by David Fortwengler
Denial is a defense mechanism that victims of child sexual abuse are all to familiar with. When a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept, it seems easier to deny the truth altogether. Even in corroborated cases of abuse the victims, their family members, the abuser, and the abuser’s supporters all struggle with denial. Unfortunately, when the mechanisms of the mind refuse to accept the obvious it prevents our ability to learn and cope with reality. In the past decade no organization has been more proficient at protecting itself from the pain of the truth as the Catholic Church. And they have done so to the detriment of victims and all society. Mark Twain was sadly accurate when he said, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
All survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their supporters are aware of the pain caused because of denial. Whenever a victim finds the courage to confront and expose the wrongdoer they know the first response from the abusers supporters will be to ignore or avoid the facts that they find painful. The willingness of many catholics (not all) to simply dismiss the accuser as a liar causes more trauma to the victim and hampers societies efforts to understand and confront this heinous crime. The denial of facts, responsibility, impact, and awareness are all common defenses used by church apologists to minimize and excuse the current scandal. However, the most disturbing and offensive behavior directed at survivors is known by the acronym DARVO; Deny the abuse, then Attack the victim for attempting to make them accountable for their offense, thereby Reversing Victim and Offender.
Some North Carolina Facts
North Carolina is one the few states that has no statute of limitations on felonies. The legislature wisely recognized that for justice to prevail it sometimes requires the ability to look at the long ago past. Victims of sexual abuse know there is no limitation on the effects caused from the crime. Why should there be a limitation on accountability for the offenders? Just last week Father William Casey pleaded guilty to crimes against nature in North Carolina. Casey, a priest from Tennessee, made the mistake over thirty years ago to take his victim on vacation to North Carolina and abuse him. Justice is not perfect, Casey received only 24 months probation for his crime. For courageous survivor Warren Tucker hopefully the outcome is more meaningful. His bravery and wisdom in contacting police exposed a predator and will help protect other kids.
I bring up the Casey case because it is one of the most recent examples of how a state with no criminal statutes of limitations holds predators accountable. Any educated observer would learn valuable insight into cases like this if they paid attention. Prosecutors do not make a living going after thirty year old crimes. They only do so when they believe there is sufficient cause to indict, which is their duty. These cases often receive publicity, as they should, and recent defendants have included teachers, coaches, boy scout leaders, ministers from different faiths, and family members. If nothing else, the public is aware of this important fact, it is incredibly difficult for child victims to report sexual crimes promptly. Sometimes it takes years, or lifetimes, or never.
Denial is a Catholic River in North Carolina
The reason I picked “ Denial” as the subject of this post is because of current events in the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina. On July 8th Albermarle police arrested Father Joseph Kelleher and charged him with one count of taking indecent liberties with a minor. The anonymous (as is his right) alleged victim, claims the crime took place 33 years ago in 1977. As is so often the case, the following week Charlotte police announced they were investigating another complaint against Kelleher. A knowledgeable Carolinian who is not in denial, would be grateful that these allegations were reported to police and that unlike so many other states these charges are now being handled by our judicial system.
Sadly, as often happens when a beloved priest is arrested, his parishioners have rallied to deny the facts, attack and blame the alleged victims, and disrespect our system of justice. Denial truly is a catholic river in Charlotte. Almost immediately a public facebook site was started called “Justice for Father Joseph Kelleher” and now has over 1250 members. His supporters held two rallies to not just proclaim Kelleher’s innocence, but to attack the accusers and call them liars. Why do they wonder why catholic abuse survivors don’t come forward? Kelleher is innocent until proven guilty, his rights are not in jeopardy, and they are free to say what they want. That does not excuse using DARVO to facilitate their hopes and wishes. Below is just a small sample of the hurtful comments from their facebook page. ( Names have been deleted because of my compassion and kindness) Enjoy your trip down the river denial. The only thing left for this group is to deny their denial!
Quotes from "Justice for Father Joseph Kelleher"
-par for the course. The media is sooo against the Catholic Church. This article just proves it.
-Like most liberal rags today, they state their opinions as TRUTH, and NOT FACTS! Amazing how journalism has strayed far and wide from the course.
-The accuser sounded a bit on the bi-polar side to me... bi-polar patients have a lot of problem telling fiction from reality..... ie, they lie and don't know if what they are saying is a lie or the truth. They have illusions of what they think is the truth.
-Father Kelleher is a wonderful person and Priest and I don't believe these accusations either. This is what the accuser posted on the SNAP website that started this (which shows how crazy he is) - "I really didn't even realize or acknowledge the incident(s) until about 7 years ago.i am now on disability for PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder and sever depression. i have major issues regarding sex and self perception regarding my body. i also have social phobia, rarely leave the house and essentially have no life. needless to say, these symptoms,if not the most severe, are certainly sever in terms of resulting from these incident(s) with this priest."
