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Cape Cod Quarantine: Ode to the Outdoor Shower

Text and photos by Sarah E. Murphy

There are two things fundamental to my upbringing that have been missing from my life for the past twenty years – a dog and an outdoor shower. My husband and I are currently all set with pets, since our 15-year-old cat keeps us up all night, every night, due to his geriatric OCD issues, which are getting increasingly worse with age. Sometimes I think his younger brother would prefer to go back to sharing a cage at the rescue organization just so he can get some sleep, and there are many nights I’d consider joining him. Therefore my dreams of having another Great Dane (maybe a blue one this time), or boxer or Rhodesian Ridgeback are currently on hold. I’m okay with that for now…

But I’ve been lamenting my lack of an outdoor shower for years, primarily because it’s a connection to my childhood. We even had one (albeit just a shower head) on the back of our house in West Newton, where we lived before moving full-time to our summer house in Falmouth Heights in the early 70s. That set-up was primitive in comparison to what I’d later come to know, for growing up on Cape Cod, the outdoor shower is part of life’s backdrop, an extension of home.

Holding my palm up, while huddling in a sandy bathing suit, waiting for the water to warm up. The persistent trickle of running water mingling with a wire brush scraping against the grill. The pungent perfume of charcoal briquettes wafting through the air along with James Taylor on WCIB.

Back before global warming, when we actually had four seasons, the outdoor shower was perpetually running, from steamy spring days to rainy fall nights.

Earlier this summer, Chris and I felt extremely lucky to get on Joe Calfee’s schedule for some long overdue home improvement projects. Joe’s reputation for quality work precedes him, and finding an honest, expedient contractor is no small feat, so he’s always in demand. But you won’t find a fleet of vehicles all over town bearing his name, just his signature red pick-up. As a Falmouth native, he cares first and foremost about preserving the character of our town by maintaining the charm of its homes. Instead of pointing out cracks, he looks for potential. He doesn’t sell you on things you don’t need or make promises he can’t keep. So when he said he had time to add a shower to his to-do list, Chris put his dreams of a shed on the back burner for my sake.

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Summer 2020 has been one for the books. For the first time in 48 years, it’s mid-August, and I haven’t even put my toes in the water. I feel like an alien as I drive around the Heights hill and see hordes of people crowded on every inch of beach, vaguely remembering the shocking relief that comes only from saltwater meeting skin. Or to use a different cliche, feeling like a proverbial fish out of water. An alien fish. 

The shower has been my saving grace…

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Not only did we get an outdoor shower, we got a unique work of art, constructed with cedar and pressure-treated posts. The yin-and-yang curves allow for more air flow and also resemble waves, a perfect theme for this ocean-loving Pisces, and the shower head and hooks are thoughtfully placed with a petite person in mind.

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There’s even an adorable little bench…

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I took my first outdoor shower – at my own home – for the first time in two decades, on a cool and starry moonlit evening two weeks ago. A slight breeze danced through the trees, the neighbors’ wind chime at its heels. Just around the corner, I could hear the Island Queen’s last ferry of the night signaling its way back home to Falmouth Harbor.

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Thank you, Joe. It finally feels like summer again…

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Catholic Crimes: a Survivor’s Story

By William Verdad

Intro by Sarah E. Murphy

It was February 2019, and I was packing for my first trip to Rome, when I received a Facebook message from a friend thanking me for an article I had just written about clergy sex abuse. In it I shared the story of a man in my hometown of Falmouth, Massachusetts, now in his early fifties, who endured a decade of abuse at the hands of Monsignor Maurice Souza at St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth. We were following his story to Vatican City, where we would peacefully protest the Pope’s summit that was called to supposedly address the issue. My friend could relate to the experience of finally speaking his truth after so many years, for he too was coming to terms with what happened to him as a boy in another Massachusetts town, at St. Brigid’s Parish in Lexington in the late 1960s. 

Earlier this week, he decided it was time to come forward and name his abuser, the late Reverend John Patrick “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, in the hope of helping not only himself, but other survivors, and offering families of survivors a window into their loved ones. Perhaps this has happened to someone in your life, but he or she isn’t ready to come forward. Or perhaps that person has blocked it all out. My friend is tired of shouldering the burden of misplaced shame that accompanies keeping secret an experience no child or adult should ever endure. While he isn’t ready to be identified by his own name just yet, he doesn’t want to be a proverbial “John Doe.” He’s chosen the name William “Verdad” for a reason, for it translates to “Determined Guardian of Truth.” 

This is his story…

Speaking My Truth

by William Verdad

I need to get this on paper, or “out there,” so to speak. My experience as a victim of childhood sexual abuse represents one of thousands, maybe millions. I am a statistic, but it’s finally time to share the actual words and story with the people it could potentially help. Abuse of this kind alters lives drastically and permanently. 

When I was a child, I was raped about a dozen times by two priests from my childhood parish. I blocked out the experience for over 40 years.

I am now 60 years old.

I finally began to remember about ten years ago, when I ran out of money for drugs and alcohol, and moved to my brother’s house to dry out. It took months, but one day it all finally started to come back. John and I were watching Mystic River, a film I had tried to watch a few times but always walked away from as soon as it got difficult. This time it triggered something.

“I just thought of when I was a lector as a young boy. I read from the Bible at mass a couple of times, didn’t I?” I looked to him to validate my recollection.

“Yes, but probably more like a dozen times,” he said. 

This news was significant in putting the pieces together, as John’s memory has always been better than mine, and he is older, so I knew it must be true.

I began firing questions at him, starting with my age at the time. Nine or ten was his response. 

Then it hit me – the church said I had been chosen as the youngest boy ever to read the Bible to a Roman Catholic crowd. Ever. Suddenly this seemed incredulous. Wow….ever?! That’s pretty noteworthy. How had I forgotten that for so long? 

Bits and pieces began to come back. My mother and the whole family were so proud. What an honor.

I remember thinking, ‘why me?’ I didn’t ask for this. I am horribly dyslexic and can’t even read that well. Actually, I am terrified, but everyone seems so proud and excited, so I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I’ll practice a lot and I’ll be okay.

It was always Father “Fitz” and another priest who gave me my assigned reading, and each time, no matter how much I read it, I still didn’t really get the meaning; the words were unfamiliar and hard to pronounce.  They would pull me out of religious education class (which was held in a building on church grounds), and we’d go to the basement to rehearse my reading.

At first I welcomed the chance to practice, since I was dreading having to read in front of hundreds of people on those Sunday mornings. Next, I remembered asking them why we didn’t actually practice when we were in the basement. Their demeanor changed in an instant from being sweet and complimentary to cruel and harsh.

The same thing happened when I questioned why my pants were belted at a different hole and my shirt was tucked in a way that I would never do. Oh, they got so very angry when I asked that.

I noticed that when they brought me back to class, much more time had seemed to pass than made sense. Although it was held on Thursday afternoons for two hours after regular school, we referred to it as  “Sunday School.” I recalled getting in trouble often with my teacher for falling asleep at my desk after returning from the basement. This happened many times, but at the time, I was just glad that it made the day seem shorter.

A few weeks after the incident watching the movie, more memories returned to me one night in a dream.

