Same Old, Same Old

Archbishop Bernard Hebda may be a really nice guy. He may even be a holy man. But, sorry, this (if true as reported) is the same old hierarchical, cover-your-priestly-ass, clerical bullshit:

“Hebda in the Q-and-A added that the Ramsey County investigation found insufficient evidence to bring forth criminal charges against any individuals and that questions to whether Nienstedt’s alleged misconduct compromised his leadership “became irrelevant in my mind” once he resigned last June.

“Moreover, canon law is sufficiently realistic and practical in that it doesn’t authorize bishops to judge their peers, and does not contemplate any further role in this matter for me or the archdiocese,” Hebda said.” (Excerpted from current National Catholic Reporter).

Need we remind the archbishop that he “or the archdiocese” does not constitute “the church”? This is a gross failure of pastoral leadership and ignorance of what the Church of St Paul and Minneapolis needs and deserves!

Sweep the investigation of Nienstedt’s alleged misconduct with 24 adult males under the rug and maybe people will forget! This “became irrelevant in [your] mind”?

Need we remind the current archbishop that Nienstedt remains on the payroll — for life — of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis?  In addition, he remains a member of governing boards at the Catholic University of America as well as the Gregorian in Rome. Should not the faculty and administration of these institutions care about the moral integrity and reputation of their board members?

What’s buried alive stays alive!  But, the truth always comes out. The truth will be told. The only question is by whom.

For far too long the arrogant attitude of the hierarchy has been, “We know what’s best for the ‘lay faithful’.”  To this the People of God say, “BULLSHIT!”

_________

Full NCR report [here].

Flying First Class

Who could have concocted a more ironic or bizarre scenario — flying home First Class from our honeymoon with John Neinstedt!

Yesterday we returned from Amsterdam to Minneapolis after a 16-day European extravaganza. Much to our surprise and fleeting consternation, the disgraced Archbishop rose from his seat at Gate D-57 as “Priority Status” boarding was called. Equally shocking but with a  promise of comfort, a friend had surprised us with an up-grade to First Class for our return flight.

My first response upon seeing the man rise and turn toward us from his seat two rows ahead was pity. Impeccably attired in tailored black suit and Roman collar, the swag of a silver chain hinted at the pectoral cross neatly tucked away in his pocket. A gold ring symbolizing episcopal status still adorned his right hand.

I have flown First Class only twice in my life, the other time being more than thirty years ago! My assumption is that Archbishop Neinstedt typically flies first class — perhaps I’m wrong. How could I not pity him — alone, disgraced, a shepherd who scattered his flock, deemed to be no better than a hired-hand.

Amid this eight-hour flight of continuous pampering, I could not help but wonder when legitimate privacy and need for rest bleeds over into self-indulgence, status-seeking or sense of entitlement. When does it all become routine?

We were two of only 33 passengers in First Class among a roster that likely surpassed 300 passengers. Only five of the thirty-three were women — one was an elderly lady whose daughter regularly came from “coach” to check on her, two twenty-something women were accompanied by men I presumed to be their husbands. (Might they also be returning from their honeymoons?) There was only one person of color — a man whose tone would have been of great advantage during Jim Crow days.

The overwhelming demographic was middle-aged white males who appeared to be accomplished, savvy and influential business types. By contrast with the Archbishop, their attire or appearance exhibited nothing to distinguish role, function or status. They were conspicuous in polo shirts, khakis and dress-for-comfort.  By comparison, their sense of self and personal bearing appeared to emanate from somewhere within.

We savored our First Class treatment and indulged every comfort as honeymoon luxury. We fully recognized this to be a singular gift and not our social norm. Ruminating over sixteen marvelous days in Europe and the incredible kindness and hospitality shown to us, we hope never to take any of these days for granted — even the bizarre twist of flying home with John Neinstedt!

In the end I cannot help but wonder what it might have been like if the man had only gotten out from behind his clerical attire and shed his episcopal trappings more often. Would he have been a better bishop — a shepherd who truly knew his sheep and allowed us to know him?

What if he had donned khakis, polo shirt and flew coach back to Minneapolis yesterday? It’s a pity he did not!  Perhaps the thought never even occurred to him.  That, if true, is a pity!

Interdependence Day

The Fourth of July… Independence Day!

My paternal grandparents’ wedding anniversary was July 6. Every year until my grandpa died we had a family reunion at the park pavilion of our hometown on the weekend nearest the Fourth. Many, many years have intervened. Yet, even while going out for ice cream last evening with my 52 year-old nephew, such enduring bonds of family console me.

