I traveled to Scranton for the University of Scranton’s Task Force on Healing, Reconciliation & Hope presentation Diocese of Scranton: Learning Lessons, Strengthening Safeguards & Empowering Survivors. The event featured the Vicar General of the Diocese, the Victim’s Assistance Coordinator (VAC), and the Safe Environment Coordinator.
A friend from the Class of ’82 made the trip from the Harrisburg area to support me. That was a big deal for me, even though I had been gently trying to persuade her to stay home to avoid the circus surrounding the Presidential Town Hall and out of embarrassment by what I may say in front of her at the presentation. It was a great comfort to have a friendly face in the room.
We arrived at Leahy Hall at about 4:15 pm to get a look at the room and layout of the building. We walked around a little. I don’t think I told her that I was scoping exit routes out of the location in case things started to get out of hand. Another survivor got there early as well. Dave had traveled down from New Hampshire. The Diocese had a survivor of Father Robert Gibson and Father Robert Caparelli in the room. I am pretty sure they knew I was coming. I was not really shy about my intention to travel to this event. I even went so far as to invite other survivors to come and be heard. As I arrived at the forum, I identified myself to one of the volunteers setting up the event. I was not there to ambush anyone. She kindly took a moment to let Dave and I know that there were several ways to step out if everything became overwhelming.
I needed to collect my thoughts, so I stepped out to the area near the elevators and sat down. A gentleman in a suit was talking to a professor nearby. The former had a gold shield on his belt, Campus Police. The two of them were discussing strategies to deal with anyone who may become unruly or threatening. I knew who they were concerned about. The hierarchy of the church would like you to believe that survivors/victims are unstable, belligerent and dangerous. My initial reaction was anger. But that was not going to serve me in this situation. I walked over to the two of them and politely interrupted their conversation. I introduced myself and told them that I may be the person for whom they were making contingency plans. I gave them my word that if there was an incident at the event, it would not come from me or Dave. They both seemed to relax a little. After the Professor walked into the room, I spoke with the gentleman from Campus Police for a few more moments. He was very kind and professional. I don’t remember seeing him in the room when it came time to start. I don’t blame either of these two men for taking precautions. But I saw the church’s trap doors. I let Dave know what was going on when I went back into the room.
I took a seat next to my classmate as the presentation began. Monsignor Muldowney started off with a discussion about the sins of the church in the past and efforts underway to prevent future cases of sexual crimes against children. He went off the rails pretty quickly when he used the analogy of cutting your own hand and needing medical attention to stop the bleeding and heal the wound. He said that the scar would always be a reminder. My brain went into overdrive. Let me get this straight, he was comparing the impact of sexual abuse on a victim with a story about cutting one’s own hand? Monsignor, are you saying I inflicted this “wound” on myself? I really wished I had recorded what I heard come from his lips. I was stunned. His analogy was, in effect, putting responsibility for the damage done to me on me. During the course of the event, he had an icy way of using the word “they” when speaking about victims/survivors. The use of the pronoun almost exclusively throughout his 15-20 minute discussion was unnerving. Do these people go through their presentations in advance or do they just wing it?
He discussed hiring a retire state trooper to act as a de facto probation officer on predator priests who are no longer in ministry but not outside of the church. I thought that was the responsibility of the local judicial system. Then I remembered, they did not report these guys so the predators did not have to go through the justice process.
During his remarks before the questions began, all I heard was Diocesan spin.
The second person to speak was Mary Beth Pacuska, the VAC. In her 15 minute talk, she talked mostly about herself. She gave a rundown of her background, education, and career. She gave some amusing anecdotes about the Monsignor when he was a nursing student. She then gave a heartfelt discussion on how hard it was for her in the aftermath of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. She recounted that people had called her to check to see how she was doing. The Monsignor had told a similar story. Funny, no one called me after the report was released to see how I was doing. As she rambled on, I was beginning to wonder if she was making an acceptance speech for an award for her work. Seriously, I was dumbfounded. I expected her to talk about what her responsibilities were as the VAC, what protocols she is required to follow, and what she does for the victims. What I heard was Mary Beth has been dramatically impacted in the aftermath of the Grand Jury Report. She did not give any information on more priests identified or just how many new survivors came forward in the wake of the report. She had a chance to provide the scope of the problem, she chose to talk about herself.