Waking up in that basement, everything very foggy, only the shaking light of the high cellar window slowly coming into rhythmic focus. Feeling something behind me and being grabbed by it. Does he have his finger in my bum? What is this? He was much older, and I heard him snap at the younger priest, who quickly put a cloth doused in something over my face.

The memories continued. I would read the verses once, then they would put a cloth over my mouth and nose and put me face-down on a high table. Waking back up every time to one holding me upright and the other waving an amyl nitrate in my face. I later asked them what they had done to me. Was it a medical thing? I had no real understanding of sex, but did remember doctors putting thermometers into my anus. They were very, very angry at my question and said it was a bit like that, but it must be kept secret and that I was special.

 

Then it began to be a threat that if I told anyone I would break my mother’s heart. They said if I didn’t stay quiet they would take the big Easter reading away from me, and that was a huge honor.

I kept my mouth shut. I loved my mother so much, and she was so proud. But at one of the Sunday readings, I was massively nervous. It was a lot of letters from Paul to the Corinthians, stuff I didn’t get. I was a kid who asked a lot of questions, and they didn’t like that. I asked if I could read something easier that I could understand; I think I even suggested something from the Psalms, something about love or helping friends. This also made them very angry, so I didn’t ask again. 

I got through the reading and I had to wait in the wings to read again. I was with the two altar boys. One of them was a year or so younger than me. He was small but seemed so much older. His eyes were very dark and sunken.

As the mass was in progress he turned to me and said matter-of-factly, “Did they fuck you yet?”

“What?” I said, completely shocked. 

“Did they have sex with you yet?”

I didn’t even understand what he was saying. “But they’re men. A man can’t have sex with another man,” I responded.

“Yes they can. In the ass,” he said, pointing to his own butt. 

I became upset and repeated more loudly, “A man can only have sex with a woman!”

Next thing I knew, an angry priest came over to us telling us to never speak to each other while mass was in progress.

The last thing I remember about it all was how kind they were to me at first, and how special they made me feel, followed by the confusion and pain of being chastised and shunned for being bad. I never understood what I had done wrong or what I did to deserve it.

I’ve carried this with me for the past five decades, trying to block it out and keep it all down with lots of drugs, drinking, and drama. Those evil parasites scarred me for life, and aside from a handful of people in my life, no one knew about it until now. Or did they? Those who enable and cover-up for these predators are just as guilty, so I’m sharing my story in the hopes of saving another innocent life from being shattered. And if you’re reading this and you know this pain firsthand, I hope you know you’re not alone.

William Verdad

August 7, 2020 

Featured

Children of the Sea: For Courtney

By Sarah E. Murphy

As small, suburban flowers

we were replanted

in more nourishing, salty soil

and the ocean soon became

the backdrop of our lives.

It roared to us on ghostly winter nights

while we burrowed in tiny beds

assuring us we’d soon return.

And so we did.

For at the close of each school year

our sandals found their way to water’s edge

dreading the red swimsuits

and noses greased with sunblock warpaint. 

Instead we prayed for rainy days

too stormy to practice the crawl

so we could revel in the warmth

of off-season sweats

huddled around the Pentas’ TV

watching Ghostbusters and Meatballs 

on a rented VCR from Zoom Video.

And now the sea 

which always joined us 

divides us

as you embark on a semester 

in our ancestral land.

On your last night

while packing

your relinquished your sandals

knowing you wouldn’t be needing them for awhile

so now I’m literally walking around in your shoes. 

I only hope you return as promised 

to collect them

for you’ve always followed your own lead

going left when Mom would say right

a cat always landing on all fours.

You who grew up before I could blink

suddenly singing effortlessly 

for strangers 

while I, the stage mother

stood on the sidelines

clapping louder than anyone. 

Come home to us, baby sister.

You must be missing your shoes. 

Sarah E. Murphy/December 1996

Picking up Courtney at Logan Airport after her semester in Maynooth, December 1996.
Featured

Just Write It: Creativity in Covid America

By Sarah E. Murphy

I recently visited my brother T.M. Murphy’s Monday morning session of The Just Write It Class in Falmouth Heights. Thankfully Covid-19 hasn’t cancelled the 2020 season of this long-standing summer tradition, now in its 25th year. Since he first started teaching in The Writers’ Shack, Ted has encouraged kids to follow their dreams and creative aspirations through writing and storytelling.

The rustic ambiance of the Shack, where we once hung out in our youth, lends itself to inspiration, and the exposed beams are now covered not only with tattered U2 posters, but the signatures of students past and present, and further evidence of their prolific work in Ted’s class.  Additionally, the act of writing lends itself to social distancing, so with safety precautions in place, it’s been business as usual for these aspiring young writers. Classes are offered for ages 9-12; 12-15; and 16-19. Each two-hour session consists of group instruction through writing prompts, followed by free writes, enabling students to come away from each class with a rough draft, work-in-progress, or finished product. Students also get the chance to practice public speaking, as they share their work at the podium. After each reading, their classmates offer feedback, but there’s one rule: constructive criticism only. The supportive environment results in the forming of new and lasting friendships. 

Ruthie is a rising sixth-grader at Morse Pond School in Falmouth. Like the rest of the Monday morning writers, she’s a returning student to the Just Write It Class. 

“I like how we can meet with friends we made last year, and that even though there’s a pandemic going on, we’re still able to do this and have fun,” she said. 

Lila agreed. “It’s nice to spend time with people who aren’t my family and to have something to do other than sitting at home.”

Will enjoys the structure of The Just Write It Class. “I can write freely and experiment with all my ideas,” he said. 

Caitlin also appreciates having that creative freedom. “I like being able to write about whatever I want instead of being given an assignment,” she said. Witches is one of her favorite subjects, and one of her many stories hangs prominently in the Shack. 

Max and Cullen have become fast friends and creative collaborators; they’re currently working on a story together. 

“I wanted to take this class again because it lets me be more imaginative,” Cullen said. “I can write about whatever is in my mind.”

Max credited the teacher for setting the tone, which he believes contributes to the overall atmosphere.  “I like how Ted has a certain sense of humor. He’s actually funny,” he said. “Having a teacher like that helps you make a certain connection, and it just makes you want to learn more.”

A few spaces are available for the final summer session of The Just Write It Class, for ages 9-12, beginning Wednesday, August 5 from 8:45-10:45 am. To register, contact Ted Murphy at tmmurphywriter@gmail.com or on Facebook and Instagram.

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Freedom Village

By James F. Murphy Jr.

*Copyright 1993. Reprinted in “Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul,” 2001.

My most vivid memory associated with the American flag flashes to Korea and a gray, clammy day in early August 1953. The Korean War had come to an end a week earlier, on July 27 at precisely 10 PM. I remember lying in a rice paddy and suddenly experiencing the thunderous, deafeaning silence of peace. The Chinese and North Koreans, surely as joyful as I, were singing and raising their flags less than two hundred yards from where my platoon sergeant and I sat smoking celebratory cigars. 

A military spotlight, affectionately referred to as “Moonbeam Charlie,” played along the valley floor and crept up the scarred hills, catching the Chinese and North Koreans in spirited dancing around their outpost flagpole. Their flags seemed to mean something to them, and at that time, I wasn’t sure what my flag meant to me.

