The Nineties

The Nineties

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Shortly after my father’s funeral I contacted Fr. P about G’s receiving his Confirmation.  He encouraged me to get G involved in the Youth Group that had just formed upon Fr. P’s arrival at the parish.  It sounded like a good way to help G get a sense of belonging in the Church.  It had been a long time since I’d gotten involved in parish activities and I had been finding spiritual support in other ways that gave me strength to get through the challenges I was living through.  The Church didn’t give me that sense of support.

It was right at the start of our settling into my parents’ home that I received a clear indication that I was expected to follow their routine of our strict Catholic tradition.  In some ways I found it reassuring and centering, while in other ways I found it to be an intrusion on my own style of religious expression that I’d developed through the years as an adult.  I had distanced myself from some of the church’s rigidness when faced with my own reality and learning experiences.  The responsibilities and changes that filled my life during this time gave me a new awareness of God’s transforming love in my life.  I was finding this awareness in other ways outside of institutional religion.  I’d become more flexible with my traditional religious experience and found spiritual direction in many different ways.  The day after we had moved down to NJ was a Sunday.  My parents were getting ready to go to Mass.   G and I were still unpacking and getting settled.  When they learned that G and I weren’t planning on going to Mass, they then told my brother, S, who was in the backyard waiting for them.  While G and I were eating our breakfast, S came walking into the kitchen and demanded that we get ready and go to church.

I was too tired and drained from the move from the day before to make any attempt to reason with him and risk a confrontation, so both G and I proceeded to get ready.  I hadn’t realized how active my family was in the parish, both socially and politically.   I also became aware of the fact that many people in the parish already knew the circumstances behind my move.  This complicated my intent to leave the past behind and move forward.  I encountered a curiosity and lots of questions about the details of my divorce while, at the same time, I was receiving counseling to ‘let go’.  At that time, the realities facing marriages today weren’t being addressed and an idealized version of the institution was supported and being held up as ‘success’.

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My job search had commenced during that first week that we arrived in NJ.  My main focus in this search was through the county newspaper and an employment office.  After two jobs that didn’t work for me (one was in a personnel office and the other one was in banking), I found what seemed a desirable position in the registrar’s office at the branch campus of a private college.  The branch campus was a ten-minute ride from RP so getting to and from work didn’t involve my taking a lot of time away from G.   I also would be close by in the event of emergency.  The only drawback was the hours which involved being there four days during the week from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. at night.  Things were going good between G and his grandmother so I thought that this could work out well.  I would have Fridays off and was required to work a half day on Saturday.

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My involvement with the hometown parish increased when Fr. P asked me to be on the Youth Ministry Board as a representative and a voice for single parents who were in a divorced situation.  This was a nice attitude adjustment from the general view of divorces by the Church!  G was getting involved with the youth group activities and it seemed that we were both finding a good place to find a sense of belonging.  I was able to arrange for a professor from the Jesuit college where I was working to come and speak at one of the youth group meetings.  He was very inspirational for young people who were dealing with a complex society.

I also suggested a movie about the effects of racism on young blacks, especially those attempting to better themselves and to make inroads into good colleges and universities.  This was the early 90’s and racial tensions continued to exist.  The movie stirred up some criticism from some parishioners who had bad experiences with some local black youths and were using that as a measure for their judgement of all blacks.  I like to think that there were some young people in the youth group who were able to see beyond that and that they gained from the discussions.

The Youth Group put on a lot of fun events too!  The annual car wash was lots of fun and the church community came out to support it.  We held dances in the church hall where the teens could come and relax in a casual environment that resembled a club house with old couches and chairs.  The trip that I remember the most was the white water rafting trip up to Jim Thorpe, Pa.  My sons, G and J, remember the fun of that trip to this day and I’m glad we have this picture of us for memories’ sake.

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white-water-rafting

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As an outreach of the youth ministry, a few of us got together and formed a group called C.O.P.E … Channels of Peace Experience.  This was a support group for children dealing with loss and grief due to death or divorce.  It was based on the international organization ~ Rainbows for All God’s Children. (https://rainbows.org/).   I met with the local coordinator of the organization and also with a counseling service that was on the property of the Campus where I worked.  Together we set up a series of support and educational workshops for parents.  We had enough interest with about ten people attending each weekly workshop. 

At one of the workshops, a participant revealed that she had been abusing her child.  This was an area where I had no experience and was glad that one of the therapists from the counseling service was there.  Afterwards, I went over to the rectory to mention it to Fr. P.  He was in his office with one of the other youth ministry board members, B, who was also close friends with him.  He indicated to me that it was OK to talk in front of her which gave me the impression that she was in a position of some authority.  So I proceeded to tell him about what the mother had disclosed at the C.O.P.E. workshop.  B immediately interrupted me,  saying that this was not an area that the parish should be involved in.  I felt shut down and silenced ……. and because of my lack of experience I backed off and let it go.  Looking back, I’m hoping that, in some way, there was follow-up for that mother and her child, either by the therapist from the counseling service or by Fr. P.  This is another area where I felt that the  needs of struggling families were not being met by those in positions of authority.

