|An Interview with “voice of the Desert” Blogger, Frank Douglas
Healing and Spirituality
September 30, 2010
I am grateful to survivors and survivor supporters who share their journeys to promote healing and end sexual abuse. Today’s blog highlights an interview with Mr. Frank Douglas, a member of the National Survivors Advocacy Coalition and the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, who manages the blog, Voice of the Desert.
JJR: What got you involved in this work to promote healing and end sexual abuse, particularly religious authority sexual abuse?
FD: At first, I was motivated by the injustice to victims, by the extraordinary incompetence of church officials in their woeful “management” of the abuse phenomenon, by their consistent and persistent cover up of these heinous crimes, and by the world-class hypocrisy of popes, bishops, and the top managers of religious orders. Subconsciously, I’ve been motivated in this work all along by my own childhood abuse by a trusted woman family member.
I’ve come to the conclusion that healing is an overused buzzword and never really happens fully. I think it occurs only partially, because the memories and scars are always there and are very often deeply hidden in the subconscious.
I have concluded that, as a necessary condition to being a fully functional, mature human being, I must acknowledge the fact that my abuse was a key formative event in my life and that in some way I need to “embrace’ that painful event and say, with all the honesty I can muster, “yes, it happened—just like evil happens. But, I wouldn’t be me without that abuse event(s), and damn it, with all my warts, at my core I believe I’m a good person, even lovable—at least some of the time. I must somehow rise above that abuse event, integrate it into my life, into my innermost being, and get on with the business of living. Life is indeed short. Yes, the abuse (coupled with a warped Catholic understanding of sexuality that was communicated to me by a church with its head in the sands of the 13th century) had a profound effect on my psychosexual development. Yes, it was/is a factor in my failed/troubled relationships with women. It contributed to my heavy drinking in my early and middle years (I’m now a 71-year-old recovering stroke victim and have only one glass of wine when we go out to dinner. Two glasses and I’m out of it.). Yes, it contributed to my sometimes out-of-control anger, which persists to this day and which is something I work on still, with only limited success (maybe because I don’t try hard enough).
JJR: For some, I imagine that reading all these news reports and other commentaries is a validation that they are not alone, albeit in a tragic kind of fellowship. For others, it may be distressing that there is so much to report. What do you hope that people get or might do as a result of reading A Voice from the Desert?
FD: Yes, Jaime, we are not alone. We are part of about 20% of the population that suffered childhood sexual abuse. Yes, Jaime, you nailed it—we’re in a tragic fellowship. But we do have fellowship, however tragic and imperfect it may be. Praise all that is good and holy that we have this fellowship. This fellowship, the bond of the abuse, can be a mighty force in becoming unstuck, getting out of our own personal deserts, and getting on with life’s journey, and experiencing some degree of healing along the way. This fellowship is rooted in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We see a brother or sister lying on the side of the road beaten, bruised, and violated and we try to help the best we can.
There is so much to report because the real extent—which will never be fully disclosed because of the Church’s inability to face reality and victims, reluctance to go public–of sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests is mind-boggling. And the past and ongoing cover up of that abuse and the shielding of known abuser priests and those credibly accused is systemic. If Catholics knew the extent of the abuse and cover up, the Church would lose millions of members. No wonder the men at the top in the Church are committed to cover up, obfuscation, and total BS (Bishops’ Speak).
First, let me say that I am very proud of the Voice from the Desert. Every post is not a home run, and sometimes we strike out, but our on-base percentage is respectable, in my opinion.
People get out of something what they put into it. I would like to think that some readers get something out of 10%, say, of what I post. What they might do as a result of reading A Voice from the Desert is hard to say. No data exists to allow a scientifically based answer. I would like to think that some readers use Voice from the Desert as a place where they get an insightful, sometimes-edgy point of view, but most important I hope people see it as a place where they can find an opinion piece by Tom Doyle, Marci Hamilton, David Clohessy, Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, and/or Richard Sipe.
JJR: What has changed about your work as an advocate?
FD: I think that I have grown as a person. I understand that victims/survivors are, like all humans, flawed people. I am now concentrating my efforts on Send the Bishops a Message (www.sendthebishopsamessage,com/index.html). Both “Voice” and ‘Message” strive to educate the public about clergy sexual abuse and its systemic cover up, to advocate for the protection of children, and to work for justice for the abused.
JJR: How have you changed?
FD: I think that I have grown as a person. That I am not the center of the universe is a lesson I have learned only partially and must remind myself almost daily.
JJR: I consider your blog as an expression of yourself as both an advocate and educator. How do you see yourself and how would you assess your work?
FD: I see myself as a 71-year-old stroke survivor who is lucky to be alive. I try to live as if today is the last day of my life and I try to give it everything I’ve got.
I believe I do good work. I want to be honest without being too obnoxious, without being too overbearing.
JJR: I imagine that working with these reports and actions can beHH emotionally toxic or depressing or difficult on a daily basis. How do you process this or maintain balance while working with this material?
FD: I do my best to relieve stress by doing water aerobics and playing duplicate bridge. Even during these activities I need to be on guard because my competitive type-A personality and often-uncontrolled anger get in the way of what should be pleasant activities.
JJR: I’m always interested in the impact that being an advocate has had directly or indirectly on survivors and supporters. I’ve written a lot about my own transformation and spiritual life. Can you talk a little about your spiritual journey, as you have worked with clergy abuse reporting over the years?
FD: I’m glad you said “a little” because I don’t think it would be appropriate or wise of me to let it all hang here on the Internet. During the first 5 years or so of my involvement in the abuse I did a lot of reading. I discovered Matthew Fox, Marcus Borg, and John Shelby Spong. And of course people like Tom Doyle, Richard Sipe, Marci Hamilton, and Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea. I particularly recommend Matthew Fox’s Original Blessing.
JJR: What do you think should happen to religious authorities who abuse their power/ roles and sexually abuse others?
FD: Like any criminals, they should be thrown in jail and locked up, away from innocent children.
JJR: What do you wish for, for those who identify with religious institutions/ groups?
FD: I wish them the gifts of discernment, hope, and perseverance. And the wisdom to know stupid groupthink and churchy BS when their eyes see it, their ears see it, and/or their noses smell it.
JJR: What inspires you or encourages you in your work with National Survivors Advocacy Coalition, Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests or Voice of the Desert?
FD: The talent, commitment, and dedication of the people.
I often don’t see eye to eye with my colleagues (just ask them how insufferable I can be at times).
I need to remind myself often, almost daily, really, that I don’t have all the answers and that I should listen more and shoot off my mouth less.
JJR: Thank you for your commitment to promote healing and end sexual abuse. Is there anything you would like readers to know or do next?
FD: I would hope that the readers of the Voice from the Desert would use the blog’s comment capability more.
Also I’m a great believer in the improvement paradigm which says we can always do better—often a hell of a lot better. To improve is to embrace change—something that is often hard or even impossible for many of us to do.
Jaime Romo is the author of “Parents Preventing Abuse.”
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