Griffin: An amazing journey of forgiveness
Michael Mack is a man of many credits as a writer and theatrical performer. Now age 55, he has also accomplished two things in the spiritual realm that rank as unique in my experience.
First, despite suffering sexual abuse as a boy at the hands of a Catholic priest, he is now an active member of the church and values its spirituality. All the other victims of clergy abuse I have known have distanced themselves from this faith community, most with continuing and understandable anger.
Michael’s second achievement strikes me as even more remarkable. He has forgiven the priest who violated him.
In a long interview with Michael, I found his account of both events fascinating. The violation took place when he was 11 years old, the forgiveness when he had reached middle age.
Incidentally, the reason for our being in touch was a scheduled performance of Michael’s one-person play “Conversations with My Molester – a Journey of Faith.” It was to be staged at the playwright’s parish, St.Paul’s in Cambridge.
Just before sending this column off, I actually saw the play along with an unexpectedly large audience. We found it spellbinding. Adding to the meaning of the occasion, an official of the Archdiocese of Boston responsible for overseeing child protection, Barbara Thorp, was present and took part in the discussion at the end.
The sexual violation of the boy Michael took place in Brevard, North Carolina, a small town in the western part of the state. Because their mother was ill, he and his siblings spent a year living with their aunt and her family there, rather than back home in Washington D.C.
The boy loved his parish church in North Carolina and envisioned himself becoming a priest someday. He soon became close to the pastor, the person who took Michael to his first basketball game, and acted toward him like a “surrogate dad.”
One day, the boy wandered into the church basement and sat down to play the piano. Then the priest appeared and invited Michael to come to the rectory. Once in this house, the priest brought the boy into a room, closed the door, and took advantage of the child’s innocence.
Days later, the priest left the parish and Michael, too, moved from Brevard soon afterward. “I left that day confused,” he recalls. “I felt that something big had just happened — something not right.”
Later, as a teenager, he was to experience something much worse, what he calls “self-loathing.”
As to the priest who assaulted him sexually, Michael lost complete contact with him for decades. But when he moved to Boston some 10 years ago, Michael made an astounding discovery.
The priest was also living in Massachusetts, not too far away in the orbit of Worcester. Though not defrocked, he was no long performing priestly ministry.
Michael’s repeated efforts to reach the priest were ultimately connected with a spiritual change in Michael’s heart. He had been moved to forgive the priest for what he had done.
As I listened to Michael’s story, I felt moved by his sincerity and his spiritual courage. He had managed to offer forgiveness to someone who, behind the full force of priestly status, had done him terrible harm.
Michael tells of going to the priest’s funeral. It was his first time in many years back in a Catholic church. There the man who had violated him and others was extolled as a good priest. Despite his forgiveness, Michael found it bizarre to hear his molester praised.
Irish PM’s attack on Catholic church a ‘wake-up call’, says archbishop
Diarmuid Martin, archbishop of Dublin, speaks after Enda Kenny accuses Vatican of downplaying abuse of Irish children by clerics
Henry McDonald in Dublin
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 July 2011 05.44 EDT
The archbishop of Dublin has said the Irish prime minister’s attack on the Catholic church following a report on child sex abuse in the country should be a wake-up call for clergymen.
He said the recent Cloyne report had exposed an attempt by the holy see to frustrate the inquiry into child sex abuse just three years ago and illuminated the “dysfunction” and the elitism still dominant in the Vatican.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin – close to tears in an interview on RTE Television – said the only way all allegations, abuse and cover-ups could be exposed was through invasive audits of each diocese. “I’m very disappointed, annoyed,” he said.
“What do you do when you’ve got groups, whether in the Vatican or in Ireland, who try to undermine what is being done or simply refuse to understand what has been done?”
The archbishop said the diocese of Cloyne had ignored Vatican policy issued in 2001 by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.
“What does that say? What sort of a cabal is this that is in there [Cloyne]?” He added: “If they think that by not getting at the truth they are helping the church, the statement in today’s Dail should teach them a lesson.”
Kenny had told the parliament that the Vatican seemed more interested in upholding the power and reputation of the Catholic church than in confronting the abuse of Irish children by its priests and religious orders.
He said that the Vatican’s attitude to investigations in Cloyne, which covers county Cork, was the “polar opposite of the radicalism, the humility and the compassion that the church had been founded on”.
He said the rape and torture of children had been downplayed, or managed, to uphold instead the institution with its power and reputation.
One of the most damning findings of the report was that the diocese failed to report nine out of 15 complaints made against priests, which “very clearly should have been reported”.
This latest report, coming after a string of inquiries into Catholic clerical sex abuse across Ireland, has set the present Irish government on a collision course with the church not only in the republic but at its global headquarters in the Vatican City.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, speaking in a personal capacity, had said that there was nothing in the advice given by the papal nuncio to Ireland in 1997 to encourage bishops to break Irish laws.
He said that the Vatican’s advice to Irish bishops on child protection policies could not be interpreted as an invitation to cover up abuse cases.
This drew sharp criticism from Ireland’s justice minister, Alan Shatter, who described the Vatican spokesman’s argument as disingenous. Some Irish parliamentarians have called on the Fine Gael-Labour coalition to expel the papal nuncio from Ireland in protest at the Vatican’s attittude to the allegations in the Cloyne diocese.