A letter from the VAC at the Diocese of Scranton: Independent Survivor Compensation Program

Author’s note: This is my second attempt at this post. I have tempered my approach, but my outrage has not abated.

A half-truth is even more dangerous than a lie. A lie, you can detect at some stage, but half a truth is sure to mislead you for long.”
Anurag Shourie

I have had two restless nights since the letter arrived in my mailbox. My blood runs a little cold when I see the Diocese of Scranton address in the top left corner of an envelope. This missive was from the Victim Assistance Coordinator (VAC) for the Diocese announcing the Independent Survivor Compensation Program (ISCP). I will let you read my letter. I have redacted my contact information. I have enough virulent church apologists blowing up my email, I will not enable them to contact me at my home.

diocese of scranton004 croppeddiocese of scranton005 cropped

I have had some responses from others I have shared this letter with, other members of Robert Gibson’s “Lost Boys.” It seems, without my prompting, they are equally outraged by the message and tone.

I am sure Mary Beth Pacuska, the VAC, was very proud of her work. But then again, she is charged with taking information on victims and aiding the bishop in turning that information into a plan of action to silence, discredit and demean survivors who have dared to stand up to the prelate on Wyoming Avenue. I would recommend a title change that allows you to keep your “VAC” acronym. From this side of the conversation, “Victims Adversary Coordinator” sounds more apropos. Let me know Mary Beth, I am dying to get your opinion (sarcasm intended).

Shall we go through the letter? She starts to auger into the earth with her first paragraph of introduction. “I am privileged to work with victims of sexual abuse suffered as a minor.” You have got to be kidding me!? “Privileged?” From my point of view, it would have been my great privilege to never have had a cause to contact that office in the first place. Work with us? That is laughable. Although I initially spoke with Joan Holmes when she occupied that chair in 2007, it is my experience that the office of the VAC is there to protect the bishop and his minions. Interest in the well being of the victim/survivor has proven to be nothing more than a diocesan sham.

The next two paragraphs of the communication are propaganda. Propaganda wasted on an audience that sees through the fiction of Diocesan action touted because they have suffered not only the original crimes committed against them but through the mishandling, bungling and straight up attacks by the diocese. Spare us the bullshit Ms. Pacuska, we are not buying it, and you look all the more of a diocesan pawn for it.

Finally, in the fourth paragraph, she gets to the point of the epistle. Finally! She announces the ISCP, provides no details at all about the program and punts the problem to the administrators of the Diocesan fund intended to placate survivors like me. The best part of all of this is the nugget in the second to last paragraph of this pathetic piece of prose. “Please be assured that this program is independent of the Diocese, completely voluntary and confidential, and will be handled with respect and in a pastoral manner.” The program is not independent of the Diocese because the diocese is funding it. (Maybe I should say that the parishioners of the Diocese of Scranton are financing it. That is much more accurate.) The Diocese, knowing the true scope of the problem and the estimated number of survivors/victims they have covered up for decades, is trying to get off on the cheap.

The program is “completely voluntary and confidential.” Sure it is! What I read here is a requirement for a confidentiality agreement. Or, more simply put, no transparency or accountability for the actions of bishops or priests who actively covered the sex crimes committed against children. She says the program will be handled with “respect and in a pastoral manner?” Personally, I don’t think the Chancery for the Diocese of Scranton knows the meaning of the word “respect.” Pastoral manner, that thought is ridiculous! If the lies and deceit offered to me by this diocese since I reported what Robert Gibson to me when I was 13 years old at Notre Dame Jr/Sr High School in East Stroudsburg reveals the measure of their “pastoral manner” I am better off without it.  If you wish to know what I want, click this link, I have spelled it out for you.

I have a recommendation for the VAC. Mary Beth, are you listening? Just tell us the facts devoid of all the propaganda and flowery support. Save the half-truths and platitudes for your parishioners. They are still swallowing what you and your bishop are offering.

Awaiting Details of the Bishop’s Fund and End of the Year Reading

There are only a few days left until the Diocese of Scranton releases the information on the Bishop’s Victims Compensation Fund.  I am confident that Bishop Bambera will over-promise and under-deliver to victims and their families. If you plan to make a claim against the Diocese of Scranton, watch their news release page for information.  I expect the lies and blame deflection will flow from Bill Genello’s office as soon as the details of the “Independent Survivors Compensation Program” ooze out of the Chancery on Wyoming Avenue.

