-- Robin Williams
"Reality. What a concept."
-- Robin Williams
Last month a parishioner alleged to be romantically involved with troubled pastor Daniel Barica of Saints Simon and Jude (SSJ) Catholic church in Huntington Beach was identified by name in a comment left on this site. When it was brought to my attention I immediately deleted it along with the person’s name. The stress and anxiety that many SSJ parishioners have endured since this un-Franciscan friar took charge in 2012 is understandable. Watching their beloved parish torn apart by a tyrannical priest has been heartbreaking. But Barica’s removal from office will ultimately be determined by the truth, not rumors. Speaking up in public, documenting incidents, and going on record are still the most effective ways to puncture a bully’s inflated ego.
"If people wanted to hear the truth they wouldn't eat out."
-- The One Minute President
SENATOR CRUZ FINALLY CATCHES FIRE AFTER WEEK OF PRAISING TRUMP
Boston Cardinal O’Malley Mistakes Ghost of Kevin Spacey for Jesus Christ
Yossarian Universal News Service (YU News)
Special Report / A Room With A Pew
Washington, DC (YU) – Ted Cruz, the alien U.S. senator from the planet Volgon in the Chubb Group of Galaxies, was resting comfortably today after being flown by hot air balloon to the Jimmy Swaggart Memorial Hospital in Lubbock, Texas. Cruz required emergency medical treatment after spending several days fasting and praying for guidance in the Chihuahuan Desert on the Mexico border where temperatures reached 130 degrees in the shade.
“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.”
During its annual meeting this past November, the board of directors of Instruments of Peace unanimously adopted a resolution to conclude business and dissolve the nonprofit. It was agreed that its main program, SafeNet, which John McCord and I co-founded in 2003, would revert to an all-volunteer advocacy group and continue its work without financial assistance. “SafeNet” is an acronym for “Survivors Alliance and Franciscan Exchange Network.” With a return to its roots, the “Franciscan” aspect of its name would once again impart a deeper meaning to a ministry of service.
"I could have sworn I saw myself coming through that door not more than two lifetimes ago."
-- Groucho Marx
I KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE, I CAN HEAR YOU MOLESTING ME
One of the healthiest and most powerful ways to address the seemingly endless folly of organized religion is to use the tools of social and political satire to reveal it. When the Catholic church, for example, attempts to make the problem of clergy sexual abuse invisible in its own history, it not only confounds everyone’s ability to see the problem in the present, but it holds itself up to be mocked. For years religious leaders and their attorneys have played hardball with victims in an attempt to spin the truth and rewrite the moral narrative. On this issue alone the sovereign farce that has become church practice and policy toward survivors has trumpeted the arrival of its own court jesters.
"Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness."
On January 12, the 165 friars that make up the Franciscan Province of St. Barbara in California overwhelmingly elected a new provincial, David Gaa. Their choice not only signified the most hopeful sign of change in the province since the clergy abuse crisis of 1993, but it also brought an end to seven years of autocratic rule. Make no mistake: the Franciscans are poised to do a complete 180 in the ways that count most. And while the friars would never admit to it publicly, it’s clear that Gaa’s election is a compassionate but firm repudiation of former provincial John Hardin’s divisive policies. The suffering people of this province, friars and laypersons alike, could not feel more grateful if St. Francis himself had kneeled and washed their feet.
"Curiouser and curiouser!."
-- Alice, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
One of the first promises I made to myself back in January of this year was to re-visit certain books from my youth that instilled in me a lifelong love of literature and reading. I had been experiencing some difficult transitions in my life and I sought comfort and wisdom in the pages of books that had been such good friends to me growing up. Decades had gone by, for example, since I had picked up a copy of Treasure Island and fed my imagination with tales of buccaneers and buried doubloons.
"Irreverence is our only sacred cow."
