What's New? Update – October 1, 2007

Those of you who read this column with any regularity know that, despite my best intentions, my updates are sporadic at best. I'm just not cut out to be a blogger. As usual, I shall try to make up for the large gap between entries by making this as long and complete as I can. Perhaps it will explain why I seldom have the time to sit down and write. I also tried to justify not writing since the April update by telling myself that I should wait until I have the final information about the 2008 Australia/New Zealand trip. But it is now October, and although I have more of an idea of what will be happening when, things are still unsettled. I'll include more in the next update (really, I will) and will update the Events page immediately whenever there is an addition or change.

This update will include news of various sorts, some new resources, and reports of various events and activities, past and upcoming. They will be offered in random order, much like my thoughts.

This has been a summer of interesting visitors to the Boston area, and that trend will continue into the Fall. Naoko Miyaji, from Japan will be here for about a year while she does a Fulbright Fellowship year at Victims of Violence in Cambridge. She continues to amaze everyone who meets her. She is an MD and PhD psychiatrist, medical anthropologist, and university professor who has worked in a refugee camp, and consults to the Peruvian government on sexual abuse issues. She will be doing research on male victimization.

Bob and Chris Balfour of Survivors West Yorkshire in the UK were here for 10 days.

Maxwell Clarke of Melbourne, Australia will be here for about a month (he arrived Friday evening) while he does an exchange program with the Social Work Department of Beth Israel/Deaconess Medical Center. Max is also the person who is organising my 2008 Australia/New Zealand trip. It is being sponsored by South East Centre Against Sexual Assault (SECASA): http://www.secasa.com.au/

Plans for the Australia/New Zealand trip are a bit daunting. They haven't all been confirmed, but if everything comes through it will be a very busy 5 weeks or so. The trip will begin in Melbourne (with a Healing the Healers Retreat, a Victims No Longer No.2 men's weekend workshop, and two day-long professional trainings. We're hoping Thom Harrigan will be able to come and provide one of those trainings, on clergy abuse). If all the people and organizations who have expressed interest actually commit to their proposals, Melbourne will be followed by Darwin, possibly Alice Springs, Brisbane, Sydney - and Christchurch, NZ (maybe for another men's weekend and another HTH). Whew! Again, keep watching the Events page for details as they are made final.

On a more upsetting note, we learned that our friend Laura Davis, co-author of The Courage to Heal, is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and Jim Browne of Fire in Ice, the male survivor group in Liverpool, UK recently had two massive heart attacks. Please join me in sending Laura and Jim healing thoughts, prayers, and/or best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

The National Conference of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) in Washington, DC in July was mightily impressive. Just when I thought I was "conferenced out", it turned out to be one of the best I've attended. The worst of the speakers had something worth listening to. The best were awe-inspiring.

The best included former Bishop Tom Gumbleton of Detroit. He is a humble man who was the only American Catholic Bishop to speak up in favor of eliminating statutes of limitations on the prosecution of clergy sexual abuse, and opening diocesan records to public scrutiny. He also came out as a survivor of clergy abuse. For these actions he was fired from his post, removed as beloved pastor of an inner city parish (I was told that they still have not found anyone to replace him), and evicted from his home (two squalid rooms owned by the Church, and still unoccupied) all this just 24 hours after he spoke out. Those in control don't waste any time. He was one of the people given an award for courage. He began his acceptance speech by saying, "You probably know that I was brought up in the Catholic church." He also said that although he has spoken to many large groups, he had never cried in front of a room full of bishops.

I got to chat with Fr. Tom Doyle, a priest and former canon lawyer for the Vatican - now an author and tireless crusader for victims of clergy abuse. I acquired and look forward to reading his book Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse, that he co-authored with A.W.R. Sipe and Patrick J. Wall.

David Clohessy, the Executive Director of SNAP is a lovely, funny, smart, charismatic man. Barbara Blaine, SNAP's founder is simply a force to be reckoned with.

There were many more, all of them impressive. http://www.snapnetwork.org/

On the topic of clergy abuse, I read Mary Gail Frawley O'Dea's latest book, Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church. It is excellent. Her analysis works. She was the only psychotherapist invited to speak at the US Conference of Bishops in Dallas a few years ago. Of course they ignored what she had to say. Anyway, it is out in paperback, relatively inexpensive, and worth reading.

