Memories of Abuse, Inconsolable Anger
By Tom Hennessy
Long Beach Press Telegram [California]
October 23, 2005
It had been years since she heard his voice.
But now, to Mary Grant's surprise, John Lenihan was talking. Over the phone, he recalled some of what had happened in 1977. Mary, then 14, had been homesick (sic). Lenihan then Father John Lenihan, 32, of St. Norbert's parish, Anaheim had come to visit.
And with Mary's mother at work, she says, he molested her.
Minutes into the phone conversation, as she trolled his memory and drew one admission after another, he became suspicious.
"Are you trying to just tape me and frame me or something?" he asked.
It was an accurate guess. Sitting across from Grant on Nov. 6, 1989, she says, was Detective Jack Jensen of the Anaheim Police Department. He was recording the conversation.
Until Lenihan seemed to catch on.
"There's no point in my talking to you," he said suddenly. "I've got nothing to say."
The line went dead.
Grant later settled a $25,000 lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Orange County. Even then, he was allowed to remain a priest for more than a decade.
Another woman, who charged that Lenihan had molested and impregnated her when she was 16, later settled for $1.2 million.
Does Grant regret settling for less?
"I don't regret it at all," she says. "The money was not the issue. (The lawsuit) was the only way for me to expose the molesters. I had to do what I did when I did it."
Grant is a woman of gentle anger. When her voice rises to emphasize a point her disenchantment with Catholicism, for example, or her dislike of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony it rises only a decibel or so.
Assuming there is a soft person behind the soft voice is a mistake. Grant is one of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, who were sexually abused as children by Catholic clergymen. She differs from some victims in having decided to fight back. Doing so has made her well known to church hierarchy.
"Mary has told me her story," says Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, "and it is like many other victims' stories I've listened to. They are horrible stories of abuse and betrayal, and fill those of us who work in the church today with the determination to make sure that what happened to her and others in the past never happens again."
Fighting the church Today, at 42, Grant would say she is working toward the same goal. But she is doing so as western regional director of a support group called SNAP: Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
She has learned to be tough and outspoken. She does not hesitate to call for the resignation, even the arrest and conviction, of Mahony for allegedly protecting abusive priests.
"It is very hard for us to understand the fact that Cardinal Bernard Law (former archdiocesan leader in Boston) and Cardinal Mahony have never been criminally indicted," she says. "It's hard for us to comprehend why prosecutors can't obtain every file they need. When someone has been covering up crimes for decades, as Mahony has done, it's just incomprehensible that there can't be any (prosecutorial) intervention."
Grant and her organization have leafleted more than 100 parishes throughout Southern California, trying to educate Catholics to the extent of clerical abuse and warning about the ongoing presence of priests who SNAP believes are still a threat to children.
She has traveled a difficult road, struggling with shame, guilt and what she sees as the calloused officiousness of church leaders.
Described once by a colleague as another Mary standing at the foot of the cross, Grant says she "went completely numb" the day Lenihan allegedly abused her on her mother's bed.
"I could remember while he was molesting me that I was focusing on an electrical outlet in the wall," she says. "I felt myself going into the outlet. I felt that small."
It was not the first time he had molested her, nor the last, she says.
At age 16, two years after that incident, she ran away from home.
"He tracked me down and continued to molest me until I was 18, although the incidents became fewer and farther between," she says.
In time, the incidents vanished from her memory, a common experience among molestation victims.
"I suppressed it so much that I didn't remember anything," she says.
In her early 20s, Grant began attending a nondenominational church. The memories began to return.
"I had been living in a bubble," she says.
The mother of two boys became pregnant a third time and learned she was having a girl.
"I became very depressed," she says, "and didn't know why."
Someone suggested she see a counselor. She did and was told the counselor would have to report Lenihan's alleged abuses to authorities. That was fine with Grant, but she later learned the counselor never reported them.
One day she saw a photo of Lenihan beside a newspaper story about a church.