Alleys! I never want to live in a neighborhood without alleys. Although we live on a block with a floating TGIF sign (who ever wants to host the weekly kid-friendly TGIF gets the sign from last week’s host and posts it in their yard on about Wednesday), most of our goings-on occur in the alley. That’s where we grow our raspberries — this time of year they come in such abundance neighbors know they are free to sample. That’s where neighbors stop for conversations so long the driver sometimes even turns the car off. If we need a tool or cup of sugar we could cross the street but we are more likely to cross the alley.

Last Monday we had dinner at the home of our pastor. The priest who will marry us is someone with whom we are more likely to share stories and laughter than Scripture and liturgy. And despite all the crap associated with clerical abuse (and it’s more than sex abuse), I have never been more comfortably Catholic in all my life. Things are breaking open, truth is being told, arrogant power is being challenged, we’re getting back to what really matters. All this suggests to me we are a much healthier church in 2015 than we were twenty years ago.

Minnesota may be a beautiful state but it’s really flat — the fifth flattest of all the 50 states as a matter of fact. No surprise, then, that water would be a really big deal here. Ten thousand lakes. Headwaters of the Mississippi. Lake Superior holding primacy of place. Yet, my special affinity is with Minnehaha Creek where Jeb the Dog takes me each day for a walk and where we mark the rhythm of the seasons. True to my Nebraska roots, I actually relax and resonate more with the farms of southern Minnesota than our state’s North Woods. In the past month we have been fortunate to enjoy them all — lakes, forests and farms.  Life is good!

It’s also been a great summer for Constitutional government — “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a [ever] more perfect union…” I am so grateful to live in nation where the Founders laid claim to certain inalienable rights and then crafted a system that would, as one Federalist writer wrote, “protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.” Or as Gerald Ford assured my generation upon the resignation of President Nixon, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.” For this — and on behalf of the millions of Americans who have health care coverage because of the Affordable Care Act — I feel incredibly blessed.

Fourth of July weekend — family, neighbors, faith communities, nature, our nation. Blessings all! Each worth celebrating! All to be cherished! We call it Independence Day but it’s our interdependence we celebrate and cherish most.

May we always remember from Whom these gifts came and for which they were given.

The Resolute Face of Love

Yesterday was picture-perfect, just the sort of day for a graduation party in the yard. We were present to give testimony to Nathan’s achievement and as manifestation of the rich web of relationships and roles it takes to raise a child. Either is a sufficient reason for celebration.

The strong web of community endures even when we are unaware, overlaps with surprises that delight us. Here’s one… Bob & Maura, friends from the Church of St. Luke were at the party. We hadn’t seen each other since the graduate was a preschooler!  I had forgotten that Bob had been the college roommate of Nathan’s dad.

We shared the sort of three-minute update friends do after a break of thirteen years. What are we up to now? Weren’t those great days! In our case we grieved the sorry state of the church we love — a frequent topic for many of us in Minneapolis-St Paul over the past few years.

But as our perfect summer Sunday afternoon provided, as Nathan commences with his move to Seattle University, our circumstances inspired optimism, gratitude, hope, confidence. Despite our collective pain and considerable grief at what has transpired in our church over the past thirteen years, we remained oddly enthusiastic and happy.

Our sentiment was appropriate to a festive occasion.  In our hurried recap yesterday Bob, Maura and I had actually expressed an odd sort of satisfaction with our church.  Silence and secrecy kill — at lease now “the boil had burst, the festering pain finally exposed.”

We agreed that healing happens once facts are faced and truth is told.  In an odd sort of way, we acknowledged that we are actually a much healthier church in 2015 than we were in 1995. For institutions as well as individuals, recovery of mission and purpose can slowly but definitively commence with public confession of our sin.

Little could we have anticipated this morning’s news!  It came as a bolt of lightning, as a sudden shock, a welcome but totally unexpected surprise.  Though eagerly longed for by a long-suffering community, the resignation of Archbishop John Neinstedt does not elicit any sense of gloating.  Actually, a deep resonant grief underpins my profound gratitude which in turn inspires an abiding hope.

Vindication — and there is most assuredly a sense of vindication and justice in the refreshing news — feels kinder, gentler and much more merciful than either I would have ever expected or prescribed.  This morning’s deep emotions are less about a scandalous abuse of power and the excruciating pain inflicted, though there is plenty of that!  The deeper anguish now surfacing is for all that might have been, for a future that should have been!  This is the loss that we must truly grieve.

