The Monitor | Saving a Life | September 18, 2009

Dear Friend,

Today we’re kicking off a new series of our Monitor newsletter. Every other week or so, we’ll be telling you about an addition to our archive – your archive – and providing information on the crisis. Please forward this email to a friend who might not receive it otherwise.

A few weeks ago in Boston, a survivor saved another survivor’s life. In a sense, this happens every day. But Susan Pavlak’s generosity and Phil Saviano’s new lease on life are also a special case. Please take a moment to read the front-page story about Susan and Phil in the Boston Globe. We’ve formatted the story so that you can read the actual print edition and follow links to related articles.

Susan and Phil are both recovering well – Phil in Roslindale MA and Susan back home now in West St. Paul MN. Just before Susan left for Minnesota, they got together for goodbyes. See a photo of Susan and Phil eight days after the operation.

This wonderful event speaks for itself, but it has also caused all of us to think about the crisis and what we’ve been through together. As I reflect on Susan and Phil, I’m struck by the breadth of their shared experience and ours. It extends from an urban Catholic high school in down-to-earth St. Paul to a small-town parish in rural Massachusetts. Women and men are numbered among the thousands of perpetrators; girls and boys among the thousands upon thousands of victims. A bureaucracy of collusion and concealment is common to all the cases, as is a constructive kindness among survivors.

Susan works on a review board examining abuse allegations at a monastery in Minnesota, and has experimented with innovative approaches to communication regarding abuse. See a front-page article about Susan and other survivors of abuse by nuns. We’ve formatted the story so that you can read the actual print edition. Phil’s activism has been crucial to understanding the complex cases involving the oft-transferred Rev. David A. Holley, who is now serving a 275-year sentence in a New Mexico prison. Phil is a scholar and archivist of the crisis and a founder and past leader of SNAP New England. See an article on Phil’s story, with links to documents and other articles.

But Susan and Phil’s story also transcends the crisis – this is a matter of life and death, and a question of how one leads one’s life. You can see this bigger context in Solidarity, Susan’s experiment in church dialogue around the issue of abuse. This experiment is characteristic of a person very committed to the life of her extended family, whose generosity to Phil came at a time of great happiness and change in her own life. You can see it in Phil’s passion for the people and art of Oaxaca, where he travels often, returning with Nativity crèches, trees of life, and other art available for purchase on his Viva Oaxaca Folk Art website. As you can see, Phil is also an excellent web designer, and he brings an archival emphasis to all his interests. We are working with him to post his archive of crisis coverage. We also see the breadth of the movement in the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the organization that brought Susan and Phil together. Best known for its visible and effective activism, SNAP is even more an organization of survivors helping other survivors with the challenges of day-to-day life.

One last point. The Boston Globe ran this story on page one in the belief that Susan and Phil’s experience was of broad interest and relevance to the Globe’s readership, and this is clearly true. Unfortunately, the crisis continues. The bishops’ own count of credibly accused priests has climbed from 4,392 in 2004 to 5,600 today. The names of nearly half those priests are still secret. The Fairbanks diocese and the Oregon province of the Jesuits are in bankruptcy proceedings. Most U.S. dioceses have not come clean about their abuse problems and have not yet undergone the scrutiny that grand juries and major newspapers have provided in a few places.

So survivors, advocates, and supporters must maintain a difficult balance: life is more than just the crisis. And Catholics generally must keep a different balance, resisting the pressure to consider the problem solved, remaining conscious of the crisis, and helping it unfold.

Please forward this email to a friend!

Thanks and all best,

Terence McKiernan


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