Several years ago, while we were still on the frontlines at our traditional Catholic store, St. Benedict’s, I wrote a blog entitled, “Catholic Despite the Abuse”. It was in response to the many, many Catholics who walked through our doors and stated, “I used to be Catholic but….”
More often than not, the excuse was that the person had left the Church because of the sex abuse crisis that had hit more than a decade prior. This trite answer always irritated me because, as a victim of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of a priest, I felt like these folks had no idea what they were even talking about. It seemed to me like they were using the abuse crisis as a “get out of Mass free” card.
During the first five years of founding and operating our store, we openly shared our story of redemption, touching on my abuse, but never delving very deeply into it. People were very receptive, and my husband, Kipp, and I found ways to excuse the Church. “The Church handled my case the same way as all other institutions at the time.” “God will have the final judgment.” But this obstacle was one that many people were unable to overcome, and understandably so.
I thought that I was one of a very small minority. I didn’t know of any other clergy abuse victims personally.
Through our six-plus years at St Benedict’s, Kipp and I dedicated every ounce of ourselves to evangelizing and supplying the tools needed for practicing Catholics, fallen-away Catholics and those interested in the Church. We developed a sizeable following of around 22,000 people worldwide on our Facebook page.
Our store was born out of the direction of the Holy Spirit and our faith being reignited upon finding the Traditional Latin Mass. We wanted to share it with the world, and we did.
I was content sharing my personal story of abuse and redemption because it seemed to bring strength to others. In that blog, I self-righteously listed the reasons why none of us could ever leave the Church simply because of the sexual abuse crisis. I accused those who had left of already having “one foot out the door”.
I was wrong. I had buried my own pain deeply and forged ahead, going through the motions at Mass. I became a rigid traditional Catholic. Not so much in the sense of telling others what to do, but in my own life. Kipp and I both did. We were striving to be the best Catholics we could be. For ourselves, but also in order to be role models for those who came to us through St Benedict’s.
That all came crashing down last year when a brave man named Michael Whalen, Jr. stood out in the cold in front of the Chancery at the Diocese of Buffalo and told the world about his abuse. In response, Buffalo’s Bishop Malone appeared on the Buffalo news with a seemingly heartfelt apologetic message calling upon victims to come forward. I was alone when I watched it. I had no idea that my whole life was about to change when I clicked on that link.
I believed Bishop Malone’s words.
The abuse that I’d buried for more than 25 yrs. came rushing to the surface with the pain and panic of a heart attack. When my husband arrived home, he found me nearly catatonic, having been staring at the paused screen for who knows how long. He asked me what was wrong and I pressed “play”. As the video ended, Kipp said, “We’re doing this.” I asked, “Are you sure? Because I don’t know if I can do this again.” He repeated, “We’re doing this.”
I dug out a deeply hidden folder from an old box and we went over some of the items inside. There were letters from a physician and a therapist attesting to the damage that had been committed upon me by Fr. Fabian Maryanski. As I read those letters, Kipp made the observation that the letters could have been written yesterday because absolutely none of the things I was suffering back then had been alleviated yet.
In March of 2018 Kipp and I could never have imagined that we were about to learn that not only was I not just some freak who had been abused by a member of the clergy, and my cry for help wasn’t the only one that the Diocese of Buffalo had ignored, but that the Catholic Church itself was filled with corruption as far up as the pope and as far down as the laity in the pews. I believe we haven’t even scratched the surface as far as the sexual abuse crisis goes. Catholics who are intending to stay had better prepare because there's a very rough road ahead.
We struggled on with St. Benedict’s and attending Mass throughout 2018, while the sexual abuse crisis and my own case became national news. Not because of the horrific sexual and physical abuse perpetrated against me for years as a teenager, but because my case had been so clearly covered up.
There isn’t enough room in a blog, nor do I feel like reliving it all right now, but for anyone who hasn’t followed it, suffice it to say, the actions and inactions of Bishop Malone and all of his cronies, as well as those of the hierarchy of the Church over these past 17 months have ripped away every last shred of hope I had in the Catholic Church. The final straw was finding out that our current bishop of the Diocese of Charleston has been quietly under an ongoing investigation for the sexual abuse of an 8 yr old boy for more than a year now. Worse, the dean of our area, Fr. Jay Scott Newman, publicly exonerated Bishop Guglielmone of any wrongdoing while demonizing the victim as someone "looking for an easy payday".
