When I look back at decisions I have made and actions that I have taken throughout my life thus far, I am struck by the primary, secondary and tertiary effects of those decisions and actions. (note: if you are a diocesan spokesperson, tertiary is defined as third rank of order or importance, please try to keep up!).
For those who are victims of sexual assault at the hands of clergy, their lives took an oblique turn with the first assault and betrayal of trust. Not only was their innocence stolen, but most life decisions they have made from that point on are related to that primary event. For some it was all-consuming. For others, the events manifested themselves in decision-making skills , lifestyles, relationship skills, interactions with friends and family, addictions, personality changes. For many of us, life decisions were made based on the long-lasting effects of the sexual assaults.
The methodology for second and third order effects is pretty simple. Cause 1 yields Effect 1. In my case, the gradually escalating mental and physical abuse, to include sexual assaults by Father Gibson when I was 13 was my Cause 1. One of the first order effects resulting from Cause 1 was a total loss of trust in Priests and suspicion of the motives of any adult in a position of authority (coaches, teachers, police, Scout Leaders, etc…) .
Effect 1,the loss of trust becomes Cause 2 yielding Effect 2. (There are many second level effects, but for the sake of brevity and clarity I will only deal with one second order effect.) Effect 2 was a questioning of every aspect of Catholic faith, tradition and dogma. This happened over time and finally manifested itself in an outright rejection of Catholicism by the time I was serving in the Navy. With a betrayal as obscene as I had experienced, this seemed to be a logical step. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, at the time I should have been converting the years of religious education, service as an altar boy, and generational examples of those in my good Irish Catholic family to a solid faith, I was dealing with a pedophile who was getting some perverse satisfaction not only from the physical part of the assault but from the psychological gratification of knowing he had me trapped. Without that basis in faith, I could not form a bond with Catholicism.
Effect 2 becomes Cause 3 yields Effect 3. One of those third order effects was that my rejection of the Catholic faith led me to reject the notion of raising my children as Catholics or, for that matter, in any other faith. I rejected the notion of voluntarily attending any religious services on a regular basis. I have attended religious events as a part of my job, out of deference to my parents (their 50th Anniversary Mass), or at events such as weddings or funerals. In those instances where I attend some sort of Catholic ritual, I do not receive any sacraments. Two of my sons have never been baptized and they have very limited experience with any kind of participation in religious services.
I’m sure I can diagram out first, second and third order effects of the abuse for days and not capture all of them all. I am sure the tree diagram that would be generated by such an exercise would be pretty impressive. The profound impact of the events in 1974 have altered my relationships with my parents and siblings since then. I am sure that members of my family could actually pinpoint the change in my personality at the time if they thought about it. Friends from Notre Dame could point to profound changes in my appearance and behavior during high school. In fact, one of those friends has actually commented on just this subject after I told them the story of my experience with Father Gibson.
While in college, I could become suddenly distant. I know, with certainty, that this impacted relationships with friends and kept me from getting close or opening up to people who were important to me. My relationship with my parents was strained for years. While there were other factors, the main driver was the fact that I was embarrassed and ashamed of what had happened in the rectory at Our Lady Queen of Peace, in New York and in Florida with Gibson. At some level I know I resented my parents for not protecting me from this predator.
At the beginning of the second semester of my senior year at the University of Scranton I made the decision that I had to get away from Pennsylvania, Father Gibson, my family and friends and start a new life. I had to leave behind the damage that was done. I made the decision to stop pursuing a spot in a law school. The fastest ticket out-of-town was the military. The Navy was my French Foreign Legion. I signed up so I could “forget”. Within 2 weeks of my college graduation I left Pennsylvania for good. I left my family, my friends, my dreams and opportunities to get away from the damage. The thing is, the damage went with me and kept manifesting its paralyzing effects in every aspect of my life. The damage from Father Gibson continued to impact every relationship and important decision in my life despite my attempts to run away from it. I am trying to face it and take ownership of it still. I don’t know how successful I will be.