James F. Murphy Jr., age 21, folding the American flag in Korea with a fellow soldier.

But that changed dramatically a week later, when I was a part of a contingent sent to represent my regiment at “Freedom Village.” 

“Operation Big Switch” was on. Our prisoners of war were to be returned to American hands, as the Chinese and North Koreans were to be returned to their people. Through the dim half-light of fading memory, I recollect that Freedom Village was in a scooped-out hollow with hills brooding over it from four sides. A few dwellings leaned into the village amid taut canvas hospital tents. 

We representatives of the United Nations stood at attention as ambulances and beat-up buses arrived from the north. The UN, American, and Korean flags hung limply in the humid August air. Photographers, Army and civilian alike, scurried about for good vantage points. 

The Chinese and North Koreans were the first to cross over “Freedom Bridge.” They were surly, healthy looking and well fed. Some carried signs decrying capitalism. Members of a Republic of Korea regiment scowled, and one of them sent a spray of saliva in his former opponent’s direction. The exchange had a tone of tense and bitter antagonism, and as young as I was, I wondered how long the newly inked truce would last. 

When the remaining Chinese and North Koreans had been herded off to their own vehicles, the UN prisoners were ushered from the trucks and buses and sent across the bridge to our side. The UN Honor Guard, combat veterans, and observers gasped when they saw the condition of their returning comrades, who struggled, hobbled and staggered, gaunt and emaciated, toward friendly faces. 

One after another they came. The next one was in worse condition than the one before. Long lines of dull-eyed soldiers of the “Forgotten War” inched their way to freedom, and out of their number, a gray-faced stick figure of a boy-turned-old man dragged himself along the bridge. His bony arms were held out like a sleepwalker. He staggered and swayed, and one time fell into the wooden railing. Every eye in that village was suddenly trained on that one figure. Even those on the northern side watched the gallant physical effort of the wasted soldier. Each tried, inwardly, to help, to urge him on, until finally, when he lurched forward, an MP major, a giant of a man, came up to help. The soldier waved him off with his skeleton hands and arms. Looking around at the grim faces, he caught sight of the three color bearers and shuffled toward them. When he reached the American flag bearer, he knelt on trembling knees before the flag as though it were an altar. He reached up and tugged at the flag. The color bearer, either by instinct or by some infinite wisdom, lowered the flag and the soldier covered his face with it, sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. 

Other than the clicks of cameras, the village was cemetery-quiet. Tears streamed from all of us. Cotton replaced saliva in our throats. After several moments, the stillness was broken by the sound of the heavy boots of the MP major, who came crunching across the gravel, his cheeks moist and glistening. He bent down and tenderly scooped the soldier up in his muscular arms and carried him off to a waiting ambulance, much as a father would carry a baby. 

There wasn’t a dry eye in that silent village, thousands of miles away from Main Street, USA. 

James F. Murphy Jr.

Featured

Casino by the Sea

Poetry and Photography by Sarah E. Murphy/Copyright 2002

I loved venturing up the boardwalk to Under the Sun

sandy bare feet slapping against hot planks

to fill brown paper bags with fireballs and bulls’ eyes. 

I’d always stop and peer in the windows

wanting to know if it matched my mind’s eye

women in pastel bikinis perched on barstools like exotic birds 

stirring colorful concoctions with tiny umbrellas. 

Men huddled over amber-colored pint glasses

as rings of smoke wafted above their heads. 

But this was the 70s and 80s

in the days of the Brothers 4 and the Oak Crest Inn

when the Heights was like Daytona

and the commotion in the streets at night became 

my summer lullaby.

Car doors slamming

the offensive blur of a radio dial

inebriated voices echoing across the ballpark

coaxing me to sleep. 

Two decades later

I would come to know it from the inside

where singles came together

for the proverbial nightcap

and adversaries sometimes came to blows. 

By midnight you could barely move

so conversations were finished on the deck

weaving through the crowd 

a sea of tank tops and flip flops 

jean shorts and baseball caps.

Escaping the smell of stale cigarettes and spilled beer

for the soothing embrace of salty summer air. 

Then the lights would suddenly come up

the music abruptly stopping

a brief silence punctuated by boisterous refusal.

Stumbling slightly

down that same boardwalk of my youth

while bouncers and summer cops

herded us like bar-hopping cattle.

Swaying lovers

and strangers who met moments before

would cling to each other

as searches began for missing keys 

and friends lost in the crowd

while parked cruisers offered a not-so-subtle reminder to 

“Keep things moving…”

How naive we were

to think those nights would never end

along with lazy Sundays

nursing a hangover

on the Heights Beach

coaxed in and out consciousness by the roar of the ocean

and cover tunes wafting down from the deck

with the promising scent of fried clams.

Our beloved summer castle 

washed away by an unexpected wave.

Poetry and Photography by Sarah E. Murphy /Copyright 2002

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She Learns: Empowering Girls in Uganda

By Sarah E. Murphy

The Fourth of July is now a memory, and my husband and I have been in quarantine since before St. Patrick’s Day. While we’ve slowly but surely been getting out a bit more as the months creep by, the global pandemic persists. As I write this, it’s a flawless summer day, but I have yet to get to the beach this season, which is unheard of for this lifelong Cape Codder, who also happens to be a Pisces.

Italy has now closed its borders to Americans, after candidly pleading with the US not to make their mistake by underestimating the severity of the situation. I can’t say I’m remotely surprised, or that I blame them. Therefore it’s doubtful I’ll be making my fall research trip to Vatican City as planned, but thankfully, I can travel virtually, since my work as an advocate for clergy sex abuse survivors connects me to inspiring individuals all over the world. I recently had the pleasure of speaking by phone with Fred Sebaggala, founder and managing director of shelearns.org, a non-profit in Kampala, Uganda dedicated to educating and empowering girls and women.

Fred Sebaggala delivering supplies to a village in Uganda. Photos courtesy of She Learns.

Although it was nearly 9 PM his time, his day was not yet over, as he explained his motivation for starting the organization. Fred and his sister were raised by their mother Betty, a hard-working, single parent, who struggled and sacrificed in order to give her children all the things she lacked. 

“She was not an educated lady, but she did what she could to make sure we always had the best. In the traditional African setting, women are viewed as second-class citizens. They cannot speak out. If my mother had been empowered, she could have made a difference in the world. A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman,” he said, referencing one of the slogans of She Learns. 

“I wanted to find a way to help other girls so they didn’t have to face the same challenges she did.” 

Despite the lack of opportunities afforded to Betty in her youth, she is changing the world through her son, who challenges African cultural stereotypes by promoting equality in education. The impetus for his initiative came a few years ago when Fred attended a gender equality conference and felt compelled to make a difference. Today, he and his colleagues visit schools to motivate female students about their societal worth and potential, while educating them to be financially independent and self-reliant rather looking to a spouse to fill that role. 

“We teach them that being a girl is not a bad thing. Girls deserve the same opportunities as boys. We challenge them to think like a ceo, a manager, or a preacher. How would they address their workers or their congregation if they were in charge? We build their self-esteem so they understand that their potential is already within them, because when she learns, she can win. When she learns, she can live a better life. When she learns, she can be anything she wants in this world,” Fred explained.

