July 6, 2008Elsie Boudreau can relate to the confusion suffered by Jerry who felt he loved and was loved by a Roman Catholic nun.
Jerrynot his real namewas one of nine Indian boys who said they were sexually molested by two nuns in the 1960s and 1970s while boarding at the Holy Childhood School of Jesus in Harbor Springs. (To read the article in its entirety, go to northernexpress.com).
Jerry believed the relationship was based in love, and hes still coming to terms with its effects. Yet hes been in and out of rehab nine times and remains a hardcore alcoholic. His two marriages were marred by a lack of fidelityhe has three out-of-wedlock childrenand numerous stints in jail. He once aspired to become a state trooper and won entry into University of Michigan, but dropped out after a semester. Now 55, he feels confused and bitter by what happened.
His feelings are par for the course, said Boudreau, a Yupik Eskimo from the village of St. Marys in Alaska. She was sexually abused during most of her teen years by a Jesuit priest, the Rev. James Poole, who regarded himself as something of a ladys man.
Her case was settled for $1 million in April.
I want to put a message out to any victims that if they did feel love, if they felt connected and special to that person, thats okay. It means they have the capacity to love and thats good, she said.
But my abuser twisted and turned it around and took advantage of that feeling, and that is not okay, she said.
SCHOOL BECOMES A PRISON
Boudreau said it took years of therapy before she could accept she was a victim. Until then, she carried the guilt and shame that rightfully belonged to Father Poole. It began a healing process for me, she said.
California attorney John Manly, who represented Boudreau, said that when people hear about a boys relationship with a nun, their reaction might be, Oh wow, thats my dream, Im a stud.
The reality is far different. The reality is the relationship is inherently unequal, and the aggressor has the power and control. The boy cant leave the relationship. Hes at school. He cant escape and school becomes a prison. Theres a weird feeling of love and attraction, but its a fundamentally sick relationship.
Its normal for the victim to feel that its love, but we as adults know a 35-year-old woman doesnt fall in love with a 10, 11, or 12-year-old. She is using the boy as a sexual outlet and when shes done with him, she dumps him. He feels abandoned and, of course, he learns not to trust. The reality is the young man is left broken and destroyed emotionally.
Dave Clohessy said the love aspect is what makes the abuse so deeply injurious. He himself was abused by a priest, and later formed a national group, The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
In one of my first therapy groups, there was a man who was brutally, sexually assaulted at gun point, and in some respects, he seemed to heal more quickly than the rest of us. In my case, the abuse was subtle, very gradual, done under the guise of affection, no threat, no brutality. So you wallow around with, Gee, what could I have done, I should have seen it coming, I should have said no. Thats what makes it so insidious.
RIGHT AND WRONG
When a nun or a priest abuses a child, it undermines everything a child believes is right or good.
So says Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who spearheaded the nationally publicized child-molestation lawsuits against former priest John J. Geoghan (who was killed in prison before his trial) and the Archdiocese of Boston, which tried to hide the evidence. The case ballooned into allegations against scores of other priests.
Religion gives believers a strong moral system, but a priest or nun obliterates its value when they use a child for sex, he said.
The sexual abuse by a religious figure leaves a great emotional void in the child. They have no sense of right and wrong, no sense of religious community. They feel alone and ostracized. There is an enormous amount of guilt, lack of self esteem, lack of self respect, and pain felt by the victim, Garabedian said.
As a child, you learn things for the first time, and its the only time you learn it. If its bad, you think its normal. If its good, you think its normal.
Its even more complicated when it gets tied up with religion. The child is confused because they were taught that nuns are married to Jesus. Purportedly, you have the most moral institution acting immorally. There is no excuse for it, none whatsoever. The victims of abusesexual abusehave alcohol and drug problems, problems with trusting people. Depression, flashbacks, pain, anxiety, self-esteem problems. And they have problems with religion. Most of these individuals are agnostics and atheists.
Added on to this is the sense of abandonment when the relationship ends, he said.
When the perpetrator realizes that the innocent child is at an age where the abuse may be revealed, the perpetrator will often stop the relationship, and the victim will irrationally feel left out, hurt, and discarded.
Manly said that ill-informed white people often want to blame native people because they numb the memories of childhood abuse with alcohol or drugs.
I think if you had the shit kicked out of you, if you were beaten everyday and were sexually abused and taken away from your parents and watched children die and that did happen in some of our countrys boarding schoolsyoud be finding ways to self medicate too, he said. And for many people, thats found in a bottle.
We dont really look at these as sex abuse cases. We look at them as crimes against humanity. There are no other words for it.
CRIME AND NO PUNISHMENT YET
Paul Raphael was not sexually abused as a student of Holy Childhood School of Jesus but he considers himself scarred by the nuns beatings he witnessed and suffered firsthand.
