Monday, July 16, 2007

'You Can't Put a Dollar Sign' on Trauma

I've mostly stayed out of political commentary here, except when it affects me directly. Yesterday the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to a $660 million settlement with the 508 alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests (via the Washington Post). The most disgusting part, to me, is
[the Archdiocese]... agreed to release confidential files that disclose how the church relocated abusive clergy.
The Catholic Church knew there was a problem and rather than take a PR hit, they allowed these predators to continue destroying children's lives. If this happened in a secular daycare center or public school the offender would be eviscerated and the higher-ups would also be held accountable by an outraged public. In this case the pedophiles were simply given a fresh batch of victims and left to do their evil, and the people who enabled them are walking away after frivolously spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their get out of jail free cards.

You may be wondering how this affects me. I'm not Roman Catholic, but I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Starting when I was 3 or 4 and continuing until I was 6 or 7 my brother molested me. I'm still uncovering the ways that has affected me, and have spent years in therapy looking at myself from other angles to understand why I am the way I am. Often it comes back to the sexual abuse and the domino effect it triggered.

A settlement tells victims that their trauma doesn't matter in the face of the almighty dollar. Justice is blinded by money. No matter how hard anyone may try, money can't buy or replace what was stolen from us. There is no restitution for the trauma I and other victims of sexual abuse endured. There is no way to recover what we lost.

At least some within the Catholic Church are willing to buck the system. In the first comment to the Washington Post article, Sister M. Immaculata Dunn says:
The saddest thing behind the actual sexual abuse itself, is that so many of these good, good people have lost faith because of what was done to them in the name of God.
It's largely because of what happened to me that I never had faith in the Christian god to begin with.


  1. I'm guessing that you want these priests to have criminal charges filed against them and I agree with that. But tell us, have you ever filed charges against your brother?

  2. No, I didn't. Did you have a point in asking?

  3. Don't know if Timothy had a specific point, but I'll admit that the same question crossed my mind.

    Wow, Charles... that's a big reveal. I don't know what to say in response. I'm glad you're doing well these days.

  4. Wow, Charles. I'm really sorry you went through that.

    As far as the question about whether you filed charges against your brother, it never occurred to me. There's a pretty large difference between filing charges against a sibling and filing them against an adult who betrayed a trust.

    My reaction on hearing you asked the question? I guess blaming the victim never goes out of style. After all, Charles, if you didn't file charges, you can't very well expect society to pursue justice in other, similar cases. Can you? *rolls eyes*

  5. @Nathan - It's a common reaction, and I'm becoming less defensive about it. I sincerely appreciate the kind words.

    @Rob - People's reactions are either "did you tell" or "how on Earth did you survive". I haven't figured out what, if anything, the reaction says about the person, but it is interesting that it's pretty evenly split. It does feel a little like I'm being blamed when initial reactions are focused on my molester rather than me.

    For anyone else reading this, I think there are several key differences between my situation and the RCC cover-up.

    First, the victims had the courage to report the abuse. Those people are required by law to report it to the authorities. Not doing so is not only a violation of the law, it's a violation of basic humanity. I didn't have an adult I felt safe telling about my molestation.

    Second, there is documented evidence the RCC knew about this behavior for decades and either ignored it or did everything they could to avoid a PR nightmare. This included moving the priests multiple times as allegations of abuse surfaced. As far as I know I am my brother's only victim. There was no collusion or conspiracy to keep his actions quiet. Fear worked pretty well.

    If anyone is genuinely interested in pursuing this discussion I'll do so in private, but I'm not going to do a lurid tell-all here.

    And to forestall the next question: no, being molested did not make me gay.

  6. Funny how the RCC came to settle just before they were to go to court and have the Cardinal put on the stand. The cynic in me says that $660M was going to be cheap compared to what the jury probably would come back with.

    I don't know how to adequately respond to your revelation. I'm very sorry.

  7. Charles and I have emailed in private on this, but in response to those questioning my question, I'm certainly not blaming the victim.

    I asked because when it's family, you have to balance the public scrutiny of not only the molester, but your entire family vs. the need to make sure that the molester never does this to anyone else.

    Either way, there's probably guilt and regret. The path that Charles took is ok with me.

    In the case of the church, they had the same choice, but with much, much, greater consequences at stake. As a result, they really didn't have a choice at all, they had to report it. It was the only choice to make.

    Yet they failed to. Time and time again, they failed to. And countless people have suffered greatly.