|Talk at St. Hugh
By Sister Sally Butler OP
September 22, 2003
I am one of three Dominican sisters who contacted The New York Times last year (see Daniel J. Wakin, Bitterness in Brooklyn Diocese over Abuse Case) after nine years of trying to get Bishop Daily to listen and act on the sexual abuse of children.
I still live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn where we three sisters were stationed in the mid-sixties at St. Michael-St. Edward’s Church. Our parishioners lived in a huge public housing complex. We served on a pastoral team with three priests, and were considered an example of Vatican II in action. When Archbishop Jadot visited Brooklyn, we were trotted out proudly. The priests were our colleagues and our friends; all three of them were on the altar at my mother’s funeral. I acquired a dear foster son Carlos when his dying mother gave him to me in the early 1970’s. He lived in the rectory with the priests; there were many boys in and out of the rectory often.
Now I must fast-forward to 1993. I was walking through the housing projects one day when I remembered that Carlos had been asking about his friend Jerry. Since I was near his apartment, I stopped in to see Jerry’s mother. In the course of the conversation, I said I was sad that I did not see her at mass anymore. That was when she told me that her two boys and my Carlos had been sexually abused by not one, but all three of the priests.
When I left her apartment, I almost walked under a truck.
The other sisters joined me in talking with Jerry and his brother. We tried for two years to get them to come with us to the Bishop; we were absolutely certain that, as soon as he heard this horror, the Bishop would remove the two priests still living [one had died of AIDS] and have them evaluated. Each time we thought we had the young men, now in their late thirties, ready to go to the chancery with us, they would disappear.
Finally, we three sisters went ourselves with the attorney who represented our congregation. We were so naïve, we saw no conflict with the fact that the lawyer, George Rice, also represented the diocese of Rockville Centre! We did not see the Bishop [I have never met Bishop Daily], but met with Otto Garcia and his attorney, Kevin Kearney. It was clear to us that they believed everything we said. As a matter of fact, they knew more about the subject than we did. When we mentioned incidents that made us uneasy, like the priest who wrestled with the young boys, they said, "That’s an indication!" But it also became clear that both lawyers were in collusion with the priest and that the children were not their main concern. They were much more concerned about dates, i.e. the statute of limitations.
Two years later, the mother of the two boys asked to see the Bishop, so we returned to the chancery with her. She was most graphic and deeply upset. She screamed at Otto Garcia: "You talk all the time about abortion. What about my children?"
We told them that Jerry, during the abuse, tried to stop it by burning the church down. He and his brother were taken by the priests to Lincoln Hall, a kind of reformatory up state. Their mother never got her boys back.
There was no gesture of compassion or even interest. We were certain that, after we left, the attorney turned to the priest and said, "They have no case."
* * *
I am here to speak for the three young men I have mentioned and for all the people of color who have not come forward to accuse their priest-abusers. They don’t trust the church and they don’t trust the criminal justice system either, and with good reason. Last year, a Jamaican man named Sylvester Wilson accused a priest well-known to us and still serving as a pastor in Brooklyn. Mr. Wilson was charged with threatening the priest and spent 12 days in Rikers Island.
During the nine years from 1993 until last year, I contacted attorneys, i.e. Jeffrey Anderson on the west coast and Steve Rubino from New Jersey. Steve told us, in a meeting in Manhattan, that there are rings of pedophiles in every diocese in the country and that an abuser, when he travels, has only to pick up the phone to make a contact.
I contacted Jason Berry who wrote a fine book about the horror in Louisiana, Lead Us Not Into Temptation. That book made me wonder what a grotesque place Louisiana must be! I found SNAP [Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests] and was helped immeasurably by David Clohessy, the president of what is now a huge organization.
Then, the Boston scandal broke last year and I read an article in the New York Times which seemed to be balanced and fair. I wrote to the reporter, we three sisters and Carlos were interviewed, and we discovered that the other two young men had changed their minds. Their mother had been moved out of the projects to a better neighborhood.
I am here to ask you to take the long view. This is the greatest crisis in the Church since the Inquisition. It has taken decades to build up and will take quite a while to subside, but it is not the only time the church has been in trouble. I quote from another Dominican, St. Catherine of Siena, who once scolded the Pope: "See to it that I do not have to resort to Jesus Christ against you." Catherine also said:
"In whatever direction you turn, among
St. Catherine of Siena
This scandal is not going away. There is something seriously wrong with the seminary culture in this country, in which a priest who falls in love with a woman and marries her is dismissed the same day. But a priest who sodomizes a little child is still in the club. The behavior which Otto Garcia and Al Placa dismiss as an "indiscretion" is a grave, mortal sin.
I want all of you to be aware of the daily life of a victim of childhood sexual abuse:
There is much talk of forgiveness and healing. I ask you to wait. So far, the perpetrators have not even expressed sorrow for their sin. They deny everything. In order for healing to occur, amends must be made. The only apologies we have heard so far were written by the bishops’ lawyers. If he bishops were superintendents of school districts, they would surely be in prison by now.
Please do not tell the victims/survivors how to feel. Don’t tell them to "get on with their lives." If Carlos hates, he hates. And God loves him. If healing is in his path, he will work it out, but in his time and God’s time. There are too many priests and sisters urging the victims to move toward healing.
What can you do, then?
You can understand that no one relinquishes power voluntarily and that the only way we can cut off the source of power is by withholding money.
You can contact Republican elected officials and tell them that you want the statute of limitations on the crime of sex abuse of minors to be erased. It must be retroactive. Tell them that there are countless Catholics who do not agree with the bishops, who are lobbying strongly.
I believe this is our holocaust, our slaughter of the innocents. I have two questions I must ask you to consider.
My religious congregation celebrates 150 years in this country this year. Our founders came from a small city in Germany, Regensberg. I had the good fortune to visit our original convent there in the 1980’s and, since it was on Judenstrasse [street of the Jew] I walked about wondering if there were any more Jews in the city. I found a small synagogue built after World War II with a plaque which noted three separate times when citizens were rounded up for the camps.
This happened as the Catholics went to Mass. We don’t know what they knew, or what the sisters knew. But we do know that the German Catholics do not have a good record.
So my first question is: What will history say about us?
And my second question is: Why do we remain in the Church?
It might be just inertia, or the fact that it is ours, not theirs. But if we do decide to remain, we must clean house.
We must rid our church of the stench of grave sin.
Original material copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.