It’s Not Just Priests

I was conversing with a SNAP member who had been abused as an adult and she asked me to mention that it is not just about priests.

When I was working at the diocese, I thought that abuse only took place in isolated events with altar boys, or only when gay priests were tempted by being around boys and teens. I don’t know why I thought that. Looking at it now, it seems pretty narrow-minded. Actually, I don’t think I really thought about the problem that much, except that it happened here and there and that it was wrong and that it was recognized and taken care of by church officials and by the law.

I never really thought about the problem being much bigger than a few bad apples. Never thought about it so much as to think that perhaps there were female victims as well.

And then, when I realized it had happened to me, an adult woman, and then I began to meet other women who had their own stories of abuse masked as relationships with priests, I realized that it was not just children who were abused.

And as I began to talk more with women who had been abused as adults, I began to see more and more men who had been abused as adults come forward and bravely share their stories as well.

Along the way, by attending SNAP conferences and by hearing other people’s stories, I learned that sexual abuse was not just a “thing” that Catholic priests could claim. Other abusers include deacons, nuns, rabbis, pastors, ministers, teachers, principals, school maintenance people, seminarians, scout leaders, Amish leaders, and more. You just have to read the news to hear of more abuse of power and sexual slavery and destruction of souls.

Why? And more importantly, why is our first reaction one of either disbelief or….it’s someone else’s problem and it’s being taken care of? And why do we tend to think of the problem as less than it is? Perhaps because we feel we have so little control over other people’s problems in this huge world of so many needs and problems. Perhaps because we barely feel we can handle our own problems and feel other people should take care of their own problems.

But in the case of someone in a position of power abusing those in their care or those who they have power over, this is a problem that effects everyone.

This affects parents being able to trust teachers and staff members at school and group leaders who spend time with their children. Parents deserve to know if their children are spending time with sex offenders.

Having sex offenders and abusers of power in positions of leadership and trust affects everyone in some way. And as we have seen, it’s not just seen with priests, although it certainly is seen within the Catholic Church.

Society, by giving community and church leaders unquestionable loyalty and by blaming their victims when they have been accused just because of their position, is a dangerous thing to do. In essence, society….that is…you, me and the average person who believes it is someone else’s problem or that someone else should speak up if they need to…..are giving power to evil. Whether or not these people in power are born evil or are driven that way due to having all of the freedom and control and no repercussions, allowing it to continue or blindly believing their innocence just because to not believe them would mean our perfect world would be shattered and our lives a bit uncomfortable… no reason to remain ignorant.

It is obvious that the abuse of power is epidemic and that it has been allowed to go on for far too long by a culture that tolerates it. At the very least, we should acknowledge that this abuse exists, that it has no boundaries, and that it is not just isolated events that are someone else’s problem.

It’s not just priests that are abusing.

Oh Yes, She Did

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… 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.

Into the Lion’s Den

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.

Sister Madam

I went to Catholic school from Kindergarten through college. Except for my brother, I did not know of anyone who admitted to being abused by a priest or a seminarian. But, one of the seminarians that we knew in our neighborhood…that we played basketball with and felt safe around….is on the list of priests found guilty of the sex abuse of a minor. The same goes for the vice-principal of our high school. And the priest who tried to ply my brother with alcohol when he was a teenager, directed our high school play in my sophomore year.

How did all of this Catholic education influence me? I remember thinking that there was an invisible being who was always watching me and who knew what I was going to do before I did it. I remember liking most of the nuns who taught us but wondered why the mean ones were allowed to be nuns. Didn’t anyone else know they were mean? I also remember a sense of fear when it came to stepping out of the box. My mom handed me a book when it came to sex education. It was a Catholic book. Everything was a sin. Everything. I didn’t even know what “everything” was. Sticking to the rules suited me fine in grade school, but when it came to navigating through my teens, I had no idea what I was doing. Perhaps everyone feels that way.

