Episode 3 : the Why
By Sarah Delia
December 4, 2019
In this episode of ďThe List,Ē we learn about why survivors of abuse in the Catholic Church and proponents of accountability push for the release of lists of credibly accused clergy. We also hear some theories as to why certain people might push back against the release of such lists. And we hear from a local deacon about why he thinks the church should talk about the crisis openly. Thereís another why we learn about, too ó why some people in power abuse children in the first place.
The following includes descriptions about sexual violence. Please be advised.
READ THE TRANSCRIPT:
Episode 3: The Why
SARAH DELIA: If you can remember something that happened to you, why is it important to have a written record? Why do you need other people to know? And why would you want them to??
In the case of sexual abuse survivors who are waiting for the Charlotte Diocese to release a list of credibly accused clergy, it comes down to one word: acknowledgment.
ROBBY PRICE:?One of the main things that we struggle with is feeling like this was an isolated incident, and we want to know that weíre validated, and we want to know that weíre heard. And, so, having a list that says, ďOK, yes that man did something that he shouldnít have done to me,ď it validates the survivors of sexual abuse to make them feel like theyíre not the only one.
DELIA: Thatís 35-year-old Robby Price. We heard his story in our last episode. Remember, when Price was 14 years old, he was sexually abused by Robert Yurgel, who served as a priest at St. Matthew in Charlotte. Price grew up in Charlotte and now lives in Florida. I reached him via Skype.
And Price has some theories as to why the list hasnít been released yet. For one, he says, he believes there are more names on the list than the public realizes.
And No. 2:?
PRICE: I believe itís in their best interest not to release the list because it directly affects how much money the church is able to take in in the collection plate. I feel like thatís more important to them than anything.?
DELIA: Anthony, whose story was featured in Episode 1, agrees with Price. Anthony alleged in a civil lawsuit that he was abused by Richard Farwell in the 1980s. Farwell at one point served as a priest at St. Ann in Charlotte. Anthony was originally excited when he heard the Charlotte Diocese was going to release a list of credibly accused clergy, but the timing of that announcement led to more questions.
ANTHONY: I was happy that they would finally do that. Why they wouldnít have done that years before if theyíre credibly named people? Why not expose that so the community is aware?
DELIA: Anthony says he thinks the diocese is waiting to release the list to allow for the statute of limitations on lawsuits to run out.?
ANTHONY: People are going to hear those names and then people are going to come forward. And the longer I can wait to release those names, the statute of limitations runs out. Itís intentional for them to do it that way. And that is sad. Thatís sad that that is their mentality that weíre going to wait to release these names until statutes are run out and this person and this person canít, so we can minimize the damage.?
DELIA: The law as of Dec. 1, 2019, in North Carolina says if youíre abused as a minor you have until age 28 to file a civil lawsuit.?
And Charlotte attorney Seth Langson, who represented both Anthony and Robby in their respective civil lawsuits, says he doesnít understand why the list hasnít been released.?
LANGSON: They know which ones they think were credible. They know all the priests that were suspended or happened to get sent to another parish or something like that. They know that. I donít know why theyíre doing this.?
DELIA: The Charlotte Diocese says itís waiting on U.S. ISS Agency, an independent investigative firm hired by the diocese, to finish its review of personnel records and documents dating back to 1972.
In an email, the Charlotte Diocese said its publishing of the list is an effort to ďhonor victims and help promote healing.Ē?The diocese added that by all measures the abuse is not ongoing today and that most of the allegations reported to the diocese since Bishop Jugis took office in 2003 involve abuse that occurred decades before.
The Charlotte Diocese says that guidelines and procedures outlined in the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People are working. The diocese says some 50,000 volunteers and parishioners have undergone training on what behaviors might signal some kind of inappropriate conduct.
So, if the abuse isnít currently ongoing in the church and the charter is working, why has it taken so long for this particular diocese to release a list? At least 80% of the dioceses in the United States have already done so.
There are so many whys when it comes to the history around the child abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. I wish I could answer all of them: Why was the abuse covered up for so long, why is this the year the Charlotte Diocese says it will publish a list of credibly accused clergy?
People outside the church have those questions, but, also, so do the faithful ó the ones who believe in the word of the church, the ones who preach it.
CHIP WILSON: I think the crisis is something that we should talk about openly. Iím not afraid to discuss the institutional weaknesses of the church that I love, because I do love this church.?
DELIA: Thatís Chip Wilson. Heís a deacon in the Charlotte Diocese. He canít do everything that a priest can, but he can preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals. The biggest difference between a priest and a deacon is that deacons can be married; priests in the Catholic Church cannot. But he is an ordained member of the clergy.
WILSON: I aspire in my own life to talk about my own faults openly, but, you know, as a human being, I resist that at times. But Iíve found that there is healing and in being open and honest about whatever sin that I have, and I think the same thing applies to the institution of the church. We need to be open about our faults and failings, because I know that when Iím open about my faults and failings, healing comes, and I believe the same will hold true for the church.?
