|ChrisOLeary.com > Sacrificed > What's the Big Deal|
What's the big deal?
About abuse? And having been abused?
About being a survivor of the Catholic sex abuse crisis?
The day she's getting married. Becoming a wife and perhaps, eventually, a mother.
A day I've been thinking about since she was born.
It started with the movie, "Father of the Bride," the Steve Martin version, which came out while my ex-wife and I were dating, and starting to get serious.
"What can that be LIKE?"
To prepare for your daughter's wedding?
To help to raise her. Protect her. Love her.
To walk her down the aisle, kiss her, and give her away.
For years, it was just theory. Speculation. But something that fascinated me, nonetheless.
And then we had a son.
Which was incredibly disorienting, but still familiar.
When I was a child, aside from being one of three boys, I also had 14 male cousins on my mom's side. No girls. So Summers, and family reunions, were an exclusively male affair.
Yes, finally, at the end of the train, came a girl cousin.
But I was too old by then for it, and her, to affect me.
I DID have girl cousins on my dad's side, and our families spent significant time together, but they didn't make a huge impression on me; they weren't interested in go-carting and shooting things with my air rifle and firecrackers and the other stuff we boys did when our families were together.
And then I had a daughter.
And with her came drama, from the start; at the end of a long, drawn-out, epidural-free delivery. Which seemed like a good idea at the time but, I assume, contributed to her having to spend a couple days in the NICU, which drove home to me the fact that I had opened myself up to a level of vulnerability that I hadn't previously appreciated.
Or prepared myself for.
On the one hand, boys and girls aren't THAT different; they're both work.
On the other hand, boys and girls are COMPLETELY different.
As became increasingly apparent as she and her older brother grew up together.
First, there was her thing with shoes. While, when I was a kid, I found that basically ANY new pair of shoes instantly made me tremendously faster, my daughter felt that ordinary shoes had a tendency to get "pinch-y" and "smush-y." That forced us to buy her, and discard, countless pairs before we finally found a pair that was acceptable.
Which of course, I found at a boutique shoe store, for three times the price I'd ever paid for a pair of shoes.
Then, there was her reaction to fishing.
Like her brothers, my older daughter LIKED to fish. Fly fishing, especially. She just didn't like to CATCH fish. Her reaction to having a fish on was this bizarre mix of excitement and terror.
But, eventually, we came to an understanding.
I had to alert her so she could be AROUND when fishing was occurring. She demanded that she be EXPOSED to the opportunity; to what her brothers and I were doing. And she REQUIRED that she be included in the triumphant, fish in hand photograph.
But she couldn't commit to participating.
Maybe, instead, she'd just do cartwheels.
And man, COULD she swim.
She was never the most athletic of my kids — physical confrontation wasn't her thing — but, pound for pound, she may have been the strongest.
And certainly the spunkiest.
And today she's getting married.
And I'm not invited to the wedding.
What's the Big Deal
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 aftermath of the Catholic sex abuse crisis.
How and WHY what happened, happened.
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 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, where I was ignored — shunned — by all the priests in attendance.
As captured 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?
Despite the events of 2002, with SPOTLIGHT and the Dallas Charter, and 2018 and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report? Treating 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.
Abuse Profiteers who benefited from the crisis and their willingness to turn a blind eye to and then "fix" things. Abuse Profiteers whose ranks include, I suspect, Pope Francis.
And to conceal a crime.
A larger truth.
That some survivors — including myself — were simply thrown to the wolves.
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.
What's the big deal? About abuse?
About being a survivor of the Catholic sex abuse crisis?
Why can't survivors (just) move on with our lives?
Get over it?
And why should you care?
Those are all valid questions.
And the answer starts with what having been abused does, not just to us, but to our families.
How it leaves us.
That's the best word for it.
To describe how I feel about MY SPOTLIGHT.
And its aftermath.
Still, nearly twenty years later.
Because of what it did not just to ME, but to US.
