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Posts Tagged ‘cover-up’

I described in Part 1 how my working for the Catholic Church came about and what happened during part of the time that I worked for my diocese.  I would like to continue this message in part to exorcise my thoughts and fears, ramifications and problems and dependencies that these experiences have wrought in my life in the past 20 years.

As much as I prided myself on the fact that I was a strong woman and was able to cope with all of this; I foolishly believed that I could handle it and be none the worse for wear.  I was wrong.  My children were both in college by then.  I was given more and more responsibility in my job, to the point that I was drowning.  However, it was expected that the work get done even while we had no pastor, no leader.  In fact, we didn’t have a leader before, but we were duped and stupid to believe that it was alright to be a difficult person, a priest who made mincemeat out of usually strong individuals by his condescending attitude.

While the diocese was trying to get past this debacle…sending Father for “help”, dealing with the persistent press, continuing to squeeze money out of the parishioners, pacifying the laity, the parish staff was floundering.  We were successful in doing our jobs well, making sure everything ran like clockwork and all that entailed.  I don’t know about the rest of the staff, but I, personally, was having a very hard time dealing with the stress of the situation.  My whole life as a Catholic woman was in turmoil…and why wouldn’t it be?  I was baptized a Catholic as an infant, went to a Catholic grade school, high school, and college.  I taught in a Catholic school after graduation.  I met and married a good Catholic man from a good Catholic family.  We had raised our children as Catholics, schools, church, sacraments, the whole bit.  I bought into it as did my whole family.  We gave as much as we could to the church coffers, were faithful in attending services, followed the teachings of the priests, went to confession and Holy Communion regularly.  Now, I didn’t know what or whom to believe anymore.

The attitude of most Catholics was that the priests are only human.  The Church is the entity which brings us closer to Jesus and through our works of mercy, caring for those less fortunate and living the faith.  The Church is what we should believe in.  Their teachings and laws should be our guidelines.  We should pray for those individuals who have been led astray, pity them and have compassion.  I didn’t buy that for a minute.  My faith in the church hierarchy, the clergy, the religious life, the sacraments, my whole being was in question.  The only support I received from the diocese was constant admonitions to “keep my mouth shut”.  That did NOT help me.

I started drinking heavily every evening just to mistakenly self-medicate my stress and depressions away.  I was frightened that my children had perhaps been victims of this, to me, strange priestly phenomenon.  I began to question why I believed so strongly in my Church.  I began to question everything about it.  I read books about past popes.  I read books about the papacy’s actions or non-actions in World War II, during the holocaust.  I questioned the laws of the church above and beyond the ten commandments…why should I follow those man-made laws.  I questioned the superstitions that surrounded the liturgy, candles, holy water, all these things that had seemed to be important in our daily practice of our faith.  I didn’t come away from my search with any satisfaction.  I stopped going to confession.  Why would I want to tell my paltry offences to a priest, who was no better at sinning than I was, when I could go straight to God and beg forgiveness?  Why would saying three Hail Mary’s keep me from going to hell?  I still struggle with these things to this day.

We thought that when we were assigned two new priests, a pastor and an associate that our troubles would be dealt with.  At the beginning, this being six months after our pastor had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison for a very short time (too short a time for my way of thinking – a little slap on the wrist), we thought things were going to be great again.  We had a parish mission that was so emotionally healing that we all felt that all would be well.  The parish council made changes that all welcomed, parishioners were coming back, money was flowing into the coffers again.  People were smiling and happy again.

My workload increased more and more.  I was doing the work of two or three people and it was telling on me.  One day, when the pastor assigned me yet another task, I put my foot down.  I said, “NO, I will NOT do one more thing.  Fire me if you want to, but I am sticking to my guns.”  He backed down.  I was still drinking more than I should, still stressed.  We hired more staff, began more programs for the parishioners, worked harder than ever.

We began to notice that our pastor seemed to be extremely depressed.  He was not coming into the office much,  not keeping appointments, seemingly not caring.  He and the associate were also treading close to being sexually harassing of the female staff members, so much so that it was becoming a very uncomfortable environment.  No one wanted to say anything because everything else seemed to be running smoothly.  Then it hit the fan.

Our pastor went to a facility to help overcome his depression which left our associate pastor in charge.  It wasn’t long before more unacceptable things were taking place.  I was in charge of accounts receivable and keeping track of petty cash.  I began missing money.  I couldn’t account for the losses.  Someone was tampering with the cash box.  It could never be proven, but I had my suspicions and some amount of proof.  Of course, nothing ever came of that either.

