Monday, April 28, 2008

The Book of Names

For all the public moments and visuals of The Visit, it seems that the event that'll be most remembered took place in private: B16's emotional meeting with the small group of abuse survivors from Boston.

Held only after the Pope overruled a strong current of resistance to the gathering from within the Vatican ranks, the first-ever encounter's key advocate -- Beantown's Cardinal Sean O'Malley -- recounted the experience in the archdiocesan Pilot:
Q: Can you explain your involvement in that unannounced meeting in Washington that brought together the Holy Father with five local victims of sexual abuse by clergy?

A: After it was announced that the Holy Father was going to Washington and New York and that Boston was not included, the bishops of the region joined me in writing a letter to the Holy Father asking him to reconsider and talking about the pastoral needs that we have in New England. Then the response came back that, given the very taxing nature of the trip, that they (Vatican officials) really hesitated to add anything else. So I wrote back again asking if the Holy Father would meet with victims and after that the Holy Father responded and asked me to make the necessary arrangements.

Q: Why was this meeting not part of the official schedule?

A: We did our best to keep it a very discreet meeting because we did not want to turn it a media circus and we were afraid that if people found ahead of time that that was just what would happen. Also, some of the survivors who accompanied us wished to remain anonymous and it would have made it impossible for them to participate under the public scrutiny. So, I am just thankful that we were able to carry it off without becoming public before hand.

I was very grateful to the Holy Father. The many times he addressed the sexual abuse crisis indicate how deeply he understands the situation of our Church and what happens here. He obviously feels a great sorrow over what has happened and that he is ashamed but, at the same time, wants to encourage us on the path to healing and reconciliation.

At the Thursday morning Mass at the Nationals’ stadium he talked about the need of giving pastoral care to the victims, and then in the afternoon he gave us a very concrete example of that in his own encounter with them.

Q: Why do you think this was a crucial meeting?

A: I think it was important for the victims to feel as though they had access to the Holy Father. Obviously, not all victims but someone representing them and in a small enough group, in a context that it would allow for a very personal interchange between the Holy Father and the victims. It was not a formal address; the Holy Father made his initial comments and then he spoke with each of the victims individually, he clasped their hands, he blessed them, he prayed with them.

I think for the Holy Father, pastorally, it was very important to experience this. Certainly he has heard through the bishops and through others the devastation of sexual abuse but it is another thing to encounter personally the survivors and to learn first hand of their suffering and pain.

Q: There was a very moving moment when you handed a book to the Holy Father with over 1,000 names of victims…

A: Yes, over 1,000 names, first names, done in calligraphy and very beautifully and artistically prepared, with prayers and other reflections interspersed among the names. It was a way to try to underline the fact that the meeting was to be representative of all the victims, not just the ones who were there, or even the ones whose names appeared in the book, and also to underscore the dimension of the problem. The names in the book represent names that have come to us, of cases that have come to us in the last 50 years.

It was obvious from the Holy Father’s demeanor that it was a very poignant moment in the visit.
* * *

...speaking of the book of names, its genesis and creation was the focus of a Sunday piece in the Globe:
The book has no title, no author, no explanatory words - just a few quotes from The Bible, and page after page of first names.
Keith Robert Jeffrey Michael Michael Kim Curtis

Richard Scott John Steven Peter Michael

Jackie Robert Wayne Stephen Paul Linda
Much ink has been spilled over the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the last six years, but this work is different: a hand-painted list of 1,476 men and women who have reported being sexually abused by a Catholic priest, deacon, or nun in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the book of names the Archdiocese of Boston gave to Pope Benedict XVI was an unusual effort to humanize a crisis of unimaginable scale, in this case for a pontiff who had once minimized the scope of abuse within the church. Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston presented the book at the historic Washington meeting between the pontiff and five abuse victims from Boston on April 17, midway through a papal trip to the United States during which Benedict spoke out four times about the pain and damage caused by clergy sexual abuse.
O'Malley later described the book as "a symbolic way of helping the Holy Father to experience the dimensions of the problem."
"We were trying to find a way that we could make present all of those who have been so hurt," said Barbara Thorp, the social worker who heads the archdiocese's victims' outreach efforts. "It isn't just 'the sexual abuse crisis,' but these are real people, with individual lives, and we felt a great responsibility to carry them with us in some tangible way."

The book was created by a West Roxbury calligrapher, Jan Boyd, who Thorp found by doing an Internet search. Boyd is not Catholic, and the bulk of her business is wedding invitations. At this time of year, she is usually swamped addressing envelopes for anxious brides.

"It was kind of overwhelming - she first gave me fifty names for a test, and that was enough," Boyd said. "Then she gave me a sheaf of papers that was too big to staple."
Thorp had little idea what she was looking for, other than a way to memorialize the names of the abused. She has worked for the archdiocese for more than 30 years, and has long seen the power of the personal. In one of her former roles, as head of the archdiocesan prolife office, she presented Cardinal Bernard F. Law a list of names that women who had had abortions had given their unborn children.

And last November, at a candlelight memorial Mass for people who had died, mostly from suicide or drug overdoses attributed to the damage done by clergy sexual abuse, she had people write the names of victims on pieces of paper, drop them in the basket, and then present them to O'Malley as part of the offertory....

"Our names are very precious," she said. "We are known by name to the Lord."...

Boyd said she had a little more than a month to work on the project, and that it became an obsession for her during that time.

"I felt like I had 1,500 people I needed to do something for," she said. "And when I came across a name where I knew a child with that name who had been raised in the Catholic church, I'd think about that person."

When O'Malley handed the book to the pope, "there was an audible intake of breath," akin to a gasp, from the pontiff, according to the Rev. John J. Connolly, an O'Malley aide who was there. And the pope then paged through the book, Connolly said....

Two days later, O'Malley choked up when asked about that moment by reporters. "Just seeing the book makes a great impact," O'Malley said. "I know the Holy Father was touched by it."
The number of names in the book is significantly higher than that previously acknowledged by the archdiocese, and suggests that the number of victims nationally could be substantially higher than the 10,667 tallied by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004. Thorp said the list represents everyone the archdiocese could identify as having claimed abuse by a priest in Boston - the archdiocese did not attempt, she said, to verify the claims for the list, and the list is longer than previously known, she said, because it includes people who never filed legal claims, and allegations made well before the crisis erupted.

"We tried to be as inclusive as we could be," she said. "We didn't want to leave anyone out."

Faith Johnston, 23, of Haverhill, one of the five victims who met with the pope, said her name, Faith, "popped out of the page right at me" when she first looked at the book. Johnston was just 15 and working part time in her parish rectory when she was sexually assaulted by the Rev. Kelvin Iguabita. The priest was convicted of multiple charges and is serving a prison sentence.

"When the pope saw it, I think the realization of how huge this has been really hit him," Johnston said. "It helped him to realize there were real people, individuals, who were hurt by this."

The book now belongs to the Vatican, and archdiocesan officials say they hope the pope is sharing it with other Vatican officials. They also say they hope it may one day be loaned back to Boston for display here.

Already, some abuse victims have come forward as a result of publicity over the papal meeting, according to the archdiocese.

"People have been calling to ask, 'is my name in the book?' " Thorp said. "That seems to have really struck a chord with people. There is a sense that this encounter was for them."
As previously noted, pages in the book were left blank to symbolize those who've never come forward.

PHOTOS: Barbara Thorp/Archdiocese of Boston; John Souza Photography