To my family.
Because I'm still LEARNING what happened in those dark and scary and desperately confusing days.
And not just what HAPPENED to my family.
What I DID to my family.
What I put them THROUGH.
Yes, without realizing it, but nonetheless.
Meaning they're as much survivors as I am.
And that realization leaves me absolutely RACKED with guilt.
I couldn't prevent it.
What happened to me from affecting them; the pain from being passed down from one generation to the next.
Something I SWORE wouldn't happen.
But couldn't prevent.
Leading to a guilt that TORMENTS me, awakening me in the middle of the night.
I'm just so INCREDIBLY sorry.
About what happened, and what I did, as a result, in the weeks and months after the publication of the original Boston Globe SPOTLIGHT articles about the Catholic sex abuse crisis in early January 2002. Which led to the publication, by the New York Times on March 3, 2002, of an article entitled...
...that named a priest from my childhood as an abuser.
People don't understand, because I still don't completely understand, what it was like to, completely out of the blue, see one of your favorite priests — and PEOPLE — named as an abuser. To have to face, because you're suddenly CONFRONTED with, the consequences of what happened, without even understanding what's going on.
And it's one thing to do this to ME, but to do it to my FAMILY...
So I'm racked with guilt.
I can only guess, because it's the same time of year?
Because it FEELS the same?
How I've been told — how I FEAR — it happened.
It's early in the Summer of 2002 and my now ex wife is sitting on the blue sofa in the family room at my parents’ house. My youngest is still just an infant, mere weeks old, and is cradled in her arms.
And my younger son, two and a half, is cowering in the corner.
My wife is talking to my mom.
Because something’s wrong with me.
It’s a few MONTHS after the release of the original SPOTLIGHT reports. And a few WEEKS after my own, personal SPOTLIGHT, which is how I refer to and think about what it was like to learn that Father LeRoy Valentine was named by the New York Times.
And, even though both my friend the cardinal and an independent psychologist gave me the all clear, telling me nothing happened, I got sick.
Despite my clean bill of health, I'm suddenly, and inexplicably, irritable.
Snapping at the kids.
And my wife.
And, only now, am I even starting to understand that I was doing all these things to them, without even realizing it.
And can't get the image of that day out of my head.
Or the guilt.
How I feel as a result of what I did to her and them. Without knowing it, yes, but nonetheless.
No, I didn't MEAN to do it. I didn't even KNOW I was doing it. But I still DID it.
It still HAPPENED.
And I remember how it scared the crap out of me because, at least once, I DID notice it.
When I screamed at my oldest, over nothing, as we drove back up from Florida, just days after I first learned about it.
And the reason it's bothering me now, in part — and one reason it's bothering me so MUCH — is because I only recently LEARNED about it.
Nearly 20 years after it happened.
When my mom mentioned it, recently.
She gets very frustrated with my now ex wife, sometimes for a good reason, but I can't help but remind my mom that my ex wife is as much of a victim of the Catholic sex abuse crisis as I am.
As are my kids.
It's hard to express how it feels to be excluded from something you've spent your entire life — and longer — preparing for.
Figuring out what you're going to say, later that evening at the reception. How to balance being heartfelt and getting through it without breaking down.
But now it's a moot point.
My isolation from my daughter, and my family, on her wedding day, is the bookend to that tortured memory of my then wife talking to my mom about my increasingly bizarre, and inexplicable, behavior, just weeks after my own personal SPOTLIGHT.
And the natural consequence of the Catholic Church's strategy of how it treats survivors.
Despite VOS ESTIS.
It's what happens when problems, rather than being solved, instead are denied.
In order to protect certain, powerful men.
Future popes, perhaps.
So I'm left on my own to try to manage my increasingly desperate, and at times suicidal, emotions.
Visions of slamming my car into a rock face. To end it all.
Visions that grow worse as each week passes and the wedding gets closer. Such that, six months out, I'm no longer able to sleep through the night.