This morning is party cloudy in MSP, not nearly as picturesque as yesterday afternoon with Nathan. There will surly be cloudy days, some long nights and even a few storms ahead for Nathan and for all of us.  Once again we are reminded of what’s really important, where we stand and to whom we belong.

This is all possible because — ultimately — we rest securely within an intricate web of community that celebrates milestones, tells the truth, remains present amid grief, heals those in pain, cherishes our young, and cares for any who are vulnerable.  This is all possible because we rest in the resolute love of God.

What an ideal “village” in which to raise a child… what a graced way to experience “church.”

Remember, Lest We Forget

Anniversaries are important. Most are deserving of celebration. Some are to be remembered lest we ever forget. We are approaching just such an anniversary.

On July 1, 2014 Commonweal magazine broke the story that Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis had been under investigation for “multiple allegations” of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians and priests. Ten men had signed affidavits filing their official complaints.

Rumors of Nienstedt’s misconduct was not news. I had heard such allegations as long as ten years ago. What made this story news was that ten men had now spoken up, telling their story and registering their complaint with officials. Once Commonweal broke the story, we learened the Archdiocese had hired a law firm in late 2013 to conduct what the Archdiocese then promised to be a full and independent investigation.

Let’s be clear, the allegations against our Archbishop were made by adult men. We are not talking about pedophilia or sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults. The better comparison is with disgraced Cardinal Archbishop Keith O’Brien of Scotland. At least five men – three priests, a former priest and a former seminarian – accused O’Brien of either sexually harassing them or pressuring them into sex, in allegations that went back to the 1980s.

O’Brien admitted “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.” He was discretely “disinvited” from participating in the conclave that elected Pope Francis. In March 2015 it was announced that he had renounced the “rights and privileges” of his office but gets to keep his prestigious title.

Regular readers of Kneading Bread know that I have frequently reiterated what rank-and-file Catholics know all too well… the root cause of our sex abuse crisis in the church is the culture of clericalism, hierarchical arrogance and preoccupation with protecting power and privilege. Readers will also recall that I have called for Neinstedt’s resignation in these posts on at least three occasions.

On July 7, 2014 I wrote: It’s long past time for more than a little honesty in our church. We are in urgent need of changing the sieve that keeps secret the tragic truth poisoning our church family. Honest confessions are long overdue. Actually, we need far more than “a little” honesty.

We have a right to integrity and transparency. We have a right to hold those who claim positions of moral leadership to be persons worthy of emulation. We have the right to know the truth about any who claim authority to teach moral truth.

Ten official affidavits complaining of harassment and/or misconduct does not sound like behavior among “consenting adults.” We have a right to know the truth about these ten complaints and for those in authority to act appropriately.  If there is nothing to hide, then what’s there to hide?

All abuse is perpetrated by a culture that holds its victims hostage within silence and secrecy. This is true of abuse within families, schools, civic organizations or churches. What makes the allegations against our Archbishop so egregious is that he presumes to provide moral leadership and teach moral truths. Hiding behind a wall of silence and secrecy perpetuates the abuse.

This “culture” of silence and secrecy — delay strategies to bury the story, keeping a low public profile, hoping we will forget — further victimizes this Archdiocese and this community which deserves, expects and has received far better from Catholic leadership.

Peter Day, a priest of the Archdiocese of Canberra, Australia recently wrote a passionate call for reform in light of the sex abuse scandal roiling his country and the whole church. He implores us to fully acknowledge what we all know — too many of our shepherds have acted like the “hired men” in John’s Gospel “who abandon the sheep when they see a wolf coming … leaving the wolves to attack and scatter the sheep.” (Jn 10: 12)

Day further exposes what we all recognize but feel powerless to change: “Underpinning this hired men culture is an all-too pervasive clericalism in which men feel set-apart, vainly pursuing the trappings of power and prestige — acting like corporate CEOs hell-bent on protecting the company brand instead of like shepherds willing to lay down their lives (and their reputations) for their sheep.”

But we are NOT powerless. We are not pawns. We are The People of God.  From half-way around the world, Peter Day expresses our local reality and our need. “In the pews, in the villages, in the schools; people everywhere, are longing for us to simply face facts, to face the truth with humility — that’s what good shepherds do.”

July 1 will be the one year anniversary of Commonweal exposing the charges made against our Archbishop. Months ago the media asked the Archdiocese about the disposition of the allegations. Archdiocesan officials admitted that the law firm had completed its work but the investigation was continuing so no further information could be shared.

