|Clergy Abuse and Christmas Part Two: the Humiliation of Silence
December 26, 2008
From my previous post concerning the loneliness victims of clergy abuse suffer on the holidays, Mike Ference, a fine individual with an incredible story replied, and attached a news article on his efforts to open up the Church’s continuing efforts at stonewalling that surrounds the problem of clergy abuse.
Ference is right in that Catholic clergy childhood sexual abuse and cover-ups were seldom discussed before the Boston Archdiocese scandal broke around Cardinal Bernard Law’s mishandling of pedophile priests. According to Mike Ference, silence was, and is, a large part of the problem.
Abuse continues because too many people remain silent, look the other way, or, worst of all, actively engage in a cover-up concerning victims and abusers. The problem extends from Church authority into individual parishioners, law enforcement officials, politicians, and journalists. Ference claims that the civil liberties of abused children and their families often fall prey to the Catholic hierarchy’s ability to lure individuals into silence, influence law enforcement authorities, and manipulate the justice system.
This is the most insidious cover-up there can be, and I was a witness to it. Many times, the priest, and other people in positions of authority, told me to keep my mouth shut. At the age of thirteen or fourteen or fifteen, to speak for me felt tantamount to breaking a solemn oath of ancient and divine silence. It systematically harms to silence victims who suffer horribly, and allows an odious problem to continue unabated.
I cannot speak for Mr. Ference’s claims adequately enough. But I can say that in the upscale parish where I was abused starting at the age of twelve, many adults and authorities in the Church knew something was going on. They knew McSheffery fed me wine and gin on an almost daily basis. I remember many occasions in the rectory during some gathering when McSheffery would start doing something untoward to me and people would literally look the other way. And many people must have had some inkling as to what was going on when I, a thirteen year old, would go upstairs with the priest and not return for quite a long period of time.
I really do not want to name any names here, but there were some powerful members of the Catholic hierarchy who were aware of what was going on with McSheffery and me, and there were also a couple of politicians who knew, ones who are still active.
The crucial question seems to me to be, why do adults, and adults in positions of authority, chose to do nothing? Why did so many people who knew–they knew!– something was happening to me with McSheffery do nothing at St Georges or St. Augustines? I would think an attempt to answer this question would raise a lot of important issues concerning how evil could spread so quickly and diffusely. An attempt to understand the silence might help us to get to the heart of how something so absolutely horrifying as child abuse could continue unabated in the clear day light of the sanctity of Church! What psychology is at work here? And many of those who said nothing were the types of people you would call, “up-standing citizens.”
Is there fear? Is there shame in reporting, in blowing a whistle?
I have often felt that people who knew remained silent because of pure shame and humiliation. To put it in plain terms, it’s an icky and inconvenient thing to have to deal with. In an upscale parish, I imagine people would just rather like to believe that nothing like that could really happen here. An English professor, I have a fascination with language, of course. I am certain that the words to communicate what someone might know concerning child abuse become frightening, inadequate. When you state something, when you make a claim, your words become truth in a terrifying way. Once you state something so earth-shattering, it is impossible to return to a state and time when you did not say it.
I had moved back to my hometown where the abuse had occurred when I came forward five years ago. To this day, no one–except for my family–has offered a word of kindness, support or concern. In the stores, when I see parishioners I remember from those days, the ones who were there, they tend to get a bit flustered and turn the other direction.
For a year or so, it made me feel humiliated, dirty, weak and lonely. Rejection like that made me wonder why I ever came forward.
But now when I run into parishioners from those days when I was being abused, I raise my hand and wave like an idiot, smiling, pointing to my chest, jumping up and down, and mouthing the words, “Hey, its me! Its me!” It’s priceless seeing the expressions on their faces, and the confused attempts they make to scramble in another direction, particularly if they are pushing a shopping cart.
I have definitely learned that I must gain a bit of a dark sense of humor. Sometimes gallows humor is the only way in which one can survive this world. But beneath the humor still remains dark words veiled in silence and the inability people have to disclose terrible truths.
Mike wanted me to send along information about the Press Release about the article. I think the article is VERY important.
For immediate release
817 Worthington Avenue
Clairton, PA 15025
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