-- 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.
In this regard, it’s been a challenging and rewarding year full of hope, humor, disappointment, sadness and joy. Pretty much how life behaves when we pay close attention to the details. Month by month and through trial and error, I marched and stumbled through the mundane and the extraordinary, the painful and sublime, and generally tried to read the road signs ahead without running myself off the road. It was a year marked by old connections, new discoveries and a series of dead reckonings and miscalculations that contributed to a sum total that was mostly surprising but not unexpected. Like waking and breathing and watching the moon rise night after night, I read and wrote and added up the hours to keep me tethered to all that mattered.
Note: Because of the sensitive nature of the work, and for reasons of privacy and confidentiality, certain details about some cases reported here have been altered or changed to protect identities. The general facts support the stories while respecting the concerns of all parties.
January: Gulliver’s Travels
A new year opens with a loss… Franciscan friar Xavier Harris, the former rector of St. Anthony’s Seminary, passed away at his home in Belmont, California. He was 92. Xavier and I had reentered each other’s lives the year before and had become very close. We spent considerable time reading poetry, talking baseball, telling our stories and healing deep wounds…In the land of the Yahoos…At the request of several parishioners of SS Simon and Jude church in Huntington Beach, California, I continued to send emails, write letters and make phone calls to alert authorities in the Franciscan Province of St. Barbara and the Diocese of Orange, regarding the strange and abusive behavior of their pastor, Franciscan friar Dan Barica. None of my petitions were answered…The passing of another survivor…The brother of a survivor whom I knew and worked closely with in the early days of the clergy abuse scandal wrote to tell me that his brother had been fatally injured in a hit-and-run accident. This was a survivor who had been homeless for many years and struggled with his addictions…On the road again…I traveled and visited survivors and secondary survivors in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Stockton, San Jose, Gilroy and Salinas. About seven of us agreed to meet at an informal gathering in Oakland…Poetry for breakfast…Work on my new manuscript of poems, “The Hollywood Catechism,” was close to completion.
February: The Red Badge of Courage
News from across the border…The concerned sister of a survivor (now living in Mexico) contacted me about her brother who was sexually assaulted in the eighties (as an undocumented worker in his late teens) by my offender, the late Franciscan friar Mario Cimmarrusti. At the time, Mario was pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Delano, California (1985 – 1993). This was the first known account of Mario’s criminal activities in this largely Mexican immigrant farming community. Later in the month, the survivor himself made contact and related his story to me in detail. In addition to his own abuse, he spoke of several other young men who, like himself, had been “mistreated” by Mario. To date, there has never been any pastoral response to victims in Delano by the Franciscans. Like St. Francis Seminary in Troutdale, Oregon, where Mario taught before he was transferred in 1964 to St. Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara, Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Delano remains a neglected and forgotten hole in the history of the clergy abuse scandal…Hot on the poetry trail…My book of poems was accepted for publication by Silver Birch Press of Los Angeles.
March: Oliver Twist
Great expectations…I received an unusually high number of inquiries during the month of March from survivors and secondary survivors living in several different U.S. dioceses, including Sacramento, San Diego, Monterey, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bismarck, North Dakota, Portland, Oregon and Philadelphia. I wasn’t able to account for this sudden surge of requests. But I suspected the new pope’s popularity may have been responsible for some of it…Seek and you shall find...Almost all inquiries came from men and women who found SafeNet online after a Google search. Some were “first discovery” survivors who were angry. Others were anxious or confused. Some were apprehensive about the process for receiving counseling for themselves or family members. All were willing to tell their stories to another survivor. One survivor whom SafeNet assisted years ago had reconnected to share her concerns. She was sexually abused while a student at a Catholic high school in the early seventies and was now considering attending her first reunion in forty years…The common frustration expressed by most was the irony of asking the church for help and feeling re-traumatized by the experience. “Bouncing ball,” “yo-yo,” “dishrag” and “leper” were a few of the expressions used to describe feelings and treatment. “I’m like a character in a Kafka novel,” explained one. Two asked if I would advocate for them by contacting the appropriate victim assistance coordinator (VAC) in their respective diocese. I agreed I would. Others wanted nothing more to do with the church….The right stuff, progressively speaking…Bishop Robert McElroy, a friend and collaborator, and one of the church's more enlightened bishops, was appointed the sixth bishop of San Diego by Pope Francis. In 2012, McElroy had served on an unprecedented joint committee of survivors and bishops for the Archdiocese of San Francisco and was instrumental in creating a comprehensive wellness program for all clergy abuse survivors living in the diocese’s three counties, regardless of where their abuse first occurred…A coming-out party…”The Hollywood Catechism” was published and released later in the month. .