July 1 is an anniversary we must not forget. Media should again ask Archdiocesan leadership. Editorial boards must clearly express the needs and expectations of the community.  Parishioners would do well to inquire of their pastors about the disposition of the charges against one for whom we pray by name at every Eucharist.  Civic leaders have a right to inquire about any who would claim high moral profile in our community.

Powers that be will want us to forget. Summer in Minnesota offers a wealth of diversions and many pleasant distractions. But, remember we must! “In the pews, in the villages, in the schools; people everywhere, are longing for us to simply face facts, to face the truth with humility — that’s what good shepherds do.”

We want, need and deserve a better shepherd. Archbishop Neinstedt, its time to do the right thing!

__________________

The article by Peter Day is from Global Pulse Magazine [link]. This is a new journal covering stories and offering opinion from around the world on Catholic topics or issues of moral import. I am not sure whether you need a subscription to access the full story. I paid $12 for an annual subscription and eagerly recommend you consider the same.

Give It a Rest

My brother Gene died four weeks ago today. He was the sixth of my nine siblings to die. Some might think a person can develop a skill for saying goodbye or burying a loved one. You cannot! In fact, grief compounds and becomes cumulative. But so does grace!

Although I began kindergarten in Omaha, Gene moved back to our family’s hometown and married a woman from Hartington, NE in 1961. We gathered at Holy Trinity Church for his funeral, the same church where I was baptized in 1950, the same church where we had gathered for the funerals of our father in 1993 and our mother in 2007. Although they had moved from the town in 1955, such is the significance of this community in the life and lore of our family.

Imagine my consternation when the pastor paraded up the center aisle five minutes before the service was to begin, made a dramatic genuflection in front of the altar, then turned stage right to the sacristy for vesting. Honest to God, he was wearing a full-length black cape and berretta, that square, stiff cap with a tassel-like fur-ball on top that used to be worn by ecclesiastics in the Catholic Church. I gasped, then gulped. I should not have been surprised when he appeared from the sacristy attired in black vestments. I was more disheartened than shocked.

This was my brother’s funeral. I had some pretty important decisions to make. It was attitude adjustment time. This was not the first time I’ve had to hunker down in the face of such clerical falderal. But, this is the funeral of my brother — the stakes are singular and significant. Somehow I resolved not to allow this hierarch’s clerical peculiarities to steal this moment of prayer from our family.

Something happened! Grace? Actually, the priest’s homily was quite good for someone who had come to the parish so recently and had few opportunities to really get to know my brother. When he prayed I found that I could readily pray with him. When his ridiculous black cape billowed in the frigid February wind atop the cemetery hill I discovered compassion — aspiring to gratitude — for this innocently naive cleric.

Since, I have been thinking a great deal about the differences between conformity and community, between unity and uniformity. How my ego craves for what I know to be right, true and best.  How I squirm when not in control, when things are not done my way!  Grace nudges me to recognize the broad assortment of ways to be Catholic, no less Christian.  This, as God wills it to be!  When my stubbornness and pride rail as they will, I must ask, “What really matters?” Now I ruminate about how Gene would answer that question today.

This is the church into which I was baptized. This is the community in which our roots run deep. Here I find family, home, communion. We now have four generations buried in that cemetery. My plot is right next to my parents, twenty feet from our grandparents.

In the end, I would want it no other way. It is here that someday I will finally be laid to rest.

The Real Reason I Left

July 24, 2014

Open Letter to My Family and Members of the Church of St. Luke:

In February 2002 I wrote letters to you announcing my plan to take a leave of absence from the Jesuits. This meant that I would no longer be your pastor and would be giving up priestly ministry – two roles I cherished.

I regret that shame, fear and deep pain prevented me from being more forthcoming with the truth. The real reason I left Jesuit priesthood is this: I was sexually abused by a Jesuit superior. The abuse occurred on five occasions over a period of eighteen months. In addition to his role in my life, the man had held numerous roles of authority and remains highly esteemed in the Jesuit province.

In my letters to you I explained that I desired “a life that includes deeper relationships and experiences that are not now an option. An important part of this is a desire for greater stability in relationships and the freedom to have a ‘home’.” Although factually accurate, these were not my real reason for leaving. You deserve to know the truth and this rather lengthy explanation gives you the full story.

My personal journals from those years – long before I came to St. Luke’s – are boxed away in storage. They would give exact timelines and many more specific details. Suffice to say, the fifth and final “time away” with this man was the lowest and most humiliating experience of my life. Devastated is too weak of a descriptor! Resolving this would never happen again, I was determined to reassert moral discipline and tight control over my life. Despite my best efforts, what’s buried alive stays alive!

