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?

 

Crickets, silence on the net…

“When one goes looking for something, one rarely finds it, but when you least expect it, the object of your search tends to fly up in front of you.”

This is  a hard topic to write about.  What happened all those years ago, the coverup by the church, the discord in the survivor community.  I find myself both drawn to writing and wanting to put all this down and walking away to something else, anything else.  I have had people recommend both courses of action, some more profane that others.

I wrote a piece not too long ago looking for the “Survivor Community”.  There was no response from the “community”.  I know someone is reading “Off My Knees”.  I see readership  numbers that mystify me everyday. I am even more perplexed when I have not had a post for a little while and the numbers start to climb into the hundreds per day.   Usually that is the indicator that something has stirred in the universe and another person in authority (priest, coach, teacher, cop, relative…)  has been identified as a molester/rapist of children or that a major piece of legislation has come to a head or that someone has died.  When I see random peaks in readership, I go to the analytics that I track for my blog looking for an explanation.

I do get emails from survivors or people close to a survivor looking for answers, advice or a conversation with someone who understands all too well what happened all those years ago.  I am very wary of requests for phone conversations and even more concerned about requests for face to face meetings.  I am also hesitant to offer advice, mostly because I still have more questions than answers.

The other night I was tracking activity in this blog that turn out to be  someone who was reposting a blog post I had written.  That is when the thought came to me.  As Survivors, we don’t trust each other.   Is it possible that what we have in common also alienates us from each other?  Our vulgar initiation into this universe of survivors makes us ever vigilant and doubtful of the motives of our correspondents.  We will read each other’s posts on blogs and message boards, but there is a hesitance to respond, to act, to come together.   For many, we have not really given up the great terrible secret that we have carried for so long.   We may be silently watching from the comfort of our own world.  Many are not engaged.  Many are not ready to be engaged.  Many are too tired of all of it to be engaged.

While we may have a great deal in common, we, as a group, do not really talk very much.  I kept quiet for well over 33 years.  All that silence keeps things from happening.  It keeps the well-organized people who protected the criminals who preyed on us strong.  It keeps them on the street, it keeps them from being called to account for their complicity.

Our silence also fails to shape the message of our community.  Silence is seen by consent by groups that are putting forward an agenda.  Those agendas are not always in our collective interest.  Within our community there are bitter divisions.  Some of the worst vitriol I have seen spewed at survivors has come from other survivors.  Discourse between us is not only discouraged, it is often attacked when the message does not support the “national position” .

We still need to find our collective voices, we still need to learn to network.   Most importantly, we must understand that, while there is a common thread, we all have very unique experiences that don’t always fit nicely into the general picture being painted of the community.   Just as I am amazed at the inability of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to tell the truth, I am amazed at the sometimes vicious tactics used between survivors.

Differences in points of view should be expected.   But the infighting and the polarization in the survivor community are doing nothing but helping the people/organizations/institutions who desperately want us to remain silent and subservient.

…And the Lord seemed to sleep…

The dome of St. Peters strick by lightning on the night of the Papal resignation
The dome of St. Peters struck by lightning on the night of the Papal resignation

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI came as a shock to the Catholic Church and the world.  In the last month pundits have examined and speculated on the reasons for his sudden retirement and the tremor that went through the Catholic faithful in the aftermath of the announcement.

In what is being touted as his farewell speech, the Pontiff sited failing health and energy as the reason for his unconventional departure from the throne of Saint Peter.   Canon Law (Canon 332, No. 2) states “If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.” In other words, he can leave and no one has the right to say “No you can’t go!”  It seems that the only restriction is that he can’t take his red shoes with him into retirement.

Catholics have an expectation the their Pope will die in office.  The departure of Benedict, without benefit of death, opens many wounds that should be addressed by the Conclave.  It should be noted that the last Pope to “retire”  St. Celestine V, was imprisoned by his successor and died in a papal prison.   Scholars believe that the line  “who made from cowardice the great refusal” in Dante’s  The Divine Comedy was a reference to Celestine V.

So here we are on the first night of the Conclave.  Ballot 1 resulted in black smoke.  Tomorrow we will see up to four more polls of the assembled Cardinals.  These men are as far removed from the teachings of their Lord as can be.  Take a look at the media coverage during the last month.  Think of the image that is being presented by the princes of the church in their blood-red, silk cassocks and hand tied fine lace.  Each in what seemed to be different patterns of finery.  Is this what the successor of Peter should look like?  Or are we seeing the excesses of royalty in a church wracked with scandal?  These men are addressed by grand titles such as “Your Eminence”.  Have they become the modern-day Pharisees, enamored of their titles?

These men are sweeping away the numerous scandals and crises in the church as they prepare to crown a new monarch.  They talk of looking to the future (why look at the carnage in their wake?).  They ignore the sex abuse crisis that has seen children and vulnerable adults preyed upon by sexual predators.  The church continues to protect these monsters.  As much as Cardinals would like the “scandal” to be over, new stories come forward every day detailing the loss of innocence, faith and trust.

