Retreat for Clergy-Abuse Victims to Open

By Rachel Zoll
Associated Press, carried in Guardian [UK]
March 25, 2004

CRESTWOOD, Ky. (AP) - A former Air Force major, Susan Archibald often talks in battlefield metaphors. She relies on them even more when recounting her struggle to help fellow victims of clergy sex abuse through a unique alliance with Roman Catholic bishops.

After months of planning and lobbying church officials, Archibald and other volunteers plan to open a national retreat center for molestation victims in April that is the first to carry the endorsement of key U.S. Roman Catholic bishops and religious orders.

The prelates have provided some funds for the project, called The Farm, even though they will have no control over it, Archibald said, revealing details of the bishops' involvement for the first time to The Associated Press.

"There are survivors out there who are just being destroyed. They're the innocent civilian casualties in the middle of a war," said Archibald, head of the Kentucky-based advocacy group The Linkup. "There's got to be a thread of hope we can hold on to."

Almost as notable as the retreat center itself - which aims to help people confront the devastation of abuse - is that Archibald has enlisted the aid of both the church's fiercest critics and its most loyal servants.

"It's like sitting down and getting the Israelis to talk to the Palestinians," Archibald said. "If we can each make a small step forward, it could do some good."

Among the top churchmen on board is Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis, head of the bishops' national Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse and an architect of their latest plan for dealing with errant priests.

Another adviser is the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a one-time canon lawyer at the Vatican's U.S. Embassy who sacrificed his career in the church to become an advocate for victims and a guide for lawyers suing dioceses.

Flynn told the AP that he has written to his fellow bishops encouraging them to support The Farm. Individual prelates have donated about $26,000 so far, with about $10,000 coming from Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.

"It seemed so refreshing to me, when I first heard of the project, to have someone who has been victimized to want to move beyond that and help others move beyond that, rather than to have victimization become identification," said Flynn, who has given Linkup $1,000 so far.

"I think sometimes bishops are a little shy about reaching out, never knowing how it's going to be used or thrown back in their face. But I have tremendous confidence in Sue."

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men, an umbrella organization for religious orders in the United States, including Jesuits and Dominicans, has also endorsed the center.

It will be on a 1,300-acre farm in Crestwood, about 20 miles north of Louisville, that is now the site of a spa and wellness center, and will serve victims of any faith.

A social worker will organize programs on topics such as substance abuse and the high divorce rate among victims, and visitors can also go hiking or work in an organic garden.

A centerpiece of the project will be two bakeries run by businessman Michael Turner, a victim of the Rev. Louis Miller, an imprisoned predator accused of molesting more than 100 minors in the Archdiocese of Louisville. Proceeds from bread sales will be used to fund The Farm; Turner hopes to sell the products directly to parishes.

"I think Sue's attitude is she wants to break down so much of the antipathy" between church leaders and victims, Doyle said. "As long as they (bishops) do the right thing and are honest, I have no problem with it."

Archibald and other members of the Linkup quietly built support among bishops in private one-on-one meetings in chanceries and in a closed-door session with Flynn's committee at the bishops' conference last November in Washington.

Victims began many of the meetings by offering the church leaders a loaf of homemade bread like the ones they plan to sell at The Farm.

Some victims are not convinced that The Farm is the right outlet for the church's penance. They say Archibald is allowing the bishops to boost their image by writing a check to Linkup, without truly changing how they deal with people who were abused.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, acknowledged victims could be alienated by the church's involvement, but he hoped it would not stop them from taking advantage of the program. He noted that the U.S. church supports several treatment centers for abusive priests and said bishops should provide at least as much support for victims.

Many bishops are equally uneasy.

One prelate, whom Archibald would not identify, had a member of his staff scrutinize The Linkup's Web site for material offensive to the church, then declined to support the project. Others said they suspected the center would become a client referral service for attorneys suing dioceses, even though lawyers will not participate in any of the retreat programs, Archibald said.

She said she understood these fears but was determined to move forward.

Bishops "need to get over some things, and I think we do, too, if this is going to work," she said. "We need to allow them the room to do something positive."

Archibald, 38, was sexually abused as a freshman at the Air Force Academy by a Catholic chaplain whom she sought out for counseling. As a child she attended Catholic school and went to Mass daily. Now, she says she is trying to persuade the church to live up to what it taught her.

"In the end, it's about achieving peace," Archibald said. "Compassion is a hard sell and it shouldn't have to be."