JENNIFER ~ When I was abused, when it first started, I was 5 years old. I turned 5 years old in 1979, my birthday's in December. I started first grade at age 5. It was a continuous thing through the beginning of fifth grade. The priest that abused me was our parish pastor. He baptized me when I was a baby. He'd been with our family, was known for loving children, charismatic. People loved Father Francis, he was called, ‘Monsignor Francis', at the time. I'd known him my whole life, since he baptized me. My mom went to his church when she was pregnant with me.
Though, I didn't notice any unusual behavior at the time ... the abuse actually affected my whole life.
Psychologists say, girls that have been abused do one of two things: they either shut off completely in adolescence from guys, or they become sexually promiscuous, because they think that's the way to get love. I did the shut-off-completely.
I didn't talk to people. I stayed in my own little world, in my shell. I had just a few friends I talked to ...but, if I were in a group, I wouldn't be the person who talked. I was a 4-H Horse Leader. We had Horse Leader meetings every month. I went to meetings for five-to-six years. It took me a year-and-a-half to say one thing in the meetings. And these were people I saw once a month. Then, during spring and summer, I saw them every couple weekends, because a horse event was going on. It still took me a year-and-a-half to be able to talk to anybody in a meeting, to say something out loud.
At some level, I was terrified.
There are eight of us published in, Survivors of Predator Priests, by Jim Handlin, Tapestry Press. It goes into graphic detail of what happened to us. Jim's reasoning for writing it, was his brother was abused by a priest. His brother shared everything that happened ... he was reading newspaper stories, was upset because he said they were so ‘damn sanitized'. He said he wanted to show the horror of what actually happened, that people needed to understand how bad it was. I think it was a good approach, I understand where he came from. I think a lot of people shy away from knowing how graphic it was.
So, in fifth grade I told my mom. I didn't want to go places with Monsignor Francis. But, I didn't tell her what happened until many years later, in 2000. Her initial response was, she looked at me, (this was many years after these kinds of things were in the news). "Y'know, I start wondering if something had happened," she said. Then, she explained. It was a few things. Once, when I'd come back from a trip to Sacramento with him, she found pubic hairs ... before I had pubic hairs -- on my nightgown. And, she'd questioned me about it. I generally denied anything was happening. She'd looked at me. "Are you sure?" she said. Then, she start questioning herself ... was it really pubic hair? ...did I really find it? ...could he have done something? ...if he did do something ...oh my gosh, who would believe me? That's what she told me. She said it came down to, who'd believe me? That's a common refrain, if you talk to other parents. One family of Francis', when the survivor's mom found out, he was so powerful in Hayward at that time, she moved out of state ...rather than confronting him ... she was afraid Monsignor Francis would turn it around, blame the dad, get the dad in jail.
Survivors have a high rate of suicide. Substance abuse problems occur, being in jail is another.
My mom doesn't cry much. She never has, because of her background, and age. But, she's angry. She talked to her friend about it, at the time.
"I won't go into a church. I still believe in God. But, I don't believe in the Church, anymore," she said.
I don't talk about my spirituality much. I'm spiritual in my own way. I stopped going to Church. The reason I didn't go to Church anymore, is because I felt uncomfortable to see priests ... for a while, it would trigger a flashback, or memory. I couldn't watch a movie, or a TV show, that had a priest in it, or a commercial. I'm part native American. I've been studying Native American religion. My father had started doing that, too. The Native Americans believe anything that throws a shadow, has a spirit.
Religious abuse affects a person differently, than non-religious abuse.
I filed a lawsuit in 2002 against the Diocese of Oakland. The attorneys had me do a press conference in front of the Catholic church. Then, we re-filed January 2, because there was a new law about institutions and the statute of limitations. The Catholic church lobbied against it.
It's not uncommon for women to feel completely immobilized when they think of how they were molested, as long as 50 years ago. Some people don't keep moving on, they don't heal from it.
In the Catholic high schools, there were kids abused in the parishes by Order priests, a high number of victims. All the Catholic high schools in the east Bay had at least one predator priest in each high school, in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the Dioceses.