When Litigation Ends

By John McCord
SAS Class of 1974 
December 12, 2003
   
 
     With the sunset of 2003, twenty survivors of sexual abuse at Saint Anthony’s have filed lawsuits against the Province of Saint Barbara.

     Several years ago, I initiated my own action, which in turn led many others to follow suit. For me, the process of confronting the Province was a mission of validation and empowerment. Our cases have been resolved and one wonders how many have gotten along once the checks were cashed.

    After we reached a resolution I remember embracing my wife and feeling overwhelmed with relief at last we had reached an agreement. The three-year battle was grueling and tiresome. Determined, I was prepared to go as far as I could within the legal restraints of the playing field I was on.

     Once the battle was over the arduous task of “processing” what had happened to me continued. I did not stop therapy because the friars were no longer paying for it. I recognized the value of weekly surgery into the cavities of my mind. I knew I still needed work understanding this person called John.

     During therapy I came to understand I needed to release my feelings of “never” forgiving the man who abused me. I recognized I was in a knot continuing to be imprisoned by feelings of betrayal and resentment. I realized I wanted to live out my life (I’m counting on a long life ahead of me) unburdened by old news about what happened to me. I wanted to celebrate my survival and triumph over the secret ordeal and the years of pain and dangerous actions that followed. I had no room for this kind of anger anymore.

     The process took ten years! At times when it was difficult I paused yet never stopped trying. I lost my job and didn’t work. I began a new career. I lost my wife and the day to day living with my son. I needed to be truthful and honest about my self and learn to distinguish what was a result of the abusers action and the baggage I carried from other life experiences. To be honest, I couldn’t blame my abuser for all the difficult hurdles in my life. Honest recognition and assessment allowed forgiveness to come easier.

     I was determined not to be bitter. I was determined not to be cynical. I was determined to release the past yet also not let the curtain close on my life’s experience. Rather, I needed to take my experience and put it to good use. But what did that mean? The road ahead was scary and unclear.

     I knew the path ahead meant meeting once again with the man who abused me. For my sake I wanted and needed to forgive him. No one has done more damage or caused me more pain. He’s an old man now. What good would anger be for he or I? I wrote; we met; I forgave him. What a wonderful feeling to forgive someone. It isn’t a jubilant feeling but a satisfying and peaceful one. By taking this action I gave him his life back, I let him know it was ok; that I am ok. Simple enough words, but as difficult as moving a mountain to achieve and express. In all the world, I was the only person with the power to do relieve him of his burden. And I was content for the first time in too many years.

     Now I am in the process of rebuilding trust, I am in the process of figuring out a way to help survivors without intruding in their pain or artificially accelerating their journey. I’m in the process of trying to find a way to help the Franciscans rebuild their integrity so they can carry on the many good works we as a society need them to do. I’m trying to find a way to take my experience and ours collectively and put it to good use by helping all who have been injured and to insure there is no repeat of our tragic past for any child who comes in contact with a religious man.

     We hear much of the iniquity of life. We see it everyday in the Tenderloin of San Francisco and in our cities. We feel it in the evil that was put upon us. We know life is not fair and we fight to make it more equitable. We ought not delude ourselves to feel it is supposed to be. In emotional suffering, fairness is not in the equation. Accepting life as inherently unfair allows us to work harder to make it better.

     I’ve heard stories of survivors receiving huge sums of money for what happened to them. I’m pleased they have been compensated for their pain and suffering. I resist the comparison trap lamenting why one received more than I, or feeling blessed I received more than others. We get what we get; the sustaining reward is in the satisfaction of knowing we did all we could to contribute in exposing and rectifying this tragedy that is larger than all of us.

     As survivors continue to revisit and traverse their hard and sometimes overwhelming path and through the ugliness of litigation I urge everyone to keep looking forward, keep taking the healing path. Resist the temptation to pocket the money and forget the work that remains to be done. Tales abound of survivors receiving large settlements only to put it up their noses, or smoke it, or in other ways took this wonderful opportunity to begin a new and unburdened life and squandered their new resources in tragic ways. Please be wary, don’t compound the tragedy.

     The legal process will end. The courtroom is only another phase and a partial salve. Are we daring ourselves to look beyond the courtroom? I think you’ll discover as I did more therapeutic work will need to be done. Embrace the work. Keep looking forward, keep refining the spiritual path and take whatever opportunity comes your way to good use. I pray the legitimate and sometimes overwhelming feelings of anger and pain and betrayal will give way to St. Francis’ path of contentment, peace, and understanding so our long and healthy lives ahead swell with fulfillment and purpose.