The organization also provides access to the most basic resources for girls and women, such as shoes and menstrual pads, for without them, they are unable to attend school or work.

“In some villages, it’s hard to get sanitary pads, and some girls can’t afford them. They worry people will laugh at them, which makes them feel pain and shame, and they can’t imagine how they could ever go to school in such a situation. So we bring sanitary pads to the villages, along with other needed supplies, like food,” he said.

The importance of a man working to end the stigma of menstruation, something so normal, which is often weaponized against women all over the globe, cannot be overstated. My respect for Fred is immeasurable. As a former Catholic, I experienced the shame that accompanied what should be welcomed as a healthy rite of passage, and many years later, I wrote an essay about how I learned about my period not from my mother, but instead from the awkward, cheesy filmstrip all the girls watched in sixth grade. My poor mom still apologizes for this, which wasn’t at all her fault, for she was a product of a religious system in which anything relating to sex was regarded as sinful and “inappropriate.” She was simply repeating the behavior she had learned from my grandmother, which was based in fear, more than anything else.

Instead of using religion to control women, She Learns does the opposite; it liberates them with references to the Bible, a concept so foreign to the patriarchal religion I left as a teenager.

“The Bible did not disparage women. God empowered both sexes, but the main way women have been put down in my country is by being silenced,” Fred said. “So we teach the girl child to look outside the box of the traditional setting. We teach her that women have value.” 

She Learns also works to eliminate child labor and child trafficking, and to educate in the prevention of domestic abuse, therefore Fred took on an African leadership role in the global organization SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), through his work with SNAP Vice-President, Ashley Easter, US advisor to She Learns. Ashley interviews Fred in this video about his future goals for She Leans, such as the establishment of trade school where girls and women can learn vocational skills in order to pursue a career.

Empowering those who are marginalized is Fred’s greatest joy, for he believes helping others is how we truly succeed. 

“If you want to build a strong woman, start with a girl. Even if it’s just one, behind that girl, there may be ten more. And when one girl is lifted, she can empower others. She can change the world.”

Visit shelearns.org for information and follow them on Facebook for updates. Click here to make a donation.

Featured

The Island Queen Creates Ripple of Change with Cape Cod’s First Seabin

By Sarah E. Murphy

The Island Queen is making waves and taking strides to promote clean waters with the purchase and installation of the “Seabin,” Cape Cod’s very first floating trash bin. The device is part of a global initiative founded in Australia by two avid water lovers committed to reducing trash with the end goal of eventually making the need obsolete through education and awareness. The company was founded on a simple premise – trash cans are just as necessary in the ocean as they are on land. 

Island Queen Manager Michael Reposa discovered the Seabin Project last summer, after searching online for a solution to the trash build-up that he routinely witnesses firsthand in the water surrounding the Island Queen ferry terminal, located on Falmouth Heights Road. 

“All of us spend many hours a day, every day, standing at this dock, and when we first start maintenance on the boat in early May, you can see the bottom of the harbor. But as more people come, and more boats are in the water, it slowly becomes murkier,” he observed. 

Additionally, the boat is anchored in one of the harbor’s only inlets, so with the tide comes cigarette butts, fish heads, and plastic – specifically bags, food wrappers, and nip bottles – with microplastics proving to be one of the biggest culprits. To that end, the Seabin can collect items as small as two millimeters, objects unseen by the human eye but consumed by organisms in the local food chain. 

Mr. Reposa believes the majority of the trash is not a result of intentional littering but primarily accumulates in the harbor from storm drains and wind. Despite the use of a pool skimmer, the problem continued. 

“Keeping the area clean was becoming a full-time job,” he said. 

Mr. Reposa spent a few months last year in the off-season researching the innovative Seabin technology, founded in 2017 by an engineer and a boat-builder, and learned the product could be purchased and shipped from a company in Canada. He presented his findings to his employer, owner Charlie Bardelis Jr., who agreed to the idea immediately.

Cape Cod’s first Seabin is now up and running. Custom signage is being created by Locust Street Sign Company in Falmouth, and the Island Queen will cross-promote its participation in the global effort with Seaside Sustainability of Gloucester.

A quiet motor on the bottom of the Seabin creates suction, pooling and collecting small trash, while making it easier to reach in and grab the larger items that are also attracted. The unassuming piece of machinery connects to a floating dock, so it rises with the tide, and remains at water level. 

According to the Seabin Project, 8.1 million tons of mismanaged waste enters our oceans each year, and each seabin has the capacity to catch a half ton of debris annually, in the form of:90,000 plastic bags; 16,500 plastic bottles; 35,700 disposable cups; 16,500 plastic bottles, and 166,500 plastic utensils.

General Manager Todd Bidwell credited Mr. Reposa for introducing the idea and Mr. Bardelis for his commitment to clean oceans.

“When Mike told us about this initiative, and that this would be the first Seabin on Cape Cod, we thought it was a fantastic idea. By purchasing and installing the Seabin, we now feel like we’re contributing to the health of Falmouth Harbor, which ultimately is going to benefit not just the businesses and residents of the area, but all our waterways, in Falmouth and beyond. Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend,” he said. 

Mr. Reposa credited Mr. Bardelis and Mr. Bidwell for recognizing the importance of such an investment. 

“One Seabin isn’t going to clean up the whole harbor, but it’s a start in the right direction,” he said. 

For more information about the Seabin Project, follow The Island Queen on Facebook or visit seabinproject.com.

Featured

From Cape Cod to Congo: Shining a Light on Clergy Abuse

By Sarah E. Murphy

Courtesy Photo by Benjamin Kitobo, St. Peter’s Square, Rome

Life couldn’t be more different now than when I last wrote. In January of 2020, the year held much promise, and despite all that has transpired since, I still believe that. The onset of the global pandemic almost seems like a distant memory here in the United States, for those on the front lines of that battle are joined by Americans fighting for racial equality. Meanwhile, countries all around the globe are standing in solidarity, demanding the US finally take accountability for the systemic racism dating back to our country’s inception, a shameful by-product of the slave history that was glossed over in my history textbooks. Before I had any idea of what this winter would hold, I was contacted on Facebook by clergy abuse survivor/activist Benjamin Kitobo, seeking my help sharing his story. His life was forever changed in 1980, when he was a 13-year-old student at an African seminary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), then known as Zaire. Benja suffered sexual abuse for four years at the hands of a Belgian priest who had been sent to Zaire after being accused of abusing a child in Belgium. His “punishment” was the signature response of the Roman Catholic Church – a quiet reassignment to avoid scandal – in this case to a remote African village, where he would ostensibly be out of sight and mind. Predictably, taking a page out of the predator playbook, he continued his behavior in his new environment, and the bishops who ignored the potential danger he posed were complicit in his crimes against Benja and the other boys he targeted at the school.

Benja was featured last November in a documentary on CNN titled “Abuse and Scandal in the Catholic Church: The Case of the Predator Priest,” detailing his courageous journey seeking accountability, resulting in obtaining a taped confession from his abuser. But after issuing an abuse complaint, he later discovered his abuser was still working with children in Rwanda, which is part of his motivation as a survivor advocate. According to Benja, it can be life-threatening to speak about abuse in Congo, where the topic is swept under the proverbial rug.