I wake up, each night, PISSED.
At being excluded.
Shunned for getting sick.
But, at the core, it's not anger.
Because, if I'm not there, I can't protect them.
And, beneath that, is the deeper feeling and fear that I'm not invited because I don't exist.
My original plan for dealing with it all was to leave. To flee. Bail.
To Texas. Or New Mexico. Or California.
But, as the day got closer, a new fear started to well up inside of me. That, at the last minute, my daughter would change her mind and call and invite me.
Ask me to walk her down the aisle, at least.
So, suddenly, I couldn't leave.
Just in case.
But as Friday night, and the rehearsal dinner, and Saturday morning, and the day of the wedding, passed, it became increasingly obvious that it wasn't going to happen.
That she wasn't going to call.
But, just in case, I stayed home through the afternoon. Then my mom had to leave to go to the wedding and I realized I had to do something.
To get out of there.
So, as I do, I got in my car and drove.
I don't know what driving does to me or why, but I have to assume it has something to do with the act of getting away — of going away — from St. Louis. And how leaving St. Louis made me feel, when I was younger, even though I had no idea why.
I decided to go to Pere Marquette Park.
That was something I used to do with the kids, both in the Fall, to look at the leaves, and in the Winter, to look at the bald eagles who winter on the Mississippi River, just north of St. Louis.
Because I can't stop thinking about my daughter, I select the song on my iPhone that I regard as hers, "Mary's Prayer," by Danny Wilson. I listen to it once. And again. And again. And again.
And I start to cry.
Thinking about all the moments we had together.
How we used to be.
Wave jumping in Hilton Head; lions and tigers and bears, oh my.
How she'd greet me, by diving into the window of my car, when I'd drive down to pick her up from Kanakuk.
And other memories that aren't accessible to me, because they're located in a different part of my memory.
A different PERSON'S memory.
Mine, but different.
And I'm thinking about her and us and them as I drove north out of St. Louis and across the bridge to Alton, then up the Great River Road.
Then I'm at the entrance to the park and I turn right and drive up road that climbs the bluff. And I listen to her song one last time.
What I wouldn't give to be,
On top of the bluff, I get out of the car at the overlook we used to stop at. The one with the hill the kids used to run up to get even higher.
And I'm overtaken by memories.
And, as I am, I suddenly understand the last part of the song, "Memory," from the musical Cats, which always seemed completely bizarre to me.
That wasn't where I expected that song to go.
But, perhaps, it's how I need to regard my memories.
Yes, it's horrible to not be around her and them on her wedding day but, at least, I'm still around. Which means there's a chance that, some day, she'll love me again.
I get back in my car and put on the song I was going to use for the father daughter dance at the wedding, Frank Sinatra's, "The Way You Look Tonight," the song her mom and I used for our first dance at our wedding. And the song that, when my daughter was little, I would sing to her as a lullaby.
And it strikes me, as I drive back home, that, while this is all so terrible, at least I have the memories I do.
As I do her, still.
And, the fact is, everybody's healthy and safe. And together, having fun.
Even if I can't be there.
At the moment.
I got sick.
That's the best way to put it.
To describe what happened to me after — and, though I didn't realize it at the time, before — my favorite priest, and one of my favorite PEOPLE, from my childhood was named and accused of being an abuser.
I was FINE in college, in large part because, for whatever reason, I INSISTED on going to school out of state.
And ended up in Texas.
Where, for four blissful years, I was COMPLETELY free of IT.
OK, well, not COMPLETELY free, but MOSTLY free.
The truth is that in senior year of college, as the thought of returning to St. Louis after graduation started to weigh on me, stuff started seeping in.
To find me.
To get AT me.
Stuff I'd left behind in St. Louis or, at least, thought I had.
The gender confusion stuff.
And problems related to intimacy.
A FEAR of intimacy.
But not exactly, or not at the core, a FEAR, but a CREEPINESS related to intimacy.
