Victims of priest abuse find healing in unity
Networks of people who faced sexual molestation pressure the Catholic church as bishops meet.
Nine months ago, Ben "Buddy" Cotton's life was in jeopardy. By his account, he was a cocaine addict, an alcoholic, a man who over the past 27 years had had run-ins with the law, suicidal periods, and once been diagnosed as homicidal. But last spring that all turned around.Skip to next paragraph
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In March, he was stunned to see a front-page newspaper story about a boyhood friend who told of being abused by a priest. It was the same priest who he says had sexually assaulted him at age 13, after carefully winning his trust.
"I read that and almost fainted," Mr. Cotton says. He had not known there were other victims. But soon that friend, Mark Serrano, called for all victims of Father James Hanley to come forward - at the very church where they had been betrayed. And on April 19, 12 men showed up and began a process of healing together.
"That amazing meeting changed my life - since then I haven't done drugs or taken a drink," says Cotton, a computer consultant from New Jersey. "It's a miracle, and I owe it all to coming to grips with my innocence."
Few victims of abuse - they prefer to call themselves 'survivors' - have as dramatic a transformation. Yet the past 10 months of revelations of the sexual-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church have brought significant breakthroughs for survivors, at the same time that they struggle to get the kind of church policy they see as essential to protecting children and encouraging other victims to break their silence.
While they are concerned that efforts to craft church procedures for dealing with the crisis are now being weakened, they are also buoyed by the validation and support they are finally winning from Catholics and civil authorities.
"The truth is out," says Sue Archibald, president of Linkup, a support group for clergy victims of all faiths. "Ten years ago, few were willing to hear about abuse, and now parishes invite survivors to share their stories."
That acknowledgment is spurring their recovery. "More people are recovering in lightning speed," says Peter Isley, a psychiatrist in Milwaukee. "They are doing in months what used to take years." Yet they want others still trapped in silence to also gain those benefits.
Survivor and lay Catholic groups have come to Washington this week to make their case for stronger action as the US Catholic bishops hold their annual conference. The bishops are expected to vote Wednesday to approve a policy on handling allegations of clergy sexual abuse, with revisions that were called for by the Vatican and made public last week.
SNAP, the largest self-help group, protested the more complicated, lengthy, and secretive investigation process now planned. The group also sent bishops a letter listing 13 steps that could be taken without Vatican approval or canon law reform. These include releasing all victims from gag orders, supporting extension or elimination of state statutes of limitations, and conducting listening sessions in their dioceses, as has been done in Milwaukee and New Jersey.