-yes he sounds bi-polar, as i have already said here more than once... also i am a child psychologist, and i can tell u from my experience that someone doesnt just wake up one day after 30 years or so and say oh i think i was molested by this guy.... i think he is hoping for financial gains from the church....
-I also attended OLA and Father Kelleher was a close friend of my fathers.... and I know HE COULD NEVER do such a thing.
-I want both accusers to come out from the dark and reveal their identities. Why is it okay for them to drag Father Joe through the spotlight while they are allowed to remain hidden and play the game of "it's my word against Father's"? There is no other evidence and if they are telling the truth(which they are not) there would be no harm coming into the light.
-How is it fair that Fr's good name is smudged and his accusers are anonymous? I also said I can't stand how the media is spinning these 41 and 45 year olds as if they have been stuck in a time warp and are only 13 and 14. Makes me sick. These men are older than me! Justice for Father Kelleher!
-Father Joe baptised our son Alex, married my sister Jane and her husband while he was at OLA. He was the reason I came back to the church. He was not afraid to challenge the norm. His parish was a family, and he did whatever he could for that family. That dedication was what converted my wife Jo to the Catholic Church. Father Joe handled the conversion. I can not believe any of the accusations. Since the Bishop ran Father Joe off to the Mtns., I retired from the church.
-My family and I knew Father Joe very well when we lived in N.C.; my sons attended OLA and Charlotte Catholic where Father Joe was always around to mentor and help the kids. This man is NOT capable of the acts he is accused of. He was a good friend and counselor to our whole family. It is truly a shame that someone would attack a wonderful priest's reputation this way. By the way, one of my sons he mentored is now in law enforcement.
-It breaks my heart to hear these awful allegations of Fr. Joe. I went to OLA from '82 to '86, he gave me my first Communion, he used to come to our house in the summers and swim and have cook-outs with my family. I remember one Sunday when he said mass in our living room. It's something I will nenver forget. Father Joe is a great man and my family is praying for him.
We, as Catholic supporters of Father Kelleher, need to react as if these accusers are accusing US of these actions, for it is OUR church they are seeking to bring down and gain financially from.
-Poor Fr. Kelleher. Will this even end for him? I will continue to pray for relief for him at this terriable time.
-We are praying for Father Kelleher. The news media is too willing to tarnish a dedicated priest's life. Has the media thought this accuser could be making false accusations? Could money be the motive?
-Maybe someone who knows this accuser, because his name is not revealed. I pray this gets dismissed!!!
-We really all need to keep Speaking about Father Joe! His court date is August 9th, so we need to keep this alive with the media, etc. There has to be people out there who can discredit this accuser. Keep Praying!
-I have known Father for all of my life and he would never do something like he is being accused of. It makes you wonder what a person from 33 years ago,4 DUI's and 5 divorces is looking for? Money. His name needs to be cleared and once he is cleared we should see if these low lifes that ruin peoples life for money can be pursued for slander? What the accusers name? Where are his pictures? Father has all of our support and we are here for him all of the way. Be strong Father.
-There is no way that this is true. My brother was an alter server, I recieved my first communion from Father Kelleher, and he officiated my wedding. Father Kelleher always puts others first and has had such a positive influence in the lives of so many people, especially the young!
-I served as an alter boy at the church and spent HOURS alone with Father Joseph Kelleher. There is no way he is guilty of what he is being charged.
-Let's gather around the facts. What is Father charged with? Can anyone beside the accuser avow to this? If not, what is his evidence? During the time of the alleged incident, can anyone else attest to Father's whereabouts or well-being? This is a trumped up charge that will have to be proven false in a court of law.
-What a sad testimonial it is when someone tries to ruin the reputation of a great Holy Man to try to get money for himself. Father will rise from this attempt at slander for all to see the truly religious, kind, gentle priest he is.
-I know father very well, and I can say that the accusations are false and vicious-The individual making these accusations clearly has another motive and it is just terrible that he felt he needed pick on this kind and just man.
-This is horseshit.
-Money is the root of all evil and this guy is hoping for a pay off big time.
-The individual that is trying to bring down a very good man is very wrong and obviously seeking money. I spent many days and nights with Father Kelleher. Never was there any inappropriate actions.
-I know that molestation occurs, but false accusations occur even more, especially if the so called accuser is pissed off at the person being accused. What better way to get even with someone than by ruining their lives and reputations!
-my question is if this happened in 1977 why did you wait so long this is 2010 dude get over yourself quit trying to make money off a great man and reuinion his reputation.
-I believe this supposed victim is only trying to reap a reward.
-Sounds like a sad sack of human trying to make a buck. Ridiculous. This won't hold up in court. A counter-sue should be immediately set up.
-It's sad that the our legal profession has become the new lottery in America.
-I smell greed and it stinks!!
-I am almost positive this man just wants money.. i can't believe people would stoop so low and attack a kind old man of god for money
-sadly it is only part of a worldwide attack on the Catholic Church and our priests.