I want to talk about those people…..you know who they are…..those people who were our friends. The huggers. The people in the choir who we socialized with. The neighbors. The co-workers. spiritual supporters, family members and fellow church goers.
The people who suddenly seemed to turn against us.
As a survivor of a deliberate game of abuse, when you exit beaten down, emotionally crushed, confused, self-destructive, and dazed, it is not uncommon to find that people who were once close will begin to distance themselves from you. And if you are lucky, that is all they will do.
Many survivors find they are no longer welcome in what used to be sources of refuge and comfort. I spoke to a mother of a survivor this past week. Her son was abused as an adult while in seminary. After he went public with his accusations, she was no longer welcome in church. In fact, she was told to “get the F— out of here!”
Ah, yes….the righteous anger of the congregation. Nobody wants to be separated from the group and perhaps not be invited to brunch after church, so group mentality is the order of the day. Gossip. Condemnation. Hipocrisy.
But for this woman and her family, it did not stop there. The harassment from the church and its members got so bad, she and her family eventually moved to another state.
For another person who reached out for comfort to a kind clergy member when her daughter was sick in the hospital and ended up having that need and her trust shattered by a priest who took advantage of those emotions, this now very emotionally vulnerable woman sees people cross the street to avoid her and she feels ostracized by her church.
Another person I spoke with had been sexually assaulted while in seminary by someone who he thought was a friend and fellow seminarian. The two friends went out for dinner and drinks and to a movie together and then returned to the friend’s room where the rape took place. When this gentleman began to speak out about the assault that took place and how it affected his future spiritual path, the only thing that was focused upon was the fact that he happened to be gay. Therefore, how was it possible for a gay man to be raped?
The two had gone out together…essentially a date it was said….and he had been drinking and did go back to the friend’s room. What did he expect after all? He was asked if he had been attracted to his friend at all. What vibes was he putting out? What was he wearing? How much did he have to drink?
Wow. So it’s not rape if you went out together, had a few drinks, maybe were attracted to the person and went back to hang out at their place? So, if you do that, it’s okay for someone to do whatever they want to you, right? After all, all of the signals were there. I suppose it would also be okay for them to beat you with a broomstick too? Hey, you did walk into the place so you gave your consent to anything that might happen.
So a gay man can’t be raped by another man. Someone who speaks out about a priest deserves whatever they get. Having sex with a priest makes you a slut. Well, doesn’t that make it convenient for the perpetrator when their crimes are approved by society?
It is this blaming the victim and the “it could never happen to me” ideology that helps the narcissistic abuser be able to continue to abuse. It is the respect for the position of power and the wanting to identify with the person in power instead of the victim that makes us want to deny the abuse and push the victim aside and hope they stay silent so nobody has to be uncomfortable.
I wondered how my boss separated me from the pack. Because that is part of the game. And then I realized that he did it by pulling me in and making me feel that I was important to the office. You see, “that woman” drove him crazy. And Fr. so and so…well, good guy, but he could never run this place. And my co-worker…..he felt a little intimidated by her. He didn’t want to upset her by bringing up something unpleasant. Oh, would you help me? That would be great if you spoke to her for me. She wouldn’t get upset if it came from you.
See, I was important to him. I was the only one who wasn’t a bit crazy in the bunch. The only one he could really talk to. He had a heart condition, you know. He could go at any time. Of course I wanted to help him in any way that I could. And of course my co-worker got into a huff and got angry at me…the messenger…when I explained that somehow the wrong code was being entered in the mail machine and we were being incorrectly charged so please be careful.
Seeds of doubt were sown. He said he had sent Fr. S. a card with $5 in it that Fr. S. had never received. Usually the mail landed in the outbox unsealed. Whoever took the mail downstairs would seal all of the envelopes. So an unable to be proved seed of doubt was sown in the mind of Fr. S. against the honesty of the people doing the mail. That was really ironic as I held the key to the slush fund….money that came into the office when people paid their bills in cash. So it wasn’t the money that was the issue. It was raising doubt about someone’s word.
For David, a survivor of child sexual abuse by a priest, he found support and gestures of love and caring by parishioners of his church when he bravely spoke up during mass.
Here is David’s story in his own words which I share with his permission.
By David Pietrasanta
Yes, today is Super Bowl Sunday and Baltimore held on to beat San Francisco 34-31. However, today turned out to be Super Sunday for reasons that have nothing to do with football or sports at all.
At 9:58 am I decided to turn on my television and catch the morning 10:00 am news headlines. The lead story caught my attention…… all of my attention. This weekend at Masses in the Los Angeles area a letter from Archbishop Jose H. Gomez is to be read. This letter is a half-hearted attempt to apologize to the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of many of our “trusted spiritual leaders”. This letter is nothing more than a continuation of the “snow-job”, and cover-up by the hierarchy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “Cardinal Mahony has expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care”. As my mom would say, Cardinal “BALONEY”. Cardinal Mahony did everything within his power to cover-up this growing sex abuse scandal, putting power, money, image, and reputation ahead of the welfare of every single victim abused in this church scandal.
So, I called my parents and asked them about this letter. My dad said they heard it last night at Saturday evening Mass and it was a “crock”. So my curiosity got the best of me and I told my mom and dad that I was going to go to 11:00 am Mass this morning to hear for myself what this letter was all about.
