'Unfiltered access' to pope

Interview by Campbell Brown of Bernie McDaid, Faith Johnston, and Olan Horne
April 17, 2008

[This transcript was made by from CNN's streaming video of the original broadcast. See also the accompanying web article: Victim Tells Pope of Altar Boy Robbed of Youth, CNN, April 18, 2008, as well as our information page on Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham with documents, a timeline, and other resources.]

Part I: 'Unfiltered access' to pope
Victims of abuse by clergy members talk to CNN's Campbell Brown about their meeting with the pope.

Campbell Brown: With me now are Olan Horne, Faith Johnston, and Bernie McDaid, and let me just say welcome to all of you.

Olan Horne, Faith Johnston, and Bernie McDaid: Thank you.

CB: I appreciate you coming on tonight. Before we talk about today's event, I'd like each of you to tell me a little bit about what happened to you, a little bit of your story, and Bernie, why don't you start?

BD: Yes. I was abused as a kid, 11-12 years old, 1968-69, in St. James parish in Salem, Mass. Father Birmingham was the priest. I was an altar boy; I was abused in the sacristy; I was abused in his car when he'd come out into my neighborhood; and I was abused in the guidance room, which was the coat room between the two classrooms, while class was in session. Multiple classmates also were abused at the same time and same settings.

CB: And Olan, I know that you were abused by the same priest, is your story similar to Bernie's?

OH: By the same priest. Actually, Bernie's parents had a courageous story, who had gone to the chancery to tell officials that he had been abused and that Joseph Birmingham was abusing boys within the parish. And they assured him that they would get him help and they moved him away—and they moved him to my parish, where I got to know him. Joseph Birmingham became a terrible—terrible, terrible reminder of all that goes wrong when the official people in a position of protecting children really didn't do what they were supposed to do. And he began his reign of pedophilia upon myself and my whole parish. And subsequently, years later, moved to another parish, where he continued the same sort of behavior.

CB: Alright. Faith, what about you?

FJ: I was 14 years old, working in the rectory at my parish at the time in Haverhill, and Kelvin Iguabita, I guess, I think he thought I was available, and he preyed upon me for several months, and I was about 15 when I finally quit the job.

CB: And he was prosecuted.

FJ: Yes, I brought the, I was given the decision, I was given the choice, and I decided, when I found out that there had been other victims who weren't willing to come forward for numerous reasons, I decided to take it to court.

CB: Very courageous of you. And let's go to today. What an extraordinary thing to happen today, and Bernie, tell us how this meeting came about.

BM: We were invited by the Vatican to see the Pontiff to talk about this issue. It's been a long time waiting, but it did occur, finally.

CB: And what were you thinking, when you got the call from the Vatican saying the Pope wants to sit down with you and talk about this?

BD: I got a phone call, out of the blue, basically, and I couldn't believe it, at first. And then, as time went on, I accepted it, and it's what I've wanted since 2003. I went to Rome in 2003, wanting this meeting. And now I finally got it.

CB: And Faith, were you shocked when you got that call?

FJ: I'm still shocked. It hasn't quite sunk in yet. But yes, I was very shocked when they asked me if I would go.

CB: Olan, did you have any idea that this might happen?

OH: I had no idea that it would happen at all. I was actually, I'm still amazed when I think about it, because this has been a want of mine from Day 1, this has been an 8-year-long inquiry into it, and I think it's a very very important step.

CB: Walk us through the day. I want each of you to do this. Faith, and you start. As you're riding over, to the papal embassy in Washington, just, in the car, how were you feeling?

FJ: I was just sort of numb, and I had my mother's rosary beads, which she gave to me before I left home, and I was just clutching those and just praying for the strength to say the right thing. I was just, I just didn't know what to feel. It was very chaotic—a lot of emotions going on.

CB: Well, it had to have been an emotional moment. What did you say? What did you say to the Pope?

FJ: I didn't end up saying anything. I got up to him and I burst into tears. But honestly, that was, I don't think that any words I could have said, my tears alone just spoke so much.

CB: So Bernie, what about you? When you were in his presence, what was it like?

BM: We spoke. I shook his hand, and I basically told him that I was an altar boy in the sacristy, a young boy praying to God, at the time that I was abused, and it wasn't just sexual abuse, it was spiritual abuse, and I want you to know that. And then I told him that he has a cancer growing in his ministry, and he needs to do something about it, and I hope he hears me right. And I touched his heart, and he nodded.

CB: Did you feel like he did hear you?

BM: Absolutely.

CB: Olan, describe the moment from your perspective, meeting with him.

