Mike McDonnell, clergy sex abuse survivor, shares his experience with the Catholic Church, his journey as a victim, and what he would like to see out of the Bishops’ summit on the protection of minors in the Church being held this week at the Vatican.
Mike shares that he grew up in a very devout Catholic family, “Going to Mass was a beautiful experience for me, going with my mother and father. Being the youngest of eight children, a lot of my siblings had already moved out, so I spent an awful lot of time with my devout parents who were very active in the Church … I fell in love with the liturgy and I fell in love with my Church. I was seen as the reverent kid and the obeying kid and it was easy for not only one priest, but two priests to prey upon me. I provided them, actually, with an easy part of the grooming. Because I was invited to work in the rectory, and I don’t need to get into the excruciating details, but it lasted for a number of years.”
Father Dave asks if Mike felt that he could move forward or tell anyone about the abuse. Mike responds, “You become frozen in time. It’s almost as though you are shocked into that particular place in time. For me, not only was I shocked once, I was shocked twice. And I immediately swore to my 11, 12, 13-year-old self that I would never discuss this with anyone … these were powerful, authoritative men, and how dare I say anything against them. My immediate fear was who would believe me? Also, I didn’t have the vocabulary. Who wants to talk about a sexual experience they had with a Catholic priest?”
Mike began turning to alcohol to numb his pain. He eventually became sober and found a support network of other abuse survivors. “Throughout the years, I had conversations with God, but I felt like they were falling on deaf ears … I begged for some type of intervention, and that intervention would eventually happen … I shut the door on the Church for a very long time. And to be honest even today, there are triggers for me walking into a Catholic Church.”
Remarkably, Mike has not lost his faith in God, despite the trauma he’s been through. “God has a sense of humor because in the recovery process I would eventually relocate, and directly across the street from my house is a wonderful Italian parish, and I look at beautiful Saint Anne on a daily basis. And it’s a reminder to me that God is not only close to me, he’s my neighbor.”
Father Dave asks Mike about his expectations for the bishops’ meeting on sexual abuse, “I don’t have terrific expectations,” he says. “I know that what many survivors are calling for is transparency, accountability, and responsibility … We want to see zero tolerance, not just for the clerics but for the bishops … And we ask each state conference of bishops to step down and stop trying to block good pieces of legislation that could help survivors see some level of justice.” (Original Air 2-20-19)