A SURVIVOR: SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE CHURCH (PART 2 OF 9)

Today’s Prayer to Passage will be from the book ‘What Did I Do Wrong?’ by Eveline Sandy.

Today I pray, “Dear God, When we ask what we did wrong, we ask because we do not know the answer. What is Your reassuring comfort at this time? Amen.”

Following my prayer, I held the closed book in my hands and opened it to this passage:

“Although, I didn’t feel it was right, Mom taught me a valuable lifelong lesson. It’s called unconditional love. It is best described in the Bible:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails…'”
—EVELINE SANDY

This continues Sarah’s story.
This interview was conducted in 2011.

SARAH, 50, MOTHER:

“…There had been lots of times when I had gotten physically ill during church. I was all bundled up, coming off the bus. There I sat for 45 minutes of service and I went up. And I was little.

Before my mother’s funeral I told my sister, “I am not doing this. There’s no way in hell I’m coming into this church and burying mom.”
And she said, “Gosh sakes. Get over yourself.”
We didn’t bury my mom. We cremated her.

We were getting ready for all that and we went over and we were sitting there talking to the… father — whatever his name was. Joe. I don’t even know who was there. And there was something about him that gave me the heebie-jeebies. Something was not right with him. And right away, my gaydar. And I have absolutely no issues with anything. Gays, lesbians, nothing; I’m absolutely the most open-minded woman. But something about him. I thought he was way too familiar. There was something about him that I did not like. So my sister Catherine told him. And he said, “Ohhh.”

And in the meantime I was going to women therapists and I was in and out of therapy and yada, yada, yada. So I was going to my therapist and starting to tell her all of that. I remember the time that I told her. About the church. And the look on her face. I asked, “What?”

And she said, “Oh, my god. This makes so much sense.” It was like an “Ah-ha!” moment. And I said, “I don’t get it.”

I was in the process of right after my mom died. I wasn’t telling my therapist about the priest; I was telling her that I was not going back to that church. And I was fianlly starting to process the things that had happened. And my therapist heard me tell her, “The look on your face!” I’ll never forget it.

My mom died in 2001. And I remember, on her death-bed, saying to her, “I forgive you. Whatever. It’s no big deal.” She was in a coma but I vividly remember telling her. And all of a sudden everything started coming back.
By that time, I was mad. So my sister and I went in to meet with a current priest, and I already knew. I had already remembered the sexual abuse prior to my mom’s death. A little bit. I had been into my therapist many times, and she’d ask. Right about the time my mom died, it all came back.

And so my sister and I went in, and we met with that priest. I didn’t like him. And he could sense it. He asked Catherine, “What is wrong with your sister?” And she said, “Well, you know, she’s had a lot of issues with this church.” And they must have been talking, and he said to her, “You know, I heard about all of that.”

And I thought, “How in the heck could you hear about it? How could you hear about it this many years later? It must still be out there, that you guys are still talking about it.”

So I was MAD. And I thought, “OK. I want an apology from this church.”
So I had them go to the Diocese out of New Ulm. And they sent down Father Graham. He gave me a letter of apology. “We’re so sorry this happened. Let us apologize for that man.”

Yeah. And I thought, “Whatever. Little too late.” I was mad. And my sister had mentioned it to a very good friend of hers who was in her seventies. And she said, “We heard about this.”

And I thought, “How could they know about this? How could they hear about all this and never say a word? Never. How could everybody, the elders from this church, know this was happening?” And obviously, they did. It was in his church records.

So by then I was thinking, “Whatever.” And I was bound and determined that I was not going to do anything about it. I thought, “I am not doing anything about this. So what? I got their letter. I don’t go to that church anymore. Whatever.”

Then my eating disorder turned into alcoholism. And I was struggling back and forth, in and out of sobriety. And that was going on while I was silent and not doing anything about the church.

Then my sister went to a class reunion.

It was her 25-year high school class reunion. It was ten years ago. And she was visiting with a group of kids that she graduated with.

When they shut down the school they threw us all into the public schools. And that was really hard for me. Public school was really hard because it was such a big transition. I had never had Phy. ed.. I had always had music and religion classes, and church every morning. And suddenly I was to run the 600? I thought, “What are you doing to us?” And we were different. There were a handful of kids who came from a different school.

Whereas my sister had the most regular life. She was a 4.0 student. And I was struggling, struggling, and struggling.

And my sister Catherine met up with her old girlfriends from Catholic school at the reunion. And she said, “Oh, wow. Remember the good old days?”

And her friend Patricia said, “They were not good days.”

And Catherine said, “You feel like my sister.”

And Patricia said, “I had such crappy years there.”

And Catherine said, “So did my sister.”

And Patricia said, “Oh, my god.”

…It wasn’t just me.

So in the meantime, my sister Catherine was off to a lawyer. And by then I was furious. I think I would have handled it so much better had they not known. During the process of that journey I had my kids. I had my life.