C.O.P.E fell by the wayside after that series.   The openness and willingness to offer the series seemed to me to be an honest attempt by the principal of the parish elementary school, the deacon and Fr. P to try something that might bring more life and stability to an already struggling school fighting for its survival.   I was told that more and more of the students were dealing with families that were at risk and looking for some kind of support.  (The elementary school has since closed down.  A very painful and sad event for so many who had grown-up in the parish and attended the school, just as I had)  These experiences increased my awareness of the struggles within some conservative parishes that were caught in changes that Vatican II had brought.  The Pre-Vatican II (closed-off-from-the-world attitudes) and the post-Vatican II (opening-up-the-windows-to let-the-fresh-air-in attitudes) clashed as we attempted to connect to the realities of the world around us.  This struggle still exists and may have grown.

I welcomed the new ideas and critical thinking that Vatican II introduced.  It was a time where the gospel message of Jesus became a call for action and a time where the role of our own conscience and intuition became central instead of blind obedience.  The changes of Vatican II may have swung too far, just as they do in political changes within government.  Even today there exists a polarization between conservatives and progressives within the Church – just as there is such polarization in our country as a whole.  Somewhere in the middle of all this there is truth and hopefully neither the Church or our country comes to a schism while we’re searching for that truth.

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One of my brother, S’, friends was a lawyer in a town nearby.   I went to ask him if there was anything I could do to get some financial support for G while he was still in high school and under the age of eighteen.  Don’s medical situation had been stabilizing over the years and, while there were bouts of set-backs off and on with his heart, he continued to work in Upstate New York in the doctor’s office as his physician’s assistant.

Don was,once more, getting divorced from the woman he married at the time when I had left the area to move down to NJ.  He was now living with a nurse he met at work.  They were planning to move to Florida (Life’s a Beach) and buy a condo on the gulf coast in Sarasota.  It seemed reasonable for me to pursue some consistent support payments for our last child and this support would surely help now that I was finding the cost of living in New Jersey even more out of reach than that of Upstate New York.

The lawyer took down all the information and said he would look into it.  Once again, my self-esteem plummeted as I sat there and relayed some of the ugly details of my situation, still sensing that my reality was so out of reach from the awareness of those who have never experienced it.  I didn’t hear back from the attorney for a long period of time.  I finally received a letter from him informing me that he had heard from Don’s lawyer who had said that due to Don’s medical issues it would be impossible to get any support from him.  So, I let go of all effort to ever receive any consistent financial support for my youngest child.  It was going to be no different than it had been in the past ten years and it was up to me.

Although I continued to honor my part of the agreement of meeting Don half way up the New York Thruway at the rest-stop parking area for G’s visits, this effort finally came to an end.  The last straw happened when I had to stay overnight at a motel on the thruway because the weather got too bad to travel in the heavy snowfall.  I phoned home to tell my mother that I wouldn’t be able to make it home that evening because the roads were so bad.  She had just had knee surgery so I was concerned.  My brother R and his wife were visiting that day so that reassured me that they were there if needed.  When I returned the next day, Mom expressed annoyance that I’d made the decision to stay overnight and not return home.   I wondered out loud why my brother and his wife were unable to stay over this one time due to the travel conditions.  I also wondered to myself why I continued to jump through hoops to please everyone.  That brought a change in perspective, both for me and G, and brought the two-hour ride to the rendezvous with his father on the Thruway to a halt.

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The Nineties were also the beginning of an increasing and bitter clash between partisans on the left and right of the two political parties in our country.  This has escalated to the great divide of today.  Talk radio became more of an influence on those who got into the battle between conservatives and liberals.  For my Republican family, Rush Limbaugh became the voice of the discontent that they felt and shared.   I didn’t have the time to even know who some of these talk radio people were and, on the few occasions when I did tune in, was very turned off by the aggressive, vitriolic tone.  It encouraged ‘in your face’ rants instead of the thoughtful discussions that I’d come to believe in for conflict resolution.

My brother, J, was the only one in the family who took a stand on liberal positions within our family’s political discussions and his views were fairly well dismissed and mocked now that Rush Limbaugh was empowering the others to ‘fight the libs’.  Not that he didn’t give it right back to them. 

