Patheos [Englewood CO]
March 14, 2022
By Mary Pezzulo
I don’t know were to begin.
My head is still spinning with the events of the weekend.
People have told me that it’s narcissistic of me to be traumatized by the Morrier case, and they’re probably right, but I can’t help it. I was already suffering from religious trauma before I saw the news of his indictment last April, and I am worse off now. The only thing I know how to write about is me: my experiences, my life, my day, the things I am passionate about. I wish I had another person here to show you. But there is only me, one of thousands of victims of the Charismatic Renewal, unable to talk about whatever I should talk about, traumatized when I shouldn’t be, never getting better, never doing what I ought. And the religious trauma is all I can think of today. I will try to give you something more enlightening tomorrow. Today this is all I have.
I keep thinking about going to confession, and feeling guilty for not going to confession.
My pastor for my teenage years was a Dominican priest, Father France-Kelly– decidedly NOT a Charismatic, but we liked him anyway. He once preached a sermon that it was blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin, to be too afraid to go to confession. “The one sin God can’t forgive, though He wants to, is the sin you won’t bring to him in confession.” I keep thinking of that now that I’m too afraid to go to confession. Maybe I’ve blasphemed the Holy Spirit and will never be forgiven. Of course, Father France-Kelly was removed from the priesthood near the end of his life, for a credible accusation of abuse. But that’s another story.
But anyway, I keep wondering if I’ve blasphemed the Holy Spirit by being afraid of confession this year.
I had been referred to Morrier for confession by the famous Father Mike Scanlan, whom I saw for deliverance prayer and spiritual direction. Father Scanlan said I had demons in my family tree who were oppressing me, and that’s why I was suffering from anxiety. He believed most mental illness was caused or exacerbated by demons. And he was in a habit of referring female directees who had such “demons” to Morrier, because he believed Morrier understood “spiritual warfare.” He told me that was the reason, when he told me to talk to Morrier. I’m not saying that Scanlan deliberately fed vulnerable girls to Morrier, knowing what would happen. I don’t know if he did or not. Maybe Scanlan just had extremely poor judgement. But I know that it isn’t the only time he was responsible for women at Franciscan University being vulnerable to abusers.
Franciscan University doesn’t have a lot of confessionals, and Morrier was never in one when he heard my confessions. When I met with him, he was one of the priests who heard confessions sitting in the pews at Christ the King Chapel where penitent and priest could see one another. I used to sit knee to knee with Morrier in the pews of Christ the King Chapel, telling him all my sins. I could see the fiery look in his eyes when he led me through a deliverance prayer forgiving my rapist, releasing my rapist, praying for my rapist. He said this prayer was important so that I wouldn’t be preyed on by a demon. I didn’t understand why his expression looked the way that it did then, but I think I do now.
Reading that marvelously courageous victim’s statement, I think I understand a lot.
That was the only abuse I, personally, suffered at the hands of Morrier: the spiritual abuse of being forced to forgive my rapist before I was ready and threatened with demonic oppression if I didn’t. I wasn’t a victim of sexual abuse by him, or of those horrendously abusive clandestine exorcisms. I’ve been talking with other people from Franciscan lately, and they said they knew that abusive amateur exorcisms went on during their time at the school as well; many people knew they were happening, but we didn’t talk about them. Those didn’t happen to me either. I got off very easy. But I haven’t been to confession since I sat that close to Morrier again, without meaning to, on the bench outside the courtroom at the arraignment. I want to go to confession, but I keep panicking every time I think about it.
And then, last Friday, I found out from the victim’s statement that it was so much worse than I thought. On top of everything, Morrier broke the seal and revealed her confession to other students. And I remembered that the fantasies my catechists told me about confession being perfectly private are just that– fantasies. Anything can happen. Priests are humans, and humans do terrible things when you make yourself vulnerable to them. What’s whispered in silence could be shouted from the housetops, and there’s nothing I can do.
Yesterday we went to Mass, at a different church across the river outside of the Diocese of Steubenville, and I found myself in the foyer having a panic attack again.
I can’t remember the last Sunday Mass where I haven’t had to spend most of it in the foyer or outside on the sidewalk, having a panic attack.
I dread Sundays because of the Sunday Obligation. I hate the weekend more than anything in the world.
I’m sorry that this writing is all coming out so incoherent and awkward. I’m having a very hard time organizing my thoughts.
It is exceptionally hard to have this form of religious trauma: to be a victim of the Charismatic Renewal who still believes in God and would like to know God and love God, and share God with my daughter and with others. I’m not better than people who have lost their faith entirely, just different. I still want to be with God. But I don’t know how.
It is torture to look back at the filth and corruption of the people and the institutions I was expected to revere as the only possible portals through which God could come to me. It’s agony to feel like Christ must be upset with me for not sucking it up and returning to Him in the way that I was taught. I hope it’s the agony of a bandage coming off, but it feels like the agony of dying.
The other day, while driving running errands, I was singing to myself as I do. The song I sang was a kitschy hymn to the Holy Spirit we used to sing in the Charismatic Renewal. And when I got to the verse about “Holy Spirit, Glorify thy Name,” I changed it and sang it differently, as I have lately. I sang “Holy Spirit, purify thy Name,” because that’s what I want to happen. I want the Holy Spirit to come here and clear the Holy Spirit’s name. I want the Holy Spirit to make it plain that the Charismatic Renewal, the quack nonsense of deliverance prayer, has nothing to do with God. I want everyone who was trapped in this horror to understand that we were conned and we were abused and we were tortured in the name of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with it.
If there is such a thing as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, it isn’t something we did. It’s something that was done to us.
That’s all I have today.
I usually share my tip jar at the end of my posts, but today, if you’d like to help David Morrier’s courageous victim get a fresh start, here’s her gofundme.