Look for requirements that will disqualify as many people with credible accusations as possible.  If you were raped/molested/harmed by a priest in a religious order teaching in a Diocesan school, you might be out of luck.  The Bishop will probably flick that booger towards the religious order and ignore that the crimes were committed within his curia.  As in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, they will probably offer you the services of an attorney to help you navigate the rules of the fund.  Please be aware, that the attorney being paid by the Diocese will not have your best interests at heart.  If the Diocese is paying the bills, the lawyer is working for the Bishop and not for you.  I strongly recommend that you get your own legal representation, working for your interests and yours alone.

The best bet in Pennsylvania is to enact legislation that opens a civil litigation window, sweeps aside the need for confidentiality agreements, and forces institutions like the Catholic Church to comply with laws protecting children and vulnerable adults.  All victims should have the right to bring a claim in front of a judge.  The format of the compensation funds is stacked to favor the Dioceses.

I have been reading some articles linked from sites like Catholics4Change.org or sent in from readers of this blog (thanks Barb!).  I am going to offer you some links to spike your outrage or just leave you shaking your head at the myopic idiocy of Church leaders.

Abuse Talking Points Interrupt God’s Word 

Can victim funds help heal wounds of Pa. church sex abuse scandal?

NY archdiocese issued suitability letter for priest under abuse investigation

Catholic abuse victims face new obstacle | Editorial

Business as usual in the Catholic Church

Ticking time bombs in the church

Cardinal Wuerl, despite stepping down due to abuse scandal, presides over grand Basilica Christmas Mass

The Cardinals and the Bishops are ending 2018 full of deceit.  I hold out little hope for change when the clock strikes midnight tonight, and we charge headlong into 2019.  Over the last ten years writing on this blog, I have always been in awe of the Church Hierarchy’s ability to be unfeeling, uncaring, unchristian buffoons.  I don’t think they will disappoint in their stupidity in the new year.

BISHOP BAMBERA SHOULD RESIGN WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT!

 

A Letter to the President of The University of Scranton: Show Me Your Good Faith and Resolve

Gunster 80s
The University of Scranton Commons in front of Gunster, looking down Linden Street in the 1980’s.  From the McHugh Special Collections, Weinberg Memorial Library, The University of Scranton.  http://digitalservices.scranton.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/p9000coll7/id/48/rec/1

In a move that took me by surprise back in August, the incoming President of The University of Scranton, Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., directed that the names of bishops of the Diocese of Scranton involved in the Sexual Abuse Crisis would be removed from campus buildings and honorary degrees awarded to those individuals rescinded.  This action was taken after the release of the Pennsylvania Diocese Victims Report detailing sexual crimes by clergy in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic Dioceses.

On October 11, 2018, Father Pilarz released an announcement on the establishment of the Task Force on Healing, Reconciliation, and Hope.   In his message, he and the Board of Trustees “commit endowed funds to support efforts to strive together with the people of the Diocese and Catholics everywhere to address the difficult but necessary questions that arise from the grand jury report.”  He charged the Task Force to “help us harness the full range of resources that The University of Scranton, as a Catholic and Jesuit university can offer the church in this painful but pivotal moment. Their work will imagine and plan how we can respond, in ways both simple and sophisticated, to the needs of God’s people.”

I applaud any action taken to uncover the truth and to expose the complicity of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in protecting predator priests who have been committing sexual crimes against children and vulnerable adults for decades. But,  I am suspicious of any action taken by a Catholic organization to address this issue.  The wording of the announcement is benign on its surface.  After reading it a few times, I was struck by what it does not address.   I do not see a clear identification of who is to be “healed, reconciled and granted hope.” He speaks about the church and  University community but nowhere in the announcement is a recognition of survivors.  The words  “victim” and “survivor” are conspicuously absent from the text. Is it the President’s intent to exclude the victims of this scandal?

Earlier this week I wrote to the Father Pilarz to express my concerns and offered a few recommendations. I have done this in good faith with the hope that my Alma Mater is true to it’s Jesuit Tradition.

Spirituality is at the core of our mission as a Catholic, Jesuit institution of higher learning. The chief characteristics embedded in the Ignatian vision include: the concept of the Magis, or a restless pursuit of excellence grounded in gratitude; Cura Personalis, individual attention to students and respect for the uniqueness of each member of the University community; seeking God in all things; liberal education; service of faith and the promotion of justice; and contemplation in action.

