The Second Sin | Chris O’Leary

You hypocrite, first cast out the beam in thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote in thy brother’s eye. — Matthew 7:5

I hate the term “Triggered.”

It’s overused and watered-down to the point that it’s now nearly meaningless. However, there’s no other way to describe what and how I’m feeling.

And the resulting impact on me.

So what Triggered me?

Earlier today, the President of the USCCB issued a statement on the death of Cardinal Law.

It seems to say all the right things.

It even acknowledges the suffering of survivors of abuse by priests.

The problem — the thing that well and truly Triggered me — is this line…

If you have been abused or know of someone who has been abused, contact the local diocesan victims Assistance Coordinator.

Victims Assistance Coordinator.

What a great idea.

Someone who can help survivors get assistance instead of forcing traumatized victims and/or their families to drive the process.

The problem is it’s a lie.

A fraud.

As is so much of the Catholic Church’s response to survivors of abuse by priests.

The Second Sin

I am a survivor of the Catholic Church’s priest sexual abuse scandal.

Over a four-year period, in the late 1970s and early 1980s at The Church of the Immacolata in a suburb of St. Louis, MO, I was sexually exploited, abused, and assaulted by a serial rapist named Fr. LeRoy Valentine.

Then things got REALLY bad.

Over the past 16 years — from 2002 to 2018 — I’ve tried to get help from the Archdiocese of St. Louis. At no point was I ever told of the existence of, much less put in touch with or contacted by, an Assistance Coordinator.[1]

Gaslighting and the Run-Around

In early March 2002, when the Catholic Church’s priest sexual abuse scandal first blew up in the media, the Archdiocese of St. Louis asked anyone who might have information about Fr. LeRoy Valentine to come forward.

So I did just that.

I had spent a lot of time — including one-on-one time serving masses — with Fr. Valentine and I figured, if anyone knew anything about Fr. V, I did.

While I recalled fondly and treasured most of my memories involving Fr. Valentine, I did have two memories that were a bit…

Off.

The first involved the hugs Fr. Valentine used to give me at the end of face to face confession. They always went on longer than I liked and my head would end up in the vicinity of his crotch. But he was a big guy and loved kids and nobody seemed to think it was a big deal, so I thought nothing of it.

The second, and only remotely negative, memory involved a time when I was sitting next to Fr. Valentine in a car and napping. I woke up suddenly and looked at him and this weird feeling — a combination of fear and anger and disgust — passed over me. But it was so completely out of the blue, and so weird, that I had no idea what it meant.

Hoping I could be of assistance and help someone who may have been hurt by Fr. Valentine, I came forward and told my story to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, and I think to a TV reporter named Ruth Ezell. I never heard back from Joyce or Ezell, but I did hear back from the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

After conversations with two different people, they each told me the same basic thing.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

A day or so after I called the Archdiocese of St. Louis, I received a call back from a priest who I’ve known since I was a third-grader.

Father, then Bishop, and now Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

I told Bishop Dolan what I remembered, asked if it meant anything, and then asked if he believed what people were saying about Fr. Valentine.

He told me, in no uncertain terms, that nothing happened…

I know Fr. Valentine well.
We were at the seminary together.
We lived and worked together at Immacolata.
I know Leroy Valentine didn’t do any of the things he’s being accused of.
I know he would never do anything to hurt a child.

Misinterpreted

While his words rid me of most of my doubts, I still took Cardinal Dolan up on his offer to talk to someone else.

To get a second opinion.

As a result, a week or so later — and on the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ dime — I met with a person I was told was an independent psychologist who specialized in child sexual abuse. I don’t remember her name, but I’m pretty sure she was Nancy Brown, the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ coordinator for victim assistance at the time. I do know, for certain, that her office was located at 141 North Meramec in Clayton — I think in Suite 25 or 23 — because I have returned to that building obsessively over the years and it matches up exactly with my memories.

After telling her what I remembered and asking her what my memories meant, she told me I was just misinterpreting Fr. Valentine’s actions and intentions.

Valentine had just been a bit overly-enthusiastic.

And that was that.

With a sense of peace and the belief that I was incredibly lucky — that I had dodged a bullet — I put my memories of my experiences with Fr. LeRoy Valentine behind me and got on with my life.

Gaslighting

What’s odd is that, at the same time I was moving on with my life — both Bishop Dolan and an independent psychologist had told me nothing happened — Fr. Valentine was resigning.

And I was never told.

Much less offered help.

And I didn’t know Valentine had resigned because the story wasn’t covered in St. Louis.

To be clear, one of the allegations that was reported in the New York Times on March 28, 2002 was clearly false.

