A SURVIVOR: SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE CHURCH (PART 3 OF 9)

Today’s Prayer to Passage will be from the book ‘How to Succeed in Life: Learn the Best Success Principles, Ideas and Skills to Achieving Your Dreams Now’ by Robert Moment.

Today I pray, “Dear God, When we feel stopped, what keeps us moving forward to be able to achieve our dreams?”

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

“Success starts with believing before you can achieve it.”
—ROBERT MOMENT

Sarah’s story continues here.
I conducted this interview in 2011.

SARAH, 50, MOTHER:

“I guess I’ve never really told the story like that but it does make me sick. Because they had all those children who had been affected. There were 17 or 18 of us. And nothing was ever done. And nuns visually watched us. They watched it go on.

I did not ever speak to Sister Virginia. But I understand how horribly she must have felt. I remember her saying how sick she felt that she had never done anything. But back then, of course, her hands would have been so tied, too. That was so long ago. That was in the ’60s. And nobody… It was such a different… Forty years ago, things were a lot different. We are evolving into now being able to understand.

Look at what the Catholic Church…or churches… I truly do not believe that sexual abuse is limited to the Catholic Church. But because of the circumstances there, and the children that are involved, especially with private schools, it might be more prevalent. But I absolutely do not believe that it is the only church that it attacks. Most times, Catholicism… The children are… There’s a lot of private schools. Especially altar boys. I don’t know if he attacked any boys. Or just the young females. I do not know.

But I got through that and went on. And Sister Virginia’s public testimony was kind of a sealant there. I remember my lawyer calling me one day and saying they settled out of court.

And I said, “You’re kidding.” He told me the figure, and I said, “I’m going to court. This is it. I am not settling out of court. Put me on the stand.” And he said, “We can do this but…” I still should have. I really regret not going on the stand.

Because I just settled. The settlement amount was around $300,000. But of course, my lawyer took whatever. That doesn’t matter because it was blood money to me. I still haven’t really spent it. I invested it.

I thought of it as blood money. The money has never changed my life, nor has it differentiated my life. It was around $140,000 to $150,000. It wasn’t worth that money. Not at all. I don’t think of it as a gift. I don’t think of it as anything other than nothing. It’s absolutely nothing. Nothing. There’s no money they could ever ever ever give me that would buy me back any of that. Nothing.

I was angry at the fact that my lawyer said, “No way. I’m not putting you on the stand.” I said, “I’m not that child anymore. I’m a person with those wounds. But I now have a voice. I can actually say something.”

But we made a long story short. We settled out of court.

And I went on. I remember my children, when the story came out in the newspaper. They looked at me. “What did you do to the Catholic Church? You can’t sue the Catholic Church.”

And I said, “Yeah? I am.”

I’m divorced. A very healthy healthy divorce. As a matter fact, I just talked to my ex-husband and I told him I was coming over here to tell my story. And he asked, “What are you doing now?” He was laughing at me. “What are you doing?”

I think I married him out of wanting a placement. Not that I didn’t love him. I still do love him. He’s a wonderful man, and I don’t know, who knows, what would have changed my life. Who knows? And I do not know that. And I never will.

I can’t really live on the what-ifs. Anybody in life could do that. Anybody can say, “If this wouldn’t have happened would I have had a different life?” Yeah, I would have. Would it have been different in a positive way? I don’t know that. I know my life would have been different. I don’t know to what degree, but I have never known any difference other than the person that I am.

So I can’t long for a person. That person never existed to me, so it’s the only thing I know. Yet my younger sister, she never really got into it too much. And my older sister was a crusader. As a matter of fact, I gifted her with money because she had gone through it all with me. She kept giving it. “Come on. We can do this.” And I kept saying, “Have you lost your mind?”

And here we are. So I gifted her with money. I told her, “Yeah. Here’s some priest money for you.” She said, “You’re so sick.” I said, “Yep. A few thousand.” I gave my ex-husband a few thousand dollars, too. I didn’t care. “Here’s for putting up with me and my mental illness.”

It just didn’t matter to me. It still doesn’t. I still have a huge chunk of the money, and that was how many years ago? I’ve never touched the base of the hundred-thousand. I bought myself a new car. Little things like that.

I have no ties to the Catholic Church. Maybe I’m more aware of the healing process of sexual abuse victims. There are so many people out there now who are my age, seeking healing. I see a change. I do not know if it is on a growing trend. I don’t believe that. If anything, the voice of the children now becoming adults has actually helped in awareness within our churches. Because we start to understand signs.