 I remember listening to one discussion about taxes and welfare.  I have never been partisan so I attempted to listen to both sides in the discussion.  My own experience, knowing I couldn’t have fed my family at one time if it were not for food stamps and other assistance from the government, gave me a unique perspective on this.  I couldn’t understand why there would be resentment towards some of our taxes going to help people get back on their feet after a crisis.  I’ve come to understand the abuses and mismanagement of many government programs and think that’s where reform needs to happen.  It seemed to me that the vulnerable and powerless were being used as scapegoats for the arrogant and powerful.  Taxes are there to provide for the common needs of American citizens and their communities.  They aren’t an evil end in themselves and we take for granted all that taxes make possible.

The election of Bill Clinton as President during the Nineties intensified the hostility between conservatives and liberals, creating some of the nastiest polarization that we’ve ever had.  Wikipedia reports that “ ideologically Clinton was a New Democrat, and many of his policies reflected a centrist “Third Way” political philosophy.”  I found myself settling into a centrist position when it came to politics yet couldn’t bring myself to register and make a full commitment to either party.  My conservative Republican family, meanwhile, moved further to the right and rallied around each other during family gatherings that inevitably evolved into frustrating political disputes.  It was beginning to register with me that the abandonment of my family that I felt at the time of the early eighties crisis wasn’t just in miles.  I now believe that political ideology can serve as a means to distance oneself from the harsh realities of other people and can result in preventing us from responding and intervening in effective and caring ways.

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My social life, now that I moved to my hometown, consisted of family events and church related events.  I’d set aside any thoughts of finding new dating possibilities.  I sensed that I had so much more to work through before I’d be able to choose wisely when it came to any new commitment with a man.  Down the road I would learn through counseling just how much the effects of abuse and  trauma can impact a person’s life over the long term.  Post-traumatic stress disorder doesn’t go away and you need to learn how to cope with it.  Becoming aware of this and understanding that healthy boundaries need to be set to protect yourself has helped to make me stronger in navigating through relationships.

I reconnected with two high school friends who lived in New Jersey and we would get together off and on to go to craft fairs or luncheons.   We talked mainly about the past.   Nostalgia was a common theme in my life now since I had moved back to the roots of my past memories.  I learned that each person sees the past from different perspectives.  It was fun to reminisce, and it also made me long to leave it behind and see what the future held for me.

What was central in my mind was staying connected with my sons.  Financial restraints and living a distance apart was a challenge.   They were all busy with pursuing their own goals and moving on with their lives too.  One was in the area attending SUNY Purchase in a pre-med program so he was close enough to be a support for G.  G’s uncles also reached out in different ways to show their support for him.  Each of my older sons were developing relationships that were leading to long-term commitments.

The son who lived nearby traveled with me and G up to Maine to connect with two of my other sons who were living up there.  They had jobs in restaurants in Bar Harbor so it was exciting to visit them there.  We explored Cadillac Mountain and Acadia National Park, and I realized how much I loved to explore and travel.  My regrets that I’d not traveled turned into resolve that I would make room in my life for foreign travel in my future and that I would find a way to do it.

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Trip to Bar Harbor, ME ~ Me, D &G on Cadillac Mountain at sunrise (l) and J and me (r)

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The Nineties were a busy time for me, with work, school, and important events to attend involving my sons.  Two of my sons got married during the 90’s and G graduated from high school.  My son, J, graduated from Georgetown University Medical School and my son, A, graduated from the police academy in upstate NY.  All of these events were wonderful experiences for all of us.  During these events Don and I would come face to face, and sometimes it was not too comfortable.  I still carried anger over the effect his actions had on my life.

One incident I had trouble dealing with was when he brought his 3rd wife-to-be to J’s graduation at the Kennedy Center.  Of course, she had no idea of our history so I held no ill will towards her.  It was just hard for me to treat him as part of the family even though I fully understood and encouraged my sons’ relationships with him.

Although I found it tolerable to be with them at the event itself, I found it impossible to attend the small private dinner afterwards at a local restaurant in Georgetown, so I declined.  I had brought my mother and G with me to the graduation, and I was feeling anger and jealousy that he was in a relationship and I wasn’t.  He was free of the day-to-day stresses of raising our family yet he appeared to welcome and harvest all the accolades of being J’s father.  These were feelings I had towards him that I didn’t like, and I worked to overcome and rise above them.

My mother had just had another joint replacement surgery and she was thrilled to be included in her grandson’s celebration. Because of her mobility issues we were slowed down while navigating the Georgetown area and the University campus.   Instead of going to the restaurant where Don and his new girlfriend would be, I made reservations at another restaurant (with an aerial view of the entire Georgetown/DC area) for my sister and her husband, my mother, G and I.  It wasn’t a comfortable feeling allowing myself to wallow in this decision.  I just wasn’t able to do anything else no matter how hard I tried to rise above it.   I guess this was my way of setting healthy boundaries when I felt the need to.

