|ChrisOLeary.com > Sacrificed > What Happened I|
A quick trigger warning before I get started.
This episode discusses child sexual exploitation, abuse, and assault.
I do so at a high level and not at all graphically. At a 30,000 foot level. And I skip over the worst stuff.
But, the topic itself is disturbing and I want to make sure people are aware of that before I get started.
I've always remembered It.
No, not all of It.
Not the WORST of It.
But a lot of It.
The MAJORITY of It.
I simply didn't UNDERSTAND It.
I'm looking at the latch
I've stepped outside.
What Happened I
This is Sacrificed, a survivor's eye view of the Catholic sex abuse crisis that picks up, as my story does, where the movie SPOTLIGHT left off, providing a no punches pulled, no holds barred, and, above all else, no enabling look at the crisis and its aftermath.
What happened and why and how.
Both back then and now.
My name is Chris O'Leary and I'm a survivor of the Catholic sex abuse crisis.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was sexually exploited, abused, and assaulted — raped — by a Catholic priest.
Then, when I went to my archdiocese for help in March 2002, and my friend the cardinal — and not the baseball kind — called me back, that's when things got REALLY bad.
When the Abuse of the Abused began.
Epitomized by my treatment at the Mass of Reparation for the sex abuse crisis, in September 2018, held mere weeks after the release of the PA Grand Jury Report, where I was ignored — shunned — by all the priests in attendence.
And memorialized by the picture that serves as the cover art for this podcast.
Why would my archdiocese and the Catholic Church do that?
HOW could they do that?
Treat a survivor in a way that might be Catholic, but is anything but Christian? And gives the lie to the promises of the Pope and the rest of the church?
In order to protect certain powerful, connected men.
To conceal a crime.
And larger truth.
That some survivors — including myself — were simply thrown to the wolves.
The Catholic Church knew.
And did nothing.
Not only did they MANAGE my and our abusers, they PROTECTED them.
As for VOS ESTIS LUX MUNDI, Pope Francis' bill of rights for survivors, which was supposed to — finally — end the torment and ensure we're helped?
It's a sham.
A false hope.
A cruel taunt, directed at survivors.
All of which raises what for me is the big question.
If the Catholic Church can do what it's done to me, a survivor, over the past 20 years, and what it allowed to be done to me, and us, first as children and then as adults — sacrificing us, then and now — what else can it justify?
When it comes to children, above all else.
I'll be damned if I allow what happened to me to happen to anyone else, so I can't and won't stop until I figure out what happened.
And ensure it CAN'T happen again.
If Jesus Christ can do what he did, entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to a certain and KNOWN fate, then I can do this.
When I was a kid, I LOVED the game of baseball.
I loved playing it.
I loved studying and simply thinking about it.
I loved baseball so much that, on the days when I would have a game, I'd be so excited that I'd get up at literally the crack of dawn. Bored but wired, I’d watch the farm report until the cartoons came on. At the same time, I'd carefully laying out my uniform and make sure everything was ready for the game that would take countless, excruciating hours to arrive.
That Day — The WORST Day — started similarly.
I woke up at the crack of dawn on a mid-Summer morning. It was right before the 4th of July, 1980, and my parents were out of town at a convention.
Bursting with excitement about what was to come, I finished dressing and eating with at least two hours to spare and killed time by watching TV.
I didn’t know exactly what lay ahead — all I knew was that I was going to serve at mass for Fr. Valentine and then he was going to give me some Special Training — but I knew that it was going to be special, because Fr. Valentine always went out of his way to make our time together special.
Because I was one of his favorites and he was like a super-cool uncle — or even a second father — to me.
When it was time to leave the house and head up to church — and I believe because work was being done on or under the McKnight Road bridge over Black Creek — I walked down Black Creek Lane to the east end, where I hopped the five-foot brick wall and landed in someone’s back yard.
I then ran down the hill and turned right when I reached the street. I walked up the hill, weaving my way around the bends in the street and up the hill to Clayton Road. I ran across the street and entered the church through the east door, which opened up into the server’s area.
And Father Valentine is there to greet me with a smile.
Don't get me wrong.
