Survivors Gather for Discussion in Mobile

By Steve Myers
Mobile Register [Mobile AL]
October 24, 2004

Across the street from the offices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile, survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their advocates discussed the disease that has plagued the Catholic Church.

Though the problem isn't receiving the attention that it did a couple of years ago, author Jason Berry said Saturday he believes the church is still experiencing internal upheaval.

"I think it's inevitable that this pope or a future pope is going to have to sit down with a roomful of people like you," said Berry, who wrote a book about one of the first publicly known cases of widespread sexual abuse. Mobile has had its share of cases and allegations, such as those against Brother Nicholas Paul Bendillo, known as Brother Vic to his students at McGill-Toolen High School. Bendillo was convicted in March of two sex crimes and later pleaded guilty to eight more.

The Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock resigned after admitting to abuse of three minors. Other priests have been accused of similar abuse, though they have not been charged with crimes.

The weekend conference, attended by about 40 people, was sponsored by The Linkup, an advocacy group for victims of clergy sex abuse.

Berry told the group he shares the desire among abuse victims to "get back to the pure essence of spirituality before the trauma, before the hurt, before the pathology of lies."

But he said he remains Catholic. "I haven't found the spirituality to supplant ( it) -- it's the spirituality I have," he said.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, one of the authors of a 1985 report to Catholic bishops warning of a sex abuse crisis in the church, criticized church leadership for how they have treated victims. Beyond the trauma of being molested, Doyle said, victims have been hurt again when they reported abuse to the church.

How church officials respond "can have a significant impact on being either re-traumatized or re-victimized," he said.

In part, Doyle blamed the failure to deal with abuse on the position of the clergy within the church. The clergy, he said, has become a "ruling class -- the hierarchy."

"But that's wrong," he said. "Christ didn't spend time in an office, and the only time he became angry was when he went to church -- for the same reason you're angry."

Healing was a continuing theme of the conference. Nancy Mayer, a therapist in Toronto, said victims need to address the anger that eats at them, but they don't necessarily have to forgive their abusers.

"I've seen many people heal, who have done very well, who have never forgiven anyone," she said. "Except maybe themselves."

Doyle warned against being trapped in victimhood, which keeps people from moving on.

"As long as you're angry, as long as you're bitter, that person in that church is still in control," he said.

And though critical of many facets of church administration, Doyle still said it's worthwhile for people to try to regain their spirituality.

"The most important thing for all of us is hope," he said. "That's the beginning of walking into the light, is hope."

Tonight Doyle will address the Catholic laity about how sex abuse affects them. The public is invited to attend Doyle's speech, which will be held at the Mobile Public Library on Grelot Road at 6 p.m.


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