Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

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.

Comments on: "Spotlight: Uncovering the Truth" (7)

  1. There is an online database of Catholic priests publicly accused of sexual abuse, but I have found nothing comparable listing clergy from other denominations. I wish there were. Do you know why there isn’t, Catherine?Abusive ministers seem to slip so easily into new parishes and/or new denominations.

    • Great observation, Elaine. I know of a database of abusive Baptist pastors (http://stopbaptistpredators.org/index.htm) but none for other faith traditions. The church (any church) tends to use its power to intimidate us into silence. They did this to me even during the years when I protected my offender’s name with an alias. It would take more courage than I have individually. I’m in touch with a few Episcopal survivors, but we’ve all experienced the church’s heavy pressure to keep qiet. If I could connect with a large number other Episcopal survivors, together we might be able to do something — but how to make that connection? Most survivors from this denomination (and from any faith tradition for that matter) remain deeply closeted.
      I don’t know the answer to this question. I wonder if other readers have insights?

  2. Hi Catherine,Interesting articles you write.  Have you thought about putting these essays into a book?  Just a quick note – When I read you  were related to one of the witches at Salem, I was reminded that my abuser was related to Bridgette Bishop (Salem Witch).  Keep up the good work! Best regards,Catherine Fairbanks  Catherine Fairbanks healingcreations1@yahoo.com catherine@cbfresearchservices.com CBF Research & Information Services  (Pinterest)

    • Thanks Catherine! It’s good to hear from you. The witch connection is interesting. I honor my ancestor Ann Foster, especially since my own experience as an outcast.
      Thanks for your suggestion about a book. I have thought about it, and you’re not the only reader to have suggested the idea. Maybe it’s time to think more seriously.

  3. I’m writing on this topic now and will be proposing a lot of ideas and suggestions for various research projects. From 1993 until 2003, there was an organization, largely Catholic, operating like a twin city to SNAP. It was called Linkup. Right now, very little is on the Web about this organization, which actually was instrumental in Phil Saviano’s life (the survivor who made the whole story of Spotlight possible). I was a part of that group, in leadership, in the early days. So was my husband Ron. Though we were just out of the Southern Baptist Convention, where we both lost our careers as missionaries in Malawi, Africa, after we refused to accept probationary terms to silence us in a major case in our Mission. See http://takecourage.org

    We had NO religious stuff–No visible praying or scripture reading or religious symbols. No hymns even, but we certainly had some great song writers who shared their music speciifc for our events! Yet it was amazingly spiritual. Richard Sipe and Tom Doyle were a part of this (both behind-the-scenes authorities in Spotlight). Richard, a former priest, brought an amazing message in 1994, telling us “You are the prophets of your time!” Just an example.

    One thing I’m proposing is that a Protestant Linkup be attempted. There is this common myth that Protestants have few minors as victims. Don’t believe it! I’ve been responding to inquiries from my site since 1997 and know that when you add youth ministers, ministers of religious education, and ministers of music together with ministers who abuse their own children, we’ve got a whale of a lot who abuse minors, too!! Also, don’t believe the myth that “sexual misconduct” almost always involves grooming and a counselor-counselee relationship. It does more times than not. However, there are many incidents I know of where harassment of some of the most highly-successful leaders in the church, including clergywomen, were victims and felt they couldn’t afford to report without committing career suicide themselves.

    Data bases do not include the allegations that never are “founded,” the guys who just get passed on because of DIM thinking (Denial, Ignorance, and Minimization) by people in leadership, especially in autonomous congregations. Also, plenty of this goes on because ministers “look the other way,” not speaking up to a vulnerable congregation who is trying to do a background check.

    • Dee Ann, wow — I’m very excited to learn you are working on this project. For my readers who aren’t familiar with Dee Ann Miller’s work, I highly recommend her book How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct, and her website takecourage.com. Like the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team, Dee Ann focuses her efforts not so much on individual abusers as on the church leaders who collude to keep the truth hidden.

      I appreciate your words affirming that clergywomen (and clergymen too) are often targets of harassment by more powerful ministers. I know several female ministers who have experienced this, and who took the risk of reporting the abuse. The church didn’t always respond well.

      You write, “databases don’t include the allegations that never are ‘founded.’ “ And there’s the problem. In my case, until recently I couldn’t have added my offender’s name to a database without violating my commitment not to disparage him, since until recently the church denied the existence of my complaint. Now that the church has defrocked him, I could — but he’s already gone from ministry so there’s not much point. For every name in a database of abusive ministers, there are likely dozens (hundreds?) who never make it onto the list.

      Please keep me updated on the work you are doing. I’d be delighted to share it with my readers.

    • Susan K Spies said:

      Hi, Dee!!!! I met you many years ago on a retreat you used to do in Iowa. Very healing time for me and I’ve thought of you and those dear victim/survivors often, esp in prayer. I agree wholeheartedly that there should be a database, even if those clergy have been removed from their respective church/denomination. I always fear that my perpetrator will join another tradition and use his charisma to entrap more victims. The only thing that makes me think that he won’t is his age. By now he’s in his 70’s, but that doesn’t guarantee that he will stop his predatory behavior.

      Catherine, in reading your blog, I commend you for your bravery in coming forward and for continuing your fight to give victims a voice. My Spiritual Director has encouraged me to write a book of my experiences and my insights but, even after 25+ yrs, I find it hard to put it all into words. The whole experience takes so much out of me and then to relive it, it just seems too painful to even think of it. But I am beginning to write it down, not just for myself but for others who have had their ‘soul stolen’.

      I too was abused, sexually and spiritually, by an Episcopal priest who was defrocked and, like you, I was ostracized from the church I thought was a safe place. The pain is very real and even now I am suspicious of anyone in a church. I have discovered that the similarities of the stages of grief are the same whether a person has died or I am healing from CSA. Yes, I guess I better get on that book.

      Just wanted to say Hi to Dee who helped me see that I wasn’t alone and to you for the courage to come forward and shine a light on this subject. Please write me, I have lots of questions for you, Catherine and perhaps we can help one another in some way.

      Love, prayers and healing to you both.

      Susan

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