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in the Sexual Abuse Crisis would be removed from campus buildings and honorary degrees awarded to those individuals rescinded.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.

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

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.

 

 

Dial the number…

I have a healthy skepticism when it comes to anyone actually prosecuting the institutions that have made it a business practice to support and protect pedophiles that groom, sexually abuse and rape children within that institution.  There is a risk calculation, no doubt, that guides these institutions to deny claims of abuse, attempt to discredit victims and protect the predators.

In the post prior to this one, I put out information released by the Foundation to Abolish Child Sexual Abuse (FACSA). They are looking for victims of sexual abuse to dial in, regardless of how long ago the abuse took place.  It is imperative that we document the files on the institutions that protected predators and turned a deaf ear on victims.

The Attorney General’s office in Harrisburg has a Sexual Abuse Hotline, 1-888-538-8541. I called the number on Monday morning. I had a recording tell me that the line was not in service.  I tried later in the morning and was surprised to have a live person answer the phone and take my information.  She told me the name of the investigator looking into the Diocese of Scranton and said she would pass my information along.  I will wait and see if anyone contacts me.  If they do I will let you know.  I do not expect much, but I would like to document the file against the Diocese of Scranton.

If you were the victim of sexual abuse as a child (under the age of 18) within the state of Pennsylvania, you should call the hotline and make a report.  The person answering the phone will give you the name of the investigator for the Diocese(s) that are applicable to your particular circumstances.

PA-diocese-map

Within the Dioceses in Pennsylvania there have been at least 292 credibly accused priests. That, to me, seems to be a low number.  In my case, the Diocese of Scranton admits to only (!) four victims of my predator. I know that number is low.  Ridiculously, insultingly low.  These predators were prolific.

If you have a story to tell, now is the time to do so.  Please call the number,  1-888-538-8541 and be heard.

I guess we shall see where, if anywhere, this will lead.

***Disclaimer: the misspelling of “Alltona” on the map was embedded in the .gif file I pulled from the Diocese of Harrisburg’s website.

The Answer to “What is it going to take?”

I am writing this from the low country of South Carolina.   A break needed to assess where I am and where I am going.   I am also working on a project that I will keep under wraps for the time being.  The first steps are proving to be very challenging.

After the post  from July where I asked the question “What is it going to take?” I did not hear crickets, but I also did not hear a lot of consensus.  Most of the comments were via email to this blog and, as a rule, I don’t publish the contents of email unless I have the permission of the correspondent.

I keep coming back to the same basic conclusion.  We, the community of survivors, don’t trust each other.  I am sure someone with a lot more education in psychology can explain all this.  In fact, I would love to hear the explanation.

What I have discovered is that there are divisions within the community that baffle me.  There seems to be a concern that someone’s abuse is more important, more devastating, more valid than another.

There is no criteria to determine who is a survivor and who is not.  There is no experience barometer to determine who had it “bad enough” to be in the “club”. I almost hesitate to say the word “community” anymore.  I really don’t think there is one.  There is no network, there is no organization because we cannot come to a definition of who can be considered a survivor.  And that serves the interests of the predators and the institutions that have protected them.

It is not a competition. It is a very destructive game of “I had it worse than you”.  Can’t we agree that is awful, devastating, damaging and life altering?   It is completely confusing to me that the people who should have the most empathy for survivors are other survivors.  And yet, that is where I find the most intensely judgmental collection of individuals who are often very vocal when anyone offers an opinion other contrary to the “norm”.

If this is the game, I don’t want to play anymore.   I have better things to do than sit around comparing stories of abuse and the levels of devastation caused by that abuse.   I will leave that sorting to someone else.

It is not all SNAP’s fault either.  We can wax poetic about how screwed up an organization, any organization may be.  We can waste our time affixing blame.  Or we can get organized, concentrate on the predators and the institutions that protect them and move forward.  At some point this has to stop being about individuals and it has to start being about something greater.

If we are to have that kind of community of survivors, we must not sit in judgement of each other, we must work together to change the environment that has allowed predators to target children and vulnerable adults.  If we cannot do that, we have already failed.

It seems that what it is going to take is empathy for each other. Once we have that we can start to be more organized and focused on changing the conditions that allow an environment for abuse and criminal conspiracies to protect predators to exist.

 

 

 

 

 

What is it going to take?

I wrote a blog post in February, 2013 titled “Is there a Survivors’ Community” in which I was looking for answers from survivors about our community, our way forward and who speaks for us.  In May,2013 I expressed my frustration in another post, “Crickets, Silence on the net…” that I did not hear from anyone in the survivor’s community.  According to the analytics I see on this blog, plenty of people read the original but no one offered their thoughts.

