Excerpt: The Unbreakable Child
Chapter Three: Communion
I sat in silence as my husband, Joe, drove me home from the attorney’s meeting.
"Well? What was he like?"
"Polite, charming..." I smiled at my rugged, handsome cowboy husband, then closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the seat."
"You okay?" Joe’s fingers wrapped around mine like a shield against heartache’s thump, and for a brief moment I felt my heart crease, loved, protected; no longer an orphan.
I opened my eyes, met his, and thought, he still doesn’t know.
Oh, he knew I’d be joining the lawsuit to support my sisters and that I was raised in an orphanage. He knew only that. I’m sure he had suspicions. Still, I had never shared the details of any of the abuses I’d suffered. And, ever gracious, he’d respected my privacy for over seventeen years.
I suddenly felt guilty that I had so easily offered to a stranger what I guarded so closely from my own. I looked down at Joe’s hand and I knew I had to talk to him soon. He deserved that.
"It was difficult..."
Joe kissed me and I could tell the kiss was balm for past pains I’d suffered and for those I’d yet to receive.
I lapsed into silence.
Silence. The dozens of nuns, orphans, and the few relatives in the chapel made barely a rustle. I ran my hands over the satin fabric of my Communion dress and waited for Father Lammers to give the signal to approach the altar. I remembered Sister Charlie’s earlier warning about keeping the borrowed dress perfect, and I sat on my hands to still them and quiet my mind. I was slowly learning the rules of survival at Saint Thomas.
I was becoming a big girl. How old was I now? Six? Birthdays were not celebrated. And although time was not marked in measures of birthday or celebrations at the orphanage, I’d always felt I possessed a strongly adult sense of time, the way it flew and what all of it meant to hold for me. Still, I needed to remember to ask my sisters the next time Mass ran over. Maybe while passing in the halls, or even better, at breakfast. They always knew.
With age came the promise of survival and strength. Wild Injun, they called me. I took no offense, if the nuns thought me one, I’d act as one. Sometimes I would defy them and refuse to bend when beaten. One of the latest thrashings had taken place on the playground when the nun thought I’d bumped line in the hopscotch line. I did not. I’d been the one bumped. The nun towered over me, hand drawn back, and I found myself once again trying to defend myself with useless, whispering pleas and continued to do so even after two slaps to the face. In the midst of the assault, I remember turning my head, cradling my face to shield the blows.
I caught a glimpse of the road leading out of the orphanage and I snuck a peek upward. The sky was swollen and gray from a quick and sudden spring shower. At the end of the road there was a vibrant rainbow’s arch which seemed to pulse like time ticking, then stretch - stretch across and disappear at the entry. Then the sun’s rays peeked out showing changes to come. At that moment a strange calm and a sense of control enveloped me. A moment I grabbed and bottled, and one that I found I would reach for again and again during my youth to draw strength from: One day I’m going to be the rainbow at the end of that road and I will stretch across, disappear, and I will be in charge of my changes.
I’d turned back to my abuser, raised my chin and gave an ice-cold glare, and it became clear to me that I was nurturing the strength of my spirit with small rebellions. I could outlast them because time was on my side. They knew it and I knew it. And I knew that I’d never be completely broken.
Pulling up my sleeve, I hooked it over my shoulder while walking slowly into the building and into Sister Charlie’s dorm.
She was waiting for me. I looked into the nun’s angry eyes. "You’re late. You’re dirty," she boomed. She took the hem of my dress, pulled it up and rubbed it hard across my face.
"Dirty Injun!" She gripped my arms and shook me. My teeth chattered. Then she jerked me up by my arm, lifting me easily onto a chair. I heard a snapping sound from my arm and yelped. I blinked back tears and reached to rub the pain only to have her smack my hand.
I made a fist. It hurt. She grabbed my hands and attacked my fingernails with the scissors. "The Devil likes vain, talkative Dirty Injuns, but I’m here to make you pleasing to God." When she finished, I looked and saw they were cut to the quick and bloodied, as always.
"Sister Charlie, my arm hurts bad." I touched my forearm. "Awful bad, Sister Ch -"
She snatched me off the chair and dragged me to Sister Charlotte, the nurse.
Sister Charlotte wiggled my arm, forcing a groan out of me. "Nothing but a greenstick break, if even that," she told Sister Charlie.
All the way back to Sister Charlie’s dorm, I kept looking down at my arm, worrying about it turning green, shriveling up, and falling off like a dead twig on a tree.
