Commentary: Forsaken again

Times Union [Albany NY]

April 2, 2023

By Daniel Thompson

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For survivors of sex abuse, the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese’s bankruptcy filing is just one more betrayal.

On March 15, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany filed for protection under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That day I watched in despair as Bishop Edward Scharfenberger justified his decision as “the best way to protect everyone” while acknowledging “it may cause pain and suffering.”

The public has the right to know exactly what that pain and suffering looks like. Not from the loudest attorney or a diocese spokesperson, but from a victim of clergy sexual abuse.

I was one of over 400 plaintiffs under the New York Child Victims Act seeking civil relief from the Albany diocese. As imperfect as it was, the process was providing tangible justice through early releases of documents and depositions. Most notable to me, the 2021 testimony of Bishop Howard Hubbard admitting to sheltering criminal priests: moving them from parish to parish, never notifying the public of their danger. The legal process under the CVA was a godsend. I was finding answers and learned my sadistic priest wasn’t an aberration; he was protected by the church that raised me. I never really stood a chance. 

The bishop is fully correct that his decision will cause pain and suffering. What he failed to say is that it falls entirely on survivors.

For those unaware of the legal process, Chapter 11 ends pretrial discovery. This “stay” means requests for most diocese records are no longer honored. Evidence that might reveal who exactly put me in the crosshairs of a serial pedophile will never see the light of day. To learn what the church knew, and when they knew it. Bankruptcy ended all of it.

Based upon similar Catholic bankruptcies, I expect that clergy abuse survivors in Albany now face years before any resolution. I’ll guarantee some of us won’t live that long. On this new path we’re known as generic “creditors,” not unlike a plumber or roofer who wasn’t paid. As for compensation, that will be determined using a perverse mathematical equation, one that involves multiplying sexual acts times number of incidents. Think about that: abuse severity quantified by yes-and-no check boxes on a piece of paper. Not from a deposition or an interview.

Yet the diocese assures us they continue to “accompany” and “walk with survivors.” People might be shocked to learn that after three long years since I came forward, not one single person from the Albany diocese ever physically inquired about my abuse. I did once receive a boilerplate response to my complaint, with the haunting phrase “We deny the allegation.” No more hurtful words I’ve ever read in print. My attorney told me to forget it, but I never really can.

I’ve always held onto some old-fashioned notion of right and wrong, that if an organization discovered their employee abused a child, they would at the very least contact the victim. Maybe call them, ask questions, apologize, and find out who was responsible. Regardless of attorney advice and, yes, knowing the conversation will be difficult. What does it say about the current leadership that they don’t care to find out? What does it say about the safety of children in the pews and confessionals today?

The diocese may disagree, and may highlight efforts to help through “hope and healing” masses and “assistance coordinators.” I’ve watched these masses with an open mind but walk away more upset. If you listen, really listen, apologies are vague and in passive tense. Calculated prose that any English major will recognize. “We are sorry for any pain you might feel” is a world different from “We are sorry for our mistakes and the pain we caused.” Do they ever mention a single criminal cleric by name? Do they ever spell out the reasons they protected child abusers? Never.

As for assistance coordinators, or even the bishop himself, I can never feel safe asking for help from those responsible for my abuse. The same church that continues to stonewall and isolate me, and presumably other victims. That trust was lost years ago. Don’t blame me for being afraid. I have every right to be.

Since the decision I struggle daily with familiar thoughts of self-harm. For me it’s alcohol addiction. A terrible lifetime refuge I discovered while being abused at age 12. I think of the other survivors and their families. I don’t even know their names, but I understand what they’re going through. The public needs to hear what’s being taken from us. Real-world consequences of this decision. Psychologists call it revictimization.

My elderly mother, a lifelong Catholic and a beautiful soul, called me shortly after hearing the bankruptcy news. She sounded nervous and asked if my case was OK. Seconds turned to silence as I pondered what I wanted to say, but couldn’t.

“Mom, things are not OK. I’ll never find out who was responsible. Never get to face them and release the pain. I’ll never get that deposition, or my day in court. But years from now a check of some kind might come in the mail.”

As the bishop said, it’s “the best way to protect everyone.”

Daniel Thompson was born and raised in Queensbury. He now lives in Alaska.

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