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.
A Disturbing Disconnect
Earlier this year, on a rare rainy day in the heart of the central coast, I had the privilege of meeting with a former student and fellow brother of Saint Anthony’s Seminary who attended the school in the eighties. During his short stay at Saint Anthony’s, Victor (not his real name) had been sexually assaulted by two different friars. His abuse first occurred under the cover of “spiritual guidance” and he soon found himself being passed around or, in his own words, “shared.”
Unlike some survivors I've known who were penniless, homeless or wards of the county, Victor was doing relatively well and employed in the medical field. In 2010, he experienced a serious physical disability that required hospitalization for several weeks. During his recovery and rehabilitation, and as part of his treatment, he began psychotherapy for the first time in his life. He had never spoken with anyone about his abuse, including his partner or his immediate family. It was only during one of his therapy sessions that he revealed his molestation for the first time.
As with many who experienced severe trauma, Victor had been reluctant to come forward and talk about what happened to him. The anger, shame and guilt he lived through at various times in his life were certainly part of his suffering. But it was a disturbing disconnect he felt with former schoolmates that hurt him in ways he never dreamed possible. “When we were students at Saint Anthony’s it was impressed upon us that we were all brothers,” he explained to me that first day we met. “But all that changed once the abuse scandal erupted in 1992.”
While he continued to keep his abuse a secret from all but his closest family members, his pain intensified when he started reaching out to other former students in 2013. He had no idea there was an extended network of former seminarians out there. And he soon discovered that among the alumni as a group there was little or nothing for survivors in the way of consistent and compassionate support. There was an SAS Alumni Association website, a Facebook page, an online seminary archive, and the annual reunions. But none of these offered any guideposts or mentioned any resources for those who had been harmed.
Many former seminarians held definite opinions about the abuse, either by pointing fingers or expressing sympathy. But Victor couldn't find any official alumni acknowledgement of what had happened at Saint Anthony’s Seminary. Because of the group’s clear lack of interest in this issue, he was more hesitant than ever to admit to any former schoolmate that he was a clergy abuse survivor. He eventually contacted me, purely by chance, after discovering a link to SafeNet on the website of the Franciscan Office of Pastoral Outreach.
Our Obligation to One Another
It wasn't easy for Victor to step from the shadows into a world where many former students of St. Anthony’s had never been sexually assaulted by their teachers. But it hasn't been easy for those who were not molested, either. In a way, everyone who attended Saint Anthony’s Seminary was a survivor. In the early years of the crisis when the truth was cloaked in secrecy and suspicion, those who hadn't been abused often struggled to understand and, in some cases, even accept what others had endured. They, too, had been harmed by the crisis. They had become secondary victims of these crimes and found themselves in need of expressing their own feelings and concerns.
Almost from the very beginning, the SAS Alumni Association recognized this dilemma and attempted to deal with it in an honest and compassionate way. At its annual reunions, former students were encouraged to share their good memories of the school, and many did. But because of the group’s own principles of inclusion, these annual gatherings eventually became safe containers where bad memories of the school could also be expressed without judgment.
As Finbar once wrote: “If we fail one brother we fail all.”
In the summer of 1994, one year after the seminary scandal made headline news around the world, I was invited to speak about the crisis from a survivor’s perspective at the annual alumni reunion organized by its director, Franciscan friar Alberic Smith, who took over after Finbar’s death in 1992. More than any other friar in the province, Alberic was intimately aware of the terrible impact the abuse had on the lives of so many in the alumni community. Not only had he been a teacher at the seminary during its final, troubled years, but two of his young relations had also been victimized by his friend and fellow friar, Robert Van Handel, who would eventually serve time in prison.
Alberic also suffered under the weight of angry accusations that charged every friar who taught at the seminary with complicity in the crimes committed there.
The abuse crisis inflicted a deep wound onto the community and harbored a sense of betrayal that still exists today. In those early years, fear and anger were ignited by a lack of disclosure and transparency on the part of the Franciscan authorities. It was because of Alberic’s acceptance and leadership that the SAS Alumni Association came forward to help guide former students through a mine field of pain and confusion. Year after year, Alberic would invite me to speak at the annual reunions, usually in small, private groups. And I accepted many of these invitations, knowing that each year brought greater understanding of this problem among fellow alumni who were looking for answers or seeking support.
My participation greatly increased after SafeNet was formed in 2003. That was the year that Alberic made certain that discussions and breakaway forums, facilitated by survivor advocate and therapist, Angelica Jochim (who would later coordinate the Franciscans’ Office of Pastoral Outreach), were placed on the schedule at the annual alumni reunions.
In 2004, SafeNet created the SAS Archive as a path to healing and reconciliation.
It also launched its own website that year, with the help of Richard Dangaran (class of 1964), which included the first online seminary archive showcasing rare photos of the original buildings.
Alberic immediately recognized the importance of this reclamation project and embraced the venture. He offered his support as guardian of Mission Santa Barbara and gave SafeNet complete access to the seminary in an effort to save as much of its history before the sale of the property in 2005. In his role as director of the alumni association, Alberic would also join with SafeNet to sponsor the SAS Archive and provide temporary storage space for the physical artifacts in the Mission tailor shop.
In keeping with Finbar’s original vision, Alberic never hesitated to remind former students of their obligation to one another. His steady guidance of the alumni association was an enlightened stewardship. And he would continue to serve as the spiritual heart of the fraternity until his reassignment to Spokane in 2006.
By Design, Not By Accident
At this point, and like Finbar before him, Alberic had been responsible for every aspect of alumni operations: raising funds, organizing the reunions, and editing and mailing out the newsletters. Upon his departure, he asked Rick Lang (class of 1980) and I to assume responsibility for keeping the group on track. Lang was appointed the new alumni director (the group's first secular head) and I undertook the duties of organizing the annual reunions. To continue the tradition of publishing a regular alumni newsletter, Steve Raths (class of 1967) was asked to be the new editor.
I admitted to having some reservations about the changes. A principle concern was the future of the alumni’s relationship with the Franciscans. It would be the first time in the group's twenty-year history that a Franciscan friar would not be at the helm of the organization. With the absence of Alberic, the alumni's link to the friars was in danger of being broken. It was obvious the alumni needed the Franciscans. But it was unclear if the Franciscans needed the alumni.
Alberic was encouraging. He pointed out that the new Mission guardian, friar Richard McManus, had a strong connection to the seminary. Like Alberic and Finbar, he had taught at Saint Anthony’s and was the only friar who had been ordained in the school’s chapel. Alberic also reminded us that creating the SAS Alumni Association was a conscious effort on Finbar’s part to keep the Franciscans and former seminarians close to one another and aware of each other’s needs. Alberic saw no reason why any of this would change.
For awhile, and after Alberic’s departure, the organization did its best not to hide from the sexual abuse crisis and to reassure everyone that no former student would be neglected. There was even a brief time when the group seemed to recognize its responsibility as a healing agent in one of the most notorious clergy abuse scandals in the history of the Catholic Church. Many of the organizational problems at that time reflected the usual differences of opinion and personality conflicts. But the most serious rifts were over the fundamental role of the alumni association, its goals for the future, and its faithfulness to its own history and traditions.
Shamefully, a crucial element of that history has now been discarded.
Key aspects of the seminary’s history have been compromised and are no longer recognized by those who presently run the group. All mention of the clergy abuse scandal has been completely expunged from the alumni’s version of its past. Incredible as it may seem, this critical period in the history of Saint Anthony’s Seminary has been erased entirely from the SAS Alumni Association’s records. This was done by design, not by accident. In an attempt to deny its past and curry favor with both the Franciscan leadership and the new owners of the seminary, this once service-oriented group has doomed itself to ignominy. As a result, the SAS Alumni Association has rendered itself irrelevant.
To find evidence of this one needs only to pay a visit to the SAS Alumni and SAS Archive websites, as well as the alumni Facebook page. Nowhere on these three sites is there any trace of information, discussion, mention or commentary that refers to, or even hints at, the single most important issue in the entire 91 year history of Saint Anthony's Seminary.
What's more, important links to helpful resources have also been omitted or removed.
For two years, from 2008 – 2010, I assisted in the building and maintenance of new content for both the alumni and archive websites. I was responsible for creating the “Alumi Links” page on the alumni site and made certain to include links to SafeNet and the Franciscan Office of Pastoral Outreach (OPO) so that help would be available for those who needed it. Today, while many of those original links on the alumni website are still there, the ones for SafeNet and the OPO are not. In addition, all resource links on the original seminary archive site, including a personal acknowledgement page, have all but disappeared.
But perhaps the most shameful attempt to whitewash the history of the seminary is embedded in the so-called “timeline” that appears on the alumni website. It claims to be an "historical and pictorial timeline of our ever-changing alma mater." And while it does, indeed, show great promise of being just that, the words “ever changing” apparently refer to the practice of omitting any and all references to the clergy abuse scandal which has been a painful part of seminary history for decades. [The earliest allegation dates back to 1924.]
Visit the alumni timeline and read for yourself. Not only are there significant lapses in key areas all along the timeline, but there are gaping holes in the most obvious years, starting in 1992 (when the abuse was first reported) right up to the present day (when the settlement files were released). As Victor aptly pointed out to me in a recent email: “It’s as though my abuse never took place at all.”
No Longer A Safe Environment
As this unspoken hostility toward the truth (and survivors) grew within the alumni leadership, it began to mirror (not coincidentally) what the Franciscan leadership at Mission Santa Barbara was promoting, particularly the views and attitudes of friar Richard McManus.
McManus’ tenure as guardian of Mission Santa Barbara was an exercise in divisiveness. Almost from the beginning, and up until his removal in June of this year, he did everything in his power to separate the Franciscans from the abuse. He alienated those connected to it in any way and dismissed others who attempted to talk about it. It was McManus who engineered the split between the Franciscans and the alumni association. His directive in 2006 effectively ousted the group from its secure base at the Mission and ultimately led to its estrangement from the Franciscan community. At one point, McManus even attempted to divide alumni by falsely claiming that SafeNet’s office on Mission property was the office of the SAS Alumni Association.
