Essay, Speech


The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

The Survivor's Voice
Op-Ed, Essays, Speeches


New Year's Message to Boston Survivors

From Ann Hagan Webb
Co-Coordinator SNAP New England

Dear SNAP members and friends,

As I contemplate the recent flurry of events and feelings surrounding the $85M settlement by the RCAB and what it represents and doesn’t represent, I seem to need to pull together all of what the last year or two has meant to me. So here are my reflections on how far we have all come. I would like to share them with you.

Since the 1990's a few strong voices fought to send the message to the world that Roman Catholic priests were sexually abusing children and adults. To people like Phil Saviano, Frank Fitzpatrick, Barbara Blaine, David Clohessy and others, we owe a debt of gratitude for their relentless perseverance to give the world the truth. For most of those years their efforts were met with fleeting publicity and the public’s continued belief that the abusers were "a few bad apples."

In early 2002 the truth began to be told and finally heard. We (you, me, all of us) raised our voices and began to speak our truth and come out of our silence. We did it privately, maybe only to our closest friend or loved one. We did it, tentatively, to other survivors in SNAP and other support meetings. We did it in public with shaking knees and nervous voices. We did it on picket lines. We swallowed our fears and did it before microphones and television cameras. We did it in court rooms and in lawyers offices. Even when we didn’t reveal our own history, we did it by educating others on airplanes, at cocktail parties, on subways - wherever the discussion arose.

All our voices together began a tremendous change in the way the world sees sexual abuse.

All our voices together changed the way the world sees the emotional damage of sexual abuse.

All our voices together changed the way the world sees Roman Catholic priests.

All our voices together changed the way the world views the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

This took a wellspring of collective courage by a group of people who inherently doubt our power, doubt our ability to be heard, and have a tendency to blame ourselves (often against all reason). I am amazed and grateful to know you all and be a part of this.

Before the year 2002 was out, we had gathered supporters within and without the church and demanded change. Groups were formed, activists rallied, the press told our stories like never before, and lawyers fought for us in public.

Cardinal Law, a man some say was on the long list for next Pope, was forced to resign. Do not underestimate the magnitude of this victory.

As 2003 began, the cacophony of voices got louder still. Law suits were filed and fought, some criminal convictions were won. Lines were drawn in the sand. A Bishop came and went, doing lots of damage while here. (Threats of bankruptcy, deposing therapists, discrediting survivors.) But our voices were not silenced. We all rode an emotional roller coaster as a new Archbishop appeared, bringing with him the power to divide us, as well as a debatably better approach to the hundreds of lawsuits filed and still being filed against his church.

I cannot pretend to have the answers to the right or wrong of the current settlement, how it was negotiated, what it left out, or what each person found in themselves to opt in or out of it. In my mind you each found a courage deep within you to follow the path that made the most sense for you. None of the choices were perfect, when are they ever? Eight years ago I chose not to pursue a lawsuit in RI, feeling too emotionally fragile to fight the battle I thought would ensue. Maybe I would choose differently today, I don’t know. But I have a great respect for the struggle it takes for each of us to decide all of this.

To the survivors in this settlement and the ones to come, I wish you had all been awarded many millions of dollars. But I also know that there is not one of you who would not prefer to turn the clock back and have the abuse never occur, rather than receive money. I know that most of you chose legal confrontation as the only way to make the church and the world acknowledge the damage done by their "holy men." And I applaud you for making this happen.

We all know that there is much more to do, much more change that needs to happen, more evil and corruption that has yet to be revealed to the public. But let's not lose sight of the tremendous change and progress we have made in just two short years.

The Boston Archdiocese has been forced to sell the Cardinal’s mansion and take out a mortgage on the Cathedral. When I suggested this to Bishop Lennon just last March he utterly refused the suggestion as impossible and looked at me like I was out of my mind. This was no small concession by the Archdiocese. It is a tremendous symbolic loss for them. An end to an era of deference and opulence.

The Boston Archdiocese is closing parishes due to lack of attendance and loss of donations. No matter how they play with their numbers, or get big donors to float them the difference, the average Catholic is mad, and it is showing in their attendance at mass and in their weekly contributions. All our voices raised together did this. We opened many of their eyes to what they didn’t want to see. Yes, many only peeked a little then shut their eyes again, but many, many people see their church in a very different light.

In a broader sense, we have brought the issue of child abuse into the light of public knowledge. Child abusers are no longer simply crazy men in clown suits driving a blue van, luring children inside on the way home from school. This society has come to realize that child abusers can also be well respected members of our communities, school teachers luring children on the internet, and international rock stars. And they can be priests!

So, as the new year approaches, I am thankful for the progress we have made in a battle that is a long way from over. At times, during the last few months, I have felt that I could not take in one more ounce of evil, as yet another heart wrenching story was revealed to me, or another legal or moral battle lost. Right now I must count the "wins."

My New Years message to all of you has become long and rambling. Above all, I wish you peace, as I struggle to find my own.

Ann Hagan Webb

December 29, 2003

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests