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(on watching this video)

 

my chest tightens
my stomach churns
my bowels loosen

I hear my story
I see my face
I watch my abuser

not me
but yet me
not him
but so like him

shared abuse
shared horror
shared shame

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Dear Pontiff — Letter #3

September 10, 2010

I just wanted to drop a note and thank you for the invitation, but I really can’t make it.  I hope you have a good visit with the other victims, though.  Mona 

Happy Rosh Hashanah,

What if the Pope really had invited me to one of his face-to-face meetings? Would I have gone? I gave this some serious thought and realized that in order for me to experience such a meeting as safe and positive I would need my own “people” with me to help me survive and remain emotionally healthy. This may seem ridiculous to you, but as a victim of profound and prolonged sexual abuse as a child, by more than one priest, I want you to know that I write this in all seriousness. I want you to understand the scenario as it would impact me and I imagine many other victims like me. 

How can I summon up some of the feelings for you?  Imagine a nightmare in which you are being chased. It is nighttime. Someone is trying to hurt you, to kill you, to rape you. You are running but you can’t escape. You enter a room but the door doesn’t lock. You keep running, keep running. Now imagine that this awful nightmare was actually based on the real fears and real danger that you experienced on a regular basis as a child — bad men who were always trying to get you alone to hurt you, and then threatening you if you told. Imagine the nightmare haunting your sleep for years during your childhood and then imagine it returning in times of stress for decades long into adulthood. Now imagine that you are going to a meeting in which the players in your nightmare drama were going to be in the room with you, in the flesh. And imagine all the fears of being chased, hurt, raped and killed, that haunted your nightmares rising up in your guts and into your throat and swirling around in your mind as you walk into this room, sweating, shaking, clammy, nauseated. Now you have a sense of what it would feel like for me. 

What would I need?
 ~  I would need my therapist because I would need “handling.” Someone talking me through the preparations and keeping me grounded in the present. “They cannot hurt you. You are safe. You are no longer a child, you are an adult. They can’t keep you here against your will. You are going to leave with us and go home. You are not doing anything wrong; you are allowed to tell.” Advocacy and compassion.

~  I would need my husband next to me so I could hold his hand or just lean on him and know he was there and that I would be leaving with him. Safe, male touch.

~  I would need a  group of strong, religious women in the room to balance all the men in clerical garb. Preferably these women would be American Dominicans from the Dominican Alliance. Feminine, Catholic, strength, wisdom and spirituality.

~  I would request that the Pope not wear a medieval costume but the simple, white cassock and zucchetto (cap). I have really bad memories involving a priest in a black cassock and a black biretta (three-ridged, square hat). But I know that would be pushing it.  

As it would not be possible to have all the above people with me when I met with the Pope and all his “people,” it would not be a good experience — at all. It would very likely lead to a serious mental health episode. I worry about those victims who do meet him and the conflicted feelings they must experience. And I worry that they don’t get to bring their “people” with them.  I hope they can process the visit and remain safe and that it gives them what they are looking for.

Dear Pontiff — Day 2

Dear Pontiff,

As you prepare for your visit to England I just want to express my support for your bishops in my homeland. I want you to know that I realize responding in any kind of meaningful way to accusations against priests takes time. Of course the accusations must be investigated. It would be tragic if a good priest was wrongfully accused; my brother is a religious and I am very protective. But I really think that sixteen years is a bit long for justice to be served.

The only corroboration to my accusations (that I know of) comes from other members of my family who were also raped and molested, so maybe that is problematic. But I wonder if you might try to expedite some help for me. I have spent over $100,000 on therapy, medication and hospitalization. I don’t expect to recoup that, and I am not interested in bankrupting any diocese. But help going forward with therapy would sure be useful — this millennium preferably.

M

Positation-the new positive-thinking

Shit happens, but shit does not define me ~ I have Positation [hands off it’s my new word]. Or at least I’m trying to damn it?!

 The health benefits of  [Positation] from the Mayo clinic.com

Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:   

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

How to’s of Positation also from the Mayo Clinic

  • Check yourself. Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate what you’re thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.
  • Be open to humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday happenings. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise at least three times a week to positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body. And learn to manage stress.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people, those who believe they have no power over their lives, may increase your stress level and may make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.
  • Practice positive self-talk. Start by following one simple rule: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about yourself.

Examples of typical negative self-talk from–you guessed it–Mayo.com, and positive altenatives.  (With personal edits in blue, because Mayonites don’t use bad language, but I f****** do. Ok so I’m having a tough day with positation-eat me!) 

