Abuse Victim Deriving Art from Anger
Uxbridge Man Takes His Multimedia Show to N.Y
By Kathleen A. Shaw
Worcester Telegram & Gazette [Uxbridge MA]
November 28, 2005
UXBRIDGE— George "Skip" Shea will be taking his one-man multimedia show — "Catholic (Surviving Abuse and Other Dead End Roads)" — to New York City this weekend.
Mr. Shea, who settled a suit against the Catholic Diocese of Worcester in which he alleged that he was sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas H. Teczar and the Rev. Robert Shauris during the 1970s at St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge, will debut his production at the Bowery Poetry Club at 9 p.m. Saturday.
His intent is to reach out to a general audience to "change the way we look at the clergy abuse scandal that has rocked the country and the world." He recently presented the performance at the center for peaceful living in Uxbridge. The local production was a profound personal experience because for the first time, he told his story to people in his own town. It is now time to move to a wider audience, he said.
Mr. Shea wants to take what he calls "an unprecedented look" into the mind and soul of a survivor. He will include his original artwork, poetry and a rant about what it was like growing up Irish and Catholic in a small mill town while keeping the dark secret of his sexual abuse by priests. He no longer is a member of the Catholic Church.
His artwork has been exhibited in a number of places, including the center for peaceful living gallery in Uxbridge, the Culture of Peace touring exhibit with a group of national and international artists and poets; and in "Miraculous: Contemporary Exvotos Paintings," exhibited at ChezTGN in Brooklyn, N.Y.
He has used his poetry to cope with the abuse he has experienced.
An excerpt from "1971" —
My right hand extended finger tips just out of reach of the door
my left hand trying to pull his left arm from around my waist
his right hand over my mouth whispering
with liquor on his breath
with tobacco on his breath
God doesn't want to see you cry
God doesn't want to see you cry
and the collar he wore made it true
Mr. Shea said he was abused by the priests starting in 1971.
"I think it is important to point out — which is something I think gets lost — it's not only the horror of the physical abuse, but the horror of the mental abuse," he said.
"God and the guilt that the Catholic Church already ascribes to a kid is magnified by these priests," he said. The effect of both God and the guilt eventually created the path his life would take, he said.
Because he believed he could tell no one about the abuse, he carried the secret.
"The absolutely terrifying moment when it began, eventually turned to acceptance that this was my role with these members of the church. This secret was what I was here for. They had me believing that. Somewhere in me I knew that was completely wrong. But these men were priests and had a direct line to God. It was impossible for me to reconcile as a kid," he said.
Mr. Shea said he was 11 when he was first abused by Rev. Teczar at St. Mary Church, and it continued until Rev. Teczar was reassigned in 1972. The next priest into the parish was Rev. Shauris. This priest continued the abuse until about 1977, or shortly after Mr. Shea received the sacrament of Confirmation, he said.
Rev. Teczar, who currently faces criminal charges alleging he sexually abused a boy in Texas, and Rev. Shauris were placed on leave several years ago by the diocese after allegations of sexual abuse of minors were made.
Mr. Shea said he also did yardwork at the House of Affirmation in Whitinsville, where he described further abuse but could not name the abusers. "It was years later that I discovered that there was some sort of networking happening. I often wondered why I was targeted and not others," he said. The House of Affirmation's executive director was the Rev. Thomas A. Kane, who was assigned to St. Mary before Rev. Teczar.
The diocese settled Mr. Shea's suit for $10,000 about a year ago. He said the diocese has clung to the state's charitable immunity law to avoid paying more to victims. "I thought this was so little until I found out other victims in this diocese got even less," he said.
The abuse took its toll on Mr. Shea. He turned to drugs and alcohol. "I've been sober now for seven years. It has strained my relationships. It has had a profound effect on my ex-wife and present wife and all of the children involved because they had an active alcoholic in their lives. I've attempted suicide. I've been put in a daily outpatient mental health program. I could go on and on," he said.
He is still haunted by the death of his daughter Shawna, a twin who died in a car accident a few years ago. "She was 16. I had only been sober for 13 months. That is all she ever had of a sober Dad. I don't know how to reconcile that. The drinking served its purpose in burying the history of my abuse, but look at everything else that was lost with it. I don't lay all of the blame of that on the church. I figured it out. I got sober. But not soon enough," he said. He credits his therapist at Riverside in Upton with saving his life and helping him get on a healthier path.
The show also has helped in his healing, he said. "I have been an artist my entire life. As I looked back on a lot of it, I could see that it was a tremendous and healthy way of coping," he said. But it took a long time for him to explain to others why he was doing the poetry and art and what it was really all about. "I wanted them to know, and was simultaneously terrified they would find out. Doing the show, I am giving my voice a chance to be heard and to eliminate the secret," he said. The show is a way of "deconstructing" the entire episode in his early life. "Then I can rebuild it the way I want it to be."
Mr. Shea, who has become active in helping other clergy abuse victims in the diocese, has been a regular at the demonstrations being held at the College of the Holy Cross, organized by the Rev. Robert L. Hoatson of the Newark, N.J., Diocese, to get the name of the Millard Art Center changed. Rev. Hoatson is acting on behalf of Patricia A. Cahill of Lancaster, Pa., who said she was sexually abused by the priest for whom the center is named. Mr. Shea also worked with Daniel E. Dick of Worcester, the victim support coordinator for Worcester Voice of the Faithful.
Mr. Shea said he has met twice with Bishop Robert J. McManus. "We have had some good moments and some bad. But in speaking from my experience, he has been good to me. I have tried not to be an adversary, and he has tried the same," Mr. Shea said. While the bishop has responded to him on a personal level, Mr. Shea said he does not understand what is happening at an institutional level in the church.
"I still don't see the kind of outreach that could truly help heal. They may have to deal with some angry people, but they should understand that. I think a genuine public display of concern is still warranted. We were talking about a program like this, but that seems to be going nowhere presently," he said.
Mr. Shea said he believes the bishop still "has to toe a party line."
"That's his job. It seems to be the same everywhere, so I won't lay all of the blame at his feet. I believe he is doing what he is told to do," he said.
Art and poetry for Mr. Shea were his ways of coping. "It has saved my life," he said.
During the showing of his work in Uxbridge, he met Marshall and Judy Cohan, who helped him bring the show to New York. They were at Martha's Vineyard at the time, and he knew their daughter, he said. "They thought the message was so powerful that they became patrons. I am incredibly grateful to them. Their faith in me and this project means the world to me."
While Mr. Shea's own healing will continue and he will continue his work on behalf of other victims, he hopes his show will give them hope to move on. His advice to victims of sexual abuse is to not wait as long as he did to get help. He didn't go public about the abuse suffered until this year. "The path ain't easy, and it is a lot of difficult work, but it is worth it. I am not a good example of being the healthiest survivor. Part of why I am doing this is because we have lost some folks," he said.
"The only way they could cope was by checking out," he said. He will not judge badly those who commit suicide because he understands the pain, but he said he hopes by "showing my messed-up, angry art and reading my messed-up, angry poetry, others will say, 'Well if he can find a way to work with this path, so can I,' " Mr. Shea said.
There are many ways of coping, he said. For some it might be growing a beautiful garden. Others help to organize survivors meetings. "It can come from just taking a walk. Whatever. My message is to try to learn to live again. Try is the most important word in the sentence," he said.
Tickets for "Catholic (Surviving Abuse and Other Dead End Roads)" are $10 and available online at www.virtuous.com and at the Bowery Poetry Club on the night of the event. The Bowery Poetry Club ( www.bowerypoetry.com) is at 308 Bowery St. in New York City.
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