Monsignor Flavin and my friend the cardinal, who was then just a father, were perfectly nice.
But they were a bit intimidating.
And, and in part because they were, old school.
Monsignor Flavin was very serious about his — and our faith — such that we went to mass six days a week, only having Saturdays off.
So when, in the Summer of 1977, Father LeRoy Valentine showed up at Immacolata, fresh out of the seminary, there was an immediate, and huge, contrast.
While Monsignor Flavin always wore an old school, traditional cassock — the traditional long, robe-like garment worn by priests — with long sleeves, Fr. Valentine would wear a short sleeve black shirt and pants. And sometimes, including after school, regular people clothes. Even shorts!
Fr. Valentine was also very different in terms of boundaries.
While Monsignor Flavin, and my friend the cardinal, very rarely crossed the driveway that separated the rectory and the school, Father Valentine was always in the school. In fact, Fr. V, as he quickly became known, would even hang out with guys in Berkshire, the neighborhood that backed up to Immacolata and wrapped around it on two sides.
I'm not sure what I experienced myself in terms of that, but I heard guys talk about Fr. V hanging out with boys at the houses that had swimming pools. In fact, he'd even hang out with guys while they were playing board games in guys' basements.
Just hanging out.
Watching guys swim and play.
And I couldn't help but be jealous of them.
If I only knew...
Let's begin at the beginning.
With Face to Face Confession.
And my first significant contact with my abuser Fr. LeRoy Valentine.
I made my First Confession the traditional way; like you see in the movies.
In a Dark Scary Room.
Which is a term I mean and use quite literally.
The way the confessionals at Immacolata are set up is they are basically three adjacent closets, built into the back wall of the church. In the middle is a small closet, just big enough to hold a chair, in which the priest sits. On either side are two slightly larger closets with kneelers that face the center, where the priest is sitting. In the wall, at the level of your mouth when you are kneeling there, is a screen through which you speak, and confess your sins, to the priest.
The confessionals aren't completely black, but they are quite dark.
And they smelled weird.
Enough so that they freaked me out as a second grader.
At Immacolata we went to confession at least once a semester, if not once a quarter, so I went to confession this traditional way a number of times.
But, because I wasn't thrilled with the dark, I leapt at the chance when the option of Face to Face Confession was offered, a year or two later.
Face to Face Confession was a COMPLETELY different experience. Instead of your going into what was basically a closet, it was held in the cry rooms; the rooms in the back of the church into which parents with young, loud, sometimes crying kids would retreat so as to not disturb the others at mass.
So that people could see what was going on at mass, the cry rooms had big, nearly floor to ceiling, full width glass windows that faced the altar. However, for Face to Face Confession, the sheer curtains, and maybe even the second set of thicker, blackout curtains that were behind them, would be drawn, preventing anyone from being able to see into the room.
Normally, the cry room would be full of chairs; two rows of six or seven black chairs. However, for Face to Face Confession, all the chairs would be put against one of the walls and two chairs would be placed in the center of the room, facing each other.
When you entered the room to make your confession, you'd open the door and Father Valentine would be sitting there, waiting for you with a big smile and a hug. He'd wave you to the open seat and you'd sit down and start to make your confession.
I know what others have said, about sitting on Fr. Valentine's lap, but I don't recall that ever happening to me.
Though it's possible.
What I DO remember, though, is how CLOSE he'd get to me, even though I wasn't on his lap.
I was always embarrassed when making my confession, and didn't want to look Fr. V in the face, so I'd lean forward in my chair, with my hands on the side of the chair, and my legs swinging underneath, as I talked.
What I remember is that, as I'd lean forward, Father Valentine would do the same. And he'd put a hand on my shoulder or on my knee. It felt like he was doing it out of sympathy, or to offer support, but there was something weird about it.
But it was Fr. V, and he was a priest, so...
What was certainly, without a doubt, weird was what would happen at the end of the process. As you'd make your act of contrition, and he'd give you your absolution, Fr. Valentine would pull and hold you close. He wouldn't GRAB you, but it was more than just a hug.
It was an embrace.
An enveloping embrace.