I’m sure if you would have looked at me as a child, as everybody else had, you would have thought, “Something’s not quite right.” And questioned the abuse. Way back in the ’70s they questioned sexual abuse. I was forced into seeking attention, not for sexual abuse but seeking wellness because I had self-mutilated. I never went in for counseling for the sexual abuse. I went in for other things, which was a stem. It was like it had grown fingers throughout my body and transformed the person who I was mentally, which attributed to physicality.

It wasn’t the actual sexual abuse that took me. It was the living with that. I don’t know if a child can comprehend at an early age, but I remember never living in the now. I still have a hard time with that because I pushed myself out of it and pushed myself out of whatever was here and whatever was now and looked forward to the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. And I hated school; it was nothing other than painful for me.

So I grew up without any self-worth, self-esteem. That’s how it is, I think, with most sexual abuse victims. As much as our stories may differ, I’m sure there are such unbelievably strong similarities. The similarities would be there. I don’t know how different my story would be for many, but going into a sense now of… I really do, I have to be honest, find sometimes that I have forgiven. Because to not forgive is to carry way too much anger.

When I live an unforgiving life I am an angry, bitter person. Because it takes a lot of energy to be angry. It robs me then, of everything. I have forgiven. Until I talk about it like this. It makes me angry because I love children. And as a person, I tend to protect children. And I can’t fathom adults knowing and not taking action. I can’t fathom the nun pulling him off of the little girl and not feeling she had enough strength within a church to say no.

But in the Catholic Church, women absolutely, positively had no roles. Now we see female pastors. But within the Catholic Church they haven’t even come around to that. They haven’t even come around to women being able to lead a congregation. Nothing other than a servant to the priest. They were teachers, so they were there too. Angry, bitter. But see, even though they visually watched the sexual abuse, the nuns probably did not know what to do with that information.

Obviously they told people about it because it would’ve never been in the records. Somebody told somebody. Somehow they all knew. And my sister’s elderly friend, whom we are all good friends with now, still attends church at St. Mary’s. Her name is Judith. My sister Catherine told Judith, who responded with, “Oh, my god. I heard about this.” And Catherine said, “What? Did the whole flipping congregation know? How many people heard? How many people?”
When I think about it, I there had to have been 30, 40, 50 people who knew.

“And you all did nothing.”

I know two women who had told their parents when they were young girls. And the parents were… One woman this happened to… It’s amazing. When we were sitting together, as women in this area who were there for the lawyer, all of our lives were so similar. All battling addictions. All battling low self-worth. All battling alcoholism. It was… We could see it. It was so amazing, but we all sat there with the same stories that our lives had become.
It was amazing to me how it affected every single one of us in such similar yet different ways. Yeah, we all had really struggled with that.

And I’ve never kept in touch. I know that the rest of the lawsuit went in, because Patricia and I went in first. Our case was a totally different court case. We went in as Jane Doe A and Jane Doe B. They couldn’t hook anybody else onto it. That was a totally different case. And theirs was not processed, which I felt really really really bad for. Because I was awarded all this money. And they got nothing. Nothing. And it really upset me because I… This is so sad. Because I didn’t remember it.

The same pain, the same journey went with them. The same thing, and yet the Catholic Church treated it like, “So what?” That’s exactly what the Church did. They fought. The Catholic Church had to go to court and fight over what they visually saw. It makes me sick.

The Catholic Church still can’t even have ownership. And the Church had several women sitting there with their stories, and the Church had a lawyer sent there to fight with me. You should have seen me. Oh I still would like to go back.

The Church was still fighting. The Church was still fighting as if to say, “So now you have adult women who are here. Here they are. Women. Too bad. How do you know what happened?” And the Church was trying to tell me that I should have been able to say something as a child. And I said, “Been able to say what? Don’t try to tell me that.”

To have to be that lawyer. How does he sleep at night? And I said, “How can you honestly tell me that? How can you honestly believe in your heart that I might have done something? Are you crazy?” And my lawyer was impressed.

I said, “I am not some woman who can be pushed around anymore. I am grown up. And I definitely have a voice. And if you want me to voice it any further, I’ll go to court.”

My sister said, “Go to court.”

I said, “I can’t sit in the Supreme Court and take on the Catholic Church! I think we’ve gone far enough! Take the money and run! I’ve had it…”

(TO BE CONTINUED…)

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