by Ann White
Becky Ianni, third in Mark’s series of speakers and a leader in SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), will remind us that priests abuse girls as well as boys.
Consider, for example, a 7-year old girl in her first Communion dress. Her priest follows her into the bathroom of her house, calls her “the chosen one,” and puts his tongue in her mouth.
This little girl was Sheri Biasin of West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Her priest continued to abuse her until she was 12, at family picnics, sleepovers, and beach outings. He would touch her breasts, put his hand inside her bathing suit, rub up against her.
This priest was a trusted family friend, often in Sheri’s home and along on family outings. He was considered a person who could do no wrong. Sheri remembers her family scurrying to tidy up when the priest was expected: “It was like God coming to the house.”
Like abused boys, girl victims suffer great trauma, requiring years of counseling, their lives wrenched out of normal shape. From the beginning, girls who suffer abuse struggle in their relationships with boys.
Becky Ianni: “I never dated in high school. I was too afraid… I didn’t get to go out and be nervous about my first kiss or hold anybody’s hand, but I really wanted to. But I couldn’t because I was too afraid.”
Abused girls grow up feeling dirty, as though they themselves were responsible for what happened to them.
Founder of SNAP Barbara Blaine spoke of feeling shame and guilt because she was raped by a priest who was her teacher. He took her and other girls from their classrooms in a Toledo, Ohio, Catholic school and raped them in his bedroom in the rectory. He raped Blaine repeatedly from her 7th-grade year until she was a senior in high school.
The criminal did the raping, but the victim felt the shame and the guilt. Becky Ianni has this to say about her fear of dating: “I wasn’t afraid because of what would happen. I was afraid I couldn’t say no.”
The self-blame is worse for girls than for boys. Men examining an abuse case–church officials, attorneys, police–often think an attack can be caused by a girl’s seductiveness.
Corinne Curley, a Kansas City attorney abused by a priest as a teenager, says: “They’re going to assume that you’re Lolita, a temptress.” Gary Schoener, a clinical psychologist in Minneapolis who has handled hundreds of clergy abuse cases, says, “Girls are asked what they were wearing. They’re accused of being seductive. This is routine.” Schoener reports that financial settlements tend to be smaller for female victims.
This blaming of the female victim frequently occurs in sexual-abuse cases in general. But in priest sex-abuse cases, the victim-blaming gets even more perverse. It’s not just any man that “little Lolita” has “seduced.” It’s a sexually pure, celibate holy man. Barbara Blaine: “We’re treated like the evil sinner, like we caused the good, holy priest to sin.”
According to the John Jay Report, commissioned by the US Catholic Bishops, the most likely age of victims, both girls and boys, is between 11 and 14. But girl victims tend to be younger than boys: The percentage of abused girls under age 8 is higher than the percentage of boys under age 8. Priest abusers with large numbers of victims tend to target boys, establishing what some have called a “lifestyle,” whereas a girl is more likely than a boy to be an abuser’s only victim.
In society as a whole, the overwhelming majority of sex-abuse victims are female. But the John Jay Report gives the well-known statistic: in priest sex-abuse cases, 81% of the victims are male, 19% female.
These John-Jay numbers, however, may be misleading. Two reasons:
1. The report covers five decades, the second half of the last century. For the first 35 years of that period, the Catholic Church did not have girl altar servers. The sexual abuse of minors is a crime of opportunity. Yes, priest sex-abusers in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s had the opportunity to prey on girls in school or at home. But not in one of the primary venues of opportunity–the sacristy. (Credit to Chris O’Leary for pointing this out.)
2. Second reason the John-Jay Report may misrepresent the true boy/girl percentage: There is a higher number of unreported cases with girl victims. Barbara Dorris, victim and SNAP leader, says that church officials are “more apt to write down, save, and take seriously the allegation” of the sexual abuse of a boy.
All survivors of sex abuse, no matter male or female, live with continuing pain. Sue Archbold, an advocate for abuse victims who was sexually abused by a priest when she was a teenager, comments: “The traumatic suffering that comes from the abuse extends beyond any age or gender barrier.”
All priests who abuse a minor commit a heinous criminal act, no matter the sex of the victim. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual acts are inherently wrong, whereas heterosexual acts can be beautiful and holy. But heterosexual abuse of a minor is just as much a crime as homosexual abuse of a minor. All of these criminal offenses should be met with prompt, severe punishment.