The Vatican Bank has been a scandal for decades.  Can you believe that the bank run by the Vatican is considered to be one of the most corrupt in the world?  It has consistently failed to be in compliance with international standards.  The Pope’s bank has been involved in laundering money for years!  Can someone tell me why the Vatican needs to be running a bank?  Are there no Italian Banks that can serve the needs of the Curia, while adhering to Italian law and international banking practices?

The fact that the Vatican is a sovereign nation unto itself also makes me wonder what these men in red silk are up to.  Although, most of these men are citizens of other countries, they are voting for the head of state of another nation.  Should Cardinal Dolan’s American citizenship be revoked because he is an official of a foreign government?

It seems that the men in red silk are a little taken with themselves.  They parade around in their finery, vote under the watchful eye of Renaissance masters and try to look like humble servants of the church.  I wonder if Jesus was alive today if he would be throwing these pretenders to the throne of Peter out of the temple, exposing them as the frauds that they really are.

Benedict spoke of his concern that the “Lord seemed to sleep”.   I would theorize that it is  Catholics who are sleeping.  They allow crisis after crisis, scandal after to scandal to go unabated.  There are no consequences for the princes of the church. Perhaps the forces at work in the Vatican are not those of light and salvation.

Benedict XVI should be wary in his retirement. He did not have the good sense to die.  Celestine V was imprisoned by his successor,  Pope Boniface VIII. He was seen as a threat that could be used to destabilize the Holy See.  He would die in his prison cell, some scholars think he was murdered by order of Boniface.

In the meantime, the world is glued to their smart phones, computers, iPads, tablets and televisions waiting for white smoke to rise from the makeshift chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel.   I guess we will know who will be wearing red shoes soon enough.

SNAPpish

I put a blog post on January 16 entitled 99,601.  I thought it was pretty innocuous, more of a “I’m still out here” piece than anything else.   It drew a vitriolic response from one reader who decided that it was more of an exercise in narcissism and that I should be taking a more vocal stand against the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).  To be honest, this is my blog and I am going to write as often as I am moved to on topics of my choosing.  If you don’t like it I would like to direct you the freshly pressed section of WordPress.  There is some really neat stuff there.

If you have read this blog for any length of time you will know that I do not have a lot of love for the National Director of SNAP.   I have voiced my opinion on SNAP and the way the national board conducts business.  I wrote a blog post entitle Parting Company with SNAP that spun up a lot of comments and heated discussion, some of it too nasty to approve on both sides of the discussion.   Do I really want to rehash that?  Not so much!   I don’t think, as a blogger, I need to announce annually  that I am not a fan of the national leadership of SNAP.  I still hold out hope that at some point the Survivor community finds a network where we all get an opportunity to work together collectively to advance a legislative agenda that will lengthen statutes of limitation

Instead of pointing out, again, that I think SNAP is a self licking ice cream cone, I choose to spend my time and some of my money supporting organizations like the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse and Justice4PAKids and their efforts to change laws and do real and tangible good.  They are making a difference.  SNAP is more focused on having 2 conferences this year, one here in the States and the other in Ireland.   I guess the National director is working on improving his standing in the airline rewards program of his choice.

At this point I would add that I am very impressed by some of the state SNAP coordinators.  Becky Ianni in Virginia is the real deal.  I have only met her twice, but she is a force for good in the northern Virginia and Washington DC region.  I would gladly support any effort she led.   Karen Polesir has helped me on occasion and is active in a coalition of groups working to get SOL and window legislation through the State Assembly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

I support people like Kay Ebeling who has been reporting (not blogging, reporting) on the sexual abuse crisis for years and has gotten little support from   the survivor community.  She has been inspiring and I consider her a friend.  Funny, the vocal ones have the church, its apologist and many survivors attacking them.   I guess that is the point I am circling here.   Even in the survivor community there is a chasm between elements.  Being a good, compliant survivor or victim makes you a darling to some of the national groups.  Dare to criticize them and see how quickly you are on the outs.  Lessons learned from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church I guess.

For now I look at the future.  I think that change will come but it will not be led by a national organization.  We don’t have an effective one.  It will be led by regional groups, some affiliated with larger organizations, some will be independent.  Fools will rush in and out.   We all need to stay the course.   We really will not get anywhere if we are sniping at each other.

If it is July, It must be time for the SNAP Conference

The SNAP Conference is coming up this weekend in Northern Virginia.  Beginning Friday evening at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, just south of Washington, D.C., SNAP members from all over the country and perhaps from around the world will come together to listen to speakers, mix and exchange stories and try to draw some comfort and strength from other victims of sexual crimes committed by clergy.

