Bernadette Howell's Blog [North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada]
February 7, 2024
By Bernadette Howell
Breaking silence. Confronting clergy abuse
Day 2 is over and I’m very grateful that the energy in the courtroom today was far less tense than yesterday.
Doe had survived his first day in court.
As this morning’s proceedings unfolded, this time with no reporters and no archdiocesan personnel choosing to attend, Doe gave further evidence, speaking about his life after school, his attempts at post-secondary studies and his attempts at various jobs. He also spoke about different relationships he pursued, hindered and sadly restricted by his inability to be intimate or to enjoy sex, something nearly every sexual abuse survivor will identify with.
What struck me –not withstanding the pressure and anxiety that Doe was feeling – was that he was incredibly articulate, speaking with poise, honesty, and clarity.
He spoke about the many challenges that life threw at him in the wake of early childhood trauma and abuse. Of course, Doe was not really aware back then why life was leading him down certain paths, always seeking to mitigate the pain, confusion, and disgust he felt about himself. His narrative, from the moment the rapes took place at six years of age and throughout his whole life has been one of pure self-contempt adding that “disgusting keeps me safe”.
That’s what he continually felt: utter self-contempt. And self-contempt meant he could protect himself from others trying to abuse him.
A “life of weight” is how he also named it…
It is only in the last six or seven years that Doe, after huge efforts spanning the intervening decades, seeking out and exploring many different modes of counselling, therapy, and treatment, has been able to help himself better address the horrendous trauma he endured. From intense periods of suicidal ideation in recent years, to include experimenting with a particular method he had researched, he has managed to pull himself back from the cliff edge.
But, as Doe said with realistic caution, “the edge is always only six inches away.”
This leads me, as perhaps it does you, wondering at the Vancouver Sun newspapers recent comment in it’s February 1st article.
The article reported that:
“The church says if the plaintiff was victimized, he failed to take steps to mitigate the effects of the abuse, such as counselling, medication and treatment.”
I include the article link again should you wish to reread this:(https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/catholic-archdiocese-lawsuit-sexual-abuse-north-vancouvers-holy-trinity-school).
When I first read this, I was horrified. So too were friends I shared it with.
Horrified, for it seemed to me as if the Church was and is saying that it’s up to the victim, a little child in this case, to go seek counselling, medication and treatment so as to mitigate the sexual abuse perpetrated upon him (abused and raped by those in its employ?) and that it’s the victim-survivor’s fault if he fails to do so?
But here’s what I learned today. I learned today that this type of rebuttal given by the Church is apparently ‘standard mitigation practice” in tort law. (A tort being a civil wrong that causes a claimant to suffer loss or harm resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious, or wrongful, act).
Apparently, insurance companies – the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver’s insurance company included – adopts this standard mitigation practice, hence uses these words.
I’m not sure about you, but to me this sounds like a flippant and rather disrespectful attitude towards the individual involved. It’s as though the individual’s reality doesn’t exist nor matter. How must that make a victim-survivor, or anyone who has experienced trauma, feel?
Doe as we heard today has spent, and continues to spend, enormous amounts of energy – never mind financial costs – seeking ways to ‘lift the weight’. Or as he also described it, remove “the doom that hangs over me”.
Later in the afternoon session, and this time with one archdiocesan employee now present, a sibling of Doe’s testified and underwent cross-examination, which then brought the day to a close.
But let me end on a positive note with something that moved me, and others in the court room, to tears…
When Doe concluded his testimony he shared that after he went home yesterday evening following that awful and grueling day opening day in court, he was in fact stunned by how freeing it all felt to him afterwards.
No one should have to undergo what he did yesterday, and he wasn’t talking about the horrendous details he was forced to share. Doe was speaking to something bigger than this. He was expressing his gratitude he said, “for a system that sees me”.
Doe, addressing both his own lawyers and the lawyers representing the archdiocese, and those of us in the courtroom, spoke about the power of finally being heard.
In spite of the many decades that this has taken to happen, Doe spoke of how grateful he now is “getting a second chance at life”.
He told the court that “when I went home yesterday, I was stunned at how free I felt. I felt liberated.”
Such is the power of breaking silence and being heard for the truth of what happened.