About a year after the abuse ended I initiated a meeting with the new provincial to “manifest my conscience” (a peculiarly Jesuit term meaning to come clean about what’s really going on). He was quiet and thoughtful. In asking “Do you think he has done this to others?” I got the impression that he understood the gravity of the situation. Soon I received a welcome new ministry assignment in Washington, DC. However, in all future meetings with him as provincial he never once initiated any conversation or inquired about the sexual violation I had brought to him.

In addition to this early overture to the provincial I reached out to no fewer than five others – four men and one woman – who held various positions of leadership in the province during the following years. Every victim of abuse knows what incredible strength it takes to break through the shame, secrecy and intimidation that holds us locked in fear and silence. In a letter dated December 2, 1997 I confronted the man himself – not for the first time but by explicitly naming his behavior as abuse. His response was apologetic but hardly satisfying.

All the while I felt like I was spewing out my guts, emotionally hemorrhaging in front of people who should be in positions to help, struggling to get through the anguish and to regain some vitality for life and spontaneity in ministry. In every case, the person to whom I reached out was empathetic in the moment. But no one followed up with any expression of personal, pastoral or practical assistance. In a conversation shortly before I officially left the Jesuits I was able to ask one with whom I had shared my pain in the context of my annual retreat, “Why didn’t you do something?” He said, “I thought it was only once.”

There was one shining exception, Brad Schaeffer who was superior of the Jesuit community in Washington, DC where I lived immediately prior to being assigned pastor for St. Luke’s. Brad had been provincial of the Jesuits of the Chicago Province. His experience obviously served him – and me – quite well.

Brad cut to the heart of the matter with an explicit question, “What do you need from the Society?” My response was immediate, easy and simple… “All I need is for someone in authority to tell me that I am valuable and valued; that what happened to me was wrong, should never have happened, and in the name of the Society, he is sorry!”

I moved to St Paul on May 1999 knowing that “someone in authority” could only be the Jesuit provincial. How hard could it be? He had already heard the core of my story years earlier! Right!!! If you believe that any of this can be easy you don’t understand the cold, tight grip in which a culture of abuse keeps its victims paralyzed.

The steep learning curve of becoming a pastor and getting to know the community of St. Luke’s provided a welcome distraction from the pain buried just beneath the surface. Winter 2000 turned into Spring 2001. We’d be getting a new provincial in June. I could delay no longer. On May 7 I mustered sufficient courage to phone the provincial to explain what I needed – an explicit apology in the name of the Society that what I had experienced was wrong and should not have happened. In that conversation the provincial said we would meet when I came to Milwaukee for a province assembly at the beginning of June.

Suffice to say what I was led to believe would happen did not. Again at my initiative I had to intercept the provincial between Morning Prayer and breakfast on the second day of the assembly or our conversation would never have occurred. I returned from Milwaukee feeling ignored, used and taken for granted once again. I left for a two-week vacation experiencing the festering wound of abuse as something not simply perpetrated by one who violates sexual and emotional boundaries. Abuse is compounded many times over by others in an abusive system of defensive denial and acts of omission.

Sexual abuse is a “structural sin” imbedded within a culture that either believes denial will make it go away or is hell-bent on protecting the organization’s prestige, privilege or power. This has intensified and prolonged the violation I have felt. A deep pain in this sad scenario is that I still want to believe the Society of Jesus, at its core, is better than all this!

I have concluded that people in these dysfunctional systems are like fish – they don’t have an awareness of, nor can they acknowledge, the water in which they swim. Though far short of acceptance or comprehension, I remain a victim if I cannot compose some explanation for how this could happen. If this is not part of a healing process, talk of forgiveness or any future reconciliation is out of the question.

I’m not fully there yet. Yes, telling my story out loud and in public still frightens me. The first of two superiors of the Jesuit community in Washington where I lived immediately prior to coming to St. Luke’s – the one before Brad Schaeffer – faced allegations of sexual harassment from a young Jesuit under his supervision. The story broke on CBS 60 Minutes in 1999. The Society of Jesus fought hard in Federal court to stifle litigation. After a successful appeal to have his case heard in open court, the evidence was never presented. The Jesuits settled with the claimant out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Jesuits speak of being Companions in the Lord. “Companionship” is the heart of Jesuit identity and is strong, real and rich. It also has its “shadow” side. I remember the “circling of the wagons” among Jesuits immediately after the 60 Minutes expose. I have never met our superior’s accuser but I heard plenty of nasty character assassination and charges of being a “gold-digger.” Some who knew the young Jesuit said he was a willing accomplice and even basked in the erotic attention. The culture of abuse was very much in evidence – blame the victim!

