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Why Victims Need to Tell Their Story
Dave’s Story

April 4, 2007

David Winegar has written a book. It’s title is straightforward: RAPED by a Catholic priest: MY STORY. Dave relates his upbringing, education, seduction and assault by Fr. Joseph Sito of the Detroit Archdiocese. The allegation of the abuse was reported in the Detroit News on May 19, 1993. Sito is one of the 63 priest child abusers Cardinal Adam Maida believes have served in his Archdiocese, although he has not named them all.

I have encouraged Dave to publish his book and this is why.

The sexual abuse crisis in the United States—which records over 5,000 Catholic bishops and priests who have violated minors in 50 years—has given birth to a new genre of literature. Certainly the accounts that are appearing written in the first person by victims are proliferating. The books, for sure, are autobiography in the sense that they recount a personal life story, but they are so much more: part legal brief, part exposť, part treatise on religious hypocrisy, and part case study on sexual perversion and the emotional consequences of sexual attack and violation.

Why is it necessary to develop and foster this new kind of narrative? Because the story of sexual abuse has not yet been told and the problems involved in clergy sexual abuse have not yet been understood. Media coverage has seemed exhaustive, and at times exhausting, but all of it amounts only to a headline of the problem. The sexual corruption of the clerical system is so vast there is no way to grasp its consequences except in personal terms, like a war memorial where all the names need to be etched in stone.

No one yet knows for sure the number of bishops and priests who have violated minors and the vulnerable—boys, girls, men, and women. Certainly the number recorded does not reflect the total number of offenders any more than the number of arrests made for speeding is an accurate account of those who have exceeded the speed limit. Both are only indications of an ongoing and dangerous problem.

Although the statistical (self-reporting) study sponsored by the Catholic Bishops estimated that between 3 and 6 percent is the range of the number of priests violating minors alone that does not include the sexual involvement with, and violations against adult men and women, or the sexual activity between clergy—priests and bishops. The John Jay Report (February 27, 2004) settled on a figure of 4 percent priest and bishop violators from 1950 to 2002. This was a decent study in execution if not in intent, but it is not accurate.

The actual number of abusing clergy always exceeds 6 percent if one takes count of a diocese or a religious order with local help and care. Boston, where the problem festered to an undeniable worldwide stench in 2002, exposed dimensions beyond anyone’s expectations. The number of violators named there is now nearing 10 percent. In 1983, 11.4 percent of all the priests active in the Los Angeles Archdiocese were involved in the abuse of minors. Some dioceses and religious orders have had as much as 24 percent of its membership involved sexually with minors.

No, the story has not yet been told. All the facts are not in.

Bishops claim that around 12,000 victims have reported abuse. One priest admitted he had 300 victims. Thirty came forward to report or complain. Only half of Fr. James Porter’s 200 victims appeared to ask for settlement of abuse. I have interviewed scores of men and women who feel settled in their adult lives and do not desire to distract and disrupt their families, work, and professions by registering a complaint. Many have coped well with the trauma. Others are hurting too much, the damage is so deep, and the church remains such a threat that they still lack the inner reserves to speak up.

It is safe to say that not more than half of the priests who have abused minors have yet been recorded or identified. Their ranks are at least 10,000 in number. The casualties from clergy abuse are at least 120,000. No more than 10 percent have spoken up in public.

These are the stories yet to be told. The real story, like the reports of a war, cannot be fathomed in one news media coverage or in any series of headlines, because the real tragedy—and hope—is in the narratives of lives: the accounts of death, wounds, recovery, and heroism fighting for justice and reconciliation.

We need to hear these narratives in the words of those who have the experience.

Richard Sipe

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