I've been immersed in things Catholic of late. I don't know how these things happen - or why - they just do. I'm also reading a book by Myra Hidalgo. She is a social worker in New Orleans and was at the SNAP Conference. She is a survivor of sexual abuse by a nun. The book is Sexual Abuse and the Culture of Catholicism: How Priests and Nuns Become Perpetrators. It is well written on both a personal and professional level.

Shortly before the SNAP Conference I received a phone message from a therapist in New Jersey about one of his clients. I had done an evaluation of this young (about 26 years old) man to support his lawsuit against the diocese of Bangor, Maine. He received a substantial settlement from the Church, but had just died of a drug overdose. The ripples of abuse keep spreading.

Some extraordinary things have come of it - although nothing that will make up for this unnecessary loss of life. I sent a eulogy to be read at Chris's funeral service, and began my plenary speech at the SNAP Conference by reading it. I received an email from a woman in Maine whose friend had heard the speech. She sent me the URL for an article in the Bangor, Maine newspaper that concerned the release of Chris's abuser three days after he killed himself: http://www.bangornews.com/news/t/news.aspx?articleid=152301&zoneid=500
Anger- generating.

I also wrote to Chris's lawyer, and received this moving response from him:

I too was very sad to hear of Chris' passing. We all did everything we could to prevent that outcome, but apparently, the power of Skinner's acts finally overcame Chris before he could get the intensive help he needed.
Following is a letter to the editor of the BDN regarding the article.

Dear Bangor Daily News editors:

John Skinner served less time in jail than the time he spent sexually and emotionally torturing one of his victims! And that victim had a name – Christopher DeSantis. Mr. DeSantis was an intelligent, friendly and very troubled young man whose death at the hands of Mr. Skinner came to pass just a few days before Skinner’s release.
For four years, John Skinner was Mr. DeSantis’ guardian and tormentor. After Christopher escaped, he led a tortured life of self loathing, along with drug and alcohol abuse. Of course, he encountered all the legal and financial problems that go along with those afflictions, and Christopher's life recently ended as a result of accidental overdose.
Mr. Skinner had several victims, including his own son. Like Skinner, Mr. DeSantis also had a support group: an emotionally supportive girlfriend; a husband and wife therapist/counselor team who acted as much like supportive parents as professional therapists; a nationally renowned expert on treatment of male victims of childhood sexually abuse; and a lawyer who helped to find the money Christopher needed to get the intensive, residential therapy recommended by the expert. None of it helped, and Christopher’s life ended perhaps in a way made inevitable by the unspeakable acts of John Skinner. After a mere three years, Mr. Skinner is out enjoying the beautiful Maine summer. Mr. DeSantis will never know another summer. Is that justice?
Very truly yours,

Steven J. Mogul

Steven Mogul is one of several people who are overturning popular stereotypes about lawyers.

Speaking of clergy (and lawyers), Just over a week ago I went to Minnesota to act as a consultant to lawyers who represent victims of clergy abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Davenport, Iowa. They have settled, and the Diocese has declared bankruptcy. They wanted me to help them determine criteria for how the money should be distributed. They hopeto create a model for other settlements. This was a challenge for me, as I have always resisted ranking abuse and its effects. But the lawyers were surprisingly human, astute, and non-defensive. They included Jeff Anderson, a pioneer in representing victims of clergy abuse in the United States, Patrick Noaker of Jeff Anderson & Associates, and Craig Levien from Davenport, Iowa. Although nothing will make up for what the suvivors have suffered, the work of these men will help to right some wrongs and provide resources for survivors to continue their healing.