Finally, Kathleen Bolinski stood up and did a PowerPoint presentation on the efforts to train teachers, laity, and students in the Diocese. Lots of slides and stats. I have to apologize to Kathleen, my brain was trying to wrap itself around the previous speaker’s comments. I was trying to regroup and get my head straight to ask a question. I meant to ask my friend afterward if my body language was showing my agitation. I was in my own head while Ms. Bolinski went through her slides. At least she came prepared.
The way the question and answer process was briefed to me before anything started was that all questions had to go on 3 X 5-inch index cards. I had a few questions in my notebook. As I was getting ready to write, Barry Kuhle, a professor at the Unversity who I was meeting for the first time, handed me a pen and a few 4X6-inch cards with a big smile on his face. I started writing.
The moderator had a microphone and gave us the option of asking our questions to the panel without using cards. Before I could think about it, my hand went up and a microphone found it’s way to my grip. What comes next is actually a little fuzzy. I made an introduction:
My name is Michael Baumann. University of Scranton Class of 1982. Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report page 841.
It felt like the oxygen was sucked out of the room. The room became very quiet, which made me really nervous. I looked straight at the panel and said that I wish someone had called me after the Grand Jury Report was released and asked me if I was OK. My voice cracked. That drew an interesting stare from the VAC. I don’t think she liked my tone. I asked why the Diocese had only given parish assignments of the credibly accused priests to the Attorney General for the Grand Jury Report. Why did they fail to give the schools, camps, retreat centers and CCD for the students who attended public schools associated with those parish assignments? The Monsignor explained the information was based on “Canonical assignments”. I pointed the assignment list was not inclusive of all the places predators could start grooming victims. He stuck to his statement, I think his position was that the parish assignment implies the other relationships. I dislike implications, I think it masks the truth. There was a discussion about the number of victims. Monsignor Muldowney acknowledged something important. While discussing these predators, he admitted that if there was one victim, there were more.
I was allowed a follow-up question. I explained the difficulty I had filling out the Compensation fund paperwork. It took me months. The question I posed was: when will the Bishop come clean and document the methods and details of the Diocese’s protection for the predators? Monsignor Muldowney gave a confused response that focused on the premise that the Diocese cannot repair the past and needs to move forward. A standard non-answer was offered. As the Monsignor went on with his responses I realized that the answers I wanted were not going to be found here. That was not a surprise.
I turned the microphone back over to the moderator so other people could ask questions. Some of the questions were off-topic. Someone wanted clarification on the Bishop’s right to life policy, another was wandering down a rabbit hole on “Radical Homosexualist” priests speaking at local Catholic Universities. This was all static on the net to me.
A series of questions were posed to the Monsignor about the Father Albert Liberatore case that has ties to the current Bishop of Scranton while he was the Vicar General, Monsignor Muldowney while he was a seminary student and the University of Scranton. In this instance, I believe Monsignor Muldowney was trying to clarify what had actually happened. I will admit that I don’t know very much about this particular case.
Dave, the other survivor in the room who spoke, wanted to know why the Diocese and Bishop Timlin “kicked the can” down the road and never took action on his case. Father Robert Caparelli was a prolific pedophile who died of AIDS-related complications while incarcerated in 1994 for “deviate sexual intercourse with children.”
You could hear the strain in Dave’s voice as he asked questions on why the Diocese failed to take action. Members of the panel interrupted him as he spoke until he deftly silenced the VAC by reminding her that he listened to her, it was time for her to listen to him. Again, the responses were vague and answers were not forthcoming. Dave drove all the way in from New Hampshire to be heard and to face the demons in his past. I think he showed incredible courage when he stood up and spoke. Being in the room with him was important to me. I hope he understands that he is not alone.
