When Spotlight came out, I didn’t want to see it. Already steeped in the stress of divorce, I wanted to let my sleeping trauma lie. I let the blog go silent for more than two months; I had too much on my plate already. Then one of my friends — a survivor whom I trust — said, “You need to see this movie.” But whom to see it with? By that time, my friends had already seen it. During a meeting with our divorce team, I finally asked my husband. (Paradoxically, the divorce process was easing tensions between us). He happily agreed, but we never found a date that worked.
Then the news broke about “Kevin.” It re-opened old wounds. The bishop’s truth-telling brought both healing and anger, which itself brought more healing. As my church-inflicted wounds healed, so did some of the wounds in my marriage — not by osmosis, but because of my husband’s strong support and affirmation. As the church took steps toward justice, Michael and I began to take steps toward reconciliation. I realized I was strong enough to take my own self to see Spotlight.
To any survivors who haven’t seen this movie: if it’s still showing in your town, don’t miss it. The story is not so much about clergy abuse as it is about smart, tenacious reporting by brave men and women who had been raised by the very institution they were investigating. For me, there were three takeaways. First, how important our voices are as survivors. The Boston Globe could not have broken the story in 2002 without Phil Saviano, the survivor who opened the New England chapter of SNAP. Second, how hard it is for us to be heard. Saviano had given a list of abusive priests and victims to the Globe in the 1990s, but as (then Assistant Managing Editor) Ben Bradlee Jr says in the film, “Saviano was a f***ing train wreck five years ago.” The more impaired we are, the easier to discredit. I know I’m not the only survivor to experience this hard truth.
The third takeaway: the real story isn’t about individual ministers who exploit their power. It isn’t even about a pattern of abusive ministers. The real story is about the institutions that protect and enable them. In the movie, the Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron, urges the four journalists to track the story not down to the priests, but up to the top of the system. If the Globe ran a story about “fifty pedophile priests,” Baron tells his team,
“we’ll get into the same cat fight you got into on [an earlier story about an abusive Catholic priest], which made a lot of noise but changed things not one bit. We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy. Show me the Church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges. Show me they put those same priests back into parishes, time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top down.”
I’m now reading Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692. The Salem witch trials fascinate me. Not only have I lived the horror of ostracism by a fearful community, I’m also descended from one of the witches (Ann Foster, who died in a Salem prison in 1692). As the frenzy in Salem grew, Boston’s Thomas Brattle spoke rare words of clarity and prophecy. Quoting Brattle, Schiff asks, “How might anyone involved in the trials not later ‘look back upon these things without the greatest of sorrow and grief imaginable?’ [Brattle] trembled at the thought, the first to anticipate an indelible stain on New England, one that ages would not remove.”
Three hundred years from now, will the Catholic Church bear this same indelible stain?
Religious corruption is not the sole property of the Catholic Church, of course, nor its sole defining attribute. Noble things can grow side by side with foul ones. New England gave birth not only to the witch trials but to American democracy; the Catholic Church produced the abusive Father Geoghan and the collusive Cardinal Law, but also heroes of compassion and courage like Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero.
And clergy sexual abuse happens in every faith tradition. The Episcopal Church — or at least one leader in that church — seems intent on preventing the indelible stain. I’ve learned that a bishop, presumably Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, has notified all of Kevin’s former congregations of Kevin’s offenses and removal as a priest, just as Bishop Jim Mathes did with my former congregation in San Diego. If this is true, Bishops Bruno and Mathes are leading the way toward transparency, safer churches, and healing for those whom the church has injured.
It is time for me to follow their brave example and remove the protective veil of alias. For the sake of readers who may have been hurt by Kevin at any of the churches he has served, it is time for me to be open. This is the man I’ve been calling Kevin, and these are the Episcopal congregations where he served before his most recent assignment.
1989-1992: curate at St Wilfrid’s, Huntington Beach
1992-1998: rector at St Mary’s, Lompoc
1998-2003: youth minister and associate rector at All Saints, Pasadena
2003-2012: dean, St Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
The bishops of Los Angeles and San Diego have invited anyone with concerns to come forward confidentially. If you have concerns about inappropriate behavior by this priest in Huntington Beach, Lompoc, or Pasadena (or in Ventura where he served as a youth leader in the early 1980s), please contact the Diocese of Los Angeles. If you have concerns about events in San Diego, please contact the Diocese of San Diego.
Reporting an abusive minister is always scary. We are almost always hurt by the process. There’s no guarantee this won’t happen this time. But there is this safety: the church already knows this priest has a pattern of harm. They won’t be trying to protect him; they’ve already dismissed him. If he has harmed other women, the church is more likely to hear and believe them now.
God bless all who have the courage to shine the light of truth.