Then I was informed by someone involved that our associate pastor was accused of being sexually active with some women in the parish and some from other parishes.  It was a case of stalking those women whom he thought were vulnerable, either because of a family situation or an emotional need, following them and pretending a coincidental meeting.  A good friend of mine finally came forward, met with me and told me of the situation in which she found herself.  She decided that he needed to be stopped and went to the bishop.  The associate was sent away for “help”.  I was totally devastated by this of events.  I had really like this person and counted him as a friend…some friend!  Again, I received daily admonitions from the diocesan hierarchy to “Keep your mouth closed.  Your job is at stake.”

At this point in our lives, my husband had just lost his job, we still had a child in college, we needed the medical insurance.  I could NOT quit this job at this time although I knew that I was not able to handle the stress at all.  I then had to begin taking anti-depressants to cope with my life at this point.  The diocese offered counseling and I accepted.  I was in counseling for two years until it was determined that I was better.  As soon as my husband got another job, I quit.  At that point I went into a deep depression, stayed in bed all day, drank every evening, simply did NOT care about anything.  I went back to counseling for another two years.  My poor husband did not know what to do with me.  Outside our home, I went about being what passed for normal.  I still attended church weekly, but was not involved in any activities other than that.  My husband is a very devout Catholic.  He and I have totally different attitudes about our faith and the role the Catholic Church should play in our lives since this happened.  I have told him that just because I don’t go to confession, believe in actions that I deem as superstition, and other similar things,   doesn’t mean that I don’t have faith.

My faith is real to me.  I love Jesus and I try to be a good person.  I go to Mass weekly, sing in the choir, help out with the children’s choir and the music ministry.  I believe in the Mass.  I get my spiritual nourishment from my faith community.  By that, I mean that I receive so much from my friends at church, and in the choir.  They and my dear friends keep me grounded.  I may not be overtly Catholic anymore, but I do believe in the goodness of God and have a very deep faith that He is there for me always.  I have experienced cancer and other difficulties that I would not have survived had I not believed in God.  I think there is a big difference in being of the Catholic faith and part of the institution itself.  I think Jesus is not happy with the way our church leaders are heading.  I think that if we are to gain heaven, each person needs to be strong in his own faith and be open spiritually to God…to love God above all and to love our fellow man and treat them as we would want to be treated.  I don’t think there is any thing more that anyone can do to gain eternal life.

By the way, my drinking is under control.  My husband and I are happily retired.  He spends quite a bit of time working for the church in one capacity or another.  I pick and choose those things which bring me joy and help me to be part of my parish community.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s all about people.  It’s not about church laws, bishops, priests, religious superstitions, money, fame, or recognition.  It’s about what exists between you and God.  He knows you, and will be there for you always.

 

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I am feeling very conflicted today.  Sometimes life throws something at you that you just cannot overcome.  That happened to me almost 20 years ago and I have not really been able to put it past me.  Oh, I forget about it for a time and then something happens to bring it all back.

My husband and I watched the movie, Spotlight, last night.  It won the Best Picture Award this year (2016).  I can understand why.  It was superbly done and quite riveting.  I’m not sure that everyone would appreciate the theme as I did, but then again when you live in the midst of something like that, it’s hard to let it go.

This movie tells about the Boston Globe’s investigative unit, Spotlight, delving into the clergy sexual abuse scandal in 2002.  As a cradle Catholic, I found this most sickening,  not only because of the horror itself, but because the Catholic Church covered up this parade of pedophile priests.  The sheer number of abusers who had been protected by the church hierarchy was astonishing to me, let alone how many youngsters were involved.  Shame on them!

I worked for my diocese in one capacity or another for over seventeen years.  I started out at a teacher for five years.  Then when my children were older, after working at a couple of part-time jobs, I applied for the position of parish secretary in my home parish.  I had never done secretarial work before, but found that I loved the work and enjoyed the challenge of something new every day.  I also loved the parishioners…well, most of them…and thought that I was doing something for my church.  I really didn’t make much money and I worked very hard.  I was determined to do my very best.

My boss was the pastor.  He was not a very likable person when you got to know him, or even if you didn’t know him very well.  He was caustic, demeaning, demanding, narcissistic, and I could use more descriptions, but I think you get the gist.  I was scared of him.  He expected absolute obedience and was not in the least a patient man.  He was so tight that I had to use a paper clip to get the copier to work, and it’s a wonder I didn’t fry myself in the bargain.  One time, I actually burned up the computer mouse and I was afraid to tell him that I needed to purchase a new one, so the facilities manager snuck out to buy one so that I could continue my work for the day.