I have given the U.S. Postal Service enough time to deliver my letter to the University of Scranton.  I now share the text of that missive with you.

Dear Father Pilarz,
I am writing to you as both a survivor of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Scranton and a member of the University of Scranton Community.  I graduated from the University in 1982 with a B.A. in History.
In response to the findings of the Attorney General’s Grand Jury Report, you took action to rename University buildings and rescind honorary degrees from the bishops who had a hand in the cover-up of sexual crimes committed against children and vulnerable adults. I applauded your initial steps in addressing this crisis.  Now I want you to make an impact beyond the campus of the University.
Your announcement of the establishment of Task Force on Healing, Reconciliation, and Hope in October may be a step in the right direction.  However, I have concerns that I hope you will take to heart.
Your task force needs to include survivors.  Survivors and the families of victims who are no longer with us need a voice at your table.  The Task Force will need to do more than politely listen to the stories and understand the impact on everyone involved. When we speak, it will be emotional perhaps even loud. Sorrow, anger, shame, and embarrassment will break voices and bring tears to eyes.   It may be messy and difficult to bear.  You will need to listen to these stories to be credible in your labors.  Without that input, you cannot possibly understand the depth of the damage to innocence, safety, security, personal relationships, trust, and faith inflicted on children because of these sexual batteries. Simply put, you should not have this discussion without us.
I would like to see the University endow studies that address key issues in this crisis.  I have tried to understand why the abuse happened and why the hierarchy of the Catholic Church covered it up. I have struggled, personally, with the effects of the abuse I suffered at the hands of my eighth-grade religion teacher, a diocesan priest. I stayed silent for more than 33 years. In the eleven years since my initial report to the Diocese of Scranton and the ten years since I publicly revealed the abuse, I have spent hundreds of hours reflecting on areas that deserve investigation and scholarly study.  Here are some recommendations:
  • A study of the factors that lead predators to select particular victims. My discussions with other survivors led me to theories on why we became targets. Most victims were from devout families who revered priests as God’s representative on earth.  Obedience, without question, of the orders given by priests and other religious was drilled into our heads from a young age. Predators use this to their advantage. They seek out children in dysfunctional families (domestic violence, addiction issues, alcoholism) or tragic circumstances (death of a parent or sibling, catastrophic illness or injury in the family). I have a friend whose grooming began when he was 12 years old at his father’s wake.   A study in this area will allow for the identification of at-risk children and inform teachers, adult leaders and family members of potential vulnerability harm.
  • A study on the psychopathology of pedophilia and why the Catholic Church has such a long, tragic history of this mental disorder within the ranks of its clergy. A review of the screening processing for seminaries, for both staff and students, may reveal how potential predators make it through the process undetected.
  • A study on the long-term impacts of the sexual batteries on survivors and their families to include the actions of the Church to marginalize and isolate victims and their families. Denials, strong-arm tactics and attacks on survivors to silence or blame them for the abuse further compounds the damaged already experienced.
In the wake of the abuse I suffered in 1974, I found a place to start over when I arrived at the University of Scranton over Labor Day weekend in 1978.  I began to work out who I was and push out of my very narrow comfort zone.  I enjoyed my classes, I made friends, and I was involved in campus life. I was a student manager for Campus Bowl, and I was selected to be in the Chorus during for Fall Review in 1980 and 1981. I was a student Co-Director for Orientation ’81 working with Professor Cannon and the staff of the Counseling Center out of an office on the third floor of St. Thomas Hall.  I have very good memories of my time at the “U.”  During my Junior year, the priest who raped me when I was 13 years old came into the restaurant in Scranton where I worked as a waiter.  That chance meeting shook me so badly that I stopped going to class and missed some of my campus commitments. I was considering suicide.  A Jesuit, Edward Gannon S.J., summoned me to his office in Memorial Library to sort out what was happening to me. I did not go willingly.  In what turned into a marathon “confession” I told him the story of my abuse.  I spared him no detail.  On that cold winter night, he declared me blameless and offered the only sincere apology I have ever received for the abuse I suffered as a child. His intervention saved my life that night.  Because the conversation was within the context of a confession, I held him to his vow of silence on the matter. In hindsight, I wish I had let him take action.
I am not a social justice warrior.  I do not welcome or seek attention’s center.   I know I am a small voice on the coast, screaming at the vastness of the ocean.  There is a point where if you don’t stand up for something, you stand for nothing.  I came forward out of guilt for those that came after me, shame for keeping my secret, anger for the dismissal of accusations deemed credible by the chancery.  I  am horrified that Catholics seem willing to sacrifice children and reward a hierarchy that is misguidedly abusing their authority to maintain the illusion that their house of worship, their sacraments, and their faith are in order.
I want to believe that the University of Scranton is still a place where people don’t shrink from controversial or uncomfortable topics.  I want to know it is a place where people can stand up and do the right thing even when it is unpopular or challenges the local bishop.  I need to know that it is still the place where faculty and staff care about their students and the greater university community. I want to believe in the University that gave me, and generations of students,  Father Gannon.  I know that the Task Force cannot solve all of the issues in this great crisis. I think that it may be able to take a step in the direction of finding answers and making meaningful recommendations.
As for me, I realize that sometimes justice offered is not always the justice for which we had hoped.  I, as a survivor, will seek the wisdom to know when that justice is enough.
                                                                        Very respectfully,
                                                                       Michael B. Baumann
Copy to:
Patricia Tetreault
Christian Krokus