-- Paul Krassner
Ever since I began to read, study and compose words as a young boy, poetry has spoken to me in a language as clear as anything in my life. It’s been a vital part of my personal healing and a great reconciler during times of distress. My first published writing was a four-line, rhyming poem that appeared in a national scholastic magazine when I was nine years old. Two brothers who lived up the street from me burned their house down after playing with matches in their basement. No one was hurt in the blaze, but I can remember watching the flames as the family huddled under blankets on the sidewalk. For several nights I had terrible dreams about what I had witnessed. Writing a poem about it helped me express my fears.
"But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door."
--Sung by Perry Como, with words by Meredith Willson
In December of 1965, I left Saint Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara on Christmas break and took the long train ride home to San Francisco. Keeping to myself, I spent most of the trip staring out the window and watching the scenery speed past me like a silent movie. The whole time I kept wondering: how could I explain to my parents what had been happening to me at school? For the first three months of my freshman year I had been emotionally and sexually abused by a Franciscan priest who served as the school’s prefect of discipline and used medical treatment as a ruse. I had no name for what I was experiencing. But inside I knew something was wrong. As I lay in bed each night in the dormitory listening to the other boys sleep, I slowly felt myself slipping into despair and depression.
"Every absurdity has a champion to defend it."
An alarming and all-too-familiar issue within the Catholic church has been the question of problem priests: seriously troubled men who are put in charge of parishes where they ride roughshod over the laity. Last month I wrote two separate letters on behalf of parishioners of Saints Simon and Jude church (SSJ), a Franciscan parish in Huntington Beach, California. In both letters, the subject focused on documented grievances of parishioners who spoke of being emotionally abused by their current pastor. My first letter was privately addressed to the Franciscan leadership of the Province of Saint Barbara, a governing body of elected friars, with a copy sent to the Franciscan minister general in Rome. My second letter was a public letter directed at members of the various staff, councils, boards and commissions of SSJ, and copied to the bishops of the Diocese of Orange, California.
"Forgiveness is a word no one can agree on."
--Marina Cantacuzino, The Forgiveness Project
Forgiveness is often a complex and confusing aspect of any healing process, particularly for those molested by the clergy. According to my own traditional Catholic school upbringing, the act was designed to be simple. We were told to forgive and we felt obligated to do so. We merely spoke the right words and our faith transformed us. But any movement in that direction was mostly driven by guilt, fear and control. I wasn’t the only one who was left feeling empty and unfulfilled. Most of us had no understanding of either the act or the method. How could we know otherwise? When forgiveness was preached it was often more about imposing beliefs and values and less about helping others find comfort and stillness.
"It is difficult to imagine that individuals and societies governed by the seeking
of pleasure--as much as or more than by the avoidance of pain--can survive at all.”
--Antonio Damasio, from his book Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain
Back in 2004, the mother of a boy who had been abused while a student at Saint Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara in the eighties, contacted me through SafeNet out of concern for her son’s mental health. His condition worsened after he began menacing a local parish priest (unrelated to his abuse) with veiled threats. Upon meeting with the family at their home in Northern California, immediate care for the son was obtained with the help of county health officials and professional evaluations. At the mother’s insistence, the Franciscans were never formally notified of the abuse. But it was the emotional state of another family member, an older cousin who had also attended Saint Anthony’s at the same time, that helped me realize how deeply the wounds of clergy sexual abuse had affected other former students who were secondary survivors.
“O, talk not to me of a name great in story
The days of our youth are the days of our glory.”
--Lord Byron, from his poem All for Love
In Santa Barbara later this week, a small fraternity of former students of Saint Anthony’s Seminary will gather on the grounds of their alma mater (the current home of The Garden Street Academy) to celebrate their annual reunion. The Saint Anthony’s Seminary Alumni Association (SAS Alumni Association) was founded in 1986 by Franciscan friar Finbar Kenneally who shared his clear vision for the group at its first reunion: “That the ideal of brotherhood, so fundamental in Franciscan life, be fostered among the alumni, and that no former student should ever feel bashful or alienated.” This sentiment echoed Finbar’s belief that every student was welcome no matter if he attended the seminary for one day or four years.
