I’ve found it easier to help others and to listen to their stories. It’s also easier to dance around the subject of adult abuse by priests. It’s not so easy to discuss your own case or to have to face your past and your mistakes and your own shame. There was a time after I was fired from my job at the Diocese that I wanted so much to go back and have a do-over. Now I don’t want anything to do with the place.
But it appears that I will soon have little choice over the matter. Yes, that’s right. I’m going in. One of the survivors I work with wanted an appointment to see the bishop. She asked me if I would go with her. I said that I would. That appointment is in two days. This means that for the first time since I was fired over three years ago, I will be back in that building where I was once escorted to the door. I was concerned about that for many reasons. Not just about how I am going to feel, but also I have visions of security swooping down and carrying me out in handcuffs. But then I remembered…..technically, I was not fired. Technically, I was told that I had resigned. Therefore, there should be no problem.
I really can’t know ahead of time how I am going to feel walking back in that building. I am a different person than I was three years ago. I’m not planning to run into my ex-boss as he is retired now, but I know that just because he is retired doesn’t mean he may be doing other things in the building or just stopping in to see someone for lunch. Or I could run into someone from Human Resources, or another priest who knew about the situation….or even my ex-coworker.
I happened to be meeting with this particular survivor yesterday….the one with whom I will be attending the meeting at the diocese. And I said that I was unsure what feelings going back there may bring up. I told her how ashamed I felt and how I was told it was my fault and how his part was minimized or excused. And what it made me realize was that we as survivors want so much for non-survivors such as our family and our friends to understand what really happened, and how, while that is important in order for things to change, what is more important is for us as survivors to really understand what happened.
This man got away with what he did to me and to others because I did not even realize that what was happening was sexual harassment. I knew that I was uncomfortable many times, and had he not been a priest, I would hopefully have seen things more clearly….like when he insisted I walk up the stairs in front of him or when he asked me to lean over to get information for him and I needed to make sure my shirt did not end up gaping open in the process….while he sat there and watched or sat and stared at me.
It’s so important to tell our story to other survivors. Each time we do, in some way, it helps us. When I told this person yesterday that I had felt I had gone along with things and that I had made excuses for this priest and kept telling myself that what was happening was not happening because there was no way that a priest would do anything like this on purpose or with bad intentions. I had felt it was a personal relationship, not a predator/prey thing. He had been kind to me and had made me feel important. I felt that he and I were friends and that anything that went on within that friendship was private or secret. Part of me questioned what he was doing and wanted to say something or wanted to leave, but I did not see the true nature of the game until way after it was over.
And that is the way that people get taken in. The imbalance of power. The friendship. The sharing of personal details. Protecting the predator. Caring about the abuser. The emotional highs and lows. The abuser’s knowledge of human nature and how to use subtle tricks to cause someone to doubt their own reality.
I felt that I had allowed it. That I was a part of it. That I was a partner in a twisted tango. I didn’t know that was a thing that happened all the time to so many men and woman. I thought it was just this particular “lonely” priest and me….a person he had felt a need to connect with.
So when he told me that I had better initiate sex with him in his office….I felt so many things. Confused, scared, panicked, obligated, trapped….but also somewhat special and not wanting to lose my job and its perks or feeling special to someone I truly felt I cared about.
And when I say that I “cared about” him, let me just say that I now know that who I cared about, was not the man who actually exists but someone he portrayed himself to be. Because there was no love, caring or mutual friendship or respect happening there. He is a cold-blooded monster who enjoys using and degrading women and destroying their soul.
And there was a small lightbulb over my head that kept vying for my attention. And I knew enough that if I did what he wanted, that things would not get better. But woman have become victimized by him. And because they always initiated what he kept them guessing about what he wanted, they could not press charges. And because what he wanted was degrading and done by people he picked who were already in some way fragile and seeking love and approval from an outside source, he could easily convince them it was their fault and further increase their feelings of self-doubt and shame and make sure they stayed silent so he could go on to find more victims.
He is still on a board at a local college and is part of the diocesan counselling center. He is a predator hanging out where he knows he can find vulnerable people.
Talking about my own story is really difficult because I am still struggling with the actions I took which made sense at the time but blew up in my face. The survivor I am going with to the meeting on Thursday this week told me….you gave him a pass…we all do that.
It helped to talk to someone who understood. Because the justice system does not. And to be manipulated by someone who automatically has your trust and who misuses that trust and then turns love and friendship into degradation and abuse….all the while stepping back laughing while friends, family, co-workers, society, and the law question why you did nothing to stop something you did not understand was happening…..we need each other’s support. We need that support in order to forgive ourselves.
So I will walk into the lion’s den on Thursday and will meet the bishop face to face in support of my fellow survivor. I will hold my head up high and I will say what needs to be said.
I have already been in contact with the assistant who is demanding that my survivor sign legal paperwork and meeting guidelines for their “protection”. I responded to that request that although I understand the need for some kind of agreement, it would help things more if they screened their priests a little better, and that the Catholic church tends to treat its victims like criminals and its criminals like victims.
I’m not nearly as brave as I may seem. I am not ready yet to share everything here. But I am going in to the lion’s den. Because we are all here for each other.