Any hope I may have that the Task Force will do more than to look inward to “heal” the church is very guarded.  I still consider myself a member of the University of Scranton Community even though I know I am no longer welcome in the Catholic Church.  The findings and recommendations of the Task Force will reveal the true nature and depth of the University’s good faith and resolve.

St. Crispin’s Day

Today, 25 October, is the Feast of St Crispin.

It is also the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years War between France and England.  It was an English victory despite the overwhelming numerical superiority of the French forces that engaged a tired English army.  A turning point in the war, Agincourt represented the beginning of a series of English victories. That moment in history was captured in Shakespeare’s play, Henry V.

Where am I going with this little Cliff Clavin moment today?  Within the play, Henry V, King Harry gives a rousing speech to motivate his beleaguered army in the face of overwhelming odds against the French that day.  I see parallels to the struggle of survivors of clerical sex abuse against overwhelming odds with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and it’s apologists and supporters.  The likes of Senator Joe Scarnati and Catholic League President Bill Donohue come to mind.

While we survivors are vastly outnumbered, and the Catholic Lobby can spend obscene amounts of cash to curry favor (that they do not deserve at any price) with politicians, we can find some comfort in King Harry’s speech to his rag-tag army in the field.

Words have meaning. They can inspire, they can dissuade. For me, this passage from King Harry is my motivational. It helps me to stay engaged in the struggle to force the Catholic Church to admit the truth they adamantly deny.

KING: What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers and sisters (the Bard will forgive me) need to stay the course and finish this fight.  I will ask you once again, are you with me?  Are your hearts in the trim?

Take it, brave York. Now, soldiers, march away:
And how thou pleasest, God, dispose the day!

This week’s required reading…

Here is the latest group of articles I am recommending as your reading for the week:

How a Catholic sex abuse report in Pennsylvania echoed around the U.S.

D.C. attorney general opens inquiry into sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Washington

Bill White: PA Senate’s inaction on child sex abuse bill was cowardly

Want to make it up to church abuse survivors, Sen. Scarnati? Come back to Harrisburg now | Editorial

The Catholic Church owns the Pa. Capitol. Abuse victims saw that Wednesday night. | Maria Panaritis

The Pennsylvania Senate’s failure to offer remedy to child sexual abuse victims was an utter disgrace

Virginia investigates Catholic Church: ” We have heard from Victims” 

 

It looks like there is traction, we just don’t seem to be going anywhere.

#mysurvivorfrustration

#wherearethey

#ourhouse

Dare to do right…

“DARE TO DO RIGHT AND TRUST THE CONSEQUENCES TO INFINITE WISDOM”

James G. Blaine

Those words are carved into a stone bench facing the steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg Pennsylvania.  It makes me wonder if the people who work there, allegedly in the service of the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, bother to read what is in front of them every day.

James G. Blaine was a native of Western Pennsylvania, he served as a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Maine, eventually becoming Speaker of the House,  then a U.S. Senator.  He served twice as Secretary of State. He was the Republican candidate for President in 1884, narrowly losing to Grover Cleveland.  I guess the era of great Republican Statesmen of Pennsylvania is more than a century passed.