Another St. Louis native called The Times yesterday to say that he had phoned the archdiocese last week after reading newspaper accounts of the Scorfinas’ story. This man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, asserted that Father Valentine molested him three times during confession in a small room in the rear of another church in 1972, when he was 8.
The man said he left a message at the archdiocese last week, but never spoke to officials there because they took several days to call him back. In the interim, he said he decided to contact a lawyer.

Fr. Valentine didn’t graduate from the seminary until 1977, and Immacolata was his first posting, so obviously he couldn’t have molested anyone during confession in 1972 (or 1973 or 1974).

Case closed.

However, according to the New York Times, another accusation against Fr. Valentine was received in mid to late March 2002.

(Y)esterday, Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis announced that Father Valentine had resigned as associate pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle after the archdiocese told him it had received another accusation against him…
It is unclear who the new accuser is.

Who came forward?

With an accusation that was credible enough to lead to — if not force — Fr. Valentine’s resignation?

Are they talking about me? How I came forward?

Or did someone else, in addition to me, come forward?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that the Archdiocese of St. Louis didn’t treat it — and certainly didn’t tell me there was anything to it that would make it or make them view it — as an accusation.

And they told me nothing happened.

But, if a credible accusation was indeed made by someone else, then wouldn’t that increase the perceived credibility of my own story?

Suggest there might indeed be something to my memories?

Even if I had no idea what they meant?

I can’t help but wonder about that, now.

To the point of obsession.

As for why I didn’t go back to the Archdiocese of St. Louis when Fr. Valentine resigned, it was because both the head of the Office of Child & Youth Protection and Nancy Brown told me the same thing.

Nothing happened.

But, if the Archdiocese of St. Louis truly cared about survivors and helping them, why didn’t they call me back to let me know that there might indeed be something to my story?

Much less try to help me?

As it turns out, that wasn’t the only time the Archdiocese of St. Louis would do that and give me reason to ask those very same questions.

2011

By 2011, I had lost everything.

That included my marriage, my family, and — because just leaving the house was becoming a struggle due to the things I would feel and the thoughts and urges that would possess me — most of my ability to work and provide for myself, much less my kids and my now ex-wife.

I had seen a procession of 6 or so psychologists over the past 15 or so years, as I tried to figure out what was happening to me and why, and received a number of diagnoses…

  • Depression
  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Asperger’s Syndrome

After running out of other explanations, and coming to better understand and remember certain things during my weekly therapy sessions — sessions that I paid for out of my own pocket — I again contacted the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

I wanted to meet with them and ask them a simple question…

Are you SURE my memories don’t mean anything?

Because I was starting to wonder.

Review Team

On May 9, 2011, I met with Deacon Philip Hengen, the head of the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and the other members of an Review (now called an Investigatory) Team — a team which, to my surprise and shock, and contrary to the stated policy of the Archdiocese of St. Louis at the time, included not one but two lawyers — and told them my story and what I remembered.

What little they said by way of diagnosis was the same thing I was told in 2002.

Nothing happened.

As for the problems I was having?

They were my father’s fault.

Oh, and my calls and meetings with two members of the Archdiocese of St. Louis back in 2002?

They had no record of them.

And openly expressed skepticism that they had even taken place.

Knowing that secret records were supposed to be a thing of the past, and still believing I could trust the Archdiocese of St. Louis, I then began to wonder whether those 2002 conversations had actually taken place.

Had I just imagined them?

Was I going crazy?

I mean, thought I could remember talking to someone on the phone, but now…

I was also able, immediately after meeting with the Review Team, to drive to what I was certain was the location of the psychologist’s office. However, despite driving around and around the area — and repeatedly past what would turn out to be the office — something like 100 times on that and subsequent days and again over the years, it wasn’t until 2016 that I was able to see what was right in front of my face.

It was like the building was invisible to me.

Hidden in plain site.

Right in front of my face.

But I literally couldn’t see it.

While I didn’t know what a Nervous Breakdown was, (possibly?) imagining a number of conversations and a meeting, not being able to see a building that I KNEW was there, and the presence of lawyers at the meeting with the Review Team — which led me to read and re-read the Pastoral Policy of the Archdiocese of St. Louis something like 100 times — led me to start to wonder if that was what was happening to me.

Was I losing touch with reality?

Deacon Phil Hengen

Deacon Phil Hengen gave me the distinct impression at the end of my meeting with the Review Team that I would hear back from him in a couple of weeks; he referenced the next meeting of the Archdiocesan Review Board, which was scheduled to take place ten or so days later.

And then two months passed.

In July of 2011 I decided to call Deacon Hengen as see what was going on. He told me that Fr. Valentine (of course) denied everything. However, at the end of the call, Hengen did express interest in speaking to my therapist.