Here we are again and I am wondering why we can’t move forward.  I am wondering what the factors are in keeping us separated, unorganized and losing ground in efforts to change legislation and have society take the problem of sexual abuse and rape of children and vulnerable adults seriously.

A reporter contacted me a while back on a story concerning a priest accused of molesting a young boy.  He had already published the story but wanted my feedback.  He had used a quote from SNAP for the article, the same inane drivel that the National Director of that organization generically applies to any and all cases of abuse on which he is queried.  It made me wonder.

What is it going to take?  What would it take to get a coherent message from the survivor community to articulate the message that children and vulnerable adults are at risk from predators who enjoy a certain level of top cover from institutions who are more concerned with a risk management strategy than with the protection of those who need it most?  Is there a way that the message can be successfully crafted and articulated?  Can it be molded into a strategy that allows for the development of stronger laws to protect victims and enable the predators and their protectors to be held accountable both criminally and civilly?   Can we develop a voice that is institutionally agnostic and not narrowly focused on the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of American, Penn State or any other notorious institution with a history of child sexual crimes?

The other side of this argument is well-organized and well-funded.  Despite the fact that organizations like the Catholic League are notorious for spewing lies and portraying victims as predators or being responsible for the abuse inflicted upon them,  we have no credible organization, at the national level, that can present a coherent case for the need for change in legislation, education, institutional culture, and society in dealing with predators who prey on children.  We have no credible counters on Fox News to the Bill Donohues of the world.

We don’t need shrill fundraisers who only seem to hang around looking for the next donation to pay the salary or travel expenses for the next hit and run media opportunity. (It must be convention time again.) We need serious people who can step up and credibly do the work.  We need to actually network the survivors of child sexual abuse, their supporters, law enforcement, the criminal justice system and the legislatures in all the states to move in the direction of making the punishment so vile for crimes of this nature for both the predator and the institution that protects the predator that there is no where for the predator to find a safe haven.

As with many stories, the public eventually gets weary and loses interest.  That is what institutions like the Catholic Church want.  They want everything to blow over, go away, disappear.  The predators want that as well so that they may return to the business of grooming their next victim.  Perhaps it is time to find our national voice, our national strategy, our universal calling to actually effect a long-lasting change.  The shrill voices from Chicago and St. Louis have proven that they are not up to the task.   Who will step up?

Are you still out there?

 

Reply to CatholicCulture.org’s Misunderstanding of Torture

This morning I read an article on-line from CatholicCulture.org on the United Nations probe into torture and the Vatican.  I find it amusing that the UN, the world’s most ineffective organization, is creating theater of the absurd with the Holy See, the world’s most recalcitrant organization.

The piece I was reading, written by Phil Lawler, wanted to express the author’s opinion that a recent article in the Wall Street Journal did not go far enough in their discussion on the legal position that the Vatican is only responsible for sexual abuse by priests that occurs within the territorial limits of Vatican City.     Mr. Lawler wanted to add a few more points on his own.  The first of which is:

“First, while sexual abuse is reprehensible, it isn’t torture, as that term is ordinarily understood. If the UN expands the definition of torture to encompass other forms of cruelty, it could erode support for the existing pact, which is based on an international accord that this one particular form of behavior—torture—should be stopped.”

How nice of him to admit that sexual abuse is “reprehensible”.  Not torture?  That is another matter altogether.  While I may not be a Harvard graduate (I only graduated from a Jesuit University), I can read a dictionary.  Depending on which dictionary you are reading, either online or a more traditional bound volume, torture is defined as “the act of causing severe physical pain as a form of punishment or as a way to force someone to do or say something”[1]; “anguish of body or mind, something that causes anguish or pain, the infliction of intense pain to punish, coerce or afford sadistic pleasure”[2]

Mr. Lawler, I will say that you are completely wrong on the first point.  The sexual abuse I suffered at the hand of Robert Gibson was torture.  Over the nine month period when the sexual crimes were committed against me he was, in fact torturing me for his own perverted pleasure.   He was causing severe pain and violating my 13-year-old body in an effort to coerce my cooperation, my silence and to punish me for rebelling when I did so.  I can assure you, based on my first-hand experience, he derived a great deal of sadistic pleasure from the power he was exerting over me.  He employed both physical abuse and rape (as if there is a difference to anyone but the apologists for these monsters)  as well as threats and psychological tactics to keep me in line and submissive to his actions.   When I fought back, he threatened me with death until death ceased to be an issue with me.  He then resorted to threatening retaliation against my siblings if I did not comply.   Mr. Lawler, does this not fit the definition of torture as it is “ordinarily understood”?  If it does not, please enlighten me with the correct definition.

