Sins of the Fathers > Sins of the Fathers > TOC > Gaslighting
GASLIGHTING: a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make the target question their memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target's belief.

- Wikipedia

The term Gaslighting comes from the 1938 play and the 1940 and 1944 movies of the same name.

The gist of the 1944 movie Gaslight is that a newlywed named Paula, played by Ingrid Bergman, begins to question her memory and her health as a result of a number of incidents. That includes losing a family heirloom given to her by her husband, hearing footsteps coming from the sealed-off attic, removing a picture from a wall but not remembering doing so, and having hallucinations about the existence of a letter.

The title of the film comes from a number of times when Paula notices the gas lights of the house dimming. That would indicate that someone has turned a light or the gas on elsewhere in the house. However, she is the only one who notices it, leading her to ask the question that is the telltale of Gaslighting.

Did that actually happen
or did I just imagine it?

SPOILER ALERT: Towards the end of the movie, it is revealed that Paula's husband is, in fact, a criminal who only married her in order to find and steal her late aunt's jewels, which he suspects are located in the house in which they are living. He is physically and psychologically isolating her, and trying to make her question her sanity, in order to hide his true actions and motives and drive her out of the house and into an institution. His use of the gas lights in the supposedly sealed-off attic, to search for the jewels, is what caused the lights to dim in the rest of the house.


Gaslighting is more than just lying.

As Stephanie Sarkis explains in her seminal piece and in a follow-up piece...

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.

Gaslighting makes a victim question their reality.

It leads them to ask...

Did that actually happen
or did I just imagine it?

That's the difference between mere lying and gaslighting.

I'm working on a definition of Gaslighting, and here's what I have so far.

Gaslighting is a strategy employed by sociopaths, narcissists, and other manipulators that involves the telling of blatant lies despite the existence of clear proof to a psychologically vulnerable person and lead them to question their reality.

Catholic Church as Gaslighter

What could Gaslighting have to do with the Catholic Church?

The answer to that question starts with my May 9, 2011 meeting with a Review Team put together by Deacon Phil Hengen of the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the Archdiocese of St. Louis to investigate claims of sexual abuse by priests. My story then peaks -- or, more aptly, bottoms out -- on May 10, 2013 when the Archdiocese, due to a 2012 complaint by someone else, removed Fr. Leroy Valentine, the priest I had raised questions about in the 2011 meeting.

And did nothing to help me.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis didn't even bother to contact me before the removal of Fr. Valentine to give me a heads up or afterwards to see how I was doing.

Understandably, that left me deeply confused, stunned, and devastated.

Did that actually happen or did I just imagine it?

And feeling like I was going crazy.

The Big Deal

What's the big deal?

Don't the Archdiocese of St. Louis' actions of May 10, 2013 just mean they didn't believe me, but they did believe the person who came forward in the Summer of 2012?


But why did Deacon Phil Hengen tell me he wanted to talk to my psychologist? What about my memories, some of which are new but many of which I've always remembered but didn't understand until recently? What about the fact that both of my psychologists believed me and were helping me me deal with those memories?

Well, until I ran out of money.

What's more, there are a number of irregularities in what the Archdiocese of St. Louis has said and done.

Irregularities that also made me wonder if -- because I felt like -- I was going crazy.

And not for the first time.

May 9, 2011

On May 9, 2011 I attended a meeting with a Review Team that had been set up by Deacon Phil Hengen, the head of the Office of Child and Youth Protection.

I asked for the meeting because the topic of Fr. Valentine had come up during my sessions with D, my therapist, when I started talking about my productivity problems. I had what seemed like a related and recurring problem with working for older men.

I eventually reached the point where I wasn't able to think or function if I didn't to go back to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, again tell them my story, and ask them a simple question.

Are you SURE this doesn't mean anything?


As soon as I walked into the room, and was introduced to the people sitting around the table, I started having problems.

Problems thinking and not passing out.

The issue was there were not one but two lawyers present at the meeting. That was contrary to the Archdiocese's stated policy, which I had read in advance of the meeting.

Or had I just imagined the part about lawyers not being part of the Review Team?