Benja was the only survivor representing Africa at the global summit of bishops in Rome in February of 2019, which I also attended, billed by Pope Francis as an “all-out battle” against this scourge that has plagued the Roman Catholic Church since its beginning. Despite the pope’s claims, no concrete change has occurred since then, which is unsurprising to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to this criminal issue. Benja and I both participated in the March to Zero, a peaceful protest through the streets of Rome on a crisp, sunny Saturday morning, organized by Ending Clergy Abuse, with participation from other prominent groups, such as SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) and bishopaccountability.org. Our paths didn’t cross during that invigorating walk across the Tiber river, from the Piazza del Popolo to Castel Sant’ Angelo, just outside the unwelcoming walls of the Vatican, but I was honored and taken aback when he contacted me seeking my help telling his story in the form of a memoir, and to bring attention to Africa’s handling of this particular plight. Benja’s life is fascinating and full of accomplishment. Now a father, living in St. Louis, he left Congo as a refugee, spending a brief time living in Foligno, a small town in the Umbrian region of Italy. 

Copyright CNN/Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Kitobo

We first spoke in depth over the phone last January, in between his busy schedule as a nurse, and trying to finish his dissertation. A sweet and funny man, the same age as my husband, Chris, he explained reasonably yet passionately the vital importance of shining a light on his native land and the most marginalized of abuse victims.

“They knowingly send these predators to prey on these innocent victims, who are powerless to fight back. It’s risky to speak out. The control they have is like slavery all over again. You’re only free when you speak up, but the price of speaking is very high,” he said. 

Although I have no idea what it’s like to be targeted for my skin, I do know what it’s like to be discounted for my sex, in society and religion, which is one of the primary reasons I left the Catholic Church, after being confirmed as a teenager. In 2020 America, despite fighting tooth and nail for suffrage a century ago, a topic also glossed over in the history books, women are still not equal to their male counterparts, starting with their paychecks. I write this on Juneteenth, a holiday I never knew existed until a few years ago, and only now am getting a more clear understanding of, for it was not even mentioned in those same history books. Needless to say, it was obviously a bit impulsive, if not incredibly naive, to immediately say yes when Benja asked if he could obtain financing, I would accompany him to follow the story to Congo. Although Chris supports my clergy abuse investigation wholeheartedly, despite the fact it doesn’t garner any kind of paycheck, he shot down the idea of such a trip, considering he could hear Benja on speakerphone describing the potential dangers I might face. In my earnest desire to give voice to the voiceless, it didn’t initially dawn on me that I could now be the target of race, and a victim of physical and sexual violence due to my skin color. Talk about white privilege.

Although the pandemic has put so many things on hold, Benja and I have spoken a few more times since, and I remain committed to the project, while we try to find someone with the affluence to aid us in seeing it to fruition. For a Cape Cod freelance writer, already struggling to make ends meet, it’s even more challenging now to pursue my passion in our pandemic world. In our most recent Facebook exchanges, Benja candidly discussed his own far more serious challenges – as someone who is fighting both of the aforementioned battles – saving lives from Covid while also living with racial inequality. In a moment of vulnerability, he shared his despair, while I apologized for my race. 

“Don’t take it that way. You are a link of hope. We all need a hopeful outlook,” he wrote. 

I hope that I can help my new friend…

March to Zero, Rome, February 2019 – Sarah E. Murphy

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2019: A Year to Remember

By Sarah E. Murphy

It’s a new year and a new decade, but I’m still reflecting on 2019. 

Over the past twelve months, my life has changed and my world has expanded, in countless ways. After working secretly with Dan Sherwood, a clergy sex abuse survivor from my hometown, who has since become a trusted friend, he decided last February it was time to tell his truth, and asked me to share his story.

Not long after emailing my copy and photos to the local newspaper, where I had been working as a human interest reporter for twelve years, I found myself on a plane to Rome, headed to meet Dan, who was embarking on his own profound journey.

 

Within 48 hours, Dan was sharing his story at an international press conference, detailing the decade of sexual abuse he suffered as an altar boy at St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth, Massachusetts, and the two of us were peacefully protesting in the streets of Rome, as military police silently walked alongside us wielding rifles. 

The trip felt like the next logical progression in a personal and professional path I started to embark upon in 2002, when my parents and I began watching the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church unfold each day in the pages of The Boston Globe, as reported by the tenacious Spotlight team.

I’ll never forget seeing those headlines splashed across stacks of frozen newspapers piled up next to the Clam Shack on Falmouth Harbor, waiting to be transported aboard the Quickwater Ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. I was usually out taking landscape photos, and I’d jump in my car and head to my childhood home, two minutes away in Falmouth Heights, on the other side of the harbor. My parents, who never began a day without the Globe, were waiting with the tea kettle on, ready to discuss the latest developments. Although self-described “typical Irish-Catholics,” who both attended parochial school, as they grew older, they began to question what they viewed as the hypocrisy of the Church, and its teachings, as evidenced by the sermons we heard at our local parish. Now 84, my mother has been sounding the alarm on the danger of Patriarchy long before it became a hashtag. So when Voice of the Faithful met for the first time in a church basement in 2002, she was in attendance; my father dropped her off on his way to teach at Boston College one Saturday morning.

Fast-forward 17 years. When I started to feel the Universe was urging me to follow the story to Rome, my mother not only agreed, she insisted. “This is something you must do,” she told me. If my father were still with us, there’s no doubt he would have said the same. Before I left for my trip, my mom presented me with the keychain she bought when visiting Vatican City as a young woman in 1959. My dad was also touring Europe that summer, but they had temporarily broken up and and were unsuccessfully attempting to avoid each other throughout their travels. But all roads lead to Newton…

Once I made the decision, everything seemed effortless – from finding an affordable flight to Rome, just days before departure, to the indescribable feeling of homecoming that I felt upon arrival, to the affable strangers who were kind enough to offer directions when I needed them, usually punctuated by “Follow me,” and a wave of the hand. A metaphorical reminder that when you’re feeling lost, stop and ask for help. 

Along with the keychain, I brought a green rubber bracelet, similar to the one my dad wore in his final year, as his wrist, covered in spots from the early leukemia we didn’t know was ravaging his body, continued to wither. It also symbolizes the courageous cancer battle conquered by our dear family friend, Wayne, with a simple, one-word reminder in white letters: PERSISTENCE. 

I returned to Italy seven months later and, on September 27, the fourth anniversary of my father’s death, I wandered around the Eternal City, imagining him joking with his travel partner about how they had to “get the hell out of there” before they ran into Margaret Ann Matthews. Like a wholesome version of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” culminating in marriage rather than murder.

All day long, and all throughout my trip, from Rome to Cinque Terre to Lucca to Assisi, I could feel my dad’s presence. Although I ache to share my adventures of the past year with him, I know he is watching, and his silent voice has been one of my loudest cheerleaders. 