I simply don’t know – I never met the man and evidence was never aired in court. Yet, he was shunned, shamed and called a liar by people who had no knowledge of the case. Jesuits are called “the Pope’s Marines” for a reason – you can count on them to rally to the defense of any perceived attack from outside their tight brotherhood. Most often this is a blessing. In this case of alleged harassment, I silently sided with the claimant and witnessed a bludgeoning. Who wouldn’t feel intimidated?

In the spirit of transparency I should say that I do know the difference between sexual activity between consenting adults and sexual abuse. After many years of “living the letter” of my vow of celibate chastity, I became involved in a sexual relationship with a Jesuit peer and colleague in ministry. I sought counsel and help from the man who would later violate my trust. I went to him because of his roles in my life, his position of leadership and reputation for spiritual wisdom. Rather than offering assistance I have concluded that he interpreted my overture for help as an indication of availability.

Fast forward again to June 2001… I returned from vacation after the Milwaukee assembly clear in my determination to seek a leave of absence. I called the newly installed provincial early in July to inform him of my disposition. Through all the months leading up to my leaving St. Luke’s and the Jesuit community on March 1, 2002, I never had a face-to-face meeting with the provincial or anyone on the province staff. It seemed strange – then and now – that something so significant would be handled with a few phone calls and a series of emails. Was I not more valued, more valuable? I have concluded that, yet again, they did not take me seriously or believe what I was saying.

My hope that the pain and reality of sexual abuse would be left behind with a leave of absence was soon dashed. Archbishop Rembert Weakland, OSB of Milwaukee had long been my hero and icon of the great churchman. I eagerly attended his 8 a.m. Sunday liturgies at the Cathedral whenever I was in town. His leadership with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in drafting their pastoral statement on the US economy epitomizes episcopal leadership and the church’s social teaching at their best. I was honored to have been ordained priest by Archbishop Weakland in 1988.

Imagine my heartache upon hearing the report on national news in May 2002 that Weakland had resigned after it was revealed he had secretly used $450,000 of diocesan funds years earlier to prevent a lawsuit for sexual assault. The payment had been made to hide his relationship with a 30-year-old male graduate student. Does the pain and reality of sexual abuse ever go away?

On January 6, 2004 an email arrived that flashed me back into exasperation and initial disbelief. The province was looking for a new pastor for St. Luke’s and the name of the Jesuit who had abused me was frequently surfacing as one for consideration. The insidious nature of abuse is that it continues to resurface and poke its ugly head into one’s face again and again. At first, the email message sent a stab of pain and the price of loss washed over me again.

That evening I consulted with two members of St. Luke’s with whom I had worked closely and in whom I had confided the “whole story” when I was deciding to take a leave of absence. After sleeping on the matter I chose to focus on the positive and interpret the fact of being asked my opinion to be made in good faith and showed growing sensitivity, comprehension and respect. Nevertheless, I clearly expressed to the province the two parishioners’ thoughts – as well as mine – about the prospect of having this man as pastor of St. Luke’s. To say they and I would have a serious issue with such an appointment would be a gross understatement!

My reply quoted letters from March and May 2003 to the provincial which stated that my “experience of sexual abuse has so eroded my trust in Jesuit superiors and the Society’s ‘cura personalis’ [care of the person] that I no longer choose to be a Jesuit.” Still, this was a huge step forward. Now, a member of the province staff expressed “a deep down hesitation” about an appointment they had the authority to make.

The email asked whether “given [my] history and experience, should a position of leadership, especially in the same city, even be considered?” It went on to say they “want to be respectful of [my] experiences.” Though my first response had been that of a victim whose pain is again flashed before him, my current perspective chooses to focus on good intentions, growing comprehension and the sincerity of the gesture.

I don’t know the technical definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I do know that depression and anxiety can arise seemingly from nowhere. Events in the news have and continue to send me into a tailspin. Such was the case in Spring 2010 when stories of abuse being reported in the media sent me back into therapy. This time I decided to write the Jesuit provincial to inform him of my lingering pain and the recurring struggle with which I live. His response, hand-written on Jesuit community stationery, said in part:

Thank you for letting me know about your return to therapy to address the ongoing consequences of your experience of sexual abuse that led to your departure from the Society. I also appreciate your helping me to have a better understanding of the effects of such abuse. I will keep you in my prayer both that what you hope and wish for me and others sharing your experience will be increasingly realized and that your recovery and healing will be realized as well.