As a result, literally the instant after I got off the phone with Deacon Hengen, I drove to my psychologist’s office and signed everything I needed to sign, and did everything I needed to do, to allow them to talk.

I needed help and I was finally going to get it!

I remember that day clearly because, when I first filled out the release, I did so giving Deacon Hengen and the Archdiocese of St. Louis access — I needed help and had nothing to hide — and my therapist balked at that and had me fill out a new form in a way that did a better job of protecting my privacy and my therapist and my relationship. I also gave my therapist Deacon Hengen’s contact information from the card Hengen had given me at the end of my meeting with the Review Team.

But Deacon Hengen never got in touch with him.

Why not?

All I know is what my therapist told me a few years later when — after I had grown increasingly frustrated with him and was starting to have trouble trusting him, due in large part to my perception that he hadn’t assisted me in my efforts to get help from the Archdiocese of St. Louis — I had him swear to me that he had called Deacon Hengen. He then told me…

In 20 years of doing this, I’ve never had someone, who wanted to get in touch with me, fail to get in touch with me.

While I believed my therapist, the damage to our relationship was done.

Where before our sessions were yielding breakthroughs in my understanding of what had happened to me when I was at Immacolata, I soon became overwhelmed with doubt.

Had what happened to me really happened or had I just imagined it?

2013

By 2013, I was in terrible shape.

But things were about to get worse.

Valentine is Removed and Then…

Of all the terrible days I’ve had over the past fifteen years, easily the worst was May 10, 2013 when the Archdiocese of St. Louis announced they were removing Fr. Valentine from priestly ministry due to a complaint made by someone who came forward in 2012.

And never tried to help me.

You’d think the allegation that was made against Fr. Valentine in 2012, which was found to be credible and led to his removal, would increase the perceived credibility of my allegations.

Maybe?

But that’s not what happened.

In fact, the Archdiocese of St. Louis didn’t even bother to reach out to me to warn me that they were removing Fr. Valentine — by that time I was seeing a different therapist, and she had to do that — much less check in to see how I was doing and how I was handling the news.

So what?

What’s the big deal?

Aside from learning that the man who I had long wondered and asked the Archdiocese of St. Louis about was removed due to credible allegations?

Remember, I came forward in 2002 and 2011.

Not 2012.

But the Archdiocese of St. Louis said in 2013 that they removed Fr. Valentine because of allegations made in 2012.

So who came forward in 2012?

And, more importantly, why did they believe them but not me?

Not only was I — and am I — left to deal with with the tremendous emotional load of knowing that Fr. Valentine had been removed due to credible allegations, which to me was an admission that It Happened to me, but I was also left to wonder why I was being ignored.

What did I do wrong?

Why am I being punished?

Do I even exist?

The Archdiocese of St. Louis has done a number of things that fit the description of Gaslighting, but the events and days, weeks, and months surrounding the removal of Fr. Valentine were the worst because, more than anything, they triggered the key question that turns mere lying into Gaslighting.

Did that actually happen or did I just imagine it?

Screw-Up or Strategy?

From May 2011 until I filed my lawsuit in October 2015, Deacon Phil Hengen of the Archdiocese of St. Louis did nothing but give me the run-around, string me along, sandbag me, and force me to drive the process.

Yes, on a couple of occasions, Deacon Hengen told me to send him a Treatment Plan. However, unlike in 2002, Deacon Hengen never once offered to pay for the creation of a Treatment Plan, and I certainly didn’t — and don’t — have the hundreds or thousands of dollars that such a plan must cost to put together.

Not knowing if the problem was a bureaucratic screw-up, if Deacon Hengen was just following orders, or if he was simply incompetent, I did what any reasonable person would do.

I went over his head.

A monsignor outranks a deacon, so I brought the problems I was having to the attention of Monsignor Richard Hanneke, who I knew personally and also knew was the vicar for priests. As it turned out, Monsignor Hanneke was Deacon Hengen’s boss. However, after initially seeming sympathetic to my plight, after meeting with his superiors Hanneke would only refer me back to Hengen, even though Hanneke knew I didn’t trust Hengen.

That made it clear to me that what I was experiencing was NOT a bureaucratic screw-up or a problem with an incompetent employee.

Rather, it was a strategy.

A strategy designed to make me just go away.

Cancer

By 2013, I was bankrupt.

But I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet.

Nothing — well, nothing good — had come out of my efforts to get help from the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Catholic Church. One of the few productive things I could do — often the only thing I could do outside of the house — was to work on our parish’s athletic fields. That was at least somewhat therapeutic, but any benefits were soon outweighed by the lesion that started to grow out of a birthmark on my right arm and that was pointed out to me in the Spring of 2013. However, I didn’t have any money and couldn’t afford to have it checked, much less treated, so I retreated almost completely into the cocoon that is composed of my parents’ house and my car.

