Catholic priest abuse survivors use drama therapy techniques to heal old wounds

St. Louis Public Radio [St. Louis MO]

December 6, 2021

By Kayla Drake

The new Netflix documentary “Procession” follows six men who were sexually abused by Catholic priests from the Kansas City area. The film, made by University of Missouri Associate Professor Robert Greene, shows the survivors reclaiming power through drama therapy techniques.

The men attempt to heal from decades of pain by creating short films, some set at the very location the abuse happened. The scenes aren’t graphic, but symbolic of the power priests have.

All of the men agreed that child actor Terrick Trobough would play their younger selves. And the men themselves acted in the scenes as well.

“Just having actors come off the streets with no skin in the game wouldn’t help us raise this up to the level we’re trying to get [to],” one survivor Dan Laurine said.

The film takes viewers through the three-year process the men took to create the scenes, offering an intimate look at them grappling with the trauma they endured as boys.

“I want this to be like Marvel superheroes vanquishing the f—ing forces of darkness,” Ed Gavagan said when meeting the other men for the first time in the film. “We’re gonna make our point.”

Greene, the director and editor, is quick to say he isn’t solely responsible for making “Procession.” The six men were co-directors and were credited as such in the film.

In the scenes, the survivors put priest robes on, sat in pews and burned incense. Greene says the visceral experience of acting the part gets to the heart of the pain more than interviews could ever do.

The unusual collaboration led to tangible breakthroughs on-screen and a powerful brotherhood bond, formed out of a shared abuse story that none of them asked for.

“Performance can become a means to a much greater end,” he said.

The camera gave the men validation and the courage to explore physical places that haunted them for decades and enabled catharsis.

“In my mind, [our abusers are] not going to win,” Michael Sandridge said. “And that’s how I cope with it.”

Greene and one of the survivors, Michael Sandbridge, will join Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air.

Have you seen “Procession”? What questions do you have about the film? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex HeuerEmily WoodburyEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.