DELIA: Wilson was raised Catholic and?grew up in Gaston County on St. Michaelís Lane, the same street as St. Michael, a Catholic Church.
WILSON: I was literally in the shadow of the church almost all my life. All my childhood and for a good chunk of my adult life, Iíve continued to live in my family home. So, I would wake up every day or drive to work, and I would see the crucifix at St. Michaelís Church in Gastonia. The priests were my neighbors for years. They used to live at the church.?
DELIA: Wilson says he received a significant amount of guidance as a young child and as a teenager from priests and nuns. He says he was never sexually abused by any member of the clergy, but he does acknowledge that he had things in common with children who were ďgroomedĒ by priests.
Wilsonís family completely trusted priests. Wilson was around them at a time when he was young and impressionable. Wilson could have been an easy target for an abuser.?
WILSON: I lost my dad when I was 5, so the priests filled an important role in my life. There was a trust relationship. That trust never was violated, and it was painful to hear later that in some cases for some people the trust was violated by priests.
DELIA: Yeah, because that could have been you.
WILSON: It could have been.?
DELIA: Wilson was glad to hear that diocese said it was committed to releasing a list by the end of the year. Wilson says he has been vocal to church officials about his strong feelings that a list should be released. He said he even wrote Bishop Jugis a letter expressing those feelings in the early months of 2019.?
Wilson believes the list should be released for a few reasons. He wants it published to help survivors heal, and he wants it released for the sake of parishioners who have a right to know which priests have been credibly accused.
And then thereís the building anticipation around the list. The longer the wait goes on, the more suspense grows. Who will be on it? Where and when did the abuse occur? And was the abuser ever punished??
WILSON: Yeah, Iím very anxious about that. I believe the list should be released, but itís going to be painful, especially if I see other names of priests that Iíve known. I donít know who will show up on that list, but itíll be really hard if I see other names of people that I knew as priests.?
DELIA: Because thatís already happened for Chip Wilson. Heís known priests who have served at some point within the Charlotte Diocese who were named on other ďcredibly accusedď lists published from other dioceses.
I mentioned before, Chip Wilson has known priests who have served at some point within the Charlotte Diocese who were named on other ďcredibly accusedď lists published from other dioceses ó like Donald Scales.
His name was printed on the Richmond (Virginia) Dioceseís list when it was released in February 2019. Scales was accused of sexually abusing a minor at St. Michaelís Parrish in Gastonia, where Wilson went to church.?
WILSON: Father Donald Scales was a was known as a person, not just among Catholics but guys in the neighborhood ó someone that you could talk to who was a good counselor and friend. And he was extremely well respected. It turns out that he was accused and found credibly accused of abuse of a minor back in the 1970s when he was at St. Michael. I had no idea. And itís kind of bracing to think that it could have been or most likely someone was a friend of mine or someone I was acquainted with.?
DELIA: Scales denied that allegation that came forward in 2006. He was removed from ministry that same year. He died in 2008.
There was another familiar name to Chip Wilson that was also published on the Diocese of Richmondís list. It was Frederick George, another priest who also served at St. Michael. George was moved throughout his career, taking various assignments and leaves of absence. He was permanently dismissed from ministry in 2004.
WILSON: He was someone that I knew well enough that I actually took part, I was a reader at his first Mass. He had taught at my parochial school in Gastonia, and I got to know him that way, then he asked that I take part in his first Mass. It was an honor, and thatís actually a fond memory. I have only fond memories of him, and itís, you know, itís very disturbing to hear that there was this other side that I didnít see.?
DELIA: Chip Wilson has continued to weather the storm the Catholic Church pushes through. Heís seen ugly parts of the church and helped to document them. In his former life, Wilson was a reporter for the Charlotte Observer.?Part of his job was to copyedit articles that came across the wire, so he saw reports from other publications like the Boston Globe, including articles from the Globeís Spotlight team detailing the child abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and the coverup that went along with it.?
WILSON: I wound up editing a lot of those stories that wound up in the paper because I had a certain expertise as an active Catholic. Surprisingly, even reading all that negative news about the church, it didnít make me want to shy away from the church. Instead, it had the opposite effect. I found myself wanting to get more involved and involved in a very big way in the institution ó as an aspiring deacon, as an ordained member of the clergy. Somehow, in a mysterious way, I was drawn toward more active service and role to the church in spite of the unfolding crisis.?
DELIA: Thatís partly because Wilson says he had a desire to shape the thing that shaped him ó the church. And he wanted to give back what the church gave him. In Wilsonís case, that was a safe haven.??
As a journalist, Wilson also covered crime. Some of that crime was sex abuse cases. He would have to interview police officers, victims, and, on occasion, he says, perpetrators. He saw that bad things happened everywhere. And, for sure, sexual abuse does take place in organizations like the Boy Scouts or within public schools.?
But the abuse that took place within the church was different, not just because of the practice of moving accused priests from parish to parish, but because, Wilson says, of who the church claims to be.