When I arrived at church this morning I made a point of sitting right up front, two rows back from the altar. I didn’t want to miss any part of this letter and the subsequent homily that followed.
Father Jay read the letter to us, and then followed it up with his “message” for Super Sunday. I was on edge waiting to hear how he was going to continue the “spin-parade” on this subject of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
As Father Jay was reading this letter I found myself agreeing with my mom and dad that this was a “crock”, and more of the same rhetoric we have been hearing and reading about for sometime now.
As soon as Father Jay finished reading Archbishop Gomez’s letter I put my hand up high and hard with conviction, as if I had the answer to the most complex questions about our universe. Father Jay ignored me. I was already in the mindset that I would not be silenced and turned away, so I kept my hand up and he continued to ignore me.
Finally, as Father Jay was coming to a close I caught him in a moment of pause and asked, “Father Jay, why won’t you call on me”?
Father Jay was stunned and shocked right where he stood on the altar. He looked at me as if to say, “Nobody has ever challenged me in my lifetime”. So Father Jay responded to my question by saying, “I didn’t see you”. Now what Father Jay doesn’t know about me is I know you can’t B.S. a B.S.er. I told Father Jay my hand has been up most of the time he had been speaking. Again, another pause, and I took full advantage of it. I turned around to face all the parishioners and simply said, “On behalf of all the victims that have been abused, and I have been abused myself, I want to say that this apology is unacceptable”. This was followed by complete silence. Then it happened. There was some clapping at the back of the church and continued forward for just a few seconds. I said “thank you” and I sat down. Father Jay did get the last word in by saying directly to me, how sorry he was for my pain.
Mass continued and what followed next is something I will remember for the rest of my life. This turned out to be a very significant day in my life.
As Mass continued I felt a tap on my shoulder. A handicapped woman, walking with her cane, came up to me and said, “I am sorry for what you have had to go through and I appreciate what you just did”. Now I was stunned. A few seconds later another tap on my shoulder. A woman with tears in her eyes said, “I am so sorry for what has happened to you”,…..… she couldn’t finish her sentence because she started to cry. A few more seconds passed and still another woman came to me and expressed the same sorrow and said she hoped it didn’t ruin my faith. I told her I have had a lot of help and I am able to separate the good from the ugly.
This happened several more times as Mass went on. My heart filled with gratitude, that these people would reach out to me during Mass without any thought or care that Mass was continuing on while they approached me with their kind words.
Next was communion. Since the parishioners come from the back of church first, up to the front rows last, a good number of them passed by me. I was stunned again. At least 15 to 20 men and women had kind words for me and shook my hand. Some of the comments that were directed toward me: “It took a lot of courage for you to stand up for what you believe in during Mass.” “I left the Church for seven years before I decided to come back and what you did today made it worth it. “ Mahony should be locked away in prison forever, God bless you.” “I am so sorry for what you have been through, I can’t even imagine what your life has been like.” There were more comments about me standing up for myself and more comments about my courage and bravery. Again, my heart was overflowing with…. I guess I would call it love, because I was receiving so much love from people I have never met before in my life.
After communion a woman came into the second row and slid all the way down to where I was sitting and put her arm around me and told me she was moved by my courage to “tell it like it is” in front of so many people. She was not the only one. As soon as she left another woman slid down row number two and expressed with her tears how sorry she was that this had happened to me and was glad to hear that today I am helping others overcome their difficulties with this issue.
As Mass ended, Father Ernesto came down from the altar and shook my hand and said he was sorry for what happened to me. I thanked him.
I anticipated there might be some people who wanted to talk to me after Mass so I waited until the last hymn was over and walked outside.
As I reached the patio area I could hear someone say, “Oh, there he is”. I was at the patio area talking to parishioners from Mass for the next 40 minutes or so.
When that was over and the patio was clearing, Father Jay caught my eye and I went over to speak to him. The first thing he says is “You know, I get so wrapped up in what I am doing up there I guess I just didn’t see your hand.” I wanted to say to him “Father Jay, you can’t B.B. a B.S.er” but I didn’t, and instead apologized for interrupting his Mass.
Father Jay repeated himself by saying how sorry he was for my pain and then asked me my name. As soon as I said David Pietrasanta his head curls back and he holds his head in his hands and says, “Yes, right, I know you.” I replied with pride, “And yes you know my parents also. My mom was the parish secretary here for many years and you know my dad from the finance council.”
At that point, I believe I could hear the voice inside Father Jay’s head, “This S.O.B. Pietrasanta family, what am I going to do with them? They are the only ones in this parish who keep pulling my covers and calling me to the front.” You can count on it, Father Jay.
In closing, there was one woman above all that really touched me by her words. She came up to me after Mass, tears rolling down her face as she was crying, and said, “I want you to know you taught me a very valuable and important lesson today that I needed to see and hear. That lesson is about courage and I really needed to see that today and I thank you so much for your endless amount of courage and the lesson I learned from you today. Thank you.”
To Our Lady of Grace Parish, ( I did not send this to anyone at OLG), I just wanted to close my writing with this:
You have made me feel welcomed today with your love and kind words and you reinforced the fact that I do matter in this world and that I can make a positive difference in people’s lives today. Thank you for making my Sunday a Super Sunday!
I will close with that. Have a happy and healthy and safe week.