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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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’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.
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.
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…
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.
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.”
Dan Sherwood proudly became an altar boy at St. Anthony’s Parish shortly after moving to Falmouth in 1977 when he was nine. For the next decade, he was sexually and emotionally abused by Monsignor Maurice Souza. When Dan decided it was finally time to share his experience, he asked Sarah to tell his story. Read all about it here…
Clergy sex abuse survivor Dan Sherwood recently shared his story with his hometown of Falmouth. Now he has shared it with the world. He and Sarah brought his message to the papal summit in Vatican City in February, where they met clergy sex abuse survivors and supporters from all over the globe. Read all about it here…