The two weddings were difficult for me also, though I was filled with joy for each son and his bride.  The experiences brought out all the memories and sentiments of our life together raising our little boys.  The couples wanted and deserved to see us getting along even to the point of planning that the two of us would be together in parts of the ceremony.  Don picked me up and took me to both weddings.  I realized there were still nice feelings there.   It also felt like I would never be free of the angry/hurt feelings and the grieving I went through because of this loss.

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I continued to become more involved with activities at my hometown church even though G had dropped out of youth group taking on the skate-boarder persona of a restless teen.  It seemed that both of us couldn’t shake the image of being from a divorced family with all the negative stereotyping that small town communities and a conservative catholic parish can apply to that image.  A lot of church and school events evolved around the family with both parents involved and it can bring home, over and over, your feelings of isolation and loss when you’re unable to fit in.  Most of the focus seemed to be on supporting traditional marriage and ignoring the needs and the increasing struggles in all of today’s families.  Putting myself in the Catholic parish environment seemed to drive home the old negative stereotype of being in a ‘broken’ home.

I became more aware of the Church’s strict rules and isolation where divorced Catholics were concerned.  The difficult annulment process and jumping through hoops that people had to go through in order to remarry again and receive Communion seemed unjust to me considering the good people I’d come to know who had years of ‘true’ marriages.  It was a difficult journey they’d already come through and a very painful experience when that marriage ended.  This was particularly brought home when Sheila Rauch Kennedy appealed the Church’s decision to annul her twelve-year marriage to Joseph P. Kennedy.  I followed this closely and even bought her book ~ Shattered Faith (1997) ~ which brought the whole process into the light and exposed the further damage the Church did, not only to its own credibility, but to the people involved.  In most cases it was the Catholic woman who was abandoned or left for another woman and then had to watch the church provide loopholes for the other woman to be free to marry him as if their marriage never existed.

“The [annulment] process was very dishonest and it was a process in which I was being bullied,” said Rauch Kennedy, referring to her treatment by the church. “But I was very lucky. I had help from outside of the Archdiocese. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known about appealing to Rome and how to do it. I feel for the people who don’t get help.” 

I just recently checked on the internet and found the news  report that the Kennedy annulment was over-turned in 2007, vindicating Sheila Rauch Kennedy after years of standing up for herself and her family.

http://archive.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/06/21/vatican_reverses_kennedy_ruling/

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I was invited by Fr. G to participate in a weekend retreat at another local parish.  The Emmaus experience was put on by parishioners for parishioners and during the weekend a team would share their individual faith stories.  I really liked this idea because we got to know each other better throughout the weekend.  Some shared difficulties that you’d never know they were going through and it gave a human touch to their faith story.  One of the leaders of the retreat shared that she was divorced and it gave me a feeling of acceptance seeing that being divorced didn’t prevent her from being a leader for a church event.

When we all returned back to our parish, we were ready to do something similar for our church community so I volunteered to be co-leader with the Deacon because it appeared that no one else seemed interested.   It was a pretty intense experience leading up to the weekend retreat.  We would meet and read to each other our faith story that we planned to present to the people who attended our retreat.  We picked a theme and wrote our talks around that theme.  Our theme was ~ Companions on the Journey.  It was the first time I had put pen to paper and written something about what I’d come through in recent years.  One more step towards letting go and moving towards healing.  And not only one step towards healing!  It was one more step towards realizing my passion for creativity through drawing and painting and writing and sharing with others.  I loved the communal aspect of the Emmaus Retreat where each person brought their gifts and talents to the whole experience.  Looking back I believe the church was negligent in not using this experience as a way to put people in touch with counseling services when their sharing revealed that they might need more following through.  Still, I felt it was a step in the right direction.

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Our Theme Song was:

Companions on the Journey

Refrain:
We are companions on the journey,
Breaking Bread and sharing life;
And in the love we bear is the hope we share
for we believe in the love of our God,
We believe in the love of our God.

 

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I still kept in mind my hopes of finding my own place to live.  I envisioned a small apartment with two bedrooms that I could afford for the time being.  G would be moving on in his life soon and I yearned for some privacy in my life.  There were things going on in my life that pushed the feeling of immediacy for change in my getting a place of my own.  These events convinced me it was time to let go of my hometown and the past, and work on putting in place things I’d like to try in my future.

I saw the possibility of a less demanding life coming up …. the second half of my life.  There was an incident at home that made me think it would be best to find another place for G and I for the remainder of his teen years.   

