'Shattered Lives, Stolen Souls'
Victims of Pedophile Priests Set to Display Survivor's Quilt at National Conference of Bishops
By André Coleman
June 15, 2006
When you look at 47-year-old Erin Brady's Survivor's Quilt, the first thing you notice is all the smiles. There are 160 photos of Brady as a child and other kids, their eyes filled with innocence and happiness.
Then you notice the words embroidered into the center of the quilt: "Shattered Lives, Stolen Souls."
The 24-by-36-foot hand-crafted tapestry, which took six months to complete, is meant to symbolize the lives that have been irreparably damaged by sexual abuse inflicted by Catholic clerics.
Brady, a still devout Catholic who once studied to be a nun, said she has been knitting since she was 6 and began quilting as a teen. Making this quilt, which will be formally unveiled Saturday at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, where 300 Catholic bishops are expected to be attending a bi-annual US Conference of Catholic Bishops, was her way of expressing her pain and her loss.
"Throughout the years, the only healing I have received has been through the survivor's community," said Brady, who lives in Monrovia. "We wanted to create a symbol of that unity and how that makes us more whole. Quilting is my passion. To be able to use it for a cause I feel so deeply about has been a great gift."
Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said they attempted to reserve a room at the Biltmore this weekend in order to display the quilt on the premises. However, the plan fell through, so the quilt will be on display in Pershing Square, near the hotel, as part of a 48-hour vigil during the conference.
Brady and members of SNAP recently hand-delivered a letter to the office of Los Angeles Archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony, asking Mahony to release one of the rooms reserved by Church leaders for the conference, but that did not happen. The letter, which was obtained by the Weekly, also calls on Catholic clergy to face their victims.
"We ask that you invite all Catholic bishops attending this conference [to] view the faces of children who have been harmed by their continual cover up of crimes," the letter states. "We ask that they spend some time in prayer and reflection on the life of Jesus and ask themselves the important question: Have they done enough?"
So far, there has been no response to the letter from the embattled Mahony. But even so, bishops attending the conference will certainly know about the quilt, said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
"I am sure there will be a number of them who will go and see it," Tamberg said.
The bishops would certainly be missing an emotional sight if they didn't take it in, say those who have seen Brady's quilt.
"When I looked at it I was completely overwhelmed," said SNAP spokesperson Mary Grant. "I knew just about every child on there. I could remember the first time most of them called us crying and thinking it was their fault. It just made me want to break down and sob. There is the feeling of a holocaust."
Some of the photos used in the quilt are actually kind of ironic. Fellow survivor Melanie Hart, for instance, is seen holding a baseball bat, which seems prescient considering Hart has since fought a fierce legal fight against the San Diego Archdiocese regarding her claims of sexual abuse.
"She really stepped up to the plate," Grant said as she looked at Hart's childhood picture. Unlike many people currently battling Catholic hierarchy, Brady did not immediately come forward during the first few years that priest sexual abuse had made headlines around the world.
Brady finally filed a civil lawsuit in 2003 against Monsignor Joseph Alzugaray, alleging Alzugaray had molested her while she attended Immaculate Conception Church in Monrovia during the late 1960s and early 70s, according to the lawsuit.
Alzugaray, who later served at St. Philip's Church in Pasadena and then at St. Apollinaris Parish in Napa, has maintained his innocence and filed a libel lawsuit against Brady, her attorney and SNAP. A judge later dismissed the case.
In February 2004, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Mahony included Alzugaray among 211 priests in his report on the child sex-abuse crisis in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. But with those disclosures, Mahony cautioned that "we must all resist the temptation to assume that, because an allegation has been made, it is therefore true." Alzugaray, according to the Times, did not sue the cardinal or the archdiocese.
Brady said she first came forward in 1993, six months before taking vows to become a nun with the Sisters of St. Joseph in the city of Orange.
"I was in the convent and that was the place where I felt the safest," she said. "So I went to the nuns and told them. They couldn't handle it and they asked me to leave."
Alzugaray was eventually transferred to Santa Rosa, where he worked as a high school counselor under Bishop G. Patrick Zieman.
Zieman, a native of Pasadena who has since retired from the priesthood, was later accused of blackmailing a male Church member into a sexual relationship, according to reports in the Times and other media outlets.
"I believe Mahony should be in jail," Brady said. "I believe his [alleged] cover up of pedophiles under his jurisdiction is a crime and in some ways is a much more serious crime than the abuse itself. It allowed [the abuse] to go on and allowed hundreds of children to be harmed."
The Church recently lost a major battle when the California State Supreme Court ruled that Mahony must turn over to authorities the personnel files on former priests George Miller and Michael Baker, who are accused of multiple sex crimes involving boys.
Miller is currently under what authorities are calling an ongoing investigation into sexual misconduct. Baker is presently in custody at Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles where he awaits trial on eight counts of oral copulation with a person under the age of 18.
"Church officials know we are going to be there," Grant said, adding the sex scandal will be "the big elephant in the room."
The quilt has six 4-by-6-foot panels, each containing a centerpiece with a broken stained glass theme. The stained glass was used to incorporate a symbol of the Church.
"This quilt is a physical representation of the children who suffered in childhood and still suffer in adulthood, yet are struggling to both heal themselves and protect others," said Grant. "It is a symbol of hope and recovery for those who have been affected by the sex crimes of clergy and the cover-up of bishops. By stitching these children's images into one cloth, they are no longer alone. Their voices are no longer silent, and they are strong because they have each other. Their lives have been pieced together into one resilient cloth, a quilt that comforts and protects."
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