Mr. Tom Lee recently wrote an e-mail to all the priests of our diocese of Richmond, about the situation we face here. Tom made an interesting point in his e-mail: the late Bishop Carroll Dozier served for a time as a prison chaplain.
You may remember, dear reader, that Carroll Dozier ministered as a priest of the Diocese of Richmond. Then he became the first Catholic bishop of Memphis, Tennessee.
When our diocese of Richmond last year released a list of priests ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing minors, Dozier’s name appeared on it. At the end of this past February, the Diocese of Memphis released a similar list, with the name of their founding bishop on it.
The Diocese of Memphis credits us with having provided the information about Dozier. The current bishop of Memphis insists that their records contain no information at all about the crimes of Carroll Dozier.
Information about the crimes of Carroll Dozier, however, certainly exists. Fairly copious information. The man victimized multiple young people. The diocese of Richmond paid at least two settlements, decades ago. (Dozier’s brother served as a lawyer for the diocese.)
So, with all due respect to both bishops involved in disclosing that Carroll Dozier “has credible accusations” against him–that is, the sitting bishops of Richmond and Memphis–a question arises. Why not actually give the public all the information available? And if only the Vatican has the information, why not publicly ask the Holy See to disclose it?
At least one victim of Dozier’s still lives. The Attorney General of Virginia has a substantial amount of information about Dozier’s crimes. Why not take responsibility as churchmen, now, for the outrageous cover-up perpetrated by your predecessors?
Why remain silent? It only exposes the Church to yet another catastrophic public-relations blow. That is: the blow that will inevitably come, whenever the information the Attorney General has about Dozier ultimately comes to light?
Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. (John 3:21, which we read today at Holy Mass)
…Meanwhile, at the other end of Tennessee: Apparently, the Diocese of Knoxville violated the vaunted Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
According to Mr. Michael Boyd: a former bishop of Knoxville, along with the Vicar General, sexually abused Michael while he was in school. Mr. Boyd reported the abuse to the diocese in 2018. Getting nowhere, he proceeded to sue the diocese in 2019. Then the diocese’s lawyers tried to get Mr. Boyd to agree to a non-disclosure agreement.
The rules governing the Catholic Church in the United States clearly prohibit such agreements, unless the victim requests it. When Mr. Boyd’s lawyers pointed this out, the diocese changed it to a “non-disparaging agreement.” The victim thereby promises “not to make any disparaging remark” about the diocese.
Boyd agreed, apparently hoping for peace and quiet after the agreement got reached. But after the ink dried, the diocese turned around and disparaged Mr. Boyd. The bishop insisted that he “personally feels” that Mr. Boyd is not telling the truth.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests complained to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops about this rule violation. Mr. Tom Doyle, about whom we have talked before, wrote a memo supporting the complaint.
Mr. Doyle points out:
The non-disparaging clause is a poor attempt at intimidating the victim from discussing the abuse he suffered as well as the agreement he signed. It is clear that if he relates the facts of his case as well as the identity of the perpetrator that this is clearly not disparaging or slanderous toward the diocese.
Nonetheless, Doyle notes:
How the bishop and his attorneys would interpret the agreement is another matter. It is entirely possible that should Mr. Boyd make a statement, especially a public statement, that the bishop believes violates the agreement, Mr. Boyd could be drawn into further civil court action and thereby re-victimized.
Doyle goes on:
It is clear the bishop is trying to deny that the plaintiff’s claims are true, which is thinly covered re-victimization. The press release from the diocese insults and demeans Mr. Boyd. Mr. Boyd’s attorneys thought a mutual non-disparaging agreement would stop the diocese from doing this. It did not.
Doyle makes a solemn charge:
The on-going attempts by the USCCB and by individual bishops to create the impression that they sincerely care about and are concerned for the pastoral welfare of the many victims of sexual violence by clerics are trivialized by the actions of Bishop Stika and any other bishops who follow similar policies.
The SNAP complaint asks that the diocese of Knoxville not receive a letter from the bishops’ body that certifies compliance with the Dallas Charter.
If the office does certify Knoxville, Doyle argues, the certification “practice is not only meaningless but insulting not simply to victims but to the Catholic people who have been asked to trust that their bishops have turned a corner.”
…I asked Tom if the USCCB office that received the complaint in January had responded. Answer: they have not even acknowledged receipt of the complaint.