And then I became curious. I met with a friend who is a very strong Catholic to this day. We met, and I had told her that I was going through all that with my mom’s death and everything. And we were close but we are homeschool moms. We never talked about why I left the church. My spirituality was, I thought, as it is, still intact. My faith was “whatever.” So mixed up.

But my spirituality was there. And I don’t want to say that my organized religion had really fallen away to the side. But I was doing the best I could to heal, mend, whatever.

From not what I figured was the sexual abuse but from the different journeys of my life. And the self-loathing and self-hatred, which has never healed. I still struggle with that. Daily.

My friend and I were visiting and I was telling her this. And for the very first time I used his name.

I said, “I was sexually molested by a priest in my hometown.” Which she found totally… People look at me with such disgust. And I thought of that as the “Ohhh.” Once again.

When it’s more… It can’t be empathy, because they don’t know how I feel. But it’s not disgusting. It’s what happened. So it is a moment for people to distinguish between disgust and a sense of sorrow.

As people are thinking, and as I sit there, the woes that they distinguish are horrible, horrible things. And for me, when it happened, it was daily.

So I didn’t think of anything out of it, but as I grow into it I notice people’s responses of “Oh, my god.”

And if I would have known at the time how wrong that was.
Or even now I think, “Isn’t that horrible.” Because I can tell by the look on people’s faces. People sigh. And I think, “I know.” But I don’t process it that way. I just think of it as a part of my childhood.

I’m being honest. I can see my therapist’s face. She didn’t need to say a thing. And I felt, “Oh. I know I did something else wrong.”

Even as an adult, I still carry that, “What did I do wrong?”

People react. They react with that face. But I know the thoughts that are behind their faces, “I hurt so much for you. I hurt so much for you.”

That’s what it really is. But as a person with insecurities anyway, I do not see that I had nothing to do with it.

So onto this. So I was talking to my friend Christina over the phone. And for one of the very first times I said, “I can’t believe this. They moved him to another parish.” And I said his name. “Father Roney.”

And she asked me to repeat it. “Who was it?”
“Father Roney.”
And she said, “Oh, my gosh. When they moved him from your parish they moved him into the New Ulm parish. And he did the wedding ceremony of my good friend who now lives a mile down the road.” So what are the odds?

And I said, “Oh, my gosh, Christina. They moved him. Was he ever around around small children?”

“Yes.”

“Did he work with the kids in the nursery?”

“Yes.”

“He was around children?”

“Yes.”

And they knew all this. They knew it when it happened in Benson. They moved him to my hometown, Willmar. And they moved him from my church to another church in another town.

That’s what they did. They moved them. Even when they knew.

I think we’re so much more aware. I don’t think the priests have the leeway. I don’t think they ever get by with what… It’s a totally different generation. Circumstances have changed so drastically. We openly talk about sexual abuse. We teach our children good touch, bad touch. We didn’t do that. We never talked about sexual abuse. Even though it was prominent. Probably more so. I don’t want to say “than” because I don’t know the statistics, but I think we have become so much more aware that we verbally give children the voice that they never had. Children are allotted, now, the ability to say, “This is happening to me.”

I don’t know if they move priests now. He was older, so usually a priest will retire out of the parish. Or whatever, but they used it. Retirement. As if to say it was time for him to move on.

And then I was mad. I was mad. So, back to the Catholic Church I went. I said, “You knew all of this. You knew all this, and he was just this father that I didn’t like, who honestly reminded me of a sexual abuser anyway.” Then I said, “I don’t want to talk to you.”

So I was not exactly cooperative. And I didn’t accept any apologies.

Well by then, Patricia, my sister’s friend from the class reunion, was meeting with a lawyer. I didn’t know this, but now with my fury and my anger I said, “You are? This is ridiculous.”

So I called a lawyer in Willmar. And he said, “There’s no way I’m touching this. It’s a civil case. You can’t. People just don’t take on the Catholic Church.”

So then he gave me the number of a different lawyer in Saint Cloud. I called that lawyer, and he said, “No. Not touching it.”

So then I was mad. So I called. About three days worth of phone calls. And I had no idea that Patricia went to a lawyer. But I was mad. And it was compelling me forward. I was one that was never… I told my sister, “I’m not doing anything more.” And she said, “You can seek restitution. You’re mentally ill. Look at all the money you have into therapy. Thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. And look at you. You’re a mess.”

I said, “I don’t think I’m that messy.”
And she said, “This is ridiculous.”

And so then the second lawyer in Saint Cloud gave me the number of a third lawyer. That lawyer was in Saint Paul. And I thought, “Oh, whatever. I’ll call.” I didn’t get through to him. On a Saturday morning, I’ll never forget this, I was going up steps… And I’d never told my parents. My mom was passed away, and my father — we never talked about it with him because he was an old man. Why shock him? And so I was going up the steps and I still remember having… I must have had a cell phone. I can’t remember. And he called me. And he said, “This is Jeff Anderson. I really really really want to meet with you.”

