Things didn’t go exactly as planned on Thursday. For various reasons, the meeting with the bishop got postponed for my survivor. I woke up a half an hour before the alarm with a tummy full of butterflies. I had to get up. I didn’t know what to expect or what was about to happen until I actually received the call from the advocate from the diocese, but I had a plan B in place.
So when the call came around 9am, I was ready for anything but feeling like I was about to jump out of a plane. I could not think about it. I just had to do it.
The advocate told me that my survivor’s meeting with the bishop would have to be changed. I put on my parachute and got ready. “So, it seems like there is an opening in your schedule today. I’m a survivor too and I have a story to tell.”
He said he would indeed see me at 1 pm. I showered, dressed in a decent pair of jeans and a “dressier” shirt from my closet….not a hang about one from my drawer….and I grabbed a copy of my book. I knew that allowing them to have a copy of my book was a double-edged sword. Not only did it explain what Father did to me but it was also a very personal account of my own life and the emotional and physical vulnerabilities that most likely clung to the aura of my being and spoke louder to a predator than anything I could say.
But I knew that the book explained best what had happened. Taken out of context, saying that my boss had me lean over so he could see down my shirt sounds like I could have misinterpreted what was happening. Or making too much of things. But adding that with him coming up behind me at the file cabinet and whispering in my ear, “Sometimes we start in the front, and sometimes we start in the back”, and a million other things he did and said that could seem innocent enough or misinterpreted when put on paper alone…when put together shows the pattern of his grooming behavior.
And so I left the house…alone…and drove the familiar route to the diocese. As I parked in the lot, it seemed as if no time had passed at all. I walked into the building and the advocate was sitting in the entrance area waiting for me.
I have to digress here a moment. My friend got very upset when I told him that I was going to the diocese. And I was afraid as well. I was fired. I was escorted from the building. Was it legal for me to go back in there?
But then I thought of a loophole that they themselves created. Back when it happened, I was so devastated and emotionally distraught that I wasn’t thinking clearly. I got an email from H.R. about a week after it happened saying that, as we had agreed, I had resigned. I was so relieved at the time and so grateful that I hadn’t thought about it really since then. I knew they covered it up, but that cover up allowed me to walk back in without fear of being arrested. According to the records, I had chosen to leave. I said to my friend later on…..I am willing to bet that they destroyed their copies of my emails as well. Because it could create doubt and raise questions. I was fired for sending those emails. My boss told H.R. that he was totally shaken and that he had no idea what I was talking about. I ended up being the one who was harassing him. Without those emails, it all goes quietly away and I just happened to leave. H.R. never acknowledged that the emails showed that I was not initiating anything but rather responding to things said to me.
I was a little shaky at first. The advocate and I went into the elevator in the same building that would be used by the Tribunal office where I had worked.
But we ended up in a quiet conference room at the end of a hallway….just him and me….the old bowl of mints and bottles of water on the table…..no Kleenex….I used a napkin at one point.
And I was calmer than I thought I would be. And I’m thinking it may be because it has been three years and as embarrassing as it all was, and as painful as it was, I have learned so much more than I knew then. I may have been naive and not thinking clearly back then….but I trusted that a priest’s motives were based on love….do no harm kind of thing. I knew nothing else all of my life really. My grass was always green, my sky always blue.
It has taken me three years to come forward because until now I wasn’t ready. But as I sat there with the advocate, who said he did not actually work for the diocese but was someone who was brought in for the purpose of working with survivors and the bishop, I found myself not so much that scared intimidated women who left over three years before. I told him where I worked, I told him who I was complaining about, I gave him a copy of my book, and I told him why I was fired. And why I did what I did.
I told him that I kept making excuses for Father and thinking it was because he was a priest and he had feelings for me and was afraid. I told how he threatened me and said I should be afraid of him and how I could end up in the obituaries and that he would kill me if I said anything.
And as I spoke, something happened that had never happened before outside of friends and SNAP people. The advocate, this man, said that I had acted like someone who was a victim of sexual harassment.
I spoke to him about adult abuse and how they say for every child who is abused, two men and four women are abused by a member of the clergy. He said he was sure that the bishop would want to talk to me about this.
When you’ve been a victim of the games the church plays, you get a little “once burned” kind of a feeling. It is hard to trust. Even…maybe especially….someone who seems to be kind and caring. When he told me the bishop would want to see me, I said, okay….but they may be buddies. I don’t know. I know he went to the bishop and asked for the building to be closed earlier before a holiday so that he could have some extra time that afternoon in the office with me, and I don’t know how much the bishop knew as to why he wanted to close the building two hours earlier…but the bishop said okay and we closed at noon.
But I said that I would meet with the bishop. The advocate also told me about the panel. I had heard and read stories about the panel….the tribunal….where the victim tells their story in front of a panel of judges….priests….who tear the story apart. I said I didn’t want to be slut-shamed. I was not comfortable with that. I said that my boss had run a panel like that in 2009. He said…he is no longer on the board….he is retired. To which I said…yes, but he is still working. He is the lead priest at some parish in the state and he still works on the board of the college and he works at the consultant center where people go for counselling. He looked at me a bit surprised like either he did not know that or he didn’t know that anyone else knew that.
He also kept telling me that we didn’t have to meet inside the diocesan building. I had visions of meeting in the basement of an abandoned school where they could hide my body. I said, no….here is fine. I just don’t want to see my ex boss or the woman who fired me. And it also makes me wonder….what if the reason they would rather not see me at the diocese is not so much for my comfort, but because they don’t want anyone else seeing me, an ex-employee that some people may know, coming to see the bishop? What if they want to hide me so that there are no questions or suspicions raised?
We ended the meeting and he walked me out to the main entrance, which now has glass enclosing the receptionists and glass doors to the inside building. He told me he had seen an interview I did on the news. He asked me if I worked for SNAP. I told him, no, that I was a volunteer. That I participate in three meetings a month, and that I hear heartbreaking stories of the aftermath of abuse. I told him about what happens to people who have been abused as children and how it affects their whole lives afterward. I told him that we are just beginning to see people abused as adults come forward.
I felt empowered after I left. It wasn’t about telling on anyone or taking joy in getting back at anyone….or about compensation. I told Mr. Advocate that I had been fired a month before Christmas and that I felt I could not tell anyone why I had left. I did say that it affected me very much emotionally and financially.
But the main reason, I told him as I said, “yes, that copy of the book is for you”, is because there are other women….perhaps with children to support, who are being held hostage by an abuse of power because of this man. And I hope to speak for her….and others.
To read my full story, see “The Priest’s Pawn” on Amazon.