Q & A with a Clergy Abuse Survivor and Leading Advocate

Clergy abuse survivor

Welcome our guest Mark Crawford, a survivor of clergy abuse, a leading advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and the New Jersey State Director of SNAP. Mark was featured in our film Boys and Men Healing from childhood sexual abuse, and today shares valuable insights supporting survivors, and what we need to consider next regarding the clergy abuse in the Catholic Church.

1. You have been working for several decades as an advocate for those abused what have you come to learn about the best way to assist a survivor who has just disclosed their abuse history?

1St of all it’s I would like to point out, that most sexual assault survivors do not come forward  for many, many years, if ever  they have often developed negative coping mechanisms (all forms of compulsive habits or behaviors) to mask or hide the pain.   They usually have a low self-esteem and very often have trust or relationship issues.  Finally most often they suffer from PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and may be reliving the experiences and memories in many ways, nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, hypersensitivity etc.

I think there are a number of very important steps one must take when dealing with a survivor and some things we should absolutely avoid too.

a. Simply listen, when a survivor begins to disclose, when they finally feel safe enough to tell someone their abuse history, they need to feel safe to talk about it.  Don’t interrupt, listen and quietly empathize.  Our posture and expressions speak volumes without saying a word.  There are several things you simply DO NOT want to say.  “I am sure you will be fine”, “It’s been many years, it’s time to move on” or “time to get over it”.  Survivors at this point do not feel fine and do not feel at all in control. Although you may have had a similar experience or know someone who has, now is not the time to make this about you or anyone else.  Give your full undivided attention…saying the wrong thing or sending the wrong message just may discourage the victim from ever talking about it again.

b. Encourage and empower, after you have listened and expressed empathy and concern, as the survivor begins to tell of her/his past abuses, they most likely have not even begun to recognize how it has impacted and  influenced almost every aspect of their lives and decisions.  When a child is abused it occurs because someone has taken power and or control away from them.  Most feel a sense of shame, guilt, remorse that they didn’t do more to stop the abuse, or they may even feel they allowed or welcomed it.  They simply did not have the capacity or the power at that time to stop it.  We must make every effort, and it takes constantly reminding them…it was NOT their fault, they did not ask for it, they could NOT have stopped it.  A skilled predator used them…it was NOT someone who loved or cared for them (this one is very difficult to untangle, particularly when the offender was a close family member, friend or someone the victim held in high regard or as a surrogate parent, like a clergyman, teacher or coach.  Decisions to speak out or how and if they want to report, or prosecute the offender is ALWAYS theirs to make.  Avoid telling them what they most do or who they must confront, they will do this when they are ready…they should not be pushed in any direction.  Simply encouraged to make decisions.  Do not take matters into your own hands, by insisting what must be done or reporting or confronting an abuser before the victim is ready, unless the victim continues to be at eminent risk of further abuse.

c. Support and help heal, healing IS possible.  It takes time and the road is often not an easy one.  Encourage the victim to seek professional help.  They should try and find a therapist that is a good fit, this may require speaking to more than one but it should be a person they feel very comfortable with.  Full disclosure when one is ready is always a good step toward healing.  In addition to finding a private therapist I also believe that at some point finding a support group of individuals who also experienced abuse in childhood can help very much.  It will help break the feelings of isolation one experiences in many cases when they believed, for years, that they were “the only one” the predator abused.  That is rarely the case.  Make sure they always have some sort of support network, friends or family who believe and are willing to listen at any time, this will be important as they work through therapy.

2. As a longtime advocate what are some of the achievements you are most proud of?

Most important to me is helping every survivor transform from victim to survivor, helping them understand healing is possible and their life can be lived in a healthy and productive manner, and perhaps they too will choose to help other victims to manage the arduous task of healing and transformation to survivor.

3. As a survivor of clergy abuse do you think the Catholic Church has reformed enough to stem the tide of children at risk from clergy sexual abuse?

Unfortunately that answer is a resounding no.  Has there been some progress yes, as they mandate all volunteers to undergo training to recognize sexual abuse.  That training needs to be strengthened but we have seen too many cases where even those trained volunteers or employees of the church have come forward to report suspected abuses only to be ignored or in some cases dismissed for trying to bring to light their valid concerns about a potential predator.  The churches response has too often been one that ignored such warnings resulting in disastrous consequences for new victims which could have been prevented.  A recent Grand Jury investigation and subsequent indictments into the Altoona-Johnstown diocese bare this point.  Additionally the cases of Archbishop Robert Finn of Kansas City protecting Father Shawn Ratigan and Cardinal George of Chicago protecting Father Daniel McCormack are just a few examples.

I would like to detail several recent events where church leadership egregiously failed to abide by it’s own rules and promises to keep children safe from known sexual predators.  Actions both taken and left undone, tell the real tale of Church officials true intent to confront and prevent child sexual abuse; words and promises of action come easy…but actions taken by many bishops do not reflect what we have been promised or told by Church officials.  Several links are attached below.

4. Why is it the Catholic  Church cannot move beyond this scandal of clergy abuse?

I think an important distinction to make is that our Catholic Church has 2 very distinct facets, the spiritual church, and the administrative church.  So it is the spiritual church we Catholics have come to love and associate with, we love the liturgy of the mass, we as well as our children participate in the sacraments and maybe attend a Catholic school.  Like a family, we come together for meals and parish events.

But it is important to point out while the problem here lies NOT with our faith, but with the faith institution and the men who have so blindly allowed power and influence to become more important than the spiritual church, the very part that nourishes our soul.  So as that nourishment is drowned out by rigid enforcement of rules, regulations and orthodoxy, people lose that spiritual connection.   Further it is more often; do as I say not as I do, men who are not willing to “walk the talk”.

