Sins of the Fathers
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Gaslighting is a strategy employed by sociopaths, narcissists, and other manipulators against a psychologically vulnerable person that involves the telling of blatant lies despite the existence of clear proof the aim of which is to make the subject question their sanity. The term Gaslighting comes from the 1938 play and the 1940 and 1944 movies of the same name.

I'm a survivor of the Catholic sex abuse crisis, and let me give you an example of Gaslighting from my experiences trying to get help.

I was sexually exploited, abused, and assaulted -- raped -- at the Church of the Immacolata by Fr. LeRoy Valentine. Abuse that was witnessed, at least in part, by then Father and now Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Finally free, or so I thought, I went to St. Louis University High School where, instead of getting away from sexual abuse, I experienced more sexual abuse in the form of two series of events I'll label as...

1. Locker Room Stuff
2. Haiti Stuff

A year ago, after remembering certain things, and understanding things I had always remembered, I went to the Jesuits for help. Sadly, it didn't surprise me that they didn't believe me or mail me the letter they promised to send me informing me, in writing, of the decision they informed me of over the phone.

What bothered me -- what was Gaslighting -- was that when, a year later, they finally sent me the letter informing me of their decision, THEY DIDN'T EVEN MENTION THE LOCKER ROOM STUFF.

I spent half of a roughly hour to an hour and a half meeting talking about the Locker Room Stuff and the letter they sent me didn't even mention it.

That's Gaslighting.

Gaslighting

The gist of the 1944 movie Gaslight is that a newlywed named Paula, played by Ingrid Bergman, begins to question her memory and her health as a result of a number of incidents. That includes losing a family heirloom given to her by her husband, hearing footsteps coming from the sealed-off attic, removing a picture from a wall but not remembering doing so, and having hallucinations about the existence of a letter.

The title of the film comes from a number of times when Paula notices the gas lights of the house dimming. That would indicate that someone has turned a light or the gas on elsewhere in the house. However, she is the only one who notices it, leading her to ask the question that is the telltale of Gaslighting.

Did that actually happen
or did I just imagine it?

SPOILER ALERT: Towards the end of the movie, it is revealed that Paula's husband is, in fact, a criminal who only married her in order to find and steal her late aunt's jewels, which he suspects are located in the house in which they are living. He is physically and psychologically isolating her, and trying to make her question her sanity, in order to hide his true actions and motives and drive her out of the house and into an institution. His use of the gas lights in the supposedly sealed-off attic, to search for the jewels, is what caused the lights to dim in the rest of the house.

More Than Lying

Gaslighting is more than just lying.

As Stephanie Sarkis explains in her seminal piece and in a follow-up piece...

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.

Gaslighting makes a victim question their reality.

It leads them to ask...

Did that actually happen
or did I just imagine it?

That's the difference between mere lying and gaslighting.

Catholic Church as Gaslighter

What could Gaslighting have to do with the Catholic Church?

The answer to that question starts with my May 9, 2011 meeting with a Review Team put together by Deacon Phil Hengen of the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the Archdiocese of St. Louis to investigate claims of sexual abuse by priests. My story then peaks -- or, more aptly, bottoms out -- on May 10, 2013 when the Archdiocese, due to a 2012 complaint by someone else, removed Fr. Leroy Valentine, the priest I had raised questions about in the 2011 meeting.

And did nothing to help me.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis didn't even bother to contact me before the removal of Fr. Valentine to give me a heads up or afterwards to see how I was doing.

Understandably, that left me deeply confused, stunned, and devastated.

Did that actually happen or did I just imagine it?

And feeling like I was going crazy.

The Big Deal

What's the big deal?

Don't the Archdiocese of St. Louis' actions of May 10, 2013 just mean they didn't believe me, but they did believe the person who came forward in the Summer of 2012?

Perhaps.

But why did Deacon Phil Hengen tell me he wanted to talk to my psychologist? What about my memories, some of which are new but many of which I've always remembered but didn't understand until recently? What about the fact that both of my psychologists believed me and were helping me me deal with those memories?

Well, until I ran out of money.

What's more, there are a number of irregularities in what the Archdiocese of St. Louis has said and done.

Irregularities that also made me wonder if -- because I felt like -- I was going crazy.

And not for the first time.

May 9, 2011

On May 9, 2011 I attended a meeting with a Review Team that had been set up by Deacon Phil Hengen, the head of the Office of Child and Youth Protection.

I asked for the meeting because the topic of Fr. Valentine had come up during my sessions with D, my therapist, when I started talking about my productivity problems. I had what seemed like a related and recurring problem with working for older men.

I eventually reached the point where I wasn't able to think or function if I didn't to go back to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, again tell them my story, and ask them a simple question.

Are you SURE this doesn't mean anything?

