I first went public, as a survivor of the Catholic sex abuse crisis, three years ago, at the end of April 2018, in an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch by Aisha Sultan entitled, "Priest sex abuse survivor says trauma lingers." Ever since — every month or two — I've been contacted by survivors, their friends, or family members.
While their stories are universally horrific and heart-breaking, the worst part — but also the most important part — is what was triggered by a conversation that happened in the middle of the Summer of 2019.
And what it led me to discover.
Because of the shunning I experienced in September 2018, captured by the picture that serves as the cover art for this podcast...
CREDIT: Robert Cohen | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
...from that point on, I couldn't help but think about what it might mean.
The arrogance and callous indifference was incredible.
And, holy crap, out in the open, for all to see.
Which was, stunning.
It wasn't just the PROBLEM that indifference posed for survivors like me, who were trying to get help, but the THREAT it meant faced innocent children.
Despite 2002, the Dallas Charter, SPOTLIGHT, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, VOS ESTIS, and everything.
If the Archdiocese of St. Louis could do this to me, out in the open, turning their backs to, and ignoring, a survivor, at the freaking Mass of Reparation for the sex abuse crisis, what else could they do?
As a result, I became increasingly active and outspoken as 2018 turned into 2019.
And, as I watched the movie SPOTLIGHT for the first time, right before New Years 2018-2019, and it was ALL TOO familiar, it goaded me into further action.
And the more people who contacted me, as a result of what I was doing, the more I was emboldened to speak up and out, leading even MORE people to contact me.
Culminating with a fateful message I received on July 31, 2019.
As for why it happened then, on that day, I assume it was because the Archdiocese of St. Louis had released its list of Archdiocesan Clergy with Substantiated Allegations of Sexual Abuse of a Minor just a few days prior, on July 26, 2019. That had people thinking and talking about the Catholic sex abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
For legal reasons — slander and libel and the fact that this is, technically, hearsay — and also because it's not my story to tell, I have to be careful with this part of the story.
However, and as others have reminded me, it's important.
And I have no reason to doubt what I was told.
Which, in sum, concerns the alleged sexual abuse of a child by a then diocesan priest who would rise through the ranks of the Catholic Church, eventually becoming a Bishop.
Which he remains to this day.
A member, in good standing, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The mere fact that such a man — and, in fact, and as I would learn, around the same time, TWO such men — could be members, much less members in good standing, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, hints at the underlying level of dysfunction, and the old school, persisting presence of Satan, within the USCCB and the Catholic Church.
In the United States, at least.
It all began in the middle of the afternoon on July 31, 2019, when I received a message from a woman, a friend of a friend, who I didn't know, and who I'll call "The Wife," who said...
Hi Chris. I saw what I think may have been your response to...
For legal reasons, let's call him "Bishop X."
(Bishop X) has been good family friends with my husband and his family since my husband was 12 and he was at (Parish Y).
So there I am, in late July 2019, trying to process a story I've just been told.
Out of the blue.
But not entirely unexpectedly.
A story that, as I think about it, was likely prompted by an expression of frustration I had made, about my treatment by Bishop X, to some Catholic friends. That they had re-sent to their friends.
Including The Wife.
A story that, to be clear, wasn't told in a way that was mean-spirited or gossipy. Instead, The Wife had contacted me as a woman who had some questions. About her husband. And someone her husband knew. A bishop. Who seemed a bit off. An off-ness that had been noticed by the woman's mother, who knew him independently.
And The Wife had come to me, someone who seemed to know something about both abuse and Bishop X, in search of answers, aware of and concerned about, the toll sexual abuse can take on innocent children.
And the adults they will become.
Especially when it's perpetrated by beloved and trusted members of the clergy.
The Wife told me...
(Bishop X) has been good family friends with my husband and his family since my husband was 12 and he was at (Parish Y).
As I'll discuss more in a bit, the first line was a fairly common scenario and immediately made sense to me. This "family priest" thing happens all the time, including in my own family.
I didn't know how to respond to the second part — given my experience with my family being completely clueless about what was being done to me, how in the world does someone come to sense or think THAT — so I just let it lie.
Focusing on the third line, the question of The Wife to me, I let her know I'd been abused by someone else and had only gone to Bishop X for help; help getting help from the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
I hoped that maybe Bishop X could convince the Archdiocese of St. Louis to help me.
In that time, I hadn't spent a lot of time talking to Bishop X, but I did spend enough time to feel justified in saying...
There's obviously something wrong with (Bishop X).
A comment prompted by a sense that Bishop X was...
That's the best way to put it.
Like Monsignor Richard Hanneke, who I went to for help in 2013, after years of frustration at the hands of Deacon "Runaround" Phil Hengen, Bishop X was sincere and contrite and buddy buddy when I initially asked for his help. But then, when he called me back, was cold as ice.
To which The Wife replied that her Mom knew Bishop X independently, from way back when, saying...
...everyone always dreaded when (Bishop X) was there. Such an arrogant and narcissistic man.
Bishop X, apparently, was WELL known to The Wife's mother.
Who I'll call The Mother In Law.
Bishop X, who the Mother In Law knew from back when he was just Father X, I guess, was a jerk.
Enough of a jerk that The Mother In Law ALREADY had a bad feeling about Bishop X.
And, then, when The Mother In Law's daughter — The Wife — MARRIED INTO the family for whom Bishop X was the other grandmother's "pet" priest, and The Mother In Law had the chance to get to know the husband of The Wife — let's call him The Son In Law — and observe the dynamics of his family, and their interactions with Bishop X, The Mother In Law sensed there was something weird about the relationship between Bishop X and The Son In Law.