Apology and Accountability
I remembered back to this past spring. I’d just hung up the phone. It was late and the conversation with yet another clergy abuse survivor had zapped my strength and spirit as they’d recounted to me the horrors of their youth. I looked to the clock and knew I should be heading to bed because tomorrow was Easter. Easter. The celebratory feast day that millions of Catholics would spend rejoicing and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.
I also knew that the survivor I’d just spoken with would not be attending Church tomorrow; instead the victim of clergy abuse would struggle to get out of bed and spend most of the day weeping...
Just as I know; Jesus weeps.
Frustrated and deeply saddened by my inability to help a sufferer more, I’d placed a kettle of water on the stove, sat down, grabbed a pen and pad and did only what I felt capable of doing: to ask. Ask for accountability and apology needed for healing the survivor I’d just hung up with, and for all those who are still suffering and seeking.
A Letter of Apology and Accountability Request.
I was deeply troubled when I read that Pope Benedict XVI was weary and sad. I, too, am weary and sad. I’ve been answering calls, letters and e-mails from countless victims of child abuse by the clergy for over a year now - calls, letters and e-mails that the pope and the Catholic Church’s hierarchy should be answering. So I thought I would send a polite reminder: Apologies and accountability are due.
I am a survivor of clergy abuse. Abandoned to a Catholic orphanage as an infant, for nearly a decade I was exposed to unspeakable abuses by Catholic nuns and a Catholic priest. It was only in the last year that these horrific abuses were publicly exposed after I was finally able to write about the long nightmare inflicted by those who hid behind His cloak to mask their evil deeds - deeds the Roman Catholic Church concealed while enabling decades of child abuse by predator clergy.
I wanted to forgive them and I did forgive; however, I wonder and I am often asked: How can you offer forgiveness to those who hide behind their righteousness, behind ill-conceived surety of their place in heaven and on Earth, those who have not asked for forgiveness because they do not think they need forgiveness? Those who have denied the damage to suffering souls, these children who remain as children, and who will forever be held hostage in childhood until that child is healed.
I sit in Kentucky with a voice, among tens of thousands of victims globally who speak through me, all awaiting an apology and an admission of accountability from the pope and the Church’s hierarchy.
We’ve waited, sometimes for decades. People like the CEO, also a former orphan and victim of clergy abuse who has to lock himself in his office because he’s having a bad day. His bad days happen when the memories of physical and sexual abuse become too strong for him to function as a regular working adult. He writes to me hoping I can offer him strength, hoping I can make sense of crimes committed against him as a child that were the most heinous crimes committed in history.
Then there is the former priest who writes to tell me of rape by his own. There’s a nun, too. There is also the woman who suffers from crippling Post traumatic Stress Disorder because of her abuses by clergy. She writes that she may not be contacting me for a while because she will probably be back in a dark place and she will have to seek mental health institutional care for her latest bout - a bout directly caused by predator clergy. She prays she’ll be strong and not be tempted again to commit suicide, as she’s tried so many times before. Another voice in the darkness reaching out to one woman. Voices who should take strength and comfort from the Church for their darkness - a darkness caused by the Church.
There’s also the daughter (one of five). Her mother, now deceased, a childhood resident of a Catholic orphanage, was severely abused and raped by clergy. The daughter says her mother’s former clergy abuse touched everyone in her family and continues to cause trauma and discord so intense they have all sought counseling.
And lest I forget, there’s the strong advocate for victims of clergy abuse I’ve been privileged to know. He was not abused, but sadly, he is now religious empty, this man from a strongly connected religious background. I worry about him and his children.
Pope Benedict XVI and the church’s hierarchy have created a scatter bomb. Abuse. The abuse of one does not just stop with one, its shrapnel scatters and pierces, and affects and harms their families, friends, co-workers, and society and on and on. The Church must be willing to publicly help these deeply wounded, still-suffering victims and survivors. Remove the shrapnel, start the cleansing by reaching out to survivors, answering and also disclosing the records of predator clergy that have been protected by the Roman Catholic Church for decades.
My name is Kim Michele Richardson. I am waiting, along with all those voices around me.
A note from Kim: The response I received from the Catholic heirarchy to my Letter of Apology and Accountability Request is included as an addendum in the 2010 Paperback edition of The Unbreakable Child.
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Publication Oct 2012 Third Edition
Copyright © 2012 by
Kim Michele Richardson
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