The final thing that pushed me to move out of the homestead was, while I was at work, my mother overheard G and a classmate of his talking about the bullying that the classmate was going through.  The friend told G that his father had a gun and he was thinking of using it on himself.  My mother met me at the door with this news when I came in from work.  I immediately went to speak with the boy’s father who was also divorced and who seemed to really care.  He thanked me for telling him.  I would later learn that G went to school officials on his own to talk with them about the disturbing conversation.  Their approach was to bring the bullies in on the situation which only made things worse.  The bullying intensified and the classmate blamed G for telling. 

Through my experiences as a parent in trying to work with high school professionals I’ve come to recognize the extremely difficult job they have and how there needs to be more awareness on the mental health issues and difficult situations that teens are going through.   One high school counselor shared with me that they’re overwhelmed and feel powerless. 

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A company that was in an industrial park in town had a cool parking garage where G and his friends would go skateboarding.  It was restricted from trespassing and there were no other skateboarding areas for the kids to go.  One night I received a call from the police department that G and his friends had been picked up and were being held at the station.  When I arrived to pick G up, the sergeant – who I knew – calmed me down and told me he had warned G not to be found there again.  I felt in my gut it was time to begin to make changes so a new path could be set for both of us to follow.

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My first step was to seriously look for an apartment.  My mother’s medical problems improved and, with the assistance of all five of her children within reasonable access, she would be fine in her home.  Although I had mentioned to friends and family that I was looking for an apartment, that seemed to fall on deaf ears with no helpful leads coming my way on how to find affordable housing in the area.   One of my brothers dismissed it by saying ‘What are you going to do?  Sit in an empty apartment with no furniture except for G holding his boom box?’  My older brother and his wife, both who had come through their own trauma of divorce, both understood my needs a bit more.  For a period of time, they became more involved and moved in with our mother to share in her needs at the time.  My sister mentioned the possibility of bringing her to live with them in their home if the need arose.   One brother, who lived in town, was close enough to stop by and check on things often.

 After finding nothing within an affordable range in town, I found a converted upstairs apartment in a one-family home in the next town over.  It had two small bedrooms.  I had a ‘flight or fright” feeling in the decision-making again, so I took it.  “Just do it!”  It was my first step toward moving away from an area that was too expensive to continue living there, especially when it came time to retiring on a fixed income.  

The students who lived in this other town still went to the same high school located in my hometown so G would finish out school without a change.  It was a slow removal from a bad situation.  During his last year of high school, he commuted by bus to high school.  Then came his decision that he was ‘out of here’ once he graduated and he moved out of New Jersey back  up to Upstate New York.

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During that time, I continued my involvement with youth group and Emmaus.  We were encouraged to use the rectory office for copying and collating when planning events.  One evening when I came into the rectory, it seemed that no one was there and it was very quiet and empty.  As I proceeded to the main office I glanced over at the small office by the door and saw Fr P sitting on a bench with one of the youth group members.  Fr P was holding him and the teen had his head on Fr P’s chest.  It appeared that I had interrupted them.  When they saw me they didn’t move or say anything, and I proceeded into the office to do my work.  Fr. P immediately came out of the office to talk with me and said he was ‘telling R that girls just aren’t worth his time and they’re nothing but trouble’.  I thought that was weird.  

I had already heard that Fr. P had been accused of sexual abuse before by a youth in the parish where he served before he was assigned to this one.   My family who belonged to my parish hadn’t mentioned this to me when I moved down, so I didn’t have this information when G and I got involved with the youth group.  When I learned of this, along with the beginnings of reports on the growing scandal within the Catholic Church as a whole, I held space for the possibility that this could happen here too.   What I saw wasn’t totally alarming yet it was enough to trigger a red flag of uneasiness within me.

There were lots of jokes about Fr. P’s behavior and many innuendos floating around the parish. I had never participated in innuendos and gossip so I attempted to remain neutral and not over-react. The sex abuse scandal of the Catholic Church had not yet become a public sensation.  There were, however, the beginnings of revelations about sex abuse that were circulating about priests who had been transferred and reassigned to other areas of ministry for undisclosed reasons.

The other Youth Ministry board member, B, and I had previously contacted a popular priest who was a great speaker for youth ministry.  After he spoke, she told me that he had been one of the priests that had been removed for suspected sex abuse of one of the teens.  She laughed about having contacted him on her own instead of seeking a speaker through the diocese.  She brushed it off and said she went through her own channels to get him as a speaker for our event.  I was uneasy with being drawn into this little bit of deception.

I’ve never been one to jump on the bandwagon of gossip and innuendo, and I wasn’t sure what to do with what I observed that night at the rectory.  I also wasn’t sure how to interpret it.  Could he have been counseling R?  Was there anything to be concerned about?  I just knew my instincts were alerted and I was uncomfortable about it.  There was no official pastor yet assigned to the parish who you could go to in confidence to talk about it.  The current pastor was very old and I didn’t feel I could approach him.  Fr. P was the only other priest at the rectory.  He would have youth group board meetings up in his suite and he was much more casual with the youth than the older pastor was comfortable with. 