His second point:

“Critics of the Church charge that sexual abuse by priests was widespread because of Catholic teachings and Vatican policies. But the UN would be setting a bold and dangerous precedent if it claimed that religious beliefs promulgated in one place (in this case the Vatican) were the cause of criminal acts in another.”

Tell me, Mr. Lawler, if the culture of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church did not allow for a blind eye to be turned on the problem of priests raping children and vulnerable adults, what did?  I am waiting for the typical “we did not know it was happening, and when we found out we took action”, “it was gay priests doing these terrible things” or the ever popular “this was all a result of the sexual excesses of the 1960’s societal attitude towards exploring sexuality.”

We know that priests were moved around frequently to avoid prosecution and to keep their activities hidden from parishioners.   The lack of action, other than to conceal the predators, is widely documented.  Sorry, you will lose on that one.  The Catholic Church is amazing in its ability to conjure excuses, blame the innocent and claim aggrieved status because they are being picked on when other institutions are not held to the same standard.  None of these excuses allow the hierarchy of the church to abdicate their accountability for protecting these predators.

Gay priests are not the problem!  Let me say that again.  Gay priests are not the problem!  If they were how do you explain the girls that have been victimized over the years?  Pedophile priests are “the problem”.  They like children because they like the power of their position and they get off on the terror they inflict on the most innocent.  They like torturing them.  (There is that pesky word again) .

As for the alleged issue of the sexual excesses of the 1960’s, that argument seems to ignore the documented cases of clerical abuses for decades prior to the 1960’s.

His final point:

 “Finally, does the UN want to be in the business of deciding which religious doctrines are acceptable, and which encourage anti-social behavior? (Some people consider circumcision a cruel procedure; would the UN commission entertain a claim that it is torture?) The Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the groups pressing the UN for action against the Vatican, argues that the Church engages in “psychological torture” by banning contraception.”

The classic deflection!  Who does the UN think it is judging the Catholic Church?  Mr. Lawler, are you reducing the rape of children and vulnerable adults to “anti-social behavior”?  Really?!  It is criminal, immoral and inhuman.   Anti-social is the least of the descriptors for the kinds of harm done to children by predator priests.  But Catholic apologists have to minimize the most heinous and point at the shortcomings of others to dismiss the torturous behavior of those priests (over 6,000 credibly accused and listed on Bishop Accountability.org).  On top of it all, let’s throw circumcision or the abortion issue on top of this to totally deflect the discussion away from the elephant in the room.  What a lame non-point to be made!  That elephant in the room is the church’s inability to deal with the problem of predator priests raping, almost at will, with the knowledge that the church will do anything to avoid scandal, even if it means that children will be victimized, repeatedly, and the predators will enjoy the protection of the bishops.

I don’t want the UN to go after the Vatican.   It is a fool’s errand.  I want to go after every bishop who turned a blind eye to the torture, rape and beating of children and vulnerable adults.  Those “men” are responsible for the culture of protection that these predators operated within.  The individual dioceses throughout the world who condoned and concealed these predators while vilifying the victims need to be held accountable.

It is not a matter of religious doctrine being acceptable or not.  It is a matter of an institution conspiring to conceal “Roman Collar Crime” in order to keep the funding stream coming in.  And it does not matter if the institution is a Catholic Diocese, a Baptist Church, a Jewish Synagogue, Penn State University, the Boy Scouts of America or any other entity.  We should, as a society, be standing up and saying the rape of children is wrong. (I know that may be a wild idea to some.) We should be saying the institutional protection of pedophiles is wrong.  We should be holding predators and their protectors responsible, criminally and civilly.

We should be in The International Court of Justice in the Hague prosecuting these people for crimes against humanity.  Bernard Law and others like him should be in a cell.   The United Nations is uniquely positioned to make noise and do absolutely nothing.   The Vatican may be embarrassed (although I do not think they understand the concepts of shame or accountability) but all they have to do is wait for the noise to stop.  The UN is only good at making noise.

Mr. Lawler, I would have responded to your article on your site but you have to be a donor to voice an opinion and that pretty much guarantees that you will hear nothing but rave reviews of your “cogent” argument.  Personally, I can’t imagine you getting it any more wrong.

Dear readers, you do not have to make a donation to make a comment to this site, unlike the rules at CatholicCulture.org. I don’t take donations, there is no place on my blog that will enable you to send me money.  I will be honest and say if you are off topic or are spouting vitriol on either side of the argument I will edit or delete.  But I will not charge you a nickel to offer your thoughts.

[1] Merriam Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/torture?show=0&t=1399470363

[2] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition principal copyright 1993