Recovering from Past Abuse by Acknowledging What Happened
This article originally appeared in The Victim's Informer (Vol. 25, No. 4). It has been copied and shared with permission from the author, Bailey Brown. See the original story on page 8.
Celebrating Mass during Christmas is something Steve Bartley is looking forward to one day in the future. He was born and raised a true Catholic and by the time he was a teenager, he realized he wanted to become a priest. However, his experience in the seminary wasn’t at all what he expected. At 71 years old, he came forward and filed police reports regarding the suffering he endured while in and out of the seminary from the ages of 14 to 25.
Bartley was sexually abused by a priest and two brothers all from the same religious order. He dealt with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse over a 10-year period from three clergymen. Today, he is on the path to healing and recovery. His plans to attend a Catholic Christmas Mass are on hold as he takes a break from all that has happened since he came forward about the abuse. Despite how difficult it was for him to recall each abuse, he was able to push through.
“I know I’m not alone. I know that I’m loved and that is important. I’ve received a lot of help, but I’m just not feeling really energetic about what I need to do next. I just need a break,” he said.
He attended therapy with the church after he told them about the abuse. During his first few sessions, he had a revelation.
“Knowing that this wasn’t my fault, learning that was something that was new to me. It is not me that needs to be blamed because I lived with that for 50 years. I didn’t allow it to happen, but in a way, I did,” he said. “I was a guy, a young kid, and I looked at these men disguised as [clergymen] that took everything away from me. I’m trying to recover still from the damage they caused by being sexual predators.”
He began reading several accounts of other survivors of sexual abuse, and he realized many of them felt the same way he did as they experienced similar things. His counselor helped him see that just because the sexual feeling may have been at times physically pleasing, that didn’t mean it was enjoyable.
“You can get enjoyment from any kind of sexual arousal, male or female, but that doesn’t mean that I looked forward to it. So, I had to learn that. I wasn’t aware of that,” he said.
Going to counseling helped him for some time, but once he stopped going, he began writing a memoir. The writing has helped him recall memories he had long forgotten and has been beneficial to his healing. He is hoping to have his memoir published soon.
Survivors of any kind of abuse may go through a stage of anger that is difficult to move on from according to Bartley. He realized one way he could begin to get past the anger would be if he received a formal apology from one of his abusers. An apology would mean he would be able to heal, or it would at least give him a starting point towards recovery.
Hoping something might be done about one of his abusers, Bartley submitted an online report in July 2020 to the Texas Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation Reporting System provided by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. He spent days filling out the detailed report of his past abuse. Once he clicked the submit tab, he immediately received a response. The reply indicated his report did not qualify for an investigation. He was unaware that the reporting system would only look into current abuse cases, but he wanted people to be aware his abuser is currently living across the street from children.
“Maybe they saw my birthdate and I did not qualify. My concern that I mentioned in the report, is not so much for me as I am not at risk anymore, but because my last living abuser resides in a retirement home that is right across the street from an elementary and high school,” he said.
After spending endless hours filling out the report only to be let down in seconds, he said he was overwhelmed with emotion.
“I cried a bit after I read their reply. No one likes to just waste their time, and you put so much into it and then you don’t get anything from it,” he said.
Reliving any kind of trauma can cause painful memories to resurface, and that is something he faced each time he told someone his story. He has not revealed his entire past to everyone he knows, but every time he talks about the pain and suffering he experienced, it’s like he is reliving the abuse all over again.
“I don’t look forward to things that make me miserable and cause suffering, that is why I’m saying I’m just kind of tired. I am ready to move on a bit and recover from all of this,” he said.
In June 2019, Bartley received a considerable settlement from the church he belonged to where the abuses occurred. Since then, he has not heard from the religious order he belonged to. He said not one person has checked in on him to see how he is doing since the settlement.
“I got the settlement and an apology from the church, and I have heard nothing since. Not even a ‘how are you Steve? Just wanted to check in,’” he said. “It’s like the DMV, you are out the door and then they are calling the next person in line. ‘Next! Number 275!’ I’m just a number, I got a settlement, then I was signed off.”
During the initial reporting process and many times after that, he did feel alone. He felt as though he had no support system or anyone on his side to defend him. Until he met Patti Koo, who is the San Antonio chapter leader for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
“Patti was my biggest supporter from day one. I always felt there was someone I could call and talk to. My cousin said I was her hero and I wish she and I were closer,” he said. “My brother is a practicing Catholic who lives in New York City, he was also very supportive and very proud of what I was doing. Even if he and I don’t see eye to eye on many things involving the Catholic Church.”
Bartley said he received his greatest support from those who were outside of his family. People who were either from SNAP or friends he made along the way in his reporting process. His advice to all victims and survivors of any kind of abuse is to have people that will support you. He said to create a network of people that you can tell your story to and you will no longer have to hide from your past. He said he understands that many people who come forward will have feelings of anger, depression and anxiety, but that is all part of the healing process and is completely normal.
“You can’t keep it to yourself and you can’t make it a secret. Your story has got to get out there. People need to love you unconditionally and without judgment and help you get through it,” he said.
For a long time, he thought what happened to him was his fault and spent years thinking he should have taken action and stopped the clergymen from abusing him. Once he accepted the abuse was not his fault, he said he was able to start his journey toward healing. He said having open communication with other survivors and support groups brought clarity to him and helped him recover from his past trauma. According to Bartley, those who have experienced abuse of any kind might feel they are completely alone, or that they are the only ones experiencing that type of suffering.
“Victims need to know they are not alone and that there are others. That is when the lightbulb went off for me, once I started seeing all these reports of abuse on the news and all of the coverups,” he said. “I’m thinking wow there are so many who have come forward! So, why can’t I? And now I can do it.”
In order to take a break from all of the reporting and book writing, he found things to help him get back on track and enjoy his daily routines. He takes his Australian cattle dog, Biscuit, on walks and hikes in the mountains of Colorado Springs. He often rides his motorcycle and tries to do activities outside as often as he can to get some fresh air. He has plans to travel soon and renovate his home to make the most of the rest of his life.
The biggest obstacles he had to overcome in the last year have been tiresome, but he said they have brought him to a place of peace for now. He said that recovery is the acknowledgement that it happened, and it is an apology from the person who inflicted the abuse and suffering. His final hope and need is an apology from the last living priest who caused him the most suffering. But until that day comes, he said he is doing better every day.
Bailey Brown is a graduate of Texas State University with a degree in journalism. Her plans to be a professional journalist are in the works as she continues to share the stories of survivors of clergy/nun abuse. She was born and raised in Texas and hopes to continue writing and reporting stories for those who want their voices heard. She loves to read novels in her spare time, drink iced cofee, and listen to indie music.