I decided to mention it discretely to the other board member, B, who was closest with him and who appeared to have influence in the parish.

B had Fr. P over to her home a lot and considered him ‘family’.  The reaction on her part was pretty immediate.  From that point on I was put down and set up in ways that were designed to humiliate me and ostracize me.  I understand now what it feels like when you’re the target of a smear campaign.  You’re unsure of how to protect yourself and who you can trust.   One of the women from the youth group board phoned me at home out of empathy to what I was experiencing.  She told me that she had been through the same treatment by Fr. P and B, along with others in the parish.

I began to withdraw from my involvement with the parish.  It was not easy.  It felt like a cult-like situation was going on where people were following a charismatic figure and if you don’t ‘lock step’ you were isolated and alone.  I learned who were my friends and who were supportive people during that time, both within the parish and within my family.

Before I completely stopped being involved in youth ministry, R, the boy I’d seen Fr. P with, was found dead on the streets of NYC.  There was a huge funeral for him and I remember standing outside observing Fr. P with a large group of the youth-group kids around him who were hugging him and crying.  They said at his funeral that R died from an aneurysm in the brain.  The kids in the youth group said it was heroin and they all knew R was in trouble.  This was never confirmed one way or another.

This experience brought home to me a full realization that the church was not addressing openly the real needs of people, especially young people in vulnerable circumstances, and that a lot was done by the church to impress and cover up so as to maintain the Church’s image.  There was no connection at that time between the church and professional counseling (as well as a connection with the law enforcement authorities).  This might have changed by now. There was no easy channel to privately air a concern without it becoming fodder for scapegoating.

The unfolding revelations about sex abuse in the Catholic Church over the years showed us that there is a need for more openness and accountability.  While there is a risk of accusing innocent people, there’s also the higher risk of ruining the life of a young person who will remain forever damaged and vulnerable.  Recognizing the reality of mental health issues and the need for intervention, even within our places of worship, seems to be a good first step toward providing help to those who need it.

(In the early 2000’s, I had stopped by a local pharmacy to pick up prescriptions for my mother after taking her to the doctors.  There was no one in the pharmacy except myself and another person.  I was amazed when I realized the other person was Fr P.  We stood there and talked for a while about the years that had passed since I last saw him.  He told me that he had been removed from his priestly duties and was staying at his home in the country.  An allegation had been made against him and he was waiting for a diocesan trial.  He was still saying Mass with friends.  He didn’t go into any details and I didn’t ask.  I only know I felt compassion for this man, who was a part of a culture of rapid changes both in life and in the Church.  Later, when I retired to Virginia in the mid-2000’s I came across a newspaper clipping that reported that he had been removed.  “Xxxxxx  has been out of ministry since 2002 when an allegation was made, the diocesan spokesperson said. His church trial has not yet been scheduled.

Xxxxxx was one of nine priests whose accusers settled with the xxxxxxx archdiocese for $1.07 million last fall, the diocesan spokesperson said. In the settlement, the archdiocese did not admit guilt on the part of anyone, he said.

(the diocesan spokesperson) would not discuss details of the accusations made against Xxxxxxl or Xxxxx (the priest we had as a speaker for youth group). He also would not reveal their whereabouts.”

Church’s Five-Year Battle vs. Sex Abuse

BishopAccountability.org

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Once G had graduated and moved upstate, I began to look around for another apartment that would be more comfortable and affordable.  The current apartment was small and uncomfortable.  It never really became ‘home’ for me.  G was itching to get out of the area, and pretty quickly moved up to upstate NY to live with his brother in Oneonta.  He was closer to his father’s home and could go there off and on too.

The one year that we lived in the current apartment there was a major flooding of the area that stranded everyone, restricting them to their homes and many people needed to be rescued.  It was a low lying area that attracted flooding from the nearby river.  On top of that, my landlord was diagnosed with aggressive cancer and died within that year, leaving his wife and daughters with uncertain plans about the future of the house moving forward.  I decided it was time, once again, to make a move.

I made a list of what I would like for my own cozy apartment, looking more to the northern area of New Jersey near the NY border.  Although not much was coming up that I could afford, I did spot an ad that sparked my interest.  It was in the quiet bedroom community which was near a very quaint town called Westwood.  In my explorations, I found a wonderful county park within a short distance that had a walking trail around a beautiful man-made pond.  When I went to see the place I was greeted by a friendly and welcoming woman who took me on a tour of the basement, mother/daughter apartment.  The home had been built with the intention of the initial owner using the basement apartment for her elderly mother.  It was lovely, with custom made curtains and wall-to-wall carpeting.  The kitchen was modern with an island that separated it from the dining room.  If I wanted, I could have a garden in the back yard.  It was a bright and cheerful apartment, and the rent was doable for me.  So I signed the year lease with them.