I tried. I really did. But my physical, mental and spiritual health have suffered so greatly in this tug of war over whether or not I can hold onto my faith in the Church.
I no longer have faith in the Catholic Church.
I am fully aware that there are many, many solid priests, bishops, cardinals, and laity in the pews. I do not hate the Church. But I am righteously angry at every person who has helped to perpetuate the crimes that were committed against me and so many others, and even more so for all those who have covered it up and continue to do so.
One of my biggest fears, even during my abuse, was that if anyone ever found out about it, that they might question or lose their faith in the Church. As I left the Church the first time, I prayed that I wasn’t taking others with me, but I did.
This second time around has been much more devastating. Kipp and I are connected with so many fellow Catholics through our now-closed business, and also with so many fellow victims. We’re being pulled apart at the seams in every direction by well-meaning Catholics who want or even need us to hold onto our faith, while at the same time being embraced by survivors and others, including a handful of fellow Catholics who have walked closely with us on our journey.
And this time around, I am married to the only person I’ve ever known who actually loved going to Mass so much that he should have been a priest. And this holy man who loves God so completely now feels the same as I do. He can no longer attend Mass. He can no longer support this corrupt organization, and attending Mass has become impossible for him. When I stopped practicing almost a year ago, I told Kipp that I not only wanted him to continue, I needed him to do so. But, just like my faith is my own, so is his.
We met at Mass. Our shared love of our faith is what initially brought us together. Imagine how we both feel about this loss. We pray that our faith in the Church is the last thing stolen by my abuser and all those who are complicit in protecting all of the abusers.
There’s something very important I have to say to everyone: I AM SORRY.
Fellow Catholics, I am sorry that I cannot be a better example for you. I cannot pretend to be something that I don’t believe in. I will always be Catholic because, well, you cannot “un-Catholic”, you cannot undo Sacraments. Thank God. But I may never be able to attend another Mass again….and I know what I’m giving up. Unlike 70% of my practicing fellow Catholics, I know that I’m giving up the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. That doesn’t come without an insane amount of grief.
One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the past 17 months is that there is no right or wrong way to work through the trauma of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy. As a matter of fact, there are as many ways as there are victims. Something that soothes one person can cause another to experience a setback severe enough to cause suicidal thinking. In the same way that each of us is on our own personal spiritual journey through life, the wounded need to be supported in their own individual ways. There’s no guide on how to heal from this.
People are still becoming aware of the fact that it is not only the victim who is suffering. That victim’s immediate family, their spouse, children, extended family, and their community all suffer in their own ways.
And none of us can tell each other how we should heal or how we should feel. As a Catholic who has just spent the past nine years of my life talking others “off the ledge”, I know that this is not what I need now. Nobody can do this for me but me.
Right now I need to be thankful that I still believe in and trust in God.
Which leads me to what I need to say to fellow victims/survivors. I am so sorry. I am sorry for what you have suffered, and I am sorry for the years I spent covering up for my own abuse while protecting the Church. My intentions were pure. I wanted everyone to see and know the love of Christ as I had found it again through the Latin Mass. In my honest desire to do this, I made statements that I no longer stand by and I am so sorry if I hurt another victim with my words.
So many who were wounded by a man or woman who represented God are unable to trust God anymore. This makes perfect sense, and just because I am blessed to be able to still trust God does not make me superior in any way. It certainly doesn’t give me any right to make a judgment about someone else’s beliefs or lack thereof.
Countless victims have lost more than their faith in God. They have lost their lives. They lost the battle over this disease that we were all inflicted with. A disease that has the ability to take everything away from us. Everything.
To all of my fellow survivors: Please keep hanging on. Know that although we will always have those who don’t believe us or those who belittle our suffering, there are many more who do believe. I believe you. I support you. I am praying for you. You don’t have to believe in prayer, you don’t have to believe in a higher power, but I do, and I believe that God’s justice will be more powerful than anything our human minds could dream up.
To all of my fellow Catholics: Please keep hanging on to your faith in the Church if you can. Don’t allow my brokenness to be a sign or any kind of open permission for you to follow me out. If I could carry this cross for every person I would. But that’s just a prideful wish. I’m not Jesus. I can only carry my own cross, and I’m not doing a super job of that right now. Do not look to me for example. I am a broken human being who is on a journey to some sort of healing and I have no idea what that will be. But I believe God will strengthen you. I support you. I am praying for you.
We are no longer practicing our faith, but we are going to live it.