And, before I go on, I should again mention that this family or "pet" priest thing happens ALL the time in Catholic families, in St. Louis at least. Moms will befriend and de facto adopt parish priests — often, out of sympathy, because priests can live lonely lives, but also for status reasons — and, before you know it, that priest will start being invited to family events, holiday functions, and holding private Christenings and even masses.
In fact, one of my aunts had just such a relationship with a priest; he swam in their pool and was always holding private masses at their house. He was a good guy. Practically part of the family.
And the priest who was there when I had my third panic attack during (Face To Face) confession, while making my first ACTS retreat, in December 2008.
But, anyway, I found it perfectly plausible that one grandmother could, over time, observe and develop a feeling about the other grandmother's "pet" priest, based on how that priest interacts with their shared sons, daughters, and grandchildren at baptisms, birthday parties, and that kind of thing.
The Wife then went on...
Thank you! I have no concrete evidence. My mom is convinced though and my husband will never admit if true. My kids will never be allowed around him again though...
So, again, the scenario is a wife has been told this mind-blowing stuff by her mom — how her mom suspects the wife's husband my have been acused by the family priest — and she's talking to me, a survivor, wjo has some knowledge of that man, wanting to know if what she's describing makes sense.
If it's plausible.
Which I thought it was.
The Wife then gave me a bit more detail about how she had come to find me...
We have a mutual friend...
...and why she was reaching out...
She feels my husband hides certain things in childhood, wants to keep “things in the family”, not talk about things.
When I mentioned that abuse tends to take an obvious toll on people — that I had a nervous breakdown, went bankrupt, and was divorced — and suggested that, if her husband had indeed been abused, he would likely have shown some aftereffect, like that, The Wife disclosed that...
(Her husband) was drinking too much, had a breakdown years ago, but that may have been financially caused.
All of which STUNNED me, given it involved a now Catholic bishop but, sadly, didn't SURPRISE me, given what I knew about my friend the cardinal and three OTHER cardinals.
And not the baseball kind.
It also didn't surprise me because it jibed with something I'd been told about another Catholic bishop — let's call him Bishop Z — by a high school classmate, just a few weeks prior, at one of the semi-annual, impromptu class reunion lunches that my class does; he told me that, like me and one other guy, at least, had been brought up to the room, in the rectory, of a man who, at the time, was a diocesan priest.
And was now a bishop.
I'd known the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was full of men like my friend the cardinal, who saw and turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children, like me, and then did worse to us in 2002. But it was something else entirely to learn, in short succession, that two of the bishops in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were themselves ABUSERS.
That was an entirely new level of depravity.
The Wife then went on, giving some details about her husband's story...
(Bishop X) was at my husbands family home for dinner at least once a week when he was in grade school. They still text and talk consistently. I never thought much about it until my mom brought it up several times
What stood out to me about that story was the idea that abusive priests would get at kids by going over to homes for dinner. Homes with a missing, absent, or distracted dad. Something I know my abuser also did. For example, I know of one family my abuser spent a lot of time with, who didn't have a dad in the house, and whose kids were abused.
But, supposedly, not by my abuser.
That led me to ask about the family of The Wife's husband; if the dad was there or not, given my abuser's habit of targeting families in which the dad was either absent or distracted. To which she replied...
No, dad was there, but dad was dominated by his wife who loves any sort of prominence that having someone from the church to her house brings. She still has him over when he’s in town
And then she disclosed a terrible, but sadly all too common fact...
Yes, my husband had 2 friends commit suicide because of abuse.
As I've said, I already knew of at least three guys who were dead as a result of having been abused, so that brings that terrible count to five.
I asked The Wife if her husband had ever said anything, to which The Wife replied...
(The Husband) would never admit, he idolizes him
That word struck me, and stuck with me, because it's exactly how I felt about my abuser, Fr. LeRoy Valentine.
I idolized him.
He was one of my favorite people in the world. Not just because of who he was, but because of how he made me feel.
Which is why I simply couldn't PROCESS what I'd learned about Fr. V in early March 2002, reading the New York Times piece that discussed the allegations against him. It's a trite phrase, but saying, "It didn't compute," isn't a terrible way of putting it.
It was so bad — so devastating — that I didn't feel ANYTHING.
I felt NOTHING.
Which, of course, and as I've learned over the years, is something.
I was just blank.
Not even numb.
So there I was, on the one hand, feeling terrible for the husband and, on the other hand, feeling better about myself, because it clearly wasn't that I was just stupid or naive or foolish.
The same exact thing had happened to other guys.
And, as I'm thinking about and trying to work through and process all this, The Wife drops a bombshell.
(Bishop X) has been sending us money for years, I now know why
Needless to say, I tried to convince The Wife that her husband needed to come forward, at least to the church.
What was Bishop X doing when presented with allegations of abuse? Did his being an abuser himself influence his decision-making?
How could it NOT?
And how many other victims could there be? Victims who needed help.
I was so bothered by this thought that, that same day, I e-mailed a number of people — contacts with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who I'd gotten to know over the year, as well as the Papal Nuncio — and let them know what I'd been told about Bishop X.
People I figured could get a message to the right people.
Assuming they cared.
All they would have to do to find out if what the woman had told me was true was audit Bishop X; look for a series of payments to a certain person — I could tell a forensic accountant the name — at least annually.
However, coming up on two years later, Bishop X is still in his position, so it would seem no such audit has been performed.
They simply don't WANT to know, I guess?
Don't think it's appropriate to even question a bishop? Who, as a diocesan priest, is alleged to have abused a child? And who is paying off at least one of his victims.
So what exactly has changed?
And why should anyone believe kids are safer in the Catholic Church?