April: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Playing on God’s team…In April I traveled to California’s central coast to promote “The Hollywood Catechism” in a series of readings and bookstore appearances. I was invited to return to my old stomping grounds in Santa Barbara where I read for the Mission Poetry Series at Antioch University, along with celebrated poet and fellow satirist Denise Duhamel. I also shared the stage in San Luis Obispo with Cal Poly poet and educator Kevin Clark for the Corners of the Mouth series at Linnaea’s Café. At towns all along highway 101 I stopped and visited various bookstores to distribute copies of my books and promotional fliers…The game is all about possession…To my amazement, three men who had attended my reading in Santa Barbara, and who introduced themselves to me afterwards, were clergy abuse survivors. All were unknown to me at the time and unfamiliar with each other. They had all heard of my association with SafeNet, but had no idea I also wore the hat of poet until days before my reading. All were residents of Santa Barbara county. Two had attended St. Anthony’s Seminary during the late fifties/early sixties. The other had been a member of the Santa Barbara Boys Choir in the early eighties…Why it should matter…After the reading, I accompanied the two former seminarians to the Solidarity Memorial on the grounds of Old Mission Santa Barbara, where we sat, talked and laughed on the same bench that once stood on the seminary athletic field next door …The following day, before heading north, I arranged to meet the third survivor at the Solidarity Memorial. This time I sat quietly and listened to a man who, until that day, hadn’t stepped foot on church property since 1987...As with every abuse case involving the Franciscans, I urged all three survivors to contact Angelica Jochim, MFT, the independent coordinator for the Franciscans' Office of Pastoral Outreach. In spite of the cutbacks, and the fact that her office is a one-woman operation, she continues to be the true face of compassion.
May: The Hobbit
If it’s worth dying for it’s worth living for…Most of the month of May was spent working with certain “unofficial” church officials in an unnamed Midwest diocese to find ways to help an emotionally troubled survivor 1) secure temporary emergency relief; 2) establish permanent assistance with county and state agencies; and 3) prevent the survivor from becoming homeless. In one of the most agonizing cases I’ve been associated with, anonymous principals within the diocese showed courage and compassion in working outside the box and under the radar to successfully resolve a difficult issue. In the end, the survivor in question received the help he required, including his desire and need to stay in his small, basement apartment where he’s lived for more than twelve years. This case was a reminder of what pastoral outreach stood for when the church actually lived the gospel…The return of the Wolfman…Earlier in the month I learned that “Howl of Lon Chaney, Jr.,“ the long bridge-poem from my book, had been honored with a Mark Fischer Poetry Prize by the Telluride Literary Arts Festival in Colorado.
June: Pride and Prejudice
What to do when you can't give up…In June, a survivor I had met in the early nineties at a St. Anthony’s Seminary alumni reunion passed away after a long, hard battle with alcohol and drugs. He was 69. John (not his real name) had struggled for years with mental health issues and had lost or alienated most of his family and friends. I don’t know why, but it seemed I was one of the few people in his life that he could tolerate (barely). Never an easy man to talk to or be with, John stubbornly refused to go along with any program that benefited his situation. His story was particularly heartbreaking. His stay at the seminary in the early sixties was very brief, during which time he was molested repeatedly by Franciscan friar Martin McKeon….Pomp and circumstance…Two survivors who began their journey with me back in 1993, participated in commencement exercises at their respective colleges this past June. One received his Bachelor’s degree in liberal studies (after twelve years of relentless pursuit); the other completed his Master’s in education. Both men were among the oldest graduates in their class.