"When I saw that photo, it was like someone had burst my bubble," she recalls. "That's when the anger hit me. I kicked a hole in a wall in the condo where I was living."
Grant, who now lives in Long Beach, went to a second counselor, who reported the alleged attacks.
"That's when I got a call from the Anaheim Police Department," she says. "Had it not been for the police calling me, I don't know how long I would have waited before reporting the incidents."
Still, dealing with it was difficult. Other victims were coming forward, but Grant did not know that.
"There was no Internet then, no news stories," she says. "I thought the church would be able to isolate me and brush me under the rug."
She suffered from guilt.
"It was like the church was looking down on me and that I had been disobedient," she says.
On the day in 1991 when Lenihan was identified by the Orange County Register as a molester, Grant received a call from the Los Angeles Times, which was also doing a story.
"I thought I was in trouble," she says. "That's where my mind-set was. Even after all those years, I was feeling guilty.
"Church officials and parishioners immediately rallied around Lenihan, and criticized me for reporting the abuse to the newspaper. I was mortified and crushed that church officials and Catholics with whom I had grown up could care less about protecting kids from child predators."
Tamberg, the Archdiocesan spokesman, says the church's approach to abuse reports has changed.
"Under Cardinal Mahony's leadership, the archdiocese has trained more than 26,000 parents, priests, teachers and employees in abuse prevention. (It has) fingerprinted and background-checked all priests, employees and volunteers who supervise children, established a 'good touch, bad touch' program for our young people, and established a lay board that includes abuse victims to deliberate all cases of clergy misconduct."
Strength in numbers
More than two years after Grant says Lenihan had been recorded, Grant met in St. Louis with other victims .
"There were only a handful of us at that time, and the church was telling each of us that we were the only one," she says. "But I came back to California and found two more victims. We met for lunch and within an hour we had told our stories. We couldn't believe how validating it was to find out that it was not our fault."
That and the St. Louis meeting marked the start of SNAP.
I pose a question to Grant: Why does she think Law was pressured to step down in Boston while in L.A., where the cases may prove to be even more numerous, Mahony has been able to hold his position?
She can only speculate. Maybe the L.A. Archdiocese has better lawyers. Maybe it is more difficult for victims to unite because of L.A.'s geography. Maybe Mahony is more powerful.
"I think they're convinced they will never have to appear in a court of law," she says. "The church (in L.A.) has had so much power, so much prestige, that they think they will never be held accountable."
Growing up Catholic
"I grew up in the Catholic Church," says Grant. "I went to parochial school in Long Beach at Holy Innocents."
Does she still attend Mass?
"I have not been to (Catholic) church since I ran away from home at age 16," she says. "I'm one of those who doesn't want to be part of the church. I no longer see Jesus as the son of God. I disbelieve everything I was taught by the church that has deceived me all these years."
Such sentiments do not surprise Tamberg.
"I don't expect abuse victims to trust what the church says, but they should look more closely at what we've done," Tamberg says. "My prayer is that someday Mary will be able to relinquish some of her anger, and actually allow herself to see the progress that has been made in protecting children, but I understand if that is not possible right now."
Earlier this month, the archdiocese released documents relating to 126 clergymen accused of sexual misconduct with children. Calling the documents "highly sanitized," Grant says their release was "a public relations ploy by Cardinal Mahony."
Grant has been married and divorced twice. She traces the failed marriages to her experience as a molestation victim.
Two of her children are now adults, the third a teenager.
Has she ever met Mahony? Twice, she says. Once was in 1993 at an airport.
"I approached and asked him to do more to protect kids," she says.
She made reference to her own case, she says, and asked why Lenihan was still a priest. (He left the priesthood in 2002 with the consent of the church. He was never convicted in court.)
Since Lenihan had served in Orange County, "Mahony said basically that it was not his problem."
Grant says the cardinal was "indifferent and not responsive."
She adds, "A few months ago, I ran into him at a church while we leafleted and held a vigil for molestation victims who had committed suicide. We didn't have a conversation, but he looked like he saw a ghost when I handed him the leaflet."
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