Time in a Bottle

This past week, Pope Francis discussed harsher penalties for those priests and lay persons who groom and use pornography in order to sexually abuse children. He also expanded upon this to include those who abuse vulnerable adults. However, the term “vulnerable adult” has always tended to mean one who is physically or mentally incapable of resisting or giving consent due to disabilities. This has expanded from a basic definition of one who lacks any sort of reason.

The pope is also putting more pressure on bishops who hear about or discover abuse…..mainly to avoid criminal charges of those found guilty and to keep punishment within church walls. The recent scandal with Archbishop McCarrick has given incentive to this end.

The case with McCarrick brought to light coercive control and sexual abuse of seminarians. Due to this case and to growing unrest around the globe, Cardinal O’Malley insisted that the definition of the vulnerable adult be broadened to include those in a situation of power imbalance, where there has been abuse of those under someone’s authority, even if both of those individuals are adults.

Reactions to these potential changes are mixed. Some hail this as a move in the right direction. Others see it as nothing more than the church continuing to call the shots and an attempt to maintain cover-ups. I see it as both.

One change I did see after I spoke with the bishop is that the priest who abused me was moved from his own apartment to sharing a rectory with the bishop. While this may seem like a good thing, the rectory is adjacent to a grade school. And as we know….a predator is a predator. Prey is prey.

On another note, to anyone who was participating in the meeting yesterday, please know that we were cut off because of a sudden loss of power in the area.

We did discuss the use of the double entendre that predator priests seem to like to use. And the embarrassment it causes when a simple discussion turns awkward and sexual. And then the denial that follows. And in one case, someone was directed to forgive the perpetrator, but again, that just puts you up front and center and vulnerable when someone has no incentive to change their behavior.

Recommended book this week is “The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships” by Carnes and Phillips.

Someone this week said that they always know what is going on in my life because of my blog.

Well, this past weekend, I had one of those moments you want to freeze and hold on to. It was my grandson’s second birthday and we celebrated by bringing together a blended and extended family.

The party was held at my mother’s house and in attendance were my sons and my “adopted son”, and my grandson of course and his mom and her friend and my brother stopped by and the baby’s other grandmother….and my ex-husband and his girlfriend.

I told someone how nice it was to be able to share this birthday with my ex and to get along with him and his girlfriend and to have somewhat of a Kumbaya moment in time. It was like coming full circle. And it did not come without a price. Which made it all the more sweeter. I think some people will be able to relate.

I thought about what had to happen to make this moment possible. Choices and chance.

My mom was not supposed to make it past 1995. She is not supposed to be here. My brother is a walking miracle. I can barely remember a time when he wasn’t abusing his body.

My ex has been through a number of heart procedures but mainly, he is my ex and I have found that the further I am from him, the better we get along. I’m not trying to be funny. My mom actually said the other day what a nice guy he is. And she was “there” and knew how it was when I was with him. I never shared touching moments with him and our kids. He felt they were my responsibility and that they were basically nuisances that cost money. They both left home within a week or so of each other because they could not live with him and our life together began to crumble not long afterward.

He would threaten and push me to the point where he would leave before he would back down, and then go to his family or his friends and tell them how I threw him out and I’d get angry phone calls and people thinking I was horrible.

But the other day, we shared our grandson’s birthday and his girlfriend joked with me that if she ever tried to quit smoking while living with him, she’d have to kill him and it was funny and I could laugh at it because it wasn’t my problem anymore. And we were able to joke about how he got angry with me because my labor was taking too long and he hadn’t had anything to eat. But now he is a mellow guy who gardens and who while not having any interaction with his grandson, did buy him stuff and show up. And I think we are friends. And that was nice because at one time it wasn’t.

And my grandson? He was born to my son who didn’t want children because he was afraid he would not be a good father, and to a woman who had multiple miscarriages in the past with her ex-husband.

I knew her long before my son met her. She had been my supervisor and had trained me at the Suicide Hotline where I had volunteered. And although there are issues at times between us, and between her and my son, the fact that they came together brought my grandson into the world.

This was a rag-tag mishmash of people coming together for a joyous occasion. I can’t think of one person among all of us that I would consider “normal”. Not when the babysitter/friend compared being a baby and having all your needs met to being drunk. Huh? Only my mother cared what happened to me if I was drunk and that only happened when I was a teenager. I’ve been on my own since then.

But my point is, for one moment in time, things were perfect. For one moment. I guess that’s all we can ever count on. I mean, the next day my brother was hitting my mother up for money again, and everyone went back to keeping their issues hidden in their own homes. So the moment had passed. I guess that’s how it goes. Perfect pieces of happiness found within the rubble. Saving time in a bottle.

Have a good week. Find your bit of happiness. Be well.

Getting to Know You

Last week’s poll showed that the majority of people if they could, would go back to the year 1970 knowing what they know now. Wow, the mistakes I could have avoided if I could back.