I didn't think so, but now I wasn't sure.

As a result, after the meeting was finished, in the years since, I re-read the Archdiocese of St. Louis' policy. I have since re-read it closed to a hundred times, trying to reassure myself that I was not and am not crazy.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

As I mentioned above, I had a number of conversations with with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and then met with a psychologist affiliated with the archdiocese.

When, in early 2002, the Archidocese of St. Louis asked people to come forward with any information, I was one of the people who called and left a message. As I discuss a length in my discussion of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, then-bishop and now Cardinal Dolan called me back a day or so later. We had a couple of conversations over the phone and he then arranged for me to meet with a psychologist.

The problem was, during my meeting with The Review Team in 2011, they told me they didn't know anything about my 2002 conversations with Cardinal Dolan and the psychologist.

It was like it never even happened.

Did that actually happen or did I just imagine it?

But I know it did.

Or at least I thought I did.

It took me years of driving around Clayton to figure out where I met with the psychologist, but I eventually did in early 2017.

Man Enough

After I told the Review Team what I remembered, and as the meeting was wrapping up, Deacon Phil Hengen, who was a psychologist, MSW, head of the Archdiocese of St. Louis' Office of Child and Youth Protection, and was running the meeting, wrote the name of a book on the back of his card and gave it to me. As he gave his card to me, he told me...

You should read this book.
I think it will help you.

The book was Man Enough by Frank Pittman and the clear implication was that Deacon Hengen believed the difficulties I was having were not due to the incidents with the priest that I remembered. Rather, my struggles were the result of some problems I had with my father when I was growing up.

That was what was making it hard for me to work for and with older men.

As for the priest?

Nothing happened.

I immediately purchased the book. However, the more I read it, the more confused I became.

In sum, Man Enough makes the case that men who grow up without a strong male presence tend to turn into one of three types of hyper-masculine men...

  • Philanderers
  • Controllers
  • Competitors

The problem was that I wasn't ANY of those three types of men. In fact, over the years I had come to know enough of those types of men that I wondered why I wasn't more like them.

Why wasn't I more of a man?

Assuming I was missing something -- there had to be some truth to what Deacon Hengen saw and a reason why he recommended the book -- I started to re-read it from the beginning. And then I started over again. And then over again. And over again.

I re-started reading the book countless times.

More than 25 times.

The problem was, every time I read the book, I would get 30 or so pages into the book and then -- assuming I had missed the part that Deacon Hengen thought was relevant -- I would start over again from the beginning.

And I did that over and over again.


Af the meeting with the Review Team on May 9, 2011, Deacon phil Hengen gave me the clear impression that something would happen quickly, presumably just after the next meeting of the Review Board, which was scheduled for Thursday May 19, 2011. As a result, I was deeply confused when weeks and then months passed without hearing anything from Deacon Hengen.

It wasn't until July 2011, when I called him -- and he gave me the old OMG, I was JUST going to call you, routine -- that I  finally got in touch with Deacon Hengen. He told me they had talked to Fr. Valentine and he denied everything. However, Deacon Hengen told me he wanted to get in touch with D, my therapist, and talk to him about getting me help from the archdiocese to pay for therapy.

As a result, after getting off the phone with Deacon Hengen, I immediately drove to D's office and filled out a release to let him talk to Deacon Hengen and anyone else at the Archidocese of St. Louis.

I distinctly remember doing this because, at our next appointment, D had me tear up the original release that I had filled out -- which enabled D to discuss everything with anyone -- and had me sign one that was a bit more restrictive. However, he assured me that it was still good enough to enable D to talk to Deacon Hengen and to put together a Treatment Plan.

I then gave Deacon Hengen's contact information to D and told him that Deacon Hengen told me that, because of confidentiality rules, D needed to call him. D then called the number I gave him and left a message.

And then nothing happened.

For whatever reason, Deacon Hengen never contacted D, my therapist. Needless to say, I grew frustrated and agitated by the delays, and started to get angry with D, at which point he told me...

In 20 years of doing this, I've never had someone, who truly wanted to get in touch with me, fail to get in touch with me.