Like travel, my investigation has revealed what I already knew: the world is smaller than it is vast, and we are all more alike than we are different. My work on Cape Cod has led me to Benjamin Kitobo, who suffered abuse as a young boy in the Congo, and was recently featured in a CNN documentary. Benja’s mission is to highlight the issue in his native Africa, demanding zero tolerance and accountability for abuse and cover-ups, a message he brought to the Pope’s summit last February as the only African victim protesting in Vatican City. Somehow our paths never crossed in Rome, but we recently connected on social media, and he has requested my help in bringing this cause to the forefront of this global safety crisis.

To say that I’m honored is an understatement, and I’m excited to see where this journey will take me in 2020. 

 

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Heroes in the Light: Honoring #AllSurvivorsDay

By Sarah E. Murphy

November 3 is #AllSurvivorsDay, an international day recognizing survivors of sexual abuse wherever it occurs – at home, school, church, the military, on college campuses and sports teams – with the goal of bringing awareness and change by shedding light on the widespread nature of the issue. Since I began my investigation over a year ago into clergy sex abuse on Cape Cod, these are just a few of the countless individuals I’ve been inspired by, who are on the front lines of this particular fight…

Tim Lennon, Arizona, USA

Tim Lennon, board president of SNAP, at the March to Zero in Rome, February 2019. Photo by Sarah E. Murphy

I met Tim Lennon last winter on a bright February morning at Rome’s Piazza del Popolo (People’s Square), where survivors and advocates were taking to the streets for the “March to Zero,” organized by ECA (Ending Clegy Abuse) Global Justice Project, to demand zero tolerance from the Catholic Church for abuse and cover-ups. Many in attendance, including myself, were in Vatican City for the Pope’s four-day global summit with church leaders to address the topic. I had traveled to Rome with Dan Sherwood, a survivor from my hometown of Falmouth, Massachusetts, who had just given me permission (after months of off-the-record meetings) to share his story in the local newspaper.

Throughout the peaceful protest, which snaked in and out of cobblestone alleys and across the Tiber, Tim carried a black and white photograph of himself as a child, smiling for the camera and dressed in his Sunday best. At age 12, his innocence was shattered when he was raped and abused by his parish priest in Iowa. At the time, Tim was immobilized by fear and misplaced shame. Today, he uses his own experience to educate, working tirelessly as the board president of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) – an independent, confidential, international network of survivors of religious and non-denominational institutional sexual abuse and their supporters. He also seeks justice for survivors in the area of statute of limitations law reform.

A proud father of two grown daughters, Tim credits his advocacy with SNAP for providing what he described as “a path of healing.”

“What happened to me when I was 12 is that I froze. I didn’t do anything or say anything,” he recalled. “Now I can fight back because I have the strength of our network to propel me forward.” In turn, he is providing invaluable support to fellow survivors.

Darryl Smith, Dunedin, New Zealand

Darryl Smith at an international press conference in Rome staged by ECA (Ending Clergy Abuse), February 2019. Photo by Sarah E. Murphy

It’s difficult for me to fathom the horror depicted in “A Shattered Life,” but for clergy sex abuse survivor Darryl Smith, it represents his childhood. That ended at age six, when he was raped the first night he was sent to Maryland’s School – a Catholic residential institution in New Zealand for children with intellectual disabilities. The self-published memoir details the abuse Darryl suffered there and at the Granada Hostel for Young Men eight years later, when his family moved to Australia in 1979.

Darryl ventured to Vatican City last winter with the hope of bringing his message to Pope Francis, and we first met at a crowded international press conference – another event organized by ECA. He caught my attention with the cover of his book and his kind blue eyes, which are also veiled with sadness, hinting at the trauma of his past. According to Darryl, because he was born mildly intellectually handicapped, writing the book was no easy task, for several reasons. But in the past year, he has become a prolific writer, penning several volumes about his experience. Darryl was paid reparation for the abuse in 2009, but he seeks what he describes as “proper justice” in the form of an acknowledgement from the Vatican and accountability for those who enabled the abuse.

Dan Sherwood and I ran into Darryl at Castel Sant’ Angelo after the March to Zero, as the three of us were heading back to the hotel ECA was using as home base. Although he didn’t get the opportunity for an audience with the Pope as he hoped, Darryl was able to convey his message, and share his book, with church leadership, crossing the street to introduce himself to Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland, who accepted Darryl’s invitation to join us back at ECA headquarters.

Darryl Smith presents a copy of his memoir to Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland, in Rome last February during the Pope’s four-day papal summit. Photo by Sarah E. Murphy

Darryl advocates for his fellow survivors as the New Zealand Ambassador to The Archangel Foundation, helping others find their voice. He believes his perspective is needed in order to effect political change, therefore he’s throwing his hat into the ring and running for a seat in Parliament, pledging his commitment to seek zero tolerance for sexual abuse and longer sentences for perpetrators. In the meantime, he is proud of how far he has come. “I used to consider myself a victim,” he said. “Today, I’m a survivor.”

Jim Scanlan, Rhode Island, USA

Jim Scanlan, with Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, survivor/advocate Ann Hagan Webb, and survivor/advocate Sarah Klein, the first-known victim of Larry Nassar. Courtesy Photo.

Last fall, as the leaves were falling and the Red Sox were vying for another title, I was put in touch with Jim Scanlan by a mutual friend. In our first phone conversation, he generously offered his validation and support of my self-initiated investigation into clergy sex abuse in my hometown.

I was already familiar with Jim from afar as the inspiration for “Kevin from Providence” in the 2015 film “Spotlight” about the Boston Globe Spotlight Team’s 2002 Pulitzer-Prize winning investigation of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of clergy sex abuse, fueled by brilliant and empathetic reporting by Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Matt Carroll, and courageous leadership from Martin Baron and Walter Robinson.

However, it wasn’t until after the film’s release that Jim decided to go on the record with Karen Lee Ziner of the Providence Journal, sharing his experience of rape and assault at the hands of Father James Talbot as a sixteen-year-old student at Boston College High School. The year after Jim graduated, in 1980, Talbot was transferred to Cheverus High School in Maine, where he was also accused of molesting students. Jim’s testimony was instrumental in sending him to prison for seven years. Talbot admitted to molesting nearly 90 students throughout his career.

Jim Scanlan as a student at Boston College High School, where he was raped and abused by his hockey coach, Father James Talbot. Courtesy Photo.

Jim’s motivation for testifying, and for going public, was to help prevent further abuse and to remove the stigma by showing fellow survivors the shame belongs to the abuser, not the victim. Jim also played a pivotal role in the recent extension of Rhode Island’s statute of limitations, enabling victims to sue over childhood sexual abuse from seven years to 35 years after their 18th birthday. District 33 Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-South Kingstown) was motivated by personal experience to introduce “Annie’s Bill” to the House of Representatives, named for her sister, Ann Hagan Webb, who was abused as a third-grader at Sacred Heart elementary school in West Warwick. Their tenacious advocacy, along with the testimony of other courageous survivors, was key to the bill’s passing.

Jim’s dedication to making the world safer and eliminating the shame that accompanies abuse is also evidenced in his role as a board member for the Center for Resilience, a Providence based non-profit, which aims to empower children and adults through the practice of mindfulness in the classroom, community, and workplace to combat stress and anxiety, while cultivating compassion and providing tools to thrive despite adversity.