Given the complete and total inaction, and utterly callous and uncaring response of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Catholic Church — and with a clarity provided by Pope Francis’ diabolical twisting of the knife with his praise of the U.S. bishops in 2015 for their “courage” in protecting the church from survivors — I filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Louis in October 2015. Hoping that I was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and would be able to use the law to force the Church to help me, in December of 2015 I went to see a dermatologist who confirmed my worst fears about the lesion on my arm.

It was Cancer.

Malignant Melanoma.

As a result, right after the first of the year of 2016, I underwent surgery to remove the lesion and much of the surrounding skin. I seem to have recovered, so far, but the stress of battling both the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Catholic Church and Cancer created another health problem.

Due to the stress of what I’ve been through — of fighting the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Catholic Church, and Cancer — I received another gut punch.

I had developed Type II Diabetes.

No Truth No Peace

Why is it impossible for survivors to find peace?

Because the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Catholic Church remain unapologetic, unrepentant, and utterly remorseless.

And they can’t stop lying.

It Happened?

On February 5, 2018 I received the following e-mail from Sandra Price, Executive Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Dear Chris,
You chose to litigate your claims of sexual abuse by Rev. Leroy Valentine. Your claims were acknowledged by Deacon Phil Hengen, the Archdiocese of Saint Louis and the court system. This matter has been fully settled through litigation and is final. Because your claim has been fully settled and is final the Archdiocese of Saint Louis will not be responding to any further inquiries regarding these claims. Please know that you and all victims of abuse are in my prayers and I do hope that you are able to find peace in the future. I wish you the best.
Sandra Price
Archdiocese of St. Louis

While the e-mail Triggered me massively, because it layered Gaslighting on top of everything, and it took me 10 days to realize what the e-mail was saying as a result, I was eventually able to see and process the second line (EMPHASIS ADDED)…

Your claims were acknowledged…
Please know that YOU AND ALL VICTIMS OF ABUSE are in my prayers…
Sandra Price
Archdiocese of St. Louis

Holy shit.

She just admitted it.

IT HAPPENED.

IT. HAPPENED.

I just can’t…

Of course, my feeling of hope was soon dashed.

A few weeks later, in Aisha Sultan’s piece Priest Sex Abuse Survivor Says Trauma Lingers, Gabe Jones of the Archdiocese of St. Louis said something very different…

…when asked to comment on O’Leary’s account, “The archdiocese’s record of Mr. O’Leary’s allegations are significantly different; however, due to a court order as well as our own ethical obligation, we are not at liberty to discuss Mr. O’Leary’s case.” Jones also said the information O’Leary shared initially changed multiple times by the time he broke off communication with the Office of Child and Youth Protection.

So did it happen or didn’t it?

How is a(n “acknowledged”) survivor of supposed to find any peace when he’s given a glimmer of hope — and acknowledgement that yes, It Happened — only to have that hope crushed?

What’s more, the doubts Gabe Jones’ comments sowed ended any lingering psychologically support I was receiving from my parish.

The War

I have long sensed that there is a war going on within the Catholic Church.

A war between…

  • The Believers who believe the scandal happened and remains a problem.
  • The Doubters, Deniers, and Fixers who believe, to quote the Pope, “It’s all calumny.”

One thing seems clear.

The Doubters, Deniers, and Fixers are winning.

They are the ones who posses the power.

And are covering for the Abusers who, without a doubt, remain within the Catholic Church.[2]

LUCKY?

You’d think all of what I’ve been through at the hands of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Catholic Church — THE CHURCH. JESUS AND ALL THAT — I’d have lost my faith.

But I haven’t.

It’s actually stronger.

I’m very familiar with, and spend a lot of time thinking about the biblical story of Job, a man who also lost everything.

Except his faith.

In truth, I’m lucky.

I survived.

And I’m here to tell my story.

AMDG

Chris O’Leary
@ivandoesnot on Twitter
ivandoesnot@gmail.com
314 494 (one)324

P.S. Because of the extremely positive reception to this piece, I have continued to write about my experiences on my web site.

NOTES

[1] It appears the Archdiocese of St. Louis has finally hired an Assistance Coordinator. However, just like the removal of Fr. Valentine, this makes me feel worse, and not better. I don’t know when the new executive director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection or the Assistance Coordinator were hired. What I do know is that I have never been told of their existence, put in contact with, or been contacted by them. As a result, I have to assume it’s yet another a sham; just a P.R. exercise designed to make the Archdiocese of St. Louis look compassionate, and give the appearance of action, but do nothing to actually help survivors.

[2] I wrote this line in December 2017, before the PA grand jury report came out.