My Turn: Damaged reputations, shattered lives

Posted: Sunday, December 08, 2002

I write this as a private citizen, faithful Catholic and survivor of sexual abuse by a member of the Catholic clergy.

My purpose in writing is to ask for prayerful reflection on the part of our community, most especially the Cathedral parish and our Juneau Diocesan community of faith. The recent allegations against Father Michael Nash have left a raw wound on our souls. The first reaction is of shock and dismay - some people have expressed outrage that such accusations have been made, some people have questioned the integrity and sincerity of the alleged victim. These are natural reactions, fueled by grief, anger and disbelief.

Father Nash deserves a fair hearing and the benefit of the doubt (our legal system states that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty). On the other hand, alleged victims also deserve to be heard. Men and women all over the United States have come forward to speak of the pain that sexual abuse of children has left in their lives. There have been false accusations, most notably those against Cardinal Mahony and Cardinal Bernadin. Most false accusations do not stand up under scrutiny and investigation. While we should always presume innocence on the part of the accused, the Church also owes it to individuals alleging abuse to listen to their stories and fully investigate them. The revised Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the revised Essential Norms, both approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., in November, mandate this.

The various opinions of people written in the defense of Father Nash and against Mr. Post, the accusations of "recovered memory," a "history of making trouble for other people," and "getting back" at Father Nash for "verbal punishment," all call into question the credibility of the accuser. Efforts to discredit the stories of alleged victims only serve to keep true victims from stepping forward. I am facing the decision of naming my abuser in the city where the abuse occurred. I am steeling myself for the possibility of my abuser's friends, family, coworkers and other supporters attacking me in this way when I name him and his crime. There will be a huge outcry that this could not have possibly happened, that I am a liar, an insane person, a revenge seeker, a trouble maker, and that I must be using this fabricated story to discredit a good and respected man, a pillar of his community. However, the abuse did happen. I am fortunate to have proof in the form of a letter from the abuser admitting his guilt.

It is not my intention to vilify or defend either Father Michael Nash or Mr. Joel Post. A thorough investigation is taking place, and I trust that the truth will emerge. Several individuals have stated that Father Nash's reputation is ruined, and that a cloud of doubt will hang over him forever. This could be true, however, I can't state strongly enough that it is easier to repair a reputation than to rebuild the life of a child who has been sexually abused.

I pray for the swift resolution of this investigation. I pray for Mr. Post, for his family and friends, especially those here in Juneau, and for Father Nash, his friends, family, and parishioners at this most difficult time. It is my fervent hope that our Catholic community will grow even closer as brothers and sisters in Christ, Who will strengthen us in this time of trial.

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