Though an expression of gratitude and assurance of prayer falls short of what I have wanted and needed from Jesuit leadership, the fact he made the effort to respond at all and to name my experience “abuse” was deeply appreciated. Especially from the perspective of today, the note tells me a new generation of leadership is beginning to “get it.”

So, why now? Why am I telling my story at such length? Why not now? Essentially, within the past eighteen months I have felt an emotional loosening, an ability to breathe, and a gentle impulse to let-go, to let down my defenses, a resolve to smile more authentically. A growing sense of strength and freedom cannot help but express itself out loud!

Yes, my physician tells me that I will likely need to be on my anti-depressant for the rest of my life. And, I now keep six Klonopin on hand to forestall another 2 a.m. trip to the ER for panic attack. But without knowing the day or the occasion, I have moved from feeling like a victim to that of being a survivor. That difference need not be fully in place for me to recognize the change as dramatic.

My pain has mutated over the years through grief and deep sadness into something approaching acceptance. News in February 2012 that Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned after initially denying accusations by four priests of sexual exploitation seemed like “old news” and all too familiar. The fact that he was dis-invited from participating in the conclave that elected Pope Francis and was forced to resign carried a refreshing element of vindication!

Parenthetically, Pope Francis is not an anomaly. He is one expression of many really fine Jesuits who are very much the norm rather than the exception. Neither is the story I tell here to be interpreted as an indictment of all Jesuits or a distraction from the tremendous good the Society of Jesus does globally and through the Wisconsin Province. Ignatius wanted “a few abnegated men.” I believe he would be proud of what he’s got today. I choose to believe the abdication of responsibility and complicity in abuse described here is the real anomaly to the Jesuit norm, especially today.

Yes, I still get angry hearing stories such as Oprah Winfrey’s July 17 interview of Jerry Sandusky’s son. Matt Sandusky tells of his father grooming of his victims and his subtle forms of manipulation. Matt’s story is his story – but I recognize its truth and fully appreciate the years it took him to tell it. Something I also understand is his father’s continuing protestations of innocence. I have no doubt that Jerry Sandusky truly believes he did nothing wrong and was simply engaging in good-natured child’s play with his son and his other victims. That’s part of the tragic pattern of abuse.

One important lesson in all of this is about consequences. I still hold Rembert Weakland in high esteem and admire his leadership as international leader for all Benedictine’s in the world and then as Archbishop. His ground breaking work on behalf of economic justice endures. I truly grieve that he has lived the past twelve years alone in an apartment in Milwaukee and was informed last month that he is not welcome to return to his home abbey in Pennsylvania. Behavior has consequences. I concede he did not set out to hurt anyone. But behavior, the kind we call misbehavior, has tragic consequences for oneself – and others. Believe me, I know!

Again, what prompts my disclosure now? An important prompt was the self-disclosure by Washington Post writer Steven Petrow in his April 28 column. A friend had slipped a novel by Carrie Brown into his mailbox. The novel tells the story of Ruth, now in her “twilight . . . look[ing] back on a harrowing childhood and on the unaccountable love and happiness that emerged from it.” Petrow hung on a single line from near the end of the book: “If I can’t ever tell anyone the true story . . . then no one will ever know me.”

Petrow had been writing an essay about his life and the self-blame he’d long carried about having had cancer. But he stopped his writing, snagged in that very same way as when he had come upon Ruth’s admonition. Would he include a certain seven words: “I had been molested as a child.”? He went on to explain his experience of being sexually molested by his paternal grandfather. I have been hanging on Petrow’s disclosure since April. Like him, I do not believe in coincidences. There is a reason his story crossed my path at this time in my life. “If I can’t ever tell anyone the true story . . . then no one will ever know me.”

The sad news of Fr. Pat Malone’s death arrived yesterday as I was finalizing this “open letter.” I was soon reminded of a post Pat made on his Caring Bridge site during Holy Week 2010. He reflected on the sex abuse scandal roiling the church he loved with his decades long battle with cancer. Pat expressed outrage at clergy abuse of minors but I am encouraged and consoled by his wisdom:

What has most rattled the world, believers and non-believers, is not that an organization has criminals and disturbed individuals within its ranks, but that those who could put the individuals out of harm’s way did not always do so, sometimes until a public outcry demanded it. The way forward was to conceal. There is a place for discretion, especially when it helps the wounded find a new normal, but secrecy too often feeds on itself: it makes it easier to stay clandestine the next time, and the next time. When we do not speak of the corruption, we do not stop it. Secrets keep us ill. They perpetuate shame… Worst of all, secrets convince us that we either do not need redemption, or its beyond our reach.