Negative self-talk Positive spin
I’ve never done it before ~ so why the f*** should I do it now It’s an opportunity to learn something new.
It’s too complicated ~ I don’t even know how to change the channel on my new TV I’ll tackle it from a different angle.
I don’t have the resources ~ I’m SOL and broke Necessity is the mother of invention.
I’m too lazy to get this done ~ Where’s the damn remote? I wasn’t able to fit it into my schedule but can re-examine some priorities.
There’s no way it will work ~ and neither will I. I am having a major case of anal blindness. I just don’t see my ass going to work today. I can try to make it work.
It’s too radical a change ~ just sounds completely pointless, I’ll never be able to Let’s take a chance.
No one bothers to communicate with me ~ no one loves me, boo hoo I’ll see if I can open the channels of communication.
I’m not going to get any better at this ~there’s always death by chocolate I’ll give it another try.

So, why bother with POSITATION? (These are my thoughts not Mayo’s. Actually mine are more like mustard, the sharp kind with lumpy bits in.)

  • Because your friends, if you have any left, are sick and tired of your “poor me” attitude, and you used to be a fun kind of person to hang out with
  • Because your life really does suck and something needs to change, and the only thing you can really change is yourself
  • Because shit happens, will continue to happen, and is usually outside of your control
  • Because life actually can be better than it is
  • Because the alternatives suck more

 The whole theory in a picture — for you dumb asses who can’t be bothered to read the above –from theawareproject.org.

    

Learning about the extent of abuse: a two-edged sword

When the extent of the abuse in America began to hit the news it was a double-edged sword for victims. On the one hand it felt very affirming – I am not crazy, I am not alone, people might believe me now. On the other hand it felt overwhelming, devastating. Ironically many of us had remained in the Church, believing our abuse was an aberration, our perpetrator a criminal unknown to his (her) superiors, and we still experienced the beauty and solace of our faith tradition. But the other side of the sword was the realization that not only was our perpetrator not an aberration in an otherwise healthy community of priests but one of many such men whose predilections had been the subject of jokes among fellow clergy (I heard this from a priest). And their superiors, far from being unaware, had been complicit in their protection from civil authority and their reassignment to unknowing parishes whose children became the next prey. This was the knowledge that robbed us of our faith in our church. And robbed me of my vocation to teach religion in the church: the behavior of the hierarchy was indefensible and I would not attempt to defend it to my students.

Someone asked me, did you know how widespread the abuse was?

Concerning whether there was an awareness of the extent of the abuse, in my experience within my immediate family and extended family, and in the victims community in SNAP, it is common for people to say they believed that their experience was an isolated one. And if they reported it to the diocese, they were told that theirs was the first such report against their perpetrator. In a number of cases these victims later learned, as the result of other victims coming forward, that they had not been the first, and that at the time of their reporting there had already been other – sometimes numerous – complaints. So it is clear to me that the issue was very well-known to the religious authorities within many dioceses. But the victims for the most part continued to believe it was isolated. Of course the requirement of secrecy regarding any settlement meant that they could not share their information.   I never knew about my siblings or my parents’ abuse until after 2002.

Dear Pope Benedict…it’s not just a sin, it’s a crime!

“[D]espite my bad experiences with certain Catholic priests, and despite my anger over how the Church has dealt with the issue of abusive priests in general, I owe much to the Catholic community and have great respect for a number of individual priests and religious. In fact, my own youngest brother is a member of a religious order. It is because of the respect I have for many Catholic priests and religious and the debt I feel to those people, and to the lay Catholics who have nurtured and educated me since childhood, that I believe my story should be told. The Catholic Church is better than the headlines; it is more than the sum of its mistakes. Pedophilia is not just a sin; it is a psychological disorder. It is not just a mistake; it is a crime. And the victims deserve to see justice served. But not all priests are pedophiles and not all bishops are liars.” From Hurt to Healing, 2004

I wrote this some years ago. I still stand by it: not all priests are liars and pedophiles. However, I have also learned that the evil of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church involves bishops and cardinals as well as priests. And the knowing and intentional policy of cover-up and denial includes popes. Today it is difficult to call to mind the good in the Catholic Church, but then I remember my brother, a religious and teacher who just returned from a mission trip to Africa. There are still good and holy people in the Catholic Church, sadly it becomes harder and harder to see them through the anger and tears.

The pope may be trying to get the message right, but he doesn’t recognize the “sin” for the crime that it is. And he doesn’t recognize that the solution is not sacramental or spiritual. The Church organization needs to be deconstructed, criminals need to be brought to justice, regardless of their age or infirmity. The church should support the suspension or removal of the statutes of limitations for the crimes that have already been admitted but cannot be prosecuted. A case in point: there is in my community a “retired” priest who was found guilty of multiple counts of sexual abuse of minors in a church investigation, but because of his “advanced age” has not been laicized. Instead he is supported by the church and still carries out his priestly functions when invited. He lives within a block of a Catholic Grammar school. His neighbors do not know of his crimes; local Catholics did not know of his crimes. His crimes were committed in another diocese. A close friend of mine, and one of his victims, took his own life last year. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by his inability to protect other children from the man who had already been “credibly accused” of child rape. This is a broken system. No number of apologies, no amount of penance, no degree of sadness on the part of the pope will make any difference. The system needs to be broken open; it is already broken.