How it made me feel.
To be touched.
I could touch girls — I found their bodies compelling and WANTED to touch girls, all over — but I didn't like them touching me BACK. I couldn't stand the THOUGHT that they would touch me back. So I wouldn't go beyond first base, and kissing, for fear that they would touch me in response to my touching them.
And I did NOT like to be touched.
Which was just bizarre and confusing and...
Was I GAY?
Not that there's anything wrong with that...
And, if so, then why did I only, ever have crushes on girls, starting with my third grade teacher?!?
Regardless, the problems came back, full bore, when I moved back to St. Louis after graduating from college, and especially in the LATE Summer of 1990 when, instead of going back to Texas as I normally would, I stayed in Missouri, at a school just an hour or so outside of St. Louis.
At least I was able to treat — or at least manage, kind of — those feelings by fleeing to Texas, to see my girlfriend, every few weeks.
A strategy I escalated by moving BACK to Texas at the start of 1991.
But, then, my normal problems with the month of June — remember, June is when the worst stuff and That Day happened — got to me, even in Texas, forcing me BACK to St. Louis, just before the 4th of July of 1991.
I spent the Fall of 1991 in St. Louis, working at an internship, but the general feeling of creepiness started to get to me, again, such that, when my girlfriend and I had a fight in early 1992, I took the opportunity to AGAIN get the hell out of St. Louis and AGAIN moved back to Texas.
To be clear, I was, in part, going to Texas be with my girlfriend. However, it made more SENSE for me to be in St. Louis; that was where most of my best contacts were, and where I could live for free. But, by early 1992, I simply couldn't STAND to be in St. Louis any more.
So, not only was I chasing HER, I was chasing a FEELING. Or, more like it, the ABSENCE of a feeling. A feeling — a WEIGHT — that I felt in St. Louis, but not in Texas. And the absence of that weight meant that, quite simply, I was a different PERSON in Texas.
I was a BETTER person.
Or, at least, less COMPLICATED.
Easier to get along with.
And to love.
As for my statement that, "I got sick," what does that mean?
Clinically speaking, I've been diagnosed with a number of things.
Depression to start.
Then, on top of that, Anxiety.
Which, for years, I denied.
And which manifests itself, at times, as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Which results in a desire to hoard certain things; things, which are either tied to my childhood and trauma, or maybe my desire to be heard.
And, then, though it's still hard to process and discuss, I've been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
And a nastier variant called Complex-PTSD, which is what you get if your PTSD is the result of a SERIES of traumatic events and not just a single bad event, like a car accident.
Then, underneath it all, is the Dissociation.
The feeling, if not presence, of what I call the 11 Year-Old.
All of which goes to the original question.
What's the big deal about abuse? And its aftermath?
How it affects you.
Without your realizing it.
How it WEIGHS on you.
First, there's the fear; of what's happening to you.
Then, there's the WEIGHT of what's happening to you, which functions as a TAX, making everything more difficult. And leads you to do things you don't understand and that, eventually, in my case at least, can't help but start to concern you.
At the same time I'm fleeing to Texas in 1991, and going back to St. Louis, and then AGAIN fleeing to Texas in 1992, I have NO idea what's going on.
What's driving me.
What I'm running away from.
But it's starting to get scary.
It's not just a girl that I'm chasing, but a feeling. That I'm both chasing and fleeing.
I FEEL different when I'm in Texas.
But then, in the Summer of 1991, it changes. Because I stayed in Texas into the Summer, what used to only get me in St. Louis then found me — started to get AT me — in Texas, so I have to, this time, flee to St. Louis.
And, this whole time, because I have NO memory of my abuse, I can only assume, and fear, that I'm going crazy.
Which starts to WEAR on me.
To WEIGH on me.
What's WRONG with me?!?
And, practically speaking, it keeps me from developing any traction career-wise. At the same time my friends are starting their careers, or are at least learning what they do NOT want to do career-wise, I'm being forced to impulsively — COMpulsively — move.