There was a mention of the Independent Survivor Compensation Program. The VAC tried to explain that there was nothing they could do to make Survivors whole. This was a blinding flash of the obvious. Her implication was that the money was the best that could be done. The money would be the only fix for all of this. If nothing else, this is proof that the Diocese doesn’t get it. For me, this was never about a payout. That little detail has always been lost on the people that think survivors/victims are in it for the cash.
When the microphone came back to me near the end of the two-hour window, I reminded the panel that abuse thrives in an environment of secrecy. I had to keep my secret alone for almost 33 years, and it tore me up. Father Gibson had help keeping his secret. I asked them to release documents and findings related to how the Diocese was complicit in hiding the truth. I offered to stroke a check, on the spot, for the amount of money that I received from the compensation fund in exchange for the truth. The room went completely silent. Needless to say, I did not have to write that check.
As the event wrapped up one of the professors in the audience very eloquently pointed out that the survivors/victims were doing all of the heavy lifting while the Diocese continued to do only the bare minimum. He wanted to know where are the bishops expressing grief about their failings? Fair question, I don’t think it was answered adequately.
I was overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to speak to me after the event ended. It was more than a little intimidating. Students and faculty offered their support. I checked with Dave to make sure he was OK. I spoke to the Professor who I had interrupted with Campus Police earlier in the evening. I think he understood where the real problem may be found. He was very gracious to me.
Monsignor Muldowney approached me and, as often happens when two military veterans talk, we talked about our assignments in the Navy. The Monsignor served as a Chaplain. I hope he knows I was ribbing him a little bit by responding “Poor baby” to his statement that he had been assigned to a billet in San Diego. San Diego is arguably the best place to be stationed in the Navy. I pointed out that the Universe had a sense of humor when I was assigned as a department head aboard USS CAPODANNO (FF 1093) when I was a Lieutenant. CAPODANNO was the only ship in the fleet at the time named after a Catholic Chaplain. Father Capodanno was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions to save Marines in a firefight in Viet Nam. I wish I could dislike the Monsignor, he seems to be a decent guy. We are adversaries.
My interaction with Mary Beth Pacuska (the VAC) was less cordial. As I was trying to leave, she put her hand on my forearm and asked me if I was OK. I really don’t like people invading my personal space like that. In this setting, given my history, she should have known better. I assured her I was fine and moved my arm away. She kept repeating the question “are you really?” after I told her I was fine. She then told me that she had read this blog and thought it was full of anger and rage. Here I am worried about it being full of typos and split infinitives. I forgot to check for anger and rage. My post-event interaction with her was disturbing.
I think that I am not damaged enough for the VAC. I am the worst kind of “victim.” I am not an addict, I am not an alcoholic, I have not been in trouble with the law. I am educated, I will throw down my curriculum vitae with the best of them. I can support myself and function in society. I don’t see myself as a victim. I am a survivor. I see her position as Victim Assistance Coordinator as an intelligence collector for the Bishop of Scranton. The interests of the position are beholden to the Bishop. I don’t see her position as one of advocacy for survivors. On this night, she did not convince me otherwise.
What this all boils down to is simple. The Diocese needs to take a hard look at the processes they employed that allowed for abuse to thrive for decades. The bishop needs to address the history of children being raped and the predators enjoying the protection of the curia. There needs to be a change to the institutional culture in the Catholic hierarchy. Without that, the trust lost in the Church will never be regained. The Bishop needs to do this in the presence of survivors. No act of contrition is valid without addressing those who have been hurt. Anyone who had a hand in supporting predator priests must go.
One final observation. I think Dave and I contributed to the discussion on Thursday night. I think we brought an important perspective. I don’t understand why Survivors are left out of discussions such as this. Tell me, what about me scares you? Seriously, I want to know.
I want to thank the Task Force for allowing me to come and ask questions. I want to thank Campus Police for understanding that I was not a threat. I want to thank all the people in the room who were supportive. I hope I did not freak anyone out.
To my friend and classmate from the U of S class of 1982, thank you for having my back 38 years removed from graduation.
If you were in the room and have some thoughts, please share them. I need to know that I did not come across as a blithering idiot.