It turned out that I stayed 11 years at this address.  It was a place where I could be comfortable and continue my steady path to healing and growing.  I had my privacy and was still able to get to my mother’s home and travel to work within 10-20 minutes.  I began to establish my right to some personal routines that I knew I needed.  One of those routines was to get together with a counselor and begin to talk about what I’d experienced over the past years in a more detailed way.  I found that meeting with the counselor for a year was enough to give me the confidence to continue to move forward and trust the decisions I was making.  She recommended a book by Anne Lamott ~ Traveling Mercies ~ so that I could begin to explore different ways to strengthen my faith without being totally immersed in the Catholic Church. She also recommended books by Alice Hoffman and I devoured all of her books.  The counselor also helped me to see that my voice would be heard better in a wider community than the parish setting of a traditional background within the Catholic Church.

During those eleven years, I visited the Wood Dale County Park as often as I could and walked around the pond, not only to exercise and listen to books-on -tape but to also meditate and calm my anxieties.  It was a place to escape to and restore my soul.

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wood-dale-county-park-in-woodcliff-lake-nj-4

Wood Dale County Park

© Mary Lou

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I attended Mass at the nearby parish and also attended a a few meetings with a women’s group in the parish called Miriam’s Circle.

The focus of Miriam’s Circle was on supporting the use the talents and gifts of women in the Church in leadership positions.  One focus was on women becoming priests and that was an area where I didn’t feel I wanted to get involved.  It was becoming clearer to me that it was a long, long way off, and maybe the Church would never come to make that kind of leap.  My interest in the group was more on the level of being supportive of those who were seeking to use their talents in areas other than the traditional women’s groups in the Catholic Church.  It didn’t take long for me to see that these women were being treated in a condescending way, almost like children, and rather than staying in that environment and becoming angrier about the way things were in the Catholic Church, I decided to let go of my efforts to become involved there.  Someone counseled me about becoming too involved with the politics of the Catholic Church and they turned out to be right.  “Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.”

Perhaps these women were on a higher level than angels and had been called to have their voices heard in this way.  I don’t know the answer to that.  I only saw people who had gifts and talent; in teaching, in service to others and in striving to live out the gospel message of Jesus in a deep and genuine way who, however, weren’t considered worthy to walk side-by-side with the men in decision-making positions.  I observed all this and went to meetings for about six months and knew in my heart I had to walk away and move on with my life.

It was then that I began to explore a wider idea of spirituality and had heard about Omega Institute which was just over the NY State border in Rhinebeck, NY.  I felt pulled to go there and forced myself to attend some of their day workshops.  It was in a beautiful area and once I got there I felt I was spiritually home.  Some aspects of Omega were far beyond what I’d experienced in the Catholic Church.  I chose workshops I was comfortable with and that would benefit my spiritual growth at this time of my life.  I couldn’t afford the cost of their weekend events so I signed up for day workshops that included lunch.  I began to feel myself opening up to a promise of more growth and healing.

I also went to a few singles events with a group and felt hopeful that maybe one day I’d be able to begin another relationship.

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My job at the college offered me secure benefits and also free tuition to finish my bachelor’s degree.  The small traditional pension was something that settled my commitment to stay with this position being it would guarantee me a steady monthly income along with social security when I retired.

The undergraduate courses I took were very interesting and offered me another means of expression for my questions and curiosity about the church and life in general.  The Jesuit education required that we take theology courses and this gave me a better grip on what I was experiencing within the parishes where I was recently involved.  I saw the same issues that I had been questioning being explored and debated in a deeper, more thoughtful way.  I graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1996 at the age of 54.

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Meanwhile, the college I was employed with was struggling like so many other private colleges.  There were rumors that the satellite campus where I was Assistant Registrar was going to close and annual raises were put on hold.  The staff at the satellite campus was a small one which cultivated a clique that sometimes created personality problems.  Some of the staff members considered themselves more important than others and would cause trouble and stir up drama.  Although it wasn’t the happiest place to go to, I stuck with it.   Often the top administrative staff would be down at the main campus attending meetings on how to keep the struggling school in the competitive realm and improve the outreach in the community.  This would leave the mid-level staff alone on the branch campus where the more controlling (and manipulative) personalities would attempt to seize full reign.  It wasn’t a pleasant environment, but I made a commitment to myself to hang in there until I had the full pension that had been offered.   I would also be able to keep my health care coverage which at the time had been promised through the school.