Deacon Hengen never did get in touch with D. Why, I don't know. The few times I talked about it with him, he would make excuses about how hard it was to get in touch with me or D.

Which just drove me crazy.

But that was nothing compared to what happened next.

May 10, 2013

On May 10, 2013, two St. Louis newpapers published pieces that quoted from a press release the Archdiocese of St. Louis had issued a few days earlier and a separate prepared statement by Deacon Phil Hengen.

The recent allegation, that was found to be credible, took place in 1978. The allegation involved inappropriate touching of a minor and was first made to archdiocesan officials in the Summer of 2012. An investigation began immediately. The Review Board concluded its process with Archbishop Carlson's announcement of Fr. Valentine's permanent removal from public ministry on May 1, 2013.

However, the Archdiocese of St. Louis neglected to...

  • Alert/Warn me beforehand of the news. Instead one of my two psychologists thought to, knew to, and had to, do that.
  • Contact me afterwards to see how I was doing.
  • Help me in any way up to that point, not do anything until I sued them, and then take 18 months.

As a result, the Archidocese of St. Louis ended up driving into a deep depression and unleashed a flood of questions.

Do they know I exist?
Did my 2002 conversations with Cardinal Dolan and the psychologist actually happen? Did my 2011 meeting with the Review Team actually happen?
Or did I just imagine them?
When did the prepared statement say they came forward? 2012? Or 2011? I think it said 2012, but now I can't remember. Let me check again. And again. And again...
Who came forward?!? Who was it? Was it T? P? WHO WAS IT?!?
Are they talking about me? Or someone else? Are they lying about when I came forward?
Are they doing this on purpose? Is it a sign of a war in the church? Or is it just some bureaucratic screw-up? Does it matter?
Did the Archdiocese of St. Louis really remove Fr. Valentine? Did my 2011 meeting with the Review Team actually happen? Did my 2002 conversations with Cardinal Dolan and that psychologist actually happen?
Did what happened to me actually happen?
Do I even exist?

Why did that affect me so deeply?

Look at the timeline.

At the dates.

Again, the Archdiocese of St. Louis' prepared statement said...

The allegation involved inappropriate touching of a minor and was first made to archdiocesan officials in the Summer of 2012.

Here's the problem.

I first came forward in 2002.

Two Thousand and TWO.

I first met with the Review Team from the Archdiocese of St. Louis on May 9, 2011.


Twenty ELEVEN.

Not 2012.

That means someone ELSE has come forward.

They came forward in the Summer of 2012. And the Archdiocese of St. Louis believed them.

But not me.

Because I don't exist.

If I actually existed, certainly the Archdiocese of St. Louis would have circled back to me, given that I made an allegation against the very same priest.

The allegation involved inappropriate touching of a minor and was first made to archdiocesan officials in the Summer of 2012.

I have revisted that page, and re-read that statement, literally hundreds of times. I've re-re-read it and re-re-re-read it. Looking for what? I don't know. However, I can't stop. What that sentence says is simply too hard for me to process. And the resulting -- I don't even know how to name or describe the feeling -- has consumed months if not years of my life.

Assistance Coordinator

In the Archdiocese of St. Louis' Pastoral Policy on handling claims of abuse, it mentions the position of an Assistance Coordinator. Their job is just what it implies; to coordinate the assistance that is provided to victims.

The problem is that, while that sounds good, here's the reality.

At no point since the May 9, 2011 meeting with the Review Team have I been told of the existence of or offered the services of an Assistance Coordinator.

 I hope it's no surprise that triggered the question.

Did that actually happen or did I just imagine it?

However, I have read the Pastoral Policy over and over and over and over again and every time I read it it says the same thing.

Monsignor Richard Hanneke

With the removal of Fr. Valentine by the Archdiocese of St. Louis in May 2013 and the Church and Deacon Phil Hengen's continued inaction, by late 2013 I decided I had to try another tack.

Assuming he was the problem, I tried to go over Deacon Hengen's head.

I didn't know how the Archdiocese was organized, but I took a shot and approached Monsignor Richard Hanneke, who I knew personally. I knew he was the Vicar for Priests and was fairly high-up in the church hierarchy, so I hoped he could help me.