“Your suffering, my suffering.
Whose do you prefer, my friend?”
--Kurt Brown, from his poem Agonistes
On June 28, 2013, I visited the offices of the Archdiocese of Boston for a scheduled meeting with Cardinal Sean O’Malley. With the help of Olan Horne, a board member of Instruments of Peace and one of five clergy abuse survivors who met privately with Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, this meeting was arranged to establish a relationship with the cardinal and introduce him to SafeNet. O’Malley’s recent appointment by Pope Francis to his inner circle of advisors earlier in the year had created a rare opportunity to open a dialogue with the Vatican.
“Whether it was having a good time, or working, or praying, there was something
different about the Franciscan spirit. It joined us together in one big family.”
--It Takes A Man, 1959
When I was a boy attending a Franciscan parochial school in San Francisco for a brief period during the fifties and sixties, a popular vocational film made the rounds each spring and was shown to every boy in the fourth through eighth grades by the pastor of our church in the school auditorium. This short, motivational film, “It Takes A Man,” was produced by the Franciscans with the intent of getting boys to think about the priesthood and what it meant to have a vocation for the Franciscan way of life.
“Those who are put in charge of others should be no prouder of their office
than if they had been appointed to wash the feet of their confreres.”
--St Francis of Assisi
Early last year I received a letter from a classmate of mine from St. Anthony’s Seminary who wrote to tell me he was coming to Santa Barbara in April and hoped to get together with me. His youngest boy, a high school senior, had been accepted to UCSB. Father and son were now making the trip from their home in the southwest to visit the campus. Like me, David (not his real name) had been molested during his freshman year at the seminary. Unlike me, he hadn’t been back to Santa Barbara since he left the school in 1967.
A Room With A Pew is a regular column on clergy sexual abuse and the healing process. Using memoir, essay, short story and poetry, the column aims to reflect the experiences, observations and opinions of writer Paul Fericano, a survivor of clergy abuse who attended St. Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara, California, in the sixties. The author helped co-found SafeNet in 2003 and returned to Santa Barbara that year to assist the community in recovery. As a poet, writer, and activist engaged in the healing process, Fericano often challenges survivors and others to look for humor in the shadows. He is the editor and co-founder of Yossarian Universal News Service (YU News Service), the nation's first parody news syndicate established in 1980.
A Room With A Pew
Memories of Better Days Persist
Many St. Anthony's students have contacted me, and one asked about the barbershop, where he had sought refuge one day after his offender beat him. Read story.
by PAUL FERICANO
TUES., APRIL 1, 2014
No Matter How High the Hedge Grows
The Solidarity Project memorial for clergy abuse survivors at Mission Santa Barbara was vandalized for a second time by a person employed by the Franciscans.
by PAUL FERICANO
WED., MARCH 5, 2014
Mario (Walter) Cimmarrusti, OFM: 1931 - 2013
The Worst of What We Lived
My offender, a notorious Catholic priest and Franciscan friar who abused many boys at St. Anthony's Seminary, died on November 23, 2013.
by PAUL FERICANO
THURS., FEBRUARY 13, 2014
The Roots of Pastoral Response
Pastoral response is the kind of outreach by the church that is absolutely essential to the healing process.
by PAUL FERICANO
WED., FEBRUARY 5, 2014
Looking for Francis in the Franciscans
Among survivors of clergy abuse, what puzzles, angers, and disappoints many is the shortage of moral courage among the friars in general.
by PAUL FERICANO
WED., JANUARY 8, 2014
From Survival to Forgiveness
In 1965 when I was 14 I was sexually abused at St. Anthony’s, a Catholic minor seminary in Santa Barbara operated by the Franciscan religious order.
by PAUL FERICANO
THURS., DECEMBER 5, 2013