From St. Louis to Texas.
Every six months.
And I have no idea why.
And, again, to be clear, during this time I'm NOT just chasing a girl.
(Because if that was it, that it was all about me chasing a girl, then I wouldn't have moved BACK from Texas to St. Louis in the Summer of 1991, a move which took me AWAY from her.)
I'm running AWAY from something.
What, I have no idea.
And it's starting to get to me.
To worry me, this compulsion.
To keep moving.
This inability to stay in one place for more than six months.
But, then, thank God, she said "Yes."
To my proposal in May 1992.
And we came up with a plan where she would go to nursing school and I — in an attempt to do a reset and get back on track, career-wise, and get a fresh start — would get my MBA at Washington University in St. Louis.
The problem was that the act of committing to St. Louis, while it made complex LOGICAL sense, didn't do anything to address the root cause of whatever it was that was weighing on and trying to get at me. And the fact that I could no longer flee meant that the depression I was able to "manage," each time the underlying anxiety cropped up, by moving, was able to take root and take me over during my first year in grad school.
By the Fall of 1992, the gender confusion stuff — which, I've come to understand, resulted from my confusion about why a man would do what he did to me, a boy, unless he thought I was a girl — was starting to creep back into my head. My moving back, and committing, to St. Louis triggered stuff I hadn't felt in years; that I'd kept at bay by moving back and forth from St. Louis to Texas, at the first sign of it.
Worse, it was obvious that I had developed a problem with depression.
And I had no idea why.
My initial ought was Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D, since I'd spent my previous seven Winters in Texas. However, none of the remedies for S.A.D. worked, which made me wonder if the issue was something more fundamental.
And why was it that things would get WORSE in the Summer? Especially as the 4th of July approached?
THAT wasn't S.A.D.
I ended up on the anti-depressant Paxil, at the end of grad school, which was a whole 'nother problem because it suppressed my sex drive, which was already spotty, ever since we had returned from Texas.
Things did get significantly better when we moved to Arizona, for a little more than a year, in 1996. Yes, I was working too much but, when I was in Arizona, I felt...
Whatever that means.
However, being in Arizona was hard on my wife, who struggled being away from her dad, who both had health problems and was absolutely delighted by his grandchildren. And I hadn't handled the initial decision to move to Arizona well, focusing only — subconsciously but selfishly — on my desire to again get the hell out of St. Louis.
As a result, in July 1997, we moved BACK to St. Louis from Arizona. A move that made complete sense, logically speaking, but threw me back into the fire of...
Whatever it was.
Such that, I think in August of 1997, while away in Portland, Oregon, I had two of the worst weeks of my life.
Suffice it to say, returning to St. Louis — and being away from my young family for two weeks and not being able to protect them — triggered a MASSIVE response. One in which, for the second time just that Summer, I was driven to re-enact my abuse. Though, of course, at the time I didn't know that was what I was doing.
I just thought I was a crazy freak.
Still oblivious to what was going on, and doing what was logical, we bought a house and settled down in St. Louis.
Which, of course, only made things worse.
To the original question of what the big deal is about abuse, moving back to St. Louis meant that the abuse stuff started to bleed over into my work life. For one thing, a slight problem I'd had working for and with older men in my previous job turned into a huge, career-limiting issue.
After working for two start-ups, one in both Arizona and St. Louis, and one only in St. Louis, I got back into consulting, implementing the product I'd helped design and build. That started off strangely, because of my growing problem with anxiety. I did $10,000 worth of consulting with the firm, to start out, and then developed a complex where I wasn't able to submit the invoice to get paid, something that put tremendous financial and other stress on my wife.
Because I simply couldn't understand why this was so hard.
What was the big deal?
Yet it was.
And had happened before, with another $10,000 invoice.
The frustration I felt as a result of not being able to do something so basic and simple and important led to completely unnecessary arguments between my wife and me.
