Published on July 19th, 2013 | by Beth Campbell Duke0
Tony’s Journey: Gaining Personal Power
It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do. ~Edmund Burke
Each of us decides on our own course of action based on what it is we hope to accomplish, and what work needs to be done in order to get there. When you’re reclaiming your personal power, you may decide to engage with the church. It’s critical that you start by being clear about your ‘stand’ and what you will and won’t do – because the going will get rough. What follows are some key points from Tony’s experience. Your own path will be different.
It is important to note that you will not see perpetrators’ names used here. Our stance since the beginning was that the responsibility for the issue of child sexual abuse rests squarely on the shoulders of the institution of the catholic church – so that while those who perpetrated the abuse directly on Tony are dead, the responsibility for their actions does not die with them, but falls to the church.
Please make sure you have psychological and/or legal advice before taking action and especially speaking publicly. Psychological help is NECESSARY to help you cope with the PTSD and shame that resulted from the abuse (and it’s necessary for your family, too).
- Tony decided very early on in the process that he would NOT take this into court. Once in court, the nature of the ‘conversation’ changes and become contentious. Tony’s stand from the beginning was that there was no question as to the validity of his claims, the only thing to be determined was what the church was going to do to make reparation.
- The matter, while personal, is also one of greater public importance. Therefore, any dealings with the church in person or discussion about the issue in public were conducted from ‘the high ground.’ There may have been a few frustrated Facebook posts and tweets to the pope about getting his act together, but ALWAYS from the standpoint that the abuse happened, and that it’s an expected outcome given the structure of the church. It was in the vein of ‘You abused me. You’re still abusing kids. You cover it up to this day. I don’t think Jesus would send a fixer and a lawyer. The shame is not on me, it’s on the church.’
- Tony met with representatives of the church personally – without counsellors or lawyers. He approached the meetings from a place of personal power – extending sympathy for the position the ’emissary’ was in. Name-calling was reserved for times with his counsellor, at home and occasionally in the pub.
- Tony also did his homework on who he was meeting with – checking Google and asking people he had connected with through social media. If you’re not already connected, find a few online groups: we set up a Facebook page, and Tony joined his school’s alumni mailing list and reconnected with a few former classmates. Some maintain contact – others have shut him out (for now, anyway – it’s a difficult topic).
- Tony strongly believes in responding – not reacting. Keeping a cool head comes with practice – and the slow-moving nature of the church helps with this as you have time to remove yourself from view, react and then consider your response. It’s critical that you’re clear about your stance ahead of time and know where you will and won’t go.
- For example, early on Tony was debriefed by a fixer and he spoke frankly about the details of the abuse that he could remember. The church followed up by questioning the validity of his allegations given that they’d happened so long ago and requesting more details about the abuse. They wanted ‘proof’. Read Tony’s response letter to see the attitude he took with the church throughout this process. (You’ll note from this early letter that Tony clearly has the capacity and desire to meet with the church representatives and lawyers himself – DON’T feel you have to ‘go it alone’. He undertook his meetings with some prior legal advice.)
Know that this is an issue that can now be handled in the way Tony handled it – thanks to the legal work done by countless victims that have come before, thanks to the coverage in the media and an increasing willingness of people to hear about this issue and thanks to technology that allows ALL of us to set up online communication channels. Our Facebook page
has had a whopping 36 followers – but they were 36 people we otherwise wouldn’t have been in touch with and a few were able to provide critical legal statistics at short notice.
The courtroom is no longer the only option for survivors of childhood sexual abuse by priests- you do have power even if it doesn’t feel like it where you’re at today. Whether the church ‘gets it’ or not is irrelevant – they often don’t. They’ll send fixers and they’ll send lawyers and they’ll send bizarre letters that make you wonder if they EVER set foot into a Sunday school. And some of the representatives of the church will be understanding and many won’t. You might be the one in pain, but they’re the ones without a moral (and increasingly legal) leg to stand on.
When you’re at the point of dealing with the church, it’s important that you remember your personal power stance. If you don’t have one yet, borrow Tony’s:
‘You abused me. You’re still abusing kids. You cover it up to this day. I don’t think Jesus would send a fixer and a lawyer. The shame is NOT on me, it’s on the church.’
When you need an example of a letter that blasts the church from the moral high ground, re-read Tony’s Letter to the Jesuits.