Raphael, in fact, has spent a lifetime healing himself and others. As a spiritual leader of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, he holds the formal title of peacemaker.
Raphael is deeply troubled that the national media took no notice of a 1994 Grand Rapids Press series that detailed the abuse that occurred at Holy Childhood School. The story began and ended in Grand Rapids, although it was one of the first stories of clergy abuse. It wasnt even placed on the front page of the paper when it was published 14 years ago, he said.
It seemed like it was no big issue. And then in 2001,when non-native people came forward and talked about how they were sexually abused by priests, it was suddenly a national tragedy. The victims were brought on the Today show to tell their stories. They went to court and received monetary awards. But when we spoke, it didnt even make the front page and nothing, nothing was done.
Like the nine boys who said they suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Holy Childhood School of Jesus nuns, hundreds of former Roman Catholic school students now in their middle age are starting to disclose what happened to them.
There have been up to 400 reports nationally of sex abuse by nuns, said David Clohessy.
Yet few cases involving nuns have ever seen the light of a courtroom.
Thats because each state has whats called a statute of limitations for criminal charges and civil lawsuits. The statute gives a limited time to file a legal action. The clock starts ticking at the point the crime occurs.
PROTECTING THE GUILTY
Michigan has one of the most rigid statute of limitations in the country, although it was loosened somewhat in 2001.
The laws are written in Michigan to protect perpetrators and those who are doing the cover-ups. There have been efforts in the Michigan legislature over the past five years to get those laws changed, to be more victim-friendly, but in each case the bishops and the bishops conference spent a lot of resources to get those laws defeated, Clohessy said.
This arbitrary, archaic predator friendly statute of limitations is an extraordinary injustice. Its like saying to patients, who experienced a deliberate botched surgery, if you detect the harm and can act on it while youre laying there in the recovery room, well do something. But gosh, once youve left the hospital, its too late.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame, a religious order that operated the school, interviewed some of the men who were sexually abused, but did not report their statements to the authorities. Thats because they promised the men complete confidentiality. Clohessy believes that the nuns should have gone to police authorities.
Ill just be brutally honest. That was disingenuous and self-serving. There is a way to protect your victims privacy while disclosing important information. Thats ridiculous.
In Michigan, the statute of limitations for intercourse with a minor (a criminal sexual conduct 1) used to be seven years from the date of offense or when the minor reached 21, whichever was later. The statute of limitations was loosened in 2001 for CSC 1 crimes, but it is unclear if the amended law can be applied to old crimes such as this one.
To my knowledge, it has not been tested, said Grand Traverse County Assistant Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg. It appears that you could not file charges, but a motivated prosecutor might find a way to argue this and bring it to court.
The decision to file a criminal charge on behalf of the former students lies within the discretion of an individual prosecutor, said Don Duquette, a University of Michigan clinical professor of law and the director of the U-M Child Advocacy Law Clinic.
If the testimony of these victims was clear, confirming and believable, and if the behavior they describe would fall under CSC 1, I could see the prosecutor doing it, he said.
The case would fall under the jurisdiction of the Emmet County prosecutor, who told the Express that he would have to review the law and the facts of the case before he could make a comment.
Another source of relief might come from the Michigan Crime Victim Compensation Fund, which awards crime victims up to $15,000. It wouldnt be an easy case to argue, but its not totally impossible, Duquette said.
Filing a civil lawsuit would also be a very difficult route, said attorney Mike Finnegan of St. Paul Minnesota.
The statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit ends at the age of 19, he said. We brought 20 or 30 cases in Michigan within the last year or two, and lost on all the cases. The court ruled the statute of limitations expired when our clients were 19, and very, very few victims, as you are aware, come forward at that age.
Thats because most victims arent aware of the profound psychological damage until they are in their 30s, 40s and 50s and looking back on a lifetime of chronic depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. By then, its too late to sue, he said.
WHO SHOULD PAY?
The most successful strategy has been to settle with Catholic church officials, but that doesnt happen unless theres a threat of criminal charges or some sort of material proof, said attorney Mitch Garabedian, who handled the Boston diocese lawsuits.
Garabedian is now meeting with one of the victims of the Holy Childhood School of Jesus to consider the viability of legal action.
Because hundreds of sexual abuse victims are never compensated for the suffering in their lives, the financial burden falls on the individual and taxpayers, said California attorney John Manly, who represented victims of an Alaskan priest.
The victims are on public programs paid for by public money and that is not appropriate. If youve been wronged to the point you cant function, the people who inflicted the wrong ought to be paying from their own pocket.
Clohessy said victims and hes speaking of all victims of sexual crimes should report the crime to the state police, even if the possibility is remote that the offender will be prosecuted.
No one heals when they are trapped in shame, silence and self blame. Its just crucial they come forward.