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. 

 

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

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.