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  Black-and-White Ribbons Remind Clergy of Abuse

By Karen Dandurant kdandurant@seacoastonline.com
Portsmouth Herald [Portsmouth NH]
Downloaded February 1, 2004

PORTSMOUTH - Ribbons have become symbols of support for victims and survivors of debilitating diseases.

There’s a pink ribbon for cancer victims and a red ribbon for people dealing with AIDS. Now, there’s a ribbon designed to show support for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

The small, black-and-white double ribbon reminds of the black clothing and white collar worn by clergy. The ribbon campaign was started by Alabama residents Marianna and Gregory Brian Pierre.

Gregory, who goes by Brian, is a survivor of clergy sexual abuse. He and his wife counsel abuse victims and felt that while there were signs of support for other victims, there were none for clergy abuse victims.

A devout Catholic, Brian was born and raised in Mobile, Ala. He admits he lived a very troubled life and said that is part of the reason he blamed himself for so long for what happened to him.

It wasn’t until 1997 when he learned the priest who abused him was scheduled to speak at his daughter’s school that he had his first "meltdown."

The downward spiral

Brian attended Catholic schools and said he began drinking and using drugs at a young age because of severe abuse problems at home with his mother. He said he was also sexually abused by an older cousin.

Then, he met J. Alexander Sherlock who taught advanced religion at his high school. He said Sherlock groomed him to accept the abuse by being the friend he needed.

Brian said he and Sherlock began talking at school in between his classes.

"He knew I was having problems from the start, everyone did," Brian said. "He was easy to talk to. He and I began to meet in his office late in my freshman year."

Brian was assigned to Sherlock’s religion class at the start of his sophomore year. Soon, he was again going to Sherlock’s office to talk. Brian said Sherlock invited him to his house about three weeks into the school year.

"As soon as I walked in, Sherlock offered me a drink," he said. "He drinks Scotch. I acquired a taste for it and drank it for years."

The contact between Sherlock and Brian began after a few drinks, he said. A sexual encounter followed and continued as Brian spiraled downhill, ending up in a drug rehabilitation program

"I did not begin to heal until a year before I met Marianna," he said. "I never discussed (it) with anyone during the 13 drug rehabs, three psych hospitals and four jails during those 10 years.

"I would sometimes make a joke, when people were talking about their bad sex experiences, that I had slept with a priest. No one ever took me serious."

He and Marianna eventually married and had children. Then the bomb dropped.

"I had, for years, been "counseling" other sexual abuse victims," Brian said. "I had never openly spoken of my own. Marianna knew there had been a priest, but never knew his name.

‘I waited so long to report’

In 1997, Brian saw Sherlock’s name in a Sunday bulletin at the church where his oldest daughter attended school.

"I finally began to see what the effects had been," he said. "It was very painful, for about two seconds. Then I became outraged."

The Pierres approached the school pastor, told their story and asked Sherlock not be allowed to speak at the school. They also asked that he be reassigned so he had no contact with children.

Brian said Sherlock confessed to the abuse of him and two other boys when questioned.

"I waited so long to report him because I took responsibility for all of it," Brian said. "I felt that I had been the one that led him astray. I know now that is how these men and women operate. They can claim it was consensual or that they were seduced.

"I spoke out because I could not take the idea that my silence would allow him to go after one more boy, let alone a number of them."

A voice, a ribbon

Eventually, the Pierres devoted their time to counseling adults who were abused as children. They accept no money for their services.

"Many people find that telling their story for the first time was easier online to an unknown person," Marianna said. "So we heard a lot of first-time confessions of abuse."

Marianna said she created their Web site to allow people to say thank you to all who reported abuse.

"I wanted a symbol to go on it," she said. "I looked for a ribbon for sexual abuse, but found that there wasn’t one."

With help from an artist friend, the black-and-white ribbon was chosen to represent the victims.

Carolyn Disco, a member of the New Hampshire Chapter of Voices of the Faithful, likes the open message the ribbon sends.

"The design is particularly appropriate with black-and-white sections," Disco said. "I expect to put it on my coat and leave it there."

Disco said the Pierres’ Web site looks promising.

"Let’s flood the state with ribbons!" she said. "And congratulations to the survivors who started this group. The more visibility, the better."

Ed Kirby is not an abuse victim, but is a member of New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership and Voice of the Faithful.

"Much of what I do is motivated by what has been done to the victims and the courage shown by the survivors," Kirby said. "My personal opinion of the Web site from a quick review is positive."

The ribbon’s popularity is starting to catch on. Marianna said there are links to their site on many other survivor Web pages. Stories about the site were also written in the National Catholic Reporter, aired on the local FOX station, and discussion is happening on AOL Catholic Scandals Message boards.

The Pierres ask a donation of $5 for the ribbons, and they’re asking people to wear them during Lent and on Easter. Ribbons are available online at www.thefirstsiteonline.com.

 
 

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