Interview with John McCord

The following interview with John McCord took place in 2004. Its purpose was to illuminate and understand the experiences of a survivor with regard to the sexual abuse crisis within the Franciscan Order and the Catholic Church in general. The questions were posed by Paul Fericano.

Note: First, before answering these questions, I believe it is important to understand this recovery period from the initial realization of being sexually violated has been evolving for ten years. My answers and attitude are different today from those questions I responded to in 1993 or even five years ago.—John McCord

1. What concerns, if any, do you have about participating in this interview?  
 
I have no concerns about answering these questions. Though I understand the reasons and respect those who don’t wish to be identified, I’m disappointed we are not using our names in this study. I’m concerned the idea of hiding survivor’s names subliminally perpetuates the secrecy and shame we have all been subject too. The way we battle this crisis fermented in the cloistered walls of secrecy and deception is to stand and fight it publicly and resolutely without shame for what has happened to us. You have my permission to use my name.  
 
2. As a survivor of sexual abuse, how has the sexual abuse crisis affected your feelings toward the Franciscan Order?  
 
At first, in my anger and disgust I thought the order ought to be destroyed. Every member was painted with the same dark brush. None of them could be trusted and all deserved my contempt. They were pathetic. For several years I did all I could to box them in so they would not be able to continue to operate oblivious to societies outrage and my own. Now my feelings are quite different. I see each of them differently; I see them wanting and needing help. Now I want to participate in helping them recover the path of Saint Francis, to do the honorable and charitable missions we need them to do.  
 
3. How has the sexual abuse crisis affected your feelings toward the Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church is a different matter. I’ve never had much time for its leaders. To me they are our most inept NFL team. Until they get their act together, I’m not going to waste my Sunday’s in their company. I’ll start listening when they get their heads on straight about birth control, women, sexuality, papal infallibility and a myriad of other issues. To me the abuse scandal is another of those ineptitudes that has bubbled to the surface. On the other hand, the fact it honors someone willing to hang on a cross for my indiscretions causes me to have great awe and humility.  
 

4. What are your feelings toward your own perpetrator? Have there been any significant changes over the years in how you have felt about your perpetrator?  
 
My Perpetrator?  Holy shit!  How do you feel about some one who has betrayed you? Some one you looked up to as a teacher, mentor, father, and friend. My feelings have run the gamut: extreme anger; breaking walls and smashing glass. Anguish; screaming at the top of my lungs at the sea birds and cliffs of Big Sur. Outrage; getting my vitriol and finger in the face of the cardinals “black suited goons” suing, testifying, and changing laws. Bewilderment; crying two hundred miles at a time in the car, wandering, wondering who I am, what I’ve done for twenty years and why. Exhaustion; sleeping, hiding, introversion, and narcissism. The man who violated me apologized immediately when I confronted him. Because he was willing to do that, my feelings remained but my feelings about him had less intensity. Over time we have communicated and met again. After ten years of hard work with psychologists, having my head read and sorting out my emotions, I wrote and forgave him. I realized my love (I know this sounds odd) was unconditional. It is undeniable. He’s lucky. I guess it is like a father who violates his son or daughter. There may be a point in time when the child is willing to renegotiate a relationship that is healthy where the child has grown and knows how to take care of himself physically and emotionally.  That is where I am.  Where I can help him recover his life. He and I will work to help others through their painful journey.  
 
5. What are your feelings toward those Franciscan Friars who are not           perpetrators? How do you view them in light of the sexual abuse crisis?  
 
To the extent the Franciscans have admitted their culpability and gross misjudgment, my distrust of them is waning. Who knew what and when is no longer important to me.  Like Jefferson said, “the truth is self-evident”. I am working to communicate with them directly. The issue is not about me anymore. It’s about ways to insure it doesn’t happen again. I am against the feelings of division that keep us from communicating. I want to rebuild my trust in those who are worthy of it. The friars collectively and individually have been hammered hard for many years on this issue. For me, it is time to let them breathe a little, a time to let them redeem themselves and for us to help them do that. I am aware of the risks, but isn’t that the definition of living? I refuse to stop living or taking chances.  
 
6. In terms of responsibility and accountability, how do you rate the Franciscans’ response regarding the sexual abuse crisis?  
 
In the context of what the rest of the church was doing, the Province of Saint Barbara stands alone. Sure there were all kinds of reasons and suspicions for them being forced to respond to the allegations. They didn’t do it willingly.  Yet fact is they recognized the Vatican’s method of dealing with this issue was an abysmal failure. They were chastised from Rome, they were scorned by the public, and they were vilified by parents and survivors. They were publicly scourged then publicly produced the first report on sexual abuse within a religious order. With all its imperfections they began the first and at the time, best method of exposing this. They have fumbled plenty and have made incredibly stupid blunders. Yet I give them credit, they have tried to make things right within incredibly arcane restrictions such as canon law, misguided legal advice and have had to wind their way through institutional malfeasance and multi-individual denial. In my experience, the Province treated me with respect even while I was at their throats. They communicated with me, accepted my demands and facilitated my recovery.  Some think as I did we never should have been subjected to this battle.  I’m not so sure anymore.  This battle made me a man.  It exposed my suppressed character and integrity.  We can’t change what happened and I know for damn sure, my life has been worth fighting for! 
 