This past week, I had an old acquaintance from high school post her support for Catholic priests on Facebook. Sometimes when I have posted things on Facebook…usually sharing a news article about the church….she has added words in support of priests to my post. This week, she posted something on her own saying how she supports priests and what good men they are.

I am not usually one to argue points with people, having found that most of the time, people who hold such staunch opinions are pretty closed-minded. But in this case, I said my piece. To her argument that priests are good men and that if anyone goes after them, they should also go after other religions and people, I said that abuse happens in all religions and wherever there is a chance for abuse of power. It also included abuse by nuns. I also said that there are support groups for different religions and that I speak to survivors of abuse all the time.

Her heated response to this was…and this is not a direct quote but rather an idea of what she said as she has since deleted her post….So what you are saying is that this can happen with anyone….even by the person who lives next door?

And that was followed by how she agreed that child abuse was never a good thing and that a nun she knew belonged in jail….although she didn’t specify why.

And this was followed by something that made no sense at all to me…..she said….Where were you when John Wayne Gacy was around?

I didn’t respond to that as I didn’t know what she wanted to me to do about John Wayne Gacy or how that had anything to do with survivors of clergy abuse, but it was clear that she feels strongly about priests being good men that are being unfairly targeted so…

What is sad is that I too felt that way….not that priests were being unfairly targeted…but that it wasn’t a big problem and that priests were basically good people. And feeling that way tends to allow predators to keep abusing. Because some people….I think many people…..feel that you just don’t go after priests because they do good work for God.

I told a friend of mine that I had spoken with the bishop and I have not heard a word back from her. She is the one who got me the job at the diocese. The reaction I get from people who have not been abused by a priest is that you keep quiet and you don’t speak up against the church.

And it seems like an impossible task….like throwing pebbles against a brick wall….trying to tell people what is going on and trying to seek justice….but I believe that each time you speak your truth, it is an intent, and an energy being sent out….and that is power. There is power in truth. You may not win your case, you may not see justice, you may not be believed, but I think you grow stronger within yourself.

And speaking of talking….I wanted to add here the third rule of dealing with a narcissist….and that is….TMI.

This is a tough one when it comes to clergy. When you have been raised Catholic….or any religion really….we look to our religious leaders for absolution and “spilling your guts” is all part of the plan. Seriously. Think about it.

From the time we are in first grade…six or seven years old…we are told to go tell a stranger in a dark booth what we have done wrong. And be honest now because God is watching and he knows all. I get the concept. We want to raise our kids to be accountable and to know right from wrong, but when you think about it….how vulnerable are you as a six year old going alone into a dark booth with a strange adult who you are told to trust unconditionally….with your “bad” thoughts and deeds?

And we continue to do this over our lives as our “bad” thoughts and deeds increase on the “sin” scale.

And having worked at the Tribunal, I saw people come talk to the priests and have to tell them personal details about their marriage so that canon law could determine whether the marriage was valid in the eyes of God. These people hear all of the details. Why? Because for some reason, we need approval from someone in order dissolve a marriage. We need the priest and the Roman Catholic court to tell us that it was okay and that we did the right thing. This marriage didn’t count. Your spouse did not fulfill God’s desire that you pro-create or did not fulfill their job as a spouse in some other ways and so God says that you were right and that you may now go on to marry in the church again.

And it is amazing how many people have their second or third church wedding before the ink is dry. So important is it that they can wear white or have grandma at the church.

It’s part of our upbringing that we fit into our role in the church. That we make our families happy and do things the “right” way. It brings order and security to our lives. Continuity and so many things our lives and the world are lacking. And so we open up. We confess. We have no boundaries when it comes to the clergy. There is no such thing as TMI (Too much information). Because we are encouraged to bare our souls.

We want to trust. There is a comfort in feeling that when you walk in the door of the church, the outside world disappears and you are in the presence of love. That when the priest dons his priestly garb, he is a professional who is held to a strict code of ethics. When we walk in that door feeling grief-stricken or suicidal, or in need of comfort and support and guidance, we should expect nothing else. What should not happen is that we find there someone who sees an opportunity to use that vulnerability against us and to further harm us.

So, while it is said that sharing too much information with a narcissist can be used against us in the long run, it goes against everything we have been taught to trust and believe.

It’s good to know because there are abusive narcissists everywhere in life and if you happen to be a kind, trusting, naive, open person, or someone who happens to appreciate someone who encourages you to open up and talk about yourself…..and who doesn’t like to talk about themselves….well, be aware that in all kinds of relationships, people can use your vulnerabilities against you. It’s a sad fact. And to me there is nothing sadder than the fact that you can’t always trust the people who you are supposed to be able to trust.

But also as they say “knowledge is power”. And so is truth.

Please take a moment to take our poll. And have a wonderful week.

Legal Abuse

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.