We were invited by Bishop Burns, because Bishop William Skylstad, the retired bishop of Spokane, was the retreat master, and Charles had mentioned to Bishop Burns that I would like to see Bishop Skylstad while he was here.
We had a lovely evening and I appreciated the opportunity to visit with Bishop Skylstad, who is a very kind and wise man.
I met Bishop Skylstad in Dallas in June 2002, at a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting. How I ended up being at that meeting is a long story, one that began in August of 1969...
When I was twelve, I was molested by a seminarian, a so-called friend of our family, who was on break from school and staying at our house that summer. I didn't disclose at the time of the abuse because I was afraid of the effect it would have on my family, especially my mother. I kept the secret until I was 29 years old and pregnant with my first child. My mother came up to visit me and brought Jose', the man who abused me. As far as my mother knew, Jose was just another close family friend. The news of their upcoming visit sent me into an emotional breakdown and I told Charles what had happened to me as a child. I began therapy and the long process of healing. Eventually, I told my mother and the rest of the family about my experience. Jose' was never prosecuted for his crime, because of the statute of limitations.
I was at home on a Friday afternoon in June of 2002, helping my son clean his room, when the phone rang. It was Fr. Clete Kiley, an official from the USCCB. He asked if I would be willing to come to Dallas and speak to the assembled bishops about my experience. I asked how he knew about me and he told that the (then) bishop of Juneau, Michael Warfel, had recommended me to the President of the USCCB, Bishop Wilton Gregory. I agreed to come to Dallas and Fr. Kiley told me that the USCCB would take care of my airfare, meals and hotel costs. I was to fly to Dallas the following Wednesday and would speak on Thursday. He told me to try to keep the news to myself, as the USCCB was concerned that the survivors who were invited to speak would be hounded by the press before our presentations. He told me that of course I could share the news with family and close friends.
I called my sister and asked if she could tell the rest of the family, and we told Charles' parents. The entire meeting was going to be televised on C-Span, because of the huge impact the news of the clergy sexual abuse crisis had caused in the United States. I was to speak before the assembled 300 bishops, the staff, and the press who would be present: a total of about 1000 people.
I called my therapist, Nancy, and my friend Jeanie and our friends and neighbors Ed and Betsy. Ed was working for the Juneau Empire at the time and I stressed to him that I was telling him as a friend, and not a reporter. He asked if he could put his reporter hat on and asked if, when I was done with my presentation, I could call him and give him an interview. I promised that he would be the first interview I gave.
I flew to Dallas, accompanied by Bishop Warfel, who was kind and attentive during the trip. We arrived in Dallas and took a shuttle to our hotel, the Dallas Fairmont, certainly the nicest and most luxurious hotel I had ever been in!
I was greeted by a lovely flower arrangement in my room from my sister Mary. It had a note with one word written on it: "Courage".
I was so nervous, I couldn't eat. At dinner time, I went to the dining room and looked at the menu. The only thing that appealed to me was a small shrimp salad. A nice bishop came and asked if he could sit with me. He introduced himself as Bishop Michael Pfeifer from San Angelo, Texas. He asked if that was all I was going to eat, and urged me to eat more than just a small salad. I told him that I was so nervous about my presentation the next day that I couldn't eat any more. He said: "How about dessert then? Young man, (gesturing to a waiter) do you have ice cream and cake?" I assured him that I really wasn't hungry for dessert (very unusual for me), and thanked him for his kindness. He then gave me a small Holy Spirit medal (which I still wear today) and gave me a blessing for the next day.
The next day, I arrived in the huge conference room and Bishop Warfel met me and took me around the room to meet as many bishops as he could introduce me to. That's when I met Bishop Skylstad. All the bishops were very kind and encouraging.
After I gave my presentation, I took a few minutes to go to my room and recover a bit. I called Ed and gave him the promised interview.
Then all four of the survivors who spoke were given the opportunity to speak to the press. I was interviewed by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Dallas Morning News and by USA Today.
Then we were invited to watch the bishops as they worked on establishing the Charter For The Protection of Young People, a huge document that would become the guideline for dioceses in the United States. At one point, a bishop was arguing against having stipulations that one offense would mean removal from the priesthood. I was sitting in the observers section and I stood while he was speaking and remained standing until the bishops voted down his amendment, then I crossed myself and sat down.
Speaking in Dallas changed me profoundly. I used to be afraid of speaking in front of groups of people. I am no longer afraid. I used to be afraid to tell people about my experience of being abused - so much so that I was hesitant to join a support group of survivors because, as I told my therapist: "I can't talk about what happened to me". I used to feel powerless and helpless. Now I am strong. Speaking in Dallas was a healing experience, and while I am not happy for the reason that I was selected to speak, I am glad that I was given the opportunity to share my story.
|Me, Bishop Skylstad and Charles at the Shrine of St. Therese|