It’s only fitting that I was introduced to Jim by the daughter-in-law of my father’s dearest friend. After my father left this Earth in 2015, and I discovered even more how he quietly impacted the lives of his students, colleagues, and friends throughout his life, I decided I wanted to use my writing for a higher purpose. It’s one of the reasons I’m on this journey, and I’ll be forever grateful to Jim for validating that vision.

St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City. Sarah E. Murphy

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Return to Rome: The Journey Continues

By Sarah E. Murphy

I recently returned from a two-week trip to Italy – a personal and professional pilgrimage of sorts – following a year of independently investigating clergy sex abuse on Cape Cod. The pervasiveness of the issue cannot be overstated. It is a public safety crisis that goes far beyond my hometown, my state, my country. A rotting onion with infinite layers.

People sometimes ask me why I care so much about the topic and, without meaning to sound sarcastic, my first thought is, “Why don’t you?” My motivation is multi-faceted. I care because of the men and women who have shared with me, both publicly and privately, their experiences of abuse and assault in the Catholic Church. Some have been plagued by memories throughout their lives, while others are confronting the past for the first time. As an Irish-American woman, who practiced Catholicism until my early teens, I am enraged by the audacity of the Church. I sat in a pew every Sunday, being chastised for sins I didn’t understand and hadn’t committed, as my dad fumbled for more crumpled dollars to put in the collection basket. Little did we know of the not-so-hidden secrets just beyond the altar.

However, since embarking on this journey, and traveling from Vatican City to Assisi, I’ve discovered firsthand what I always believed – that religion and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. I’ve also been blessed along the way by inspiring new friendships with survivors, activists, and journalists dedicated to sharing their own trauma, or giving voice to the voiceless, in an effort to make this world safer. I look forward to sharing my experiences while showcasing their important work here.

If you’re a survivor of clergy sex abuse, please remember the shame is not yours. Visit Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (SNAP) for information, resources, and support. If you’re located outside the United States, visit Ending Clergy Abuse. You’re not alone and you’re not to blame.

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National Child Abuse Prevention Month: Safety Should Be an Everyday Issue

By Sarah E. Murphy

St. Mary’s Cathedral, Fall River – Sarah E. Murphy/Falmouth Style

Here in the United States, April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Meanwhile, in Vatican City, and around the world, Pope Francis continues his publicity tour of denial and deflection on the topic of clergy sex abuse. His words, no matter how vehemently stated, continue to contradict his purported beliefs and supposed measures of action, most recently in a statement to The Guardian on February 20. The day after the Pope began his highly-anticipated summit to address the issue – which can easily be described as a global safety crisis – he equated those who question the Church’s handling of the issue as “friends of the devil,” who want to see “100 priests hanging in Vatican Square.”

In a letter to the four members of the Papal Summit Committee, Ending Clergy Sex Abuse (ECA) addresses what they describe to be the Pope’s “disturbing pattern of disparaging survivors who question his handling of the issue.” A worldwide organization of clergy sex abuse survivors and supporters spanning 21 countries and six continents, ECA was at the forefront of the summit and met with the Papal Committee, spearheading a vigil for survivors and a march in the streets of Rome to demand zero tolerance of abuse and cover-ups. Additionally, ECA is calling out the Pope for actions since the summit that they believe reverse his commitment to zero tolerance, specifically in regard to removing abusive priests from ministry, holding bishops accountable for cover-ups, and reforming church procedures in the handling of abuse cases.

Here in my hometown of Falmouth on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, residents are at odds over potential zoning for substance abuse treatment centers, which is the result of a recent controversy regarding the proposed siting of a needle exchange program across from St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth. Monsignor Steve Avila, pastor of St. Anthony’s, attended a December 2018 meeting of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen to speak against the project, citing safety concerns for children who attend Mass and other programs at the Church, including Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. When I contacted Father Avila to give him the opportunity to offer a message to Dan Sherwood, who recently shared his story of being sexually abused at St. Anthony’s for nearly a decade while he was an altar boy, I received no response. Rather than focus on hypothetical harm to children at the Church, Father Steve should be addressing the historical harm which has occurred within the walls of St. Anthony’s for generations.

This past Sunday, I attended a Mass of Atonement, Prayer, and Penance at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River (the diocese of which Cape Cod comprises) to commemorate Child Abuse Prevention Month. Fall River Bishop Edgar da Cunha was the celebrant, and offered special intentions for victims of clergy sex abuse. I was there in support of all victims, but especially the men and women who have shared with me their most private confessions in recent months, long-buried memories they have kept to themselves due to shame and misplaced guilt. I approached the Bishop at the conclusion as he was blessing parishioners to inquire if he had a message I could bring back to Dan, who is still waiting for his pain to be acknowledged by St. Anthony’s.

“I want to say that I feel sorry for what happened to him. In the name of the Church, I want to ask for his forgiveness and apologize,” Bishop da Cunha said. “I hope he finds God’s grace in his heart to give him healing and peace. Whatever way we can help him continue the journey of healing and forgiveness, I’ll be happy to help.”

I pressed the Bishop on how to follow-up, since I recently tried to reach him and was unsuccessful. He suggested Dan reach out to the Diocese’s Office of Safe Environment, which is where I called, however I thanked him and passed along the message anyway. Perhaps we’ll take him up on the offer…

For more information, visit Ending Clergy Abuse.

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A Current Affair: Italian Survivor Fights to End Rampant Clergy Sex Abuse

Alessandro Battaglia, middle, of ECA,
takes part in the March to Zero in Rome on February 23, with Carol Midboe, left, Austin, Texas chapter of SNAP and ECA founding member Denise Buchanan of Jamaica.
Sarah E. Murphy/Falmouth Style

If you think clergy sex abuse is an evil of the past, meet 22-year-old Alessandro Battaglia of Milan. While it’s common for survivors to bury the memories of what they endured in an effort to protect themselves from further trauma, he has never forgotten what happened to him seven years ago.

Alessandro is one of the many inspiring individuals Dan Sherwood and I met when we traveled to Vatican City in February. While church leaders from all over the world had gathered for the Pope’s much-anticipated summit to address clerical sex abuse, survivors like Dan and Alessandro were also there, to demand transparency and accountability from the Catholic Church.

After months of secret meetings and private conversations, Dan had asked me to tell his story by sharing his truth in the local newspaper. Just as he was arriving in Rome, it was circulating all over the internet back home. For him, the trip signified a new chapter in life – one in which he could finally live honestly.

I was greeted on my first morning in Rome by a flawless blue sky and the unfamiliar warmth of a February sun. As Dan and I strolled through St. Peter’s Square, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so stress-free and peaceful. I was overcome with gratitude that the proverbial stars had aligned, bringing me to a place I longed to experience my entire life, and for such a reason.

As we ambled along the cobblestone street, Dan thought he spotted a familiar face from social media amid the throngs of tourists. His suspicions were confirmed when we got closer, and we introduced ourselves to George Mead, a member of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a worldwide organization based in Seattle comprising survivors and human rights activists with the mission “to compel the Roman Catholic Church to end clergy abuse, protect children, and seek justice for victims.”