July: A Separate Peace
The art of respecting boundaries…An adult survivor whom I assisted in 2014, had requested my help again, this time in obtaining a report commissioned by a large metropolitan diocese investigating the survivor’s allegations of emotional and psychological abuse by a priest in the Carmelite religious order. The priest in question had acted as the survivor’s spiritual advisor. Both the diocese and the Carmelites had acknowledged that the priest had crossed the line and acted and behaved improperly. The survivor eventually received an apology and offers of therapy, and was now asking to review a copy of the investigative report as part of the healing and recovery process. Upon receiving release forms that enabled all parties to discuss the case with me, I began the long process of communicating with the church…Pick two…Word came down that Robert Koehler, the Mission employee and maintenance supervisor, was finally booted out. The reason? Taking a vacation that hadn’t been approved. Koehler, who twice in two years desecrated the Solidarity Memorial on the Mission grounds and was later promoted by the Franciscans, apparently needed some time off. When friar Brian Trawick, the Mission administrator and younger brother of Curly Howard, was asked why the friars hadn’t terminated Koehler in 2012 after his first violation of the Solidarity Memorial, Trawick scratched himself and replied: “What memorial?”... All that jazz…In mid-July, I was invited to read from my new collection at Bird and Beckett Books in San Francisco with poet and lyricist klipschutz (Kurt Lipschutz) and novelist R.H. Slansky.
August: To Kill A Mockingbird
Cultivating a relationship…Two separate but related encounters this month exemplified the highs and lows of working with the clergy on crucial abuse issues. On the one end, my initial contact with Stephen Watson, OCD, the provincial of a small religious order of Carmelites, was one of the most honest and transparent conversations I’ve had with a leader in the Catholic church in some time. As higher-ups go, Watson, a rare person in charge, had wanted to listen, learn, understand and, above all, help…The scratch-your-head department…On the opposite end, my first attempts to make contact with vicar moderator Steven Sallot and vicar for clergy Daniel Reader, two priests in the wealthy and conservative Diocese of Orange, had been wearisome and frustrating. Their unwillingness to even comprehend the serious nature of the situation astounded me…Why having a stroke is not an option…In both of these cases, my requests focused on obtaining copies (for others) of two fact-finding reports: one concerned a survivor’s investigative file (which I mentioned previously); the other involved parishioners who had repeatedly asked the diocese to provide them with a copy of the findings that church-hired facilitator Kathleen Schinhofen had conducted at the parish in January regarding their pastor’s abusive behavior. The pastor in question was, of course, Franciscan friar Dan Barica of SS Simon and Jude, in Huntington Beach, the troubled priest who has added new meaning to the term “bully pulpit”…On the poetry front… I had the pleasure of reading at Diesal Bookstore in Oakland. The occasion was the publication of the anthology, Corners of the Mouth: A Celebration of Thirty Years at the Annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival. Other readers included poets Rich Yurman, Kevin Patrick Sullivan, Valentina Gnup, Lee Rossi, Viola Weinberg, Patti Sullivan and Nellie Wong.
The kindness of strangers…I accepted an invitation from a survivor living in Sonoma County (CA) to meet and “celebrate” his recent entry into the world of psychotherapy. Many years before, I tried, unsuccessfully, to help him consider therapy. During that time he was unemployed and living with his parents. He and I had both been students at St. Anthony’s Seminary (not at the same time), and he refused to ask for help from the Franciscans for reasons that were not uncommon among those who’d been re-traumatized by the church. It was his partner who finally convinced him to take advantage of the therapy sessions being offered through their employer’s health plan. What a difference a decade makes...The two of us met for lunch and it was gratifying to see how well he was doing. He had been fully employed in the same job for ten years, was in a committed relationship for almost as many, and had recently enrolled at a junior college to earn an AA degree. His anger and bitterness with the Franciscans had dissipated, although he had little to say that was flattering. Except for one story which he shared with me: In the nineties, he had been homeless for a brief time and was sleeping on the streets in the vicinity of St. Francis Catholic Church in Sacramento. One day and at his lowest point, an older man in street clothes who said he was a priest, invited him into the rectory and gave him food, shelter and clean clothes, no questions asked. It was years later that he learned the church was run by the Franciscans….Up from the muck and mire…SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) threw its hat into the ring at SS Simon and Jude parish when it reported, in a September blog post by survivor and regional SNAP director, Joelle Casteix, that troubled pastor Dan Barica had delivered a Sunday sermon in June in which he talked about his sexual energy and chastity. In remarks that were also published in the parish bulletin, Barica related how, as part of his morning ritual after his shower, he anointed parts of his body with blessed oils. Casteix called Barica “kooky” and accused him of crossing the line, raising serious concerns about a priest who spoke of his sexual energy in front of children and young people…Poetry flash…”The Hollywood Catechism” was nominated for a National Book Award.