In high school, it seemed as if there was a major decline in an attempt at teaching morals and guidelines. We had rules, of course, but gone were the lectures and trips to mass during Lent, First Friday and Holy Days. Gone too was the direct connection between the school and rectory and nun’s housing. The nuns taught their subject and the priests were mainly in the front office and on the sidelines for counselling.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, or it wouldn’t have been a bad thing, had there been a sense of community or caring in the high school. There weren’t as many nuns teaching at the high school comparatively as we had in grade school. The ones we did have were for the most part, pretty old. The only guidance we got was basically on our dress code. I got called out for wearing a light blue button up blouse instead of a regulation white button up blouse. Picky stuff like that.

I already mentioned that our vice principal is on the list of accused priests and that our play director gave my underage brother alcohol and tried to molest him.

I believe I also have mentioned the priest who was the school counselor and how he told my parents that my boyfriend had attacked me outside of school because I had led him on and it was basically my fault.

But I haven’t mentioned our guidance counselor, a little dark skinned priest with a thick accent. Everyone had to see him at least once so that he could guide us on the path to our careers. He was a nice man. I have no complaints about him as far as that goes. However, back in the day, woman’s lib was just getting its start. The choice for women as far as looking for a lifetime occupation generally consisted of: nurse, teacher, secretary….or for the very gifted among us….model, singer or actress.

Most of my friends became nurses and teachers. I became a secretary. But this day, as I sat with Father, wondering what he would pull out of his hat for my future….he said to me, “You are a kind and sensitive person. You should become a nun.” Okay, nun was on the list of occupations as well.

Being a nun was never in my plans. Never. Even when I was a kid playing dress up pretending to be a nun, I knew I didn’t want to really be a nun. I leaned more towards princess or actress, but never a nun.

I don’t think I laughed in his face or spit out my gum, but even back then, I thought that it was pretty poor counselling. Today I’m hoping that someone would have talked to me more about college and going into social work or psychology. That is what I wanted to do for awhile when I was a teenager, but I don’t know if men even thought of that as an option for young woman at that time.

So looking back, it doesn’t appear that going to Catholic high school did much for my life or career….except maybe…

It was January 1970 something. My friend, Helen and I entered the auditorium together. Mini week choices were now open to our grade after being picked over by the older kids in higher classes. Whatever we did, she and I were going to do our week together. Mini week was a week off from school where we would be scheduled to do a week of something other than school…usually an activity led by one or more teachers.

Helen found an activity that involved two teachers…doing community service at a new center in a nearby city. The person who ran the place was a friend of one of the teachers, and two teachers were going to be there all week to chaperone. Okay, so we signed up.

When we showed up for work, we found out that no teachers were going to be there. It was just me and Helen and three other girls. The place was run by a nun and a big hefty man by the name of Kenny. The place was located in the downtown section of town, near some businesses and low rent apartment buildings. They were just getting on their feet, hoping to help the less fortunate members of the community. They divided us up into two or three groups and sent us out into the apartments to knock on doors and tell people about their center. I believe we were about 15 years old at the time. We had no chaperones or anybody who really knew where we were or how to get a hold of us. But it was fine because our Catholic school had sent us there to work with a nun to help others.

At some point in time that week, we got to know, Kenny, the man who helped Sister run the place. Kenny knew the neighborhood and the people and had most likely started out with good intentions of helping those in need.

But somewhere along the way, things took a weird turn. Kenny said he needed someone to go with him to pick up some donations or something. Helen and I agreed to go with him, so we got into his van. He had some weird things in his van. Things I had never seen before. I asked what these things were on his dashboard. Turns out they were some kind of sex toys.

When we stopped at a red light, there were a couple of gentlemen standing there who seemed to know Kenny. They yelled something to him. I just remember Kenny yelling back….”No I’m not going to fuck these two”.

