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2008 Story #20 – Freedom Lies in Speaking Out

One afternoon this summer, I picked up a printout listing SNAP’s number, and I called David Clohessy. That phone call and a subsequent meeting with the SNAP national director changed my life in amazing ways. His openness, expertise and collaborative style set me on a course of action on behalf of clergy sex abuse victims, many of whom I’ll never know but with whom I now empathize tremendously.

I’d been working as P.R. director at a high school the previous year. While I knew about allegations against Father “X” going into the job, I believed like many that no criminal charges meant innocence. The fact a settlement ensued piqued my curiosity, but I let bafflement give way to busyness. And busy I was—churning out puff pieces for a school badly damaged in recent years by bad publicity surrounding this priest. Awesome work, administrators told me. Great job, they said, until this priest stepped out in the limelight around the time of a shooting. He claimed to be a police chaplain. False. He led a commemorative prayer service at a basketball game. Uh-oh.

What’s he doing at the school and leading in public?, Clohessy demanded. He shouldn’t even be working at a nearby parish, around kids, he said. Behind the scenes, I heard mixed messages: the spokeswoman seemed appalled when the offending priest sought center stage again; the school president treated his appearance with insouciance. He’s in good standing, the president said. The spokeswoman, however, let me in on some secrets. The priest would have lost the civil lawsuit, had the case gone to trial, she said. He fit all the characteristics of a predator, she proclaimed.

I confronted the president and asked questions about the case. Couldn’t we inform the community, since other news surrounding his misconduct filled newspapers? Nope. Couldn’t we keep him away from the school? Nope. Fortunately for all, he left the country in late spring.

Thereafter, my role collapsed. The president said he meant for me to be a “clerical support” person. At the same time, my job description changed: the P.R. director preferably should have a master’s. Futile to fight it. Bye-bye, I said, though I finished out the year, and moved my freshman son to a different school. The administrators’ cold cut hurt deeply.

With David Clohessy’s help, I saw school officials’ actions had to do with avoidance--avoidance of me and my questions, avoidance of Father X and questions surrounding him. I wasn’t a clergy sex abuse victim, but I was caught in a quagmire of negative energy emanating from a place rife with a problem past.

The offending priest still works at the parish near the school. I’m still working with Clohessy and other advocates to call for his removal. I’m not a clergy sex abuse victim. I’m one of a small group of Catholics who sees firsthand the need for SNAP to hold the church (and all religious) accountable. Like a victim, though, my freedom lies in speaking out. Thanks to David Clohessy, I know that now.

Note: this story is from 2008. View other 2008 stories and 2008 voting results. View current stories.

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