During the week of the papal summit, ECA spearheaded an organized effort with other groups working on the front lines every day in the fight to protect children, including Bishop Accountability and SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests). The collaboration resulted in the largest worldwide gathering to date of clergy abuse survivors and activists, representing more than 21 countries and five continents.

George invited us to a nearby hotel, where ECA had set up temporary headquarters for the week, and there we met survivors, activists, journalists, and filmmakers, all dedicated to the same cause. That afternoon, Dan and I took the elevator to a conference room overlooking a sunny rooftop deck on the hotel’s top floor, where ECA staged an international press conference for survivors to share their truth.

There was no Italian translator present, so although Alessandro’s words were lost on me, his pain was not. I watched him gesticulating emphatically, tears welling up in his eyes, as my own vision blurred.

Later I headed to the lounge to charge my phone. It was loud and lively at first, full of strangers who were quickly becoming familiar to me for the pivotal roles they play in this global battle. The room emptied and silence entered, so I began documenting the day in my journal. On the couch next to me, a young boy was lying on his back, scrolling absently through his phone. Initially, he wore what appeared to be the cloak of a sullen teenager, but then I realized it was the despondency of a broken man.

Alessandro and I sat in silence until, unsuccessfully grasping for Italian, I said in the only language I know, “I’m so sorry for what happened to you.”

He sat up and folded his hands. “My English is not so good,” he said, smiling weakly, his eyes hooded by the trauma he first experienced seven years ago. As he stared at the floor, he grasped for the words to tell his story.

Alessandro still blames himself for being raped at 15 by his trusted parish priest. “I should have known when I opened the door and saw one bed. I should have done something, but I froze,” he said.

He has attempted suicide four times in the past seven years. One morning, he woke up in the hospital after driving his car into a guard rail.

Today Alessandro is a successful graphic designer, and although he is buoyed by his work as an activist, he continues to be weighed down by misplaced guilt.

“Some days are very hard and I cannot speak about it. It’s too much to bear. But then there are days when I know I am helping people, and I am still here for a reason,” he said.

The room filled once again, and I stood up and extended my arms. We shared a hug and more tears as I thanked him for his courage.

I saw my new friend the next morning, as we both took part in the March to Zero, a protest staged by ECA to demand zero tolerance from the Vatican of abuse and cover-ups. The sun shone down for the event, which began at the Piazza del Popolo, the People’s Plaza, and ended outside Castel Sant’Angelo. Wielding my protest sign and juggling my phone instead of my cumbersome camera, I held my own with the aggressive international press, walking backwards through the cobblestone streets of Rome. Dressed in a sweatshirt emblazoned with the word SURVIVOR, Alessandro locked eyes with me. In them, I saw both rage and grief, but most of all, perseverance.

Back at the hotel, invigorated by the experience and the crisp spring air, we once again embraced. But this time, Alessandro was beaming. He was empowered, and he was reminded he is indeed here for a reason.

For more information, visit ECA (Ending Clergy Abuse).

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Taking Back the Church: Clergy Sex Abuse Survivor Aims to Prevent Abuse on Cape Cod

Clergy sex abuse survivor Dan Sherwood isn’t waiting for the Catholic Church to change. Instead he’s joining the fight to prevent future victims.

Dan and I met for several months beginning last fall before he eventually asked me to share his story in February. His motivation was twofold – a desire to pursue an authentic, shame-free life at age 51, and to help others who have endured similar suffering. His began shortly after he moved to Falmouth at age nine and became an altar boy at St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

After going public about the decade of sexual and emotional abuse inflicted upon him by Monsignor Maurice Souza, Dan continued his journey of truth by traveling to Vatican City. There church leaders from around the world had gathered for the Pope’s much-anticipated summit on clerical sex abuse. Although the abuse crisis was the top agenda item at the November 2018 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, at the Vatican’s request, no action was taken, with the promise the issue would be discussed on a global level in Vatican City.

In a letter from Massachusetts bishops to parishioners dated February 15, a week prior to the papal summit in Rome, the gathering was described as a way “to seek to create a strong consensus throughout the universal Church of zero tolerance for sexual abuse.” It goes on to state that in 2018, the primary attention of responsibility for the abuse crisis shifted from priests to bishops, to include accountability for bishops and cardinals. U.S. Bishops subsequently announced the need for establishing a method to report both cardinals and bishops implicated in the cover-up of sexual abuse, in addition to a review committee to include “appropriately-credentialed lay leadership.” The letter was signed by Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston; Mitchell Rozanzki, Bishop of Springfield; Robert McManus, Bishop of Worcester; and Edgar da Cunha, Bishop of Fall River. O’Malley also serves as president of the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Children.

Pope Francis concluded the four-day meeting of the minds on February 24 with hyperbole rather than action. Although he declared an “all-out battle” against the abuse of minors, calling it an “abominable crime” he promised to “erase from the face of the earth,” he failed to offer concrete measures for doing so.

For survivors like Dan, the lack of action, and what he believes to be the height of hypocrisy, only add insult to injury. “The Pope is the one person with the authority to enforce zero tolerance into Church law. He had an unbelievable opportunity to do that, but I think he screwed up and he’s hiding behind the bishops,” Dan said. “The Catholic Church is so quick to preach against abortion, but at the same time, many of these church leaders have either been abusing kids themselves, or shuffling predator priests from one parish to another while turning a blind eye as more children are victimized.”

Each day, the headlines continue to validate his point. Just this week, the Pope refused the resignation of French cardinal Phillipe Barbarin of Lyon, who was found guilty on March 7 of failing to report allegations of abuse of boy scouts committed by a priest dating back to the 1970s. Barbarin, who is appealing his six-month suspended sentence, said the pope, invoking the presumption of innocence, instead told him to do whatever he felt necessary for the good of the archdiocese.

Dan believes it’s time for parishioners to take back their church by demanding transparency from their diocese, and he is hopeful Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey will join states across the country currently launching investigations into abuse and cover-ups.

“If you’re concerned, the best thing to do is talk to your parish priest. Ask him what he knows. Tell him you want answers from the Diocese. Demand a complete list of names of accused priests. Not just some of them, all of them,” he said.

Falmouth Style reached out to Monsignor Stephen Avila of St. Anthony’s Church for comment. In a return call, Avila stated in a voicemail that “stringent” safety protocols have been in place since the mid-1990s, and thorough investigations are conducted in response to “credible” accusations of abuse, citing the website of the Diocese of Fall River (which comprises Cape Cod & Islands) for further information. A follow-up call to Msgr. Avila was not returned. Calls to Father Tim McGoldrick at St. Patrick’s Church in Falmouth, and Father Arnold Medeiros of St. Elizabeth Seton Church in North Falmouth and St. Joseph Church in Woods Hole were also not returned.

“To me, that doesn’t show much ‘pastoral care’ from a monsignor in the local parish. That kind of attitude would make survivors, or people who want to report abuse, feel very disenfranchised,” Dan said. “They probably would go elsewhere, or maybe never come forward, allowing the abuse to continue. That response seems pretty out of touch with the issue.” 

For information about the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and to report abuse, visit Bishopaccountability.org.

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