OH: I can only speak for myself, but I have to tell you that it was probably an opportunity that we were very lucky to have. It was unscripted; it was free-flowing; there was no filter to it whatsoever. We had unfiltered access. Nobody told us we couldn't say anything. We were allowed to say what we want, and I think everybody in that room did say exactly what they wanted to say. And I think, in a bigger sense, is that, maybe not one person, but I think we were all able to answer all of the questions that needed to be asked and for him to respond to, and he did—he did forthrightly.

CB: Was it as emotional for you?

OH: It was absolutely emotional. There's no way you can sit in a roomful of survivors and hear stories, or even just watch a survivor not even be able to come to terms with the abuse as Faith did, but it spoke volumes, and he responded accordingly to that, and I found that refreshing.

CB: So what did he say? What did he say to you?

OH: He first apologized. And I didn't think I needed an apology. I thought I had heard them, and they rang hollow. But there's a great sense of hope that came here. There's a great new bell that has been rung as far as I'm concerned, and I'm hearing something that I've never heard. The other part of it that really, really took me by surprise, is that he seemed to intrinsically understand what we were talking about. There was, there wasn't something that he got from a newspaper, or it was something that he had learned from his assistants. It was something that he obviously spent time to get to know. And he spoke to those issues to each one of us in a spiritual way, in a pastoral way, and he also was very respectful of where and what we wanted to talk about.

CB: Faith, did you tell him your story at all?

FJ: No. He had been given summaries of our stories beforehand, where we are now. Again, I didn't say anything, I was just in tears, but he congratulated me on my upcoming wedding, and he said he would pray for me and my future husband and for our future family.


Part II: Pope's apology 'blew me away'
Victims of abuse by clergy members tell CNN's Campbell Brown they are optimistic after meeting with the pope.

CB: Let me ask you, Bernie, did you have mixed feelings about being part of this, about taking part in the meeting?

BM: No, I don't know what you mean by mixed.

CB: Because it had been a struggle for so long to reach this point, to have this meeting in the first place.

BM: Mixed in the sense that I wished it had happened a lot sooner. I'd been trying since 2003 for the head of the Catholic church to address this thing, with eye-to-eye contact. But I also have to tell you today's Mass did something—I don't go to Mass, but today I went with my mother, and his sermon there, and his apology about the sexual abuse, blew me away, and I had tears in my eyes that I wasn't ready to have. It was an incredible moment for me.

CB: What was your takeaway, Bernie, from the meeting, do you really feel hopeful now?

BM: Absolutely. As Father John Connolly said, this is the end of the beginning? [Looking to his right at Horne.] Am I saying that right? This is a new start, I believe, we're at the beginning of a new start. And there's real hope this time; it's not just words. I think there's going to be action following this moment now.

CB: Well, that's part of my question, I guess, to all of you now. The Pope yesterday really opened the doors and gave the church permission to talk about this. Do you all believe that this veil of secrecy will finally be lifted? Faith?

FJ: Yeah, definitely. I think there have already, I think there are already changes happening, and there's definitely so much hope right now, definitely.

CB: And Olan, what about you?

OH: I always used to say, I'm from Missouri—show me. And today I saw. And I don't say that lightly. I know that I speak for myself, and I can't speak for any other survivor, and I'm sure that anybody would have maybe asked different questions. But I think we also had to do one thing, we had to allow the Holy Father to be the Holy Father, and I think there was a great balance between that and him hearing us. And I'm hopeful. I've been hopeful for eight years and I had struggled in my spirituality, but hope has been my faith, and my hope was restored today from what I heard. And I believe we received a promise. And I believe not only myself, but I believe a lot of people received a promise today within the words. If anybody listened to the Mass and heard the sincerity, I think he talked frankly to the issue, and I think another issue is, we were there probably longer than we expected to be. We were allowed the time necessary to convey the messages that needed to be conveyed. And there was frank talk, and we believe that in itself is a great beginning. Martin Luther King said, faith is a step, you might not see the whole staircase, but that first step is the beginning.

CB: And Faith, what do you take from this meeting?

FJ: Just a message of hope, and I hope that other survivors can hear about this, see this, and get the same hope that we've all gotten from it.

CB: And finally, Bernie, you, what do you take from this going forward?

BM: There's a lot of pain. Even the people who are yelling from the street corner deserve to be heard and I think they're getting heard. All factions are being heard now. Let's see what happens.

CB: An extraordinary day for all of you. To Bernie, to Faith, and to Olan, thank you so much for being with us tonight. We really appreciate it.

OH, FJ, and BM: Thank you.




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