And, without fail, as part of the process, my head would end up in or near his crotch — as I leaned into him and he leaned in to me? — such that I would be able to see his rectangular, silver or steel belt buckle.
And that embrace would go on.
And then he'd release me and I'd bolt for the door.
It wasn't that I knew anything bad had happened — hey, I kept going back to him — but it was so intense...
His SMELL was go strong...
And the hug or embrace would go on for so long...
And he was so strong...
And his hands were so big...
And you were powerless to get away...
The best way to describe how I felt was "ambivalent."
On the one hand, I appreciated — I NEEDED — the physical contact and affection. On the other hand, it felt suffocating. Like being hugged by a relative, but worse.
Because of how long it went on.
And how suffocating it would become, as it went on and on and on.
Enough so that I still have nightmares about it. As I had one, just the other day, I assume because I'm thinking about and drilling into this memory.
It was a nightmare about being crushed.
And I can't help but remember how my head would there, in or by his crotch. Staring at his belt buckle. Then with my eyes closed. For seconds and a moment that would drag on.
But it was Fr. V, so...
I mean, come on...
Speaking of nightmares and being suffocated and trapped, that brings to mind one of only two recurring dreams I had.
The first was — I guess — a fever dream that I would have as a kid when I was about to get sick. I don't remember much about it, just that it involved standing on a ledge in a huge white, red, and orange room, full of ropes hanging from the ceiling, that would would have to grab onto and swing from or else I'd fall.
Pretty much, without exception, I would have that dream and then, the next day, I'd wake up sick.
The second dream is one I started having after the original SPOTLIGHT articles ran, my abuser was named, and I talked to my friend the cardinal in March 2002.
There isn't much to the dream.
Just that, all of a sudden, my mouth is full of something and I can barely breath. Whatever it is that's in my mouth doesn't taste or smell like anything. It's almost like pieces of plastic.
Like you'd get if you chewed on a ballpoint pen cap?
Like I used to do when I was a kid.
But it would fill up my mouth and, try as I might, I wasn't able to clear it out. I'd scoop and claw at it, but I couldn't get rid of it.
And, no, I don't think it was tied to any actual, physical symptom; dry mouth due to sleeping on my back with my mouth open or anything like that.
What it was tied to was the time I was trying to figure out if something had happened to me. It then stopped when I started to believe I might have been abused.
When I started to take my memories seriously and first tried to make sense of them.
Between 2002 and 2011 or so.
At Immacolata, we didn't start serving until fifth grade.
However, Father Valentine still went out of his way — FOUND ways — to get to know ALL the boys in the parish, even the younger ones.
The ones who weren't yet serving.
The fourth graders, like me.
I remember one night — probably a Saturday night — in the Fall of 1977, between Halloween and Thanksgiving, cold and wet, with most of the leaves already off the trees, when Fr. V had three other fourth grade guys and me over to the rectory.
The plan was to eat pizza and play the board game, Risk.
And maybe do a little wrestling.
I can CLEARLY — like it was just yesterday — remember my mom dropping me off outside the rectory and my DASHING inside.
Because I was SO EXCITED.
BURSTING with anticipation.
Raw, unbridled joy.
This was so COOL!
I ran around the back of the car, dashed to the door of the rectory, and rang the doorbell. After a moment's pause, Fr. Valentine greeted me.
Monsignor Flavin and my friend the cardinal, who also lived in the rectory, were around, but stayed out of our way; I assume they stayed upstairs, and/or in their rooms, while we stayed downstairs on the main level or in the basement.
The night started with our figuring out what we wanted to eat, and ordering, and we then went down into the basement to practice our wrestling, while we waited for the pizza to be delivered, I think from Pantera's.
My memories of wrestling aren't super clear. Just fragments. Sensations. But the thing I DO remember about the wrestling is how Father Valentine's hand kept...
And accidentally touching me.
He was trying to teach us how to flip each other; how to get a guy on his back, so you could pin him.
To do that, you had to grab your opponent by the thigh. But, what I remember clearly, is him telling us that we were all doing it wrong. We were trying to flip each other by grabbing our opponent up by the knee.
