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Weight of years

A group of survivors of clergy sex abuse finds that a millstone, used as an example by Jesus, may lighten the burden of their suffering

November 21, 2003

by NANCY HAUGHT - Portland Oregonian

"It started here," says Bill Crane, laying the worn leather Bible on the ottoman in front of his chair. A ribbon marks Matthew 18:5-6, where he'd found the image of the millstone.

The Gospel writer is quoting Jesus. "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me," he says to his disciples. "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

As Crane read those words, he clung to the powerful image. Not because he had caused another child to stumble, but because a Catholic priest in the New Jersey diocese where Crane had grown up had caused him to stumble, and keep on stumbling, for more than 20 years.

Crane, of Clackamas, is a survivor of clergy sex abuse and coordinator of the Oregon chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. Last month, as he reeled from the news that his boyhood friend and fellow survivor, James Thomas Kelly, had committed suicide, Crane turned to the Bible for comfort and found the sobering symbol of transformation.

At Kelly's funeral, Crane talked to other mourners, many of them SNAP members, about his idea.

"We need something tangible, a touch point to commemorate all survivors, especially those who have taken their lives," he said. "The pain we all endure is a life-long process. We don't want our story to be forgotten."

The response was overwhelming. Many of the 500 people at the funeral agreed. The day after Crane returned to Oregon, he visited a rock yard, looking for a stone that could be chiseled into a millstone. He found a piece of black, columnar basalt and got the recommendation of a sculptor. He pulled up at the Milwaukie home of Mark McLean, whose work includes a Korean War memorial at the Portland Air Base and columns commemorating the Treaty Oak at the Museum at Warm Springs.

"I want a millstone," Crane said to McLean, who was familiar with the biblical image. McLean asked a series of questions before Crane decided to share his story and what he hoped the monument would mean.

McLean set his other projects aside. In seven days, McLean created the millstone. The 400-pound stone is 18 inches across and 91/2 inches thick.

The flat surfaces are polished so that anyone who looks into them will see his or her face reflected. The curved sides are rough, to symbolize the harshness of Jesus' words, McLean said. He also wanted viewers to think about how he had chipped away at the millstone, much as Crane and other victims must chip away at the pain that won't go away altogether.

On one side of the millstone, there are six swirling lines because human beings were made on the sixth day of creation. On the other side there are 12 swirling lines, representing Jesus' 12 disciples.

A millstone itself is like a circle of life, McLean says, one that can be used to ensure life or to end it. He drilled three holes into the sides of the stone, one for each part of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Crane consulted with his friend Toni Hartung, a landscape designer. She created a 4-foot-square garden for the millstone that can be assembled on the rectory grounds outside of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Mendham, N.J., Crane and Kelly's old parish. She envisions the stone, secured with a chain to a low brick wall, surrounded by forget-me-nots, yellow crocus, witch hazel and Helleborus niger, or Christmas roses. Her plan is for there to be something growing or blooming there at almost all times of the year.

She and McLean both said they thought long and hard about the clergy abuse, how it had affected Crane and many others, about how Crane had found a physical way to express his pain and his hope for the future. Both felt honored to use their talents to help him.

Now, however, Crane says it's time to send the millstone on its way. Next week, he'll begin building a crate for it and ship it back to the town in New Jersey where he says he can never live again.

Crane is still collecting funds to offset the $5,000 cost of the entire project, while people in Mendham are working on preparing the site. So far, he's accepted large and small donations from victims, families and attorneys.

He and McLean kept the scraps of stone and plan to make smaller millstones to share with other survivors.

"This is not a symbol of judgment as much as a message of accountability," Crane says. "Christ regards his children highly, and we're wanting to reflect that."

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests