‘We can heal together’: Guelph man overcomes childhood sexual abuse by founding Recovery Speaking initiative

Guelph Mercury Tribune [Guelph, ON, Canada]

May 9, 2023

By Joy Struthers

Recovery Speaking Initiative supports survivors in Guelph and beyond

WARNING: This story contains details of sexual abuse of a child and may be disturbing to some readers.

Though he says he feels like a “warrior” now, at 71, 60 years ago Robert McCabe was just a sweet and quiet boy. A child, who, after being sexually assaulted by his Catholic priest in a motel room while travelling to Montreal, spent the night curled up in a chair crying “no, no, no.”

The Guelph man said sharing his memories has helped him to reconcile with them. He has finally forgiven himself and his abuser who is now deceased, after a life of coping using alcohol, and a quest for recovery and justice. He founded Recovery Speaking initiative in 2020 and runs a men’s support group held Thursdays online, because he said, “there is hope after dealing with sexual abuse and trauma.”

“I own my story now,” McCabe said. “For a long time, it owned me.”

Sometimes he still starts to spiral, but he has tools to help. He highly recommends trauma therapy, support groups and programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and he speaks openly about the circumstances surrounding his sexual assault in the hope that others will gain clarity from it.

McCabe said he was “groomed” by associate pastor, Rev. Alphonse Robert, at St. Lawrence Parish Church in Scarborough from 1962 to 1963, a concept he understands now, but did not as a child. It started with a pat on the shoulder, or a hug, but the growing attention made McCabe feel uncomfortable.

“I can still feel the stubble of his whiskers on my cheek,” he said.

When he was invited to join the priest on a trip to the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, his family readily agreed to it.

He said the reverend spoke to him about “matters sexual” while they were driving and booked a room for the night with just one bed in it.

“I was just starting to drift off when he kind of rolled over, put his hand down my pyjamas and started fondling my penis,” said McCabe, who was so scared he said he pretended he was asleep.

He said the reverend performed oral sex on him, then he finally managed to get away to the bathroom.

McCabe said he felt paralyzed while he stared at his own reflection in the mirror.

He spent the rest of the night in a chair, with the reverend begging him to come back to bed.

McCabe said he never spoke about what happened to his family or friends afterwards, he did not know how to begin. As a teenager he started drinking alcohol, and as an adult never stopped.

“All I did was drink and work,” McCabe said. He lost his job, his family, and ended up on the streets.

When he realized he was truly addicted to alcohol, “there was such desperation in my heart,” he said.

In 2013 he took the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation for the Diocese of Toronto to court. Even though he won, the church appealed the case and it took until 2019 for it to be over with.

“I’m not cured, but I am recovered,” he said. He practices prayer, meditation and mindfulness every day, and forgives but does not forget. He takes life one day at a time.

He said he has gone “from victim to survivor to warrior” in this process and wants everyone to know that “we can heal together.”

Lisa Browning, chair of the board at RSI, was inspired by McCabe’s openness and honesty.

As a publisher (One Thousand Trees), Browning said she knew she could help facilitate the work McCabe wanted to do, speaking about sexual assault, and she seized the opportunity to join the board of directors.

“I am so passionate about helping people through telling their stories and connecting them with other like-minded people,” she said, because she knows it brings awareness.

In fact, her collection of stories, “What a Gift, inspirational stories of hope after trauma, abuse, or addiction” available at One Thousand Trees bookstore, gives voice to 14 people who share the “raw truth,” and she said proceeds go directly to RSI.

RSI is planning daily events for Sexual Assault Awareness Week (May 14 to May 20). Visit recoveryspeaking.org to learn more. Those seeking support from Recovery Speaking Initiative can email info@recoveryspeaking.org. A sexual assault support guide and more resources can be found at Guelph Police Service.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: As a Guelph-based organization, Recovery Speaking Initiative reached out to the Guelph Mercury Tribune about events they are holding for Sexual Assault Awareness Week, that run from May 14 to May 20, 2023. Reporter Joy Struthers followed up with the chair of the board and the founder to learn their stories.