I don’t really remember much about the rest of the trip. When we got back to the center, I remember one of the girls needed to use the bathroom. Kenny asked if he could go into the bathroom with her and take some pictures. Then he said…

“Naw, I’m just kidding. But you know, girls….I used to be a pimp. That’s why those guys were yelling at us today. They wanted to know if you were my girls. But I’m not a pimp anymore.” He then handed us his business card. “But you know, if you ever need anything…I mean if you need a place to stay, or if you need money….you call Kenny. You never have to go hungry. You’re walking around with a free meal between your legs.”

Of course, we never said anything to anyone. We never told anyone either that the two teachers never showed up to chaperone the week. Basically took the week off and left us on our own.

I guess I forgot to mention the other career option open to women back then. The oldest profession. It’s one that Father failed to mention that the school would send me away to train for free of charge.

Or……I could be a nun.

The Sky is Green, the Grass is Blue

Like most Catholics, I grew up with a secure sense of structure and religion. I knew Jesus, the bible, and the Ten Commandments since the moment I walked into Kindergarten at my Catholic grade school. My friends and I used to pretend we were nuns by wearing a dark colored piece of clothing on our heads and my brother and I used to play “mass” by lighting a candle and praying and handing out bread and juice. We knew that God, like Santa, was always watching, and that whatever you did, good or bad, was seen and known by someone keeping score, and that cardinal sins sent you straight to Hell if you did not confess and that venial sins earned you significant time in purgatory……God’s version of “time out”.

My life, whenever I was not with my mother, was contained within a mile of my house…between home with my parents and school with the nuns and teachers and priests. I lived within a very safe bubble. And the implication was, as long as I stayed within that safe little bubble and did as I was told, life would be simple and good.

Life had an explanation. And when life became confusing or difficult or not so good…like upon the death of my father…there was someone familiar there in a familiar place and a familiar traditional ceremony in which to find comfort. And people need this. They need something to explain the unexplained. They need comfort when life kicks them in the gut. They need to belong and have similar beliefs as others. They need continuity when life throws them unwanted change. They may not go to church every Sunday, but they need the church to be there when needed.

In a life full of changes, the church has been there since birth. It stays the same. We can depend upon that. Just like we can depend upon the grass always being green and the sky always being blue. For the most part.

But what happens when the things we hang onto in life as steady and reliable and constant no longer are? What happens when our basic foundation gets flipped around? When the dust finally clears, what happens to the world we once knew? What happens when the grass now looks blue and the sky looks green when we’ve been taught all our lives to expect the opposite?

In other words, how does being abused by someone in the church affect how you see the church afterwards?

Someone said to me that they cannot look at a priest without wondering if he is sexually abusing someone. This thought caused this person to feel ashamed as it is a bit prejudicial, but seeing as how the thought that all priests are good and can be trusted left us all open and vulnerable to abuse, perhaps being a bit more closed off and hesitant to trust is not such a bad thing if it protects you or someone you love. I too find myself thinking the same thoughts. I have been to church since my abuse. And I look at the altar boys and girls and I find myself praying for their protection and the wisdom of their parents.

That is one way my life has changed. I look at priests differently now. Even the priests I knew and loved as a child. I remember thinking how special one of the seminarians who used to come to our house for dinner made me feel. He brought me a plant one time he visited. When I was walking to guitar lessons, he ran across the field to carry my guitar and walk with me. I was 12 at the time. Was he just being nice or was I possibly being groomed? And what about the nice monsignor who taught me about photography and who offered to show me his dark room? Would I have been in peril had my mother allowed me to go work with him so he could show me how to develop pictures?

But it’s not just priests themselves that I now question. I have also begun questioning their teachings. There was a time when I would never question a priest…..I may not totally agree with them but I saw them as a step above me and knowledgeable and sincere so they had my trust and my respect. But I don’t see them the same way anymore. I don’t trust them anymore. To me they are just human beings working in a system that some take advantage of. I have seen them use pretty words to sway people and to influence them. Many of them are abusing their positions of power. Many others are covering for them out of complicity or fear for their own jobs or safety. I don’t see love when I see a priest anymore. I see potential danger. I also see experts in the art of manipulation and the ability to influence crowds.

