To The Editor, ‘New Haven Register’:

It is frustrating, but still not surprising, that people still attempt to discredit victims who accuse priests of sexually abusing them when they were minors. Your May 23, 2005 article, “ FRIENDS RALLY BEHIND ACCUSED PRIEST”, contains examples of parishioners blinded by their faith and a priest’s charisma. Many ardently faithful will do this out of fear or naiveté, or possibly both. Fear, probably subconscious, that they may have to face the reality that what they have believed in for so long and embraced as a core element of their existence just ain’t so. There may also be a conscious fear, as Catholics have been taught not to question the church’s teachings, or else.  Naiveté, in that they have not, or cannot, move on from the traditional belief that all priests are like Bing Crosby in the Bells of St. Mary’s. Basically, he’s a man of God, so it can’t be. These priests live a double life, a dichotomy which their followers’ minds cannot reconcile.

I am a lawyer and have been representing victims of sexual abuse against the clergy and religious institutions for thirteen years. When I first started this work, many Catholics believed priests would never do these things. Some chided me for taking up this cause. Even after thousands of victims across the globe have bravely come forward, some still can’t accept it. But then again, there are those who deny that slavery and the Holocaust ever happened.

There is a curious sub-group among this crew who belittle victims by saying that all they want is money, reducing them to money grubbing parasites. Know what? That’s all that is available to them. They can’t go back in time and re-live their youth, free from the horror and confusion of the sexual acts. The damage is permanent. As for arresting the priests, the statue of limitations has usually passed on these crimes, so they will never see the offenders incarcerated. The oft-mentioned fantasy of beating the daylights out of the aging miscreants doesn’t quite do it. It also does nothing to hold accountable the bishops who allowed much of this abuse to continue by moving the priest to another parish when a complaint arose. Money and public accountability are all that are available to compensate them.

And it works. Though small recompense for the damage done, the victims have fought back and are no longer helpless. Furthermore, on the social engineering side, the hierarchy hates it when their public image is tarnished and reels when they get hit in the pocketbook. It is only because of lawsuits that the problem is being addressed by the church. Corporate arrogance hates public accountability like Dracula hates the sunlight. Real reform will probably never happen until the enabling bishops hear the clang of the jail cell door behind them.

Then there are those like Bill Johnson, who says that, “…perhaps his honest affection and desire to mentor youth has been misinterpreted or is being exploited by these accusers”. Wow. Perhaps Mr. Johnson would like to sit with some of these victims so they can shed light on his definition of “honest affection”.

It is through a charismatic image and benevolent persona that these priests have been able to engage the trust of their potential victims, foster the adoration of the parish community, and use these facades post-accusation to rally support. Sure McSheffrey was charismatic. His niece says her uncle is “Still in shock”, I believe McSheffrey is in shock, not because of the allegations themselves, but because he believed his performance would work in perpetuity, never realizing that doe-eyed altar boys eventually become angry adult men.

Thomas M. McNamara, May 2005

‘And Please, Don’t Forget to Vote’

I remember the cold early November morning eight years ago. I was on my way to the workers’ compensation office on Church Street, most likely to argue that my injured client deserved to receive medical benefits for his job-related  injury.

I recall neither the client nor the result, but what I will never forget is my encounter with an old woman who had fallen while she attempted to step up onto the sidewalk after crossing Church Street. Her face had been scrapped and she was bleeding. Along with another man, I helped her up and sat her down on a nearby bench. I never go her name, so I will call her Lottie.

Just an everyday encounter on a city street? Not for me. As Lottie cleaned herself and assured us that she’d be all right, I noticed her kind and grateful eyes, which had the imperfections that come with age, yet sparkled beneath a hat that was out of fashion but worn with a sense of dignity.

As she thanked us “ever so much”, she reached out her hands from the sleeves of an overcoat.  They were wrinkled ebony hands, with pronounced knuckles and veins, hands that most likely dished out many a serving at the church supper or stroked a grandchild’s head as she sang a song her mother had taught her.  She took my hand in hers, looked into my eyes, and said, “And please, don’t forget to vote.”

Lottie undoubtedly experienced examples of injustice that were business as usual in this century, examples of what thinking human beings would describe as our country’s less-than-proud moments.  But the sense of faith, wisdom and duty that she showed will be a fond and inspirational memory for me and every time I close the curtain on the voting machine to exercise a precious right that is all too often ignored or taken for granted.

Lottie understood this and felt compelled to share her sentiment.  A portrait of true class in an old hat and overcoat.

Thomas M. McNamara

New Haven

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