October: The Call of the Wild
And the winner is…The annual “Clergy Abuse Survivor Award,” a private, irreverent spoof aimed at reclaiming the high ground and initiated in 1995 by a close-knit group of rascals (including yours truly), announced (via select post) that Bishop Robert Finn, the former patriarch of the Kansas City – Saint Joseph diocese, was honored with this year’s 20th anniversary award. The prize included a 1959 Topps (common) baseball card and a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Bishop Finn, who resigned earlier this year after becoming the first U.S. bishop to be convicted for failing to report a priest suspected of child sexual abuse, did not win the award because of his crime. He was given the honor for allowing himself to be photographed wearing a very cool cowboy hat while drinking and gambling with a five-year old boy. ..Let’s all go to the lobby…Among suffering parishioners of SS Simon and Jude church, questions regarding the odd behavior of their pastor, friar Dan Barica, continued to go unanswered. Numerous letters, phone calls and appeals to Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange and to Franciscan provincial John Hardin have been summarily ignored. Hardin’s particular record of non-responsiveness can be traced back to 2011 when he expelled SafeNet from Mission Santa Barbara at the urging of its guardian, friar Richard McManus, who believed the clergy abuse scandal had actually ended in 1952. At the same time, Barica had been serving as the Mission’s pastor and doing a credible job alienating his parishioners there, as well…What about me?...McManus was also instrumental in shutting down the popular Mission Renewal Center, a financially sound and spiritually enriching refuge that had brought in so much money over the years that certain friars were able to install heated floor tiles in their bathrooms and purchase plush, life-sized Teddy bears for their personal amusement. (The Renewal Center’s guest rooms, meeting lounges, dining rooms, chapel and other buildings are now mostly dark and deserted, an apt monument to McManus’ narcissism and incompetence)…You deserve a break today…For many, the Old Mission itself is now a sad and cynical symbol of a modern fast-food cash register. If there is a bright spot, it’s been the active ministry of the current pastor and assistant pastor, friars Charles Talley and Larry Gosselin, who continue to care for the needs of all their parishioners…Holy, Holy, Holy…As part of the “Three On A Match” poetry series, I was invited to be one of three featured poets to read at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship church in Redwood City, CA, alongside poets Lee Rossi and Sherman Pearl.
November: Mr. Blue
If that’s for me don’t answer it…My efforts to obtain a copy of the church facilitator’s report for the parishioners of SS Simon and Jude church continued without success. I left no fewer than seven voice messages that month for both Steven Sallot and Daniel Reader, the two priests who headed up different offices for the Diocese of Orange. Neither one returned my calls or replied to my emails…As for Kathleen Schinhofen, the church facilitator, my own investigation discovered that she had recently been added to the faculty at the Franciscans’ school of theology near San Diego. The curious thing about her appointment was that, according to parishioners present at the January facilitation, Ms. Schinhofen, who was hired by the Franciscans, had apparently told those in attendance not to speak with me (SafeNet). This raised more than a few eyebrows, since it was the parishioners themselves who first approached SafeNet and asked me to request an independent parish facilitation from church authorities (which I did in a letter of October, 2014, and which had also been dutifully ignored)….Ironically, Ms. Schinhofen was described by the Franciscans as being a “specialist in pastoral ministry.”…Look for the sliver lining…After weeks of conversations and negotiations with Stephen Watson, the Carmelite provincial, as well as the victim assistance coordinator for the unnamed diocese involved in the case, an agreement was reached to release the previously mentioned adult survivor’s investigative report for review. Final preparations were undertaken to confirm the details…The pen is mightier than the cord…My final public reading for the year was held at Alley Cat Books in San Francisco. Sponsored by poet Monique Lewis’ “At the Inkwell” reading series (New York) and hosted by poet and writer Alexandra Kostoulas, I was happy to join six other poets in passing the mic around, which included: Paula C. Lowe, Lucille Lang Day, MK Chavez, Caroline Goodwin, Philip Brady and Melissa Eleftherion.