So I question their solicitation for money. I question their reasons for having overnight retreats and I question their need to know every personal detail of someone’s sex life in order to grant an annulment.

I find that I can no longer trust anything the church says or does. I want to believe that there are good people and good priests, but once you have had a priest threaten your life and tell you that you had better do what he tells you because you should be afraid of him….but then see how easily he can slip back into holy father mode….handing out communion to people who bow their heads before him….you begin to see what is really true…and you know that nobody will believe you.

And you can see the fear. My co-worker….the one I got the job for….originally asked me why nobody asked her anything when Human Resources did their “investigation”. They had only asked the other priest who worked under my boss if he had seen anything suspicious. Then my co-worker did a complete about face and told me she wanted to keep her job and stopped talking to me.

Make no mistake, bad things have been and are being done by bad people wearing kind faces. So I don’t feel at all guilty about having them have to earn my trust. Because it is not just the sexual abuse or harassment that is the worst thing that is being done. The worst part is the emotional abuse that happens along with and as a result of the abuse. The threats, the lies, the betrayals, the cover-ups, and the smooth talking that makes it sound as if the survivors of abuse are attacking God, the church, and all morality. And let us not forget the alienation, self-hate, PTSD, suicidal feelings and the feeling of having your life turned upside down that victims live with daily.

But as our numbers grow, we grow stronger. And our message of truth grows louder.

Adult Men and Abuse

Again, I don’t claim to know everything. But from the people I have spoken with and the stories that I have heard, it would seem that the abuse of adult men has similarities to the abuse of adult women.

I wish the average person….the average Catholic parishioner….could understand what the sexual abuse by a priest does to a person. I wish they could understand that this is not someone else’s problem. This is a problem that not only touches the lives of the abused, but fans out from there to where I am willing to bet it touches thousands of lives surrounding those abused and those who have abused.

There is a shame that comes with being sexually abused. There is a sense that because someone wanted to be liked or to have companionship, or guidance or the approval of another person, that they somehow caused or deserved the abuse. When you add onto that the whole religious aspect and then mix in everything about God and sin and sex and shame and then add to that shades of homosexuality or perhaps being a willing participant or of somehow “asking for it”, you can end up with a toxic recipe for self-hate and destruction, whether or not the victim is gay or straight or perhaps struggling with who they are.

To feel that you are safe and to have that taken from you so that you are not comfortable in your own skin is a horrible way to live. I once spoke to someone who had been raped who was not comfortable sleeping in her bedroom. Instead she slept on her couch. The reason she did this is because she did not feel safe in a room where she would allow herself to be vulnerable and trusting as you would in a bedroom asleep in your bed. If you are asleep while dressed and on the couch and you hear an intruder, you can get up and run. You will not be cornered or caught off guard as you would asleep in your bed. That is what PTSD does to someone.

Now imagine if you aren’t feeling safe in your own skin but also have the added triggers of religious icons or seeing a priest or trying to get involved with a romantic partner or a new friend. Trying to experience trust or sexual feelings or just letting people get close to you, with intrusive thoughts of someone who you thought you could trust with whom you let down your guard in what you thought was a safe setting with a very safe and trusted person. Now you feel it’s hard to trust others or to even trust yourself and your own judgement. You feel weak. You feel damaged. You feel less than.

What if you were a young man studying to be a priest in the safest place in the world….a seminary? What safer place could there be but among other young men who were also planning to devote their lives to God? How much closer to God himself could you be? What then if while on your knees in prayer, you were suddenly and viciously raped by one of your teachers or by another seminarian?

Or what if you were questioning your sexuality and you felt you needed guidance and you turned to a priest for reassurance that you were okay as you are and that you weren’t going to go to Hell? And what if that priest drew you in and used your vulnerability and your closeness to use you for his own selfish needs? How do you think that would affect the rest of your life and your ability to trust another partner or get close to anyone else without having severe trust issues associated with sexual partners?

