In ‘Broken Silence,’ a composer brings a note of hope to the church’s sex abuse crisis

America Magazine

Jan. 3, 2020

By Maggi Van Dorn

Craig Shepard and I have something in common: We have been laboring with the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and have made it the focal point of our creative work. Craig since 2014, me since 2018. He’s a composer, I’m a podcast producer. I first heard about Mr. Shepard’s musical meditation “Broken Silence” in the oppressive heat of August, but now, on a cold, dark and blustery afternoon in December, we finally meet in a coffee shop in Brooklyn to discuss this project, five years in the making.

“Broken Silence” is a 75-minute musical contemplation that “support[s] listeners to engage with text drawn from court testimony connected with the ongoing scandal in the Catholic Church.” More specifically, the steel-string acoustic guitar and saxophone ensemble is composed around Margaret Gallant’s 1982 letter to Cardinal Humberto Medeiros.

“Broken Silence” is a 75-minute musical contemplation on a infamous letter directed at Catholic leaders in Boston for failing to take action against Father John Geoghan.
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In that four-page, handwritten letter, we hear Ms. Gallant reprimanding the cardinal for failing to take action against Father John Geoghan, the priest who molested seven boys in Ms. Gallant’s extended family and, as The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team later uncovered, 150 children in total.

The letter is galvanizing; I remember it well from my own research. Ms. Gallant writes as a devout Catholic, struggling to balance her love for the church with the personal agony her family has experienced and an obligation to protect other children. Even of the molesting priest himself, she writes: “Truly, my heart aches for him and I pray for him, because I know this must tear him apart too; but I cannot allow my compassion for him to cloud my judgment on acting for the people of God, and the children in the church.”

The sense of betrayal, anger and heartbreak in this letter is palpable. And the problems Ms. Gallant underscores remain with us today: the damage of remaining silent, the failure of some church leadership to take clear and decisive action, the persistence of clericalism and the need for co-responsibility in the church.

Ms. Gallant’s letter has been used in investigative reporting and court testimonies, but it is also written with the moral force of St. Catherine of Siena or St. Thomas More, rebuking those in power for “sitting on their fannies” and admonishing them to protect the Mystical Body of Christ.

Now Mr. Shepard presents the letter as a sacred text for us to contemplate: “The text on its own is gorgeous. I think it’s an inspired text.”

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