Then, when I was working for the consulting firm, my immediate boss decided to take a month off to have, and spend time with, his new baby. He left me in charge, with the understanding that I would check in regularly with his boss.
And I just...
I would have previously chalked the problem up to shyness, but that wasn't what this was.
This was different.
That was very specific to men.
To OLDER men.
And a feeling they gave me.
Problems that would repeat themselves over the years, at multiple jobs.
I could work for women, but not for men.
And it wasn't just that men SCARED or intimidated me. It didn't have anything to do with my dad.
Rather, they creeped me out.
Leading to multiple problems in my last two jobs.
In the first, and due to my having been triggered by the SPOTLIGHT articles and revelations, I developed problems concentrating. Problems that were bad enough that they ended up leading me to seek treatment for what I thought was ADHD. While those meds worked for a while, as I got away from the anniversary of That Day, they stopped helping me and started hurting me.
Sure, I could concentrate.
But I was no longer able to sleep.
In fact, for several months, I would wake up in the middle of the night with compulsive gender confusion problems that could only be solved by my simulating someone raping me. And that got worse as the Summer, and another anniversary of That Day, approached.
Needless to say I was exhausted.
That then led to a downward spiral when I'd need to take the ADHD meds to be able to function during the day, but then I'd have to drink to be able to sleep through the night.
Or, more accurately, pass out.
Combined with some changes at work, where I went from working with a female boss and team — who I got along with great — to working for a man who was a number of years older than me, I became, in the words of the president of the company...
That led to my being laid off in late June 2007, just days before yet another anniversary of That Day. Which, obviously, is why I'd become catatonic.
Though, of course, I didn't know it at the time.
I was triggered as hell, but didn't know by what.
And didn't even know to use the word, "Triggered."
I'd just shut down.
And all that I was going through wasn't just affecting me at work, but also affected my relationship with my older son, his friends, and classmates, who I coached on their various sports teams.
I started out coaching my older son in baseball, but the irritability that my wife noticed, and went to my mom for help with, in 2002, had gotten bad enough in the late 2000s that I had to give up the position of head coach. I'd find myself screaming at the boys for no reason and, when another dad said something about it to me — how I was letting little things affect me — I couldn't explain my behavior.
It was just that, while baseball season would start out fine, as it would go on, I would have a harder and harder time holding it together.
During baseball season.
And only baseball season.
Not soccer or basketball season.
Especially furing the month of June.
In retrospect, duh, as the anniversary of That Day would approach.
Things get bad enough that I went to the Archdiocese of St. Louis for help in May 2011. They told me nothing happened; that my memories didn't mean anything. That my problems were all my dad's fault.
However, by that time, I was divorced and bankrupt and was getting increasingly disturbed and desperate.
In part because the same thing that happened with my older son happened with my younger son; I started losing my cool when I was coaching baseball. Getting progressively more irritable. As the season went on. And as the month of June passed.
In retrospect, it was obvious what was happening.
I was getting triggered by the approaching anniversary of That Day.
Just before the 4th of July.
However, because, in 2002, my friend the cardinal and a psychologist told me nothing happened between Fr. Valentine and me, and then I was told the same thing in 2011 by a review team from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, I was unable to figure out what was going on.
Instead, I became more and more scared.
Convinced I was going crazy.
Next time on Sacrificed...
What's the Big Deal, Part II.
More on what the big deal is.
About being a survivor.
And having been abused.
What it does to you.
And the cost.
Finally, 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 and videos that document what happened to me, including at the Easter Vigil and, I hope, help to prove my words and story; that demonstrate the indifference I have and continue to face at the hands of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, DESPITE all the promises and the empty talk.
If you'd like to help support my efforts to create this podcast, and expose the Abuse of the Abused by the Catholic Church, as well as The Program — or to just help me to eat and pay my bills while I'm spending my time on this project — I've set up a GoFundMe...