But that was wrong.
And it irritated Fr. Valentine.
I remember that.
And, when it was my turn to be on the bottom, and my opponent did it wrong, Fr. Valentine told him to step aside and climbed on top of me to show us the right way to do it. To flip your opponent and get him on his back.
And the way to do that was to grab your opponent, not at the knee end of the thigh, but down towards the butt.
But his hand kept slipping.
Instead of grabbing my thigh outside of the butt cheek, Fr. Valentine's hand would touch me.
Over and over again.
It was a strange sensation.
Like an electric shock.
That started in my groin and ran up my spine.
And it just froze me.
It's not that I felt anything.
I just kind of disappeared.
The other memory from that night, which I assume is from later, is one of my clearest, and favorite, memories from my childhood.
I'm sitting at the table in the kitchen in the rectory of Church of the Immacolata. I'm in the South chair. Across from me is R and to my right is A. To my left is T.
And we're at the table, acting like the 9 and 10 year old boys that we are. Laughing. Yelling. Being idiots.
All hopped up on Coke.
Because, unlike at home, we've each been given a full can, not one can divided among my two brothers and me.
And it's REAL Coke, not Vess or R.C. cola.
And it's delicious.
And we're playing Risk, or trying to.
As well as 9 and 10 year-olds can.
But, what's weird is that Father Valentine isn't anywhere in that memory.
He's somewhere else.
In the rectory.
And then I glance to my left and notice that T's chair is empty.
T's somewhere else in the rectory.
With Fr. V?
And then it's my turn.
I'm with Fr. Valentine.
Which is the TV room.
It's a rectangular room, with the TV on the same side as the door and a sofa across from it. The TV is an old style cabinet TV. And Fr. V is sitting on the sofa, watching TV. And I'm sitting next to him.
And then we lie down on the sofa, together, to watch TV.
And then I disappear...
So, I have this thing about my hair.
I like to keep it short.
Especially during the school year.
And, before the days of COVID-19, when I learned to clipper my own hair, if my hair would get too long, it would REALLY bother me.
Creep me out.
And I think that's related to something a fellow survivor told me in April 2018 about going up to Valentine's room to get haircuts.
My memories aren't at all clear.
And it's not that nothing happened.
Rather, it's more like something happened and was blanked out.
As has happened a few other times with other places; places I should know but just can't see.
But what I can remember is Fr. Valentine playing with my hair. Twirling it in his fingers. While he holds me. And whispers in my ear.
And it's very confusing because the words he's saying are Girl Words.
Not something a man would say to another man, but something you'd say to a girl.
And, especially, "pretty."
And its VERY confusing.
And then we're up in Fr. Valentine's room and sitting on his bed. And he's playing with my hair with one hand and whispering stuff to me. And telling me jokes. And touching and rubbing me with his other hand.
And there's my friend the cardinal, who also lives in the rectory and he's seeing what's going on and, since he doesn't react, I know it's no big deal.
I'm not FAKING.
That's what I say to myself as I'm sitting in a chair, leaning forward, with my head between my knees.
After almost having fainted.
Which is weird, because Fr. Valentine is there. Or, at least, he was there.
And he surprised me in the school.
It's the Winter of 4th grade.
Some number of weeks after the Pizza & Risk Party.
And I'm in the lowest level of the school. The ground floor. Well, the ground floor of the back side of the school, which is a level lower than ground level of the front of the school.
I'm at the base of the staircase that rises up through the school and its three levels. And it's cold. But I'm HOT.
I'm at the T that is formed by the hallway that runs from the back, lower door, with the cafeteria and the doors that enter it on the left, and the short hallway that goes past the multi-purpose meeting room and fifth grade classroom to my right.
I'm just standing there. Talking to a teacher, I think. Or maybe a couple. Facing North. And East. With my back to the back, lower entry to the school.
And then, all of a sudden, Fr. Valentine is there, on my right.
And I immediately get HOT.
Which is a strange reaction because it's cold, with the wind blowing in from the open door behind me.
But all of the blood has drained out of my head and I've gone white as a sheet. As the teacher I'm talking to can tell.
