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
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.