I attended the conference a few years ago when after I went public with my own story of abuse.  The weekend was eye-opening.  There were people in the room who had made great strides towards recovery while others were still on their personal journeys.

At the conference I sought out some of the leaders of SNAP and talked to them about really networking the membership, setting up a blog roll for the people blogging on the topic of sexual crimes committed by clergy and lay employees of religious organizations and finding a way to use social media to bring this group together.  There was lots of enthusiasm, but no action.

I withdrew my support for SNAP after I started seeing a pattern of odd behavior and  an effort by the National Director to stifle any kind of initiative to do new things or come up with a more coherent strategy to lobby for changes in the laws of states that have not extended statutes of limitation to allow for more time to protect the rights of children or vulnerable adults who have been the victims of crimes committed by clergy.

There are some people who have contended that SNAP is controlled by the church while others say it is an organization that funnels clients to attorneys who make a lot of money suing the church.  I think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.   I also think that the current leadership is rehashing a strategy that is not working.  If you look at the schedule of events for the upcoming conference you do not see any sessions in the main room, or as breakouts, about how to actually network the community through social media or to encourage blogging or other modern methods of harnessing the power of the community.  You don’t see sessions on enabling survivors to work on local and state lawmakers to lobby for changes in existing laws.

You also do not see an open discussion of the organization’s budget, the decision-making process of National Leaders or the selection of board members out of the people who allegedly make up the membership of this organization.

You do see a lot of diverse groups talking about victimization and you will most likely hear a request for donations.  What we have is not activism, it is passive submission to an agenda set by a very few, with those few having a direct financial stake in the agenda.

I would attend a SNAP Conference where the state of the organization to include a detailed discussion of budget and financial issues is encouraged.  I would like to see an organization that would see the election of board members out of the membership in good standing.  I would like to see National Leaders held accountable for their methods, tools and strategies.  If they fail to meet goals agreed to by the membership, it should be the right of the members to demand a change in leadership.

There are many questions that don’t seem to be answered.  There are many who would like to ask questions without fear of retribution from the National Leaders and their more zealous disciples.

I find it ironic that many of the tactics that the Catholic Church has used to control and isolate victims are part of the SNAP leadership strategy to remain firmly in place, collecting a paycheck and controlling a dialogue that is not really theirs to control.

Have a dialogue with all Survivors, encourage a conversation and realize that there is value in differing opinions.  Take time to discuss the business of SNAP and establish procedures that will encourage confidence in those who donate to non-profit organizations that comply with established standards and best practices.  Make this organization a true network and you will see results.

Finally, stop wasting everyone’s time changing the church.  It is never going to happen.  This fight will not be won in the pulpit or the pews, it has to be fought and won in the state legislatures and the courtroom.  I have said it before and will continue to say it.  There will be no profound change in the way the Catholic Church deals with pedophile priests until the church, as an institution,  has to pay a price set by civil society that is so terrible that it has no choice but to change as an institution or perish.  SNAP can be on the leading edge of that change or remain a self licking ice cream cone that does little more than offer a paycheck to a select few who may not really know where to lead the organization.

We will see what happens in northern Virginia over the weekend.  Unfortunately, I do not hold out hope for any new direction!

I’m back…

It has been a couple of months since I last sat down and worked on this blog.  To be honest I have had a few things on my plate.  There are many changes heading my way this summer, personally and professionally.  More about that in future posts.

In recent months two bloggers I followed have opted to put their blogs aside for a while.  Kay @ City of Angels and Christi at Stop Baptist Predators.  I understand that this is all very overwhelming at times and you need to take a break or make a break to keep from getting sucked under by all this madness.  I will miss both voices and I will say that the online discourse of the topic of sexual crimes committed by clergy will suffer from the loss of these two voices.  I hope that, at some point, we get to hear from both of these voices again.

As for me I will try to get back on the horse and write about what I know.  The Church is still denying and demeaning when they should be held accountable for crimes committed against children and vulnerable adults.  Organizations that claim to support survivors need to reassess their mission and re-look at the rules, tools and methods they employ to support survivors and their families.  Really, at this point, anyone who is looking to fix the church has lost touch with reality.

I had a number of comments and emails sent into the blog while I was off doing what I was doing.  I will try to get to those that I think I can do something about.  I have not deleted any in the last two months although I will probably dispose of those who seek to lay blame on everyone to spare the church from any responsibility in what has happened with the tacit approval of the hierarchy of the church. I will also delete those comments that are just the idle ramblings of the fanatical religious who seek to minimize victims by insinuating that we are associated with all kinds of extremists.   But that is what the church and it’s apologists do.  They attempt to deflect attention away from their crimes by doing public relations slight of hand.

I have not made a decision on hanging up the blog as of yet.  I may get there, this summer is proving to be very difficult already.  For now I am still here.  I hope some of you are still around to read what I put out into the universe.

More soon.