In 2010, personal differences between myself and the leadership of both the alumni association and the Mission came to a head. That same year I chose to withdraw my support for, and participation in, all future alumni affairs. In doing so, I could no longer recommend the organization as a safe environment for clergy abuse survivors.
The following year, IOP/SafeNet divested itself of the SAS Archive that it had helped create seven years before. In good faith, it proceeded to donate hundreds of boxes of written materials, historical documents, physical artifacts and digital media (including the original archive website) to the SAS Alumni Association. The centerpiece of this bequest was the large, multi-colored and cut-glass mosaic of Saint Francis of Assisi created in 1965, by Franciscan friar and seminary art teacher, Nevin Ford. SafeNet had been responsible for rescuing this cherished artwork from a private buyer in 2005. With the mosaic laid out on one of the old seminary refectory tables in SafeNet’s office, Nevin spent two years meticulously restoring it to its original condition.
To date, none of these donations have been acknowledged by the SAS Alumni Association.
This past April the alumni leadership showed its hand. Acting in his official capacity now as director of the SAS Alumni Association, Steve Raths wrote a letter to the editor of The Santa Barbara Independent in response to my series of columns which the newspaper was running at that time. In his letter, Raths defended the position that there were “three sides to every coin,” and referred to sexual abuse as “unfortunate circumstances.” He then went on to explain:
“Our schools today have a great variety of problems that plague them, from teachers having sex with their students, to the horrible school shootings with which we have all become way too familiar!” (exclamation point his)
Raths’ regrettable remarks prompted more than a few survivors to contact me.
One summed it up best when he wrote: “So that’s what happened to us.”
Making Clear Distinctions
It seems the worm has now turned on itself and the SAS Alumni Association has entered into a comic Faustian pact. On the one hand, it desperately tries to appease and appeal to a Franciscan leadership that has no interest in connecting with former students. On the other hand, and in order to gain access every year to the seminary grounds, it chooses to pander to the small-minded dictates of those who run the Garden Street Academy.
It’s not difficult to understand why this alliance is being forged. The leadership of all three groups share the same belief: that the less said about what happened at Saint Anthony’s Seminary, the better.
Only a small handful of men occupy the empty clubhouse that is now the SAS Alumni Association. They do their best to pretend to prepare the day’s activities as they sit behind wooden crates banging toy gavels and wearing over-sized hats on their heads. But if we are troubled by what is being said and done (and not being said and done) in our name, then as former SAS students we are all faced with a moment of decision.
Many alumni still care deeply about their fellow brothers who were hurt. And it’s not just words. Over the years I've been witness to countless acts of compassion and understanding by dozens of my schoolmates. Survivors who were able to reach out and trust their brothers have maintained friendships with a great many alumni from a number of graduating classes.
But just as it’s important to right a wrong whenever possible, it’s equally vital to make clear distinctions. For me, I choose not to be associated with an organization that betrays its past and excludes me or anyone else from its ranks. I prefer instead to be an alumnus of a school that is true to Finbar’s vision of including everyone in its embrace.
The SAS Alumni Association has a shelf-life and the clock is ticking. When the last students disappear from the rolls, so will the organization that claimed to represent them. Nostalgia has its place. There’s nothing wrong with an organization that wants to come together every year and get all warm and fuzzy about the good times. That’s not the issue. Honesty is.
Unless members care enough to wrestle control of their organization from the misguided few who are “doing all the work,” fellow SAS brothers will continue to be thrown under the bus to promote a false agenda. Weaker voices will continue to be ignored or silenced. Information necessary for the healing of all former students will continue to be suppressed. And the leaders of a fraternity that once welcomed everyone will continue to behave like “little rascals” who hang a crooked sign on their clubhouse door that reads, “No bad memories allowed.”
* * *
Because of the incomplete and inaccurate history represented by the alumni seminary timeline, Instruments of Peace (IOP) has been compelled to create The Saint Anthony's Seminary Timeline (The SAS Timeline), an ongoing web-based project and IOP reconciliation program.
The SAS Timeline will serve as a reference and education resource to record and present a complete and unabridged history of Saint Anthony's Seminary. The alumni seminary timeline,
as acknowledged and verified, will be used as both a model and a direct source of information.
The SAS Timeline does not purport to replace or refute other histories, stories or accounts of Saint Anthony's Seminary. Rather, it intends to reconcile errors and omissions, unintentional or otherwise, particularly as they pertain to the clergy sexual abuse scandal that first rocked the seminary in 1992. The SAS Timeline is an effort to establish a more accurate and fair account of events and circumstances that comprise a deep and rich history shared by hundreds of former students, faculty, families and members of the community.
The SAS Timeline is a work-in-progress. It currently covers the years 1888 through 1930. Future dates, names, references and documents will be added periodically.
To learn more visit: www.sastimeline.org