Pat was a superb Jesuit, of which there are many. He was a beloved associate pastor for St. Luke’s. I trust that he would endorse this truth-telling.

Unquestionably, another powerful motivation has been the decades-long cover-up of clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Minnesota Public Radio broke open the horrendous story more than a year ago. It now finds expression in at least forty law suits against the Archdiocese working their way through the courts. MPR aptly titles its July 14 webcast, “Betrayed by Silence.” This 59-minute radio documentary meticulously recounts the efforts of three successive archbishops to hide clergy sex abuse, failures to comply with protocols enacted by the US bishops in 2002, and stone-walling investigations by law enforcement. Tragically, the “structural sin” of systemic abuse is very much in evidence.

The most immediate and by far the most powerful impetus for my disclosure is a story first broke on July 1 by Commonweal magazine. Since the end of 2013 Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been under investigation for “multiple allegations” of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other adult men. Upon receiving complaints last year the Archdiocese has hired a law firm to conduct a full and independent investigation. In the past this would have sent me into a tailspin of depression, perhaps back into therapy. Today I choose the opposite of burying my feelings – rather, I choose to use a newly empowered voice to tell my story out loud and in public.

Regular readers of Kneading Bread know that I have frequently reiterated what rank-and-file Catholics know all too well… the root cause of our sex abuse crisis in the church is the culture of clericalism, hierarchical arrogance and preoccupation with protecting power and privilege. Now you know from where the passion and forcefulness of my conviction is coming. You now better understand the personal price and outrage beneath my words!

On July 7 – still outraged by the story about Archbishop Nienstedt’s alleged misconduct – I wrote on this blog: It’s long past time for more than a little honesty in our church. We are in urgent need of changing the sieve that keeps secret the tragic truth poisoning our church family. Honest confessions are long overdue. Telling my story is holding myself accountable to what I truly believe.

Actually, we need far more than “a little” honesty. I have become exhausted by holding my secret. More and more I am finding my voice – shame simultaneously dissipates. Confession is long overdue! Only now do I feel strong enough to add mine to the long roster of public confessions that still need to be heard in the light of day.

Finally, my family and faithful friends from St. Luke’s deserve yet another expression of gratitude. Your ongoing affection and practical support continue to nurture and inspire me. Over the last few months our paths have crossed at graduation celebrations, retirement parties, birthday recitals and other family get-togethers. We have shared losses and expressed grief as well as joy and achievement. Again without effort or awareness on your part, you remain a tremendous gift. When we have hugged and reminisced I have increasingly left with this conviction: You have a right to know!

Clergy sex abuse is perpetrated by a culture that holds its victims hostage within silence and secrecy. You have been victimized by this culture of abuse as well. As our paths have crossed this summer, especially in light of the scandals currently being exposed in this Archdiocese, it has seemed an injustice to you not to disclose the truth of my departure. Paraphrasing actress Ellen Page’s coming-out statement, “I am simply tired of lying to you by omission.”

You need not be a careful reader to see that I have deliberately not named names. Some in whom I have confided believe I should. But my purpose is not to seek revenge or retaliation. Yes, an undercurrent of anger, pain and grief flows through these pages. I have tried for too long to bury or disguise it. What’s buried alive stays alive. No more! I can achieve what contributes to my healing without saying more than I need to say.

One thing anger has taught is that it can be used to hurt or to heal. I sincerely want the hurt to stop – disclosing names just feels hurtful and stopping short of naming names feels right. I seek healing, for me and for all victims – not naming names seems like an appropriate way to express my strength and direct my anger toward that goal.

A composition of this length warrants a crescendo close. The only one that comes to mind is the quote from the Greek poet Aeschylus made famous by Robert Kennedy when I was seventeen and too young to fully comprehend its import. RFK concluded his remarks on the day Martin Luther King was assassinated:

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

But this composition is not history nor mythology – it’s my story, my life! Truly, it has become a story we share. It is our story! I am incapable of crafting a fitting conclusion alone. No longer do I presume to carry the responsibility of crafting that conclusion by myself.

Healing comes when we are open and honest, when the fullness of our lives is given as gift for others.