Hometown memories of light, darkness in Yakima

By Michele J. Charvet
Yakima Herald-Republic
May 25, 2014

I used to sled down Franklin Park terraces in winter. Summer was full of swimming, bike riding, and eating Yakima Big Bars. In autumn, I picked up chestnuts that lay lazily on lawns and streets as I walked home from school. Spring held the promise that summer vacation was not far away. But then, one spring, it all changed for me, as it has for too many children across the Earth. Like thieves in the night, Catholic priests touched and poked our bodies in our sexual areas. Agonizing darkness and misplaced self-loathing became our worlds.

Meanwhile, Pope John Paul ll was enamoring the world with his charisma, all the while knowing his clergy was sexually molesting children. He chose to do nothing. He chose his black-clothed clergy. He chose the bishops and cardinals. His choice was not the children.

It’s 2014 — crowds in Saint Peter’s Square are deliriously happy as John Paul II is declared a saint by Pope Francis I.

Visiting my hometown recently, my sister and I drove hastily past our childhood parish, St. Paul Cathedral. “This must be hard for you,” she said. “No,” I replied. “Sometimes, it is just easier not to feel.” We drove on to Calvary Cemetery, where my father was buried in April 1972. He died never knowing why his high school daughter had grown so distant, confused and depressed.

In 2008, I filed a civil lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Yakima and Christopher Breen, a former pastor at St. Paul Cathedral. In 2011, the settlement papers were signed between Yakima Diocese and myself. I had never strolled into any Catholic headquarters nor had I called the Yakima Diocese hotline to report the sexual abuse that had happened years before. Trust in the Catholic church did not exist anywhere in me.

In 2014, John Paul II made his debut into the halls of Catholic sainthood. An estimated 800, 000 people had gathered over the week at St. Peter’s Square. John Paul II’s path to sainthood had been the quickest in over four centuries. Pope John XXIII was also canonized that day. To the crowds, that was incidental.

In 2014, the Yakima foothills and the Yakima River still speak to me when I visit. The language is understood deep in my heart. My feet hold me strong and upright as I walk on Eastern Washington soil. I breathe in smells from sagebrush-dotted foothills. I won’t go sledding down Franklin Park terraces in winter when I visit, nor will I ever enter a Catholic church. But, I will always remember crying in confusion on those sagebrush foothills and hearing the river comfort a broken child.



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