The Berkshire Eagle [Pittsfield MA]
August 7, 2021
By Larry Parnass
Sheri A. Biasin, of Cheshire, speaks here about the culture surrounding clergy abuse in the 1960s and 1970s, her efforts to confront the abuse she endured, and growing up Catholic in the Berkshires. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
[See also diocesan correspondence about Biasin’s case.]
On her Catholic upbringing: I grew up in a really strict Catholic family. I mean, we did rosary before we went to bed — that sort of whole deal. That was very prominent in our life, and to go against it was like, “You’re going to burn in hell” and “Wait to see what’s going to happen to you.”
The people in my family basically bowed to this man, Father Daniel Gill. When I look back now, I think, “Oh, my God, good thing I’m not there now, because I wouldn’t have been able to take it.”
You asked how my parents first became aware that the abuse was happening. I mouthed that off. It was a couple years before [the abuse] stopped, because they made me still go. I was maybe 9 or 10. I said, “I don’t want to go with Father Dan.” I said, “Why is he picking me up alone? I don’t want to go with Father Dan. He hurts me.”
My father severely punished me and I was still made to go with Father Dan. I cried about having to go with him. I kicked, but apparently it wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t forceful enough. I mean, at 9 and 10, my parents should have protected me. When I didn’t want to go, it was like, “You keep crying and I’ll give you something to cry about.” You know, that generation, unfortunately. So, I sucked it up.
On her first assault, in 1967: I had gone into the bathroom. I can see it like it was yesterday, with my first Communion dress on. As I was coming out, he came in. He said, “You are the chosen one, you know that?” And I’m like, “No.” I remember being very confused, and then he stuck his tongue in my mouth and I just barreled out of that bathroom. My father was in the kitchen.
I was so happy having the party. Then I just isolated myself and shut down, because I was like, “Oh, my God.” It doesn’t feel right when you’re a little kid, whether you know what’s going on or not. It doesn’t feel right.
He came out of the bathroom after doing it, knowing I was a mess, knowing “bubbly Sheri,” who was normally out there playing with all the kids, was now over in the corner. He came out as if nothing had happened, and laughing, having a drink in his hand with my aunts and laughing and, you know, playing bocce.
I remember from that point on being really fearful always of next Sunday. “Oh, my God, next Sunday’s coming and we’re going to be with Father Dan. I didn’t want to go anywhere.” In the summer, we always went up to the lake in Sandisfield as a family picnic.
On echoes of abuse: I was always confused. I’ve always felt different. I still feel different. “Chosen.” Chosen for hell? You know, not chosen for anything but pleasure. One of the hardest things is that he took, besides my childhood and my innocence, that whole ability to trust.
On going public with her story: There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make sure [clergy abuse] is uncovered. And that people come forward, because it’s got to stop. Because now that I see what happened to me. Then, I repeatedly requested my file [from the diocese] and it took years for me to get bits and pieces of it. I’m back at square one.
I know I have some crazy tenacity. Sometimes I even question myself and think, like, “Just give it up.” You know, “Just let it go.” But, it doesn’t go away. You know? I need to get through it. I will never get over it. It takes a lifetime. Today, I can see turning 62 and moving forward. Coming here to do what I came to do, whether it’s to write a book, or whether it’s to help the victims.
On her 2002 appearance before the Commission to Investigate Improper Conduct of Diocesan Personnel: At the end, I said I wanted to know if there were any other victims. I’ve spent my lifetime thinking that I did something to make this [abuse] happen. That it was my personality. It’s only me. That I’m crazy. All the stuff that goes along with that.
They wouldn’t give me the other victim’s name, but I wrote a letter to her. I guess I’ve always wanted to help. That solved something for me, knowing there was another victim. Instead of spending my life thinking, because I was so happy and bubbly, that that’s what made it happen.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 413-588-8341.