or anything…..he knew well how to silence his victims. Because he could threaten to press charges for sexual assault. Yes, that is right…..you the victim, could be in trouble.
This just blew my mind.
Add to that adult abuse is usually geared towards blaming the woman which other priests and parishioners are more than likely to do and it feels like you are alone and helpless.
You probably blame yourself and you probably feel that SNAP (Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests) is only for children who have been abused.
And if you talk to a lawyer, you better have proof that you were coerced and harassed.
Human Resources interviewed a priest who worked with us and he said he knew nothing about what I was talking about….he had seen Father do nothing wrong.
I did not know that priests covered for each other. I thought that my case didn’t happen to anyone outside of the one priest I knew.
It’s hard to tell anyone who is going through the grooming and the love bombing and the denial on the priest’s part that they are in danger. They will make excuses for the priest. Just as those within an abusive relationship will act.
We who have been abused as adults are facing many obstacles within ourselves, with those we do talk to, and with trying to get legal justice for what happened to us.
There is strength in numbers. What one person may not be able to accomplish, many can. Contact the Survivor’s Network for those Abused by Priests. There are many sub-groups, including those abused as adults that are there to listen. Join the monthly video chat for abused by adults.
Forgive yourself. Join with others. Keep learning. Don’t accept blame.