In May I conducted two day long professional trainings in Pennsylvania - the first in Eastern Pennsylvania and the following week in the Western part of the State. Both were sponsored by Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. They are an excellent organization, staffed by experienced, dedicated (and engaging) professionals. The folks who attended the events were also impressive. Lots of good work is being done in Pennsylvania.If you are interested in learning more about PCAR, their Web site is: http://www.pcar.org/

Those interested in resources for teens should check out the Teen PCAR Web site: http://www.teenpcar.com/ And be sure to look at information about Rallying Youth Organizers Together (RYOT): http://milfordmagazine.com/PDFs/survivorsresources.pdf

Leaping upon the Mountains, our annual weekend recovery workshop for male survivors, held in Pennsylvania in August was, once again, powerful. This was the 17th consecutive summer we held it at Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in the beautiful Pocono Mountains. We had 41 participants from about 18 States. It was great to have Thom Harrigan back co-facilitating the event: he wasn't able to attend last summer because he was recovering from cardiac surgery. He is now fit and brought his special gifts to the event. Dates have already been set for next year's weekend. Kirkridge #18 will be held August 15-17 2008.Anyone interested in more information can find it on the Events page of this site or at http://www.kirkridge.org/

I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to make it to England this summer, but my friend and colleague Werner Tschan has been working on organizing several events for early August 2008 in Switzerland, including a Healing the Healers Retreat. He seems confident that it will happen. It will be interesting - especially negotiating the languages. The site he found looks breathtaking (in keeping with past events). Here is what he wrote:

The workshops will take place in Chateau-d'Oex, at the Chalet Marie-Jose.

Languages will depend on the participants, but mainly in English, with small group work in other languages, and then presenting the results to the entire group in English.

The region of Chateau-d'Oex is close to Gstaad and called the high country, and it is located at the French-German language border. Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones launched thier record-breaking round the world 20-day hot-air balloon ride from here in March 1999. The place is easy to reach either from Geneva (especially for participants from UK who may take cheap easy jet flights to Geneva airport) and from Zurich. There is a train connection both from Geneva and from Zurich airport. The altitude is about 1000m above sea level, in a soft mountain area convenient for hiking. Try the website http://www.chateau-doex.ch

One could do a lot worse than attend one or more of the Swiss events. There will be more specific information posted on the Events page as soon as I have it.

I'm looking forward to the MaleSurvivor Conference in New York City October 25-28. It will be another impressive event. My participation will include leading a one day workshop for male survivors of sexual abuse on Thursday the 25th, and on Sunday the 28th I'll moderate an international panel consisting of extraordinary folks from (or working) in Norway, France, England, Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, Cambodia, Japan, and Australia. For details check the conference schedule at http://www.malesurvivor.org/conferences.html

The list of presenters at the conference is extensive and world class, including author, poet, and activist Richard Hoffman (currently reveling in being a new grandfather and the release of a brilliant new book of poetry - Gold Star Road: http://www.abbington.com/hoffman/index.html ). Actor/author/playwright Martin Moran will perform his Obie award-winning one-man play "The Tricky Part", and this is just a small portion of it. See the full conference schedule for the rest.

After the conference, we will have the honor of hosting Boston visits by several members of the international panel, including Christine Steverson, director of Thrive in Glasgow, Scotland, Steve Bevan, director of Survivors Swindon, UK, Ken Clearwater, director of Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust in Chrischurch, New Zealand, Torbjørn Herlof Andersen of Gjøvik University College in Norway, in addition to Naoko Miyaji and Max Clarke. Boston will never be the same.

Just a few more items before I end this and attempt to post it. I've recently read several extraordinary works by Obie Award-winning playwright Dael Orlandersmith. She has recently been working on a play with an abuse theme, and she might be attending the MaleSurvivor Conference. All of her plays are powerfully written and well worth reading.

I might have mentioned this in a previous column, but it is worth repeating. If you haven't yet seen the film "Deliver Us from Evil" (a 2006 Academy Awrd nominee for Best Documentary Feature), I recommend it. It is one of several excellent films about sexual abuse by clergy.

Finally, I just received (but haven't yet had time to read) two books by Australian researcher, S. Caroline Taylor, Ph.D. They are Surviving the Legal System: A Handbook for Adult & Child Sexual Assault Survivors& Their Supporters and Court Licensed Abuse: Patriarchal Lore and the Legal Response to Intrafamilial Sexual Abuse of Children. The came highly recommended by trusted Australian colleagues as being accurate and readable (despite the long subtitles).

I'm sure you have read more than enough by now. I'll write again when I can. In the meantime, please continue to take exquisite care of yourself.




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