7.  How has media coverage of the sexual abuse crisis affected you as a Survivor?  
 
The media has been a great friend in this. Though they like to sensationalize the story with a focus on sex and settlements, the pressure they brought to bear upon the Province was immeasurable. To me, the media was a tool to help our cause. The individual reporters were wonderfully supportive to us and I am grateful to them.  
 
8. How has your life been impacted by the sexual abuse crisis, including your relationships with family, friends, job, etc.?  
 
My life was undeniably altered in 1971 when I was first abused. Had it stopped immediately the effects may have been much different.  Because it continued for two years, the impact had been more devastating. I could drive myself crazy asking “what if” but I won’t do that. Instead, it is the deck of cards I have been given and I incorporate that experience into my life as best I can. My family and friends have all been supportive. No one has abandoned me. In fact, the experience has caused me to be touched by strangers and new friends in ways I never thought imaginable. For whatever reason, something has kept me going even in my deepest bouts with depression. My family and friends are most of that reason.  
 
9. What kind of emotional impact has the sexual abuse had on you over the years? For example: anger, confusion, depression, hopelessness, abandonment by God, shame, forgiveness, etc.  
 
I think I’ve described most of those feelings in earlier answers. I can say “yes”, I’ve had all those feelings. My emotions were a distasteful jumble of grease and scraps floating in an unintelligible mess. If it weren’t for this experience I would never have been able to identify them individually. The experience has focused my intellect to understand my feelings. Now my emotions are a gumbo of flavor. The greatest impact is to say, I’ve felt them all and survived. I’m still standing, I’m content, and it tastes good.  
 
10. What, if anything, has been valuable to you in helping you work through the difficult feelings? What steps have you taken to help you heal?

The most valuable step for me was to take action. I met with my abuser; I engaged the province and was clear about what I wanted. I refused condescension or allowed myself to be patronized. I wanted to do for the Franciscans and myself what I thought was right. I kept thinking and talking. I exposed my experience to the public even when I was terrified to do it.  
 

10. How do you feel about the IRT's role in facilitating treatment for Survivors?  
 

One of the main issues for survivors is to regain personal power, to be empowered. Many feel the IRT is a pawn of the province to be used to marginalize survivors and investigate them.  I think this is wrong.  I view the IRT as another tool at our disposal for survivors to meet and talk and to empower ourselves so we can take this devastating issue and put it into a perspective that allows us to return living our lives in an invigorating way. We don’t have long on this earth. For some of us maybe 40 years to go. I’m going to grab every tool and method available to me and use it to fill my life with good experiences.  

 

 


12. Is it helpful for you to gather in groups and talk about your feelings, such as in the context of a spiritual healing retreat?  
 

It is imperative for survivors to continue to meet. I’ve been to other survivor support groups in my hometown. Our issues are common to others but our bond as students at Saint Anthony’s Seminary is singular. In many ways our meetings are like 12 step programs but there is nothing like sharing the bond of knowing what each other went through as students at the same age in the same setting and sometimes even in the same room and by the same perpetrator. In our anguish we can talk and laugh about the common friends and experiences we’ve all shared. It also empowers us to give the Franciscan Friars a feeling they are helping by sponsoring these sessions. This unique situation won’t be had anywhere else.  

 

 


13. How has the sexual abuse impacted your spiritual life?  
 

I spend a lot of time wondering what my spiritual life is all about. Some days I feel spiritual, some days I don’t have a clue. How the sexual abuse impacted it, I don’t know. At 14 years old, I wasn’t very spiritual anyway. I never accused God of abandoning me. I guess I never thought he was involved. I haven’t in all the years since sent much time focusing on spirit. I was far too concerned with human pursuits. It wasn’t until the last few years I’ve focused on it. I guess my spiritual existence is a work in process.  

 

 


14. What do you feel the attitude of the Franciscans is towards you and other survivors? What do you think should be done to find a solution?  
 

The Franciscans attitude towards me is one of respect and engagement. Towards other survivors it is concern, wariness at the anger individuals have, respect and a genuine sense of not knowing how to engage each person. They want to reach out yet are mindful of meddling. The Province ought to be encouraged to safely reach out, to talk, to be open, to engage, to listen, to take suggestions with the hope of regaining their mission with integrity.  


15. What has been most helpful to you over time to work through the impact of sexual abuse?  
 

Meeting with my perpetrator. Meeting with key friars. Dedicating myself through several years of intensive therapy to understand myself without using empathy from others as a crutch to feel sorry for myself. The love, support, and yes, reality checks I received from friends and family. To take action, to reach out, to validate myself and others, to not make excuses. To use emotional energy as power to build and change, not destroy or stagnate. To be grateful for all the good things that happened. And, the Prayer of St. Francis, …

Lord, make me a channel of your peace…

you guys know the rest!