Just a week ago, The President pro tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate, Joseph B. Scarnati III, refused to bring a bill to the floor of the Senate that would have allowed survivors of childhood sexual assault a window of opportunity to bring a civil action against the perpetrators of those crimes and the institutions that protected those perpetrators.  This was done when it seemed that a growing wave of support would tip the scales in favor of establishing a two-year window.

A quick look at Senator Scarnati’s official Senate website is revealing.  The first problem I see is that he lists his occupation as “State Senator.”  Senator Scarnati is a professional politician. He is beholden, not to his constituency, but to the patrons of his next campaign.  He is up for reelection in 2020.  Of those patrons, I am willing to bet the insurance industry and the Catholic Lobby are exerting some influence.

His web page also announces that he is a member, along with his wife Amy and their five children, of St. Tobias Catholic Church in Brockway, Pennsylvania.  This is all making sense now.  He seems to be predisposed to support the institution that protects pedophile priests.  Perhaps the Senator is in the cozy pocket of Bishop Persico of the Diocese of Erie and the other prelates within the Commonwealth. Maybe he doesn’t understand the damage done by predators and compounded by the institutions that protect those monsters.  Perhaps he did not learn his catechism regarding the need for forgiveness, penance, and restitution.  I have said this a hundred times; until the Catholic Church pays a vulgar price for a perverted institutional culture, there is no way to correct that culture and ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. That price may come in the removal of leading church officials who are embroiled in the abuse of children or the protection of those who did the abusing.  It may occur in the loss of the faithful and loss of revenue.  It may come with a significant financial hit to pay restitution to survivors.

A significant corporate cultural shift is required to right the ship.  Senator Scarnati’s actions, or more correctly, inactions lend tacit approval to a clergy culture that promotes deity like status to priests, puts the church above the law, encourages secrecy and puts children at risk.   Abuse thrives in a culture of secrecy. 

I am curious how the President pro tempore, when presented with overwhelming evidence of individual and institutional wrongdoing, can stand on the side of the institution that allowed children to be sexually abused, molested and raped and covered up the evidence of those crimes.   He is aligning himself with pedophiles, rapists, and narcissists more concerned about protecting the  treasure of the church from scandal than doing the right thing.  The right thing is to protect the children of the Commonwealth.  The real treasure of the church is the children.  Bishops who are more concerned about maintaining the wealth of the church have no business being the shepherds of their flocks.  Senator Scarnati is protecting the wrong people.

The friend of my enemy is my enemy. The defender of a pedophile is the defender of evil. That person has no moral authority to lord over the Senate Chamber in Harrisburg.  Let’s call it like it is.  Senator Scarnati is a coward for not allowing the bill to go to the floor for a vote.

Senator Scarnati is more concerned with advancing his political career than in supporting the prevention of sex crimes committed against children and vulnerable adults.  I am sure that his wife, Amy, and his children as well as all the parishioners at St. Tobias are so very proud of the fact that Joe will stand up for the wrong side. For those parishioners, I would like to ask a question.  Which one of your children are you willing to sacrifice to a predator who will be protected by the institution with whom he/she is associated?

What happens when you put politicians, priests, attorneys, and insurance executives together in Harrisburg?  NOTHING!

Is anyone out there listening?

#wherearethey #ourhouse

Pennsylvania Senate votes this week

A vote on window legislation that will allow victims of sexual abuse when they were children to pursue justice that has been denied to them by a statute of limitations that protects predators.  The Republicans in the Senate are seeking a course of action that will protect institutions, like the Catholic Church, who have been complicit in the protection of pedophiles in order to avoid scandal and protect the church. Innocent child victims be damned.

Four separate Grand Jury Reports have concluded that there is an institutional culture that protects pedophiles in the Catholic Church.  The Republican Senators getting ready to vote against legislation, based on recommendations from the recent Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, that would grant the right for victims to seek redress in a civil court are reaffirming the culture of protecting pedophiles and support for the continued victimization of children and vulnerable adults in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Others have more eloquently addressed what is going on in Harrisburg.  I offer a couple of links to articles you may be interested in:

Pennsylvania Republican Leadership Spits in the Eyes of Child Sex Abuse Victims with Faux Justice in New Proposal 

PA Senators Vote This Week: Tell Them Window Protects Kids

If you live in Pennsylvania, call you senator.