WILSON: The public schools and the Boy Scouts donít present themselves as the church of Jesus Christ on the Earth. We are held to a higher standard. So, when the abuse happens in a church context, I think itís much worse because we should know better. The scripture tells us those to whom much has been given, much is required, and so I do expect the church to be judged more harshly because we purport to be the face of Christ to the world. And when we donít live up to that, yeah, I think we need to be slapped a little harder.
DELIA: When Wilson talks about his role in the Catholic Church and his faith, sometimes the abuse crisis will come up. He says if he talks to someone whoís been affected by it, maybe they were abused themselves or know someone who was, he apologizes on behalf of the church. We canít say that enough, he says.?
He wants the list from the Charlotte Diocese, the diocese where he works and grew up in, to be comprehensive. He wants to see not only the names of priests but their assignment histories: Where did they work and for long, was the priest removed from ministry, did law enforcement get involved? And he wants to know what was done with the priest: Was he sent away for treatment??
Of course, all of these questions circle around the big question thatís hardest to answer but is crucial to ask when talking about sex abuse:?
Why do people of power who have been entrusted with the care of children, whether they be a priest, scout leader or teacher, sexually abuse children in the first place?
MIKE YONKOVIG: Well, thatís very complicated, of course, and not as clearĖcut as some people, both professionally and just out in the world, believe it to be.
DELIA: Thatís Mike Yonkovig, a psychologist in Charlotte. Not surprisingly, thereís no clear-cut answer as to why adults sexually abuse children. There are various schools of thought. Yonkovig says itís not as simple as saying if you experienced X then youíll definitely perpetrate against children as an adult.?
However, he says, if you look at a sexual abuserís childhood, there can be some indicators that could be factors.
YONKOVIG: Being treated badly, you know, maltreatment, having lack of parental supervision, having all kinds of adjustments going on in the home, having very little emotional support from family and friends and not being taught things about sexuality and relationships. That plus any kind of antisocial behavior ó those are bigger predictors.?
DELIA: The act of abuse isnít an urge, he says. He points out that we all have urges ó the urge to sleep, to eat, to have sex. Abusers arenít acting on an urge or even an impulse, Yonkovig says. Itís more of a compulsion.?
YONKOVIG: They were not able to develop healthy sets of boundaries as to how to play out their sexuality. So, that goes back to the early stuff in childhood where if things are not good in home, if relationships are bad, if there arenít good boundaries, if thereís not sort of openness in talking about sexuality and lots of other factors, and, certainly, if theyíve been abused in different ways.?
DELIA: But Yonkovig is quick to point out what he calls a common misconception in his field. He says research shows itís not true that just because you were sexually abused as a child that youíre more likely to be a perpetrator as an adult. That does happen, he says, but itís not the norm.
When someone has sexually abused a minor, thereís no quick cure or rushed treatment, Yonkovig says.?
In his opinion, the offender must be willing to take responsibility for their actions. And itís complicated because even though those actions were sexual, the abuse has more to do with power than sex, he says, which is what makes children easy targets of abuse. They trust the adults around them, whether thatís a teacher, a scout leader or a priest.?
YONKOVIG: One of the real important things here is the realization that almost all kids know their abusers and that the majority of kids are being hurt by someone thatís trusted. So, if thatís the case, that means that if anyone has ever had any kind of problematic behaviors with kids, they must be taken out of that circumstance and they must get a very focused, intensive treatment and are held accountable for their behavior ó not by their inside group but by outside forces. And we canít know my opinion whether it means they can ever be back to working with kids, but what I am sure of is that there should be no stone left unturned in ever thinking about putting them near kids, and certainly not in any way the way the Catholic Church has done it, certainly in the last bunch of years ó but truth be told ó has always done it that way.??
DELIA: I told you there are a lot of whys in this episode, and I really wish I had more answers for you ó why this abuse occurs and why certain people are more likely than others to commit it.
There is one thing that Chip Wilson, the former reporter now a deacon, said to me that really stuck. He used the word pain, by my count, eight different times throughout our interview. He talked about the pain of the survivors and the pain of seeing the names on the list that some who knew priests not as abusers but as trusted friends will undoubtedly feel.?
He told me he thinks the Charlotte Diocese was convinced that releasing a list was the right thing to do, but that it was going to be painful, and itís hard to do painful things.?
The simplicity of that sentence makes a lot of sense to me. It is going to be painful for the church to publicly air this ugly, horrible part of what the church says is part of its past, not present. It is going to be painful for some survivors to see names of their abusers, even if they want the list. And it will be painful for survivors who are surprised to see that the name of their abuser?is nowhere to be found. And it will be painful for the Charlotte Diocese, whether that pain comes from a hit in the collection plate, as Robby Price thinks, or more of a spiritual pain ó or both.
And yes, it is hard to do painful things. And itís also hard to do the right thing. And sometimes, those are one in the same.
Next time we talk about the when ó when the list is eventually published, what can survivors expect?
We want to hear your comments, questions, and stories. If youíve experienced abuse within the Catholic Church or have a particular question youíd like explored, leave us a voice memo at 704-448-6511. You donít have to leave your name but know your audio may be published online or the air. You can email Sarah directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.?