It was a tough decision to stay in a position I was unhappy in and I continued to actively look to see what other positions would be out there now that I had my Bachelor’s Degree.  Nothing came up except a position in Wisconsin as an Assistant Registrar that I had a phone interview with the Registrar and was offered a flight to come and meet with her.  I weighed everything and came to the decision that I was ‘too old’ and wasn’t able to take that leap so far away from my family and friends and start all over.  So, I compromised and began looking for a condo to buy in an area on the East Coast that would be a good place to retire when I left the College.   The internet provided an amazing source for information on buying a home and calculating mortgage payments.  There were many articles on the best places to retire that were affordable yet offered quality life for your retirement.  The housing market was booming and mortgage interest rates were unbelievably low.  People were purchasing condos as investments and refurbishing them only to sell them again for a profit.  The fact that I was living in New Jersey kept the brakes on me jumping on the band wagon and impulsively buying a place of residence for my retirement.  There was no way I could afford a home, much less the rent for an apartment, in Bergen County once I retired and was on a fixed income of Social Security plus my small pension.   So, I had fun exploring, both through the internet and through small trips to see what interesting areas there were for retirement and what kind of condos there were out there.  South Jersey had a few senior communities that had low cost condos to purchase though they still were above the price range I had targeted as affordable for me without sinking every bit of income and savings into my housing.

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My mother was approaching 90 years old and that added to my decision to stay in the area to be nearer to her and to my four siblings. There were more surgeries and I was there to be with her at the doctor’s office visits and on the day of the surgery.  I valued this time with her and learned a lot about how to face the inevitable challenges that come with aging.  Mom was very connected to her church for social and spiritual needs.  She had never moved from her childhood town and had lived in our homestead for more than sixty years.  She felt a real sense of belonging which was something that I didn’t feel with all the moving and resettling in my life.  I felt a need to leave behind some of the nostalgia that wasn’t serving me in my present life.  Looking forward and planning for the second half of my life gave me a sense of purpose in putting together and creating a life that offered a chance to do some of the things that I’d wanted to try.  Those needs weren’t expensive and costly.  They were more the simple gifts of enjoying this experience of living and putting in place the ability to do so.

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In 1997, two people that I had admired, John Denver and Princess Diana, died.  I was obsessed with everything that I could read and watch about them.  I now realize that I was grieving my own losses right along with my sadness of the events of their deaths.  John Denver’s music, from the 1970’s on, had touched my soul and seemed to speak to me at times when I needed inspiration.  Diana was a woman who transformed the image of the royal family in a human way.  She left an amazing legacy to her two sons in a very human and compassionate way.

John Denver ~ On the Road to Experience

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The Nineties ended with the downfall of William Jefferson Clinton and  his near impeachment because of the scandal with Monica Lewinsky.  I was dismayed and disgusted with the amount of time we were engrossed in this drama.  I was also disappointed and disgusted with Bill Clinton for letting down those who supported him.  It was an ugly time.  Hillary Clinton wound up in the end ‘standing by her man’ which I felt was her personal choice to do so.  He hadn’t left her and whatever was going on in their marriage was their personal and ‘discrete’ business.

As far as the rest of us as interested observers, it seemed shameful for him to use this young woman while representing the country as our leader and President in the White House.   I realize that Monica wasn’t an innocent in all this and yet, bottom line, it’s always the person in authority (and in this case, the President of the United States) who bears the full responsibility in acting with integrity.  

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The Nineties was the decade that brought the gift of five of my eight grandchildren.  It was a time of traveling by car and plane to meet and be with them.  It was so good to see my sons building their lives and moving forward.  It was also a time, for me, of more letting go.

Their relationship with their father eventually disintegrated with each one of them coming to their own decision about him and how much they wanted to have him in their lives.  One son experienced an upsetting revelation about his father that caused him to totally sever ties with him.  His father’s third marriage ended in a disturbing and distressful way and I won’t go into detail for privacy reasons.  It involved abusive behavior and Don went missing for awhile and was feared to be suicidal.  The experience left my son convinced he was better off without him and he’s stuck with that decision down through the years.  The other sons came to this same conclusion for their own set of reasons that each considered abusive.  At this date, as far as I’m aware of, their father hasn’t made any attempt to be in touch with them either in an effort to restore their trust.  It has broken my heart that our family has been so disrupted and at the same time it confirmed what I was unable to see until later in my life.  This was an extremely unhealthy and toxic relationship that we were all dealing with, and we weren’t to blame.  We didn’t deserve the way we were treated.

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At the opening of the 2000’s, I was able to travel to London and be with my son, JP, who was living there.  He would return to the United States just before the most heart-wrenching and devastating attack on our country since Pearl Harbor.

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~ Two Thousand thru Two Thousand Ten ~

 

 

 

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