Regarding those clergy who church officials know abused children, our church leaders become far more concerned about the “scandal” hurting the institution’s moral standing and becoming a financial liability, then they are about those harmed.   So much so that the real threat to children is virtually ignored as the clergymen (who are short supply), are recycled back into ministry with little to no real professional help in dealing with such abhorrent behaviors.  The results of which are disastrous, often resulting in new victims and bringing even greater scandal to the faithful had they simply had been open and honest from the start and holding the offending clergyman accountable.

The culture among much of the priesthood and church leadership is one which is referred to as clericalism, a system of elitism, just like a feudal system, one of expectation and privilege. But most importantly, clerical sexual abuse is a reflection of unequal power dynamics of a macho culture. This unhealthy mindset and ecclesial culture sublets every other consideration in order to preserve and protect the institutional prerogatives and privileges of an all-male clerical ruling class.  Leaving many feeling isolated, unimportant or even rejected, such as divorced and remarried Catholics, or gay individuals or families.

5. If you had a wish as to how the Church would handle victims of clergy abuse and those clergy who have offended what would that look like?

There are many ways in which our church can support the healing of sexual abuse victims by clergy.  For one, every diocese holds a file called “secret archives” which only the local bishop and maybe one or two others has access to.  These files are required by church law and contain all correspondence regarding the priest’s behavior or misdeeds.  These files often contain, among other things, letters from families, or others who have seen or suspected a priests abuse of minor children.  It may contain information about allegations, investigations and even admissions of wrongdoing and or child sexual abuse.  We have seen glimpses of these files only when victims are allowed to bring a case to court or when ordered released by a judge from a Grand Jury investigation.  If church officials were truly being open and transparent as they would like us to believe, then they must release All such files containing information of those clergymen who have abused children, for the public to see.  It would prevent known child abusing clergy from being able to minister in an unsuspecting diocese, parish or school.

Next, Church officials would give these survivors a real platform to tell their truths, their abuse stories; it would help them heal and help society understand the true extent of child sexual abuse within society.

Church lawyers and officials need to STOP asking for or demanding confidentiality agreements.  The truth of what happened should never be hidden from the public.  If the victim doesn’t want his/her name published that’s fine, but the details of such abuses should never be concealed, as a matter of public safety.  Such secret agreements in the case of child sexual abuse should be barred by law.

They need to stop rallying church believers to support the offending clergymen, this makes the victim feel they are not important or believed.   They would stop using hard ball legal tactics against the victims.  Thus far the church’s response has been a legal one, not a pastoral response.  The church leaders need to provide real concern and compassion as well as the lifelong medical costs or coverage for such victims to get the help, support and assistance they need.

Parish communities have many support groups for various groups experiencing suffering, such as bereavement groups, unwed- mothers, Alcoholics or drug addiction groups…but have you ever seen one for clergy abuse survivors?  No…but when a clergyman is found to have offended, the church has several hospitals where these men are sent, why would they not have similar resources for the victims?
Church officials would support Statute of Limitations reform laws instead of opposing such changes at every opportunity, this too would allow long hidden secrets to be exposed and validate the victims.  Victims must not be denied justice or access to our legal system because of some arbitrary time limit.  Such laws prevent even cases with evidence and/or proof of the abuse.  The institutional church often has far more proof or misdeeds and crimes committed by clergymen contained in their “secret archives”.

How does the saying go?  “Light is the best disinfectant”

Please read the important links below.  Please note that some of these articles are not the 1st in a series of articles so be sure to look for links within these stories so you can learn more.

Fr Curtis Weymeyer

Fr Jeyapaul, fled to India when allegations against him arose, was eventually extradited back to the US, was convicted of molesting a minor here,  served his sentence and returned to  India where his bishop lifted his suspension allowing him to return to ministry there.
http://www.bishop-accountability.org/Vatican/Jeyapaul/  Detailed timeline with linked documents showing the Vatican knew about and failed to take action in the Fr Jeyapaul case, through 2010.

Father Michael Fugee case, court ordered NOT to have any ministry with children, he violated that court order, in many ways for many years, an order  the Archdiocese signed off on.

Fr Shawn Ratigan case, Bishop Finn failed to report to authorities although he had several warnings, resulting in the bishops conviction on child endangerment charges.

Fr Matthew Riedlinger, Trenton Diocese…sexting who he thought was a 16 year old who he wanted to meet in person.  The bishop only told parishioner’s of why this priest was removed after the Newspaper questioned them on this case.  That was more than 1 year after first learning of this priests deviant activities.  Even though he was supposedly in counseling (and wasn’t supposed to be ministering to children), his insatiable need for sexting continued.  Those who conducted the sting learned he had befriended a young man who they thought for sure would be at risk of the priests sexual advances.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/24/world/americas/whisked-away-vatican-ambassador-accused-of-sexual-abuse-of-minors.html  Vatican envoy and Bishop to the Dominican Republic paid young boys for sex, when the church learned of a News report which filmed the Bishop in an area where young boys were picked up for sex, and an interview broadcast showing on of his alleged victims discussing the bishops crimes, the Vatican whisked him back to the Vatican before Dominican officials could file charges.  Eventually his own home country would persue his extradition but the Vatican refused, leaving him under house arrest for about 1 year.   While at the Vatican they found child porn on his computer, they eventually defrocked him reducing him to a layman but STILL refused to extradite him so he could face charges in the DR and Poland.   He was seen walking freely about Rome and the Vatican while under arrest.  When his trial was to begin in the Vatican, he was rushed to the hospital taken ill just as the trial was to start.  The trial was never rescheduled at this point and Bishop Wesolowski would eventually die unexpectedly, as the Vatican quickly confirmed he died of heart attack.

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