Help for Survivors
New Support Group Begins Thursday in Lebanon

By Cris Foehlinger
Sunday News [Pennsylvania]
January 14, 2005

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Patricia Cahill walked into a large meeting room in Philadelphia and listened as several people told her story to the crowd.The pain became too great and she bolted, running smack into members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. The team helped Cahill regroup and build the confidence to stay and hear what she needed to hear.

Pat Serrano, mother of Mark Serrano, an abuse victim who is a national spokesman for the Chicago, Ill.- based SNAP, met Cahill and Donna Wilcox, a supportive friend, at the front door. She wanted them to meet Bob Hoatson.

When Cahill learned he was a priest, she declined. "My sponsor (Wilcox) told him not to get involved with me unless he meant to help me," Cahill recalled. "She said, "She's been through it 100 times with clergy.' " Hoatson has been with her since that day.

Cahill is seeking help to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and drug and alcohol addiction that she says stem from a long-term sexually abusive relationship with Sister Eileen Shaw of the Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, N.J.

Cahill received therapy and a cash settlement in 1994. She also signed a gag order.

Last year, she again asked the Catholic order for help and was turned down. "They told me they would pray for me," she said.

"It's true she got treatment before, but she was under a gag order and couldn't talk about the abuse," Wilcox said. "How can you get treatment if you can't talk about it?" Hoatson, who is not officially involved with SNAP now, is in full-time ministry with survivors of clergy abuse.

A priest abuse survivor himself, Hoatson was fired as director of schools for Our Lady of Good Counsel, Newark, N.J. on May 23, three days after he called upon all bishops who covered up abuse to step down. "I was banished for a three-month "vacation,' " he said.

Eight months later, he was appointed chaplain of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. "That took the archbishop off the hook and lets me do my work," he said.

"It's most fulfilling and rewarding to watch people heal." Watching is but a small part. Hoatson is instrumental in helping Cahill go back to the Sisters of Charity for help.

"There is very little difference between nuns and priests; both represent God," he said. "Catholics are taught that these brothers and sisters are closest to God and should be treated with the proper respect. You trust and honor them." When that trust is broken, Hoatson said, victims suffer post- traumatic stress disorders. "They believe that God did this to them," he said.

There remains a great secrecy around the nuns, Hoatson said. "They still try to cover it (the abuse) up. There is no accountability among them." He continued, "They pay victims off and make them sign a gag order. They get caught and then abuse again. They depict their victims as money grubbing.

"This is the worst response you can make to a victim. It puts them right into the same sense as when they were being abused," he said.

"The nuns admitted the abuse by paying Patricia off. It was the traditional silencing." Hoatson said that Cahill needs more therapy. "Women in religious orders are depicted the same as the Virgin Mary. They become pure, holy, protective nurturing women. Now, when a nun breaks that trust, it all goes out the window," he said.

Hoatson said he chose to stay in his vocation because "Jesus would have sided with the most broken of the broken. That's what I am doing now."

While the Sisters of Charity have refused Cahill further help, "I continue to press them. They know they have been caught and they are trying to wriggle out of it."

Hoatson said he approaches this and other cases from the standpoint that when Shaw abused Cahill, Cahill became a victim a permanent dependent on the Sisters of Charity. "So they need to do whatever is necessary to see that she is healed."

The Sisters of Charity, in a recent statement, said that because there has been no abuse since Cahill received therapy in 1994, they are under no further legal obligation to help her.

"Where is their moral obligation?" Cahill asked.

While Cahill and her spiritual team are still seeking treatment from the Sisters of Charity, Cahill is getting help from the SNAP members and other local organizations.

"I'm taking responsibility for my own actions and trying not to attach the outcome to them," she said. "If I had said the right thing, they would have done what I needed, but I failed somehow. I need to detach from that."

Cahill has started writing journal entries that are destined for a book at some point. She has also started a local chapter of SNAP, which will meet the fourth Sunday of each month at the Sexual Assault Resource and Counseling Center of Lebanon County, 615 Cumberland St., Lebanon. The first meeting is at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 20.

"This is so much more life-giving than anything I've ever done," she said. "This is my ministry.

"If they had given me a 30-day inpatient treatment, I would have gone away," she said. "By sending me away with their prayers, they in effect, breathed life into me."