Opinion

Sue Kerr: Not Ready To Make Nice

By August 20, 2019 No Comments

Pittsburgh Current Columnist Sue Kerr
info@pittsburghcurrent.com 

 

On August 14, 2018 the Grand Jury Report was released. Over 1000 victims at the hands of more than 300 priests across six dioceses. 

 

Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I could

They say time heals everything

But I’m still waiting

 

I was not personally assaulted by a priest. My friends were. Some did not survive to their adulthood. I was one of the Catholic kids caught up in that mire of sexual violence, patriarchical oppression, and guilt. We were the victims of secondary trauma. We knew something was wrong, but no one listened to us. We heard the rumors and the stories and had our own traumatizing interactions with these predators. But no one listened to us. 

I grew up in Holy Spirit Parish in West Mifflin, a parish staffed by known predatory priests from 1984-2006. 22 years is nearly half of my life. To make matters worse, two of these priests are members of my extended family. I’ve been writing about these experiences for years on my blog

I’m through with doubt

There’s nothing left for me to figure out

I’ve paid a price, and I’ll keep paying

 

There are core groups of secondary trauma survivors from all generations of abusers. Our exposure to this toxic stew shaped our lives and that’s not something you just ‘leave’ or recover from by finding a new faith community. Most of us simply carried this distorted experience of Catholic faith forward as part of the church. We survived and our trauma was folded into the fabric of the institution. 

Those survivors became our grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles. They became our teachers and coaches and Scout masters. Their trauma flowed through all aspects of our lives, shaping every institution – family, school, community, even workplaces. 

 

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back down

I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time

To go ’round and ’round and ’round

It’s too late to make it right

I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is

You think I should

 

I don’t believe most of you are listening to us now. I see more stories about the poor good Catholics trying to salvage their parish identity (and property) than I do about us. I see stories about how the Diocese is trying to avoid bankruptcy. I see thoughtful examinations of how a sincere believer moves forward in the midst of all of these disclosures, but no sincere examination of how the rest of us simply survived. 

If you listen to the media, we don’t have a unique communal identity; we are just lumped into the the disaffected “ex-Catholic” group of people who have left the Church. And that’s not quite accurate. People leave the Church for all sorts of reasons and the distinction matters. I have yet to see any expansive examination of this particular traumatic experience that defined the lives of tens of thousands of us in Pittsburgh alone. 

Personally, I think the Diocese should be forced to sell of every single asset to pay every penny owed. Sell the buildings, the cars, the houses. Sell Central Catholic and North Catholic and Oakland Catholic. All of the kids currently attending those schools can find new schools. A complete act of contrition requires complete reparations. That’s the only way forward. If it means a handful of buildings remain for worship and other activities, then that’s fine. You can still worship. You can start over and build a new Diocese on a foundation that’s not littered with the pain of the victims and survivors.

I suspect it isn’t actually the buildings and items you want to hold to, but the idea that something about our collective Church that wasn’t part of this violent legacy of sexual violence. And that’s simply not true. There’s no part of the institution that remains untouched by this violent legacy. Yes, there are sliding scales of awareness and culpability. At least there was until this report was issued, giving no one a credible claim to ‘not know’ what has been happening.

It is hard for me to feel compassion for someone upset that their Bishop misled them about financial donations – what do you expect from child predators? 

Acknowledging the legions of secondary trauma survivors requires first resolving the needs of the primary survivors and the loved ones of those who didn’t survive. It will take decades if not longer and that’s only with a determination to do it right. 

The Grand Jury had four core institutional recommendations. One year later, Pennsylvania has made zero progress on any of these issues. 

  • Eliminating age limits for victims of sexual abuse in childhood to file criminal complaints. The law now requires they be made by the age of 50.
  • Opening a “civil window” to allow victims who have been barred by the statute of limitations to file civil suits against their perpetrators. The law now gives people 12 years to file a complaint once they reach age 18. No retroactive window is provided.
  • Tightening the law that requires teachers, clergy, police and a wide array of other professionals to report abuse. Language mandating reporting if a person suspects a child is “actively being subjected to child abuse” is vague, the grand jury said.
  • Eliminating nondisclosure agreements that bar victims from cooperating in criminal prosecutions.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly remains complicit in the trauma and pain of every person named in the Grand Jury Report, as do the faithful Catholics working against reforms that they know will bankrupt their power base. Shame on every one of those people.  

I don’t have the luxury of forgetting or forgiving, not when I open the paper every day (except Tuesday and Saturday) to read about another disclosure or another allegation. My actual friends are struggling to come to terms with these crimes, a struggle that will likely continue throughout our lifetime. 

We are still waiting. 

 

Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I could

They say time heals everything

But I’m still waiting

 

Lyrics, Not Ready to Make Nice, Dixie Chicks, 2006.

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