I went home for lunch every day and to my husband’s dismay, found myself crying frequently because I couldn’t stand the thought of going back to work.  We didn’t have health insurance except for what I had through the diocese and so I thought that I really couldn’t quit.  We had two kids high school and college age during my time there and we needed all the monetary help we could get.  After three years of working for this man, things got very tense.  All of a sudden, he stopped speaking to me…even to answer any question I might ask about work or anything.  The deacon remarked that he was probably trying to get rid of me and since he prided himself on never having fired anyone, was trying to get me to quit.  Well, I was just stubborn enough that I was not about to do that.  I determined that he would have to suck it up and fire me if he wanted to get rid of me.  This situation went on for quite a while and I must admit the stress was beginning to tell on me.  Just when I thought I couldn’t stand it anymore, something happened to take care of the situation, but not in a way that was comforting to anyone.

One afternooon I answered the parish office door to some gentlemen who insisted on seeing my boss.  Now, he never allowed me to make appointments for him, or put calls directly through to him.  He would always call someone back after I took messages.  I told these gentlemen that I was sorry, but that Father would not see anyone who just walked in without an appointment.  They insisted, I resisted.  This went on for a minute or two and then they flashed badges and literally backed me up into the office hall.  Father came out of his office to see what was going on and the officers and he went back into his office.  They met for over an hour and then went up to his residence which was on the second floor of the parish office.  My curiosity was killing me.  I thought that perhaps one of our students or a parishioner had gotten into some trouble or something.

Unbeknownst to anyone else, I had previously had a meeting with a prospective employer and was scheduled to have a second interview the next day.  I had finally decided that I could take no more of the stress that was so heavy in the office.  That same night, one of the other employees saw Father leaving his residence with his clothing.  It was as though he was sneaking away.  Not only that, but he was accompanied by another member of the clergy.  We had no idea what was going on.  The next week the bishop came to speak with the staff.  He never indicated what the problem was, only that Father would not be back.  He warned us to keep our mouths shut.  I wondered, shut about what??  Shame on them!

It hit the paper the next week.  Father had been arrested for receiving child pornography in the mail.  No one, that I know of, had been aware that the Feds and Postal Inspectors had been watching this man for months in connection with a nation-wide sting.

I decided to stay with my job then because my reason for leaving was finally gone and I thought I would be needed in my parish to help keep things going.  We waited for over six months for the diocese to appoint a new pastor.  In the meantime, our parish of over 1500 families was being kept going by me (the secretary), the deacon, the Director of Religious Education, the facilities manager, and the principal of the school.  It was a horrible time.  The press was calling every day trying to glean any information out of us they could.  The vicar general was calling as the bishop’s representative telling us to keep quiet and not talk to anyone about anything.  The parishioners were calling, trying to find out what we knew and where Father was.  We couldn’t tell them anything because we didn’t know anything.  I was a wreck.

The sad part was that even after it all came out about what his activities were, some parishioners were upset and angry with not only him for engaging in this perverted activity, but also with the press for bringing it to light.  It was as if they WANTED the church to hush this up so that their sainted institution would not be harmed.  It was truly a troubling time for the parish staff and the parish as a whole. No one knew exactly what he had done; some of us feared that he had physically molested young children from the parish.  The sad thing is, as bad as that would have been, it was no less horrific that because of his perversion, he caused children to be abused SOMEWHERE in order to create the pornographic films which he enjoyed.  If he thought that it was a victim-less crime, he was sadly mistaken.  Shame on him!

I was appalled at the number of people who thought that the newspaper was wrong in printing the story, that there was a vendetta against the Catholic Church, and that our church hierarchy was right in covering up such things.  Of course, this happened earlier than when the story appeared in the Boston Globe.  I think the activities of these priests and nuns was just coming to light.  The statistics I gleaned from the movie Spotlight indicated that, using studies by professional counselors, 50% of clergy were not celibate and 6% of priests were pedophiles.  The number of priests found to have abused children in Boston alone was 87 that they KNEW of.  Who knows how many more?  How many children were actually abused, certainly more than 87.

It was surreal, scary, bizarre, unimaginable…how can someone that people look up to, even put on a pedestal, hang on their every word as “gospel”…how can that person take the innocence of young children and scar them for life?  How can God let this happen to His church?

The repercussions of this single episode in my life have been ongoing.  In the next part, I will try to explain why I feel like two different persons and why I have the attitude about faith and the church that I do.

 

 

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Amy Drown

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