I'm getting woozy.
I feel like I'm going to go to sleep.
And I can't stand up.
And someone says something about how I look like I'm going to, "Fake."
But there's no way I'm faking this.
And, anyway, why would I?
And, of course, they didn't say, "Fake," they said, "Faint." But this has never happened to me before so I've never even heard the word "Faint" before.
All I know is I need to sit down.
So I sit down against the cold, greenish tiles of the wall at the foot of the stairs and put my head down between my legs.
It's freezing cold but I'm HOT as hell and I keep wanting to go to sleep.
And I don't know why.
Young servers weren't worth much at my parish.
About the only thing you could hope from them was that they wouldn't screw up.
But, as we got older, and as Father Valentine got to know you, that's when the cool stuff started.
What I remember as Special Training.
Masses during the school year were fairly crazy, as there was no time to dawdle after mass; we had to get things straightened up and head over to school after serving the daily, five days a week, all-school masses.
But things were different during the Summer.
Instead of going to mass with the kids of the parish, during the Summer the adults of the parish would attend the "early" mass, which would shift back to 9AM.
And, since there was no need to get out of there quickly, Fr. V would take the time after mass to work with individual servers.
I remember serving with one or two other guys, normally, but on the day of Special Training, I was the only server. That wasn't a big deal, since there would only be twenty or so people at mass. While that would make serving a bit awkward — this was in the days before Communion in the hand, so you needed at least one server to place a brass plate below the recipient's mouth to catch the host in case it fell out — one server could cover two aisles if he was older and, like I did, had longer arms.
After mass, it was time for Special Training.
I don’t remember the exact words that he used, but the gist was that Fr. Valentine was going to show me some things he probably shouldn’t be showing me; that he could get in trouble for showing me.
If anyone found out that he showed them to me.
However, he knew he can trust me.
He shows me around the priests’ side of the sacristy, opening the cabinets and showing me what they contain. We then go over the things the priests do to prepare for the masses of the day.
One of those tasks involves filling up the gold bowls into which the unconsecrated hosts would be placed for use at the next day's mass.
He shows me where the bowls are kept and then shows me how the hosts come in clear, crinkly, cylindrical tubes. We then go over to the counter by wall that divides the sacristy and lay out three bowls and a bag of hosts.
Because it's important that the hosts be treated carefully, Fr. Valentine is standing behind me sat the counter. Directly behind me, with his front to my back and his arms reaching around me. That way he can catch any hosts that might be spilled.
He shows me how to carefully pour the hosts from the bags into the bowls, filling them up enough so that there is just enough space to put the lids back on. He then shows me how the priests bless the hosts inside of the bowls. He does the first blessing, and then has me say the blessing for the other bowls.
Oops, but there are too many hosts in one of the bowls.
But we've already consecrated them.
Which is a problem.
Because we're dealing with consecrated hosts — the prayer that Fr. Valentine taught me was the consecration prayer, or something he said was — that means the hosts have been transformed into the body of Jesus Christ. As a result, I have to be EXTREMELY careful with them as I move them from one bowl to another, one at a time.
And I'm completely locked in on the task I'm performing, moving hosts from one bowl to another, one at a time.
And then he's touching me.
But I'm too involved on the critical, precious task of moving the hosts from one bowl to another to be able to think about that.
And then everything just kind of fades out.
And, as I say this, think about it, and talk about it, I'm getting woozy. All of a sudden I have headache and my eyes are having trouble focusing and there's this whooshing sound in my ears.
Just like what used to happen back then.
Which is one reason I believe me.
I've always REMEMBERED this day and moment and how it felt and most of what happened.
Except at the end.
But I was 11 or 12, so I didn't UNDERSTAND what it meant.
What happened after that episode of Special Training.
On That Day; the WORST Day.
Maybe on the same day. Maybe some other.
Not that it matters.
Though trying to figure that out is something that preoccupies my in many ways still 11 year-old mind.
Finally, and again, if you'd like to — or would rather — read what I have to say, go to chrisoleary dot com slash sacrificed. Those pieces also include photographs that document what happened to me and, I hope, help to prove my words and story.