I have spoken with male survivors who feel such shame at feeling they went along with the abuse. Or they somehow invited it. Those who were abused as children talk about the double whammy of being sexually abused by a priest as a child and of being punished for telling someone about it and having to apologize to the priest who abused them. Can you even begin to imagine what this could do to a child?

Men, abused when a child or as an adult, often having problems with drinking or using drugs, have trouble with the law, have trouble working at or keeping their jobs, and many times end up divorced. This has a direct affect on society, jails, courts, co-workers, unemployment payments, and affected spouses and children.

Meanwhile, family, and friends and co-workers feel the effects and take up the burden. They then go to church on Sunday, throw money into the collection plate, and seek comfort and guidance for themselves and for their children…perhaps from the very people who created the problem in the first place….or helped to cover it up.

And the cycle continues.

What Were You Wearing?

I was about 28 years old and separated from my husband. We had two children…boys….age 7 and 5. I struggled with the fact that I wanted my boys to have quality time with their father, and the fact that their father was not always safety conscious when it came to the kids.

So, one Sunday when it was his turn to take the kids, my ex decided he was going to take them fishing at a local spot. I thought it might be a good idea to go and check on them. So, I did and when it seemed that things looked okay as far as using kid’s fishing poles and and that they weren’t going out in anyone’s boat without life jackets as had happened before…I felt it was okay to leave them be and I said I would see them later at the house…and I left.

While on the way walking back to my car, I had the feeling that I was being followed. I turned around and saw that there were two elderly gentlemen walking in back of me. I thought nothing more of it until I reached my car and saw that the two men were still behind me and as I was searching for my key in my pocketbook, they approached.

I don’t remember who spoke first or how the conversation started, but the gist of the whole deal was I was being asked very politely if I would perhaps mind performing specific sexual acts on both men….for the sum of $5.

To give you an idea, at this point in time, a pack of cigarettes cost about $5. I didn’t negotiate, but I assumed from what they were saying that they were asking for a 2 for 1 sale.

I remember being in shock. Not scared. Just shocked. And not even so much shocked at being approached and being mistaken for a hooker. I was shocked that I was being approached being mistaken for a 2 for 1 five dollar hooker.

I don’t get angry often. I don’t. Not all out I don’t care what I am saying angry from the gut type of angry. I did then.

I didn’t get angry that they approached me. I supposed I should have been scared…maybe if I hadn’t been in an open place around people during the daytime I would have been…but I didn’t even think about that. I was too busy being angry that they dare thought they could approach me thinking that I looked like I would go for that. I was like so angry I could barely spit out my words.

“Five dollars?” I said. “Five dollars?! Are you kidding me!! Five dollars??”

The two men looked at each other and then looked back at me. Obviously thinking that we were negotiating, the spokesman of the two then said….”Okay, $10?”

I just remember getting in my car and driving away.

The next week at work, I was having lunch with a male friend and I told him what had happened. I had not really thought that much about it. But then my male co-worker asked me a question that kind of took me back. He didn’t ask if I was shaken up by the event or if I had reported the men to the police.

Instead he said to me…..”What were your wearing?”

I hadn’t thought about it. “Mom clothes, I guess,” was my answer. And then I thought about it. “Well, okay, I was wearing shorts….and a shear top. Nothing sexy. It was a mom top for summer. But I guess you could see my bra through it.”

“Ah, well there you go.”

“Huh? What? Really? You think so?” I’m sure I just kind of stared and blinked my eyes dumbly, like as a man he must know what he was talking about.

“Well, y’know, a young woman walking alone in a park area wearing something…..” What? Summery? “…suggestive like that. I mean, you can’t blame them, for thinking what they thought, now can you?”

Was he serious? He was. How could I not have seen that was what I was doing? I think I went home and threw away that top. Which was a plain cotton top. I swear. It now became something I should never wear again.