Lawyers

As soon as I walked into the room, and was introduced to the people sitting around the table, I started having problems.

Problems thinking and not passing out.

The issue was there were not one but two lawyers present at the meeting. That was contrary to the Archdiocese's stated policy, which I had read in advance of the meeting.

Or had I just imagined the part about lawyers not being part of the Review Team?

I didn't think so, but now I wasn't sure.

As a result, after the meeting was finished, in the years since, I re-read the Archdiocese of St. Louis' policy. I have since re-read it closed to a hundred times, trying to reassure myself that I was not and am not crazy.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

As I mentioned above, I had a number of conversations with with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and then met with a psychologist affiliated with the archdiocese.

When, in early 2002, the Archidocese of St. Louis asked people to come forward with any information, I was one of the people who called and left a message. As I discuss a length in my discussion of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, then-bishop and now Cardinal Dolan called me back a day or so later. We had a couple of conversations over the phone and he then arranged for me to meet with a psychologist.

The problem was, during my meeting with The Review Team in 2011, they told me they didn't know anything about my 2002 conversations with Cardinal Dolan and the psychologist.

It was like it never even happened.

Did that actually happen or did I just imagine it?

But I know it did.

Or at least I thought I did.

It took me years of driving around Clayton to figure out where I met with the psychologist, but I eventually did in early 2017.

May 10, 2013

On May 10, 2013, two St. Louis newpapers published pieces that quoted from a press release the Archdiocese of St. Louis had issued a few days earlier and a separate prepared statement by Deacon Phil Hengen.

The recent allegation, that was found to be credible, took place in 1978. The allegation involved inappropriate touching of a minor and was first made to archdiocesan officials in the Summer of 2012. An investigation began immediately. The Review Board concluded its process with Archbishop Carlson's announcement of Fr. Valentine's permanent removal from public ministry on May 1, 2013.

However, the Archdiocese of St. Louis neglected to...

  • Alert/Warn me beforehand of the news. Instead one of my two psychologists thought to, knew to, and had to, do that.
  • Contact me afterwards to see how I was doing.
  • Help me in any way up to that point, not do anything until I sued them, and then take 18 months.

As a result, the Archidocese of St. Louis ended up driving into a deep depression and unleashed a flood of questions.

Do they know I exist?
Did my 2002 conversations with Cardinal Dolan and the psychologist actually happen? Did my 2011 meeting with the Review Team actually happen?
Or did I just imagine them?
When did the prepared statement say they came forward? 2012? Or 2011? I think it said 2012, but now I can't remember. Let me check again. And again. And again...
Who came forward?!? Who was it? Was it T? P? WHO WAS IT?!?
Are they talking about me? Or someone else? Are they lying about when I came forward?
Are they doing this on purpose? Is it a sign of a war in the church? Or is it just some bureaucratic screw-up? Does it matter?
Did the Archdiocese of St. Louis really remove Fr. Valentine? Did my 2011 meeting with the Review Team actually happen? Did my 2002 conversations with Cardinal Dolan and that psychologist actually happen?
Did what happened to me actually happen?
Do I even exist?

Why did that affect me so deeply?

Look at the timeline.

At the dates.

Again, the Archdiocese of St. Louis' prepared statement said...

The allegation involved inappropriate touching of a minor and was first made to archdiocesan officials in the Summer of 2012.

Here's the problem.

I first came forward in 2002.

Two Thousand and TWO.

I first met with the Review Team from the Archdiocese of St. Louis on May 9, 2011.

2011.

Twenty ELEVEN.

Not 2012.

That means someone ELSE has come forward.

They came forward in the Summer of 2012. And the Archdiocese of St. Louis believed them.

But not me.

Because I don't exist.

If I actually existed, certainly the Archdiocese of St. Louis would have circled back to me, given that I made an allegation against the very same priest.

The allegation involved inappropriate touching of a minor and was first made to archdiocesan officials in the Summer of 2012.

I have revisted that page, and re-read that statement, literally hundreds of times. I've re-re-read it and re-re-re-read it. Looking for what? I don't know. However, I can't stop. What that sentence says is simply too hard for me to process. And the resulting -- I don't even know how to name or describe the feeling -- has consumed months if not years of my life.

Assistance Coordinator

In the Archdiocese of St. Louis' Pastoral Policy on handling claims of abuse, it mentions the position of an Assistance Coordinator. Their job is just what it implies; to coordinate the assistance that is provided to victims.

The problem is that, while that sounds good, here's the reality.

At no point since the May 9, 2011 meeting with the Review Team have I been told of the existence of or offered the services of an Assistance Coordinator.

 I hope it's no surprise that triggered the question.

Did that actually happen or did I just imagine it?

However, I have read the Pastoral Policy over and over and over and over again and every time I read it it says the same thing.

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