A California Victim Discovers Hope in the Parish
Dana Parsons - Los Angeles Times
September 28, 2003
It was planned as a night to hand out leaflets, not a night to
shake the church or rock the parishioners. Standing outside the
church doors, the four women didn't come to pick a fight or force
They knew they weren't especially welcome. They'd asked the Roman
Catholic Diocese of Orange if they could speak to parishioners at
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church about abuse that they or their children
had experienced at other churches in years past, but were told that
wouldn't fit on the agenda. Instead, the night was meant for parishioners
to vent or ask questions about allegations of sexual abuse leveled
against Msgr. Daniel Murray.
So, leaflets it would be on this night in Newport Beach. That was
no surprise: The women who wanted badly to talk about how the nation's
churches handled sexual abuse allegations were accustomed to being
left on the doorstep.
Then an unexpected thing happened. The women stepped inside and
found the meeting room where dozens of parishioners had gathered.
Mary Grant, abused by South County priest John Lenihan over a period
of years in the 1970s and now the Southern California head of a
victims advocacy group, saw an empty chair among a group of parishioners.
"Come in, sit down," one of them said to her.
As the evening unfolded, they found out. Grant, 40, told her story
of being molested by Lenihan, who in recent years admitted to having
sexual relationships with two teen-aged girls and later left the
Despite the media attention her case had received, Grant had never
spoken to parishioners inside any Catholic church. That night, she'd
already heard various people say they doubted the allegations against
Murray and that they'd support him.
Then, Grant who isn't involved in the Murray case
broke her silence. "I raised my hand and told my story, in
a nutshell. As I was telling the story, their faces changed,"
she says. "This huge barrier had come down and no longer was
the abuse victim some nonexistent person. It was connected to a
person. Although I wasn't the alleged victim of their priest, they
had a real person who had been molested by a priest."
She wasn't there, she said, to condemn Murray, but she asked them
to reconsider public shows of support. Doing so, she says, sends
a message to children who might be victims in such cases not to
"Kids can be frightened into being silent by seeing the way
the victim or alleged victim is treated and how the alleged perpetrator
is treated," she says. If parents or diocesan officials give
signals that allegations against priests or others can't be true
and hold rallies for them, Grant says, children "are going
to be trapped and traumatized."
Grant says the evening was a breakthrough. "It was an experience
that none of us had ever had. It gave us hope that if you can get
in these rooms and simply tell our stories and parishioners get
the bigger picture, the way these cases are handled might change."
Some applauded her talk, Grant says. Some hugged her. Two invited
her to come back.
Critical that diocesan officials have discouraged victims from
contributing to the discussion of clerical abuse, Grant says the
victims' involvement is crucial. While the diocese has set up meetings
to let parishioners express feelings, it hasn't invited people like
Grant or publicized her group's efforts.
"I think we've all felt," Grant says, "that if we
could get past church officials hiding and protecting the priests
and alienating and blaming the victims, and get to the parishioners,
that we could reach them and they would support us."
Now, she says, she's sure of it.
"The parishioners," she says, "are our hope."