December: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Christmas comes but once a year…A flurry of activity to tie up loose ends before the new year began resulted in a face-to-face meeting with Carmelite provincial Stephen Watson (at his request) at a Starbucks in a small town on the San Francisco peninsula. Personal encounters between church officials and clergy abuse survivors have gradually formed the basis for building trust, good will and meaningful pastoral care. With the help of another victim assistance coordinator in a different diocese and closer to the adult survivor’s home, the details of the agreement to review the investigative report were finalized to the satisfaction of all parties…A glutton for punishment…More messages were left for the two phantom priests of the Diocese of Orange--with more of the same results…And lo, an angel appeared…A generous donation to SafeNet by a longtime supporter enabled us to use most of it to assist a survivor on the east coast who was in danger of losing his apartment…See the USA in your Chevrolet…I made a quick trip to Santa Barbara in a rented car to meet with our board (Instruments of Peace) and conduct our annual meeting. A tremendous debt of gratitude is paid to our directors, Susan Blomstad, OSF, Olan Horne and Alice MacDonald. Their friendship and commitment has continued to demonstrate why this work is so important…While I was in town I contacted two survivors, paid a visit to the Solidarity Memorial and gave the bench a fresh coat of paint (“Santa Barbara blue”)…Put another nickel in…Bishop McElroy and I engaged in a long phone conversation, sharing opinions, discussing current events and counseling each other on the best ways to maintain a sense of humor…To err is human…After a long search, I was able to locate and reconnect with an old friend I had lost touch with, famed landscape architect Katie O’Reilly Rogers. At the young age of 60, Katie had been struck down with brain cancer and was now living in a skilled nursing facility in a city in southern California. I spoke by phone with her mother, Joan O’Reilly, who visits her daughter every day and who was happy to learn she was being remembered with love and affection…To forgive is divine...In 2009, Katie O’Reilly Rogers was the Santa Barbara architect who designed the beautiful “Garden of Forgiveness” that SafeNet had proposed for Mission Santa Barbara. Using just over an acre of land, the garden hoped to utilize a private setting to incorporate a series of connected fountains, winding pathways, quiet, meditative areas, fruit and flowering trees, and a large stone labyrinth. The garden was to have been a showcase for the Mission Renewal Center's retreats and been financed, supported and maintained by the Institute for the Study and Practice of Forgiveness, a nonprofit that was to have been formed under the umbrella of Instruments of Peace...No good deed goes unpunished...A dear friend of former Mission guardian and pastor, friar Virgil Cordano who was a staunch supporter of SafeNet, Katie was a passionate believer in the project, donating her time and services. It was she who made the case for the garden and presented it for approval to Mission guardian Richard McManus and his advisory board (who promptly rejected it). And it was Katie who made the presentation again (on appeal) to provincial John Hardin and his leadership committee (who also rejected it). in truth, “The Garden of Forgiveness” was never taken seriously by the Franciscans at any time. The entire concept repulsed them from the very beginning and left the rest us shaking our heads in disbelief. In the end, the friars who could have made an important contribution to the healing process rejected the garden based on their own selfish and personal biases…The gift that keeps on forgiving...A beautiful conceptual drawing of the garden that Katie created had been on display in SafeNet’s office in Santa Barbara until the Franciscans gave us notice to vacate the premises. It now hangs on a wall in my home…The times they are a-changin’…As the year comes to a close, the Franciscans have begun preparations for their “Provincial Chapter” in mid-January. This is the crucial gathering that will elect its leaders and determine the fate and future of the province. Technically, John Hardin can serve an additional three years. The question is: Will he be re-elected or rejected? The word in the pew is that the answer is blowing in the wind.
Of Special Note
Although it's not for lack of trying, SafeNet / Instruments of Peace no longer receives any financial assistance from the Franciscans or the Catholic Church. Nor does it receive funding from other outside agencies. SafeNet is made possible through the generous contributions of individuals like yourself. If you believe in the valuable work we do, please consider supporting us with a tax-deductible donation. Any amount is appreciated. Thank you.
Looking for a special gift to help ring in the new year? Consider purchasing a copy of The Hollywood Catechism. Though almost as intoxicating as champagne, it's a lot more fun than a party hat. Discover for yourself why The Huffington Post has called The Hollywood Catechism a book "that both hurts and makes us laugh."
Katie O'Reilly Rogers would love to hear from people. It doesn't matter if you don't know Katie or if you've never met her. Like all of us, she craves human interaction and would appreciate any gesture of friendship. Please send cards and letters, addressed to: Katie O'Reilly Rogers, Mary Health of the Sick, 2929 Theresa Drive, Newbury Park, CA 91320.