And I thought, “This is a Saturday morning. What lawyer is calling on a Saturday morning?” And then I thought, “Whatever, OK.” So we made the arrangements. I drove to Saint Paul and talked to him.

And he said, “You know I have to be honest with you. There was another woman in here two weeks prior, too, telling me about the same priest.”
I said, “You’re kidding. What are the odds that we’re going to end up in the same office of the same Saint Paul lawyer two weeks apart?”
And he said, “May I take this a little bit further?”

And I said, “I don’t know if I’m up for this. People just don’t do this.” And I was thinking, “I am not suing the Catholic Church.”

And he said, “If you two women have this, there are other kids. You are not the only two.”

He asked if he could go public in the newspaper, knowing that other children would come out. And that would only strengthen his case. I said, “OK.”

So it was the other woman and me. Because I had blocked all this, I did not fall underneath the statue of limitations. She had told her parents. Other children had told their parents. They had gone to the elders of the church and said “This is what’s going on.” And people did nothing.

So she had already told her parents. And there was one other girl who also had told her parents. So there were two other girls. As a matter of fact, I just ran into one of the women the other day. So the lawyer went to the newspaper. The articles are in the archives, and I do not remember when it was. Early 2000s? The story came out publically. Front page of the paper. “Jane Doe A and Jane Doe B”. I was Jane Doe B. So I went through all of that. Of course, other women came forward.

By then it was public knowledge. And we decided to tell my dad because it was on the news. It was on everything. I said, “We’ve got to tell him.” So we told him. And he said, “Oh, my god.”

He was so upset. He blamed himself. My mother had passed away. And I said, “Dad, It’s not your fault. How would you have known? I don’t even remember it!”

My lawyer had a huge meeting. It was all of us. 17 of us. He started with Patricia and me. And by then we had huge lawyers from the Catholic Church.

In the meantime, Father Roney had passed away — one year prior to all of that happening. And I said, “He died? I can’t believe that idiot died!” The guy died on a Guatemalan mission, which made me even madder because I guess he wanted to even adopt one girl, so I knew it kept going on and on and on and on with hundreds of lives, which I’m sure he affected.

So one of the girls that he had molested was from Benson, and she knew they had transferred him. So there we all were, together. And our lawsuit went in, and we testified. That was grueling. People continued to ask same question.

“How could you not know?” The same thing.

I thought I was talking to somebody bigger than God, or as close to God.

Especially at that age, I didn’t know. It took a long time to even get a grasp on what God is. Ask a two-year-old, five-year-old, seven-year-old what God is, and they have no idea.

So that’s a journey that I grew into, but when I never had an understanding of that, I thought it was a person who was leading church.

I’m sure kids at age five, six years old do not understand that there’s somebody out there that’s invisible, that’s bigger than all of us.

So they would think of their pastor. As the God figure.

Because it’s what children do. That’s what children do. Children can visually see that person standing up there with the cross behind him. And he’s giving the Word. I’m not saying I thought of him as God, but he was definitely as close as I was going to get.

So we had a huge session, and my lawyer said, “Oh my gosh. You were unbelievable.” And I said, ”I’ve had it. I’m not going to be some person without a voice anymore. I’m done.”

And then they had to pull up all of Father Roney’s records. And it was there in black and white.

I thought, “You sick, inhumane…”

This was what I was processing. “You are a bunch of sick people who have covered up for this church and covered up for this church, and you knew it. It would be different if I came in here and you absolutely didn’t know it. But you knew it. You let it take place. You had my light in the palm of your hand. And you let it go on, never once thinking.”

Then it got weird. Our lawyer told us in that little meeting that any of us women could go back and try to remember. And we were different age groups. I was probably one of the youngest because I was only in the first and second grades. The school closed after that. There was a woman in her fifties who had stayed in contact with one of the nuns. Sister Virginia. While we were entering the legal process, she had contacted one of the nuns. And the nuns…
She was infected. She said, “I knew you girls would finally have to deal with this.” She remembered going into the gym and pulling him off a young girl. She vividly recalled that and said, “I am so sorry for you women.”

So even the nuns knew it. But they, again, would be hush-hush. “Don’t talk about this. There is nothing taking place.” There was so much shame within the church.

And she knew this, so she came forward and said it. So we had her testimony, And it was a done deal. There was no proving that he was doing this. It was in black and white.

My case was the only one that went through because of the statute of limitations. Every other child had remembered and told somebody. And nothing was ever done. And that was the statute of limitations. It was told. The parents. They remembered it. They had 10 years to act on that. The parents had to act. And they didn’t.

If they wanted to legally process what had happened that many years later, the statue of limitations had taken over. I had not remembered it. I had blocked it, so the statute of limitations had never started until I remembered it.
So I went through that. The nuns had the knowledge. The elders of the church had the knowledge. As I sit here and tell you that, it makes me sick.”

(TO BE CONTINUED…)

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