I first approached Monsignor Hanneke in late 2013 and we met in met early 2014. I told him that Deacon Phil Hengen had never even tried to get in touch with D, never put me in touch with the Assistance Coordinator, expected me to drive the process, and other things that told me that the process either wasn't working or was being disrupted by Deacon Hengen.

What was so bizarre and disturbing about our interactions was the difference between our two meetings. In the first meeting Monsignor Hanneke was receptive and caring. In the second, he was cold and uncaring. Like someone had given him a talking-to. He simply told me I had to go through Deacon Hengen.

That was despite knowing that I didn't trust Deacon Hengen, and had reached out to Monsignor Hanneke because I felt like Deacon Hengen wasn't actually trying to help me.

It was surreal.

Monsignor Hanneke was removed from his position as Vicar for Priests and reassigned shortly afterwards, I'd like to believe because of his advocacy for me.

But I doubt it.

In truth, the fact that Monsignor Hanneke, despite all I told him, told me to go back to Deacon Phil Hengen told me that the Archdiocese thought Hengen was doing his job.

And doing it well.

It was just that his job wasn't what the Archdiocese said, and I thought, it was.

His job wasn't to HELP me get help.

His job was to KEEP me from getting help.

I assume out of the hope that I would just go away.

The Matrix

In January 2014, and as is discussed in pieces in the RFT and Post-Dispatch, the Archdiocese of St. Louis complied with a court order and released a spreadsheet that came to be known as the "Matrix."

The Matrix contained a record of every complaint made to the Archdiocese of St. Louis over a 20-plus year period.

At least, it was supposed to.

The problem is, as others have observed, the Matrix is not complete.

Among other things, my 2002 complaint to and conversations with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and a psychologist associated with the Archdiocese of St. Louis are not included. While that may not seem like a big deal to you, it had a dramatic impact on my mental state.

Did that actually happen or did I just imagine it?

Pope Francis

In September 2015, Pope Francis visited the U.S. and delivered an address to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that triggered another one of those moments.

Did that actually happen or did I just imagine it?

The problem was what the Pope said to the U.S. Bishops in general and his use of one word in particular.

I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice.

Is "courage" the word you would use to describe what I've recounted in this piece and in other pieces like Hardball?

Either Pope Francis is completely out of touch with reality, has no understanding of what is really happening out in the field, or approves of what the U.S. Bishops have done and was implicitly telling them as much.

Regardless, to use the word "Courage" to describe the actions of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Catholic Church is a perversion of the word and the example that was set by Jesus Christ as he willingly rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to a known and certain death, all to save us from our sins.

That my friends, is courage.

A Church at War with Itself?

I don't know what's going on within the Archdiocese of St. Louis or the Catholic Church; why they're Gaslighting me or whether it's intentional or not, but none of the possible answers are good.

The simplest explanation is that all of this was a deliberate and diabolical attempt to keep me from coming forward before the statute of limitations ran out.

Which, I'm sad to say, worked.

The more charitable interpretation of what I went through, and am still going through, is that it reflects a fight going on within the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Catholic Church.

A fight between the deniers and the believers.

And, based on my experience, the deniers seem to be winning, at least in St. Louis. That should terrify every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, and parishoner. The Catholic Church still has a problem with sexual abuse and how such cases are handled and it's in deep denial about it.

All of which means children remain at risk.



GASLIGHTING: A manipulation tactic characterized by deliberate, repeated lying, the goal of which is to disguise one's true intentions by making the subject doubt their perception of reality and even their sanity.

As Friends

Trying to remove mom and dad from my lawsuit "as friends." Removing my only remaining source of support.




What's the Big Deal?

The only way I can be -- kind of -- productive is to talk myself through episodes of being triggered and the only way that -- kind of -- works is by acknowledging what happened. "You know what this is. You're not crazy. You're not dying. You're just triggered." Gaslighting makes this much more difficult, if not impossible. If feeds the beast; the voice that tells me I'm making this all up. Which means I'm crazy or dying, not just Triggered.

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