What had happened during that conversation with my male co-worker was called “victim blaming” or “victim shaming”. And this is something that happens a lot more often than it should. Although I did not feel like I was in danger at the time, the fact of the matter was that I was followed back to my car when I was alone….by two men who were in whatever way for whatever reason….targeting me and basically stalking me and following me with the intent of both of them having sex with me. And I don’t think that was because of what I was wearing. I think it was because I was alone and therefore seen as less of a threat.

We as women tend to learn that we are responsible for the actions of men. I think I’ve written here about how a boyfriend I had once punched me in the head and threw me down outside of school to beat me with a jean jacket….and how the priest we had to meet with told my parents that his actions were my fault.

It’s a stigma that is ingrained in society. A man sows his wild oats. A woman is a slut. And I am in no way trying to be for one group of people and against another. It just tends to go this way. Men get abused as well. Abuse know no gender. But generally speaking, women have had to struggle to like themselves and to respect themselves as people and not just as having their value be a reflection of the approval of men.

I have had the honor of speaking with many women who have been abused as adults by priests and clergy. These are intelligent, loving and caring women who have not only been used by powerful men with an agenda similar to wolves on the prowl, but have then had to shoulder the responsibility of the actions of another person.

Just as I was once asked, “How do you think Father felt when he read your email?” And just as I was shamed into thinking that somehow I had once again misunderstood his intentions and had done something horribly wrong and sinful….and I was the one who was 100% wrong while he was the one who was 100% innocent and wronged….the truth being that I was gas-lighted and manipulated by a narcissist sitting in a position of power….so did many other woman find themselves thrown aside in shame as the one who had been responsible. Discredited simply for being a woman, their only crime was attempting to speak the truth.

I’ve heard it said that women are generally looking for love and closeness in a relationship. That is why the love bombing that the narcissistic predator uses on their victim clouds their perspective.

Many survivors of adult abuse have told me that they were not even attracted to the priest who seduced them. That was true in my case as well. He was not my type, they tell me. But yet, for some reason, I felt that he was the love of my life. I have also heard it said that women tend to fall in love through their ears more than through their eyes. The predator has learned through trial and error and honing his skills what words work the best. Skilled manipulators know how to use words to capture the hearts of the lonely and the vulnerable. They know how to twist those words to get their victim to do as they want.

When a woman realizes that she has fallen victim to such a scam, it is heartbreaking, and yet the perpetrator knows exactly how to walk away clean and lay all of the blame onto the soul he has just crushed. And much of the reason they can get away with this as priests is because the very culture of the priesthood is about temptation and women tempting the man. Very little is shown or taught about the upstanding woman who fell for the charms of a man and was still seen as the victim in that case. What do you think would happen if someone seduced a nun? Do you think she would be allowed to stay in the convent if she were no longer a virgin when she was supposed to be faithful to God?

But by saying these words, and by simply pointing out that there exists a double standard by which women are basically held responsible for all sexual thoughts and actions of men, it makes me sound angry. I remember growing up hearing men in my family say that women who wanted the same jobs as men and who were pro women’s lib, etc., were angry and hateful and couldn’t get a man. Oh, and of course….they needed to get laid. That would set their heads straight.

Of course that would then make them a slut, and of course your know that does not make them marriage material so….

I will tell you though, what I want. And what most likely every other woman who has been abused as an adult would say she wants as well. And that would be to make people aware of this antiquated system that has been drilled into our heads by the very people who used that system against us….the priests who have taught us since we were children that it is wrong to be female. And if we are female, it is wrong that we feel pleasure or that we want to feel love. Because filling our heads with that nonsense is totally used against us when the guilt threatens to kill us because we enjoyed having another human being treat us as if we were special. Because every way we have of reacting is wrong and is sinful. Against man or against God. Because we have not been programmed to be human beings.

Instead, we have been programmed to blame ourselves for how we look, how we feel, and what we wear.